An Interview with James Williams
A guest post by Jennifer Blanchard
I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid. Now, I’m a writing coach by day and a writer by night (and sometimes also a writer by day and a writing coach by night). But I never had anyone else in my family with the same desire as me: to write a novel.
So I was really surprised a few years ago when my father-in-law, Jim, told me he was writing a novel. He had an idea for a story and he ran with it, sitting down right away to get started writing.
As soon as he told me this news, I immediately jumped on Amazon and ordered him a copy of Larry’s book, Story Engineering. (It’s my belief that anyone who wants to write a novel must read this book. I wish it had existed back when I tried writing my first novels.)
In the note I sent with the book, I let Jim know that reading it would shave years off his novel-writing journey.
All I can say is, I was right.
Not only did he use the knowledge in Story Engineering to write a kick-ass story, but he even landed himself a publishing deal.
I’ll let him tell you the rest…
1. When did you write your first novel? (And is it the same novel that’s being published?)
The book [that’s being published] is my first full-length novel, although I wrote a shorter novella just prior to this book. I completed the novella in August of 2012—it took about two months to write.
I began writing my current novel in September of that same year, and it took about five months to write.
I work two jobs, about 70 hours a week, and write in my spare time.
2. Did you have a plan ahead of time or did you just sit down and write the story?
With the novella, I had no plan. I just wrote it like I was telling a story.
Of course, it may have been a good story idea, but it was a lousy book.
3. How did reading Story Engineering change the course of you writing your novel? What actions did you take after reading the book?
I read Story Engineering while I was writing the novella and it changed my whole approach to writing my novel. The elements explained in Story Engineering made a lot of sense to me.
I realized every book or story I had ever read contained all of those elements. I just never knew what they were called or how critical they are to a good book.
I wrote my novel using an outline that included the Hook, the Pinch Points and the Plot Points. I filled everything in around those items and it made it easy to write the book.
4. How much work did you have to put into the post-draft rewrites of the novel in order to make it publishable?
Because I am a novice writer, my first draft was not written particularly well. Of course I didn’t know it at the time, but the first draft lacked detail and emotion; it was robotic.
Over a three-month period, I sent out queries to about 30 agents with no success at all. I received form rejection letters, daily. So I got feedback from some relatives and I knew it wasn’t good enough.
Without changing the critical elements of the outline, I rewrote the book from the beginning, adding more detailed descriptions and trying to give the reader an idea of what the characters were feeling.
You can do that forever, but I wanted to cap the book at around 80,000 words, because everything I read about agents and publishers said a first novel should not be longer than 80,000 words.
5. How did you find your current publisher?
After the first rewrite, I sent out another 20 or so queries. Still, all I heard back was, “sorry.”
At this point everyone who read the book said it was good, but I wasn’t having any luck selling it.
So I changed the query letter and kept plugging along, sending out a handful of letters every week, and every week receiving a handful of rejection letters in my mailbox.
Eventually, the improved query letter began to pay off and I had a couple of publishers ask for a manuscript.
One day, almost a year after sending out the first query, I was feeling pretty low. I felt like I was banging my head against a wall and getting nowhere.
That evening, I opened my e-mail to find a letter from a publisher, complete with an attached contract for my novel.
James Williams’ debut novel will be available in 2015.
The moral of the story: follow Larry’s Story Engineering principles, write a story that’s publishable.
About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is an author and writing coach who helps emerging novelists take their stories from idea to draft, without fear, distractions or disorganization. Grab a copy of her free eGuide + workbook: Write Better Stories (there’s a story structure cheat sheet involved).