Preparing for Success is a three-part series targeted to aspiring writers. Any writer who decides to pursue publication, whether through self-publishing, e-publishing, or traditional publishing enters a crowded, competitive field. For most of us it will be a long, bumpy, confusing ride. If we use our unpublished time wisely, we will stand out from the crowd and our hard work will pay off.
The shift from writing for our personal pleasure to writing for publication requires a different approach to our work. The time we put in may not change, but the consistency does. We spend more time studying how to make our writing stronger, and we recognize that outside eyes are imperative to polishing our work. We also start hearing terms like marketability, hot genres, likable characters, queries, agents, and proposals. What seemed so easy—if writing is ever easy!—quickly grows complicated and overwhelming.
By chatting with published writers and reading publishing news, I’ve pinpointed key components to master in our writing that will prepare us for success.
- Put in the hours.
Sporadic writing doesn’t cut it. Writing for publication is a job, an amazing, exciting, fun job, but still a job. It’s no longer a hobby to pick up or set down at our whim. We must schedule time to write consistently. Whether it’s five hours on Saturday mornings, fifteen minutes every evening, or eight hours a day, five days a week, we must treat our time with respect. The obvious reason for this is to make progress on our projects, but eventually, we will be given deadlines by our publishers. Most of us will not have two years to write a book when we are contracted. We must nurture our discipline now.
- Practice doesn’t always make perfect.
The old advice, if you want to be a good writer, keep writing is true to a certain extent. The more we do something, the better we usually become. But if a child doesn’t have a good teacher or coach to show him the proper techniques, he will grow physically stronger, but he still won’t get the ball in the basket or learn how to play his position. The same is true with writing. If we don’t study the craft, whether through classes, books on writing, or by talking to published writers, we will continue to make the same mistakes, and these mistakes will hold us back.
- Study. Learn. Repeat.
Writers are always learning. We never “know it all.” And even when we’ve mastered one aspect of writing, we realize we need to freshen up our understanding of a different aspect. For instance, I have a few books on basic grammar that I read once or twice a year. I also enjoy reading blog posts with short reminders about conflict, pace, and characterization, because they refresh the concepts and spur me to improve my scenes.
This one will make many writers groan, and it’s just my opinion, but I urge writers to read. Read in your genre. Read non-fiction. Read magazines, newspapers, blogs. Read classics. Read comics. Read for fun. Read for work. Just keep filling your mind with other authors’ take on life, and it will hone your own. Reading forces me to question my beliefs, tighten my writing style, and nourish my dreams.
- Critique and be critiqued.
It’s no secret we are often blind to problems in our manuscripts. We don’t realize the brilliant chapter that clears up our hero’s past is really a big info dump, or that our heroine is coming across as a shrill psycho until a kind reader points it out. Finding a trustworthy critique partner and having the maturity to accept her assessment propels our writing forward. Obviously, we need to use our own judgment about the advice given, but regardless, we have to be able to take criticism in order for our writing to improve.
On the other hand, critiquing other writers’ work forces us to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses in their manuscripts. We can't help but absorb skills.
- Study the Market
So you love your historical paranormal romantic suspense set in the twelfth century told from eight points of view. Who wouldn’t? Well, before you send queries out for your masterpiece, it’s a good idea to study agent and editor blogs and learn about marketability. No one is saying you can’t write the story of your heart, but wouldn’t you rather know now if it’s going to be a near-impossible sell?
Marketability isn’t only about hot genres, it’s about what story elements are popular in your genre, what topics haven’t been selling well, the ideal book length, if multiple points-of-view are desirable, if first person or third person works best, if the setting is appropriate, and which publishers will be the best fit for your book.
The days of sitting down and just writing aren’t over, but expect to devote extra time to studying the writing craft and the publishing industry. And try not to get overwhelmed and feel like you have to fix everything at once. It takes time to put new skills in practice, and slowly they become natural to us.
Most of all, celebrate each small success. In many ways, making the transition from aspiring writer to published writer is like earning a master’s degree. We won’t learn everything overnight, but we’ll pave the new information on top of our general knowledge to build a foundation that will last.
What did I miss? What is essential in writing?
Have a terrific Wednesday!