So you want to be a writer, do you? Maybe first we should clarify what the difference is between a writer and an author.
If you want to write things and do on a regular basis you are a writer. It doesn’t matter if anyone else sees your work so long as you put words on a page (digitally or physically.)
Now if you want to write stories and see your name on the cover of a book or a magazine. Maybe go on a book tour and go to conventions where everyone will squeal you name and tell you they are such a fan. That makes you an author.
Well that’s good, but you’re going to have to do a few things first.
#1 This is the biggie. The one thing that’s more important than anything else. Ready?
You are going to have to WRITE.
Yea that means sitting down and putting words on a page; make sentences and paragraphs; use punctuation (hopefully properly); figure out a plot and character arc and actually FINISH the darn thing.
Not talk about it over coffee with other writers. Not start and get to the hard part and quit. FINISH it.
And, once you’re finished. You do it again. And again and again. Hopefully each story will get better and better as you figure out what kind of writer you are and what kind of voice you are good at. Because once you do that you get to go on to
All those words you splatter painted on the page. Well they are going to need some work. Sure you might be the next (insert favorite author who you don’t think ever had to edit stories) but more than likely you aren’t. Most likely you are like the rest of us with dangling modifiers, loose plot threads, cardboard characters and too many adverbs. You didn’t think I’d notice did you? 😉
You need to tighten up by dropping some of those adverbs, activating your verbs and redlining the purple prose. While it might be convenient to use a Mary Sue for a main character, we’ve seen it all before and aren’t impressed. Give ’em some interesting features, twist that trope around and give us something NEW.
Once you think you have it as perfect as you can get it, send it to someone with more experience writing than you do. Maybe someone who’s mentoring you, or someone’s writing you admire (BUT ASK if its OKAY FIRST!) could give it a look over. Heck even *gasp* pay an editor to look it over. (If you want names I can give you a list.)
You might get lucky, and they suggest only a few changes, but starting out be prepared to see all sorts of red marks and comments all over your pages. It’s kind of like going back to high school and your teacher grades your work. At times it will make you want to cry, or scream or pull your hair out by the roots but this is to help you. Go ahead and shed a few tears, express your dissatisfaction at the world–if you have to–but get back to that story once the pain has faded and start again.
Because once you have that story polished you get to
I’m sure a few of you are scratching your head over this one, but it’s fairly simple. Take a look at your story. Try to find a publication or publisher that publishes stories like it. Also, make sure that publisher is credible. You don’t want to get caught up in some trouble that’s already brewing.
Read the guidelines and follow instructions so you can
#4 Submit (short stories and some novellas– novels have a somewhat different route)
This is probably one of the hardest part of being an author. An author doesn’t get instant gratification. Your story–whether it be a short story, a novella or a novel–has to go through a lengthy process in order to get to the top.
First of all there are the slush readers. These are like the gatekeepers of the publishing world. Depending on the publication a slush reader might see anywhere from 5 to 50 stories a month or more. Slush readers DO NOT want to reject stories. We want to find the rough gems and great stories. But many just aren’t a good fit. Therefore, most of those stories get a thumbs down.
If you are one of the lucky ones that don’t get rejected immediately, then your story is probably going to be read by either a first reader or an editor. These people read the story and either pass it up to another editor or regretfully reject it.
Depending on the publication, you might have a few day’s wait to learn the fate of your story or yes, even a year or more with others. (No I am not making that up.)
But what do you do if you get a rejection? Simple. You do 1 of 3 things. 1), resubmit it to another market. 2) revise then send it back out (but not to the original market unless you have permission first!) or 3) trunk it.
If your story does get an acceptance, then you go on to
#5 more revisions
Hey wait? Did you think you was done editing?
Well, many authors will tell you that they can’t stand to read their own work after it’s been published. Do you know why? Because they see things they would like to change, or find a mistake or feel it wasn’t their best work.
Writing, like so many other creative talents, is a process of constant improvement. No one, is the best right off the starting line and it takes a while to get publishable let alone published professionally. A good writer is always learning from what they read and tweaking their own work. And there is always so much to change and tweak it isn’t funny.
When you get an acceptance, an editor will almost always want some changes. Perhaps you missed that dangling modifier or they might want you to bring a little more focus to the action in the story. They might even ask for a rewrite with suggestions to make the story stronger. Before you sign a contract, look at what they want you to do. If you feel strongly enough that their changes wouldn’t help, don’t make them, but remember professional editors usually know what they are doing.
So what next?
Start again and in the mean time:
Volunteer with publications in various positions.
There’s always a need for slush readers somewhere. While it doesn’t pay, it’s a great way to learn the ropes of a small press. You see lots of stories and learn a lot about your own writing.
Become a minion/follower/part of a team/gang/whatever. Many publications or authors offer readers and fans perks-such as bookmarks and other swag–for spreading the word about publications. These are usually simple tasks such as follow on FB, twitter, or other social media sites and liking and sharing posts. Many authors have special giveaways for these special fans.
Beta Reader- This one is different than a slush reader. Instead of reading for a publication, you are reading for the author and giving suggestions. *Note I did say suggestions. This is a hefty responsibility because that author is expecting you to read, comment and send the story back to them in a reasonable amount of time. They also are expecting reasonable comments that can improve the writing, not just “good job.” (Even though it is nice to see those words)
READ! Well if you are an author you should be doing this frequently anyway. Novels, short stories, microfiction and the back of the cereal box should be devoured, dissected and discussed.
So now are you ready to type until your wrists hurt, read until your eyes bleed, tear your hair out at ever misuse of a comma? If so, you might just be ready to be a writer.