Sunday, May 19, 2013

Advice for aspiring authors



There are probably millions of aspiring writers in the world, and there's as much writing advice out there as there are writers. I graduated from college in 2010 and have spent the past 3 years teaching myself everything I could about being a professional author. Since I spent a year at community college before transferring to a 4-year school in 2007, that means I've now spent as much time teaching myself something as I spent in classes as a Creative Writing major. I'm not an expert by any means; I'm not even published yet. But I thought I'd sum up the major things that I've learned over the past 3 years and give people who might want to break into the business some starting advice.

1. Read a lot. Write a lot. This is the most common piece of writing advice, but also the most important. Read everything you can get your hands on that looks even remotely interesting to you. Read what's popular and what's not popular. Read high literature and sparkly vampire romance. Read published novels and unpublished work up for critique by your fellow writers. And through all of this, you should be writing. Never expect your early writings to be good. Keep practicing and keep reading, and you'll see your work gradually improve.

2. Study the market. As you continue to read and sharpen your writing skills, you'll probably figure out your tastes and what you primarily want to read and write. Like writing high literature? Great! Unfortunately, your chances of making a living from it are extremely slim. You have a much better chance at making money writing, say, fantasy or paranormal fiction. Write primarily for yourself, but keep the market in mind. And never, ever write in a particular genre just because you think you'll make more money from it. You'll likely fail miserably, and be rather miserable as well.

3. Decide which path to publication you'll take. Will you aim for traditional publishing and look for an agent who will pitch your book to a major house? Will you send your book to a small press? Will you self-publish? These are all viable options, and the one you take depends on what kind of person you are, what kind of writing you do, and what your writing goals are. Research each one and decide which is best for you.

4. Get involved. There's a whole community of writers out there, both online and offline. Many writers find it difficult to join together because a lot of us are introverts and not very comfortable around strangers. But if you ever want to be published, you have to face the fears of dealing with other people and their reactions to your work. A critique group is critical for authors, especially new ones, because we can't always see the flaws in our work when we've looked over it a hundred million times. Look for an in-person writing group in your community. If there isn't one, or you try them out and don't like them, look for an online community. It's important to network with other authors. Sure, it can open lots of doors for potential connections in the industry. But the primary benefit is the feeling of knowing you're not alone in this crazy endeavor.
Similarly, you should be researching not only writing and publication, but writing advice. Absorb everything you can about both writing as a craft and the publishing industry. Keep in mind, of course, that not all of this advice is good advice. Keep researching and find experts you trust and advice you can use.

5. Prepare yourself. Writing is hard. Really, really hard. Sometimes it's so hard you'll want to bang your head against a wall or throw your computer out a window. It takes a special kind of person to string tens or hundreds of thousands of words together and have them be not only coherent but entertaining. And it's slow. And an uphill battle.
The Stephenie Meyer success stories are rare -- most writers don't get a book deal six months after they write their first novel ever. Most writers struggle along for years honing their craft before seeing any significant results. Yet millions of us continue to write day after day because we love it so much. And if I haven't scared you away yet, you have a pretty good chance of making it. Just like any other worthwhile path, becoming a professional author takes a lot of persistence. So as long as you can't see yourself doing anything else, don't give it up.

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