I’ve interviewed several authors over the past few months. During each interview, I asked for their advice to unpublished authors. The authors have given quite a few strong suggestions (and many of them stress the same priorities) so I thought I’d compile a list and share it with you.
Matthew Cox – Author of Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and Caller 107
Make believable characters. Readers will not like a character that constantly acts contrary to what their nature seems to be – or if they have no nature and are just a shell. Grounding a character (be it protagonist, antagonist, or minor character) in a true sense of being keeps things genuine. It even helps avoid getting stuck because if you know your character, you know how they’d react in a situation.
Write the story you want to tell, not the story you think the market wants. The more into the story you are, the better it will come out.
Once you’ve finished a draft, let it sit for a week or four. Then go back and do an edit pass. Then go back again and read it out loud to yourself.
Jessa Russo – Author of Ever, Evade, and Divide
Take your time and remember that with every pitfall, you learn more. With every critique, you grow.
Find a critique partner and be sure it’s someone you respect and trust. (Shared genres is a plus, but I can attest to the fact that it’s not a necessity.)
Remember that this industry is more subjective than possibly any other industry out there. And then remember that you’re going to hear and read the word subjective so many times that you’ll want to burn it with fire. That’s normal.
Ann M. Noser – Author of How to Date Dead Guys
Join a writing critique group
Make sure the critique group provides you with good quality, respectful feedback
Give the same level of feedback in return
Tara Tyler – Author of Broken Branch Falls and Pop Travel
Don’t give up.
And stay true to you.
Valentina Cano – Author of The Rose Master
Write every day. It may sound obvious and it’s been said a lot, but it’s probably the most important thing that you can do as a writer. Even if you read what you wrote later and decide it’s jaw-dropping awful, you at least practiced your craft. Writing is like any other art, you can’t get better at it if you don’t practice.
I would also say that you have to hold on to your self-esteem with both hands, because as you start the process of looking for agents or looking for publishers, it gets really tough. You could have the next best seller curled inside your laptop and still, you will get lots and lots of rejections. It’s very hard to handle these rejections because this is your creation that you are peddling and realizing that no one is tripping over themselves to represent it or publish it can hurt.
The other piece of advice I always mention is that writers need to read. A lot. And not just the genre you write. Read everything you can, from poetry, to sci-fi, to romance, to YA and picture books. Every book on this planet can teach you something, even it it’s how not to write. As Stephen King often says, if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.
Aramita Star Matthews – Author of Return of the Loving Dead, and Blind Hunger,
Get formal training. It doesn’t matter if you go to college and graduate school for it like I did, or if you take a night class or what. It is vital that you develop the ability to hear criticism and revise your work based on a truly editorial suggestion. You will never survive in this business if you take criticism personally. The number one thing training provides you is the opportunity to toughen your skin. Do it.
Finish your work before you submit it. This advice was actually given to me by an author friend whose work I’d reviewed, and he was absolutely right. Believe it or not, those Hollywood movies that suggest writers just pitch ideas to publishers and get huge advance-royalty checks are all fiction. Publishers are rarely interested in works-in-progress from unpublished writers and they are not likely to pay you anything in advance for an unfinished product. Finish and hire an editor before you even send it out, or risk burning bridges you haven’t even crossed yet.
Plan to do your own marketing at first. One thing they don’t really tell you is that the burden of marketing is primarily in the domain of the writer—especially for newly published writers. You need to get comfortable now telling people that you write, performing public readings, selling your book at conventions or venues, and self-promoting on social media. Many writers I know are shy and introverted. I’m an introvert, too. As such, this self-promotion part can be very difficult, but it’s necessary.
Stan Swanson – Author of Wind-Up Hearts, Return of the Loving Dead, and Slices of Flesh
Find time to write every day. And, you’re right, I don’t always follow my own advice. The more you write, the better you become at your craft. I have hundreds of pages of fiction (everything from short stories to novels) that will never be published or even read by anyone other than myself. But it is all part of the writer’s education.
Don’t get discouraged if you find it hard to get published or even have publishers or agents respond to your queries. Just keep putting one foot (or one word) in front of the other and keep on going. Writers can’t expect to sit down, write their first short story or book and expect the world to come pounding on their door. It takes a real commitment. Writing isn’t a hobby, it is a profession.
Read! Reading is part of a writer’s education. Reading books you like (or even books you do not like) needs to be part of your learning process.
Ryan Hill – Author of The Book of Bart
Hmm. Obviously, just keep writing, Matthew McConaughey style.
Learn how to take criticism.
And learn the business of books. You can’t just write a book and expect to get a big payday. Not gonna happen.
Sharon Bayliss – Author of Destruction and The Charge
The only reason to give up on writing is if you don’t like writing. All other reasons are stupid.
When in doubt, remember JFW. “Just f—ing write.”
Everybody sucks in the beginning. And, everyone is capable of getting better if they keep working at it. You’re not destined to suck forever (unless you give up…then you will suck forever).