Like most writers, my own road to publication has been a long and rocky one, with many a stumble along the way.
The best advice I’ve been given was to remember that if I was learning to play a musical instrument, I would expect to practice hard every day for years before I dared play in front of an audience. And even then, I wouldn’t expect to immediately perform solo in the Royal Albert Hall or sing Madam Butterfly at the New York Metropolitan Opera. I would practice and gain experience and gradually work my way up to being the best I could be.
The more writing experience I’ve had, the more I’ve realised just how true this is of being an author, too.
So my first advice would be to write, write, write! Nothing is ever wasted and you have to write again and again to learn your craft and become at ease with your own writing. Get feedback from writing groups, other writers and writing courses. Read about the craft of writing. And read, read, read!
My second advice would be that once you’ve got a first draft of a book, the next stage is to think about your reader. Firstly, try and see your story from a reader’s point of view. You live your story as you write it, but a reader is coming at it from the outside. They aren’t going to see things the same way. Try and get some distance from your work and see how a reader would see it. Are they seriously interested in what your characters had for dinner in the middle of a murder enquiry? In trying to make your heroine sympathetic, have you just made her a doormat no one would want to identify with instead? This is developing your internal editing process, which is one of the most important skills a writer can learn – and one I’m still learning.
Then comes the practical stuff. Publishing is a business. You’ll only attract the attention of an agent or a publisher if they have a gut feeling they can sell your work. That’s when you need to consider your market. What kind of book are you writing? Romance? Mystery? Historical, etc. This doesn’t mean you stop being unique. Nobody tells a story in exactly the same way. But you need to be businesslike, as well as an artist, and know exactly where your work fits. At the same time, it’s worth building up a writing CV with competitions, short stories for magazines, articles etc. Anything that proves you have a professional approach to your work and are serious about this.
I always believe that you can create your own luck – and that genius really is 99% hard work!
RNA’s New Writer’ Scheme www.rna-uk.org
Creative writing tutor, Liz Ashworth, who runs online courses for writers: www.lizashworth.com