Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Part Two on Writing: The Seamy Underbelly

As promised on Monday, here is Part Two in my Three-Part Series on Riding the Gravy Train to Fame, Fortune, and a Lifetime of Neuroses by Becoming a Best-Selling Author, as written by an author whose book is not even out yet. (This is my way of saying, "Believe me at your own risk.")

Step ONE: Write a book. Make sure it has interesting and sympathetic characters, fast pacing and snappy, realistic dialogue, a coherent plot that not only makes sense but manages to somehow transform your characters by imparting a universal message, vivid and original description, brilliant insights into human nature, and action. (This action doesn’t have to involve kick-boxing or guns, but it helps if it does.) It has to have a theme we can all relate to, like nosy grocery clerks are annoying, or terminal illness is no fun at all. The writing must be clear and concise; if other writers tell you they love it, you can go ahead and buy that cape, crown, and yacht; the “royalty” checks will be rolling in shortly. Get it? Also, avoid using puns in your writing. And finally, make sure it’s nothing like books that have already been published, but sort of the same. You can probably accomplish this by having a talking monkey that appears when your protagonist wears a pair of special blue shoes. Name the monkey Neil Cavuto.

Step TWO: Tell everyone you know that you are writing a book. Talk about it incessantly. This way, someone will be bound to ask you how the writing career is coming along the day you receive your latest rejection letter. This is invaluable tool for thickening your skin, along with ongoing use of a tanning bed.

Step THREE: Got that book finished? Great! Invite the cruelest person you know to read it. This won’t give you much valuable input into the content or writing of your story, but it will give you something new to write about for book #2.

Step FOUR: Send query letters to lots of agents. Be sure to use colored paper and stuff your envelopes with glitter. This way, it will be like a party in their office when they open your letter! Try to handwrite your query if you can, maybe spray it with perfume, and tell the agent that your grandmother read and loved your book. Include a sample first page where a small boy wakes up to a ringing alarm clock and a last page that ends, “And he woke up to realize it was all a dream!” Do this even if your story is nothing like this.

Step FIVE: When an agent finally asks to see your manuscript, immediately send it to them in a giant, styrofoam peanut-stuffed box. Use an entire roll of packing tape to make sure your future best-seller makes it to the agent safely. Then, throw a party! Invite fifty of your closest friends. You are just minutes away from stardom. Later, grow despondent when you notice that you’ve gotten the color adopted by a particular street gang wrong in chapter four. Overnight a “correction page” to the agent with a profusely apologetic cover letter. Agents love to be interrupted by this kind of attention to detail.

Step SIX: Read your potential agent’s blog and learn that their office receives 20,000 query letters per year and only signs 8 new clients in that same timeframe. Begin receiving bushels of rejection letters. Consider burning your manuscript and getting a job washing dishes at a research station in Antarctica. If you drink, do it heavily. Otherwise eat lots of foods containing trans-fats.

Step SEVEN: Read everything you can about writing and publishing fiction. Become bitterly convinced that there really is a secret to success, and it has little to do with sitting in a chair and writing every day, even when American Idol is on. Especially then. Grow obsessed with having an agent. Fantasize about the moment when your agent calls you and says breathlessly, “Are you sitting down?” Then fantasize about running into your ex in the grocery store. He or she will be wearing stained sweatpants and you’ll be wearing a gold crown that reads “Best-selling novelist.” In your fantasy, generously sign an autograph on their sweaty child’s forehead.

We'll stop here for now to give your eyes a rest and keep the irritation you may be feeling to a minimum. Part Three will be up on Friday.


  1. Anonymous10:38 AM

    Jess, jess, jess - the neuroses are in full swing - charge on.

  2. Anonymous12:36 PM

    I've worked myself up into the state that I always do the following:
    1) Write something.
    2) Show it to someone.
    3) They say "That's great!"
    4) Put manuscript in drawer. Throw drawer away.
    I. Need. Help.

  3. Clearly, a recipe for success. I especially like the idea of including glitter with your query letter. Who DOESN'T love an explosion of glitter when opening mail? I wish the credit card companies would start doing this.

  4. Oh dear, you crack me the hell up. I almost wish I could write worth a damn, so I could follow in your footsteps.

  5. Oh, I love this!!! LOL! Thank you!

  6. I am so glad you included the advice about glitter. I think that piece is critical and often overlooked by so called "experts" like Writers Digest. Ask yourself does that magazine want you to make it big? Of course not, then you wouldn't need their magazine.

  7.'s like being pregnant. Right? You tell people you're trying to get pregnant and then they want to know if you are. Then you tell them you are (6 weeks along) and then they want to know how far you are. Boy or girl? Names? Due date? Then every time they see your enormous belly they want to know WHEN YOU'RE HAVING THE BABY. NOW? IS IT NOW? WHAT ABOUT NOW? I'm thinking that writing a book is sorta similar.

    Am I close?

  8. Anonymous8:22 AM

    LOL these are too much. You rock!!!

  9. Anonymous10:30 AM

    I can't help but feeling you're trying to lead us astray in the publication department, dear! ;)

  10. Anonymous10:30 AM

    I can't help but feeling you're trying to lead us astray in the publication department, dear! ;)

  11. Anonymous11:30 AM

    As usual, you are way too funny for my own good. Case in point...

    "Otherwise eat lots of foods containing trans-fats."

    Love it.

  12. Be sure to use colored paper and...maybe spray it with perfume...

    Well FIRST of all, isn't that how Elle Woods got hired at that law firm in Legally Blonde?

    And SECOND of all, as I was reading your post, I had such nightmarish thoughts about my own first novel. But unlike the girl with the drawer, I've hidden mine in a pile of junk and I can't remember where! I RULE.


    and I love it. very funny stuff...
    and I think that I may kick the chair out from under myself as soon as I finish writing this.

  14. Anonymous9:25 PM

    You are so funny and clever!

    I hate you.


  15. i personally like "fantasize about running into your ex in the grocery store. He or she will be wearing stained sweatpants and you’ll be wearing a gold crown that reads “Best-selling novelist.” In your fantasy, generously sign an autograph on their sweaty child’s forehead.

    i've semi-done this, though i'm not writing a book. instead my ex's two year old recited the alphabet in german and i was left wondering why my child couldn't count to two in the queen's english. yeah, i felt proud. real proud...

  16. I am going to steal one of your ideas and start putting glitter in all my letters. Even the bills! What a nice little surprise for everyone!!

  17. OK, I am 'freaking-laughing-out-loud-LOVING-this' as I have reached some of these steps to becoming a best-selling author!!! ahahahahahaha.

    Except my agent didn't say, "Are you sitting down."

    She said, "I'm very direct. Do you want to do this?"

    Hellll Yeah!

    I can't wait to find out the next steps to best-seller-stardom!!!

    LOLOLOL--this is great, and you should remove it immediately from your blog and submit it to The Writer or Writer's Digest to make some MORE MONEY! We're greedy little bastards, aren't we?

    (After typing this, Manic Mom thinks to herself, "Good God, I hope Jess isn't really a bastard. That might hurt her feelings.")

  18. Anonymous12:34 PM

    This is hysterical...It should be reprinted in its entirety in Publishers Marketplace!!!