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Some New-Writer FAQ's
         Reprinted with permission By Barbara Sachs Kremer

    How do I become a writer?
    That depends on the type of writer you want to become. Assuming you mean
    you want to be a published writer, first you must decide what you want
    to write. To be published means to find a "market," (the magazine or
    publishing house that buys your writing) for your written work, also
    called "piece." Everything written falls into two categories: fiction
    and nonfiction. So, which one do you want to write?  Fiction includes
    poetry, short stories, novelettes, novellas and novels. Nonfiction
    includes news and feature articles, columns and books. There are dozens
    of books and schools that specialize in teaching these forms to would-be
    writers. So begin by doing a little research: find some books and
    courses that appeal to you, that break the writing process down into
    simple steps. Do your "homework" and learn the basics. And write. If you
    do nothing else, get comfortable with words. Make them your friend.
    and this leads to another question: 
    Can anyone be a writer?
    This is one of the most controversial questions in the writing business.
    Some people believe writing cannot be taught; others say it can. The
    process certainly can be taught, but the skill involved in taking a
    subject and presenting it in a way that grabs and holds readers may not
    be enough to overcome poor vocabulary and a lack of facility with words.
    Good writers have ideas that get expressed without the "disability" of
    clunky wording. They've learned the art of saying things simply and
    directly. They know the difference between using a long sentence and a
    short one for effect and how to weave the two variations into one piece
    that makes a point or has an emotional effect on the reader. The real
    question here is can you put one thought in front of another in a way
    that makes people want to read those thoughts?  If you can't, this is
    what you need to learn if you want to be a writer.
    How do I get published?
    When you're ready, when you have a piece that's been polished (you've
    looked at Writer's Market and followed the instructions it gives for
    typing a manuscript in proper format, you've had that manuscript edited
    and tightened so it reads smoothly and has the impact on a cold reader
    it's supposed to have), you submit it to the markets you've found that
    print that type of piece.
    4. I see so many different ways of handling grammar and submissions--how
    do I know which one is right?
    If you're American, get yourself a Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a
    Harbrace or Holt Handbook and a Writer's Market.  The first two books
    will tell you how to handle grammar, punctuation and spelling, as well
    as wording for tightness and effectiveness. The third one, Writer's
    Market, shows you listings of magazines and publishers and whether or
    not they offer their own guidelines for submissions. Always request
    guidelines if you're targeting a particular magazine. For a book
    publisher, you may need an agent, and the listing will say something
    like "No unagented submissions accepted." 
    If you're British or Canadian, or if you write for one of those
    countries' markets, be aware that they handle quotation marks and some
    spelling differently. The Internet is a good example of "mixed"
    punctuation and spelling--not only do you have the poor spellers adding
    their creative versions of words, but you also have the mix between
    American and British styles.
    5.   What's the difference?
    American style is to put all (ALL) end quotation marks OUTSIDE commas
    and end-of-sentence periods ("He's gone."  He received an "A," a "B,"
    and a "C.").  British style is just the opposite ("He's gone".  He
    received an "A", a "B", and a "C".) A spelling example is the family of
    words ending in -or: neighbor (British = neighbour), color (British =
    colour). It helps on the Internet, for example, to know where the source
    of grammar and punctuation you're consulting actually originated: If
    it's British, it may have uk in its url, but even if it doesn't, if it
    tells you to put quotation marks inside commas and periods, it's British
    6.   What else can I do?
    Read. Whatever types of pieces you want to write, read published
    examples of them. Get familiar with which magazines or publishing houses
    publish those types. If you can't find a publisher listed in Writer's
    Market, check the library for more publishing listings. And practice.
    And study. One of my favorite books is Gary Provost's Make Every Word
    Count. A favorite grammar guide besides the ones I've already mentioned
    is Pinckert's Practical Grammar. Another favorite is William Zinsser's
    On Writing Well. For fiction, one of the best how-to books I've seen is
    Scott Meredith's Writing to Sell.
    When you've reached this point, then it might be time to network a bit
    and even to join a writer's group, that is if you're not getting
    published already. By networking I mean go to writers' conferences and
    meet people, especially taking advantage of the chance to meet authors,
    editors and publishers at these conferences. In forming a group, be
    careful: The worst writing group is one where no one has done any
    "learning" yet.  Instead, these wanna-be writers have jumped into
    writing without doing their homework. And their advice will be
