Welcome to my blog! I’ve been debating the topic for my very first post. There are certainly many random things I could discuss (and believe me, I will discuss some pretty random things)… But for my first blog, I thought I’d start with writing. I’ve been in the publishing industry for over ten years and often get asked questions about the process: from how to get published to what exactly does a publicist do? So in honor of my first book being published, The Lonely Hearts Club on December 29, 2009 (mark your calendars!), I thought I would do a series of behind the scenes blogs about getting a book published: from writing to getting a publisher to editing to promotion…
So for Part 1, I’m starting at the very beginning. Writing. Many times when people ask me about getting published, they haven’t written a single word. The process of trying to get published can be overwhelming, but the best thing to do is not think about that and just write. I’m not in any way an expert on writing. I’ve only written one book (and am currently working on my second). However, I have worked with a lot of authors, and everybody seems to agree on one thing: write for yourself. Don’t write a book because you think it is “hot” at the moment or because you want to be the “next big thing.” Write for yourself and about what interests you. Everything else (demographic, finding an agent or publisher, etc.) can wait for later.
I kicked around a couple ideas before I settled on what would eventually become The Lonely Hearts Club (have I mentioned that it comes out on December 29th?). The first two ideas I contemplated making into a novel were a little bit too serious, and, quite frankly, depressing. So, I thought about what books I liked as a teen: fun books. Then one night, I had my “ah-ha” moment that gave me the idea to do a book about a girl who has had it with being treated badly by boys so she forms a non-dating club (for more on my “ah-ha” moment, check out the Back Story on LHC on my website: www.elizabetheulberg.com).
I made a ton of “rookie” mistakes while writing LHC. While I had a rough idea of what the book would be about, I didn’t have an outline when I sat down to write. Some people don’t need an outline, but I soon discovered that I do need one. I also didn’t have character studies for each of my characters; I made them up as I went (“huh, I guess this person needs a name?”). After I got through the very rough first draft (and believe me when I say it was rough. To this day, I’m still too scared to open it up and re-read it), I got some advice on the story.
I am very fortunate to have several friends in the publishing industry who were great readers (meaning they would read and have lots of suggestions on how to improve the book, from character development to pacing to story arc). Having trusted people read your work is a very important step regardless of what industry they work in. Criticism is a way to improve on your work. I found it frustrating when someone would read a draft and not have anything to critique, especially since I knew that the book needed a lot of work.
And A LOT of work is exactly what took place during the next few drafts (and years!). I did a new outline before every draft. I tightened up some plot lines, while I expanded on others. I also worked on defining characters more clearly. Two of the best pieces of advice I got was to 1) spend my commute to work each day with one of my characters and 2) go through each character’s closet – what’s in it, what wouldn’t they want others to see, etc. All of this was figuratively, of course! So each day as I was on the train or bus, I would pretend I was sitting next to one of my characters and have a conversation with them in my mind. This helped to really figure out who they were outside of the confines of the story, which would then enhance the story overall. This took loads of effort and time, but in the end, it was worth it.
When I say that you have to write for yourself and what interests you, I really mean it. I had to write several different versions of The Lonely Hearts Club before it was ready to be sent out to publishing houses. I’ve probably read the book around 60-70 times. If it wasn’t something I believed in or even genuinely liked, I would have lost my mind (although my mental state is always questionable…).
Once you have the best possible draft you can produce, then you take the next step, which is finding a literary agent. More on that in Part 2 of Behind the Book… coming soon!