5 pieces of advice for aspiring authors

Goodreads recently prompted me to share some advice about writing to aspiring authors. Although I do not write fiction, for years I have been writing nonfiction as a journalist (1994–2010), blogger (2002-present), and author of “how to” books (2012-present). I am going to share five pieces of advice for aspiring authors, which may be useful to fiction writers as well as nonfiction authors.

  1. Make time to write. It doesn’t have to be long — an hour in the evening two or three times per week is fine — but you do have sit down, turn off or remove all distractions, and start putting words on the screen. Even if it looks bad, keep at it — you can always go back to edit it later, and in time you will find your voice. Even if you only manage 200 words per session, that’s enough to generate a chapter or even a very brief short story in 10 days. If you need inspiration, check out the NaNoWriMo movement, which encourages authors to write 50,000-word manuscripts every November. Some of the resulting works have turned into published fiction!
  2. Work with whatever format you are comfortable with — manuscript, essay, blog, short story — and take chances with writing experiments. Two of the biggest boosts for my writing were keeping travel journals in the 1990s and then blogging starting in the early 2000s. Both formats helped me develop a conversational but forceful voice which has served me well as a journalist and author.
  3. Get your book in front of readers. It can be friends, family, or colleagues, writers’ circles, blog audiences, or actual readers that read your book after seeing it on a self-publishing platform. You want honest feedback from people about what works and what doesn’t. Don’t take it too hard if you get constructive criticism about style, spelling, cover art, etc. Audience feedback is central to my “Lean Media” methodology for content creators, so if you are interested in learning more check out my lean media website I created.
  4. Do not waste time pitching agents or publishers unless you have a solid track record with traditional presses or self-publishing. I hear way too many new authors say “I’m waiting to hear back from a publisher” or “I sent a bunch of query letters to agents” when they should be publishing on their own and concentrating on writing their next work. Don’t wait for professionals to help you, because they won’t unless they see evidence of sales or a “brand.” In the meantime, publish your book yourself, using self-publishing services offered by Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and others.
  5. Learn how to do basic marketing activities, from writing cover copy and online descriptions to setting up a simple author website. If you don’t know how to do this, google it or check out one of the many online forums or blogs aimed at authors. Many new writers are shocked to learn publishers don’t do much marketing for their authors (big-name writers being the exception) so it will be up to you to send out review copies, organize author events, and take care of many other marketing opportunities.

I’m happy to discuss this advice in the comments section … or feel free to share your own advice for aspiring authors!

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