Writing Advice

As the years have gone on, I have been getting more and more requests for writing advice from young writers (and the occasional slightly-older writer). So I thought that I would create this page for that.

First of all, with the help of Simon & Schuster, I have done several videos full of instruction for a series that we are calling Mission: Write. Each video also has a writing lesson plan designed by Dr. Rose Brock. These can be used at schools or at home to help budding writers improve their crafts.

 Click here to start watching!

Now, here are a few additional answers to questions many of you have had:

I want to be a writer.  Can you give me some advice about how to do that?

Sure.  First of all, write a lot.  Hopefully, you are already doing this and enjoying it.  If you are not enjoying it, then you really shouldn’t become a writer.

Second, it is okay to mimic the style of a writer that you like.  That’s not plagiarism.  It’s homage.  And besides, your style won’t be exactly the same as theirs anyhow.  Read their books, see how they make the language work, and learn from that.

Third, while all writers are flattered by fan fiction, it might be a better use to your time to try to create your own stories and characters.  After all, you can’t sell fan fiction to a publisher.

How do you get published?

There are two ways to do this: Sell your book to a publisher — or pay to publish it yourself.

Personally, I think going with the publisher is the much better route, but it’s not necessarily easy. To sell your book, you need to find an agent. Agents who are looking for clients to represent are usually listed in The Literary Marketplace, which you can access here.

You will notice that you need an account to use this site, so don’t use it without parental permission! And if you don’t want to pay for access, it might be available for free at some libraries.

Each agent should give detailed information about what type of material they specialize in and how to contact them. Once an agent accepts your book, then they will handle the sale for you.

However, be aware that there is a good chance that your work might be rejected — either by the agents themselves, or by the publishers.  Most of the authors I know (including myself) had many books rejected.  Or the same book rejected many times.  Almost no one got published on their first attempt.  But…

Know this: If every writer had quit writing after their first rejection, there would be almost no books in the world.  The only reason we have books is that people didn’t let a little thing like a rejection or two (or thirty) stop them.

If it’s so hard to get published, then why don’t you recommend self publishing?

A few reasons:

  1. If you sell your book to a publisher, they will handle things like marketing and distribution for you, which can be very difficult (and expensive) to take care of on your own. If people don’t know about your book — or it’s not available for purchase most places — then it can be hard to sell many copies. True, on occasion, a self-published book has somehow gotten notice and sold well, but I think that business model is hard to replicate — and it’s worth noting that many of those authors who have had success with a self-published book then start working with traditional publishers.
  2. I’ll speak from experience here. I felt terrible when my books were rejected — but in retrospect, those books weren’t good enough for publication. Now, suppose I had self-published an early draft of Belly Up. It wouldn’t have been nearly as good as the version that I eventually sold — and the earlier self-publication might have harmed my chances of getting the good version published.
  3. Finally, at a publisher, you’ll have a team of editors and designers to work with to make your book read –and look — as good as possible. All of that is extremely important. Personally, I don’t think Belly Up or Spy School would have sold nearly as well without the help of my editors — or the incredible covers designed by Lucy Cummins.

I want to be a writer, but I can’t come up with any ideas.  Can you give me some?

Um… no.  I work very hard to come up with ideas.  And, I hate to say this, but… Really, I think what makes most people a professional writer isn’t the writing; it’s the ability to generate ideas that excite them.  If you can’t come up with ideas that excite you… then maybe writing isn’t for you.