As I write this, all I can think about are my goals for the coming year.
I am so pumped up to take on amazing new challenges and move closer to achieving my personal and professional writing goals. One of the biggest? Preparing my two works-in-progress for publication.
For me, this means completing developmental edits on The Dark Between and Dreamworld, as well as editing both novels again to improve my prose (my storytelling skills > my writing skills). I'll also be compiling a list of agents and publishing houses I'd like to reach out to and polishing up (read: trying to attain) some querying skills.
But these goals are fairly specific to where I am in my personal journey towards becoming a professional novelist. And while it may be easy to look at the progress I've made thus far--as well as the goals I've set for the future--and think I'm far more qualified to pursue a career in the writing industry, that's simply not the case!
No matter where you are in your writing journey, you can begin pursuing a professional writing career right this minute--even if you've yet to begin your very first novel. Sounds absolutely crazy, right? I know. But guess what?
I began this writing blog before I even completed the first draft of my first novel, and look at just how far this humble little site has come over the course of just one year (shoutout to all of the wonderful people who have joined the She's Novel community--you guys rock my world!).
This experience has taught me something absolutely invaluable: you should never let the size of your resume or the breadth of your skills hold you back from pursuing your dreams.
In the coming new year (or from whatever time of the year you're reading this, future friends!), choose to be brave in the face of your doubt. After all, doubt is just another word for fear. And it's okay to be afraid. In fact, you should be.
Every single person who pursues a crazy goal is either a brave soul or a complete fool--and something tells me you aren't the latter. It's the brave souls who recognize their doubt and fear, weigh them against theirs desires and passions, and choose to pursue their dreams with abandon despite everything that tries to hold them back.
And I want that person to be you.
So suit up, brave soul. It's time to face your dreams with a pen in hand. Not next year or next month. Not even tomorrow. I want you to choose to take forward steps right this instant. Are you ready?
Here are eight steps you can take to begin pursuing your own professional writing career today.
1) Set Scary Goals.
Remember when I said it was time to face your dreams despite your fear? Well, here's your opportunity to do just that.
The biggest mistake you can make in pursuing your writing career--or any dream for that matter--is to set safe goals. Goals you're comfortable with. Goals that are absolutely attainable.
Why is this such a killer?
Because pursuing a professional writing career is not a comfortable journey!
It takes darn hard work to break into the industry, to move beyond selling a few digital copies a month and actually make enough money to live on (let alone become a millionaire with movie adaptations and raving fans and cardboard cutouts of your characters hanging out in your living room).
If you want to become a professional author, you have to set scary goals--goals you think you'll never have the time, energy or skills to attain. And then you need to pursue those goals with everything you have.
This is how you make yourself stand out from a sea of other aspiring authors. This is how you grow and achieve your dreams.
ACTION STEP: Get out a fresh notebook or open up a new document. Write down the first 1 - 3 steps you need to take to move towards a professional writing career, then decide how soon you'd like to complete these steps. Make sure to challenge yourself!
EXAMPLE: In 2016, I need to complete two developmental edits and a line-edit. I plan to have The Dark Between's developmental edit completed by the end of April, the Dreamworld developmental edit completed by September, and The Dark Between line edit completed by December.
But how do you even begin to tackle your scary goals? Let's move along to step #2!
2) Make a Game Plan.
Just because you're pursuing a few crazy goals doesn't mean you shouldn't create a reasonable, actionable plan to see them through.
The point of setting crazy goals is to push yourself, to test your limits and work harder than you believe possible. This is how you grow to see your storytelling and writing skills improve.
It's easy to think published authors already have writing in the bag, but that's simply not the case. Every smart author knows they must continually work to improve their skills, to make their next novel better than the last.
And they do that by creating a game plan to see their desired growth become a reality.
Your own game plan will depend on where you are in your personal writing journey, but here are a few She's Novel posts you should read if you want to see your work improve:
- 11 Steps to Turn Your Plot Bunny Into a Full-Fledged Novel
- 11 Steps For Creating a Writing Routine (that will leave you feeling free!)
- My Two-Step Method for Finishing Your Novel
- How to Write Multiple Novels Using the Drafting Cycle
- The Difference Between Editing and Revising (and how to accomplish both)
ACTION STEP: Assess your goals and begin to devise your game plan. How can you break down these huge steps into attainable daily or weekly goals?
