First of all, a disclaimer: I’m not an expert on annnnnny of this. I only know what’s worked for me, so take this advice with a grain of salt. (Or, you know, a whole block of salt.)
I’m learning more every day, in large part due to the generosity of folks in my writing groups, authors who’ve gone before, a lovely and wise and patient team of editors, and lots of my own reading and study, but I’m still a beginner. First book, y’all!
You’ll find countless other, super-successful authors who’ve gone about their work in a completely different way or ended up pursuing publication through alternative channels. This is just one writer’s path.
That said, so much of book writing seems mysterious because it happens alone at a computer or a notebook, and so much of publishing can seem random because it happens over email, with mostly form rejection letters or radio silence and only the rarest acceptance letter.
So today I’m pulling back the curtain.
Do you want to write a book? Here are a few things I’ve learned.
Part One: Where to Begin
- Read. A lot. Read things in the genre in which you hope to write. Read things outside your chosen genre. Read bestselling authors and little indie publications. As you read, notice the writing’s style, the authors voice, the nuances of sentence and paragraph and word choice.
When you think of your favorite books, what is it that makes them your favorites? What stays with you? What makes you want to read more?
Nothing scares an agent, publisher, or editor like a new writer who doesn’t read much. It’s hard to write well if you don’t read widely.
2. Start small. I’ve journaled since I could hold a pencil. I’ve had a blog of one kind or another since 2004. Journaling and blogging are a beautiful ways to begin to hone your writing because the bar to entry is very low. Buy a notebook. Sign up for a site, write a post, click a button, and boom: published!
Rare is the author who writes a manuscript-length piece for the first time and gets published. Writing is, like any other craft, something that takes a lot of practice. Write, edit, revise, and seek feedback. Then write, edit, revise, and seek feedback again. And again. And again. And… well, you get it.
Another great thing about a journal is that it’s just for you. No audience, but plenty of room to practice.
The great thing about a blog is that you can gather feedback in small doses by sharing it with friends and family members who can help you hone your craft. It’s also just fun – this blog is a labor of love for me and I write simply because I genuinely enjoy it, not for profit (I’ve made exactly $0 from this blog since I started it a couple years ago).
3. Write short pieces to start. There are lots of great places that take submissions or queries from new authors. From daily devotional sites (I write regularly for The Glorious Table, a women’s, but there are hundreds if not thousands of other places with similar publishing needs), to sports websites to cooking blogs to literary journals, whatever you’re passionate about will likely have opportunities for a budding writer.
When you pitch to one of these places, be sure to read the guidelines for submission (often found at a link near the bottom of a site, or on the site’s “About” page).
These places rarely pay, but starting with shorter pieces gives you an opportunity to hone your craft, meet other writers and editors, and begin getting your voice out to a larger audience. Also: it’s fun!
4. Join a writing group. Or two. Or three.
I’m part of several online writer’s groups. One is enormous (500 members and counting), another is tiny (just 10 of us). These groups offer editing assistance, feedback on published pieces, and the opportunity to hone a craft in a community of like-minded artists.
These groups are where I’ve been able to ask questions and get real-time answers on everything from fixing a blog post to what to look for in a solid publishing contract. In addition, the writers in these groups offer encouragement and community and honest feedback.
If a particular piece or query isn’t working, it’s always more helpful to polish it up with a friend than to get a rash of “no” responses from publications!
Stay tuned for next week’s installment of “So You Want to Write a Book.”
Are you a new writer? Looking for a publisher or an agent? Just starting out? What questions do you have about the process?