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Over the years, people will privately message or email me this question. Now that I have eight years’ worth of experience under my belt, I thought I might be able to give some good advice on the topic.
How does one become a fiction writer?
The short answer–there is no right or wrong answer to this. It all depends on what your goals are and how far down the rabbit hole you want to go (insert Laurence Fishburne and his cool glasses).
First of all, you need to decide why you want to write.
As solely a creative outlet? As a source of income?
As your only source of income?
Each one of these statements brings a different set of challenges and possible rewards. Some people write and publish their work online for the sole reward of sharing it with others. The act of writing and “gifting” it to others freely is gratification enough for them.
Places to freely publish your work for exposure and networking. (A word of caution–be sure to read through every platform’s Terms of Service before posting anything.)
- Blogging platforms, like WordPress or Blogger. You can even learn how to blog a book. Andy Weir, the author of The Martian (yes, the book the movie by the same title starring Matt Damon is based off of) found great success blogging his book. The free exposure helped him accumulate a massive audience, which attracted a publisher… then Ridley Freakin’ Scott.
- Wattpad (geared more toward teens)
- Fictionpress (Fantasy author Sarah J. Maas built a platform and snagged updwards of 10k reviews before landing a publishing deal for her work, Throne of Glass.)
For others, they are content with self-publishing just to see their work in print. They don’t much care if they sell anything or become famous. They’re hobbyists, not career writers, and that’s okay.
Some places you can publish your work via Print-On-Demand:
Then there are writers who write for money and creative satisfaction. Some are all right with earning supplementary income to their day jobs, and others want to pursue writing as their sole vocation. Both are worthy pursuits, because every person has different ideas of what success and happiness look like.
To learn more of what it’s like pursuing writing as a career, I highly recommend the following websites/blogs:
Before you start learning how to write (and I can guarantee you already have an idea of how story works… more on that later), first sit down and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” You don’t have to mull and fuss over this question all day, but when you have clearly defined goals, it offers you the straightest path to true happiness.
So Step 1) Figure out why you want to be a writer, and be brutally honest with yourself. Whatever your answer is, it’s all right. You can always change your mind later if you want to back off your goals or add more fuel to the fire.
…. Got your answer? Good. Now that you know why you want to write, the next most important question is–
What the heck are you gonna write?
You might already know this answer. But if you don’t, allow me to ask you another question–what do you most enjoy reading? Sexy contemporary romances? Books about fantasy worlds and magical powers? Gripping mysteries and thrillers?
If you’re in this for the money, you might be thinking, “Well, I’ll write romance, because I wanna make mega-bucks!”
Sorry, but I’m gonna have to burst your bubble. While it’s true that romance is the best-selling genre, it’s damn hard to make a career, let alone big money, at writing any genre. Period. You need tremendous talent, even greater discipline, and iron-clad determination and persistence. Not many people get rich and famous off of writing, and those that do are outliers. They got lucky. Or worked their asses off until they got lucky (or learned the ropes of business, writing craft, and marketing… no small feat).
Either way, if you’re hoping writing is your key to quick riches, please let go of that delusion right now.
Step 2) Figure out what genre you want to write. My suggestion is to look at your Read Shelf on Goodreads (if you use that platform) or make a list of your favorite books. Notice any patterns? Perhaps you notice you like a blend of mysteries and romance. You could combine the two and write romantic suspense. Or you could focus on a subgenre of mysteries (serial-killer-thrillers) or romance (motorcycle club, often dubbed “MC,” contemporary romances). Again, there is no right or wrong answer.
Write what you love, and you can’t go wrong. Because at the end of the day, there’s no guarantee your book will sell (if selling is your goal). So write first to please yourself, then put it out for the rest of the world to read, if you so desire.
Along that note, don’t be disappointed if your first book doesn’t sell many copies. Thanks to the ease of self-publishing, there are a ton of new books published every day. And competition is fierce. At this stage, you shouldn’t worry so much about selling XYZ copies. Focus on figuring out what will make you happiest to write, and then go learn story.
Step 3) Learn the art of story.
If you want to be a writer, chances are you love to read. Readers pick up on how story works by reading a lot. So my first suggestion is to pick out at least 5 books (10 is better) in the genre you want to write in and study them. What worked? What didn’t? What do they have in common? This will give you a good ear for what works and what doesn’t in your genre.
In addition to reading often and writing daily, I strongly suggest you study the craft of writing. It’s true that the pros break the rules every day, but they also had to learn the rules before they could break them.
To learn the basics of writing craft, I suggest the following books:
- Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell *I’d start here if you’re brand new to the craft of storytelling.
- The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson
- The Story Template by Amy Deardon
These three books will give you a solid foundation in story structure, one of the building blocks of story. Other areas to consider are dialogue, character building, scene depth/interactive scenes, pacing, voice, and grammar. Each genre comes with specific reader expectations, sometimes called “tropes,” that you will need to be aware of. For example, romance readers expect a HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happily for now). If you kill the couple at the end of the story, you have a tragedy, not a romance. And you will have some very unhappy romance readers.
You can check out my Writer’s Resources page for a full list of resource materials covering the other areas of writing craft.
If you’re hoping to make a career out of writing, or want to get more serious about this vocation as a possible source of revenue, then I also encourage you to study business, entrepreneurship, marketing, and the publishing industry. Every “top” writer–Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks–didn’t attain their level of success without learning the ropes of business. So don’t skimp on that. Especially nowadays, with so many writers choosing to self-publish some, if not all, their work, it’s important to become business savvy.
The rabbit hole goes so much deeper, for those interested in pursuing this as a career, or at least, as a source of supplementary income. I will cover this in more depth in my next blog post in July’s newsletter.
In the meantime, don’t hesitate to write to me if you have any questions. Good luck if you’re starting your writing adventure!