The junk planets seem aligned just right. Yesterday, three members of the posse–including daughter Katie, saddled up to attend the 6th annual ATLANTA PET RESCUE tag sale. Jinxie and I went last year and got some major scores, so we all ponied up the $25 “advance” fee this year, and dashed inside. I scored a great painted beachy dresser–in fact, it’s painted with a shell border on the bottom, for $100. This will go in the Tybee beach house. Also got a great wooden pole lamp for $20, and some designer fabric 1/2-yard swatches for $4 apiece. While waiting to get into the sale, a guy was handing out flyers for his sale, which started today. The come-on? “Five Gay Guys with Fabulous Taste are Having a Yard Sale.” Well, how could I not check it out? Got some cool stuff, including three wool plaid stadium blankets, a wicker hamper, brass shaving mirror with bevelled mirror, awesome big white scrolly clock, and a pair of rattan TV trays on folding stands. I also checked in at another estate sale in Buckhead. I got a bag of five vintage 1950s Christmas pixies–the ones with the little fabric legs folded up, all with the original dime-store tags. I’ve got a collection of those that I put out for my vintage tacky Christmas display. Also snagged a retro red taffeta Christmas apron with white embroidery. Tragically, I was also the victim of unprovoked estate sale viciousness. I’d spotted 12 white milk-glass dessert bowls in a kitchen cupboard–marked $15 for all. I scooped them up, and went out to one of the cashiers to ask if I could make a pile of stuff I was buying. She told me to put the stuff on a chair and she’d guard them. As I was setting them down, this heinous bee-yatch (you know the type–dressed in her cool work-out clothes) rushed over and snatched up the whole pile. “Uh?” I said in my best passive-aggressive back-off bee-yatch voice. “I was buying these,” she snarled. She turned to the lady. “Remember? I asked you to move them and put them in a stack for me?” the yard-sale lady just kind of shrugged and said ok. People, this is not proper estate sale etiquette. I let it go this time, but next time around, I will smack this bee-yatch upside her botoxed-head with my sack o’ Christmas Pixies. Seriously. Tomorrow is the big Druid Hills neighborhood-wide yard sale. Druid Hills is the Atlanta neighborhood around Emory University, and it’s full of beautiful old homes. It was also the setting for DRIVING MISS DAISY. Supposedly 140 families are participating. I’m just a-quiver with excitement and anticipation. Will hopefully blog/brag tomorrow about all the treasures I score.
Because I’ve had 16 (soon to be 17) novels published, people believe I’m an expert on getting published. Sadly, I’m only a semi-expert–and only on the topic of getting ME published. But I get emails, and I’m asked to teach, or lecture on the topic, and I rarely go to a cocktail party without having somebody pull me aside and whisper (I’ve got this great idea for a book…).
So I thought I’d put my thoughts on the topic in a post, and maybe kind readers will forward it to their book writing buddies, instead of asking me to read their book writing buddies’ manuscripts. And for the record–1.No. I don’t read other people’s manuscripts. Ever. I barely have time to write my own books, let alone read other people’s. I’m not an editor or an agent. My tastes are my own, and not reflective of the book publishing industry. 2. No. I’m not a book doctor. See above. 3.Yes. A person can make a living writing books. However, I have no idea whether you or your friend can make a living as an author.
So…You have an idea for a book. Is it a book? Is your idea fiction or non-fiction? That’s the first question to ask yourself. If it’s non-fiction, why would a publisher buy such a book? What makes it such a great idea? Has anybody else written on this topic? If so, can you do it better, fresher, smarter? What are your credentials for writing about this non-fiction topic? These are the questions you ask yourself, and which any editor or agent would ask you before ever considering taking a look at your idea. Do your market research. Go to the library, bookstore, internet, to find out what’s been written on the topic, and how recently. Read the competiton, so you’ll understand how your book can be different. You’ll also want to know if that book was considered a success. You can check its Amazon sales ranking, as one measure of success, or ask others who are experts in the field if the competition books did well. Don’t assume an editor or agent will do this. This is YOUR job.
