It’s tough being a writer. You stumble across all sorts of obstacles at nearly every bend: writer’s block, stubborn characters, dialogue that refuses to come naturally, paragraphs that have to be written and rewritten and yet rewritten again. The list is endless. In fact, finishing your story may seem like a huge accomplishment—and it is. A boatload of writers don’t even make it that far. So if you’ve completed your novel, you’re already ahead of millions of other aspiring authors. However, once that manuscript is complete, your work has only just begun.
If you want to break above the pack of thousands of other authors already out there clamoring for an audience and, of course, success, it’s going to require some extra effort—but that effort will be worth it at the end. Here are five simple steps that will inch you closer to your dream of becoming a sensational author.
1) Create a web presence
You’ve probably heard it a million times—with good reason. Having a web presence is crucial. Think about it. Once you’re published, your work will likely be available on the web, and the majority of your readers won’t be people you know, we hope. They’ll be strangers you’ve never seen or heard of, people who happen to stumble upon your book online. And if they enjoy it, it’s likely they’ll be intrigued to learn more about you—not only because they’re nosy (which, hey, we can’t deny), but because humans are also personable by nature. We like to connect with one another on a personal level. We like to attach names and faces to things.
Creating a website or social media account not only helps facilitate this connection, which can really work in your favor if you’re planning on being more than a one-hit wonder, but it also allows you to promote yourself. And promoting is an absolute must if you want people to even know you exist. The more you can market yourself and your work and the more people can connect and communicate with you, the more likely they are to become a loyal reader and fan.
2) Read, read, read
They say practice makes perfect, but so does observing. Gorging on books helps kick into action your observation skills, because when you’re reading a well-written book, you’re likely to, consciously or subconsciously, soak up writing best practices implemented by established authors. Though every book is unique in its own right, the best, most successful ones have commonalities like strong protagonists, a distinct plot, a defined tone, a good measure of tension and wrought-iron credibility.
Going back to practice making perfect, you may also be familiar with the amendment to that: perfect practice makes perfect, which is true for reading as well. You have to read the right kinds of books to write the right kinds of books. If you’re a romance author, you can’t expect to learn secrets of the trade by devouring mystery books. Read books in the genre you write and take the time to think about what you like and what you don’t in each one. Observe style, sentence structure, pacing, character development, dialogue, detail, plot and all the other elements that are integral to a great story. Think about how you can use any number of these to improve your own work.
And if you want to get even pickier, make sure you read books that are written similar to the way you write. If you’re writing a mystery in a first person, British accent, try to scope out mysteries that are written in first person, British and be sure to pay attention to the dialect and idiosyncrasies of these novels.
Reading relevant, quality writing will help you write quality material.
3) Create an outline
If you were to travel on foreign territory, you’d likely be well equipped with a map or GPS. For a writer, an outline is exactly that: a device used to make sure you don’t get lost in your story and your character doesn’t end up in Saskatchewan, a murder convict instead of Key West, living happily ever after with Hubba Bubba.
An outline also makes it easy to keep track of events, pace the plot, and strategically map out details leading to the climax. Keeping everything in order through an outline can help you create a more plausible, logical story that will keep readers enthralled and pleased.
The best part is that outlines don’t have to be an exact science, just a tool to keep all the details straight. Plus, when you have an outline, you’re more likely to make the most of each chapter and move the story along in a meaningful, seamless way.
4) Join a critique group
If you’re counting on old aunt Martha or your best friend from elementary school to give you candid feedback on your writing, it’s likely that you’re setting yourself up for failure. Not that these individuals won’t want to help or see you succeed, it’s just that sometimes the people closest to you will mask the truth in fear of hurting you. Meaning if your story sucks and doesn’t make a lick of sense, you’ll still probably get a glowing review and a standing ovation from those you love. And sometimes, in all honesty, these people just don’t know any better. Anything you’ve written is truly a work of art to them, and they’re so busy being fascinated that they don’t get a chance to offer an unbiased opinion. That or they just aren’t familiar enough with your genre to give you valuable criticism.
If you’re truly trying to become a writing sensation, you’ll need the advice of beta readers or experts, preferably people you don’t know on a personal level, to provide candid feedback.
Groups like Critique Circle have free memberships and ask that in order to receive a critique, you write a few in return for other writers.
5) Get a great editor
Editing is so important. It can literally make or break your credibility as an author. Editors can be expensive—ask me, I am one!—but they are well worth the investment. You’d be amazed at the difference between a before and after, but if you think about it, it’s expected and even natural for a writer to make mistakes and create inconsistencies. When you’re writing, you’re focused entirely on bringing to life a concept or tale that’s in your mind. Relaying that tale from your mind to paper is task enough. Add to it the complication of perfecting prose, minding grammar and punctuation and practicing consistent diction and you’re speaking impracticality.
But don’t be fooled, there are a ton of people out there who claim to be editors. Ask for samples, credentials and prior experience. And please make sure that the person you hire has experience in editing the genre you’re writing. It’s difficult for someone who hasn’t ever edited romance to make sense of its required formula or to understand the cheesiness factor that this genre is reputed for. And you don’t want to make any unnecessary and even damaging changes to your manuscript based on suggestions from an editor who has no knowledge about what you’re writing.
So there we have it. If you do all of the above, you’ll be way ahead of the rest of the gaggle of aspiring authors and writers out there. But above and beyond all–and I know it sounds cliche–be sure that no matter what happens, you don’t give up. Remember, anything worth having is worth fighting for, and that includes your belief in yourself and your writing. Stay informed, continue to research and keep open to the advice of successful writers. If you remain persistent, you’re sure to reach your destination.
Salina Jivani (AKA: The Great Word Nerd) is an author of three published novels and is hard at work on her fourth, which will be out in 2017. She’s worked as a chief editor for Dare Publishing, a proposal writer and lead editor for Bank of America, and is now living her dream of being a freelance writer and editor. One day, she hopes to spend her summers lounging at the poolside (preferably in Bora Bora) as she churns out clever, quirky, million dollar screenplays. Salina lives in Atlanta with her family.
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