Well I just want to start this by including some disclaimers.
I’m no expert, and everyone really does have a different road to publication. On top of that, these days there are so many different ways to be a successful writer, whether that is through the traditional route, or as an Indie author, or even through an online platform like Wattpad.
Being a successful author and being a published author are really however you perceive those things, and I am obviously basing this post on my own journey to where I am now.
So I guess this post can only speak to my own experience, as I round up the important things I learned during the five years (not counting those other earlier two years of utter failure!) it took me to get from someone who never even told anyone I was writing, to a writer with a publishing contract in hand and a debut novel coming out.
I hope the things I learned on my own journey may help others, and I'll also touch on the things that I wished I’d known, way back then.
So here they are:
My Top Ten Tips for Writers Aspiring to be Published.
Top Tip One: Are you serious about this?
Like seriously serious?
I think it’s really worth interrogating yourself on what you want when you say you want to be an author. If you write books, you are definitely an author already, so maybe its time to seriously reflect on what it is you want and how serious you are about getting it.
This is something I wished I’d identified about myself earlier. I wish I’d decided to tackle it seriously from the beginning. To be more honest with myself on how much I wanted it, and therefore rise to the occasion earlier on, and working harder to get there. I waffled for the first couple years, I really did. Because I didn’t have that inner reflection time to decide what success looked like for me, and then start being honest with myself and plan to get there.
And that was the problem, I didn't take it seriously, I thought things would just magically fall into place for me. But the truth was, my biggest turning point in my journey to publication, was that moment I decided to be serious, that I decided to put writing first, that I made changes in my life to allow dedicated writing time, learning time, working time.
Until you are serious about what exactly you want, how will you plan to get there and make it happen?
Don't wait for anyone else to do it. This is on you.
If you are serious about what you want, then get serious.
Top Tip Two: Yes, you do need to learn your craft.
And no, you are not naturally talented. No, no publisher is going to do your editing for you.
So if you've decided to get serious, then you are now ready and open to the idea of getting better at your craft.
Think of it this way. If you want to be a doctor you have to go to university. You might have some natural ability at studying, you could love the topic and find it naturally works for you. You might be awesome at it. But you still gotta go and actually put in the work and study it. For years and years and years. And after that you can be a doctor. Once you have learned how to be a doctor.
No one is naturally talented at being a doctor.
Writing is a skill like any other. It is something to be learned.
This was the biggest mistake I made early on: I thought I didn't need to learn.
Huge mistake! I wasted years on this. On not learning how to edit properly, on not learning how stories work and not learning about the industry I wanted to be a part of, or even author platforms and how to present myself.
It took me way too long to understand that writing is a skill, and you gotta learn it to be good at it.
I don't really care how naturally talented a writer is, it is not enough.
Learn your skills. Learn your craft.
Top Tip Three: No one owes you anything.
Seriously. They don’t.
Obviously things not moving as fast as you would like, or you not getting where you want to be is excruciatingly disappointing, but you really do need to always focus on the good sides, and understand this:
Anything anyone ever does for you in terms of your writing is wonderful and an opportunity, and you should feel grateful for it, and never lash out ever if something doesn’t work out.
Because seriously, no one owes you anything.
If you want to make it, you need to do it yourself.
However, please don’t feel discouraged by this. I don’t.
In fact, I think it’s empowering. Work hard, and go and get those things that you want. But do it yourself! Rely on yourself to get there. And if you are rejected and knocked back, just work harder. And keep going. And don’t give up.
Believe in yourself and your work.
You CAN do it.
But no matter how hard it gets, no matter how many rejections, no matter how bitter you feel, never ever lash out at anyone who you perceive owes you something.
And this leads me to my next point:
Top Tip Four: Don’t be a dick. The industry is super small. So just don’t.
Just like a professional in any other job in the whole country (except maybe for politicians who are allowed to yell at each other and call colleagues names without being fired for harassment!) you must remember to act professionally AT ALL TIMES.
Received a rude rejection email?
Email back and politely thank them, say you are grateful for their time. AND MOVE ON. Don’t be mean to others, don’t yell at anyone. Never call anyone any names. And remember NO ONE OWES YOU ANYTHING, so just don’t be a dick.
The above is actually advice from author, Jennifer Mills, which I heard her say at a writing festival a few years ago, and it always stuck with me, especially as the years went by and it became clearer and clearer that she was right. She literally stood there in front of that crowd and her advice was; 'Don't be a dick'.
So even if you perceive that you have been treated badly, just be kind and polite and professional. You know why?
Because that person you want to yell at probably lunches with the next person you are about to submit your book to. People are people, and people talk.
So don’t give them anything but nice things to say about you.
Top Tip Five: Listen to advice.
When I got rejection letters from professionals, as in people in the industry who really truly know what they’re talking about, and they say something like (true story!) cut multiple characters, cut 30,000 words, get rid of unrealistic ending ...... you know what you do?
You freaking listen.
You find a query group and you examine your story and you figure out what they are talking about and you take that advice and you fix your novel.
Don’t just ignore it. Don’t think... oh that person doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Yes, sometimes people just aren’t going to ‘get’ what your book is trying to say, maybe they are not the correct reader for your work and you know in your heart that you are happy with the theme/direction/ideas behind your book. But if you have someone in the know give you feedback on your craft then listen!
Don't ignore advice.
Top Tip Six: Don’t listen to ALL of the advice.
So this is where it gets tricky, because now I'm totally going to contradict my previous point.... because this is my lovely post and I guess I can do whatever I want! :)
Gosh there is so much advice on the net, and frankly, a lot of it is dumb. Loads of it is wonderful but heaps is just so freaking dumb.
