28 tips on becoming a published author
I don’t consider myself a “writer.”
I’ve been published professionally, yes. But I’ve never had an agent. I’ve never written a full-length novel. I’ve never done a book tour or appeared on a radio or TV show to flog my books. I’ve never had a story made into a movie.
I’ve come close to those things a few times so maybe that makes me a “near-writer.”
Anyway, over the years I’ve picked up on a few things and while I am by no means an expert, I can provide you with some of the general guidelines for becoming a published writer.
In no particular order, here they are!
Del’s tips on becoming a writer
1. Anyone who puts pen to paper is a writer. The question is, do you want to write for yourself or your family members and friends, or do you want to write for everyone? If everyone is your answer, then you want to become a professional writer, one who gets paid for his or her work.
2. Read books. Every writer I know is a reader. By reading you will become comfortable with the written word and the narrative process. You’ll also discover reading benefits you in other ways – it sharpens your focus, improves your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, improves your vocabulary, reduces your stress, and broadens your mind.
3. Read quality books. This is not to say you can’t read that trashy pot-boiler, but do make time for the classics, and as you read, pay attention to how the author does things. Notice how he or she transitions from one scene to the next, maintains viewpoint, manages pacing, and uses word choices and syntax to help flesh out characters.
4. Never ask another writer for a critique of your work. This is a path to uncertainty and heartache. Other writers can tell you only one thing: How they would have written the book. If you want a critique, ask an editor. An editor is the person who will decide if the book is published, and their opinion is the only one that matters.
5. Beware the word “that.” Always, always look at that word (see what I did there?) and ask yourself if the sentence makes sense without it. If it does, delete.
6. Take a look at every word ending in “ly.” If the sentence can do without it, delete. What I’m getting at here is that many adverbs end in “ly” and adverbs are the death of prose.
7. Slay your little darlings. Too many times I have been hamstrung by stories in which I refused to cut certain parts because I loved them so much, but they created so damn many problems that I couldn’t finish the story. The solution: Delete.
8. Use semicolons sparingly and correctly. A semicolon joins two independent clauses. If each clause can stand on its own as a sentence, but for some reason must be joined with the next, use a semicolon. Otherwise it’s a comma or period.
9. Buy a copy of The Writer’s Market. This book is published each year and is available at your local bookstore or online in the reference book section. It is a compendium of all markets, magazine and book publishers, and the content they want, their contact information, word lengths, etc. It is an indispensible aid to the writer who wants to sell his or her work.
10. The Writer’s Market is published by Writer’s Digest Books, which also publishes many similar books. One of them is The Guide to Literary Agents. It is a listing of agents and their contact information. The process of obtaining an agent is even more daunting than getting a book published. I recommend you read this book before starting your hunt for literary stardom.
11. Colons can be used to introduce a list, or a significant single subject. They must be used correctly. One error I often see: the issue of capitalization. If a complete sentence follows the colon then the first letter of the first word must be capitalized. Otherwise it’s lowercase.
12. If your intent is to become a professional writer then you must submit. Don’t leave that manuscript collecting digital dust in your laptop. Send it somewhere. Which leads me to. …
13. Rejection. Lucky how I saved that for No. 13, right? Rejection is the writer’s boogeyman but it needn’t be so. A thick skin is a mandatory prerequisite to becoming a professional writer. All professional writers must remember that writing is one part art, another part business. Rejection falls into the business category. You absolutely, positively must remember that a magazine or a book publisher is a business whose sole purpose is to make money. When an editor reads your story, he or she is not just evaluating it in terms of artistic merit. They are also asking themselves if your story will help sell their product. The process of making this decision is entirely subjective. A rejection does not necessarily mean your story lacks merit. Maybe it’s not consistent with the other content the editor has chosen for the next edition. Maybe the editor doesn’t like stories about werewolves. Or maybe the editor had the veggie lasagna for lunch and it isn’t sitting in his stomach just right and he doesn’t feel well. Which leads me to item No. 14.
14. When to rewrite? If 20 editors reject a story then yes, you could safely assume it’s got problems and a rewrite is in order. Did any of those rejecting editors give you feedback? If so, you might take what they said into consideration. Or, you might just shelve the story as a bad seed. It’s your call.
15. Speaking of which, you can’t believe how significant it is for an editor to give you feedback. Most editors are swamped with submissions and don’t have time for a handwritten note. If one of them takes the time to provide you with a handwritten note, you should be very excited. That means something – good! If you want to sell them your story, change it as per their suggestions and resubmit. That happened on my very first freelance sale.
