A challenge for new writers is that in this social media age, too much writing advice is available. Twitter in particular teems with authors on a spectrum of experience tweeting advice, it seems to me, meant mostly to draw attention to their books. Such guidance is usually trite, offers little real assistance to writers and ironically sells few books. New writers are trying to sell their own works not collect tweeted novels. Many of these new writers have thousands to tens of thousands of fellow-in-the-trenches writer followers who do not buy their books. This is not the way to mass a true fan base.
Simplify. I’d own one or two good books on the craft of writing, not much more. I recommend Scott Meredith’s Writing to Sell. Meredith was the premier literary agent of the 1950’s-1970’s. His clients included Norman Mailer, Arthur C. Clarke and Frank Herbert. He found a commonality in the first novel submissions he could not successfully market, which was most of them, in plot structure deficiencies. He wrote a book and explained simply and straightforwardly how to make a plot work. Stephen King’s On Writing is a terrific guide. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler is a classic. After my first novel failed to gain an agent, I read Scott Meredith’s book, wrote The Damascus Cover with those insights in mind and became a client of his agency.
I taught both advanced and beginning fiction writing at UCLA Extension for a decade. Still, I learned a new concept recently that I’d never heard that I bet everyone who reads this knows: beta readers. I had to ask what it meant. I gather there are social media groups where lots of people will read your work in progress. Other inexperienced writers will. A good writing class/teacher is preferable and inordinately valuable.
Simplify. Reading is subjective and most everybody who you show your work to will have a differing opinion which often leads to frustration. I once brought Jennifer Egan’s Visit from the Goon Squad to a book club I was in and nobody liked the Pulitzer Prize winning book. I’d recommend that you find a small number, say two people, to read your work whose intelligence and common sense you trust. Ideally one might be an experienced writer and one an experienced reader, or simply someone smart will do. I was fortunate that at 22, I met Michael Blankfort who wrote fourteen novels and numerous screenplays including The Caine Mutiny. In the nine years he served as my mentor until his passing I showed my work in progress to nobody else, ever.
So what works. I write Middle East thrillers so I’ve joined lots of Facebook groups and friend people interested in these subjects. I sell a lot of books through such posting. I met the author, Jon Land, at Thrillerfest, a yearly thriller conference in New York. Land’s latest novel deals with Texas rangers hunting a neo-Nazi gang. He has built associations with Texas Rangers, Texans and groups that fight neo-Nazis. I’m sure they buy his novel.
So simplify, write more, tweet less, and read insanely.
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HOWARD KAPLAN, a native of Los Angeles, has lived in Israel and traveled extensively through Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. At the age of 21, he was sent on a mission into the Soviet Union to smuggle a dissident’s manuscript on microfilm to London. His first trip was a success. On his second trip, he transferred a manuscript to the Dutch Ambassador inside his Moscow embassy. A week later, he was arrested in Khartiv in the Ukraine and interrogated for two days there and two days in Moscow, before being expelled from the USSR. The KGB had picked him up for meeting dissidents and did not know about the manuscript transfers. He holds a BA in Middle East History from UC Berkeley and an MA in the Philosophy of Education from UCLA. He is the author of four novels.