Write & Publish Your Novel by M.E. Brines by M.E. Brines - Read Online

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Write & Publish Your Novel - M.E. Brines

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Introduction – Why this book is useful

Two different small presses published nine of my novels, plus I've self-published more than thirty other novels and non-fiction books using Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Createspace and Smashwords. If you're curious, a partial list is provided at the end of this book, or just go to any on-line bookseller and plug M.E. Brines into the search engine.

I've been to four writers conferences (and got voted Best Book Pitch at the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference.) My work has also appeared in Challenge, Weird Tales, The Outer Darkness, Tales of the Talisman, and Empirical magazine. Along the way I collected 377 rejection letters, so I not only understand how to succeed, but also how to fail. But most importantly, I've also been the moderator for the East Valley Writers' Wednesday night critique group since the summer of 2008, where we've critiqued thousands of manuscripts of all types. I've seen all the common mistakes beginning writers make.

This book is the distillation of more than a decade's experience in writing, editing, submitting and publishing. It's full of helpful hints you'll find useful at whatever stage of the publishing process you find yourself. Using this book as a guide, you can write and publish your novel.

Chapter One–When at first you don’t succeed….

Over the years a lot of great writers have been willing victims of suicide: Hemingway, H.P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard, are just a few. After years of trying to get my work published I understand why. Here's an autobiographical short story you might appreciate. The characters are all based on actual people with the names changed to protect the guilty. Their comments are generally word for word what was actually said to me.

Not long ago I went to one of those writer’s conferences where you get to meet agents and publishers to pitch your work. I figured since my novel Maidre d' to the Damned had a spiritual theme it would be perfect for a Christian publisher, so I sought one out.


I sat across the table from him as he leafed through my synopsis, his dark tie contrasting with his white shirt and conservative blazer. He wore a little gold cross on his lapel.

Shaking his head, he shoved my papers back at me. Sorry, we can’t use this.

But why?

It’s got vampires in it.

Yeah, but they’re the bad guys. The good guys win in the end.

But...it has vampires in it.

But the heroes destroy them with the help of a cross and the word of God. The story demonstrates the power of Christ in the eternal struggle between Good and Evil.

That doesn’t matter. The story has vampires in it. I can’t possibly sell something like this to Christian bookstores.

But it isn’t an Anne Rice-style glorification of an anti-social vampire-rock star. I went out of my way to portray the true horror of living that way.

Then sell it to somebody who appreciates horror.


I found out later that the majority of Christian bookstore customers are middle-aged white women with 2.3 kids and a dog. It’s no wonder then most of those places look like greeting card shoppes and they rarely have anything on their fiction shelves beyond historical romances. So I took his advice and sought out a horror publisher. My novel did have vampires in it, after all.

Humph, he said. Doesn’t have much bite.

What do you mean?

What I mean is, your body count is way too low. And it doesn’t have enough splatter. I mean, where’s the blood? The gore? The poor defenseless victims writhing in their own internal organs? And then for your ending the good guys win? What’s with that?

But it’s suspenseful. The whole human race is in danger of being enslaved by vampires and the disgruntled ex-barkeep, his wife, and drinking buddies are the world’s only hope. You can’t tell how it’s going to end until the very last page.

Well, he said, stroking his chin. I guess you could bill it as suspense then. But it’s just not horrible enough to be horror.


How can it be suspense? It’s got vampires in it.

Come on, man, it’s loaded with suspense. Once they hack that pharmaceutical company’s data you don’t know who's after them or why. Do they really have the cure for AIDS? Is the government actually responsible? Who is it that keeps trying to kill them? Are Roger and his gang really vampires? And who is this mysterious guy in the trench coat who looks like Woody Allen? You gotta keep turning the pages to find out.

That sounds more like a mystery than suspense. Sorry, try somebody else.


Yes, I see that it has all the elements of a classic noir detective story with good, strong descriptive phrases that border on the poetic, and a clean style, a little reminiscent of Le Carre, but it has a time machine in it. That makes it science fiction. He pushed the manuscript back toward me.


If your protagonist was a little old lady with a cat and a fetish for crossword puzzles there are people I could take this to. But a modern urban couple taking on a gang of vampires…. He shrugged, Give the sci-fi guy a try.


The science-fiction editor was a kid who looked like he had just received his promotion from the mail room the week before. He hesitated a long time after reading my synopsis before replying.

You’ve got a lot of stuff in here.

Yes, but do you think you can use it?

First, I’d like to say that you’ve obviously got a lot of talent, but….

But what?

"Well, it’s hard to really take this seriously. I mean, time-traveling Nazi vampires? That’s a lot to swallow. The first thing that went through my mind when I read that was the movie Surf Nazis Must Die! You ever seen that movie? I mean, it’s hilarious, but you just can’t take it seriously. This. He tapped my synopsis. The style is way too serious to be a good parody but the plot is just so unbelievably far out there that I just can’t take it seriously. Sorry Bud, he said handing it back. Have you ever thought about rewriting it as a comedy piece?"


And anyway, it’s hardly science-fiction.

But it has a time-machine in it!

Yeah, but you don’t go into any details about how the thing works. You never go off on a protracted rant about relativity or paradoxes or quantum physics or any of that. It’s just a convenient prop to transport your villains from 1945 to the present. I mean, for all the good it does, you might just as well have used a magic pentagram or something. This is closer to fantasy than science fiction. Try a fantasy publisher. They take a lot of humorous stuff, too.


