How I first got published, part 2 – Ideas and Execution

The following is an encore from 2009, presented here in the hopes that the info will be helpful for aspiring authors. I’ve authored or coauthored five books since, and self-published another four, and most of this still applies. So enjoy. Hope it helps!

So as I mentioned in the first part of this series, ideas are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively worthless. In some ways they are the least significant piece of the puzzle. After all, creative people – and I assume that if you’re reading this you’re probably a creative person – usually have far more ideas than they know what to do with. Had I 48 hours to each day and no need to sleep I still wouldn’t have time to do and create all I’d like to do and create. No doubt that applies to many of you.

Ideas are just the start.

writing-923882_640But every story has to start somewhere, and this one started with an idea. I had been itching for a project and was keen on the idea of collaborating with someone, so I approached my buddy Jim McDevitt with an outlandish notion. “Hey,” I said, “Let’s watch every Alfred Hitchcock film in chronological order over the course of a single year. And let’s write about it.”

I’m not sure he knew what to make of my proposal at first – after all, I was asking him to devote a year of his life to doing something he loved (watching Hitchcock movies) along with something that qualified as work (a whole ton of writing) – but he warmed to it quickly enough.

Our memories differ on this next point. Not that it matters either way, but as I recall I pitched the idea to him as a possible book and suggested we first run the chapters as a weekly series at DVD in my Pants, aka DIMP. He says I pitched it to him as a weekly online series and that he suggested we try to turn it into a book. Either way, once we agreed to work together we knew we were going to do two things: 1) Write a book, and 2) run the first drafts of each chapter online as a weekly series.

Why would we do that? Why give away our work in progress? For a few reasons. While I had finished a book-length manuscript before (a bad fantasy novel now sitting in a drawer), Jim had not. Writing a book is a BIG TASK. It takes a lot of dedication and focus. Speaking only for myself (though I know Jim would agree), forced deadlines work wonders in keeping yourself working. Knowing there were people reading, knowing they were expecting a new installment each week, knowing that once we started we were obligated to keep producing … that kept us going.

It also helped that we had constant and immediate feedback. Comments, questions, critiques. The DIMP community helped us get a sense for when we were going wrong and when we were on the right track. Their encouragement helped us through the difficult early stages of the book. I’ve found that a sense of momentum is a tremendous help in finishing a book-length project. The early going is hard, but once you reach a certain point pure inertia helps you get to the end. The trick is to get to the point where inertia takes over.

So that was our deal. For a year, week in, week out, we’d write. I’m sure there are as many variations to the way co-authors work as there are co-authored books, but the way we worked was like this: I’d write 800 to 2,000 words on, say, The Lady Vanishes. I’d send this to Jim, who would use my commentary as a launching point for his own. The next week he’d write first and I would follow-up on him. We did this 52 times.

Now file that away in your memory banks, because that process becomes a very important part of the story once we’re negotiating to sell the book.

In the meantime, we’re now writing, writing, writing…

More tomorrow

Read part 1 (Introduction), part 2 (Ideas & Execution), part 3 (The Query), part 4 (The Waiting Game), part 5 (Revising & Rewriting), and part 6 (All That Other Stuff), and take a look at the resulting book. Learn more about Eric here, and find out more about his independent editorial services here.