Now that the New Year is rapidly approaching, it’s a perfect time to discuss writing goals for 2011. What you want to accomplish next year may be dependent on where you are on the above pathway to becoming a bestselling novelist (or one with a loyal and growing fan base).
So you want to write a novel (or have already started one). Congratulations! The first thing you need to figure out is WHY you want to be a writer. Is it because you want to be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling? If so, quit now. You’re doing it for the wrong reasons. But if you want to be a writer because you hope to write stories that might one day be published and make a difference in someone’s life or entertain your readers, then welcome to the club. But before you join us, there’re some things you need to do:
- Read Read Read in the genre you want to write. If you woke up this morning and decided to become a YA writer, then you’ve got a lot of homework ahead of you. Same deal if you want to write a medical thriller and have never read one before. Of course, in this case, you might want to consider attending medical school first (or law school if you want to write a legal thriller).
- Read outside your genre. You might get some brilliant ideas for your story. Plus, you might discover a genre you never thought about writing before.
- Study nonfiction books on writing.
- Read blogs. A lot of writers are delighted to share their knowledge and writing tips in bite-sized pieces. This makes it easier for you to remember the pointers when writing and editing your novel.
- Analyze the writing of your favorite authors and see how it can improve your writing.
- Join a critique group or find some knowledgeable beta readers.
- Learn to research. Most novels require research, even if it’s just to make sure your characters aren’t stereotypes.
- Attend conferences. They’re a great learning and networking experience.
You’ve written your novel and done numerous revisions based on feedback from your critique partners and beta readers. You’ve polished your novel until it shines, and have given it some much needed distance. Now you’re ready to query.
- Research agents. Don’t waste your time and theirs by querying the wrong agents.
- Write a query and have it critted by your critique group and by people who don’t know the story. And don’t forget to make sure it has voice. If it doesn’t, the agent might think your novel lacks voice, too. (Hint: It needs to be in the same voice as in your novel. Believe it or not, this mistake does happen.)
- If you’re just getting form rejections, go back and redo the previous three points.If agents are rejecting requested materials, figure out why. IF you’re lucky, they might give you a hint. For example, if an agent mentions the characterization wasn’t as strong as she would like, now’s the time to study some books on characterization.
- Start working on a new project. I can’t stress this one enough.
- Consider trying out a different genre. Maybe you aren’t cut out to write legal thrillers, but discover you can write a kickass romantic suspense.
Congratulations, you’re getting closer to your goal of publication, but you’re not there yet. When you consider how many agents represent your genre and how many editors are looking for it, well, the odds aren’t great in your favor of your book being sold.
- Keep reading books in and out of your genre.
- Continue to develop your craft. Just because you’re agented, it doesn’t mean you can stop learning and challenging yourself to do better.
- Start working on a new project so if your current book doesn’t sell, you’ll have something new for your agent.
- If your manuscript is only collecting rejections, study the reasons behind them. Unlike agents, many editors do provide some feedback as to why they rejected the book. See this as an opportunity to improve that area of your writing (if that was the reason for the rejections), especially if they’re consistent. Remember, your goal is to be a professional one day (i.e. make money from your stories). And professionals (physicians, accountants, lawyers) are always learning. It never stops. Which brings me to the next point.
Wow, you did it. You’ve made it to a place a lot of writers dream about. Of course, you still have a lot of work to do. You have to promote the book (which I’m not going to go into here) and write a new one. But just because yours is published doesn’t mean you can stop challenging yourself and pushing your writing to the next level. Keep studying those books on writing and attend conferences. Unless you’re an award winning author (I’m talking the major literary awards), you probably still have room to grow. Don’t be the foolish author who assumes he knows everything.
Okay, I know no bestselling authors are reading this, but hopefully you keep this advice in mind if you ever get to this point. Your fans might be forgiving, but that can only take you so far. If you start to ignore the rules, it might not necessarily work in your favor (though sometimes it can). How many of you have stopped reading books by your favorite author because the writing just isn’t there anymore? The writer has become lazy. Once your fans drop you, you have to work even harder to get them back—if you ever can. That’s why I consider the pathway to being a bestseller (or a much admired author) a two-way circle. It is possible to move backwards and not just forwards. Also, your first published novel might have been a bestseller, but it was mostly because of hype. Your next novel might not do as well if readers where disappointed with the last one.
Remember, no matter where you are on the pathway, you should never stop learning and challenging yourself to do better. Your readers will thank you for it. So where are you on the pathway, and what are you planning to do next year to help you meet your goal of being published (or keep being published)?
(Note: Because of the limitations of my graphics program, this graph is slightly misleading. Only under very rare instances could a newbie writer skip the querying step and go straight to being a bestselling author. And a writer’s first book might be a bestseller (i.e. they skipped the part about developing a fan base over a period of several books), but I couldn’t show that in my graph. Also, you might be published by a small pressed before landing an agent for your next book.)
Stina Lindenblatt writes romantic suspense and young adults novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.