• Mark Meier

Over recent months I’ve been watching a lot of videos on how to write. Most of them repeat things I’ve already heard, but occasionally I’ll hear a bit of advice that’s new - or at least said in a way that makes it new to me.

I’ve toyed with doing videos like that, but there seems to be a glut of Seven Things Agents Hate, Six Ways to Get Noticed, or Nine Tips on Effective Fiction Storytelling. The only things I could tell are simply a retelling of what’s already out there.

I just came across a FB post from an author on the verge of reaching a milestone for her FB Page. “When I get there, I’ll give you tips that might contradict what you know.”

Seriously? With all the videos giving advice about how to format a manuscript, you’re going to tell us what we’ve learned might be wrong? (BTW, simply follow the guidelines of the publisher or agent as specified on their website. You can’t go wrong with that.)

One of the things I’ve learned in the last few years is that technical perfection in writing isn’t (1) achievable, or (2) really that important. What’s important is to show you have a grasp of the language, can tell a gripping story, and find a publisher who thinks they can make money on it.

That’s pretty much it.

If there are rules, they’re something like this:

1 - Don’t tick off the folks who decide.

2 - Learn and love the language.

3 - Tell a good story.

That’s it. The rest is beyond your control. Write a rude query letter, you’ll get rejected. Write something difficult to read, you’ll get rejected. Tell a boring story, you’ll get rejected.

The guidelines listed on agent and publisher sites boil down to making the manuscript as easy on the eyes as possible. White space is important, but if you think an agent is going to get out a ruler to make sure your margins aren’t a tenth of an inch outside the mandate, you’re mistaken. If your line spacing is 1.9 instead of 2.0, they’ll never notice if your story is good.

When you have a boring story, or is too similar to the other thousand books in your genre, your 2.0 won’t save you from rejection.

I’m not telling you to ignore the guidelines. If you’re too far outside the limits, it’ll be noticed and will become a tick toward rejection. No sense committing an unforced error (see my rule #1 above).

Write what you like.

Rewrite the story (until you can’t make it better).

Edit the story (until you can’t make it better).

Submit the story.


Sooner or later you’ll submit something the gatekeepers think will earn them money.

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  • Mark Meier

A little over a week ago I wrote a post about outlining, and this morning I may have turned into a born-again outliner.

I’ve been planning and plotting a series I’ve decided to call The Archives. The stories won’t be written in chronological order, but rather which one speaks to me most when it comes time to work on one. This first one to get significant work is about a woman named Neora, and takes place about a quarter of the way through the ten thousand years of my overall story.

So after outlining Neora last week I went to work on another story - The Brotherhood. When walking our Bichon Frise (named Stitches, AKA The Dog Who Would Be King) this morning, I realized an entire half of my story is merely a lead-up to Neora. The real story arc belongs to another woman, named Amira. She’s part of the story from beginning to end.

If I hadn’t outlined, I might not have realized that for months. By that time I’d have a significant portion of a first draft, and have to dump most of it in the trash. (I’d really have saved it. I don’t think I delete anything I write.)

The beginning of the story has Amira and her husband watching a red dwarf star flare, killing hundreds and wiping out cropland in the “grain belt” of galactic civilization. Now that I’ve realized the story is really about Amira, I can build my story about what that flare means for HER instead of Neora.

Stephen King is a big proponent of seat-of-the-pants writing. “Put your main character in a difficult spot and discover through your writing how they deal with it.” But what if you get half-way through the story before you realize your main character isn’t who you though it was?

The King model may work well if your story is a one-off. If it’s part of a massive series, it’s hard to see that leading to success.

So scratch the novel of Neora. Welcome Amira to The Archives.

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  • Mark Meier

I’m not exactly the most impressive author on the planet, but some things I’ve learned. Top of that list is EDIT!

The next thing on that list is “It’s not ready yet.” That’s the battle I’m fighting with The Brotherhood. Five stories, four of them have seen extensive critiquing, and I’m getting close to being ready to submit. “It’s not ready yet.”

The Final Spell (published in the anthology Shadows and Teeth: Vol. I [Darkwater Syndicate]) is the first story. This is followed by The First Horseman (published in the anthology Lost and Found: Tales of Things Gone Missing [Wagonbridge Publishing]), then The Prophet of Death (unpublished), Windowed the Soul (unpublished), and finished off by Victory (“it’s not ready yet”).

My critique groups are only about half-way through Victory, but my first pass of self-editing the whole collection is almost done. That makes me eager to throw caution to the wind and send it off to agents and publishers.

But, “it’s not ready yet.”

That’s a rookie mistake I still fight against, and it Must Be Resisted. An editor or agent can usually tell within a couple of minutes if a piece might sell. Is that unfair? No. They’re the experts, and the project an author has labored across years to produce boils down to how the first couple of pages strike the gatekeepers. They know the industry in ways authors never will.

They know if a subject or genre is selling at any given moment. That’s their job. Are dragons overdone? Are publishers looking for flawed superheroes? Maybe a new hit about a drug addicted piano player from an alien planet just sold and everyone wants to read about a hominoid who gets high on lime smoothies.

Who could have predicted THAT? Answer: nobody. But if you have a story ready to submit when something like it goes viral, you’re in. If you try to quick write the lime smoothie story when it first hits, the buzz will be gone before you get it done.

The point being, you can’t time the publishing market any more than you can time the stock market.

Write what you like to read. Practice your craft, and don’t make rookie mistakes. I’ve made most of them, though I’d never claim to have done them all.

And yes, I’ve violated the one I’m fighting now.

“It’s not ready yet.”

Though, if an agent or editor wants to look at either of the anthologies listed above, I’m nearly done.

Any takers? No?


That’s okay.

“It’s not ready yet.”

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