Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. He writes supernatural suspense/Christian horror and is currently at work on another such book, much to his mother’s chagrin (“Why can’t you write a nice romance?”). In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Visit his website: Twitter: and Facebook:

How NOT To Get Published

How Not to Get Published: The Sequel

Previously we looked at some of the nuts-and-bolts problems that keep manuscripts from transitioning from slush pile to contract.

Potholes in the road to publication, so to speak.

But there are more subtle potholes a writer needs to avoid. These subtle potholes are less about format and style and more about the internal workings of the writer. Or, in the words of Pogo Possum, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Often the main thing that keep writers from publication is the writers themselves. We can find more reasons not to write, more reasons we can’t write, more reasons nobody will buy our writing, more reasons somebody should have bought our bad writing, more reasons we have run out of ideas, more reasons we have so many ideas we don’t know where to start, and a few excuses to round out the mantra.

In short, our attitudes and habits are major factors in our publishing success. Just think, if James Patterson had sat in his office all day thinking, "I can do better than this," stayed in advertising instead of studying what works and what doesn't, and writing/collaborating on 275,000 or so books.

If Stephen King had said, “Tabby, nobody is going to buy a book about a girl with telekinetic powers,” then he might still be teaching English, working in a laundry, and Carrie wouldn’t have been the first step of his becoming a bazillionaire. (Okay, Tabby pulled the manuscript out of the trash, told King to finish it, and sent it off, but you get the point. He followed through.)

Suppose every time the ideas stalled, Frank Peretti picked his banjo instead of pushing ahead with This Present Darkness.

In Sharyn McCrumb’s early career she was working on an advanced degree, writing papers on Chaucer, raising her children, and still writing a book a year.

Attitude is a major factor. And our attitudes are the cornerstone of our writing. Attitude is a key indicator of the kind of writer you will be, because attitude (combined with your level of motivation) dictates how you will approach the subtle (and not-so-subtle) elements that contribute to and detract from the writing life.

Let’s consider a couple of attitudes.

Honesty: A writer has to be able to determine if a piece of writing is good. That being said, it is time for a hard truth: Sometimes the writing is not very good. Sometimes it smells up the room, wafts down the hall, and begins to kill the grass around the front porch.

Deal with it.

But bad writing can be fixed. Though nobody wants to hear that what he or she wrote is not very good, it happens. And it often happens when we try to be somebody we’re not. Remember in the previous article we talked about developing a writer’s voice? If not, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Writers develop their voices by putting hundreds of thousands of words on the page consistently. It comes from listening to good critiques and developing an ear for language. Does the dialogue ring true? Are the situations believable? Is the imagery there?

Misty gazed at her strong steed. The flaxen mane glistened in the sun. The horse was a goddess, the personification of dreams and all that is good in the world. She looked into her steed’s eyes and garnered from them the promises of eternity. She rolled her eyes toward the woods and listened. Sure the killers were coming in their military vehicles with their guns and stuff, but Rosewater Flaxen Bouquet III would keep her safe.

I’ll pause here for those of you who need to grab an airsick bag. To put it mildly, this passage stinks. The bones are there, but the language sounds like something out of the diary of a thirteen-year-old girl. For example, it must have hurt when her eyes were rolling toward the woods. And I hope the phrase guns and stuff isn’t too technical for you.

Sadly, I have seen passages similar to this, and in some instances the writers took great offense that someone had the audacity to criticize their literary effort.

I’ve also seen writers who dug in to fix it.

Which type of writer do you think will eventually be published?

Procrastination: This may be a writer’s worst enemy. Why put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after? We touched on this idea in a previous column, but it is important enough to resurrect for a moment.

Practiced on rare occasions, procrastination is a luxury. When it becomes a habit, it is a career killer. And procrastination is often a thin mask for a deeper problem. Sometimes it is a mask for boredom. And if writing bores you, it may be time to ask yourself the tough question: Do I really want to be a writer?

Occasionally procrastination is a way of “dealing with” difficult assignments. Like in many other endeavors, we often do the easy tasks first and put off the difficult tasks until we absolutely must complete them. Writing is no different.

Sometimes procrastination is a thin cover that we have not developed the discipline required to sit at the keyboard for extended periods and, in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, git ’er done.

To publish, or not to publish. That is the question (to paraphrase Bill Shakespeare). It is hard work. There are a thousand distractions. And sometimes what you have in your head fights you every step of the way. You feel like you have to wrestle every word onto the page. Some days it is an absolute joy and others it is a pain in the butt.

I love being a writer.

How about you?

Till next time, go out there and be somebody who would make your mama proud.


Soemthing Stirs