Advice for Aspiring Authors
I WANT TO BE AN AUTHOR. CAN YOU GIVE ME SOME ADVICE?
1. If you want to be a professional author you need to approach the career like you would any other job. RESEARCH THE WRITING PROFESSION. You can begin by reading: BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, HOW TO GET HAPPILY PUBLISHED by Judith Appelbaum, THE WRITERS MARKET, and THE AGENTS MARKET. Ignore the romanticized idea that says being an author is something magical and mystical – that you lay around, waiting for your Muse to whisper in your ear, or for your dreams to coalesce, and then you’re simply the vessel through which all the stories flow. Being an author is a job. Writing is work. Period.
2. Speaking of work – please remember that whatever you write represents you. No one is going to correct your errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. That’s not an editor’s job. Your editor is there to guide you into honing an already well written manuscript into the best work it can possibly be, and not to be a remedial writing coach. You need to work on the mechanics of writing and be as perfect as possible BEFORE you submit work to an editor or agent. Spelling counts! Even in emails. Get serious about that or no one will take your writing seriously.
3. What do I do to overcome writer’s block? I don’t believe in it! Again, writing is a job. When I was teaching there were many days I didn’t particularly feel like showing up at school and teaching 100+ teenagers, but it was my job and I did it (and did it well) whether I felt like it that day or not. That’s what writing is, too. Some days it’s a pleasure to be an author. Some days it’s hard as hell. Actually, most days it’s hard as hell. But I write whether it’s a breeze or whether it’s sloughing through mud, and so will you if you’re a real author.
4. How do I get inspired to write? Again, it's my job. I have contracts to fulfill and bills to pay. It's what I do for a living. Yes, I love creating worlds and telling stories. I believe people are happiest doing what they're passionate about - and I'm passionate about storytelling. That doesn't mean it comes easily. I've found inspiration is part research, part imagination, and part good old fashioned sweat and work. If you're continually coming to a dead end in your writing, perhaps you need to tell a different story. Or perhaps writing isn't for you. I wanted to be a veterinarian, but when I got serious about the career I realized I really didn't like dealing with parasites and poop, so even though being a vet seemed like a good idea, it really wasn't the right job for me.
5. Should you ask me (or any other published author) to read your work in progress, idea, summary, essay, poetry, etc.? NO. Okay – here’s the truth: another author can NOT get you published. Agents and editors can. Focus on them. Oh, and regarding allowing tons of people to read your work as you write – my advice is DO NOT. If you need feedback get into a writers’ group, or a creative writing class. Honestly, if you're so insecure about your writing that you have to be told by others whether you're good enough, you probably need to look at another career. Professional authors are tough and tenacious. If you manage to get published you need to have a firm backbone and thick skin because it's like putting your child out there for everyone to take potshots at - and, yes, they will blow holes in your baby. If you don't believe in yourself before you're even published, run screaming from attempting writing as a profession.
6. For the record – I do not read unpublished work. First, I can’t read your work and still have time to write my own. Second, my opinion doesn’t mean anything. I can’t get you published!
7. How can you get published? That’s a question you need to research and work on yourself. See #1 above for more info. Here’s the deal: you wouldn’t walk into a dentist’s office and say, “Hey! I want to be a dentist, so could you tell me how to drill on that guy’s teeth and let me have a whack at him?” Same thing about being an author. I can’t tell you how to do it. I can’t tell you how to write a book. Those are things you need to research and then do for yourself.
8. How do you start writing? JUST WRITE. Sometimes writing an outline helps. Sometimes drawing a chart helps. Sooner or later it all comes down to the writing. There is no magic pill that makes it suddenly happen. Read a lot. Write a lot. That’s all you can do. Is any age too young to start writing? Hell no! I wrote my first book in first grade. It's not about age; it's about talent and drive and tenacity. Teenagers: yes, you can begin trying to get your work published! BUT do your homework first. Know about manuscript format and how a book gets published (by a real publisher, which means you don't pay for it to be published - they pay you). Understand an agent's role in the process. Hone your skills. Then go for it!
9. Go to book signings and buy books signed by someone with a pulse. Don’t ask anything of the author – just go. It builds up good Karma and it helps support the career to which you aspire.
10. Don’t ever download a pirated copy of any book. It’s stealing from an author and her publisher. Yes. It’s seriously bad Karma, whether you ever want to be published or not. If you can't afford to buy a book visit your public library.
So, in summary: writing is a job. Educate yourself about it. No, that doesn’t mean you have to be a literature major in college. It means you need to read writers’ resource books and become knowledgeable about how the publishing industry works. Yes, it’s a lot to know. Just like in any other job. There are no shortcuts to being published (and being self-"published" is really being self-"printed"). Yes, you have to have a completed, rewritten manuscript – in an acceptable format – before you begin looking for an agent or an editor. No, an “idea” won’t sell unless you’re a celebrity, and then it’ll be ghost written anyway, and that’s a whole other issue.
I wish you much luck in your quest!