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Tips for New Writers on How to Break Into the Business

May 12, 2009 by Alison  
Filed under Alison's Blog, Career


People often ask me how they can break into the business and get their book or magazine article published. I say “What are you crazy? Go into finance where you’ll make some real money.” But they don’t listen. They still want to do it.

While I’m sure there are many ways to get started as a writer, some are better than others. For example, I do not recommend stealing anyone else’s material or dating an agent or an editor in an attempt to get your foot in the door (unless he’s really cute…just kidding of course…don’t mix business and pleasure. It gets far too messy). Hard work is your best bet. So, here are a few key tips based on my experience.

#1: Do not tell anyone you have plans to “break into” the business. You might get arrested.  Okay, that’ s a lame joke.  But I tried.  And trying is important if you want to be a writer.

#2: Go to the bookstore and buy a book on how to get published. I admit that I’m taking the easy way out by dishing out advice like “Go buy a book full of someone else’s advice.” But people have written volumes about this topic and the information they provide is right on target. I started out by reading Publishing for Dummies and then picked up a few others. These books take you through the process from start to finish, and give you an idea of the giant mess you are about to get yourself into.

#3: Ignore all of your friends, coworkers, and family members who tell you that you are wasting your time. Let their comments motivate you. Write something sarcastic about them and get it published just to prove them wrong.   

#4: Find people to evaluate your work and give you constructive feedback.  Make sure they have writing and publishing experience. Do not rely on friends and family members for feedback. Uncle Ray might be fantastic at fixing cars but that doesn’t mean he has an eye for good fiction. 

#5: Try to enjoy the writing process and don’t focus entirely on getting published. Even if, in the end, you never get anything published, at least you can say you tried. And you might discover along the way some piece of information that will help you in another area of your life.  (This piece of advice sounds like something your mother would say because it is something your mother would say!  But moms are right once in a while.)

#6: Remember that publishing is a business. In other words, the agents and editors want to make money. When you are writing something to submit for consideration, focus on topics that will sell and ideas that will reach a wide audience of readers. If no one wants to read your book about your deformed hermit crab or your trip to Cancun, no one is going to want to publish it.

#7: Write. Yes, unfortunately it is true. To be a writer you must write. It’s easy to talk about writing and think about writing, but doing it is excruciating at times. It takes a lot of dedication and patience to sit down and start writing. And it takes confidence to keep writing. In the beginning, you will judge every word you put down on the page. You will reread it, decide it sucks and give up. Then you’ll return to it and try again. You will get frustrated regularly but you have to keep writing.

#8: Do some positive self-talk. Recite a mantra like “I am a great writer! I can make this happen.” It’s easy to get discouraged but positive thinking will help you. Recite the mantra in public and then write down people’s reactions when they see you talking to yourself.  It will make a great first article. 

#9: Read a lot. People always tell writers to read a lot. I often wonder “Does reading smutty content online count? Does reading a Harlequin Romance novel count? How about reading my mother’s page long emails that she writes in all caps like she’s screaming at me? Does that type of reading do anything for my writing skills?” I’m sure reading a lot must help us write better but I can’t tell you how or why.

#10: Keep trying. Very few people succeed overnight. Most people submit many articles and proposals and get rejected several times before they succeed. Many people decide to blog for a while to get their fingers warmed up and then eventually they find a niche topic to write about that fits their personality and they turn it into a book proposal. If you’re serious about becoming a writer, you have to keep at it even when you’re feeling frustrated.

There is no short-cut to becoming a published writer as far as I know. It is a long, arduous process. Some say it is like giving birth. The pain is unbearable but when you hold the final product in your hands, you forget about everything you went through.  You stare lovingly at your little book baby and say “I want to do it again.” Then, your significant other looks at you in horror and runs like hell.  Copyright © 2009 Alison James

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