Keys to Success as a Writer
Writing your first novel, or even your fifth, is only the first step in the process of becoming an established author. Sometimes, writing is the easy part. You have to ask yourself 3 big questions:
1. Is this work the best I can do? If the answer is yes, congratulations, but you’re probably wrong. Chances are you can do better. Lay it aside for a while and consider why it isn’t your best work, and then take steps to improve it. If the answer is no, lay it aside for a while think of how you can improve it. Refer back to the first sentence. The first key to success is producing a product – a novel, memoir, or technical book – that the reader can follow or enjoy without tripping over obvious typographical, technical, or continuity errors. To some readers, this is s death knell for a novel.
2. Did I say what I wanted to say? If yes, you’ve discovered one of the keys to successful writing. You’re a rarity. Treasure your ability. Few people actually wind up saying what they wanted to. They ramble, bloviate, or overwhelm the reader with fodder, writing that serves no purpose except to fill the page. Even in today’s modern print media, the writer sometimes takes three paragraphs to tell a story when three sentences would suffice. Purposeful brevity, punctuated by splashes of brilliant exposition, can hold a reader’s attention far longer than page after page of contrived metaphors, similes, or compound sentences. If the answer is no, decide what you really wanted to say. Then decide why you want to say it and how to say it better.
3. Do I know my market? Key # 3 is often the most difficult to grasp. You have to know who your writing for and how to reach them. Internet search engines allow readers to search for books on any topic or combination of topics they desire. If they are interested in Late 18th century Catholic priests who hunt vampires using alien werewolf acolytes and technology stolen from the future by Vatican time travelers, they can find it. A writer must find his/her niche. The niche can be as narrowly defined or as broad as you wish. The smaller the niche, the smaller the audience, but the easier to reach them.I write horror and science fiction. Horror is a broad-based genre, unless you focus on slasher thrillers, gothic, paranormal, paranormal romance, gay/lesbian, or steam punk. My biggest sellers are apocalyptic, zombie, and Kaiju, or giant monster novels. I have a ready-made audience and use social media, like my website, Facebook groups, my two blogs, Goodreads groups, Twitter, and guest blogs to reach them. I recently participated in a #SummerofZombie 2015 Blog Tour with 37 other zombie authors. Guest blogs, giveaways, contests, t-shirts – it was a full-tilt effort. Each author got multiple opportunities for exposure with each author tweeting, blogging, and share posts around the world. I was able to ride the coattails of more well-known zombie authors like Jake Bible, Joe McKinney, and Jonathan Maberry to reach a wider audience.I also participate in an Authors Supporting Our Troops event each year, where writers donate books to be boxed and shipped overseas to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other foreign base. I received mentions by my local hometown National Guard, VFW, and American Legion, as well as a write-up in the local newspaper, all well worth the cost of a few books.
These are the First 3 Keys to success. There are more.
- Know your craft. Keep a thesaurus, a Strunk and White, or an Oxford book on punctuation usage handy. You can break the rules, but you need to know what the rules are first. I continuously refer to mine. There’s been a big 1 space or 2 after a sentence on Facebook. I fall into the 1 space follower. It saves pages in a book, reducing cost.
- Use words the reader can understand. It’s okay to send them to the dictionary every now and then, but can easily bog a reader down. Avoid repetition. Don’t use the same word or phrase too often, especially not in the same sentence. If something is the color red, call it red, rust, blood-colored, crimson, fuscia, ruddy, copper, garnet, rubicund, maroon. Don’t use red every time.
- Do your Research. Whatever you write about, some reader will know more about the subject than you do. Make sure your technical data. I write about the military and weaponry. If I have a .45 caliber pistol using 200 grain ACP rounds, I need to know that a .45 caliber rifle using 400 grains of gunpowder aren’t the same ammunition and aren’t interchangeable. I write fiction, so I make stuff up, but unless I have sound technical and historical accuracy to base it on, it becomes fantasy and more difficult for the reader to submerge themselves into the story.
- Keep a flow chart. You can use a written flow chart, a mental one, or a bunch of Post-It notes, but you need some way to keep track of timelines, characters, and events. I’ve read too many stories with poorly defined flashbacks, scene changes, or POV changes. If flashbacks are necessary to your story, make certain you place them where needed and that they contain the correct verb forms. Otherwise, an unwary reader can get lost. Define scene changes or point of view changes. Too many writers skip in and of character’s minds wily nily when a single point of view would be better. A second or third POV can be espoused for the scene later in a more clearly defined POV change. Rule # 1 – Don’t confuse the reader.
Your novel is completed, edited, and ready to go. You send it to the publisher, and they like it. Now, you sit back and relax or start work on your next novel.
Wrong. Even with a small press publisher, you will have one or more edits to deal with, and possibly a decision on the cover. You’ll need a blurb for the back and maybe a couple of review excerpts from other authors. With Big press publishers, it becomes even more complicated. If you self-publish, it’s all on you – cover art, formatting, editing.
Marketing. This is the point where most writers fail miserably, not from poor writing or an uninteresting subject matter. This is the one place where the Money should flow to the writer, not from him rule falls apart. Marketing can be as simple as word of mouth, a blog post, a posting on Facebook or a Tweet, or can cost thousands of dollars. Unless you believe you novel is heads and shoulders better than anything else out there, I would avoid spending large sums of cash in hopes of a greater return. There are thousands of authors writing thousands of books each year and most readers stick with writers they now.
Don’t sell your novel, sell yourself. Create an author’s platform. Put yourself out there wherever possible. Create an interest in you as a person and your book without hawking it like a sideshow barker – Buy my book!
Send arcs or review copies to reviewers that enjoy your subject matter. Do not bombard every reviewer you can find on the internet. A reviewer of vampire romance or children’s novels isn’t going to gain you an audience unless that’s what you’re writing. Be as specific as possible to whom you send review copies. Be aware some reviewers may take months to get to your novel, if they do at all. To them, it’s a numbers game. To you, it’s your future. There are many small review bloggers out there who would love to review your novel. It’s how they get their reading material for free. Use a link to their blog review of your novel on Facebook, Goodreads, your blog, your website. Make copies to hand out at book signing events.
Contact your local newspaper book reviewers. Local coverage is the best advertising. Build a base close to home and then expand to state, regional, and national levels.
Advertise. Postcards, bookmarks, business cards, and flyers can be an inexpensive way to get word put about your book. Vistaprint, Printrunner, or someone like them can produce posters or anything else for $30-40. Leave them at bookstores, conventions, or libraries. Logo items, such as ink pens are good giveaways. Larger items – coffee mugs, thermos cups, etc. are more costly but make great prizes.
If you aren’t on Facebook, don’t have an Amazon author’s page, Twitter, Goodreads, a blog or a website, do so. It can be free to inexpensive or as elaborate as you want. You can add buy links in your blogs or website to your books.
Keys to Success as a Writer