And you wonder: Are there any secrets to help speed this all along?
I believe there are!
Admittedly, I am still a lowly “wannabe”, an unpublished writer who's still seeking the elusive “publishing credit.” Like many of you (at least, I hope there are “many of you” reading this), I’ve struggled over the years to achieve this prize due to a number of factors: no time, no inspiration, no support, etc.
Secret number 1: Recognize the excuses for what they are.
I admit that some of the "factors" that keep us from writing (like those listed above) can be legitimate roadblocks at times. But most, if not all of them are only temporary or can be worked around.
Once I accepted those "factors" as excuses, they no longer had the power to force me into procrastination. I was able to focus on what I wanted to accomplish vs focusing on all the things that stood in my way.
Secret number 2: Keep at it!
Thomas Edison is quoted as saying: Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
Applied to the craft of writing, I feel he's telling us that our great story idea is not enough, that we must get serious about with our writing.
Over the past twenty plus (damn, did I just say twenty plus?), my commitment to writing has ebb and flowed. Sometimes I couldn’t pull myself away from the keyboard. Other times, months would go by without even a second thought given to writing. And never once did I ever send my work out for publication. Hell, I barely let anybody I know one even see the drivel I managed to spew out.
Given my poor focus (ie lack of perspiration), is it any surprise that I am still unpublished after twenty plus years?
Last year, I finally decided to “get serious” with this whole writing thing, to actually show more than just the occasional bout of “hard work” and to display some actual “persistence” for once. Here’s what “serious” looked like for me:
- Read: The number one piece of advice (or at least in the top 3) from any established writer is to read, read, READ! Not only in the genre you want to write in, but across the board. Read the good, the bad, and even some ugly. You read to enjoy it, but also to learn from it. If you find things that work or don’t work for you, reflect on why and how you can incorporate that into your own creations. For me, I plunked down a little change and subscribed to several digital magazines that produced content monthly in order to get a fresh supply of current stories in my favorite genres. I also committed to read at least one novel every month or so (I’d prefer more, but my life is too hectic for anything more).
- Write: This should be obvious, but the only way you will get published is to write. Get yourself on a schedule. Put words down on paper, even when you are not “inspired.” Write to the very end and only go back for edits once the rough draft is finished. Otherwise, you may and likely will get stuck within revision hell (most often in chapter one), preventing you from ever finishing your rough draft. Just make notes along the way as to what changes could be made later and focus all your efforts on finishing.
- Build an online presence: I plunked down real money (about $300 for a 3 year domain name registration and hosted website) to build out an author site, even though I hadn’t published one darn thing. Why? Because nearly every “how to get published” article indicated that establishing an online presence is a key ingredient to the publishing soup. I also started it because I needed to have some skin in the game (in this case, cash I spent) to force me to keep moving forward. There are MANY articles on how to create an author website, and it’s not very hard to do. In fact, you can get started for free on most hosting sites (like Wordpress, Weebly, etc), then convert/redirect to a paid website later.
- Start a writing blog: Given I am unpublished, I feel rather sheepish about posting articles on writing. I mean, who the hell am I to speak towards something I've not been recognized for, right? Ultimately, blogging is not just for those who have made it, but also those on the journey. I have an opinion, as well as many experiences about writing that may actually help someone, or at least, be somewhat “interesting” to the world. The point is to share your thoughts and hopefully draw people to you. Having a following allows you to tout your marketability to potential publishing agencies, making your job easier in the long run.
- Join/Start a writing group: This has got to be the biggest commitment I’ve ever made to my writing. Not only do I regularly attend a weekly writing group, where we share our collective works, but I also created the group itself! This alone helped me kill three birds with one stone: it got me over my anxiety about sharing my work, led to immediate improvement in my writing ability (at least, I feel it did), gave me to read the good, the bad, and even a few uglies!
- Get help: Besides my writers group, I also enlisted a few friends to be beta readers, and even hired an editor. Editors are not cheap and it can be hard to find a good one. I searched the interwebs for freelance editors and got lucky in finding a good one right off the bat. He’s not cheap, but also not expensive. In short, I’m making it work and his advice has really helped to strengthen my work. The cost is around 3-4 cents a word. Start saving your pennies and give it a go. At minimum, you hopefully learn something new to incorporate into your work and can chalk it up as an educational expense.
- Send it out: (*ignoring self-publishing for the moment) Another obvious step, but in case you didn’t know it, you typically have to submit your work to publishers before they will actually publish it. Shocking, I know. But stories will not jump off your shelf and walk into an editor’s hands on their own. Sadly, lots of stories die at this juncture due to an unreasonable level of self-doubt. To that, I say BALDERDASH! ßtruly a fun word, we should use it more often!Once you’ve got your story solidified (ie it’s been revised, gone through some beta readers, and now changes just feel like rearranging words vs anything substantial), build up the courage and send it out to a publisher. There are many guides on how to do this properly (manuscript formatting, cover letters, where to find publishers, publisher requirements, etc), so take some time and learn how to do it right. But once you got that figured out, send out your work!
- Cross your fingers: The most unfortunate aspect of going through a traditional publisher is getting a rejection. Sadder still is the fact that most rejections have nothing to do with you, your writing ability, or the story you have created. I’ve collected nearly 20 rejections on 3 short stories. At first it hurt. But now, I’ve grown what I think is a healthy level of numbness to them. They come in, I mark the rejection in my tracking spreadsheet, then I send the story out to the next publisher. If they gave me any comments, I definitely give them some consideration. But at minimum, I don’t let a rejection end it all. I’ve put too much time and effort in giving the story life to let one group’s opinion kill it off.*Right now I am focusing on getting published in the traditional world, but will likely consider self-publishing in the near future. I highly recommend everyone take a look at self-publishing as a means to get your stories into the world.
Good things come to those who wait...and even better things come to those who put in a lot of hard work and time beforehand!
Even after twenty some rejections, once I finish posting this article, I plan to send my next short story into the world and, with a little luck, my first publishing credit will be right around the corner!
If you stuck with the article this long and still have some life left in you, please take a moment to like my Facebook page or leave a comment.
Timothy A. Fenner