Books

5 Helpful Tips To Finish Your Book, According To A Debut Author

Lauryn Chamberlain on websites to bookmark, industry lingo, and Simpsons lore.

Author Lauryn Chamberlain shares the best and most terrible writing advice she's received.
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How does one prepare to write a book? Some turn to Reddit threads, others pore over interviews with authors. For her part, Lauryn Chamberlain — whose debut novel, Friends from Home, is available today — looked to award-winning writer George Saunders. His latest work, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, compiles learnings from an MFA course he teaches at Syracuse University. “Every writer needs to read this book,” Chamberlain says.

As the Michigan native works on her second novel, a message from Saunders is front of mind: He grew up reading Hemingway and initially tried to replicate the modernist’s staccato, brusque sentences in his own work. But it didn’t stick. He received rejections, aimed still harsher criticism at himself, and nearly gave up. “Finally he was like, ‘You have to stop trying to be the kind of writer somebody else is,’” Chamberlain remembers. (Nowadays, she says, Saunders has found success as “the wackiest, most inventive, venerated stylist.”) “That really hit me,” she says. “You have to hone your craft, but you have to be who you are.”

In Friends from Home, Chamberlain introduces childhood best friends Jules and Michelle, whose relationship has frayed with time. When the latter gets married in small-town Alabama, the former flies in from Manhattan to serve as maid of honor, anxious that she’ll step on social or political landmines that have surfaced since teenagedom. It isn’t a Hemingway (or a Saunders, for that matter), which is precisely the point.

To celebrate her debut, Chamberlain shares the best tips she’s gotten on her path to publication. And the most terrible writing advice? “‘You can’t go into this. It’s not a job,’” she says, and then scoffs. “Don’t be discouraged by anyone out there.”

1

“Writing Is Very Hard And Rewriting Is Comparatively Easy And Rather Fun”

In a recent New Yorker interview, comedy writer John Swartzwelder (The Simpsons) explains his creative process, which relies on placeholder dialogue, names, and scenes. “It’s like an elf snuck in and did my work overnight, and I just have to come in and fix it,” he told writer Mike Sacks. Chamberlain agrees, prioritizing a finished draft and, later, heavy editing.

2

Revise With Beta Readers

She recommends finishing a draft and stepping away from it. “Then have other people, whether they’re writers or avid readers in your genre, read it and give feedback,” she says. Their responses will ultimately inform draft two.

3

Research, Research, Research

Once your draft is in tip-top shape, it’s time to search for dream literary agents, who will sell your book to editors. “[Look up] what kind of agents represent your favorite authors, and who’s looking for stories in your genre,” says Chamberlain, who frequented sites like QueryTracker and Manuscript Wish List in her search.

4

Get Comfy Waiting

She sent her pitch to 20-25 agents, in a process called querying. “Conventional wisdom is to query for six months,” Chamberlain says. “It can take a while to find the right person, [and] the rejections typically come in first. Agents who are potentially interested will ask for either a partial or full manuscript, meaning they want to read half or the full book.”

5

Network And Meet Other Authors

“Networking is everything,” she says, “whether through social media, book signings, or taking a class. I have a few friends I’ve met through [the publishing cycle], and they’ve been invaluable to me.”