Your Dreams are Worth the Investment!
Possibly the most important advice to take in as a writer. Investing in your dreams and in you can be done in several ways, including some that naturally come with the territory, such as investing your time into reading widely and with a writer’s eye. Before I outline what I think can be essential to a writer’s success, please understand that there isn’t a ‘sure-fire’ way to landing an agent and / or a publishing contract. Rejection is always a possibility and, from the years of learning this business firsthand, is likely. But don’t despair. Some of the most famous authors of all time, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, C.S Lewis, Stephenie Meyer, were rejected 10 or more times before getting their first novel picked up by a publisher. So, think, if success-monsters such as Harry Potter and Twilight had to face rejection before success, then chances are you will, too. The one thing you must never do is give up, because giving up is a lifelong rejection.
- Read books on the craft of writing and storytelling
Writing a story is an art that, at its core, is miles deeper than grammar and beautiful words strung together. In many ways it’s like painting a picture or composing a piece of music. To do either of those well you typically need the basics, such as paint and brushes, or musical instruments. Think of these books as your basics, as your tools. They teach and help clear some of the haze caused by lack of understanding and self-doubt.
When I first began writing novels, I can recall many times when I felt like I was simply just doing it wrong, even though I couldn’t place my finger on what. I hated that feeling. It caused more days of stress than I’d like to admit. But, since my dream was and is to write books for a living, I didn’t hesitate to better my understanding on what it was I was trying to do. Even if I needed to spend a year, maybe two, to not only read these books, but to be able to fully understand their content and become proficient with their material to have it show in my work, then I was going to do it. What’s a few years when you’re considering a lifelong career?
These are some of the more common books on writing and storytelling:
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk JR. and E.B. White
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
*There’re many more books that can help with your particular genre or troubled area. Don’t hesitate to Google what you need.
- Consider using a professional critique service
If you find after giving your ready-for-agents manuscript everything you can offer and aren’t sure why you haven’t received at least a partial request from an agent, then this may be the answer. As writers, we’re often too close to our work. Our stories become our babies, our best friends, and we end up ‘protecting’ them from criticism. It’s normal for this to happen, but it also can be damaging in terms of growth and success.
So why a professional critique? Why not just have your friends and family read over your manuscript? What about an English teacher? These, surly, are cheaper options, but cheaper isn’t always the only aspect to consider. However, before I continue, I want to say that I think it’s probably best to use the resources you have, such as friends, family, fellow authors, teachers, first before considering a professional critique. You may, after doing the suggested revisions provided by your own resources, end up with a superb story, both in quality and concept. Many authors have their own networks that work, so don’t ever count out who you have.
Now, if after using your own network, you still aren’t having any success, then consider getting your story to a professional. Critiques, though keep in my mind they’re subjective, can sharpen the edges of the sword that is your story, making it possible for it to cut its way through the ‘slush pile’ and into your dream agent’s hands. Personally, I benefitted greatly from a critique. The author I worked with not only provided explanations on why she was suggesting certain changes, but she also gave great insight on how a story like mine can travel the road to publishing, and that’s the priceless aspect to these services. You’re working with someone who has succeeded at what you’re trying to do. Who better to learn from?
- Have your story edited
This, in my opinion, is the absolute best thing you can do as an aspiring author trying to attract an agent. Working with an editor gives your manuscript that gloss, that polished texture, and it’ll make your work stand out. As I said earlier in this post: writing a story is an art that, at its core, is miles deeper than grammar and beautiful words strung together. Editors can provide that guidance.
Another invaluable aspect to using an editor is that it should expand your knowledge and give you more tools for this trade, which in turn saves you in the long run because your reliance on an editor to polish your work becomes less and less. I will not lie and say editors are cheap to hire, but, in my experience, one of the smartest decisions I made when I decided to pursue writing as a career was hiring an editor. Hands down, I shaved off years of struggle by learning the many sides of writing from my editor’s reports on my manuscript(s). I learned everything from proper formatting to professional prose. Plus, my editor provided me with a tremendous amount of explanations and references. He wanted me to grasp the reasons why, and, as any editor should, he wanted me to succeed. For my success will reflect his.
Tips on finding the right editor:
- Do your research.
Find an editor that you think you’ll be comfortable with. You don’t want somebody who’ll tear you down to the point where you feel like not writing anymore. I’ll admit, it always hurts to hand over ‘your baby” and have it returned to you with a list of major and minor infractions. It took me almost a week to sit down and thoroughly read just the report of these violations. But, after realizing you hired this person to do exactly that, you’ll feel your confidence skyrocket because every fixed wrong strengthens your writing. And, possibly, this editor saved you from sending this out to agents prematurely.
- Look for credentials, knowledge of the publishing industry, and testimonials.
Find out any potential editor’s background. Did he work for a publishing house, or another respected level in the industry? Does he specialize in certain genres? What are past clients saying about their experience with this editor? The list goes on, but you want to make sure you’re in good hands. Many people, and I’m sure as a writer you’ve met a few, claim they have editorial background or some gift for editing. Some cases are true, but if you’re going to spend the money on an editor, don’t risk your investment on someone who may or may not prove beneficial.
- Find an editor who has worked with respectable authors.
This is my personal taste on the matter, but I think it’s one most can agree on. You want to work with somebody who has bettered the works of some of the people you admire or appreciate. Imagine, your manuscript is being edited by a person who has worked with Stephen King, James Patterson, or George R.R. Martin. They’re out there, so, if you’re wanting an editor of that caliber, see what it’ll take to have them go over your work. However, there’re many great editors for hire that don’t have the top earning authors listed as previous clients. It’s up to you to find the one that is right for you and your book.
The obvious one, but the only one that is a requirement. No matter what our goals are in life, time will always be something that will lead to our success. I say time generically because we all need a different amount of it. Some may only take a year or less to achieve their goal(s), others may need 10 or more years. The difference can be made by work ethic, dedication, and, as always, stumbling on just the right amount of luck. As a general rule of thumb: the more time you dedicate to something, the more likely you are to succeed.
How should writers invest their time? By reading and writing! The more you read, especially with the eye you’ve gained from writing your own stories, you’ll become aware of all the elements that make up a good story. You’ll see what works, what doesn’t, and how you can apply the same techniques into your own writing. Also, as long as you can decipher the method to the madness, reading well-written books gives you the greatest insight on how to write.
Write, write, write! The more you write, the better you’ll become. Writing is like a muscle, and how do we build muscles? By working them out, often. You’ll see the growth because your mind will be able to deliver the words at a faster rate, therefore allowing you to produce more content in a shorter time.
Also, make a daily wordcount goal that’s achievable. That way you can earn the feeling of accomplishment often. If your goal is to have a book on Barnes and Nobles’ shelves, then you may be waiting a long time to feel like you achieved something. That’s not a healthy feeling for the amount of work you’ll be doing, and it can possibly keep you from finishing your story.
I hope you found this blog useful. As you probably know, there’re so many ways to travel the publishing road, and I believe we all discover our own way in time. May your trip be filled with success, excitement, and fulfillment.