I finished writing my very first book when I was fifteen. I’d started dozens of things before that but never followed through. And then, poof! I wrote this dandy little book that I was extremely proud of. So much so, that I did what everyone does when they finish a book: I published it. Because that’s what you do when you finish something, right?
I’ve since realized that at sixteen (when my book came out) I was nowhere near ready to devote the time and energy publishing required. I didn’t even know that much was required. I was a writer. I had no idea what it meant to be an author. And up until that point I had no idea there was a difference between the two.
A writer, by definition, is “one who writes.” Pretty simple, huh? There’s nothing in there about being published or having fans or even about ever having finished anything. All you have to do to be a writer is write.
An author, on the other hand, is a person who has written something and is ready to take the next step. They’re ready to become a professional. That’s where the publishing and fans and all that jazz come in. An author is someone who has published—or is looking into publishing—something in order to make a career out of their writing.
But while all authors start out as writers, not all writers have to become authors.
See, when I was fifteen and holding a freshly-printed manuscript in my hand, I was under the impression that since I wrote something, it needed to be published. Because that’s what writers do, right?
But there are so many steps to take before a writer is ready to become an author. And it’s important to understand them before making any life-changing decisions.
Step One: Do Your Research.
Before you send your book off to a publisher or create an account on that shiny self-publishing site, read up on the publishing industry. The internet and public libraries are great resources for this.
I don’t mean get one book or read one online article, I mean study the industry. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Read about traditional publishing and self-publishing; read about marketing and business. Read things written by authors and editors and publishers and agents. Go to writing conferences and attend webinars. Find some writing blogs whose advice makes sense to you and follow them consistently.
Get a notebook or a journal and take all the notes. Then organize those notes and reread all of them.
I didn’t do this until well into my publishing journey, and the more I research the more I wish I had done it right from the start. Jumping into the publishing world without research is a bit like jumping into a lake without knowing how to swim—sure you learn as you go, but only after that long period when you’re almost certain you’re going to drown.
Step Two: Make Connections.
The publishing world (whether traditional or self-publishing) can be a scary place to venture into without friends. Find people who have gone before you. Listen to their counsel.
This is my biggest regret. People much wiser than I offered me sage advice and I didn’t listen; to this day I wish that I had. If I could do it over, I would take the time to really hear what people had to say to me. I thought I knew everything when I really knew very little, and I wish I had forged the connections offered to me rather than cutting them off.
Join groups of other writers who write the same things you do. Talk to other people who are looking to pursue publishing. Keep reading that blog you started following in Step One and start commenting on it.
People need people. Authors need authors. Writing is solitary, sitting alone at your desk pouring words out onto the page, just you and the story; but publishing is a different matter, and one that can’t be approached with a lone ranger mindset.
Step Three: Hone Your Craft.
While you are doing all that research and talking to other writers and authors, make sure you read up on the art of writing as well. After all, what is the point of all this if you don’t have a well-written book?
Edit your book like crazy. Find a few writers you trust who are willing to read it and critique it for you. Join a critique group, if possible, because these are incredible and will help you grow in ways you can’t imagine!
Continue polishing the story until it is shiny and bright and beautiful, until it feels like maybe, just maybe it’s finally right and whole and complete.
I’m still learning how to properly edit a novel, and critiques make me want to cry sometimes. When you write it’s easy to see all the good in your story, to love what you wrote, and you should always hold onto that. But if you truly love your work that much, then don’t you want it to be the very best it could possibly be? In the end I’ve found that the time and energy that goes into making your book better is always worth it.
Step Four: Make More Connections.
The sad truth is, even if you write the most spectacular book, if no one knows you exist they can’t buy it. I was under the impression that if you write something good and put it out into the world, people will somehow know. It’s like moths to light, right? Readers are naturally attracted to good books, aren’t they?
Except that isn’t how it works at all. When I first published, no one bought my book, which left me feeling like no one wanted to read it. I felt a little like a failure. But that wasn’t the case—people can’t buy a book that they don’t know exists.
So make sure you’re talking with people who read the kind of book you’re writing. And no, your Great-Aunt Susan and that one family from your church don’t count. They’re a good start, though!
Join a book club. Goodreads groups are a great way to meet people. Create a bookstagram account on Instagram. Start a blog and review books. Join a group at your local library. Connect. Talk to people about stories and connect over similar likes and dislikes. Just make friends. Don’t talk about your book or try to sell it every other second, because that’s annoying (how to effectively network your book in these settings is another great thing to research). Just connect with people. Be open about your writing, sure, but make it a small portion of what you say to them, focusing on your shared love of similar books.
Step Five: Make a Game Plan.
Do you want to go the traditional publishing route or would you rather self-publish? Neither one is as simple as it seems. So research and then research some more until you feel informed enough to make a decision. Each route has pros and cons, and what is best for you depends on you and your writing/publishing goals.
When I first looked into publishing, I didn’t know which route I wanted to take, so I picked one randomly (self-publishing, because it seemed easiest at the time) and just sort of ran with it. I had no plan, no direction, and no idea what I was doing. I made decisions on the spot instead of looking ahead and working toward an end game. And for years after, I felt like I was trying to dig myself out of the hole I flung myself into. So yes, I would highly recommend not doing that and making a plan instead.
Step Six: Have Fun.
If at any point in all of this you go “This is too much, I don’t want to do any of this!” that’s okay! All that means is you aren’t ready to publish yet. Maybe you never will be, and that’s okay too. Keep writing, keep telling your stories, and keep your options open. Don’t stress yourself out. It’s hard work, yes, but if it doesn’t feel rewarding it might not be for you.
So have fun. Explore and learn and grow and meet new people and enjoy this crazy, wonderful world of authors and writers. Because, as the old cliché goes, it’s less about the destination and more about the journey. If you’re a One Year Adventure Novel student, you’re probably young and have so much more of your life ahead of you. So take a deep breath, stop trying to rush into anything, and enjoy yourself as you decide what route is right for you and your stories.
My own publishing journey has been incredible, and I have enjoyed almost every step, mistakes and all. It’s been quite the ride, but it’s helped me grow and taught me so many things. I am glad I can share them with all of you and hopefully keep you from making the same mistakes I did.
If you’ve published a novel or other writing, do you have any advice you would add to Jennifer’s?
Jennifer Sauer is a 20-something single girl with a head full of knowledge and a heart full of dreams. She began making up stories long before she could hold a pencil and hasn’t stopped since. In recent years she discovered a passion for fairy tales and the art of retelling them.
When not writing she divides her time between reading, crafting, nannying and babysitting, passing on her love of story in many different forms, and striving to live happily ever after each and every moment of her life. For more about her and her writing check out her blog at: http://ivorypalace.blogspot.com/
* Please note that links on The One Year Adventure Novel Blog to other websites and blogs do not constitute an official endorsement. We are not intimately familiar with all the writing and opinions contained in outside links.