Aspiring writers dive into this endeavor in order to see their books in print. If not the point, it’s surely in the top reasons people undertake writing in the first place. But what’s the secret to becoming a published author?
It’s there, for sure.
But let’s talk about what ‘published author’ means in the first place.
If you’re intending to self-publish, there is, of course, no secret to doing so. You write a book, hopefully, learn your craft and get it edited, revise it, then engage on any number of the self-publishing platforms and voila! Your book is out there.
But if your sights are set on the gold standard in this industry—becoming a traditionally published author—then we’re talking a different beast entirely. And one with criteria that’s tough to master indeed.
It can, however, be mastered.
Yes, yes, all the platform stuff we talk about matters. The engagement with social media. The inlets into other media. Public speaking. And best yet if you have a built-in audience.
Publishers do look at all of that. It’s expensive on their end to get a book out, and a host of employees count on books doing well for their jobs. Funny enough, writers don’t think much about what a publishing-house editor must wade through to get a yes for a manuscript she’s championing. And whether it will earn out, and hopefully have enough sales over and above that to be successful, is a big part of all of this.
Which is another reason all the genres and categories and sub-categories matter.
As a book editor, I often see writers often chafe at this. But the thing is, that’s how books are sold—to the specific audiences who read them.
Knowing your genre, making sure your book has the elements required for it—including word count and tone, the plot points involved, the story structure, and a host of other specs—is mandatory for becoming a published author.
Agents and editors look for reasons to say no, and writing outside the genre specs is at the top of the list.
Learn those. Make sure you’re thoroughly versed in your genre, and what it takes to be published in it.
Story structure is mandatory as well. Why is this so important? Because it works to keep your tale on track and keep the plot moving, and the characters progressing through it.
It goes without saying that creating vivid characters will get the attention of literary agents and editors.
And of course, avoiding clanking and verbose prose plays a huge part too.
Not to mention, including those moments that take readers’ breath away.
So what’s the point of all of this?
It all goes back to what we talk about every week—learning the ropes of great writing.
Absorbing the craft. Falling and getting back up and learning some more. Writing with ever-ascending skill as you master story creation and structure, creating real people, penning ever-more-beautiful prose.
There simply are no short cuts.
Before self-publishing became cheap, writers had no choice but to dig in and learn the craft. That was the only way to get published. Although many writers complained about the gatekeepers preventing them from becoming household names, funny thing—those gatekeepers provided (and still do) a valuable service.
Especially book editors. Because while less-than-stellar books did and still do hit the market, writers trying to break in have a handle on all of the above to even get a toe in the door.
It takes years and years, even decades, to become a great writer. This isn’t a craft for the faint of heart. Just learning all of this takes an enormous amount of fortitude. And then—no matter how famous you might become—you get to watch your work cut to shreds as you fall to your knees with rejections.
I’ve seen far too many talented writers quit, for just those reasons.
But the ones who make it in the Traditional world have one thing in common. All of them. And it’s a huge thing. Something that’s not apparent to the outside world, or even to new writers coming in.
So what is that secret sauce to becoming a published author?
Persistence. Which just means the will and the desire to keep on keeping on, in the face of all the work and hair pulling and heartache.
So if you choose to grasp for that brass ring, this is your mission. And, it’s what will be met with success.
As Goethe said:
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
But remember he also said:
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”