by Michelle Daugherty
In the giant chain bookstore world we live in, it is harder than ever to become a bestselling writer without forfeiting some dignity. Novelists follow the formula that worked for their last book to reduce the risk of losing the interest of anyone who may be reading their progression. Even poetry becomes a game of churning out the next book before the poet loses the connections they worked hard to make the first time. The truth at the heart of the issue: writing is hard work. Publishing is hard work. Taking the time to fully develop a new idea or body of writing means reestablishing your audience, as well as professional contacts to help you sell that book.
There are some skills any writer pursuing a career needs to develop. The first and most vital to success, is confidence. Many bestseller writers during interviews have said that to keep grounded and motivated, they have a small circle of friends that read their work as it is developing. The benefits of workshop are compelling enough that there are now tons of groups across our country where a writer goes to hear what a small sample group thinks of their writing so far. This allows for edits to clarify, as well as a dialogue on where a reader may want the writing to go. Workshops are so popular that there are now online groups that send feedback to your e-mail. Another hidden perk to workshops can be found in the other participants. These are other writers; some of them can serve as mentors. In most workshops, the participants are DOing things with their writing. You can meet editors of magazines, a bookstore events coordinator. If anything, you can meet someone who knows someone who may take an interest in your writing.
Publication itself can be a hurdle to jump. The big advice from most experts: have thick skin. The secret to publishing success is to submit, constantly. There is a huge amount of help available for that. Online submission searches are handy even straight from google. There is even a series of books to handhold through the process. The Writer’s Market books are around to prove a couple of things; one being that there are a ton of people trying to get their work published, enough to make money off of the hopeful writers. The other is how many options there are. Submitting to as many options as possible will secure your chances. The more small publishing credits you have, the more secure of an investment you will be for a company to publish your very own book.
Yes, some people get a book done without their bio filled with small steps. There are blind competitions where a judge selects work solely on its merit instead of the opinions of journals and other editors. Those contests are expensive. They are also entirely subjective and highly competitive. The top ones are constantly getting an overabundance of entries. Think of it as applying to Harvard, even with a 4.0 and excellent test scores there is no guarantee.
Another angle, for poets especially, are readings. Poetry Readings are found everywhere. Bookstores, schools, even bars can rely on groups of poets to show up on their slow night and spend money while reading their work to some of the same people most weeks. It can be a tough sport. There are clichés like there were in high school. There are several ex dating partners, some catty women and the inevitable really bad writer who takes themselves seriously (who most take as the bathroom break).
But the opportunities are there as well. It is here that writers hear of each other, develop their style and learn how a crowd of people respond to their writing. It is here also, that one builds a support group of other struggling writers and in general friendships. There is also that soft hope in the background, especially in a city, of a literary agent walking in while you are reading and liking what they hear enough to open a door for you. That hope turns writers into waitresses waiting tables until they are discovered. It is rare, but they are legends because it is possible.
The solid fact about becoming a successful writer is the hard work it entails. A tiny bit of the equation is raw talent, the rest is persistence.