    inconsistent and even contradictory. They are no doubt well-intended and
    caring individuals, but why spend time getting pats on the back from
    people who don't even know the real basics about getting something
    written well for publication? The best place to find a group to join or
    to form is in a course with others who are learning along with you.
    You'll sign up for the second and third course, and to your surprise
    you'll see some familiar faces. Look closer: These people may be just
    the ones you need to have in your group.
    7.   How do I know whose advice to take?
    There's a basic rule in "criticism" that goes like this: If several
    people read your work and all make different comments, the work is
    probably all right. If more than one of them however repeat the same
    problem, you should take heed. As for "professionals" like me, well,
    there are those who have trained and worked in the business, and then
    there are many who call themselves "professionals" when they really are
    no such thing. You tell the difference by doing your own homework first;
    then if you see letters coming from so-called professionals (or web
    sites) that contain typos and other errors in grammar and spelling or
    are just sloppily presented, don't be taken in. Someone mere enthusiasm
    for a subject doesn't earn that person anything at this point. 
    8.   What about book doctors: How do I know a good one from a bad one?
    Again, do your homework first. After you have some "training" under that
    belt of yours, you'll have more of an "educated" eye for spotting those
    little things that give away the nonprofessional pretenders. Can this
    book doctor write? Has he or she ever been published in any kind of way?
    Does this person use a name or is the book doctoring business called
    something else that "hides" the people involved? How far away is this
    person? Is he or she a total stranger? Try to get to know one of your
    instructors or develop that group first for this purpose. Instructors
    often read manuscripts on the side and charge reasonably if at all. You
    may never need a book doctor. But if you do decide that's the only way,
    find one through someone you do know, and get other references. You
    wouldn't hire a stranger to run your business, would you? 
    9.   When do I know if my work is ready to submit?
    It takes awhile to learn to write well. I've had adult students who came
    into my courses with works that were so good, all they needed was some
    minor editing and trimming. I would say the average learning time is
    between four months to a year. That doesn't mean your early stuff is
    unprintable, but it may have promise very quickly. It's a judgment call,
    and one sure way to tell is to try submitting something you really think
    is good and see what happens. There is a "hierarchy" to rejection slips:
    Your manuscript crammed back into the return envelope means it was
    regarded as "loathsome" by whoever read it; your manuscript neatly
    returned with a curt "not suitable for our publication" form note tacked
    onto it means lots of things ranging from your writing was not up to
    par, the grammar and punctuation were poor, to the article simply wasn't
    what they want; your manuscript returned with an actual handwritten or
    hand-signed note attached means you are at least regarded as a
    professional and they might consider something else of yours or they at
    least think you should keep writing and submitting; your manuscript
    returned with a letter saying it isn't quite right but redo this or that
    means they will consider the rewrite and may still reject it; your
    manuscript returned with a note saying IF you change this or that and we
    like it, we'll take it, means you ALMOST have a sale.
    10.   Should I call a publisher?
    There are times when calling is probably a good idea. If you get an
    unusually favorable rejection with a personal note attached or a rewrite
    request and what's said in the letter isn't completely clear to you, by
    all means call and discuss it. If you act professionally, the editor
    will speak to you. Just don't waste this person's time with trivial
    questions and conversation. This is a business, and you have a business
    question. Get your answer, say thank you, and let the editor go. You can
    be warm and friendly but don't gush and don't ramble.
    11.   Is that it?
    No, and it never will be. There will always be more to learn, even if
    you make millions from your first book. You'll keep learning, or you'll
    fade away as so many promising writers have. And for all those who
    helped you, you'll be passing the good along helping other new writers.
    12.   So, what does it take?
    To succeed at writing is pretty much the same as at anything else: set
    goals, take action, be patient and kind, keep learning and improving,
    and don't give up. You probably won't sell the first novel you write,
    but you'll learn from it. You may learn so much, you sell your second
    novel. Later when you reread your first novel, you'll cringe at how bad
    it really is and you'll laugh at how good you once thought it was.
    About Barbara Sachs Kremer
    Barbara Sachs Kremer is a professional editor, journalist and writing Instructor. 
    She has also written a screenplay and several short stories, and is working on a novel and a children's series of books.

    You can write to Barbara at:

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