If your idea is for a novel, figure out what kind of novel you want to write, or have written. Is it literary fiction?–i.e. the kind of book Oprah picks for her book club? Is it genre–meaning, is it an identifiable category like mystery, romance, thriller, sci-fi, fanstasy, action-adventure, ect. If you are writing for children, you’ll want to educate yourself about how children’s books are published and sold.
Again, market research. What kind of books do you like, and want to publish? Read those. Figure out how they are structured, who publishes them, and who writes them. Make yourself an expert on the kind of book you want to write. How long are those novels? Hint: NOBODY wants to read your 800-page romance/fantasy/thriller. Unless you happen to be the next J.K. Rowling. Educate yourself about the conventions of genres by reading books on the topic. Libraries usually have great books about writing. You can also usually join genre writer’s groups, like Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (mystery), ect., many of which have helpful publications or meetings with published authors as speakers.
Write the damned book. Give yourself a deadline. I was working fulltime as a reporter for The Atlanta Constitution, and raising two young children when I wrote my first two mysteries. If you want to write badly enough, you’ll find the time. I gave up watching television on weeknights. I gave myself a year to write that first book, and when I was approaching the year deadline, I took my last two weeks of vacation to stay home and finish the book. Try to come up with a workable writing schedule. Mine was to write a chapter a week. I still give myself page and chapter quotas when I’m working on a book. Study plot and structure. Beginning, middle, end. If your mind works that way, outline your novel. Or at least try to write a synopsis of what happens. You don’t have to have an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop to figure out how modern fiction is written. You just have to figure out how story works. Story, by Robert McKee, is helpful for this–if very detailed and overly analytical. I took McKee’s Story workshop in New York years ago, hoping it would help me write a screenplay. I never did write the screenplay, but it was very helpful in thinking about structure. Get help if you need it. Join a writer’s group, either online or in your community. Start your own if one doesn’t exist. Attend a writer’s workshop, or take a writing class through an evening adult ed program. Local colleges offer these, as do organizations throughout the country. You’ll want a workshop or writing class that features published authors as teachers/lecturers. If it’s a workshop offering manuscript consultations, you’ll want one with New York editors and agents as presenters or lecturers. I attended the Antioch Writer’s Workshop nearly twenty years ago when Sue Grafton was teaching mystery writing, solely because the workshop advertised manuscript conferences with Sue Grafton. My experience was priceless. Three months later, I had my first book contract. That doesn’t mean you’ll have the same experience, but it does happen.
Yes, writing is hard work. Have you ever done anything worthwhile that wasn’t hard? No whining! If the writing isn’t going well, keep going anyway. The object is to finish the damned book. You can always go back and polish and edit. But you can’t polish what you ain’t written. So push through the pain and get to the finish-line. Read Ann LaMott’s invaluable book BIRD BY BIRD. Keep it on your nightstand, or by your computer. I do.
When you have finished your book–and not before you are convinced it is the best book you could possibly write– then you are ready to try to sell it. Unless you truly are the next J.K. Rowling, or Candace Bushnell (SEX AND THE CITY), nobody in New York gives a rat’s ass about your IDEA or FRAGMENT. Yes, dears, you do have to write the WHOLE book before you sell it. Usually. Unless you’re the exception to the rule. Maybe you are, but I doubt it. Now you go back and do more market research. Who is publishing books like yours? Are they currently buying? What agents represent authors like you? Check the acknowledgement page on novels you like, lots of times they thank their agent and or editor. Check The Writer’s Market, which should be available at your local library for listings of agents and editors, but make sure you’re reading the most current market guide available.
While you’re studying Writer’s Market, make sure you understand manuscript mechanics. By this, I mean formatting, ect. Once your manuscript is clean and properly formatted, you’re ready to start submitting. Again, go back to the library to check out reference books about marketing a book to find out how to write query letters. Good luck!
