With each day, the positions available for new authors grow fewer. The glamorous spin put on publishing leads newcomers and novice writers into a wonderfully bright light. Unfortunately, that bright light is probably only 40 watts. It only seems brighter because someone with exceptional writing skills convinced you otherwise.
Keep in mind that if, in fact, you do have writing talent, you still have tons of opportunity to get published. But before you jump from the frying pan into the fire, consider these things.
1. You are not the only person trying to write the “Great American Novel.” There are literally thousands, tens of thousands, of writers all looking on with bulging eyes toward the vast sales potential when Oprah chooses their book. It will serve you well to remember that the one thing that will lead to your greatest success is your ability to write an exceptional book. The competition is fierce and you must go into the writing profession with the knowledge that you will have to be better than most of those other writers.
2. Know your market before you get there. When you sit down to write your novel, you should already have answered a short list of questions. (1) Who are you writing the book for? Gender, age, geographic location, etc. (2) what do you hope to accomplish with your book? Educating, entertaining, inspiring, etc. (3) what are you willing to do to make certain people know about your book?
3. Aspire to be the very best. You may sit at your desk and think that you are not in competition with Nora Roberts or Clive Cussler, but you are. Consider the economic structure of our current and immediate future. Money is tight in most wallets, so in order for readers to choose your book over any other, it must have some dynamic angle or aspect that will make it more appealing than the national best sellers. This is a must. If you simply aspire to be the best that you can, it may not be good enough to knock those A-List authors down to allow room for your novel on the top of the lists.
4. Study the competition. Make certain you have a firm understanding about what it is that makes their book incredibly marketable and profitable. Have you ever considered what made Harry Potter the phenomenal success it is? Perhaps that should be your first homework assignment. Read the best sellers and read the books that are being trashed in the review guides. And do not discount the power of the library. Library Journal publishes a list of the most checked out books. As an author, you owe it to yourself to understand the impact of each book and the author on the market.
5. Follow your instincts. I cannot stress enough how much I disagree when I hear someone say, “Write for the publishers.” Yes, the publishers are the initial decision makers on whether a book is published, but it is the reader you must consider when choosing your topic and marketing strategy. Publishers make financial commitments, but those commitments mean nothing if the book does not touch the readers’ community in a large way.
6. Learn and continue to learn your craft. Writing is a talent and like any other, experience and practice will ultimately help you to improve your skills. Once you decide you cannot learn any more, you cannot learn any more. Even the rules of grammar change with time. It doesn’t seem right, but it happens. Pay careful attention to not only what you write, but how you write it. When you present a finished manuscript to a publisher or an agent, it should be fully edited. It is not an editor’s responsibility to fix mistakes that you should have fixed beforehand. It is yours. Own your work. Be proud of it. Don’t sell it short. An editor will help you, but they are not there to do it for you.
7. Educate yourself on the industry standards. Each publishing company has its own set of guidelines, but some things are a given. It is crucial that you present your work according to each individual company’s guidelines. If you don’t know what they are, find out before you move ahead. Do not assume that what you did for Publisher A will work for Publisher B. One simple inconsistency in your submission could dissuade an otherwise interested editor from further consideration. Unfortunately for writers, editors are human and have bad days. If you single space your submission to save paper and get an editor who has a headache on the day she reads your pages, you are history. Play by the rules.
8. Presentation is very important. From the color of paper you use for your query letter to the way you sign the letter. Professionalism is mandatory in this business. No corporate head would send a business letter on pink paper with pretty teal ink, and signed with a gold metallic pen. It sounds pretty, but it is not proper business etiquette. Don’t tell an editor/publisher what to think when you write your query. Present the facts and then dazzle them with your story. That is what is important, your story. Let your talent shine…but not in gold metallic pen.
9. Solidify yourself with success. Once you have submitted your work, it’s time to begin the process all over again. Don’t take the cordless phone to the mailbox and sit and wait. Begin your next project. But it’s not all about writing. Get out into the industry and get to know your fellow readers and writers. You want as many people to know your name when you finally do get the call. Get your web site set up. As MJ Rose says, “Get that buzz going.” Once you sell, all the contacts you have made go from being just friends, to being potential customers. And don’t waste time on the naysayer. There will always be those people who simply cannot be supportive of your efforts. You deserve better and by distancing yourself from the negativity and replacing it with everything positive, you increase your chances of finding great success.
10. Believe in yourself. If you are not totally confident in what you are doing, you are destined to failure. Writing a book, a short story, or even an article can be emotionally draining to a writer. Why would you subject yourself to that if it wasn’t what you truly wanted? Know your limits, push yourself, and then celebrate every accomplishment. This alone can increase your level of self-esteem and nobody deserves the success more than you.
©Karen L. Syed, March 2008