EXAMPLE: To achieve my goal of completing The Dark Between's developmental edit, I'll spend two weeks rereading my manuscript and finalizing the plot. I'll then spend every day for the next six to eight weeks writing roughly 500 fresh words for my manuscript or tweaking the scenes that aren't quite working.
3) Make Writing a Priority.
Whenever I talk about making writing a priority on the blog, people start to get antsy, even a little bit defensive. "I could never write every day." "Writing should be about art, not structure." "You shouldn't tell people to create a daily writing habit. Everyone has their own process."
But here's the thing: I'd love to watch television every night. I'd love to spend a few minutes browsing Pinterest each day. I'd love to go grab fast food instead of staying in and eating leftovers.
But I don't.
Because I know what my biggest dream in life is: to become a professional novelist. I want to make that dream a reality more than I've ever wanted anything else in life, and that means recognizing wasted moments, making the hard choice to cut out guilty pleasures, and putting writing first at every opportunity.
That's how you learn to write like a boss.
Do I ever watch television, browse Pinterest, or eat out? Sure! On occasion. And that's the key phrase here: on occasion. You can always splurge on guilty pleasures from time to time. You need them to keep yourself sane, to avoid completely losing your mind in the creative process.
But most days of the week, choosing to make writing your top priority during your limited free time is absolutely essential if you ever want to become a professional writer.
ACTION STEP: Take an honest look at how you currently schedule your days. Where do you waste the most time? Can you rearrange your life in any way to gain more writing time? Is there anything you can cut from your life to help make writing a priority?
4) Start Researching.
One of the questions I'm most often asked by readers with completed manuscripts is, "How do I go about finding an agent? How do I get published?"
If you're in this same boat (or getting close to it), it's time to start researching!
There are several different ways you can go about finding agents and publishing houses that are good fits for your novel, but here is my absolute favorite technique:
ACTION STEP: Begin completing the steps below to compile a list of agents and publishing houses you can query when your manuscript is ready.
Begin by compiling a list of books related to your own. This could be a relation in plot or characters, age market (such as middle grade, young adult, or adult), theme, or genre/sub-genre. Once you have a list of ten or twenty novels, it's time to do a little digging.
Research these books online (a simple Google search will work wonders), looking specifically for information on what publishing houses published each novel and which agents represented their authors.
Once you've compiled your list, you can begin to look up each agent and publishing house individually, crossing the poor matches off your list to find the perfect subjects to query.
5) Begin Building Your Author Platform.
Oh, friend. How I wish I could hijack this post and turn it into a five hour chat on building your author platform. It's one of my favorite topics, and it's oh-so important! But alas, I promised you a post on pursuing a professional writing career, and that is what you're gonna get.
(No worries. I have a whole string of author platform posts + resources lined up for the coming year!)
So here's the long and short of it: if you ever want to become a professional author, you need to begin building your author platform today.
"What is an author platform?" you ask. Simply put, it is your connection with an engaged readership.
This is not represented in the amount of social media followers you have or the number of page views on your most recent author interview. It's having your voice heard by a group of readers who absolutely adore you, your work, and every single thing you do.
And building this platform is a lifetime endeavor.
Have no fear! I know building an author platform sounds straight-up overwhelming (and rightfully so), but I'll be spending the better part of 2016 helping you walk through this process step-by-step right here on the She's Novel blog.
For now, here are a few broad steps you can take to begin building your author platform today, even if you're still working on your first novel.
ACTION STEP: Begin building your author platform using the steps listed below.
1. Build your author website. We're living in the digital age, and that means you need your own digital hub, a place where readers can learn more about you and your work, receive updates on your latest novels, and engage in a bit of conversation.
When you set up your author website, make sure to purchase your own domain name (I recommend snapping up www.yourname.com or www.yournamebooks.com). This will give you the air of professionalism you need to be taken seriously by potential agents and publishing houses, as well as your own readers.
Now, you don't have to blog on your new author website, but if you have the extra time and interest, I recommend publishing a few posts on your site each month to help humanize you (you know, make you look like more than just a headshot).
Make sure to keep your posts focused on things your potential readers are actually interested in. This could be behind-the-scenes looks at your writing process, sneak peeks of your novels, or your recent favorite reads.
2. Set up social media accounts. In order to build your engaged readership, you need to...you know, engage with your readers. And the best place to do that is on social media.
