Over on Goodreads, someone asked me for advice for people who want to be authors. That’s a pretty broad question, and comes up in one form or another pretty routinely. So I’m gonna break it down into bite-sized chunks and post stuff as I have time and inspiration.
1. Why are you asking me?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t ask me for advice, but why are you? Do you know anything about my career or what I write, or are you taking a shotgun approach and asking anyone and everyone you can find? My advice will be based on my experiences and my goals, which won’t be the same as yours. Recognizing those differences can help you know when to follow — or not follow — my advice.
2. Ask around, but avoid the “Preachers.”
Every author’s career path is different, so it’s good to ask around. Follow other authors online, read their blogs and learn about their experiences. Lots of us are very open about this stuff. But be very careful about anyone who insists they know the One True Path to publishing success. There isn’t one. If someone sounds like they’re on a Crusade, just smile and nod and back away.
3. It’s okay to write crap.
In the early part of my career, perfectionism was killing my productivity. Very few authors can produce publishable first drafts. I had to shut off the editor brain and just write. Once I had something on the page, I could go back and make it better, but you can’t revise a blank page. And if you spend all your time trying to make the first page perfect, you’ll never write page two.
4. Stock up on patience.
One way or another, writing and publishing tend to be slow. DAW published Goblin Quest more than five years after I’d finished writing it. Finding an agent was a multi-year endeavor. And the writing itself…some of these books take me more than a year to write. Being a writer is a long-term thing, not an overnight transformation.
5. What are your goals?
Do you want to see your book in bookstores? Do you want to write one book or many? Do you want to make a living at this? Do you want to write fanfiction or tie-in fiction or original stuff or all of the above? What’s driving you to write in the first place? Figuring out exactly what you want will help you figure out how to get there.
6. Read in your genre.
Read older stuff so you know what’s been done and how the genre has changed. Equally or more important: read new stuff so you know what’s being done today. Hint: publishers aren’t buying the same stuff they were buying fifty years ago, or even ten years ago.
7. Read outside of your genre.
I’ve found this to be a great way of learning new techniques and tricks for compelling storytelling. Read poetry to learn about word choice and imagery and rhythm. Read romance to learn about writing engaging relationship conflicts and resolution. Read comedy to learn humor. Read scripts to study dialogue.
This is the big one. If you want to be a writer, write. Get some words on the page, good or bad, and then write some more. Write what excites you. Write what makes you laugh or cry. Write what knots your guts up with fear. Write gorgeously. Write crap. Write your stories.