Advice for Aspiring Writers

 by Colby Marshall, @ColbyMarshall
All authors face this
problem at some point in their careers, whether they’re published, striving to
publish, or have simply let their friends know they’re writing a book.   
You know the statement, because if you’re a
writer, you’ve heard it over and over again. 
“Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book!”
Sometimes, depending on who
it is, you probably smile and ask about their writing, silently thinking about
how most people who say this have very little intention of actually ever
writing a book.  Most people who say this
don’t know how much hard work is in it, either.  
 But, because we’re writers and try to support other writers, it’s always
a good idea to give advice if ever asked. 
After all, someone at some point has given us some, be it someone in a
writer’s group online, a mentor in person, a blog post, or an article.
However, occasionally the
“I want to write,” the statement moves from, “I’ve always wanted to write a
book,” to, “Can you tell me how to get published?”  Oh, boy. 
Sure, we all know there’s
no way to convey everything we’ve learned about the industry in a quick,
succinct paragraph.  So, how do you
address this question when it inevitably arrives at your doorstep?  Here are my three best pieces of advice for
writers aspiring to become published:
  1. Write
    the book first.
You can’t publish something that isn’t written. If you want to
write with publication in mind, that’s one thing, but no matter what your
intentions, you have to write it before you can head for that goal.
  1. Don’t
    let to mechanics of the publishing industry murk up your waters before
    they’re even flowing.
When finding the right book to set out to write, try not to
think to hard about what your readers might want in the book. The truth is,
there are so many books out there and so many people who say they have a book
in them. Books exist about nearly every topic you could imagine, and everyone
thinks their story will interest people. However, when a book comes out at the
end of the day, NO ONE—not even professional Big 6 publishers like Random House
or Penguin—can predict which books will take off and which won’t. No one saw
Harry Potter coming, and they spend plenty of big dollars buying books that
flop hard. This is the reason why, when
you are figuring out what book to write, you shouldn’t write it because
“the readers want it.” Write what you
want to write, are passionate about writing, and will feel good having finished
at the end so that in case it never sells or only garners a handful of readers,
you’re happy with your work. The same goes for if it ends up with millions of
followers and is the next breakout book on the New
York Times
Bestseller List: you’ll be happy with what you’ve done. Most
people who say they want to write a book but never do don’t because they aren’t
passionate about it. The only way to do it is to be so.
  1. Do
    your homework.
I don’t sugar coat the fact that they’ve asked me a question
that would take years to answer. 
Instead, I let them know that before they’re ready to publish after
they’ve written a book, they’ll need to learn a lot about the industry,
including about the options regarding publication. This is one thing they can
start now while working on their books,
because heaven knows they’ll need the time to peruse all of the blogs, books,
and forums dedicated to helping authors learn to navigate the world of
publishing. And yes, that goes for those who plan to self-publish, too, since
there’s still a lot to know about how to promote (well), finding someone to
help you edit or beta read your book that isn’t your mother or husband, and
important things like cover design, meta keywords, book formatting, etc. For
those wanting to go the traditional route, there are query letters, agents, and
small presses, oh, my! If ever they ask why is there no shortcut you can give
me, my answer is always the same: a book is a big deal, and anything worth
doing is worth doing right.
What advice do you
give to aspiring writers?
Writer by day, ballroom dancer and choreographer by night, Colby
has a tendency to turn every hobby she has into a job, thus ensuring that she
is a perpetual workaholic.  In addition to her 9,502 jobs, she is a proud
member of International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.  She is
actively involved in local theatres as a choreographer as well as sometimes
indulges her prima donna side by taking the stage as an actress.  She
lives in Georgia with her family, two mutts, and an array of cats that, if she
were a bit older, would qualify her immediately for crazy cat lady
status.  Her debut thriller, Chain of
Command is now available, as well as the second book in her McKenzie
McClendon series, The Trade

THE TRADE is currently available on:
Directly from the publisher with free worldwide shipping: www.stairwaypress.com/bookstore
Coming Soon on Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Sony, Kobo, and other
major e-readers.
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11 thoughts on “Advice for Aspiring Writers

  1. Yes, do the homework early! Otherwise you arrive at that moment when the book is done and wonder what on earth do I do now?

  2. You forgot to mention when they say, “I’ve got a great idea for a book. Why don’t we collaborate on it?”
    …yeah, because I don’t have enough of my own stuff I’m not getting done. :)
    But really, thanks for point #2. I sometimes browse the shelves and in a fit of desperation think I need to change what i’m doing to fit this imagined trend, it’s the only way to get in. The temptation to not write your own stuff to fit what you think is selling is always there. And you’re right, it’s a trap ‘cuz if you’re not writnig YOUR material, what you care about, then it won’t come out right anyway.

  3. Thanks so much to Elizabeth for having me over today!

    Exactly, Alex! Why not use those months (and sometimes years) writing the book doing some research?

    J.D.- I used to feel the same way when I looked at the YA craze…”If only I wrote a YA, I might have a chance.” Then I realized that wasn’t a good plan, because I’d be awful at YA. I curse too much!

  4. Thanks so much for posting today, Colby! And I know what you mean…I always find myself at a total loss when someone says that they’d love to write a book, or would I write a book with them, or can I tell them how to get published. Overwhelmed! No short answers to those types of questions or statements.

  5. I actually have a “form letter” (ha!) I send out with the basics I typed here so that I don’t have to search for an answer if ever those questions come in e-mail.

  6. Informative article . I think we all get that question and I know, as a not yet published author, I have many questions for the friends I’ve made via blogging and attending writers conferences. I couldn’t agree more with your tips. First and foremost, you have to actually finish and revise a book and you have to do your homework so you know who to query and what specific agents are looking for.

    Thanks for the useful advice

  7. If they’re serious, I tell them they don’t need no steenkeeng permission. Never ever EVER wait for permission. Make art, big hard and fast. And don’t let anybody tell you you can’t.

  8. Great advice! Advice I wished I’d seen before I got published.

    I did a lot of work, but I was still miles behind. I love that I’m published, but wish I’d taken a couple years to prepare before hand.

    Ballroom dancing? So jealous! I used to salsa dance and miss it!

  9. Great post! When someone tells me they’re working on a book (and aren’t sure what they’re doing), I also remind them that if they’re planning to publish and sell their book (most are), then they need to find out at least the basics of running a small business, too. It’s not very glamorous, but it’s necessary to know what your taxation obligations might be, especially if you sell your books….

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