7 DO’s for Writer Success
The bad news is that some writers begin their literary careers doing all the wrong things. How do you know if that’s you? Well, the good news is that making mistakes is important and even beneficial to moving forward. You are going to make mistakes, the question is, are you willing to learn, adapt, and flourish with new skill sets that will catapult you to the finish line?!
- So many writers think that calling yourself a writer, makes you a good one. In order to succeed at your publishing goals, you must learn the craft. Am I talking about how to conjugate an adverb? Maybe. I am saying that it can’t hurt to understand the basics of sentence structure. Learn from other writers, read books, soak up all the writing advice you can get. There are great books that can tell you how to do this. With a sense of humor, even. Try this one: It Was The Best of Sentences, It Was The Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande
- “I’ll learn as I go.” These people are the kind who think all the advice they need to query can be found on Twitter. To be honest, you can find a lot of information on Twitter, if you are paying attention. Read editor and agent posts, find out their pet peeves, along with their advice on how to do things the right way. Let me make this clear: the right way is to be professional, and do your research. You need to know how to query, but it’s just as important as knowing WHO to query. When you are trying to kill a spider, do you hit it with a tennis racket? (And I’m not talking about those handy, electric ones made for killing bugs.) No. You target your spider, to get the best possible chance of squishing it. You need to know what agents are looking for and where to send your query. Who wants extra rejections from agents who don’t even accept what you’re writing. It’s a waste of your time and theirs. Do your homework. Try making a list from manuscriptwishlist.com, then go to www.querytracker.com and record your list of queries.
- “That’s a great agency. I’ll just query every agent in that office, someone’s bound to like my book.” No! Never query more than one agent per office. Some agencies will let you query another agent if one says no, but in some agencies, a “no” from one agent equals an office-wide “no.” Only one agent can take your book, and if more than one agent is interested, they are in competition for your book. No one wants to be competing with a fellow officemate. You could possibly lose out on all your queries by querying people in the same agency. Don’t query every agent name you wrote on that cocktail napkin at the writer’s happy hour. Be organized! Know who you queried, their company name, where you contacted them, and what the date was. That way, when you get a response, you can record the response and date. Plan your strategy. By knowing what agents expect of you, you can make the best plan.
- Don’t be gullible. Writers are largely emotional people. It fills our cup to hear someone say they love our book. When a publisher says you’re the next thing since J.K. Rowling, and all you have to do is pay a measly $1200 to get published, run. There are dangers all through the industry. Marketing, editing, and publishing scams; people are people, no matter their business, so you have to be smart. Are you seeing a trend in this advice? Educate, inform, teach yourself, and ask intuitive questions. I know it feels good to have someone “love” your work, but you must also have honest writing partners. Look up a “Meetup.com” writing group that meets near you, and join a group that will give you honest critiques. You must hand in a finished manuscript to agents. Not a first draft, not the draft your Nana loved the most, not the book your mom edited for you, unless your mom is a professional editor, without bias. Try this book: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
- “I am going to write a space opera, seven books long. Here’s book two, but I haven’t written anymore.” Um, nope. Pass. Do you know why? First, no one, agent or acquiring editor, will take a book out of series. Whoever publishes book one owns its rights. So, the publisher of book two won’t own the rights to the beginning of the series. They won’t take it. And forget trying to go from a small publishing house to one of the Top 5, it just won’t happen. Though there are always exceptions, don’t hang your career on the hope of being an exception. You are welcome to write series, but plan them out. Have synopses for each book ready for the agent/publisher who wants to know what the whole series entails. Once you understand the “rules” and consequences of the business, though, don’t limit yourself by thinking that books can only be in a series. (Or think that only single books are acceptable.) Challenge your own beliefs, challenge your writing, your editing, push yourself as an artist of words.
- “I’m the next L. Ron Hubbard.” / “My book’s not very good, but will you review it?” Which attitude is the correct one? Answer: Neither. You need balance to be a good writer. The most arrogant people often overlook their own mistakes; but will publicly humiliate the authors they know who make their first misstep. They don’t learn because they think they have nothing to be taught, or they don’t know anyone they would take advice from. Conversely, those with too little confidence don’t reach out and take chances. Sometimes they are too timid to submit; and are unable to handle the amount of rejection that every author faces, taking those declines very personally. Your book baby is important to you, it is your child, the art you created from nothing. The piece you have been toiling over for the past five years of your life, through your divorce and your kids’ birthday parties, it almost has a life of its own. For you, querying is personal. Agents seem callous and uncaring. But for an agent, your book is business. It is one of the fifty queries they’ve received so far this morning. If it isn’t a well-written original idea, edited, professionally queried, thought out, and backed by your confidence and passion, it isn’t going to sell. And an agent will know. Most agents can only take on a certain number of books at a time, a certain number of books a year. They must decline up to 98% of their queries. That’s a very narrow window of opportunity. They are looking for the book that is one revision away from going to a publisher and obtaining an advance with a great contract. It’s a business, don’t forget.
- “My publisher is going to make sure that I am the most popular book ever.” At this time, it doesn’t matter if you are self- or traditionally published, you need to be prepared to market your own book. Small publishing houses may offer a blog tour of their own existing authors; or have them swap reviews. A large publisher may help you get into brick and mortar stores, and libraries. But book signings, national book clubs, book subscription boxes, literary bloggers, book tours, author swag, anything and everything that you can do for yourself, you will be called to help with, if not do yourself. Use your website, make spreadsheets of contacts/names/dates, call people, spend time on the web… there are two gazillion ways to market/promote yourself. Think outside the box! Try this book: Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl
Good luck on your publishing journey! Be strong, be sure, be wise.