Okay, so you’re writing your first novel. Excellent! Now stop. Writing novels is for amateurs. There’s groundwork that has to be in place before you begin. The sort of preparations that will lay the foundations for your assured success.
First things first, you need to sit alone in your study and drink an entire bottle of single-malt scotch while all the illusions about the world and the people you hold dear slowly unravel, until you are face to face with a naked singularity of total truth.
Wait, you don’t have single-malt scotch in your liquor cabinet? Jesus Christ, kid, get yourself together. You’re in the majors now and you’re still acting like a Double A player. Have some self-respect. All the best writers are barely-functioning alcoholics. You’re not even allowed to call yourself an author until you’ve gone on this whiskey-fueled vision quest. Do you want this or not?
Okay, that’s what I thought. Now that you’re good and lubricated, the next step is really quite a lot of fun. While the posers are out there outlining their novels and constructing intricate background stories for their characters, you’re going to skip to the front of the queue by focusing all of your efforts on getting in contact with the actor or actress who is your pick to play the main character in the inevitable blockbuster Hollywood film adaptation of your book.
Creatives like us are taking on greater and greater responsibilities for promoting our own work with the public, and this has expanded to include casting director. The best approach is to sell your possessions, buy a used moving van to live out of, and drive to Los Angeles. If you’re not in the U.S., buy a forged passport and a plane ticket, then hotwire a truck as soon as you get here.
Once you’ve established basecamp in a Home Depot parking lot, start building a network of underworld contacts among area drug-dealers, strip club bouncers, and paparazzi. Use the information they feed you to build up a model of your target’s daily routine. Once you know their favorite hangouts, it’s time to pounce on them with a contract, preferably as you corner them with a camera phone in a compromising position in the alley behind an illegal sex club.
Oh, and one other thing. I call dibs on Olivia Wilde for my movie. And I swear to God, if any of you little bastards get within a mile of her, I will know. And then you will know pain.
Anyway, with that settled, you can move on to actually writing your novel. Except you don’t have to, that’s for losers. See, if you listen to any author podcasts or attend panels, after a while you’ll hear someone brag about how one of their characters “Wrote themselves.” This isn’t hyperbole, it is literally true. If you get a character started on the right foot, all you have to do is leave the window open, set out some offerings in the form of an artisanal cheese plate and a bottle of cabernet, and you can go to bed and let the character write their own damned story. A week of this, tops, and you’ll have your novel.
What? You thought Stephen King actually wrote more than fifty novels and two-hundred short stories? Don’t be stupid, that’s impossible. On Writing was the only thing he’s ever written himself, and it was to throw n00bs like you off the trail to success. Don’t fall for it. And for goodness sake, don’t forget to plug your laptop or tablet in, otherwise the battery will run out while your character is writing during the night and you’ll lose everything. That’s a rookie mistake.
Now, you have a book. You have an “A” list celebrity on the hook to play the lead. And you have a crippling alcohol dependency. I’m proud. You’ve come far, padawan. Only one hurdle remains before you can call yourself an author. The dreaded Agent.
Whatever happens, do not be intimidated. Agents can smell fear. They love it almost as much as they love the smell of money. Most agents live exclusively on a liquid diet comprised of the tears of failed writers.
You have to turn the tables on them. If there’s one thing that will impress literary agents, it’s sheer aggressiveness. Now, you’ll find a smattering of them near your basecamp in L.A., but everyone knows the good ones are in New York where all the big publishers have their headquarters. But that doesn’t mean you have to relocate right away. Indeed, your best bet is to pick out an agent and wait until they’ve left their protected little enclave of NYC to travel to a convention out of state.
Once you’ve selected your target and bought your badge to the con, (don’t worry about the hotel, you still have your moving truck) memorize your agent’s schedule. They’ll often end up talking on panels, or even “pitch sessions.” This is where less dedicated writers are given a couple of minutes to try and convince the agents to buy their manuscript. Avoid them, you don’t want to be lumped in with those also-rans.
Instead, hang out near the closest bathroom. After several hours of programing, even the most robust bladder is going to need relief. Your agent’s is no exception. Once they’re inside and standing at the urinal, cut off their escape route. Stand directly behind them and put your manuscript right in front of their face. Tell them your brilliant title. This is your chance to establish dominance. It will define your agent/client relationship from that moment on, so don’t wuss out on me now.
If you’ve played your cards right, by the time you leave that men’s restroom at the Indianapolis Convention Center, your future as a best-selling author, not to mention award-winning screenwriter, will be assured.
You can thank me at the Oscars.
Patrick S. Tomlinson is the son of an ex-hippie psychologist and an ex-cowboy electrician. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with a menagerie of houseplants in varying levels of health, a Ford Mustang, and a Triumph motorcycle bought specifically to embarrass and infuriate Harley riders. When not writing sci-fi and fantasy novels and short stories, Patrick is busy developing his other passion for performing stand-up comedy.
The Ark is out now, published in the US and UK by Angry Robot Books. Here’s the synopsis:
Humankind has escaped a dying Earth and set out to find a new home among the stars aboard an immense generation spaceship, affectionately named the Ark. Bryan Benson is the Ark’s greatest living sports hero, enjoying retirement working as a detective in Avalon, his home module. The hours are good, the work is easy, and the perks can’t be beat.
But when a crew member goes missing, Benson is thrust into the centre of an ever-expanding web of deception, secrets, and violence that overturns everything he knows about living on the Ark and threatens everyone aboard. As the last remnants of humanity hurtle towards their salvation, Benson finds himself in a desperate race to unravel the conspiracy before a madman turns mankind’s home into its tomb.