Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. This time around I was drawing a blank for a blog topic until it occurred to me that it has been a while since I offered anything in the way of writing advice. I thought about that for a bit. Sadly, nothing relevant came to mind, but I did remember one or two comments related to writers and writing that I’ve heard over the way too many years I’ve been in this crazy business. I share them here, together with a few I hunted up to go with the theme of this essay.
“Talent never pays.”
Carolyn Marino, editor, c. 1988, when I naïvely offered to pay for my own lunch. Sadly, I’m not sure this is still true. Certainly fewer editors take their midlist authors out for meals these days.
“I made it up.”
Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, in answer to a question about where she found “all that information about vampires.”
“[The author is] just churning them out for the money.”
Way too many anonymous reviewers, none of whom, obviously, understand that most writers are barely paid enough of an advance for their work to keep them in office supplies.
“A ‘nice’ deal is $1000 to $49.000.”
Sisters in Crime clarifies this in their regular listing of deals signed by members. The amount is what the publisher agreed to pay the writer as an advance. Very few writers ever get to the next level (“very nice” is $50,000 to $99,000; a “major” deal is $500,000 and up). I speak from experience. The largest advance I ever received was $30,000. The majority of my advances were between $4000 and $8000 per book. Things have not improved much for most writers since the 1990s.
“Keep your butt in the chair, and your hands on the keyboard.” (and variations of the same advice)
Almost any successful author to newbie writers looking for shortcuts.
“Never start a book with the weather.”
Elmore Leonard, but he added qualifiers to that statement.
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)—the first paragraph of this novel is so melodramatic and wordy that the opening sentence has become a cliché. That said, it has also been successfully used for effect, most notably as the first sentence in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962) and by Charles Schulz in It Was A Dark And Stormy Night, Snoopy (1971).
“The night was . . . moist.”
Billy Crystal’s character in Throw Momma from the Train as he tries desperately to come up with an opening for his novel.
“It was March and drizzling.”
Kathy Lynn Emerson, opening line of The Mystery of Hilliard’s Castle (1985)
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got this time around. Feel free to share any quotes you like about writers or writing in the comments section. You never know what may prove inspiring!
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com.