Monday, July 19, 2010

Writing Professionally

By Frank Roderus

I’ve been writing professionally for 45 years, first as a newspaper reporter and for the past 35 years as a novelist. I consider this a joy, a privilege and a blessing.

During the course of these years I have been asked countless times for the ‘secret’ to the writing and/or the selling. If there were such a secret I would gladly pass it on to another generation of writers. Sadly, there is no such thing.

What there is, however, is almost as simple as following a secret path to writing success. It is, in short, persistence. Ideally you should be mule stubborn and Polyanna optimistic if you want to write for a living.

But first – please – read.

Yes, I said read. I cannot tell you how many times people have told me that they want to become writers. When I ask what types of books they prefer to read, amazingly often the response will be that they do not read. They don’t have time. They don’t have (insert excuse here).

Incredible. If you do not read, you will not be able to write. Period.

Next, write. A lot. You find your voice and hone it by writing.

Often, perhaps even usually, I am told that the would-be writer really would write a book if only s/he had time. Hoo-ha! Everyone has time enough because no one sits down and writes a book. You sit down and write a scene, a chapter, a paragraph. Just one. At a time. Add a whole lot of those together and you have a book.

I started writing longhand in steno pads. Those go anywhere without trouble. You can write a sentence in the morning while the kids are having breakfast, a paragraph on the bus, a scene while the family is at the beach. Any scrap of idle time can be productive for someone who really wants to write.

Have a manuscript? Think it is good enough to market? Good. Now comes the hard part. Sell it.

First, though, if you really want to succeed, do your homework. Haunt the bookstores to see what publishers are buying and which publishing houses those are. Find a copy of Writers’ Markets and study it. Do keep in mind that a great deal of lead time was built into the publication and a publisher’s needs may have changed since those entries were made.

Don’t ignore the small and regional presses. Those may be a suitable outlet for your manuscript. But don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars either.

If at all possible, attend a convention or two. Want to write westerns? Come to a convention put on by Western Writers of America and/or Western Fictioneers (WF meets are scheduled in conjunction with WWA). I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to meet the editors who will be appraising your work. Get to know them. Ask what they like. Not just what they need but what they like.

Editors are people. I know. That is hard to believe but it’s true. They have preferences and prejudices just like the rest of us. Find out what those are if possible and then tailor your mss to them. That effort can help pay off in sales.

But first you must produce that ms so compelling that it cannot be turned down.

I wish you luck with it.


  1. You forgot the part about living in your car. (I'm just kidding, all you aspiring writers out there.)

  2. You think you jest but in truth for a time I did live in a half-ton Chevy pickup truck with a topper (not a camper even, just a cab-high shell). Wrote in a steno pad, most of the time while drinking coffee at a McDonald's or some local cafe.

    -- Frank Roderus

  3. Some great advice there, Frank, even for the old hands. I know I have difficulty in being "Polyanna opimistic"! And attending a writers' convention is an alluring pleasure I've never known.

  4. I hope you can make one, Kiwi. The WF and WWA conventions are being held more or less together now (we are blatantly riding their coattails) and we would really like to meet you there.

    fr in fl

  5. My first western was written on an old typewriter in 1979. Didn't sell until umpteen revisions and the turn of the century. Now I often write at Starbucks, by hand, in a tablet. Current MS took six notebooks to complete. But as you say, 4-500 words a day give you a manuscript in an amazingly short amount of time.