"What do New York agents, magazine editors and book publishers look for in new writers?" That's the question I hear most often from prospective students. As a former Village Voice columnist, a Contributing Editor for Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmo, author of six books published by major New York houses - one a Book-of-the-Month - and now a weekly columnist for the New York Daily News, I've designed "Writing to Get Published" in answer.
This is a six week course, with a new lesson and writing assignment every week. The only prerequisite is a love of reading, a desire to write and get yourself published by a big New York house. I do not guarantee that will happen. I can guarantee to maximize your chances.
Here's what Michael Korda, Editor in Chief, Simon & Schuster, wrote about my last novel, Goodbye (which he edited): "What first attracted me was the dazzling prose; I was equally impressed by plot and characterization. A considerable literary accomplishment but also a Book of the Month choice, bringing an impressive price at paperback auction. What may also interest your students, I've heard you in discussion with writers like Joe Heller, Patricia Bosworth, Lois Gould and Gay Talese, and remember thinking more than once, Bill ought to be teaching it too. "
One of my goals in this course is creation of a community of writers. By letting your classmates get to know you...by posting carefully thought out critiques of how their work strikes you ...and taking to heart what they in turn say to you... (of course I join in too, doing the final wrap up each week)... literary affinities emerge;--a mutual email support group born that goes on long after the six weeks are over.
There are three How To books that I use as text. The first is Aspects of the Novel, by E.M. Forster, one of the great writers of the 20th century. I know no more expert overview of the interplay of character, plot and writing style that go into the making of a successful novel. The second is The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman, a very knowing New York agent and editor. His subtitle tells you why: "A Writer's Guide to Staying out of the Rejection Pile." The day class starts, you will get the third, free, via email -- my own Writing to Get Published Student's Hand-book. When I feel I've given some topic too short shrift in our classroom, I'll give you a key word to FIND where I go into it in more detail.
Written to be read on computers, the Handbook is constantly revised: pages added in no particular order as illustrations from other writers are quoted, or new ideas of my own come to mind. Which means it is better e-mined than printed out. (And if most of the examples are indeed passages from my own pages, well, not only is that the work I know best; it keeps me out of copyright trouble too.)
Turning yourself from a talented beginner into the kind of writer New York publishers look for. Why do some books read like a re-cap, rather than an emotional work of art that comes to life on the page? A detailed look at modern storytelling: "Show vs. Tell," illustrated with examples from my own writing and others I like even more. The fabric of prose, and the uses of emotional ambiguity to turn the passive reader into your collaborator.
Be ambitious. Begin a large scale writing project. Post the first 500 words. Plus a critique of the 500 your classmates did. "Nobody lies, and nobody gets their feelings hurt."
Narrative technique. An agent will give Stephen King five pages to get his story going. You better capture her attention long before that. The narrative hook, and "the willing suspension of disbelief." Illustrated with a dozen first sentences that tip a busy editor a wink: read with care, this writer knows what she is doing. Plus: who are you writing for? The kind of story for which today's book buyer will not only pay Amazon their $18.95 but tell friends to buy it too.
Write a dozen grabbing first sentences yourself, plus another 500 words on the project you began last week.
Give us a hero/ine to root for. Here's how Elmore Leonard does it. Two old friends meet. Yvonne says last she heard, Eddie had eight or ten million dollars salted away. How come he's suddenly so broke? "I spent two or three million betting on the horses," he replies, "another two or three chasing beautiful women, and the rest I wasted." Did you just laugh? Of course you did. Eddie has more values undreamed of in Dr. Laura's philosophy. By showing this through dialog, rather than telling it to us through authorial exposition -- Leonard makes us want to read more about him -- an understated hero to root for. "Good dialog is oxygen for your prose."
Write 500 words about the Most Interesting Character I Ever Met. Next: give us the next 500 words of the project you began back in Week One.
Scribner's editor, Maxwell Perkins famously cut 65,000 words from a Thomas Wolfe manuscript. "Look Homeward, Angel," was what was left. But editors don't have time to do that anymore. How to edit yourself - cutting those terrific bits, those soul-satisfying lines that show off your style. They are also the very ones that often leave the narrative limping and dead.
