Here at Attorney at Work, we’re suckers for stories of personal reinvention, and second (or third) careers. So when we heard Darlene Quinn’s first novel was published when she was 70 (and it won a national award), we were intrigued. And we wanted her advice for would be lawyer-novelists. Darlene’s third novel was published this past fall—at age 74. Takeaway? “It’s never too late!
Have you ever dreamed of writing a novel of your very own? Many people do, but few actually follow that dream through. For some, it’s an issue of finding time amidst a busy lifestyle, or perhaps it’s just a goal that is repeatedly set aside for later down the road. Whatever the reason for delay, at some point nearly every potential novelist hears the phrase, “It’s too late.” It’s how you choose to respond to those three words that makes all the difference.
So, how do you write that novel you know you have in you?
- Know the type of writer you are and what you want to write about. Whether it’s a work of fiction or the next big how-to book, many authors draw inspiration from what they already know, or they’re willing to do a lot of meticulous research. Most novels begin as an idea as simple as a setting or a specific character. Once you have that idea, hold on to it, develop it and make a plan. Bringing that plan to fruition comes about differently for each person. Are you the type who has to have the whole plot and all the characters laid out in detail prior to putting pen to paper, or can you simply sit down and type away, letting the energy flow? If you don’t know what type of a writer you are, there are several methods available to help you get started. I like the snowflake method.
- Make the time to write. For many, carving out time to write is the biggest hurdle. That said, if we waited till the time suddenly opened up, or for our creative muse to appear, we’d never get the first line written. So don’t “find time,” make time. Then find an environment that suits you. Some prefer a secluded room away from daily distractions; others fare better amidst the bustle of a local café, a la Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Once you’ve found that environment, go there and write, write and write some more!
- Take the next crucial step. Surely, you didn’t write your novel just to file the finished manuscript away in the back of a drawer somewhere. You want to publish it! But first, you’ll need to have it edited. Editors are invaluable because they spot errors that might escape you and make suggestions from an objective perspective—they haven’t been immersed in and fallen in love with the words like you have. The editing step is crucial. With the popularity of digital and self-published books, publishing a book has become so easy and fast that writers are skipping or skimping on the editorial process—and their books are being published with errors.
- Choose the route to getting published. Sending a PDF of your manuscript or a sample chapter off to one of the top six publishers—Random House, HarperCollins, etc.—is tempting. To actually get in front of one of them, however, you will need a good agent. Without one, your book will likely either get lost among the many volumes submitted or be read and turned down because it didn’t find the right editor. Because of this barrier to entry, many writers are turning to self-publishing or partnering with smaller publishers. With self-publishing, you handle everything yourself, from the cover design for the book, to finding a distributor if you want the book in retail stores, to promotion and marketing, or finding someone to promote your book for you.
If there was a surefire road to success you would probably be a best-selling author by now. My best advice for writing and publishing a book is to surround yourself with supportive, helpful people who have a desire to see you succeed and can help you learn about the industry. There is a lot of help out there. One of my favorites is writers clubs. I have found writers to be a generous group who do their best to help each other.
Finally, don’t let rejections get you down—most best-selling authors have drawers full of them. Few authors succeed the first time around. However, the only way to guarantee failure is to never try in the first place, or to give up without making a good effort.
It’s never too late. Really.
Darlene Quinn is a writer from Long Beach, CA. She started her career as a teacher, then became a top executive at Bullocks Wilshire department store before reinventing herself in “retirement” as a freelance journalist. Now, the 74-year-old is an award-winning novelist. Her recently published third book, Webs of Fate, won the 2011 Reader’s Favorites Award before it hit the bookshelves. Her novel Webs of Power is the winner of a 2009 National Indie Excellence Award, and Twisted Webs is winner of the 2011 International Book Award for General Fiction and a National Indie Excellence Awards for General Fiction.
From the Editors: Dig a Little Deeper
- The editors at Attorney at Work particularly like Kate Hart’s wonderful little road map for getting a book successfully from your brain to the bookstore’s shelf: How to Get Published—A Flowchart.
- Plus, here’s an interesting take on self-publishing from Entreproducer: “Why the 21st Century Author Is an Internet Entrepreneur.”
- The Friday Five So You Want to Be John Grisham has lots of links for aspiring writers, too.