It's my pleasure to welcome Ronald Yates back to Novel PASTimes for the second part of his interview.
A former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and Dean Emeritus of the College of Media at the University of Illinois, he is a professor of journalism. He has lived and worked as a foreign correspondent in Japan, Southeast Asia and Latin America where he covered several historic events including the fall of South Vietnam and Cambodia, the Tiananmen Square tragedy in Beijing, and revolutions in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.
What is the biggest misconception beginning writers have about being published?
Probably that once you get a publishing contract you are going to become a millionaire. I have published two books prior to Billy Battles with traditional publishers and I am still in the hunt for my first million. The J. K. Rowling's of the world are anomalies. But thank God they do exist, because it keeps the rest of us working our tails off in pursuit of that elusive kind of success. Now, having said that, I believe a lot of writers write for the sheer joy we get from telling a good story--at least I do. The $$ are less of an incentive.
What would you like readers to gain from reading your book(s)?
Because Finding Billy Battles is historical fiction and is set in the 19th Century, I would like readers to get a sense of the time and place of the story. I would like them to have an appreciation of the way people lived, how they thought, and how they dealt with both adversity and triumph in a very different era. Finally, I would like readers to finish my book and think to themselves: "Damn, I didn't want that story to end!"
Thanks for joining us here on Favorite PASTimes. Any final words for readers or writers?
For Readers: Please DON'T STOP READING! Those of us who love telling stories need you. And when you read a book, don't be shy. Write a review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, etc. and let us know what you liked and didn't like about a book. I value the reviews I get from Amazon Verified Purchase customers more than I do from professional or editorial reviewers. After all, customers spent money on the book and that gives them the right to tell the author what they think.
For Writers: Keep Writing. The world needs good storytellers today more than ever. I know that many who write are frustrated by letters of rejection from agents and publishers. Don't be discouraged. If you can't get a book before the reading public going the traditional publishing route, consider self or indie publishing. Publish on Demand (POD) books are everywhere these days and so are e-books. Writers today don't have to consider a rejection letter the last word in their aspiration to publish. You have options to reach readers that didn't exist 10 or even 5 years ago.
Having said that, I must be honest. Many self-published books are not well done. The writing may be poor quality; the covers are often inferior and the proof reading and editing is shoddy. Frankly, some books should never have made it off the printing press or into an e-file. However, there are enough gems coming from self-published authors to offset the marginal efforts.
My advice to beginners: Give yourself time to learn the craft of writing. How do you do that? Read, read, read. If you want to write well, read well. Learn from the best; imitate (and I don't mean plagiarize). Listen to the words! You don't have to spend thousands of dollars on writing seminars, conferences, etc. Gifted writing can't be taught. It must be learned. And we learn from doing it; from experience.
To be a good writer you need to be confident in your ability to use the tools of the craft: research, vocabulary, grammar, style, plot, pacing, and story. A confident writer is typically a good writer. We gain confidence by being successful in our work--no matter what work we do. We also learn from failure. Why was a book rejected 40 times? Why isn't it selling on Amazon or Goodreads or Barnes and Noble? There must be a reason. Find out what it is and learn from it. Then go back to work and make the book better.
And remember: Writing is a discipline that you can learn at any age. Unlike ballet or basketball or modeling, writing is not something that if you missed doing at 16, 18 or 20 you can never do again. You are NEVER too old to begin writing!
I recall interviewing Pulitzer and Nobel prize winning author Pearl S. Buck once. It was late fall, 1971, and at the time she was living in Vermont. We were talking on the phone and suddenly she began describing her backyard and what she said was the first snow of the season."You should see this, Ron. From my office window I am watching a leisurely shower of white crystals floating, drifting, and landing softly onto a carpet of jade. I wish you could see it."
"I do," I said. "Thanks for showing me."
I never forgot that conversation with the first American female Nobel laureate. She was 79 and still writing.
Finally, writing--as difficult as it is--should also be fun. When you turn a beautiful phrase or create a vivid scene, you should feel a little flutter in your heart, a shiver in your soul. If you do, that means you have struck an evocative chord with your writing. Nothing is more rewarding than that!
Ronald is offering a copy of his book to one reader who answers the following question: What attribute did you find most appealing about the book's protagonist, Billy Battles? Least appealing? Is there anything about Billy that you would change if you could? Please leave your email along with your comment (name at domain name dot com) by this Friday at 8AM EDT to be entered.