Joe Barlow Writes

Quirky Books for Quirky People–New Thoughts on Writing and Publishing in the Digital Frontier

Category: Guest Post

Things I Wish I’d Known When Writing My First Novel [Guest Post from Scott Nicholson]

flyboymug-247x300NOTE FROM JOE: As I’ve previously discussed, I’m in the process of writing a novel. Although I’ve been publishing non-fiction professionally for almost twenty years, my fiction endeavors have been limited. As such, when I began writing Coffee to Die For, I reached out to one of my favorite writers and asked for his advice.

The author in question is the prolific Scott Nicholson (pictured), an icon of both traditional and indie publishing. In addition to the breakout horror novel The Red Church (which I highly recommend), Scott runs a terrific blog about writing and publishing. Here’s what he had to say in response to my question. I trust you’ll find it as helpful and inspiring as I did.  –Joe

Advice for Joe on the Writing of His First Novel
by Scott Nicholson

Joe, here’s the big difference from when I started writing 15 years ago:

I didn’t know writing was so dog-gone difficult.

I didn’t have the Internet and a billion writing blogs telling me how hard it was to get published, or how great the self-publishing era is. I had to subscribe to paper newsletters to keep up with market listings for the short story market, and go to the library or buy magazines to get lists of agents and publishers.

In a way, the lack of Internet made it really easy to focus. I had a certain number of hours available to me in the morning, and I could get lost in the story. There was no email to check, no hot market tip, no obligation to engage strangers in social media, no latest tech toy that was going to change the face of publishing forever, or at least for the next few weeks.

Don’t get me wrong: e-books are going to help a lot of writers meet their audience in ways that were never before possible. It’s going to be easier for most writers to make money, even if it still will be difficult. And I am very grateful to be here while it’s happening.

But I miss hammering out my stories on an old Selectric IBM typewriter with a clunky print wheel and a floppy disk drive. It was quite a feeling of accomplishment to roll those pages in one at a time and print them out, until there was a big stack beside me at a cost of about a dime a page, only to be boxed and mailed for $10 or $15 per submission. The very cost and inconvenience made shipping it off to a publisher a big enterprise, like launching a ship.

And, back then, most publishers would still look at your slush submission, so I could at least hold out hope that someone would read it, love it, and make an offer. (In fact, that’s how it happened to me). We weren’t aware that the odds of getting accepted were less than one in 100. Indeed, you could legitimately hope that every submission was the winning lottery ticket, instead of the mass email queries favored today, the policies of agents to “only respond if interested,” and with most larger publishers refusing to look at anything unless it was sent in by those same rude, aloof agents.

In the beginning, all I knew was to tell the story the best I could, read every book on the business and craft I could get my hands on, and keep up my leisure reading, which was never fully “leisure” because I was always aware of the wizard behind the curtains lining up words. I’d read something bold and be inspired to write something boldly. I’d read something tepid and hurl it across the room, positive that I could do better.

In the beginning, all I had was my imagination, my fingers, and my words. I was blissfully ignorant. I didn’t know what I was doing was impossible.

So I just did it anyway, without knowing any better.

If I had any advice for an aspiring writer today, aside from warning them away from all advice, it would be this: Ignore everything but the next sentence.

Scott Nicholson is the author of several dozen books, short stories, and screenplays. His non-fiction works include The Indie Journey: Secrets to Writing Success, and the essay collection Write Good or Die, which he edited.

[Note from Joe: This post originally appeared on my old writing blog, The Coffee House Wordsmith, on September 30, 2011.]