The Writing Life: Best Advice

Best Advice

By Michelle Janene

A couple of years ago, while attending Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference I received the best, and most freeing advice.

“Study your craft. Know what the gatekeepers want. Then decide which gate you’ll go through.”

As the instructor of our morning track, Jeff Gerke taught us about craft. The teaching especially related to fantasy novels. Craft is the foundation for everything else. For fantasy, that includes world building, and making the impossible seem plausible. Every writer needs to find the right words for the situation. We also need to learn to use only the words that are truly needed. Or as some say ‘write tight.’ Craft includes knowing the best place to start your story, pacing, character arcs, and solid plot. Every author who wants to be published has to hone their craft.

Knowing what the gatekeepers want is the next step. The gatekeepers can refer to the acquisition editors, agents, or even the readers. Are they looking for sweet romance, detailed tech, high action, no foul language? If you really want to be traditionally published you have to know what will get your foot in the door for consideration and what will get the gate slammed in your face.

Once you have a solid grasp of the art and finesse of writing and you know what those gatekeepers are looking for, you have a decision to make. Will I do as the keepers demand or will I stay true to myself? I have chosen the gate of the indie author, so readers are my gatekeepers. My readers look for world building that immerses them in a new culture. It has to be not only plausible, but a real enough place they’ll want to visit.

A gate may be: Do I write smut because it sells, or do I stay true to my convictions and write wholesome romance with a God centered heart? For us Christians—that ones easy, or should be.

Another possible gate: Since readers never notice the word ‘said’ it should be your only dialog tag. Might be true for much of the world, but as a teacher who taught students not to use said long before I became a writer—said is the most annoying tag imaginable. Do I keep the said to please my reader or avoid it like the plague to keep my sanity?

Here’s another gate: I write gritty crime dramas, but the publisher I really want to work with is still only looking for Amish stories. Do I spend a month in Pennsylvania’s Amish country and another six months devouring every Amish story ever published by my dream house to get a contract with them—it is my dream after all. Or do I look for another avenue to publish what I truly love?

Though there aren’t the same gatekeepers for self-publishing, if you choose to go that route you’ll need to know what readers are buying? What will get your book passed over in a Kindle scroll and what will get you on another e-Reader?

What about these gates: Prologue—or never prologue? Another YA survival coming of age—or a new look at true friendships in an age where no one talks other than through their devices? Squeaky clean, or true to life grit? Fantasy or reality? There are so many choices.

Here’s the thing—there is no one right answer. And therein lies the beauty of this great advice. You decide what to do with your gatekeepers. As the artist, the creator of your world in print, the choice is yours. Knowing your craft and the demands of your gatekeepers, which avenue will you venture down? Yes, your decision will affect your sales—but who’s to say for the better or the worse—or even if that should be the deciding factor. For those of us who are Christian writers we should give all our decisions much prayer.

Gatekeepers or not we know: We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Which gates will you walk through?

About the Author

Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer. She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.

You can find her at Strong Tower Press, Turret Writing, on Facebook, Twitter, and on Goodreads.

You can read Michelle's column on the 3rd Tuesday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.

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