One of the first things aspiring authors hear is a laundry list of things they should be doing to ensure success. If you somehow missed those directives, here are the “right things” you should be doing:
Join a writing group.
There are quite a few organizations out there to help writers at every stage in their career. Whether you’re looking for a genre-specific association or a broad-reach group, writing associations are extremely worthwhile. Look for organizations that offer a sense of community, workshops, networking opportunities, industry insight, etc. [Note: we ran a post last year discussing writing associations that included quite a few links. Though not an exhaustive list, it might be helpful if you're just starting out]
Then get involved. Just paying dues to say you’re part of a group won’t get you far. It’s like sleeping with a textbook under your pillow. Read the newsletters, contribute to discussions, volunteer, get to know fellow writers.
Caution: Now that I've encouraged you to get involved and volunteer, I’m going to wave a caution flag. You should do only as much as you can. Emphasis on “can.” Your word count shouldn’t be made up of all the emails you responded to. If you have limited time to write, spending those hours on volunteer work probably isn’t the best way to writing success.
Get into a critique group.
A solid critique group will not only strengthen your writing, they’ll also save your sanity. Let’s face it, writing a novel is lonely (despite the many “people” occupying your brain) and nerve-wrecking. Having trusted readers who will tell you what’s working and what isn’t, means submitting a manuscript that’s polished and ready for outside eyes.
Caution: Not all critique groups are a good fit and not everyone is a good fit for a critique group. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a group that isn’t working for you. If you don’t like the idea of sharing early drafts with readers, then maybe a crit group isn’t right for you. Consider accountability/writing buddies and a few trusted beta readers instead.
Contests are a great way to get feedback from readers other than your critique partners and beloved friends and family. Plus having contest placements in a query letter is a great way to show agents that your work is being recognized.
Caution: Don’t jump on the feedback you receive and immediately make changes. And don’t keep changing those first pages in order to enter more contests. Use the feedback to gauge whether you’re moving in the right direction then finish the manuscript. What good are all those placements if you don’t have a fully polished manuscript to submit when the final round judge asks to see the full?
Develop a social media presence.
Blogs. Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest. Instagram. Google+. And that’s by no means a complete list of social media options available to writers these days. Social media is not only a great place to connect with other writers, agents, editors, and readers, it’s also an amazing place to learn about what’s going on.
Caution: Don’t try to spread yourself across all social media avenues. Try a couple and see what fits your style best. Set limits. It’s very easy to get sucked into Pinterest boards or Facebook posts and discover that you’ve just spent two of the three hours you have for writing that day on social media.
We read because we love to read. We wouldn’t be writers if we didn’t. We read books in the genre we write to know what’s selling. We read the books our friends are publishing to support them. We read craft books to learn. We read for fun.
Caution: And sometimes we read to avoid writing. (Oh don’t look at me like you’re shocked at that!) When you’ve made such a tangle of your plot points or you’re staring at an emotionally frightening scene, the idea of “reading to see how favorite author so-and-so does it is a welcome excuse. And 300 pages later, you’ve read an awesome book. But you haven’t unraveled your plot points or conquered the emotional scene.
So, do you want to be a successful writer? Are you doing all of the above? Are you overwhelmed by keeping up with all of the above?
Are you sitting down?
It’s not enough. What’s the one thing that’s not on that list? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Write the damn book.
Doing all the “right things” is great but not at the expense of your writing. We’ve all done it. Writing is hard, querying is scary, rejection bites. The happy world of reading or supporting other writer friends or posting funny cat videos on Facebook can be so much more fun.
But really, it doesn’t matter how many followers you have on Twitter or how many contest kudos you have or how many organizations you belong to. If that novel that’s getting the contest kudos isn’t complete, you can’t query it. If you don’t query it, you can’t get the sale. And at the end of the day, isn't the goal to make the sale?
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing any of the other things. You absolutely should. But make sure those “other things” don’t get in the way of your writing.
Now I want to hear from you - what of the above steps are you doing? Where could you do more? Where could you do less?
After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.