“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~Confucius
Today I’m going to be pontificating on a quality I believe all authors should possess—the thirst for knowledge. It’s sort of like the quest for the Holy Grail, except not quite as life-threatening. Or filled with Nazis.
In order to become a better writer, you [probably] have a few things to learn. How do you go about learning said things? The first step is acknowledging that you do not know everything. The second is to have a desire to learn more, become better. Without first accepting these two truths, you can’t move forward. So are you good? You know you’re not perfect and you’re ready to learn more?
Sweet! Onward and upward, then. I’m first going to examine a few different areas of the author’s life. There are new and exciting things to learn in each arena. If this overwhelms you, pick one and at least just get started.
1. On writing. I haven’t earned a degree in creative writing. Or English Literature. Or anything writing related. Does that mean I can’t be a successful writer? Of course not. Now, if I choose to ignore basic laws of grammar and spelling, then perhaps. If I refuse the help of others, if I won’t read and research and constantly strive to improve my craft, then yes.
There are many, many ways to learn the technical aspects of writing. I’ve read articles on “show, don’t tell”, comma rules, and a pantheon of other writing helps. I’ve attended conferences, online writing workshops and participated in critique groups. All of these things help me to become a better technical user of words.
Go forth. Learn to be a better writer.
2. On Formatting. When I sat down to write a novel, I didn’t realize the whole 1-inch margin, 12-point font, double space, single sided thing. These things came with time, with research and with discussion between fellow authors and / or reading publishing blogs. I’m not here to tell you which font to use or what these guidelines are. I’m just saying there is a “standard” way to format your documents that makes you look like a professional.
I think most of you know by now that I believe in the author being confident in themselves. If you prefer Courier, use Courier. Me? I’m a TNR girl all the way. You wanna know why? It’s the default in Word, and I’m just too darn lazy to change that. (lol)
But seriously. There are appropriate ways to format submissions, so take the time to learn what you need to know before submitting.
Climb higher. Format your perfect words perfectly.
3. On Querying. I have a whole post on researching agents and learning as much as you can about them as a person coming up so I’m not going to touch on that here. No, this is about writing the query letter and understand how publishing works.
This one actually has several steps. The first thing you need to do is understand that the querying game is a part of publishing. There’s no sense in going all ape about it. If I told you how many hoops I have to jump through to stay certified as a teacher, you’d die. (I actually pay money to print my own renewal certificate. At my own house. On my own lame copy paper. Srsly.) This is the same thing, trust me. Right now, agents accept queries. So you better know what one is. And do as much research and soul-searching as you can as you write one.
There are many fabulous spots to get your letter critiqued. There are many “formulas” and helps (one by none other than yours truly) that you can find and use. I want to say this: discover the way that works for you and do it. If you like Noah Lukeman’s formula, use it. If you like mine, use it. If you like a combination of both, do that. If you feel like pioneering a new formula, have at it (although I wouldn’t go the sequined feather route). This all goes back to believing in yourself and having confidence, something I blogged about a few weeks ago.
No matter what you do, you need to know what a query is, how to write one, and how the process works. This takes time, dedication, confidence and more time. Don’t skip over this important well of knowledge and start sending out random queries or thinking that you know a better way things should be done in the publishing industry.
I have a few more things to say, so I think I'm going to break this topic into two parts. So far in my head, I'm thinking about 4. Submissions 5.Networking and 6. Researching Agents as thirsts every author should be dying to quench. What else should I be thinking about? What do you guys think? How much work have you put into making sure your writing is spot-on? That your formatting is correct? That your query letter is as good as it can be? Do you like this "behind-the-scenes" part of being an author? Which parts DON'T you like?
I adore discussions on publishing-related things, so post your comments, concerns and / or questions!