I am an author. Does that sound romantic? Think again.
Don’t get me wrong. I love writing, and I’ve always wanted to be an author. I waited forty-five years to acquire that title. But did I just wake up one morning and–voila!–I was an author? No! Here’s how it happened.
I retired from a long career in music education and music ministry. In 2010, I wrote a novella and not an especially good one. I searched the internet for months trying to find a publisher. I had no idea how the process worked, whether I needed an agent, how to write a query letter, or where to turn for help.
What I quickly discovered is that, while writing is fun, it is a lot of hard work. As with any craft, there is much to learn. Beyond the basics of spelling, grammar and punctuation, fiction writing includes such elements as plot, characterization, viewpoint, dialogue, and pace. Whatever the genre, all of these elements must work together to craft a novel.
The good news is that there are many books, blogs, workshops, and organizations out there to help aspiring authors succeed. I wish I had known this when I started my writing journey. Like many fledgling writers, I put the cart before the horse. Instead of taking the time to lay a solid foundation upon which to build my writing career, I plunged into the deep end, going straight for the publishing stage. That was my dream, after all! By the way, relying on cliches like “put the cart before the horse” is a major pitfall for writers; and mixed metaphors like “laying the foundation” and “plunged into the deep end” are, by definition, “a succession of incongruous or ludicrous comparisons.” Authors are tasked with being original, not filling their books with tired cliches. Too bad! I happen to love cliches.
Since that first pathetic novella, I have published three novels. So, what is my advice to aspiring authors?
- Read, read, read! Then read some more.
- Find a critique group. Most public libraries keep a list of local groups. Working with other writers who give honest feedback is the best way to grow as a writer.
- Join a local writers’ association, preferably one that is associated with your state’s writers association. Attend their workshops and conferences. If you learn one new thing about writing, the registration fee is worth it.
- Have someone (several someones, actually) other than a loved one, proofread your work.
- Hire a professional editor. Note: if your manuscript is accepted by a traditional publisher, an editor will be provided.
- Don’t be tempted to submit your manuscript to publishers until it is both complete and polished. Not only is the competition fierce, but once your book is out there, you can’t take it back.
- Avoid vanity presses. Whereas traditional (mainstream) publishers make their money from the sale of your books, vanity presses charge the author thousands of dollars up front.
- Do your research. Be sure you know the difference between self-publishing, vanity publishing, hybrid publishing and mainstream publishing so you can make an informed decision.
- Don’t be afraid of rejection letters. Rather, use them as tools for improvement.
- Be prepared to spend a good deal of time marketing your work. No one, not even an agent, will do it for you.
Finally, don’t give up! If you are a writer who dreams of becoming a published author, you must be prepared to put in the work. No author, except J.K. Rowling, became an overnight sensation. Even Rowling, who seemed to rise to the top overnight, struggled, but she never gave up on her dream.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of three award-winning essays and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com Coming soon: After Rain, Devotions for Comfort and Peace.