Wisdom from the Publishing World with Nick Chiarkas
Welcome to the March installment of the 2021 Author Series. Each month a published author takes the stage to share their wisdom as they tell us what they wish they had known before they published their first book or what advice they would go back and give their pre-published self.
I’m so glad that Nick Chiarkas has agreed to share his wisdom with us this month. I first met Nick many years ago, long before we both started writing fiction. It has been delightful to connect with him again in the publishing world. Plus, I’m a huge fan of his book, Weepers!
Nick Chiarkas’ extensive legal and law enforcement background allows him to write from a place of powerful personal experience. He doesn’t just write about crime and mystery. He’s lived it. Readers will enjoy writing which stems from his experience as Research Director to the President’s Commission on Organized Crime and assisting domestic and international organizations in developing public defender policy. Among Chiarkas’ publications are law books, books dealing with Criminal Organizations and Enterprises, and articles, two of which have been translated and published in Japan. Chiarkas grew up in the Al Smith housing projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where his novel Weepers takes place. He is presently working on his next novel, Nunzio’s Way, which will be followed by Black Tiger Tea, and then Blue Bounty. (Read more on his website.)
If I could go back and talk to my pre-published self, what advice would I give him?
Hmmm…I will assume the question refers to the end of my first draft of my novel and not before or during the writing of my first draft. Although, before writing, my novel might be interesting and fun. But, for this blog, let’s assume I just typed "The End" on my first draft of Weepers and called post-publication-me (post-me).
"Great news, I just typed 'The End.' So, what do I do now?" Pre-me said.
"Come on over, and we'll talk," Post-me said.
By understanding what not to do and what rejections could be helpful, a writer's path to publication could be made a bit less stressful. So, to that end, here is what I would tell my pre-published self.
"Nick, my friend, I'm pleased you came over. Let's sit at the kitchen table; I'll get us some black tea and pound cake to enjoy as we discuss your novel's publication. The heart of my advice is, as our Italian mother always said, Affrettati lentamente (make haste slowly)."
"How do I do that?" Pre-me said.
"Here's the best advice I can offer. First, be patient. Put your manuscript away for three weeks. I know everyone says that, but very few do it. The authors that do it are among the best out there. Think about your manuscript but don't read it for three weeks. Create a website and a marketing plan. Second, believe in yourself and be persistent. Do consider critical advice but know that your work's value is not diminished by someone's inability to appreciate it. The magic feather is in you. And third, secure your reputation. In the end, what matters is not what you get for what you do; it's what you become by doing it. During your publishing journey, you might be tempted to lash out in public forums, especially when you've been rejected, when you're frustrated. Don't."
"Okay, let's say three weeks have passed; I take my manuscript out; what do I do?"
"You read through it once. Then you begin the rewrite and edit process. Remember the words of Shannon Hale, "In the first draft, you're simply shoveling sand into a box so that later you can build castles." Do a complete self-editing, including asking yourself why you started a scene with that line and why did you end it as you did? This is the art and the heart of it; this is when you start to build castles."
"There must be some shortcuts? I read about firms that will send your synopsis to agents that they know. They will even write your synopsis for you."
"Short cuts take longer. There are no real shortcuts. And agents want to hear from you, not a firm you hired. If you start down that path, you will be wasting time, and in the end, your journey will take much longer. Also, get feedback. Ideally, it's better if the critiques are not from friends and family, who might withhold needed constructive criticism because they don't want to hurt your feelings. You must do this."
"Is there anything I should do while waiting to hear back from agents and publishers?"
"Yes. Keep writing. While you are waiting to hear back from agents, write your next book. Sii produttivo o sii una persona pazza (Be productive or be a crazy person).”
"How did you learn all this?"
"I scrapped my original draft of Weepers which was titled Cherry Street Settlement and started over doing everything the right way based on my own mistakes. The irony is, if I weren't in such a rush, I would have gotten here sooner – Make Haste Slowly."
The murder of an undercover cop in a New York City Housing Project in 1957 has unexpected ties to the unsolved disappearance of a young father walking home in those same Projects with his son, Angelo, on Christmas Eve 1951. The only witness to the cop killing is Angelo, now 13, as he was on his way to commit arson at 2:00am. The killers saw him. These events forge a union between a priest, a Mafia boss, a police detective, and Angelo, a gang member. In Weepers, we see that, if you drop a rock into the East River, the ripples will go all the way to Italy. In the end, Weepers shows us that the courage of the underdog—despite fear and moral ambiguity—will conquer intimidation.
Buy Weepers at these locations (or wherever you prefer to shop):
Mystery to Me Bookstore (Madison, WI)
Keep up with Nick's publishing news:
Rewrite It Blog: https://nickchiarkas.com/blog/
LinkedIn: Nicholas Chiarkas