My advice to beginning writers

#1. Don't let anyone else define success for you.

Success for you might mean writing a story you're proud of—the story you've always wanted to tell. Or paying the mortgage and putting your kids through college. Or achieving your dream of typing "The End" on the story inside you and holding the paperback proof in your hand.

Figure out what you want from writing, and hold yourself to your own standard. Don't believe anyone who says you have to sell X number of copies to be successful, or get on some list, or be published by some organization. That's their definition of success and may or may not have anything to do with you.

Bottom line: I believe success as a writer comes in an infinite number of shapes and sizes, just like humans.

#2. Invest in yourself.

There's an endless amount of talk about how to promote your book. There's some good advice out there, but I think the best way to expand your audience is to develop your writing skills.

We're all born with a certain amount of talent. We can't change that, but we can determine how we develop that talent and how we use it. That's what you should focus on early in your career. It will pay huge dividends.

I learn from reading and doing. I spent almost two years full-time reading books on writing, writing, throwing it out, and starting again. And a year after publishing my first novel, that's pretty much what I continue to do. I'm still learning a lot about writing and trying to get better.

Figure out how you learn best. It might be classes at a local college or a critique group or reading books on the craft. It's hard for me to recommend specific books because the right book for you to read right now depends on where you need to develop. But there are two general books on writing I recommend. You can buy both of them used on Amazon for a total investment of less than twenty dollars. They will take you a few hours to read and can drastically improve your work. They are:

Stephen King, On Writing
(General tips, encouragement, and insight into a writer's life)

Self-editing for Fiction Writers
(editing & revision; this isn't story or character advice; it's how to write the story)

#3. Invest in your work.

Spend as much time and money on editing and cover art as you can. You've already invested a lot in writing your novel, invest a little more to make the presentation and experience really great for readers.

For editing, enlist your spouse, parents, friends—whoever is open to reading your work. If you can afford to hire an outside proofreader or editor, I strongly recommend it (even if you're traditionally publishing—now more than ever, publishers want to start from a polished manuscript).

Your cover invites people into your work. Don't skimp on it. Make sure it works for your story and genre. If it doesn't, change it.

The same goes for your synopsis (or query letter if you're traditionally publishing). Write four versions and pick the best one. If it's not working, tweak it.

But don't get caught in an endless loop of cover and synopsis revisions. The most important thing as a writer is to start that novel (followed closely by... finishing it :)). I hope you do, and I hope this advice was helpful to you. Good luck.

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