So You Want To Be a Writer: What Not To Do
I’ve been writing most of my life but first considered myself a writer in 2005 when I finished and published my first 60k word novel. Since then I have learned a lot about writing and publishing. I have published two more novels, rewritten and republished one, and recently had a novella e-published. My writing style has changed significantly over the years and I have become more knowledgeable about the publishing world.
It took plenty of mistakes, trial and error, and time and money before understanding the publishing world is not easy or forgiving. Knowing what I know now, I wish to pass my knowledge onto you: the aspiring writer.
First things first, before accessing a what-to-do list, you need to know the what-not-to-do list.
1. Don’t think writing and finishing a novel will come easy. There is a lot of preparation and planning that comes with novel writing, and it all takes time and dedication. The more you learn about writing the harder it gets. If it is easy, you’re not doing it right. Writing a good novel takes a lot of basic writing knowledge that people sometimes overlook. You must learn everything about plot, pacing, characterization, point of view, dialogue, and so much more. Moreover, you cannot and will not learn it in a day or two. Start out slow and learn as you go.
2. Don’t believe that the first novel you write will be a bestseller. This is a misconception of an amateur. I believe the more you write the better you become. Therefore, the odds of your very first book becoming a huge hit are against you, especially because you are unfamiliar. However, the more books you have under your name, the better each one gets, which means the better chance you’ll have for a hit. Bestsellers are a phenomenon, out of the ordinary, and only pure hard work and luck can get you somewhere near the bestseller status. Or appearing on Oprah.
3. Never assume the story inside of you, that is waiting to escape, has never been told before because most likely it has. There are a handful of basic plots like forbidden love, the quest, revenge, discovery, adventure, etc., and they all have a basic formula they follow. You’re job is to tell the story that has been told so many times before, but in a way that is original. We all heard of boy meet girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. You have to provide the outrageous details to make the story something readers “believe” they have not read before.
4. Don’t think once you write “The End” that your work as a writer is over. If you are serious about being a writer and you are passionate about your book, you must make it perfect. That means, rewriting, editing and rewriting again. If you think you edited it to the edge of hell and back, it is still not finished. You’ll need a fresh pair of eyes to look over it because more likely than not, you overlooked something, be it POV, tenses, plot development, or a simple punctuation error. It all matters in the final product.
5. Don’t assume the editor will fix your mistakes. This is a big no-no. Non-writers have the preconception that a writer’s job is to write the story and the editor’s job it to patch it up. You as the writer must send the very best -perfect- piece of work to an editor of a publishing house to convince them that your book it worthy of publishing. That means it is your absolute perfect material. Unless you hire a copy/line editor to scrutinize your work before submitting it to a publishing house, this is never the case.
6. Don’t assume that since you published your book--either self-published, e-published, or traditionally published--it will sell. Negative. You must wear several hats as a writer and those include marketer, advertiser and/or public relations. You must send out information to potential buyers to notify them that your book even exists, unless you hire a PR team to do this for you. It’s a big part of the success of the book.
7. Don’t think you can become rich by writing a novel. At best, you will make a decent living, but more likely, you will make enough to buy the supplies needed to write and submit your next novel. Once you publish your book, you will get a percentage of the sale price. That’s right, a percentage and it is nowhere near 100 percent unless you print, bound and distribute the book yourself. Even then, think about all the money you must invest into that.
8. Don’t think because you write in a hot genre it will definitely sell. Trends come and go all the time, just look at Twitter’s trending topics for proof. Vampires can be hot one year and cold the next, the same with wizards, and traveling pants. The trick isn’t to write what’s hot but to write what you’re passionate about writing. That way you win even if you lose. There is no formula to writing a bestseller. If so, all writers would have one. There’s no telling what would be a hit or a flop and no one can control this. A writer’s job is to write, work hard and hope for the best.
9. Don’t cry over rejections. Any writer will tell you, rejections are a big part of the business. I believe every single writer has had or will have their manuscript rejected from a publisher at least once in their lifetime. If you were lucky, along with the rejection letter they would send the reason why they rejected it. Learn from this and fix your novel, or apply what you’ve learned to the next novel. Before you know it, it will pay off. Never take a rejection personally. Editors must go through hundreds of manuscripts on a regular basis. They must find the perfect story sometimes in a matter of a few seconds, sometimes based on the title alone. Other times, there was just a better story they got to first.
10. Don’t believe writing is a lost cause. The more you write the better you hone your craft and the better writer you become. There will always be a better writer than you, but don’t let it discourage you from trying your best. All writers are aiming for the top; some get there and stay there, some get there and fall off. If you work hard enough you might be the next one to fill that empty spot.
11. Don’t ever give up. What separates a writer from a non-writer is that they’ve actually finished writing a book. How many people you know have said they always wanted to write a book? How many people you know actually finished writing one? It’s so easy to begin a project, and just as easy to give up on it when the going gets tough. It will get tough. The secret is to find something about the book that motivated you to begin writing it in the first place and hold on to that until the end.
These are some things to remember when making the decision to write your first novel. I’ve learned some of these lessons the hard way. I hope that I saved you some grief. Now go write your first novel and be proud. You’re already on your way to the top.
Leslie Lee Sanders