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Holy Hannah! What have I gotten myself into?

The title speaks for itself. Being a writer, I’m supposed to market myself and part of that is doing this social media thing. Up until now, I’ve limited my platform to Facebook, Twitter, and a website that, let’s face it, I rarely use. Since we’re starting a new year, I thought, “What am I going to do to connect with more readers?”

The answer is to start a newsletter and blog.

Well, here it is. Me, biting the bullet and doing the thing I swore I wouldn’t do.

Now, what should I blog about?

The journey from budding writer to full-fledged author is a bumpy one regardless of the route you take. Whether you chose to submit queries and wait for an agent to pick you up, or you decide to go it alone and steer your own course with self-publishing, chances are, you will run into some common pitfalls. Here’s a few that I’ve encountered on my journey thus far …

1. I want to be a writer? Am I crazy? I can’t make money doing that!

True. At least not at first. And not without a whole pile of work and sleepless nights and hair-pulling as you try to figure out this thing called marketing. It takes time, patience, and trial and error to discover the things that work for you. What do you have time for? How much money are willing to spend on promotions? How much writing time are willing to sacrifice to write that blog post/play on Twitter/design that web page? Everything you chose to do to promote your work - and regardless of whether you self-pub or traditionally pub, you will have to do this - it will require a sacrifice somewhere else. Time, money, or other. But, in order to sell those books, you have to do some legwork to put your story in front of readers. You won’t make any money until people are buying your books. It seems self-explanatory, but it’s one of the hardest things for a lot of writers to wrap their heads around.

2. On the flip side, I can just hit and the money will roll right in. See # 1. No, you can’t just hit publish after you finish writing your first draft and have the money roll in. There are many more steps involved in making a finished product that readers will want to read.

Work it, baby. That has to become your new motto if you want to make money as a writer. Work. It. The more polished your manuscript, the more likely you are to find an agent and sell your book. Join a writer’s group and get feedback. Find beta readers. Edit. Edit. Edit. Take time to refine and revise until you are thoroughly sick of your story. And then do it some more. Hire an artist to design your cover or take the time to learn the skills you need. Learn how to write a blurb. Learn about loglines and pitches. What are they? How do I use them? Read writing craft books. Learn about story, beats, arcs, etc. Take a creative writing class or three. Research the market and the publishing industry. In short, do your homework.

3. Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!

This is one I see a lot from new writers. Experimentation is fine, but realize that writing is about communication. If the reader isn’t getting it, then you as a writer aren’t communicating clearly. Rules help to facilitate communication, and every rule has a time and place to use. Learn to use the tools in the writer’s toolbox, and you will be ahead of the game. Realize as well, that agents and publishers want to sell books. That’s their primary goal. If your story is too niche, chances are they won’t pick it up. If you plan to go the traditional publishing route, you will need to be willing to change your story to fit the demands of the market. Choosing to self-pub because your story is too artistic is a valid choice, but that doesn’t preclude the need to create a story that makes sense and characters that are consistent.

4. And conversely, rules MUST be adhered to at ALL times.

Understanding the purpose of those rules -- whether in regards to spelling and grammar or basic storytelling -- is important. Know when to use a rule and when to break or bend it. A unique voice, both of the writer and story, is one of the keys to grabbing a reader’s interest. Strictly following all the rules can result in a bland voice that fails to resonate with readers. Find your voice, and learn how to make the rules work for you.

5. Finally, don’t be afraid to suck.

This is one of those pitfalls that I struggle with daily. It’s hard to put your work out there for other people to view. Writing is deeply personal, and it comes from a place inside of us that is sensitive to negative and critical feedback. But the thing is, we all have strengths and weaknesses as writers. We all have things we need to learn and things we need to improve. We often have a hard time seeing those things in our own writing until someone else points them out. And it can hurt to hear that your precious words need help. That’s why it’s so important to get other people to look at your work before you publish. They can help you see the flaws and problems, and if you’ve got a good group of early readers, they can help you brainstorm fixes. It is easy to throw our hands up and declare defeat when someone points out issues with our writing. Stomp our feet and say, “I suck. I can’t do this.” Finding problems early on can lead to a stronger story if you are willing to stick it out, accept some hard truths, and put the work into to fixing your story. There will always be nay-sayers. People who will tell you in harsh words that you aren’t capable, that you can’t write. Ignore them. Keep writing. Keep practicing. Keep reading. If you truly want to be a writer, learn to embrace the suck. Lock those first pages away. Learn new skills. Try new ideas. Practice. Practice. Practice. Keep moving forward. One day in the future, you will no longer suck. You will have found your voice. You will feel confident that you can produce something that resembles good writing. You will no longer be afraid to put your work out for the public to see. Okay. The last one is a stretch. I’m not sure any artist ever truly gets over the nervousness of putting their soul on display, but you get the idea. Above all, write. The journey to author has only one starting point. Putting words on the page. You can’t write a story if it stays locked in your head. Happy Writing!

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