In a wordy passage written by you or someone else, cut it to show before and after, and tell us which you think best. Why? Do the same for your classmates' edits. Plus post another 500 words of the project you've been writing all along.
Richard Gere is a movie psychiatrist who falls in love at first sight. "That," warns a colleague, "is unrealistic. Merely a projection of your own wishes." Here's how De Maupassant said the same thing: "The best part of many an affair is the last ten minutes before you ring her doorbell the first time." Literary style, and learning to develop your own "writer's voice." (Which does not mean pompous.)
In the 500 words of the on-going project you've been writing week to week, re-write a passage to make it closer to what will get an editor to pick up the phone and ask your agent, Who is this new writer you've just found?
The business of writing. How do you find a good agent? And why one based in Manhattan? Can you submit your work online? Get an advance on the first few chapters, or must you write the whole thing first? How do you get a magazine assignment? These questions get answered here.
First, if you have not yet done it, exchange e-mail addresses with each other. You are now a community of writers. Stay in touch. Next, write another 500 words on your project. You should now have ten to fifteen pages. Post them. Rate each fellow student on whether s/he should go on, or begin something new. And I will too.
began his writing career in the classic manner: advertising copywriter on Madison Avenue by day, and author of a weekly column for the Village Voice (Saloon Society --later published in hard and soft cover) which he wrote after nights of drinking. With money from his first book contract, he quit his job and sailed for Europe, becoming London-based Contributing Editor for Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmo.
Credits include five novels published by major New York houses - one a Book of the Month. Being chosen by BOM is no measure of literary merit, up or down. But it does attest to first-hand knowledge of how to get a story out from between your ears, down on paper, an agent found, the book in print paid for and distributed by someone else.
Bill also published a book of cartoons - Am I Too Heavy, Dear? - written in collaboration with artist Jim Wright. After giving up drinking twenty years ago, he published his first non-fiction book, "Cool, Hip & Sober." And what grew out of that is "Addictions & Answers," originally a call-in radio show, and now a weekly column which, along with the eminent Dr. David Moore, Bill writes for the New York Daily News. It's been running these last two years.
"Dear Mr. Manville: You might be amused to hear that my dad is William Price Fox. Unless I'm terribly mistaken - and these family legends do get a little fuzzy - you were the one who plucked him off a White Horse stool and first published his writing in the (Village) Voice. Lord knows where I'd be if not for your editorial eye, but certainly not in book publishing. Clearly, I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude."
A letter from Colin Fox, a senior editor with Simon and Schuster in New York
"In my 55 years of journalism, I've seen a lot of people-including reporters and politicians - die from drink and drugs. COOL, HIP & SOBER could have prevented their untimely deaths. In fact, my only complaint is that Bill Manville didn't write and publish COOL, HIP & SOBER 55 years ago. It will undoubtedly save a lot of lives. Poignant and poetic, frank and funny, it makes sobriety seem quintessentially cool, so hip it hurts. COOL, HIP & SOBER is a book to give those who suffer and to the friends and loved one who suffer along with them. It is a book destined to redeem us all."
Jack Anderson, Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist
"Just because I'm in this book doesn't mean I can't praise it, as indeed I do, to the heavens. Reading it, I was so moved time and again as I experienced the loveliness of truth in these extraordinary pieces, written by people who have been to the edge, flirted with the end, and returned to new and better lives."
"I've given one quote in my lifetime - to the girl who persuaded her boss (Bernie Geiss) to publish Sex and the Single Girl...Here comes the second! What an inspiring book! Doesn't hurt that the author is a superb writer. I never read anything like this and am thrilled to recommend the book to anybody with the problem himself or with a suffering family member."
Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmopolitan.
"When I become an addict, Bill Manville's book will be the one I use to rescue myself, because it's fun to read and will make sobriety entertaining, as he is."
Novelist Herb Gold
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