- Keep Writing. Make it a habit. Make it a priority. Everybody and their dog wants to be an author, but how many have actually finished writing a book? How many have scheduled daily time to write? You can’t guarantee that anything you write will make it big, but you can guarantee that if you don’t write anything, you’ll never be published.
- Get CPs and Beta Readers. If you think your prose is genius, and you only want to write for yourself, great. But the second you want to write for an audience—for publication—then you have to get feedback. You can’t write in a vacuum and assume that you’ll figure out all the plot problems on your own or see ways that your characters suck. You need people you trust to tell you what is and isn’t working. You need someone who has some distance from your story. You’ll also need moral support when the going gets rough. Writing may be a solitary career—but publishing is not.
- Go to Writing Conferences. Writing conferences are amazing for upping your game and learning new skills, both about writing and the business of publishing. They’re perfect for networking—you’ll meet agents, authors, and potential CPs that you might not otherwise meet. And even if you talk to no one, there’s something about being with hundreds of people who have the same dream as you do. It’s a way to feel connected to a community, which is often hard when you spend so many hours alone in front of your computer. Save up a few bucks, take the plunge, and make attending one or two writing conferences per year a priority.
- Learn When to Cut Your Losses. I’m not talking about deciding you don’t want to be an author after all (though that’s definitely an option), but going along with #1, you have to learn when to let a project go. I’ve heard over and over and over again that one of the biggest things publishers and agents see is the difference between someone who works for ten years on the same book and can’t move on and the person who is willing to look at the long-term benefits of putting their baby aside and starting something new. With each project, you learn new skills, you gain new insights, and you distance yourself more from you work. Those are good things. Don’t stay stuck on the same project in the same skillset forever. Or that may be the only thing you ever write.
- Set a Goal and Don’t Let Anything Get in Your Way. If your goal is to self-publish—learn everything you possibly can to make your finished product the best it can be. If your goal is to be published by a Big 5, keep your eyes on the prize and edit and write and query and push until that happens. If your goal is to finish one book to tell your grandma’s story, then make it happen. Tiny milestones make all the difference in reaching the big goals, so keep focused, work your butt off, and believe that you can make it. As the old adage says, the only difference between a published and an unpublished author is that one didn’t give up.
The road to publishing is hard, and it’s even harder to be objective. It’s easy to get emotionally attached to your stories, but you have to decide:
Do I want THIS book published? Or do I want a career in publishing? If it’s the latter, be willing to put one work aside and focus on something else. Know to make writing a priority. Work to find balance now, because it only gets busier when you start writing, marketing, and doing everything else required to be a successful author. Still want it? Then all I have left to say is:
(p.s. If you haven’t watched Shia LaBeouf’s DO IT speech, you owe it to yourself to watch it. Seriously.)