Take some to research where your potential readers are hanging out. Younger crowds tend to prefer sites like Twitter and Instagram while older crowds are often found on Facebook. This may not always be the case though, so make sure to do a little research before digging in.
Set up account names and handles readers can easily identify as your own (using your actual name is highly recommended), link to them on your website, and start following and interacting with readers in your novel's genre. Reach out. Say hi. And remember to play nice. No one likes a sales pitch, so avoid throwing your novel in your readers' faces at every turn.
The key here is to treat your potential readers like friends, not numbers or dollar signs. Believe me, they'll love you for it.
3. Build Your Brand. Part of building an author platform is treating yourself as a brand. After all, your novels are your business and your readers are the customers who will help your business thrive. Congratulations, friend! You're a business owner.
And creating any prosperous business requires a few key actions:
1) Be professional. Your readers don't want to hear about your family drama or see pictures of what you ate for lunch. They're interested in your novels...and maybe a little bit (read: tiny) of the more interesting side of your personal life. But overall, keep your online presence as focused on your work as possible.
2) Find Your Brand. Being a professional doesn't have to mean tip-toeing around social media in a virtual suit and tie. Feel free to infuse your brand and interactions with some personality!
To do this, define who you want to be as an author. The cute and quirky one? The comedic mastermind? The total nerd? Use that persona to stand out from the crowd.
3) Be consistent. Much of building an engaged readership is simply being present. Getting your face out there. Letting it be known that readers can reach out to you and you'll actually take the time to respond before the day is out.
You don't have to spend hours each day building your author platform, but taking 30 minutes to check in with your readers will make a huge impact. You can even split this time up throughout the day!
6) Reset Your Mindset.
In my time as a creative writing coach, I've come across three camps of writers: 1) those who think they'll never be good enough to get published, 2) those who can't understand why they're not already published, and 3) those who have confidence they'll one day make their writing dreams come true.
If you're one of those confident and determined writers, keep up the fantastic work!
But if you're struggling with self-doubt or if you think you've already learned all there is about writing, there's something you should know: both of these mindsets are crippling. They will end you before you even begin.
Why? Because there is always room for improvement.
No matter how bad you think your skills are or how great you believe your writing already is, you can always get better.
That's because there is no gold star in the writing world. Sure, you can win awards and nab book deals with huge paychecks, but those don't matter. At the end of the day, your writing can always be improved.
That's why you must take one day at a time, working to improve your skills each and every day. If you continue to do this month after month, year after year, you'll soon create the kinds of novels you've always adored.
ACTION STEP: Work on changing your mindset. Recognize that you are better today than you were yesterday, and you'll be better tomorrow than you are today. Keep on working and watch yourself succeed!
7) Get Serious.
Or more frankly put: it's time to lose those stars in your eyes. Being a professional author isn't an easy job, and it certainly isn't all fun and games.
Sure, you get to write in your pajamas from time to time, but you also have to manage your income, maintain your author platform, answer emails and collaborate with other industry professionals, deal with over-eager (and sometimes frightening) fans, and field some otherwise unsavory tasks.
I don't say all this to scare you. Every job comes with its perks and dirty work. But it's easy to see your favorite authors retweeting love messages from fans and think that their life is just peachy.
That's not always the case, and you need to recognize this before you decide to truly pursue your own professional writing career.
ACTION STEP: Ask yourself if you want to be an author because you think it will be fun and easy, or if you are truly passionate about bringing your stories to eager readers despite the downsides of working in the industry. Make sure you're being honest with yourself before you jump in.
8) Get Your Work Out There.
The best step you can take towards building your pro writing career? Get your work out there!
The authors whose debut novels skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list are the unicorns of the writing industry. In nearly every other case, authors need to publish multiple novels--ones that are adored by their readers--before their work begins to gain any serious notice.
That's why the best thing you can do for your pursuit of a professional writing career in 2016 is finish your latest work. The sooner you get it published, the sooner you can work towards building a larger audience and greater renown. The sooner you'll move closer to the professional writing career you desire.
Is pursuing a professional writing career your biggest goal for the coming year? What steps will you take to make your dream a reality? Let me know in the comments below. I'd love to share in your writing journey!
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Kristen Kieffer is a writer of fantasy fiction and the creative writing coach behind She's Novel. She's made it her mission to help aspiring authors write sensational novels because obliterating expectations is her jam. Her other passions? Coffee and Tolkien, of course!