One perk of being a published writer is gaining credibility whether I deserve it or not. I'm frequently asked to speak to church groups, book clubs, service groups, and writer groups. I love it! I'm a teacher, first and foremost, and a bit of a ham.
I spoke at my first writers conference not long ago. They asked me to speak on what it takes to be successful in publishing. (Don't worry, I'm doing research!) These are my notes on 10 steps to success (I know, there are more than 10. I'll have an addendum in my handout):
1. Determine if you're a dabbler or a writer (This is from Sharon).
A writer will trouble over the perfect word, insist upon writing draft after draft until the manuscript sings, dream about her characters, forget to eat, listen to critique and make changes as needed, and never, never, never give up even in the face of repeated rejection. A dabbler is easily discouraged.
2. Read poetry.
We've all heard to read the best fiction the world has to offer. Let me add poetry to your reading list. No other writing form can train you on the power of word economy. And poetry makes the ordinary extraordinary. I've learned to see my world more fully through a poet's eyes. Above all, a novelist must be an observer. It's the details that bring authenticity to our stories.
3. Care about people.
Be fully engaged with the people around you and take every opportunity to broaden your circle of friends. LISTEN to people. Hear their stories. Become part of their stories. As a novelist, you write about people. And since I believe you have to love your characters--the good, the bad, and the incorrigible--you should practice loving the people around you. The result will be more fully developed characters and a broader variety of personalities.
4. Duct tape yourself to the chair! (From Latayne)
A writer writes purposefully. Some writing teachers will say you have to write every day. That works well for some people. It's impossible for others. I say, find what works for you. Come up with an achievable goal, even if it's a paragraph a day while sitting at soccer practice. And do it. My goal is to write 1,000 words per day. I find that is about my limit for creating slop in one day. Apply duct tape as needed.
5. Learn the publishing biz.
Oh my. The publishing biz is really changing with eReaders and self-publishing and the economy upending the publishing houses. Go to a writers conference and make a gracious pest of yourself by asking every editor and agent what is going on in publishing. Be a student of the industry. Read professional journals like Publisher's Weekly, The Writer, and Writers Digest. There are many more!
6. Don't stagnate.
Take classes. Read books. Grow as a storyteller and write the very best story you can. By the way, this is the strongest element of your marketing plan.
7. Ask your prospective agent these questions:
- Will you read my story?
- Will you offer editorial comments? (This is becoming more typical as the publishing houses are looking for manuscripts that are ready to go. Also, sadly many publishing houses are letting editors go to save money. And we LOVE our editors!)
- Do you LOVE my story?
8. Fall in love with your craft.
Genius is highly overrated and possibly nonexistent. On the other hand, you can't quench the passion of loving your art. You will do anything to perfect your technique. You will gladly--almost without notice--invest the 10,000 hours it takes to master a skill.
9. Be patient.
It just so happens that all of us are learning this at the moment, and we aren't exactly happy about it. You have to be patient with people who have promised to be beta readers but have gone AWOL, an endorser who eats your manuscript for breakfast, your agent may seem to be sitting on your manuscript, a critique partner keeps rescheduling, and/or agents aren't as much in love with your story as you are...and they're dead wrong. It only took God six days to create the earth, but publishing moves much slower. I hope you're the one exception to this, but that's not what I'm hearing.
10. Define success for yourself
Let me ask you a few questions: Are you a born storyteller? Is entertaining people one of your gift areas? And here's the tough question: Can you be happy with a small audience? Is connecting with your reader the reward you crave, or are you hoping for a rancho in Napa Valley? We hear get-rich stories about big-time writers all the time, but the reality is quite far from that. If you're going to pour your life into a story, you must love what you're doing and define success for yourself. For me, telling a redemptive story that entertains is a huge challenge. The payoff is hearing that people connect with the characters and say that they look at the world and eternity a little bit differently.