Aspiring Writers' Tips
This was written to provide a small group of aspiring writers in 2005. I am sharing it here, now, simply for the sake of sharing.
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What follows are tips I've picked up during my own, personal journey. I have traveled this road at a slow pace, and have made many stops along the way as I contemplate, absorb and build upon the lessons I have found along the way. My own ultimate goal has been an uncertain one. To simply say "I want to write and become published" is not enough. I have had to determine exactly what I want to write for myself, as opposed to what I want to write for publication. I have had to establish targets showing me when I want to present my writing to the public, and to learn how that challenge could best be met. Other writers are far more focused at a far earlier stage in their development. They move quickly, knowing exactly what 'brass ring' they are looking to grab.
We all have our own maps and timelines. In reviewing these tips, use what you feel might work best for you in developing yours.
A: Getting Started
- Find out who publishes material similar to yours:
1.1 Spend time at bookstores, both large chains and independents. Peruse the shelves to discover who publishes what. Make notes of:
• Publisher's company name
• Titles & Authors they publish
• Review "About the Author" sections to get a feel for who their authors are
• Pay attention to cover designs: do you like how this publisher's material is presented?
• Read the back cover notes
• Read the first & last page of the stories, and a random sampling of other pages:
o Are they edited well? Do you see a lot of typos and other mistakes?
o Are they written well?
o Does the writing bare any similarity to yours, in style or storyline?
1.2 Get a copy of the Writers Market, a hard-cover volume that is published annually by Writers Digest. Review publishers who list under your genre.
- Keep informed about the writing market via Writers Digest magazine (available at all bookstores) and website (www.writersdigest.com)
- Join internet writing groups. Do online searches to find groups that interest you, especially to locate groups that cover your genre. Writing groups will keep you informed about who has experienced what in their attempts to become successfully published. You can learn from postings of success stories, nightmare experiences and everything in between.
3.1 Try to find groups tied to your geographic area. This will give you a future option to meet face to face with people you get to know first on line (although as with all online communities, please exercise internet safety precautions when establishing meetings, and never divulge personal information). For example, I am a member of the Detroit Writers Group and Motown Writing Network (both of which have associated Yahoo Groups). Finding a locally based group will also present opportunities to meet in person for deeper discussions about writing, publishing, etc.
*** Whether or not you get involved in active discussions with your online groups is entirely up to you. You can learn a lot simply by reviewing other members' posts. However, you can learn more through active involvement.
- Find a critique group you feel comfortable with. It may be nice to share your work with family and friends. However, you will never get a real objective critique of your writing unless you find the right critique group. Such a group may be an off-swing of your writing group(s) selected above.
4.1 Be careful in choosing a group. Some critique groups are too gentle (never focus on someone who says "it's perfect!" While it's great for the ego, it's not helpful with improving your writing); others are too rough. Beware of "flamers," people who will tear your writing apart for no good reason. Some people simply like to feel superior, and they get affirmation by picking apart other people's writing. Also, look for people who focus on different parts of your work: some people have good eyes for bad punctuation; others are good with identifying poor word choice, redundancy, grammar, etc.; still others are great at catching inconsistencies or plotting issues.
4.2 Critique groups may be found online or locally. Online groups will open the doors to a wide variety of styles, talents and professionalism.
4.3 Avoid groups that focus too heavily on a genre within which you do not write. If a local writing group focuses on Romance; a writer of Westerns will not likely find much benefit in participating (although there may be exceptions).
4.4 Make sure you develop a thick skin. It may be hard at first to hear someone tell you that something you love did not turn out as great as you thought it did. However, you should soon find such advice to be extremely helpful and even necessary to your ongoing development as a writer.
• Be prepared to have to cut something out of your work if it doesn't: a.) effectively move the story forward; or b.) fit.
• Some of my best, most poetic material survives only in file folders because it failed at both a. and b., above (for one thing, "poetic material" typically does not belong in an action-heavy story). While you might love the writing, it might not be the 'right' writing for your story. Cut it, but don't get rid of it. Save it in a special file for future use. You never know; you might just find the perfect home for it later.
- Look for websites that post other helpful news and information about your genre, the publishing industry, and opportunities to improve your writing via classes, conferences, etc. Writers Digest publishes an annual list of best websites for writers; check it out.
- Join writers' networks and/or associations, which can provide useful resources such as legal and copyrighting advice in addition to providing you with networking opportunities. To find the right one for you, start by visiting authors' websites. Check out bios and links to see if they list associations to which they belong.
• Be sure to focus on authors who write materials in your genre.
• Many associations will only be open to traditionally published authors (as opposed to authors who are yet to be published or who are self published). Don't let that disappoint you. Just note it as a target for after you reach your initial publishing goals.
B: Initial Self Promotion Online
- Establish a web presence.
1.1 Research your options for resources. I have had good experiences with iPage, Yahoo and Netherweb.com, but have recently eliminated my cost-based web presence, relying instead on blogger and other free journaling sites.
1.2 To create a web site, many internet services will provide free software. You may also try MS Publisher or FrontPage software -- but be aware that some internet browsers will not properly recognize the MS coding.
1.3 Post a brief bio. Keep it short, simple and professional. This should not be an autobiography, but rather a brief introduction, enabling agents, editors and readers to make a quick decision as to whether or not they should consider reading what you have to offer.
1.4 Share information about your writing. What do you write? (Provide examples.) How long have you been writing it? If it's non-fiction: What purpose does the writing serve? Which authors/books/etc. are your greatest influences? What makes your writing different?
1.5 Link with interesting and/or useful resource sites and other author websites (as long as you have their permission to do so).
1.6 Include a message board, guest book and/or other methods for your visitors to enter into discussions with you.
1.7 Provide your contact information. If you have a PO Box, include it; but for reasons of internet safety, never include your home address or phone number. It is entirely possible that your contact information will be limited to an email address.
- Post "free" material on your web site and in discussion communities online. Although you have joined 'writers' communities, you will also want to find 'readers' communities to begin to build an audience for your work.
• Authors Den (www.authorsden.com; however, you may find more writers than readers here)
• Yahoo Groups
• Other online communities frequented by readers.
C: Looking for Agents, Editors
- Conferences, conventions
• Writers Digest
- Annual listings, published by Writers Digest
- Writers associations