How to Make a Career as an Author
by Georgie Patton
Since the days of Aristotle, authors have complained about the low pay and enormous competition as a writer. The life of a successful author does offer the benefits of self-employment, freedom to work where and when you want, the opportunity to travel for site and historical research, and the admiration and notoriety.
Is writing really for you?
Before beginning on a career as an author you should honestly ask yourself several questions. "Am I comfortable being alone for hours?" Writing is largely a solitary occupation. Am I willing to wait five to ten years before I sell my first manuscript? In the beginning you will earn significantly more flipping burgers and you will unlikely be able to support yourself.
"How well can I take criticism?" There will be some constructive criticism to help you get better. There will be other criticism where others express their disagreement (you like chocolate and they like vanilla, etc. - meaningless criticism). Then there is the destructive criticism, sometimes coming from those friends and relatives you respect, offered sometimes unconsciously to destroy your resolve. Are you willing to evaluate and learn from some of criticism and shrug off the rest without taking it personally?
Are you willing to tirelessly promote your work to strangers you do not know? Are you willing to learn new technologies and writing styles? Are you also willing to promote your identity as you promote your work? What will make your work stand out from the crowd of similar work? Are you willing to become a "brand" like James Patterson or Nora Roberts?
Reading and Writing
Do you read all the time (sitting on the john, riding a bus, waiting for doctors, and etc.)? Does the public library staff know you? Do you know the rules (some would say, formulas) for your genre? Many moderately successful authors periodically write books detailing how to write in different genres and they cite other authors. Become familiar with the writing of these major authors in your genre.
Writing is largely personally developed. Don't be in a hurry to publish but do be in a hurry to write. Don't procrastinate your writing because you will find endless other things to do which are not so much work as writing. You must write and you must set yourself a goal. This goal may be one thousand words a day. (A writer friend and his partner churn out a book a week, which astounds me.) There are times when words flow easily and other times when you seem in a fog. Write and plan anyway.
Because you know the rules of the genre, your story should be outlined. When I outline my stories, I often see a freight train. The locomotive and the caboose (the beginning and the conclusion) are easy to spot and easy to write. Just write the beginning. Then there are the seemingly endless freight cars (chapters). I must open each freight car one by one to see what is inside. I have a vague idea what should be there but I am often wrong and frequently delighted to find, upon writing, there is a magnificent story change waiting to emerge. I am not smart enough to anticipate even most of it until the writing is well under way.
Not knowing where the story is going is what helps make your writing unique in the genre. Remain fluid as the story shapes up. Often I move scenes and chapters around. When you finally have it all the scenes figured out in your mind, proceed ruthlessly to completion. Set the work aside and then revise and revise (see my other article on Editing) until your story would receive an "A+" by your most critical teacher.
As you have been learning your craft and meeting other writers, ask a few if they would review your project when completed. This group is your mastermind. Members will come and go over time. This is the time to send out your project for review.
The careful reader will note I did not state 'send out your story' but 'send out your project'. The project consists of the story, the target audience, and the planned marketing program (self-publishing or soliciting to publishers, and etc.). Your mastermind needs to know if your story fits your audience and if you will be marketing correctly to the right audience.
Evaluate the responses from your mastermind and incorporate as you see fit. Your work (not you) will be rejected by some of the best publishers. Take it cheerfully. Rejection only means that publisher did not need your story at that time. While marketing you will be also working your next project. Keep going. You never know which stories will enjoy significant success. Write as if every story will be the most successful and you will be, too.