Archive for the ‘writing’ Category
Over my years in the writing business, I’ve read many posts on numerous MBs and spoken to people in person who went through what I did as a newbie. Because I failed to learn about what I was getting into early on, I had to find out on the fly. That cost me time, money, and a lot of stress.
I’ve come to believe that marketing and promo are as important as the actual writing. If a new author isn’t aware of that going in, he or she can be in for a rude awakening down the line.
A while ago I wrote an article about research and posted it on my site. That piece is pasted below. You’ll note that near the end I vent a little about a “true crime” book I read. I considered deleting that part, but decided to leave it in because I believe it illustrates my point.
When I think of research in conjunction with writing, two things come to mind. There is, of course, the research you have to do for your story, especially if you’re writing non-fiction or historical fiction. But before you get to that, if you’re a new author working on your first manuscript, you’d be very wise to research the business of writing. Before you invest your time, hopes, and dreams in your book, have some idea of what you’re going to do with the manuscript when it’s completed.
First, you need to identify your motivation and what you want from your book. If you’re writing a family history, for example, you probably aren’t expecting huge financial rewards or national recognition. But if your goals are loftier, you should have some knowledge at the start about what lies ahead of you. When your work is finished, you should already know who is going to edit it and what your publishing options are. Have you thought about what you’ll do if a traditional publisher doesn’t want your book? Are you prepared to self-publish? Have you identified your target audience? As an unknown author, do you know what the chances are of getting your book on the bookstore shelves if you use a self-publishing and/or POD service? Do you have a marketing plan?
I raise these questions not to discourage you, but to encourage you to become aware of the realities of the business you’re considering getting into. Many basements, garages, file cabinets, closets, and desk drawers are filled with manuscripts that were written by authors who thought they could simply put their story on paper and their job was over. Editors, publishers, agents, and publicists would handle everything else. They could sit back in their easy chairs waiting for the call telling them where their next signing would be or when their book tour would start.
In fact, that was pretty much my attitude when I started working on my first book, The Morgue. I can tell you that I’ve learned in the 11 years and eight books since, that ain’t the way it works. So please, do yourself a favor and start your writing career with your eyes wide open and as much knowledge about the business as you can get.
Now, I’ll move on to researching for your story. Why is good research important when writing your non-fiction or historical fiction manuscript? In addition to potential legal issues, you owe it your readers to present the most accurate account of the subject you’re writing about as possible. I have a rather basic philosophy about research: Do it and document it. Seek information on your topic from all sources available to you. The Internet, newspaper archives, magazines, other books, documentary films, public records, and the actual people who participated in or witnessed specific events, are all resources you can utilize in your quest for accuracy.
Most major incidents are reported in a variety of places, are well documented and fairly easy to verify. When the information is sketchier, compare whatever accounts you’re able to find for consistencies and discrepancies. There may be times when you find multiple versions of the same event and can’t determine which is correct. In those instances you may want to exclude that particular incident or the unresolved portion of it from the story.
If your source is from the Internet, print it out and keep it in your files. If the information is from a newspaper, get a copy of the paper or at least the relevant article; ditto with a magazine. If you’re using another book, make sure you identify the title, author, and publisher.
Today, virtually every documentary shown on TV channels such as Discovery, A&E, National Geographic, and The History Channel offer tapes/CDs of their programs for sale. If it’s important, buy a copy. Yes, it’s an expense. But it may be a small price to pay should your version of events be challenged. And if you’re interviewing a person, record the interview or take detailed notes. Remember, human beings can have faulty memories, or even lie. If possible, get documentary evidence to corroborate witness statements.
Remember to include attributes and acknowledgements, and obtain permissions as necessary.
Let me close by mentioning my current area of focus: organized crime in Las Vegas, the Tony Spilotro era in particular. There is a self-published book out that is listed as “True Crime” and contains a section on Tony Spilotro. I read that portion of the book and came away appalled at the number of mistakes and inaccuracies I found. Some of them could possibly be explained away as typos. I know that almost every book contains a typo or two, no matter how good the author, editor or publisher. But using different dates of death two pages apart, citing a trial as occurring in Chicago when it took place in Las Vegas, and reporting a mistrial as an acquittal go way beyond typos. To me, those things demonstrate poor or no editing, grossly inadequate research, and a lack of respect for the readers by passing the book off as “True Crime.”
Credibility, or a lack thereof, can make or break a non-fiction author. Readers may overlook typos and minor inconsistencies in unimportant matters. But if the author plays fast and loose with the facts and gets caught, he might very well have to kiss his literary career goodbye.
Do your research and document it. Learn to make it an enjoyable part of your writing project and rest easy in the knowledge that you’ve produced the most accurate book possible.