2) Never stop learning ways to improve your craft.
3) Be persistent. Submit, submit, submit.
4) Network and create a business plan.
5) Build an internet presence.
Step one sounds easy enough, right?
Six years ago I sat down at a crappy little laptop and hammered out the first draft of a novel. For many people, step one proves elusive. The blank page mocks them and it is so much easier to wile away time on the internet or use life as an excuse to avoid tackling a task that is as rewarding as it is grueling. I love to write, but the creative energy required can at times overwhelm and even the best of us need a break. If you truly feel the passion to write, then stick with it.
I know grammar and punctuation; what more can there be?
After that initial first draft, I spent four years learning how to fix all the mistakes in the first draft. I probably made every single newbie mistake which exists other than not finishing the story. Many people write a few pages and get so caught up in tinkering with those few pages that they never develop the rest of the story. I did well in English class in high school and college, even won an award once for an essay, and I read voraciously, but being able to drive doesn’t make a person a NASCAR driver. Change is never easy and accepting that we are flawed is the first step in growth. The first time I deleted large swaths of text I’d written it felt like I was erasing a part of myself. I rewrote, recreated and repeated the process so many times I lost count. After a time it does become easier and learning what not to do makes it easier to sit down and start the next project.
It takes HOW LONG to hear back?
In the age of emails which arrive in seconds to minutes, instant messaging, and things like Twitter, the concept of waiting months to hear from a publisher seems outrageous. Add in the fact that larger publishers rarely accept simultaneous submissions (submitting the same work to more than one publisher), and the process can drag on for years. I finished (stopped tinkering, editing, etc) my novel three years ago and started the submission process. The window for the first publisher I sent it to was eight months and worse I never heard anything! The next one took just as long before I received a polite rejection, and again a similar time frame for the next. Add in that a new author must learn the guideline lingo: query letters, blurbs, synopsis, formatting. Entire books have been written on the submission process. Getting published is harder than interviewing for a job. Remember that, and don’t get discouraged.
My story is awesome! Everyone will like it!
Whether it’s the business world, science, or writing, it is all about who you know. It isn’t to say one can’t break into the industry on skill and luck alone, but it’s rare. Neither does knowing everyone and their brother guarantee overnight success. Rather, in a competitive industry, networking provides that tiny edge that may make a difference between hearing about an open anthology in time to submit and missing the deadline. It may mean the difference between an editor reading your manuscript because they recognize your name rather than letting it sit in a slush pile for months before they get around to it. Those same people can also provide encouragement and support, as many were once in your shoes.
One of the most eye-opening pieces of advice I received was to approach getting published like running my own business. Many people may have excellent books published, but after they sign their contract, they sit back and wait for a royalty check. Nothing happens. Books don’t sell and after a time, the publisher drops them. Unless you’re a best selling author, publishing houses do not spend enormous amounts of money to market a new author. Talk to authors at conventions and see what worked for them. Maybe you never plan on getting rich as an author, but success opens the doors for future projects. As tedious as it sounds, create a business and marketing plan.
Once upon a time there was no internet. I know, its a scary thought. Breathe. Pull up Google. Yes, it’s still there. I remember when it wasn’t. There are people, and I know a few, who aim to stay off the radar. If you want to be an author off grid is not the way to go. Readers want to be able to Google an author. Popular authors have forums and interactive websites. There are fan pages, blogs, Twitter, Face Book, MySpace (although I think people have mostly abandoned that one), and more. More than one editor has asked me, “Do you have a webpage?” I can now, FINALLY, say yes. It’s a tough call, deciding when to build the online persona you wish to craft for yourself, but it isn’t something that can be escaped. While not to the same degree as actors or musicians, writers become public personas. Even the shyest, most private author must put something out there. Consider though, while you are Mr./Ms. Author, that persona is only one part of your life. Do not be afraid to set boundaries.
Some of my blog readers know me personally, and to others I’m simply “southerndreamer”, a blog they stumbled upon by some mystical process of tags and searches. (I totally forgot to put tags on my first post of the new year, although I added them later. It did not appear to make any obvious difference. Tagging must not be my forte’.) So, lucky readers for whom I am a mysterious blogger of unknown identity, I present to you, my internet persona.
The website is still under construction, as some things can’t be added for copyright purposes until my work is accepted and published by a publishing house. I have high hopes that this year I can announce the journey to “Author” officially complete either via my Kindle self-publishing experiment or the traditional route, or even better, both.
I hope this highly condensed summary of information helps those wish to embark on a similar path.