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Twelve Rules for Getting the Book Contract
by Alice J. Wisler

Recently, I received a two-book novel deal with Bethany House. Months before, I was ready to toss my dream aside because it was taking too long. Now, I'm glad I hung on. I'm walking around in sheer excitement. Even winning the lottery couldn't be this good!

I am amazed at how many writers want to write, but don't do it. In fact, some days I think everyone wants to be a writer. But there are things, they tell me, that get in their way. They have children, they have a 9 to 5 job, they have parents, they have laundry, and pets, and weeds.

What? Do they think published authors haven't had to put up with those same issues? Do they think writing and getting published is... easy?

The truth is, humans are experts at giving excuses, but not at making sacrifices. Just like the ice skater training for the Olympics makes sacrifices to get her body into shape, as well as to practice her routines, the novelist must do the same. Writing a novel and getting it accepted by a publisher may look effortless, but those of us who have traveled down the road know otherwise.

Here are twelve practical steps to disciplining yourself so that you can reach your goal of becoming a published novelist.

Rule #1 - Visual your dream. Sit down and have a chat with yourself. What is your goal? A finished novel by the end of the year? 100 pages by next Wednesday? How will you make this happen? The ball is in your court, and you need to strive to make the dream a reality.

Rule #2 - Know what you are writing. This means create an outline, have a plot, characters that you like, and action. What is the genre of the book? You need to know this in order to sell it to an agent. Don't just jump into the dark without a plan. Although sometimes characters you thought would be minor can end up becoming major, your whole book can't be a train running off the track, weaving in and out of scenes and plots that hold no cohesiveness.

Rule #3 - Find your writing style. "The narrative voice" are three words we often see in writers' magazines and books on how to write your bestseller. Do you have one that is appealing? When I sent draft number seven to an agent in New York, her comment was that she couldn't relate to the main character. Before throwing darts at her letter, I read some chapters of my manuscript and realized she was right. I couldn't relate to the main character either. It was while in my yard pulling weeds when I came up with my main character's "voice." Life changed for me after that. I rewrote my novel, sent it to another agent, and today, I'm anticipating the pub date for Rain Song.

Rule #4 - Unplug the TV Or the X-box. If you are serious about completing your novel, you need to make time to write it. Get rid of the excuses. Let your answering machine pick up your phone calls. I know single moms with outside-of-the-home jobs, and mortgages, who have used every spare moment to complete their novels and have found success.

Rule #5 - Clean out the clutter. Find a great work space where you can produce. Is it the spare bedroom? The desk in the den? Do you write best in long hand and then like to transcribe your pages onto a computer file? Use headphones and music when you write. Create a functional place where when you go to it, you mean business.

Rule #6 - Learn to be your worst critic. Perfection is key. Learn grammar, if you don't already have a good handle on it. Read a chapter from your work-in-progress, and then circle the adjectives. Are you using too many? The same ones over and over? Develop a critical eye.

Rule #7 - Read two books this month. Read in the genre you are writing. Study how the authors use scenes, dialogue, and give traits to their characters. When you feel sluggish, open up a favorite author's book and read aloud. Beware: inspiration may hit.

Rule #8 - Read to the mirror. This is a great practice. Find the biggest mirror you have and start reading your manuscript aloud as you face the mirror. You will tune your ear to listen for run-on sentences, or incorrect word usages.

Rule #9 - Get the first draft completed quickly. While perfection is important, if you edit yourself too much as you venture out to write your novel, you many give up. Having a skeletal first draft is better than having two brilliant chapters--and nothing else. Once you get that first draft, you can then do the work I enjoy the most-- expanding scenes, filling in descriptions--adding flesh to the skeleton to make it more handsome.

Rule #10 - Value feedback from others. Listen to the critique you receive from your writers' group. Share your work with a trusted writer friend. Ask for suggestions.

Rule #11 - Reward yourself. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Finishing five chapters over the weekend deserves a celebration! Call over some friends and do something you enjoy. Or reward the completing of your goal with a hike in the nearby park. Walking is a great way to get your brain's endorphins activated, so if you walk, bring a pad and pen, or a miniature tape recorder, for the muse will strike.

Rule #12 - Keep a positive attitude. Hang around those who believe in you and your dream. Now is not the time to call up all the people who want you to go back to school to become a lawyer or a pediatrician. Make your circle of friends those who understand your desire to have a published novel.

You can't lose! Keep these twelve rules in mind as you make your novel shine. When you have it carefully edited and finished, then send the first three chapters off to an agent who specializes in selling novels to editors in your genre.

As you wait to hear what the agent's response is, start writing your next novel. You've disciplined yourself and completed your first book. Don't let the good habits you've developed end. If you want to be successful, you need to continue on the rugged sacrificial path to publication. Write! Authors don't quit. They wrap their arms around their dreams and breathe life into them.

© Copyright 2007, Alice J. Wisler

Alice J. Wisler, author of the Southern novels Rain Song, How Sweet It Is, Hatteras Girl and A Wedding Invitation (Bethany House), lives and writes in Durham, NC. On sunny days, she places her decorative tri-fold poster board with pictures and information about her novels out by her mail box. Email her for more ways to build your sales at wisler@mindspring.com. Visit her website at http://www.alicewisler.com

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