The AJC Decatur Book Festival was big fun. Friday night, my friend Jennifer and I went to hear poet Billy Collins at Agnes Scott College. He was wonderful, funny, charming, refreshing, his poems funny and sly and subversive and silly. My favorite part was when he dropped the F-bomb. I mean, the former poet laureate of the United States, and he drops the F-Bomb at a girl’s college. You gotta love it. I got to meet him afterwards, and before-hand, got to meet one of my favorite southern writers, Bailey White. If you’ve never heard her on NPR, or read SLEEPING AT THE STARLIGHT MOTEL, or MAMA MAKES UP HER MIND, you have missed a rare and wondrous treat. She’s got a new book coming out, called NOTHING WITH STRINGS, and I, for one, can’t wait. I met Rick Bragg in the author’s green room too. That’s the great thing about a book festival. One time, I was in the green room at the Miami Book Festival, and Amy Tan came in, with her two eensy-weensy purse puppies, and then Dave Barry came in, and I just took it all in.
We had a very nice crowd for the book festival. Right after my gig at the festival Saturday, I ran home and jumped in the 10-ft. cargo van and hot-footed it up to Raleigh to pick up junk sistah Beth. Sunday morning, we lit out for Brimfield, which turned out to be a 14-hour odyssey, due to traffic jams on various turnpikes. But we are here, we have done a reconaissance around the fields, and have set our alarms for—buttcrack of dawn, or as some people call it, 4 a.m. All the antique fields are supposed to be officially closed today, but I snuck in, and the first person I ran into was Bob, who sold me my bathtub and kitchen sink at Scott’s in Atlanta. The junk world really is a small place. A few years ago, on my first junking trip to England, I ran into a dealer friend from Atlanta at the antique fair in Ardingly. Tomorrow, I junk for joy!
I’m back in the beautiful North Ga. mountains, trying to pound out another fifty pages. It’s hard to concentrate at home, there’s always so much going on. Boomerang Boy has left the building! He’s moved into a 150-year-old farmhouse a few miles away, and I’m sending the washer and dryer with him. Let’s see if that motivates him to do his laundry. If he ever gets it all out of my house…Katie and Mark have found a house to rent a few miles away too, so they’ll be moving out at the middle of the month–I’ll miss them, because they’re both so much help, but they are more than ready to be living under their own roof. And Tybee, my grand-dog, wants his own place too. In the meantime, last weekend was bargain bonanza time. Last Thursday, I met Jinxie and two other friends at the Ballard’s Backroom Tent Sale in Alpharetta. Holy smokes! Talk about shopping frenzy. If you’ve never seen the Ballard’s Design catalog, you should check it out. The Alpharetta backroom is their catalog outlet–lots of scratch and dent and discontinued items usually. But this was the biggie. The joint was swarming with women, scratching and clawing to get at their bargains. I somehow managed to score a 9-by-12 sisal rug for $150–regularly about $450, and a pair of way cool silver metal wall sconces for Boomerang Boy’s room at the beach. I paid $30 for the pair, I think. And then….I stood in line for nearly two hours waiting to pay. Later in the weekend, Jinxie and I hit some more estate sales. I scored a great oak dresser to put in my antique booth. And by Sunday, I’d painted it a soft sea-glass green enamel, and added glass knobs and handles. Jinx and I went back to the Ballard’s backroom outpost on Howell Mill Road because we were in the neighborhood, and I made another excellent find. Fabric remnants were on clearance, and I managed to round up enough yardage, like 27 yards in all, of white cotton duck. The biggest piece was 15 yards, and the rest of the yardage was in one and two yard remnants. But that’s okay, because I’ll use the duck to have a slipcover made for my $175 Baptist yard sale sleeper sofa for the beach, and my friend Tacky Jacky, the slipcover sorceress, assured me that will be more than enough for what we need. The cost came out to be like, $2.40 a yard! And then I struck gold again, finding a 21-yard bolt of gorgeous beach-glass blue paisley cotton fabric for about the same price. My plan is to use the blue fabric for cushions for the forties rattan armchairs I’ve been hordeing for nearly two years, plus throw pillows, and maybe some window treatments. I brought a swatch of the fabric up to the mountains with me. And I like to look at it, and visualize what my beachy living room will look like. Pathetic, huh? In the meantime, I’m churning out those pages of The Fixer-Upper. Gotta reach my quota of 50 pages, because this is a Scott’s Antique Market weekend coming up. No junking for me ’til the pages are in.