16. On the other hand, if you love a story exactly the way it is and are unwilling to change it, stick to your guns. But be prepared for it not to sell. Sometimes they do. I once had a story I submitted 55 times, and it was rejected 55 times. After that you’d think I’d take the hint and rewrite it, but I didn’t. I loved that story and I was determined to find a home for it. On the 56th submission it sold to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. So there.
17. What is pacing? It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s the speed at which a scene or a story unravels. Some stories require a slow, subtle revelation of the plot. Others are action-packed and need to unfold quickly and with high energy. Doing either of these is not just a matter of throwing scenes at the reader, or withholding them. You can also use syntax to amplify the pacing. For instance, if you want to bring the action in a story to a halt, use a short, blunt sentence.
If you want to speed things up use a run-on sentence with lots of coordinating conjunctions to convey a sense of breathlessness and action.
Those two techniques are examples of using syntax to buttress your storytelling.
18. We’ve been told since we were kids we should never judge a book by its cover, but covers are important and I often do let them influence me to the extent that a book with a cool cover will get picked up off the shelf and looked at, opposed to a book with a bland cover, which will remain on the shelf. So advocate for the coolest of covers you can get!
19. The fundamentals of a story are these: A. The beginning. B. The Middle. C. The end. You’re thinking, “That Del guy sure is an ass.” Hold your fire. I may be an ass about some things but not this. You’d be surprised how many writers don’t remember those three basic building blocks of a story. Let me put it this way: A. You have a character who’s trying to solve a problem (the beginning). B. He or she tries to solve that problem and fails, resulting in complications (the middle). C. The character solves the problem, and the solution falls within the context of the story (the end).
20. Viewpoint: Viewpoint is the point of view from which the story is told. Sometimes that’s a person. Sometimes it’s something called third person omniscient, meaning the narrator is not one of the characters but an entity floating above the action, seeing everything. This would be an example of third person omniscient: “Bobby walked into the room, saw Carolyn, and felt his bile rise.” It’s important to maintain viewpoint. Don’t switch between characters, unless a new scene is hard-starting (meaning there’s some kind of physical break in the prose, like a new chapter heading, or a dividing mechanism).
21. Vocabulary of characters: Make sure your characters use the language of a character like that person. You won’t find many farmers talking about Kant or Nietsche.
22. Transitions and references for dialogue. Beginning writers make a mistake in describing how characters are talking. They’ll avoid using the word “said” and go for something more colorful, like “preached,” “cried,” “rhapsodized” and so on. Ninety percent of the time, “said” is just fine. Try for something else and it starts to become comical.
23. Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell people what’s happening. “Bobby got mad.” Show people what’s happening. “Bobby’s face turned purple and you could see a vein throbbing in his forehead.”
24. Infodump. At some point in a story you’ll be tempted to provide the reader with an explanation of what’s been happening, or why. This is called an “infodump.” A short infodump is OK but a long infodump slows the action and buggers up the pacing. Better to reveal that information in drips and drabs through the story.
25. Where do writers get their ideas? They get them from their everyday lives. The trick is recognizing when something that has happened to you can be sufficiently embellished to make for a good story. Carry a small notebook and something to write with so that when a brainstorm occurs during your day, you can write it down and won’t forget it. I promise, if you don’t write it down, you will forget it.
26. It pays to be persistent. The difference between writers and people who hope to become a writer is this: Writers write. They do it every day, regardless of what’s happening around them. Sometimes they’ll write only a paragraph or two; other times, they’ll get several pages done. But they sit their backsides behind the keyboard and write. You do the same.
27. Write what you know. There’s nothing that exposes a new and unpolished writer more quickly than when he or she tries to write about something with which they aren’t familiar. Write about the things you know how to do, the places you’ve seen with your own eyes, and the emotions you have felt. Your writing will come across to the reader as much more authentic and empathetic.
28. Write what you love. Writing is a lonely business, and it is mostly an unappreciated business. It can be isolating and unrewarding financially. If you’re going to do it, you might as well do the kind of writing, and write about the subjects, that you absolutely love. When you love what you’re writing it will show – PLUS you’ll enjoy yourself a whole lot more.
Author by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free
About the author:
Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”
Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.
As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.
Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at delstonejr.com .