So how do you figure out which is which?
Basically, in my opinion, anything that says you can’t become a published author unless you have.... (insert here: a dedicated writing nook / a certain type of pen / desk / writing tool), or says that you can’t be a good writer unless you do or don’t do NANO this year, or any article that says you are a fool if you are a pantser or a fool if you spend too much time outlining or plotting.
All that stuff is just noise.
Sure, read the articles and make a list of things you want to try if you don’t yet know what works for you, but don’t get too lost in the details. The only way to truly write and figure out what works best for you is to just do it. A lot. Over and over.
Just sit down and write if you want to write. No one needs a special chair or a special desk or a special writing program.
Just do the work if you want the result.
Top Tip Seven: You will never ever be in a position to stop learning.
It's probably good to accept this pretty early on. There is literally no top of this mountain. It just keeps going up and up and up.
And honestly I think it’s crazy to think anyone would want to just stop evolving.
I don’t mean this in relation to one book, like obviously you have to stop working on it at some point and be brave and send it out into the world.
I mean it more in terms of being open minded. Don’t presume you already know how everything works. Listen and learn. No matter how well you do, there will always be people around you that you can learn from, and ways to improve your writing.
And that is a beautiful thing. So embrace it.
Top Tip Eight: Don’t be narrow minded about your career.
What I mean by this, is that we all start out with an author dream. Like, being an author to a lot of people is the dream of writing their first book and it being traditionally published. Of being the next whoever.
But what if that doesn’t happen for you?
You have to be able to constantly adjust your dreams and expectations if you want to make it. Sure, maybe your original dream does come true. But maybe it doesn’t.
And that’s okay.
For instance, I signed with a very small press. Not a massive massive one. I got a very very small advance not a big massive one. I can in no way currently make a living out of my writing. Do I feel like a failure?
HELL NO! I feel like I won everything.
So I think being able to adjust your dreams is important. If you only ever stick to one barely reachable goal then maybe you end up with nothing at all. For instance, I heard of someone recently who wasn't interested in submitting their manuscript to a local unpublished manuscript competition, because if they won it, they'd only be published locally, instead of worldwide to massive worldwide acclaim.
And you know what?
They are still not published at all at this point.
I'm not telling you to settle. I'm not telling you to give up on your dreams.
But it sure is healthy if you can find the joy in smaller achievements, and then maybe even realise that what you thought was a small achievement is actually a pretty freaking big deal!
Another thing under this point. Indie publishing is a real thing now. It is a massive and exciting industry. Don’t ignore it. Maybe it’s definitely not for you, maybe you are certain you want to go traditional. And that's fine too. But for a lot of people self-publishing is a totally viable and exciting option. There is no failure in choosing the option that best suits you. There are so many exciting opportunities out there, you just have to figure out what you want, and be willing to put in the work to get there. Because that is the one thing that every writing career has in common, no matter if you go trad or indie for your publishing... it is a lot of hard work!
But it is worth it. If you want it enough.
Top Tip Nine: Do Not Give Up. Ever.
Also said by Author Jennifer Mills at that same writing festival from years ago:
Perseverance is more important than talent.
Whoever gave a crap about talent? Just keep writing.
If you never ever give up, no matter how much you are rejected, no matter how beaten down you feel, AND if you concentrate on listening and improving your craft, then you will make it.
I think being at that stage prior to getting a publishing deal (or deciding you will be an Indie author etc.) is one of the absolute hardest. It’s because, unlike studying at uni, where every term you have exams to show you if you are improving, instead you are basically in a limbo, feeling like you are stagnant and un-moving, sometimes for years and years.
I get that, I truly do.
I spent five solid years feeling like that (not to count my earlier two failed years of trying). Feeling like I was working hard and going nowhere fast. I felt like I hadn't had a single writing success in all that time, because I had nothing tangible at all to add into my author bio. I'd never won anything, never even been shortlisted.
But the truth was I had been consistently getting better that whole time, year to year, I was improving so much, my writing skills, my editing and my storytelling skills were getting better and better, and it was only because I stopped and looked back and reflected on where I used to be and where I was now, that I even realised that.
I hadn't even known I'd made progress.
So that is the thing to remember I think.
Everything you do is progress. It doesn't matter how small. Everything you do makes a difference, even if you can't see it currently.
That is why it is so important not to give up.
If you really want it, never give up on it.
Top Tip Ten: Understand that as soon as you achieve a dream, it is just a doorway to more dreaming.
So this is a good thing to realise, as maybe it sets some realistic expectations for you.
Everything isn’t going to be magical and perfect once you have achieved your dream.
Probably the achievement of your dream is simply a doorway through into a new set of challenges and hopes and wants. And pretty soon, you’re going to find yourself with a whole new dream.
And with a new dream comes a whole new set of stresses and craziness.
So don’t get so caught up in the future wanting something that you lose focus on how far you’ve come.
No matter what happens, if you have worked hard, be proud of yourself. Take the time to reflect on your achievements, even if they are simply seeing yourself improve just the tiniest bit. Everything counts on this journey.
Believe in yourself and your ability to work hard for what you want. But don't hang everything on this. The world is a big beautiful place, so don't forget to be happy now. Don't forget to live for yourself now. Not just the future.
Here are some other random blog posts you might like to try if you enjoyed this one:
I really hope some of these tips are useful in your writing journey and might help you to reach your writing goals!
I'd love to know your story, what you write and what you are aiming for!
Let me know what you are up to!