Want to become an author? Well, then, you probably have (at least) two main challenges facing you:
1. mastering the writing process (the creative bit)
2. getting yourself published (the business bit).
With regard to the first task, you may find some insights in this fun little video I recorded in April 2009:
But I don’t get asked about the writing process as much as I do about how to get published. The truth is, it’s even harder to sell a book than it is to write it. And not a lot of writers possess the business skills required to become a successful author on their own. I suppose that’s why God invented literary agents.
In the absence of an agent or a mentor, where should aspiring authors begin? As ever, there’s no easy answer, but I did a set of top ten tips for a magazine interview recently, so you might want to take a look at those below.
1. Don’t let anyone tell you how to do it. Ironic tip to open with, eh? Basically, there’s no formula for success. If there was, everyone would be successful, wouldn’t they? Basically, then, whatever works for you is the right way. Some people find it valuable to be a member of a writers group, some go on writing courses – but none of that works for me personally. Some people like to shut themselves away and never show anyone their stuff. That works too.
2. Never give up. JKRowling was rejected by 20 publishers before Harry Potter was accepted. William Golding had Lord of the Flies rejected by 29 before it got published…and that book went on to win the Booker Prize!
3. Believe in yourself and trust your own opinion over that of others. Publishers are not looking for quality, you must remember that. They’re looking for something that is commercial and will make them money. Think about Mills & Boon books. They’re not successful because they’re quality literature, are they?
4. Enter short story competitions. There are loads of them out there on the internet and there’s always something happening nationally (here’s a useful little list: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/Prizes-and-awards). Think of every competition as an opportunity…just make sure you never pay to enter a competition (trust me, I’ve been there, but maybe you need to get your fingers burnt for yourself). Try out competitions for different genres and see which one you enjoy most. Find your niche. I even entered a few that were for women only (I used my sister’s name on the entry form).
5. Remember, practice makes perfect. I started my first novel at 15. I got some poems published at 21. I got a short story published at 35. I got Necromancer’s Gambit published at 37, having done 5 books previously that failed to get published. But I eventually got it all perfected and now the writing’s easy. It’s a skill you can improve with practice.
6. Don’t be scared to fail. We can learn to do something better when we’ve failed at it first time. Think of it as improving your aim. You can only improve your aim by practice. Ask Jonny Wilkinson – he’s on the training pitch in all weathers.
7. Don’t take no for an answer. If one publisher says no, go to the next. If one book shop says no, go to the next. Only give up when every single one of them has said no.
8. Write for yourself, not someone else. You need to enjoy writing what you write because otherwise you’ll never stay motivated. When you’re in a dimly-lit, lonely room, it can be the brightest place on earth if you’re in the sunlit world of the story you’re creating.
9. Don’t feel you have to have worked out the whole plot before you start writing. A lot of American publishers ask for full plot outlines before they’ll agree to supporting an author. However, books that are written once the plot has been agreed are very by-the-numbers, very then-this-happened-then-this-then-this. Their quality of writing is low. British publishers still let you work things out as you go along. That makes your writing reflective, complex and surprising.
10. Make life easy for yourself and decide what ‘genre’ you’re going to write in before you start writing anything. Hey! No one else in publishing is going to make life easy for you, so you may as well be your own best friend.
[Bonus tip: 11. Be careful of the ‘author voice’ in your writing. All writing comes from a perspective. That perspective is effectively an extra character in your book. That character can sometimes be a vague and tantalising ghost, and sometimes it can be a wailing banshee that is way too intrusive and can drown out everything else. Some writers get round the problem by writing in the first person: ‘I’. But a lot of readers don’t like books written like that. What I do in my writing is deliberately tell the story from the perspectives of its different characters. I let them ‘own’ the viewpoint…and that makes them more interesting and believable.]
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