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Source:Reader Mail 15 April 2009

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From Brandon Sanderson's website:

Got this email a while back, and haven't done a reader mail entry in a while, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Hi Brandon:
I've read all the WOT books - very anxiously anticipating the final book. - looking forward to it.
The reason for my message is on a different topic, however. I am curious about your profession. - as I am contemplating delving into it myself. Here are a couple of my questions:
1) How long does it take to write a book? (Just guestimate . . . )

Well, it honestly depends on the book. It's not just a matter of length, it's also a matter of complexity. The more viewpoints I'm trying to balance, and the deeper the setting, the longer the book will take. Also, it depends on what you call 'writing' a book—do you include all drafts, or just the rough? What about the planning? Here are a few estimates based on some of my books, drafting and planning time included.

Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians (50k words, one viewpoint.) 2-3 months.
Elantris (200k words, three main viewpoints.) 6-8 months.
Mistborn: The Hero of Ages (250k words, 5 main viewpoints.) 8-10 months.
The Wheel of Time: The Gathering Storm (300k words. 21 viewpoints. Chunks outlined and written by Mr. Jordan already.) 16 months, pulling extra hours.

So . . . imagine if I HADN'T had outlines and materials left by Mr. Jordan. It would probably have taken around 2 years to write a book that length. (Which, actually, was about how long it took Mr. Jordan to write a lot of his books.)

Every author is different, however. Some write in bursts, some write slow and steady, a little each day. It's hard to judge exactly how long it will take you to write a book. There's no 'right' way to do it.

2) How do you support yourself? - i.e. pay your bills - do you have other jobs to support yourself/family?

I'm fortunate enough to be able to do this full time, and have been able to since around 2005, when Elantris first came out in stores.

3) Where do you work? - Like . . . do you have a studio? Office? Library? Do you use a laptop? Do you go out into a cave on a hill and "convene with nature"? How long do you work each day?

I write in my house, usually on the couch in the basement or in a comfy chair in the bedroom. Depends on the day. I use a laptop, and it's a MUST for me. I like to lean back when I type. My work day varies depending on the project, the deadline, and the things going on in my life. Like most self-employed people, I probably put in more hours on average than someone working for someone else—but, then, it's hard to complain about that because I'm the one who sets my hours.

4) Do you do your own drawings, sketches and pictures?

Yes, though depending on the book, I may have an artist redraw them in order to give a certain stylistic feel to the visuals. In Elantris, I did the symbols myself, but in Mistborn the talented Isaac Stewart did them for me. I always have someone redraw the maps for me.

5) Who do you contact to PUBLISH a book?

I don't know if I can really cover that one in this particular response. It's a big topic. The short answer, however, is to follow these steps. 1) Write the book. 2) Research publishers based on those who publish books in that genre. Look for publishers who publish books with similar themes and tropes as your own. Then, research those publishers, find out their submission guidelines, and submit to them. Also, you may want to consider researching agents and submitting to them. Be careful; there are a lot of disreputable agents out there. Be looking for agents (and publishers) who do not charge a reading fee, and who represent authors you've heard of. A quick rule of thumb is that if an agent (or their umbrella agency) has not sold a book by a newer author to a major publisher in the last year or two, they probably aren't worth your time. If you want to learn more, head over to my podcast at WritingExcuses.com and listen to the several podcasts we've done with editors.

6) How does an author eventually get paid for his work? Is it based upon a royalty fee? (Like . . . 50 cents/book sold?) Or is it a one-time payment, . . . just curious.

Usually, it's via an advance against royalties. In other words, you get a chunk of money up front, then earn a percentage off of each book sold. You don't see any of the royalty money until you've earned back the advance money. That can be a long time or a short time, depending on the advance size and the books sold. Once the money you earn off of each book sold adds up to the advance money, you start earning further royalties.

7) If you were advising a budding writer about the career path . . . how would you tell them to start out?

Write and read. A lot. Don't worry about publishing at first—spend a few years just writing. Discover if this is something you enjoy spending long periods of time doing, and see if you have the ability to make good habits and write consistently.

Writers have to be self-motivated, and you can't be in it for the money. If you want to make piles of cash, go into programming or web design. Writers should write because they absolutely love it, and are willing to work long hours for potentially no pay just for the experience of writing. That isn't to say you can't make money at this; but in most cases, the money will be slow coming, and you will spend years writing before you are able to make a living at it.

Every person's experience is different, but I wrote 13 novels across nearly ten years before I sold one. The best thing you can do starting off, in my opinion, is give yourself two or three years to just WRITE and practice. Read good books on writing (Stephen King's is quite good) and read widely, looking for examples of good fiction that you admire within your genre, but also looking outside the genre to see what other writers are doing well. Try to incorporate that into your own writing, learning the craft and adapting what you learn to your own style. But mostly just write. A lot.

8) How do you know if it is the write career path? (I'm nervous.)

If you spend two or three years writing, and at the end of it have produced a novel or two, that's a good clue. If you can't see yourself doing anything else, if you know you'd keep writing books no matter what happens—even if you never sell a single one—then you know this is the career for you.

Thanks very much for your feedback,
Patrick

Hope that helps! I'm off to JordanCon tomorrow, so updates will be infrequent until I get back.

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