Successful fiction authors must have a combination of skills in order to see their book from the creation stage, all the way to publication and ultimately in the hands of readers. Their livelihoods depend on good storytelling, the willingness to learn, organization skills, the ability to handle rejection and the grace to accept success when it comes.
All commercial fiction, whether it’s a short story or full-length novel, must have certain elements to be successful. The basics are a beginning, a middle and an ending. There must be conflict that escalates and gives the story a purpose. This conflict may be internal, external, or even better, both.
As people’s attention spans grow shorter, due to so many outside factors tugging at their time, they won’t tolerate a story that doesn’t hook them and hold their attention all the way through the book. Staying up on the latest techniques in storytelling and how to grip the audience is necessary. There are many reputable writing courses at colleges and professional associations. For the busy but self-motivated writer, online writing courses may be the way to go.
Professional authors, editors and writing teachers often conduct workshops to aspiring writers. Look for these programs at local community colleges, libraries and in the newspaper. The cost is often nominal and sometimes free.
Fiction Writing Contests
Enter reputable competitions. Writer’s Digest sponsors many writing contests each year. Professional organizations, general interest magazines, colleges and publishers sponsor competitions to help editors find new talent.
Look for competitions in several subgenres of fiction.
- First chapter contests
- Short story contests
- General fiction writing contests
- Children’s story contests
- Creative writing contests
Connect with writers groups online. Do some social and business networking and look for other people with similar writing interests. This is a good way to find critique partners and groups to share information about publishing trends.
Find a Literary Agent
This is one of the most difficult aspects of marketing a proposal in the life of the writing process. Some literary agents won’t bother talking to an unpublished author. However, like the editors at the major publishing houses, most agents are still looking for that author with the “it” factor—someone who can tell a story that everyone will want to read. Obtain a list of agents from the Association of Author Representatives, either online or from the library. Study what each agent represents and only submit to those who are suitable.
Organize the Writing Tools
The organizes writer has an advantage over the one who has no idea what file his last three short stories are in. Have a system to keep track of submissions, a bookshelf for books on the craft of writing and a time set aside to write each day.
Read in the Genre
Most successful authors write what they enjoy reading. Look for books from the targeted publisher to get a feel for what they are buying.
Rejection is a fact of life for anyone in the arts—particularly writers. The novel could be the best one the editor has ever seen in her life, but if it’s a medical thriller, and all she handles is romance, she can’t buy it. Or if the editor loves it and takes it to committee, only to have it shot down, there’s nothing she can do to make it happen. If the writing still needs work, and she sends suggestions for improvement in the rejection letter, accept it with gratitude. It’s not a bad idea to send a very brief thank you note.
Success with Grace
After the sale, maintain a sense of gratitude and grace. Be an easy author to work with. All published work goes through a series of revisions, and editors always appreciate writers who accept that fact to make their books even better.