10 ways emerging writers help themselves
When you’re starting out as a writer, there’s so much to consider that it can be bewildering. Resources such as The Riff Raff are invaluable for disseminating information and debunking myths. Further to my spot there in November, I wanted to share the things which have helped me on my journey from aspiring author to a published one.
1 - Getting clear about why I write and what I want from writing
This has helped me to define success criteria that suit me. In turn, that means I’m content with what I’m doing and my achievements so far. It can be useful to ask: am I writing for fun? Do I want to finish writing a novel and leave it there? Would I like an agent and a traditional book deal? Is it my dream to see my book in shops or would a digital contract work for me? How can I support myself or do I need an income from writing?
2 - Keeping up with publishing news and industry developments
This has helped me to understand the factors which affect my writing once it heads out into the world. Twitter is a great resource. My favourite things are reading the Bookseller, following book news in the media and listening to writing podcasts.
3 - Going to events, conferences, launches and masterclasses
It’s important to build a support system and learn. Events are great for networking and making friends. They are, however, expensive and time-consuming and can jeopardise precious minutes at the keyboard. I decided to approach writing as a business years before I was published. That means I block out time to write and set myself targets.
4 - Reading widely
I write crime fiction and therefore had to familiarise myself with the rules, conventions and tropes of its many sub-genres. If you want to write a series or stand-alones, study authors who are doing the same. I find it interesting to read the book that got the author their deal and their most recent one. I’ve learnt a lot from reviewing books, eg. what is selling and who is writing and publishing what. Do also read outside your chosen genre as it will add to your understanding of how stories work.
5 - Finding out who the key people are in the genre you are writing
That means authors, agents, publishers, reviewers and bloggers. This helped me when I submitted to agents as I was able to personalise my query letter and show that I understand where my book sits in the market. Contacts won’t get you a book deal or guarantee good reviews and sales, but relationships can make people more interested in reading your work. Everything starts and stops there.
6 - Understanding publishing models
New publishers are emerging all the time and existing ones are introducing new models so it’s essential to find out what the financial, marketing and editorial implications are of each model. That way you can make an informed decision on what will suit you best. The main models are:
hardback, ebook and audio first, followed by a mass-market paperback
straight to mass-market paperback, ebook and audio
digital first then print-on-demand paperback
The key financial differences are in royalties, whether an advance will be offered, lead times and payment patterns. Royalties are higher via self-publishing. Digital first/only deals rarely offer an advance (I know of one that does) but your book may be published more quickly, and royalties are higher and received sooner.
7 - Researching agents
If you want to work through a literary agent, familiarise yourself with submission guidelines. They aren’t all the same. It’s useful to find out what agents are looking for and what they offer. Check agency websites. Read the wish lists, interviews and blog posts of agents you’re interested in. Do they offer editorial input? Do they sell translation and media rights? How do they structure submissions? Consider the implications of having a new or experienced agent, one from a large or bijou agency, a male/female, someone younger or older than you. Twitter and events can be useful here, and services like AgentMatch.
8 - Focussing on my own writing
If you believe what you see on social media, you might think that all authors are award-winning bestsellers with a six-figure advance, a film option and translation rights. Most have few of those achievements. Many are navigating challenges and changes. I find the best inoculation against distraction and comparison is to enjoy the writing and editing parts as much as possible.
9 - Deciding what sort of feedback works
It can be tempting to accept writing feedback from anyone offering an opinion and there is a view that all feedback is useful. As a teacher and lifelong learner, I don’t agree with this. Feedback of the wrong sort, or at the wrong time, can be extremely destructive. What works for me is someone who knows about writing and who knows how to give feedback.
10 - Competitions and journals
Competitions can be a good way to build your skills, author profile, work portfolio and industry links. Some even offer feedback. Submitting to literary magazines and journals can have the same benefits. However, do check entrance fees, T&Cs and rights agreements.
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