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

The Big Three

If you write long enough, be ready to answer three questions. They come up at cocktail parties, church, PTA meetings, the doctor’s office (even during the turn your head and cough part of the examination . . . you don’t want to know), the dentist’s chair, choir practice, the grocery store, during interviews, and with friends at those little round tables at the coffee shop.

They are questions you really should examine in some detail, because they also form the core of who you are (or will be) as a writer. They are The Big Three.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I have two standard answers. (1) I subscribe to a service in Moose Town, Montana, where, for $15, they send me twenty-five of James Patterson’s leftover ideas every month. (2) Out of my head.

Yes, #1 is a smart-aleck answer, but folks will probably ask you for the address, so use it cautiously. But the second answer is where the truth lives, because your ideas do indeed come from your head. That’s where the brain lives, and the brain is in charge of developing and dispensing ideas. Otherwise, it would just be called the lesser kidney or the pancreas’ second cousin once removed.

Granted, you may read a newspaper headline (“Charlie Sheen Says Lindsay Lohan Needs Help”), see a TV news story (“Record catfish caught in Brandilyn Collins’ bathtub … film at 11:00”), or hear a snippet of a conversation (“Then I was, like, no way. Elvis was, like, ancient when he died in the 1800s.”), and the brain juices start bubbling (?). Or you may have a what-if moment (What if Star Wars is reality and we are all part of a bad novel being read by Chewbacca?). From that point, once the seed of the idea has been planted, you begin to turn the idea over in your mind (that’s one of the filing cabinet drawers in your brain); examine it from all angles; combine it with your own experience, knowledge, research, fantasies, and any other information that adds to the original idea and creates a new idea.

In short, we gather information every day of our lives: sights, smells, thoughts, emotions, feelings, and hundreds of other stimuli. And all of them are part of the answer to the “Where do you get your ideas?” question. Why does someone come up with different ideas from yours? The same reason your ideas are different from mine or anyone else’s. We’re all different. Our experiences are different. We all see things differently and apply different lenses to what we experience. And that leads to different ideas. Your ideas.

Will You Read My Manuscript?

The polite answer is “Thank you for asking, but I really can’t right now.”

The real answer? It all depends.

If you are part of a critique group, that’s one thing. Members expect to read portions of manuscripts and have portions of their manuscripts read in return. Or maybe you have a good friend who wants to try his hand at writing and asks you for help. Judging writing contests and/or providing paid consultations at conferences demands it. If you are in a mentoring situation, reading part or all of a manuscript is not out of the ordinary.

But reading a manuscript implies you will have to critique at least part of it, and that is rocky ground to tread indeed.

People who are on the receiving end of having their manuscripts read fall into two categories: Those who want an honest critique, and those who want to hear how good their writing is. Care to guess which seems to be the most prevalent? To be honest, we all want to hear how good our writing is. We want to think that Jerry Jenkins will have to take a smaller advance on his next book so a publisher will have enough to pay us what we are worth. But the mark of a true professional (or a serious professional-in-training), is the ability to take the positive parts of a critique and discover if the result can be duplicated, and the ability to hear what didn’t seem to work and try to fix it.

A few years back I was at a conference with a fairly famous writer friend of mine. One of those NY Times best seller folks. He agreed to look at a manuscript, and what he read was pretty

bad. When the shining-faced lady came back the next morning, he said, “I won’t do you any favors by lying, so here it is. This manuscript needs a lot of work. I marked the first ten pages for you, but it’s going to take a lot of work to bring this up to a publisher’s standards. The thing is, there’s some real passion here, but it needs to be channeled.”

She looked at all the proofreader marks (the pages looked like they were bleeding), sighed. “I guess I had better go look up what all these marks mean and get to work.”

As she headed to the elevators, he stopped her. “Aren’t you going to the panel discussions this morning?”

Her response: “Not until the second one. I’m not really into Science Fiction and Social Responsibility, so that gives me fifty minutes to work on this.”

They spent the next fifty minutes at a table in the bar working on it together.

Later in the day he commented on another manuscript. “You know, I really liked this. The idea was interesting and the writing really snaps. The only thing I would look at is the character on page six. He really doesn’t move the story along. Why not just get rid of him?”

The response: “Well nothing personal, but you don’t know everything.” With that the fledgling writer promptly walked off and dropped the manuscript in the nearest trash can.

Which one do you think was eventually published?

Do You Have a Real Job?

Oy vey (Yiddish for “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”)!

People mean well, but the idea that someone can make a living (or even bring in enough extra money to matter in the family budget) as a writer really seems to knock some folks for a loop. When I worked for a small publishing company and was writing my own projects at night and on the weekends, folks thought I was nuts to want to leave that behind and spend my days hitting the gym, making a pot of coffee, and spending the rest of the day at my desk pecking away at the keyboard.

But it’s my desk. In my office. My dream come true. And my answer to them is simple. That is my job. I’m a writer.

Bonus Question

Okay, there is one more question you’ll get: What do you write?

My favorite response: “Words mostly, but I sprinkle in a few numbers sometimes just for kicks.”


Soemthing Stirs