The Rules of Writing

By Kathryn Brocato, author of Old ChristmasSutherland’s Pride, and Georgie’s Heart

Georgie's HeartThe “Rules of Writing” say that you should write what you know. If you don’t know much of anything, the next best thing is to find someone who knows a lot. Some years ago, I figured my job was to find a magazine that wanted articles on subjects my husband, who knew a lot, could expound on. And who knew? Maybe I’d even find one that wanted some subject I knew a little something about.

My research involved leafing through the Writer’s Market, studying what the various magazines were looking for, to see if either I or my “resource person” knew anything about the subjects they were interested in. Upon reading the entry for Weider’s Muscle & Fitness magazine, I knew I had a live one. I told my husband I was going to query them about an article on liquid protein, as my husband had just lost 125 pounds using it. He could not imagine why they would be interested. After all, everyone ought to know how to do that.

To our amazement, they were not only intensely interested, but they bought the article within a week of my sending it off in the mail, the fastest sale I’ve ever made. But to this day, I have never received author copies or seen that article in print—they just wanted it. They said they wanted articles about protein, and I guess they did.

I saw that Black Belt magazine wanted articles about “any aspect of martial arts and self-defense.” Since my husband has taught self-defense in all its forms for years, before anybody even knew how to pronounce “karate,” I figured I could write for them. An incident had just occurred in one of his classes where one of his students went to a bar and got himself beaten up. My resource person was considerably annoyed because this student had ignored every rule of self-defense, so he taught an impromptu class that night about how to avoid bar fights, and how to win if a fight found you anyway. It was a great class, full of basic self-defense ideas.

I wrote up an outline on what he taught in that class and sent a query letter to Black Belt. My husband said they’d never buy it because, “Everybody ought to know that.” I said that if they did, they’d never get themselves beaten up in bars. Sure enough, the editors at Black Belt didn’t just write—they called, and they also wanted photos. Well, I could do that. I got a camera and coaxed some of my husband’s students into appearing in the photos. My husband had a great time and showed a series of new techniques, so the students got a free class and I got some great photos.

We wrote for Black Belt for several years. I would come up with an interesting aspect of self-defense and interview my husband when he was in a relaxed mood, often in the middle of the night. Then I’d rope in some of his students for the photos. I heard recently, from a friend who recognized us, that some of those photos are still in use at Black Belt.

Much to my surprise, a couple of articles on things I have personal experience with also sold to various magazines. One was on sensitive skin, and another was on preserving your skin from the sun, especially if you happen to be allergic to PABA-based sunscreens. Who’d have thought there were other people in the world with those problems? Which just goes to show: Whatever it is you might know, somebody out there would like to learn, even if it is something they ought to know.

In my newest release from Crimson Romance, the heroine, Georgeanne Hartfield, inadvertently puts into use all the best advice to would-be writers. You know the ones: Writing is easy—just open a vein. And write about what you know.

So, after her divorce, Georgeanne wrote a thorough dissection of the major problem in her marriage and what she could have done to save the marriage. To her surprise, that very personal book, which she thought might help a few other women, interested an agent, sold to a major publisher and became a bestseller.

Even though she published the book under a pseudonym, her book on how to fake an orgasm as a solution to her husband’s main complaint in their marriage now threatens to inform the entire world that her husband left her because he could not experience sexual pleasure—just as she finally meets a man who makes her feel all those things her husband couldn’t.

So, Georgeanne (1) “opened a vein” and poured out her heart, and (2) she “wrote what she knew” and achieved a best-selling book. But alas, she then discovers (3) she is “up to her ass in alligators,” meaning her book has resulted in a heap of complications that threaten to ruin her chance at love and happiness.

If you’re interested in trying your hand at writing, take these “rules of writing” to heart. “Write what you know,” and “just open a vein.” Then make sure your protagonist finds herself “up to her ass in alligators,” so the readers will keep turning those pages.

But if your book turns out to be a best seller that threatens to expose your innermost secrets to the world, don’t blame me. Blame the Writer’s Market. It taught me all I know.