She glanced up at me over the octagonal lenses of her granny glasses. "So you’re saying the guy who specializes in books about far-out inventions that don’t exist and travel to other planets rejected your manuscript because he thought the plot was just too weird to be science-fiction? I guess he never read Dune. With fantasy, outlandish situations are not really a problem. However, I don’t see any place in the story that involves elves or dragons."

Uh, that’s because there are no elves or dragons in the story.

She shook her head reprovingly, No fairies either, I see.

I mention at the beginning of the book some homosexuals that hang out at the restaurant where the protagonist works.

"Those are not the kind of fairies I’m talking about. She handed me back the sheaf of papers, No elves, no fairies, no dragons, you make fun of the New Age and speak disparagingly of magick. And I’m not even going to discuss the possible homophobic elements or that anti-feminist tinge."

What anti-feminist tinge?

Your main protagonist is a married man. That presupposes a traditional dominant male sexual role that has no place in modern fiction.

The story isn't about sex roles. It’s about a modern-day restaurant manager and his wife who save the world from being enslaved by a race of blood-sucking fiends.

Yes, but that’s exactly your problem. It’s set in the modern world. If you had your protagonist swept away into another world, a fantasy world--

One with elves and dragons in it?

Certainly. Even if you left him in the modern world if you had worked elves or even just pixies into it then I might be able to interest someone in this, but as it stands…. She shrugged.


I stood in the lobby clutching the program, looking at the list of agents and editors attending the conference. Who was left? Maitre d’ to the Damned had a little romantic tension in the form of a possible love triangle between the protagonist, his wife and the female vampire who hired them to solve a mystery, but I doubted that was enough to make a romance novel. With my luck, any romance editor I pitched it to would probably want me to work some sort of lesbian angle into it. And about all that the novel had in common with a Western was being set in Arizona. But then I noticed the listing Experimental Fiction. What was that? Fiction written by people in lab coats where even the author doesn’t know how the story is going to end? What could be so experimental about fiction?

Ah, what the hell. I’d tried everything else.


Flipping over the last page of my synopsis, the acquisitions editor of Bizarro Books leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs. It was difficult for me not to stare. She was wearing a black miniskirt so short it made the outfits worn by the crew women on the original Star Trek look like fancy ball gowns. Her skintight black top left little of the rest of her figure to the imagination. Not that I found her attractive. Any such feelings had been more than offset by the weight of all the metal in her various piercings. She probably had a hell of a time getting through checkpoints at the airport. And I’d seen retired marines with fewer tattoos.

I like it, she said.


The voice you use in the novel. It’s fresh. It has a sarcastic, bitter tone like a worldly-wise mercenary who’s seen it all and found nothing he fancies.

I shrugged. Expect the worst and you’re never disappointed.

Exactly. Her welcoming grin just seemed completely out of place inside all that pasty-faced emo makeup, like a smiley face on a bio-hazard warning sign.

So you’ll publish my book?

No. You have some serious plot issues to resolve first. For example, the opening in that all-night restaurant frequented by the gangers, gays and Goths is strong, but a bit mundane. Have you ever considered rewriting it into a more exotic locale, say, a Catholic prep school for wealthy debutantes….

Chapter Two—What's your goal?

If you want to avoid having your own Chapter One experience, you need to read this book.

Do you have a story that just has to be told? Or maybe you just want to sit around the local coffee shop and have people refer to you as that writer. Maybe you want to be like Hemingway, penning epic literary masterpieces that will last a thousand years (or at least seem that way to the unfortunate kids in English class who have to read them.) Or maybe your hero is Truman Capote, who published a couple of books and then spun that and vague plans for the next one into decades of notoriety at cocktail parties. The path you take to publication will be different depending on your ultimate goal.

The destination is the most important part of any journey. Lao Tzu, a 6th century Chinese philosopher said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. But if you don't know where you're going, how will you know which direction to step? Or when to stop stepping when you get there?

Your goal sets the destination for your writing. It determines what you write, how you write it, who you submit it to, and ultimately where it gets published and the resulting sales. Most writing goals fall into one of two categories: commercial or literary.

Writers with a commercial goal seek to publish a book and expect to make money off it. Their goal is sales. They want to tell a good story, but they also want to get paid. Commercial writers want to see their book in stores. They don't expect to be the new J.K. Rowling (unless they're delusional) but a fat quarterly royalty check would be appreciated.

On the other hand, literary writers don't care if the unwashed masses don't buy their masterpiece as long as it gets a good review in the Times. They've got something important to say and they want to say it, and get heard by the right people. They are artists. Their goal is to publish so they can receive their well-deserved praise from the literati, the mavens of taste at the pinnacle of society.

Don't be deluded. You can't have both. Literary fiction doesn't make money and commercial fiction gets no respect. You pick one and take your chances.

This book is primarily devoted to the foibles of commercial fiction. It's what I have experience with. But if you wrote the Great American Literary Novel and want to get it published, you can still benefit.


Who is your customer?

Knowing your goal also helps you answer: Who is going to buy my book? That's who you have to write for.

For literary works, an editor is going to look at it and determine if it's going to impress her peers in the industry. Are they likely to shower it with awards? Does this book fit the criterion the mavens of taste have laid down for literary excellence? It doesn't matter if it appeals to the masses. They are asses. Nobody who's anybody cares what they think. It's all about the avant garde trend setters in publishing, not some plumber looking for something to pass the time in a dentist's waiting room.

Commercial writers usually make the mistake of thinking they're writing for people who patronize bookstores looking for a good read. But this is not true. Unless