|Photo courtesy of Elle Wild
Elle Wild grew up in a dark, rambling farmhouse in the wilds of Canada where there was nothing to do but read Edgar Allan Poe and watch PBS mysteries. She is an award-winning short filmmaker and the former writer/host of the radio program Wide Awake on CBC Radio One. Her short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Magazine and her articles have appeared in The Toronto Star, Georgia Straight, and Westender. Wild’s debut novel, Strange Things Done, won the Arthur Ellis Award 2015 for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel, and was shortlisted in multiple contests internationally. Recently returned from the U.K., Wild currently resides on an island in the Salish Sea named after the bones of dead whales.
As the title of Elle's debut novel is titled Strange Things Done she's written a wonderful post about some strange things she's noticed on her publishing journey.
Strange Things Learned on the Road to Publishing
People say the damnedest things when you tell them that you’re writing a book. Maybe you’ve heard some of these comments too? “I’ve always wanted to write a book.” “You must talk to my great aunt/cousin/friend of friend who wrote about/is writing about her real life miserable childhood/tragic personal experience.” (Sometimes followed by, “You should read it.”) Then there’s the classic, “If I had the time, I’d write a book too.” (This one is really stellar if you want to wind up an author.) And finally, the pertinacious, “It’s really hard to get published these days/in this market.”
Whether or not there is any glimmer of truth to the latter comment, I cannot say, but I can say this: people throughout the ages have always wanted to hear great stories, and someone has to create them. I believe that people will always want the escapism and adventure of a good story. (*The key word being “good”.) It has probably always been difficult to get published, but people keep doing it. I’ve done it! So, it’s possible for you to do it, too, if you’re dedicated enough to make time every day to work at it. Yes, that’s right, the “w” word. Contrary to the implication in response #3, writers are generally not people who have a lot of time on their hands, who lounge about in velvet dressing gowns all day eating boozy choco bonbons. (I wish.) Published writers are people who have worked relentlessly, draft after draft, polishing their stories like stones until they shone brightly enough to garner someone’s attention.
If I haven’t put you off yet with the “w” word, and you’re still interested in learning about the road to publishing, I can tell you about my own strange trip into unchartered terrain and what I learned along the way. (Thus far, at least.) After all, if I can do it, you can too.
Strange Things Learned:
#1 It takes a village to raise a child.
Finished your first draft? Congrats! This is your starting point on a long journey. Now what you need is a community of fellow writers – not just any writers, but writers who share your taste – to read your draft and tell you where you’ve gone horribly, horribly wrong. I found my community among cherished reader/writer friends, family, and the writing community at the University of British Columbia’s MFA Creative Writing program.
#2 Your reader is always right.
Never argue with a reader when they tell you that something isn’t working. If it didn’t work for them, fix it. I learned this the hard way. You likely will too.
#3 Mentors are key.
You will stand a much better chance of reaching your goal if you find “writing angels” to guide you on your journey. If you’re very fortunate, as I was, you will have more than one. I had the great privilege of working with writer-mentor Gail Anderson-Dargatz (author of international bestseller Cure for Death by Lightning) while I was an MFA student in Creative Writing with the University of British Columbia. I also participated in the Crime Writers of Canada’s Mentorship Program for new writers, where I was mentored by veteran writer Donna Carrick (author of First Excellence – Fa-ling’s Map,
#4 Skip the slush pile
I quickly learned that you do not want to be in the slush pile. “What is the slush pile?” you might ask. The “slush pile” is what agents call the huge, moldering stack of unpublished manuscripts sitting on their desks, which might be used to make paper airplanes or feed woodstoves. How do you skip the slush pile? See points #5 and #6.
#5 Enter writing contests, then “fail better”.
The second best thing you can do for yourself is to get shortlisted in a very visible writing contest. I found that once I was shortlisted in a couple of contests, The Telegraph/Harvill Secker Crime Competition and the A.M. Heath Criminal Lines Contest in the U.K., among others, agents began to find me on LinkedIn, Twitter or via my author web site. I didn’t win, but I persevered and wrote another draft. Next time I “failed better”, earning a Silver in the SouthWest Writers Annual Novel Writing Competition (U.S.). I learned that rewriting is key on the road to publishing.
#6 Win a writing contest.
The best thing you can do to win attention from agents and publishers is win a writing contest. This will help you skip the slush pile and get your manuscript read. If you’re really lucky, the contest will be sponsored by a publisher who will consider your story if you win. I won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel, which was sponsored by Dundurn Press, who then offered a publishing contract.
#7 Publishers are a writer’s marketing partner.
Great! You’ve got a publisher! Now what? Remember that your publisher is your marketing partner. If they recommend that you do something, that means “do it”. I’ve learned that much of what happens next is up to you. Have you got a brilliant idea for marketing your project? Pitch it to the publisher. Once you’ve signed with a publisher, you will be given a publicist, and that person will ride shotgun with you on the final leg of your trip, listen to your ideas, and give you veteran advice.
#8 Money Matters
The most unfortunate thing I’ve learned in the process is that in order to really get attention for your novel, you need advertising dollars, which are difficult to come by these days. For example, the biggest market for people to find your book right now is on Amazon or Goodreads. Did you know that a Goodreads advertising campaign (where a book cover might appear when a user is looking for a new read) costs $5,000.00 in Canada? That’s a lot of money for a lot of publishers, or a self-published author. I’ve learned, then, that it’s extremely difficult for debut authors to be found in this environment. I’ve learned not to expect my book to found on Top 10 lists of hotly anticipated fall releases, because chances are these lists are compiled by people/organizations who have never read my book, and the lists are largely populated by writers who have already had a big success in the past. (Which isn’t, of course, to say that they aren’t fantastic books, and I will certainly be reading many of them.)
#9 Be creative with marketing.
Writers are creative people, right? So, we should be good with coming up with creative ways to get around #8 and generate a bit of pre-launch buzz. Sadly, that isn’t always so. I am still learning about this particular challenge, though (with the help of good friends at White Crow Communications) we have recreated the fictional newspaper (from my book), The Dawson Daily, online and on Twitter to release news of Strange Things Done in Dawson City and provide a bridge for arts & entertainment journalists to discover the novel. (You can follow @TheDawsonDaily if you’re interested!)
#10 Partners in Crime
By this point in your journey, you should have a great community of writers to back your project. Guest blog for fellow authors and ask them to come along on the ride. Who doesn’t love a good road trip? If you’re reading this article, it’s because I’ve learned to ask friends and colleagues for help, and because some kind soul on social media has offered to lend a hand.
Will any of this make a difference? Will the book find its readers? I’m still at pre-launch stage, so it’s impossible to say, but if there’s one thing I’m trying to learn, it’s that – while there are no guarantees about where the road might take you – it is a good idea to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It goes by quickly.
I hope this will help you on your own road to publishing. Good luck on your journey!
Since writing this post Elle's book has been released on it's journey as it was published yesterday and it's available on Amazon or from the publisher Dundurn.
If you'd like to find out more about Elle you can follow her on Twitter, visit her website or take a look at the other various tour events that she's doing.
I'd like to say a big thank you to Elle for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to stop by today and also to wish her every success with Strange Things Done.