For today’s writing post, I’m picking up a topic from a recent convention panel I was on, about “Career Planning for Pre-Published Writers.” That’s kind of an odd concept, and the description was about building a platform.
But here’s my advice for how to plan your career before you’re published:
- Educate yourself on the craft, on the market, on the industry. Go to conferences, join writing groups, read the “how to write” books you find at the library.
- While you’re doing this, write something. Finish it. Put it aside.
- Write something else. Finish it. Put it aside.
- Go back to that first thing you wrote and take a good look at it. Make it better. Put it aside.
- Go back to that second thing you wrote. Make it better. Put it aside.
- Take yet another look at the first thing, see if you can make it better. Possibly give it to some of the people you met (other aspiring writers) while educating yourself to get their feedback. Use their feedback to make it better. Repeat with the second thing you wrote.
- Do serious market research. Who publishes the kind of thing you wrote? Read the most recent books that are closest to yours in genre, subject matter, and tone — not just the bestsellers, but books by first-time authors. Which books currently on the market might compare to yours? If you’re writing short fiction, read the various magazines to see who publishes the kind of thing you wrote. Find out what the submission guidelines are.
- Research agents (you’ll probably need one to get a novel sold to a major publisher). Look at who’s getting book deals done in your genre. This may be a good time to go to conferences and see if you can get some one-on-one appointments or pitch sessions with agents. Do some serious online searching to make sure the agents you’re targeting are legitimate and aren’t known for running a scam operation. A legitimate agent only makes money by selling books. They won’t ask for money from you, won’t send you to a book doctor that will cost you money (they might recommend you get more editing, but they shouldn’t send you to a specific person because that’s usually a sign that they’re getting some kind of referral kickback).
- Start submitting to publishers/publications/agents, following their guidelines.
- I generally recommend that people at least try to go through the traditional publishing route before diving into self publishing, if only to give you a reality check and thicken your skin. If you get a lot of rejections along the lines of “I love this but I don’t know where I’d sell it,” that might be a sign that self publishing could work because you may have a niche product. If your rejections are along the lines of “I couldn’t connect to the characters” or “the plot seems trite,” then go back to step one and write something better.
What about all that building a platform stuff and social media? Really, it will only help you if you do something huge with it. Otherwise, it’s more likely to count against you. If you’re a really clever blogger who manages to get a following in the thousands, or you somehow manage to get tens of thousands of Twitter followers who are real people and not just bots, and your posts tend to go viral, then that might count in your favor when a publishing decision is being made. Otherwise, the main thing is to not look like a total psycho. You don’t want to be ranting and raving about stupid publishers and agents who are rejecting you because they only want to publish trash. Definitely no racist or sexist rants. Mostly, focus on your writing rather than building a platform, unless you have something to build a platform on and can do it in a big way. It would be smart to buy the domain name of your name, maybe put up a placeholder site. But don’t worry about doing any kind of major publicity campaign until you have something to promote.