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BEHIND THE BOOK: G.A. McKevett

When people ask me, “What’s the best part of being an author?” numerous answers come to mind. Getting that initial phone call from an editor with an offer of publication. Seeing your book in a store for the first time. Receiving a lovely letter from a fan, telling you how your book got them through a terrible period of their life. But for me, a list of “bests” has to include–teaching writing to those who dream of becoming an author. It was fun, exciting, satisfying, and some of my students became dear, lifelong friends.

However, I don’t teach as much as I once did. Frankly, the main reason is because it broke my heart to see how many talented, hardworking writers never fulfill their dream of publication. I suppose that’s the dark side of being an artist. The singers/dancers/actors/artists/musicians whose names we all know aren’t necessarily the best in the world. Being “good” and being “famous” don’t always go together. I’ve seen some dreadful novels in bookstore windows, while wonderful stories languish on dusty bookshelves in the offices of disillusioned writers, never to be read. Ugh! The injustice of it all!

Of course, once in a great while, a writer does become an author.  Besides a ton of luck, I believe there are three things those who succeed have in common: a writer’s heart, an analytical mind, and skin as thick as a giant sequoia’s bark.

The heart of a writer seems to be a gift. Some receive one. Some not. How can you tell if you’re so gifted? Well, if you love stories—really love them, as in, you’re always reading one or wishing you were—and every conversation you have results in you spinning some sort of yarn (or a dozen, if your audience will allow), then chances are good, you’ve got “it.” It’s a precious, priceless gift. Be extremely grateful.

Here’s a bit of trivia for you…. In days of yore, Irish storytellers were on the same social level as chieftains and their ladies. They were allowed to wear the royal colors of purple and red, choose the best cut of meat from the communal dinner pot, and sit closest to the fire while telling their stories to their rapt listeners long into the night. Humans have always revered a talented storyteller, who can draw us out of our lives and into another more interesting world.

So, you have the heart for it. How about the mind? Writing an entire book, a good book, that will cause people to plunk down their hard-earned bucks for it and spend hours of their life reading it…that’s a bit like running a mental marathon with style and skill. Acquiring those skills and developing your style, that’s where your analytical mind comes in.

Naturally gifted or not, you must learn your craft, and that may include: taking some classes, reading how-to books, or watching videos. You might attend a writers’ group meeting, hopefully with some seasoned, experienced authors who have achieved what you hope to, who dispense specific, practical advice with kindness.

One of the best ways I’ve found to learn the craft of writing is to analyze the successful authors you admire and enjoy. Preferably, someone who has published their first book in the past five years, as writing styles (sadly) go in and out of vogue in the publishing world quite quickly. Study every detail of this one’s work and that one’s. Not with the intention of copying them—heaven forbid—but to see what liberties they allow themselves, to dissect how they create engaging characters, build suspense, write dialogue, and describe worlds that their readers want to return to, over and over again.

This is your job, honing your skills. It never ends. One of the saddest, but most satisfying experiences you can have as a writer is to read a book you wrote years ago and see oh-so-clearly how you could have written it better. It’s humbling, but a fine thing. It means you’ve grown. Learned. Improved. You’re doing your job well.

Okay. You were born with the heart of a writer, and with your analytical brain, you’ve studied, observed, and developed a wonderful style of your own. You’ve written an amazing book that impresses the pants off your friends and family. You can visualize your future bestseller on the shelves of bookstores and on the internet worldwide. You’re fantasizing about the mansion you’re going to buy with all the money you’ll make. (Yeah, right. Good luck with that.) You can’t wait to get an agent to find a publisher who’ll write you a seven-figure check. (See previous parenthetical.) You send it out to every agent and publishing house in New York and the flood of rejection letters begin to arrive along with scoldings about how you committed the deadly sins of sending “unsolicited material” and “multiple submissions.” How dare you! But mostly, you’ll hear nothing at all. That’s when most writers’ hearts break, and they quit.

But this can be either good or bad news for you. Obviously, it’s bad for those who toss their manuscript under their desk and go back to playing Free Cell on their computers. Good for those who refuse to quit! Those who continue to educate themselves, sharpen their skills, learn what it truly takes to get a good agent, and (most frightening of all) put their aching little heart back out there to be stomped on like a hapless spider on an elementary school sidewalk at recess.

This time, when you send your baby back out into the cruel world, edited with any constructive criticism you might have received, you’ll stick to the industry rules. Having done your homework, you’ll find out who is and isn’t accepting manuscripts and wow them with your professional, charming, cover letter. Thick-skinned, determined, and a bit more learned in the ways of the publishing world, you’ll refuse to quit, and increase your formerly miniscule odds to pretty darned good ones. Whether you realize it or not, you just passed the vast majority of the pack, who are still playing solitaire, feeling pretty darned good about their 1,675 straight Free Cell wins, while dust collects on their manuscript-footstool. Tenacity. It’s any artist’s best friend!