What I learned about writing a novel and getting published

During the course of writing my first book, Einstein’s Trunk, I read a lot of advice about writing. At the time it wasn’t always easy to know which advice to follow. In the end, I pretty much decided to do things my way. For example, against a lot of advice, I didn’t do an outline of the plot, but rather let the plot develop from idea to idea as I wrote. If that sounds crazy, I just read an agent’s blog where he paraphrased Hemingway, who he claimed once said: that you shouldn’t sketch out your plot – if you know where you are going then your reader will too.  Ha! It turns out my instincts might have been correct!
I did however, try to find the best book I could on writing, and whether I succeeded or not I’ll never know, but I did find a very good one: The Book on Writing by Paula LaRocque. I endorse it wholeheartedly.
But, in the end, what I learned is that writing a book is about telling a story. And that telling a good story well is a perfectly acceptable goal. It’s not necessary to write the great American novel. Just tell a good story. If you do, there’s a chance people will want to read it. At the very least, you’ll get a kick out of writing it.
As far as getting published is concerned, I learned that that is extremely difficult. First, there’s a lot of competition to find a good agent and then afterwards to find a good publisher. I also learned that with so many authors willing to do almost anything to get their book published that there are a lot of shady people in the business quite willing to relieve authors of their money. Fortunately, there are websites out there (Preditors and Editors, and Writers Beware) who perform a valuable service by pointing out the spurious tactics and specific offenders. In the end, though, what I learned was that after you’ve written a good story, perseverance counts for a lot. No joke.
My next posting will be about the TV series Prison Break and what it taught me about writing thrillers.  
Zurich, May 24, 2011
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