Advice for Budding Fantasists
Posted on July 14th, 2008 in advice
Some among you may find this hard to believe, but I do on occasion get emails from folks either wanting to have a stab at writing some fantasy of their own, or who’ve written some and want some advice on how to go about getting it published. So I thought I’d collect some thoughts together here so I can refer folks to them if required…
I regret that I won’t read stuff myself – I honestly don’t have the time. If I found something I liked there’s nothing I could do with it besides pass it on to my editor or agent for them to make their own decision. Far more likely I wouldn’t like it, and I’d then spend hours trying to think of the best way to express myself in an email. Sorry to say I just can’t get into it.
I’d offer two pieces of general advice, though, for anyone who is interested, one for the writing and one for the selling.
The best piece of advice I had as far as writing goes came (like all the best advice) from my Mum. She has (and my father and my brother have) always read my stuff pretty much as I’ve completed a batch of chapters and given her honest and extremely well-read opinion. Invaluable criticism. On one occasion, early on, she read a chapter of mine in which I’d used some particularly trite expression (I forget what, now, there are plenty of contenders), and she drew my attention to it and said, you have to try to be honest. In every area of your writing. When you use a metaphor to describe something, you have to ask the question, ‘does that thing really look the way you’re describing it?’ or are you reaching for an easy cliche, for any old words to fill the space? When you write dialogue, you have to ask the question, ‘would this character really say these words in this situation?’ Everything that seems dishonest, that seems unconvincing, that seems untrue, weakens the effect. If you keep honest, you can’t go too far wrong.
As far as selling goes, there are some simple steps to follow that will give you the best chance (though your chances are always small with any individual submission, so prepare for rejections, possibly a lot of them). Finish a book, first of all, because no one’s going to buy anything without reading the whole thing. Find out who you’re sending material to, and ensure it’s a suitable book for them, then send them exactly what they ask for, in the format they ask for. Usually this will mean the first couple of chapters, or fifty pages of material. Err on the side of less, because they’ll probably know within a paragraph whether they are interested or not, and they’ll surely ask for more if they want to see more. Put a covering letter with your work that explains what is so special about it, why it’s something they need to have, and can sell. Spend plenty of time making sure the letter is good, because it may well be more important than the extract – if your letter is rubbish they might get no further. Remember that, even if to you this is your wonderful baby, to them it will always be, to some degree, a product. They may fall in love with it, but they still need to sell it.
But hell, I’m no expert. Why listen to me when you can listen to professionals? Lately the awesomely talented folks at my own publisher Gollancz have been talking to SFX about the business of writing in the genre, both creatively and commercially. Firstly a Q&A; with evil arch hype-sorceror Simon of Spanton and my own editor Gillian Redfearn (she found me, she’s got to know what she’s talking about, right?) and secondly with their esteemed colleague Jo Fletcher. Still have questions? You could check out the advice of genre doyen John Jarrold, long-time editor and now successful agent, who runs a message board over at the Chronicles Network. You could even sign up there and ask him a question or two. There’s nothing about selling fantasy books that man don’t know.
You could also nip over to the Geek Syndicate, where they have a set of audio interviews with me and six other genre authors, talking about our experiences getting into the business. Who knows, you may find something useful there…
Lastly, if anyone thinks they have some wonderful advice, or is in need of some particular answer I might conceivably be able to help with, by all means comment below…