Write for yourself, not for the masses
Don’t write in a genre just because it’s popular; write in a genre because it genuinely appeals to you. Remember, it takes approximately nine to twelve months to write, edit, and publish a good novel. That means, by the time you finish writing about vampires, school-age wizards may be the rage.
Write in a genre because you enjoy that style. Someone who loves (or at least enjoys) writing and the genre they’re writing in, breathes more life into their characters, adds more dimension to their settings, and presents a more well-crafted story than that person who is merely trying to cash in on something that is momentarily popular.
(Obviously, this is a tip for people who are serious about writing, and doesn’t apply to those who are merely writing because they think it’s the easy road to riches. Which leads to our next tip.)
Be prepared to work
Being a full-time author (whether it be books, stories, blogs, or other material) is arduous work. For those of you who think that writing a best-selling book or an award-winning blog is a quick, easy way to make money, think again. Stephen King and JK Rowling spent years struggling to make ends meet before someone finally thought their work might have potential. And when you look at the number of authors who actually make a decent living from their books versus the number of authors still struggling, the odds are not in your favor. Writing, like acting or any other art-based endeavor, requires dedication, commitment, and hard work.
The truth of your writing is noticeable to your readers. Although your characters are fictional, they must feel real to the readers. Men cry. Women can be strong. People aren’t superheroes (and even if they are, they can still be vulnerable).
Even when you create a fantasy world, the ‘rules’ of the world have to make sense to the reader. Otherwise, they won’t believe in your world, your characters, or your story. The honesty of your story—the world, the characters, and the plot—must come from you. If you aren’t honest, the readers won’t buy it.
Take writing and literature classes
Don’t presume that your one or two classes of English and English Lit in high school are enough to make you a writer. Relearn basic sentence, paragraph, and chapter structure. Find out how to craft a short story (which is much more difficult than building a novel). Refresh yourself on basic grammar (especially verb tenses), punctuation, and spelling.
When crafting a house, you need a good foundation, and the same is true of building a story.
Edit and proof; then do it again
Don’t presume that because you used an online grammar checker (such as Grammarly or Word’s spellcheck tool) that your story is good to go. While those tools may catch 80 – 90% of your blatant errors, they don’t catch all. (They won’t tell you that the phrase “She licked the lock on the front door…” is absurd. After all, licked or clicked are both perfectly acceptable words.) Worst of all, those online tools won’t tell you whether your story or novel needs restructuring. They can’t tell you if your voice is wrong for the type of story you’ve written; they can’t help you figure out how to fix the pacing; and they can’t help you figure out that you jumped from one character’s head to another without indicating the switch. The only way to learn about those types of missteps, is to hire a story editor. After the story editor has gone through your work; then you need to have it edited/proofed for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Play with your words
At least once a week, take a break from whatever you’re working on to play with your words. Find a phrase, sentence, or scene that you like, and use it to prompt you into writing something. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t even have to be publishable. The point is to practice creating images with words. Just visualize a scene, and then create that scene with your words. Try painting the scene in a flowery, overly descriptive way; then try painting that same scene using short, choppy descriptors. Use a different voice for each style, or try a different pacing. Play with it; have fun with it.
Whether you’re an independent or traditional author, you’re going to receive negative reviews from readers and critics or rejections from agents and publishers. Remember, though, that it’s just their opinion. Does it hurt? Of course. But, they are just one person out of billions. So, let it go. Unless a review or rejection letter tells you specifically something that you can do to improve your writing (your characters are poorly developed, the pacing is off, or the manuscript needs proofing), then just try to shrug it off. Not everyone is going to like you or your creation. After all, you don’t like every book you read, every piece of art you see, or every meal that is served you.
Each artiste (and yes, I consider authors artistes) has their own style and not everyone will like it. Don’t let the negativity get to you. Just focus on the people who do like your work.
Read everything, including styles and genres you don’t really like. Push yourself to read outside your comfort zone. If you do, it can help you grow as a writer. As you read, listen to the cadence and the rhythm of the words. Figure out what appeals to you and what doesn’t, and then figure out why.
Opening yourself to other styles, different authors, and different genres may just spark something in you and help you broaden your skills and techniques.
While this concept dredges up feelings of horror in most authors, who tend to be an introverted lot, it is a necessary evil.
Use your online tools to help you network. Create a presence online so that you are visible to both those in the writing/publishing world and those who love to read.
Join Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. Find groups who share your interests. (There are groups out there for almost anything.) Start a website and blog. Write posts (articles) and share them with other bloggers…and not just about your books. Write about topics that interest you, whether that be ghosts or antique car restoration. Your interest will garner readers, and if those readers like what you have to say, they may just check out your books, too.
For those authors willing to get up close and personal, there are conventions (book conventions, comic cons, romance conventions, fantasy conventions, and more). Conventions are a great way to meet fans and others in the writing and publishing industry. You can usually find information online for the type of convention(s) you might find interesting and pertinent.
Other places that authors should check out (depending on the types of books you author) are historic re-enactments in your area, gaming groups, mystery groups (who actually plan and solve mysteries together), as well as writing groups, and library reading sessions. Also, many senior centers love to have people volunteer to give talks and presentations. Plus, there are historical societies, women’s groups, or you can be a guest lecturer at your community college.
There are many ways you can network to gain readers, mentors, or support.
Be kind and helpful
Being kind and helpful already comes naturally to most people; therefore, this could be one of the best and easiest ways to market yourself. When you help someone else, not only do you get to feel good about yourself, but you never know what might come of it.
Offering to help someone in your critique group may result in them helping you obtain a speaking engagement (perhaps at the school their child attends, at their neighborhood library, or at the senior center their mother visits). More importantly, though, that person will tell other people about your kindness, and word of mouth sells a lot of books.
So, being kind and helpful is not only a great reward in its own right, but, it can ultimately lead to a lot of book sales.