Learn, THEN Achieve
by Scot R. Stone
Thursday, January 13, 2005

As I look back at what I have accomplished in the last three years as a writer, I still realize the boat I'm in on this great big ocean is still leaking water.

So when and how do you make it stop? Simply plugging the holes with your fingers will leave you without hands to grab your oars so you can row your way to that mysertious island we like to call "Success."

First we must make a watertight vessel, one where simple things like editing mistakes, poor cover designs and poor back cover blurbs can quickly sink you like an anchor. But even with a watertight vessel, it still doesn't mean you will be protected from the storm on the horizon. That's the one called the "plot." Many stories are done to death or are too far-fetched to be believeable. Or perhaps the characters are just not real enough to the reader. Finding your niche and weathering that storm of flying reviews can be troublesome if an author does not prepare for it on the front end.

I have done reasonably well since I set out of my tranquil harbor to brave the odds. Has everything gone according to design? No. Nor do I think it does for most authors out there treading water. I have landed on some islands, finding them to be only mirages, while others have been temporary havens. But now, with some sailing experience under my belt, the many dos and don'ts have made themselves evidently clear. Some say this way is better, or that way is the best, but I only know how capable my vessel is and how it will manage in the straights I choose to venture through. I laugh often on my journeys, for it makes my skin tough and keeps me from becoming lost. I have heard many who believe they are experts spew the worst lessons you can imagine, ones that could have sunk my boat further if I followed their advice. However, the only thing that can truly sink an author's boat entirely is the author himself, for giving up altogether.

This I refuse to do, so, therefore, there will always be waters for me to travel. And to those who wish not to get stuck in the mud, here are a few tips I can give you to prevent that from happening. As simple as that may sound now, I guarantee many authors fall into common traps because they didn't know any better:

1) Storyboard your books. It's the best way to avoid writer's block. Keep it as loose as possible so you can change direction if inspiration hits. Storyboarding includes completing maps ahead of time. It's hard to tell the reader where you're going if you don't have your own map to navigate you or your passengers there.

2) Complete your novel before you submit it to a publisher or agent. It makes no sense to write 3 chapters and then try to make a pitch. How can you possibly know for sure how your story will end when you haven't written the whole book? How do you know it won't end an entirely different way that you originally imagined (even when you storyboarded)? You will sound much more convincing to an agent or publisher if they actually know you have completed your work. If you make your pitch and they say they want to see more, what do you tell them if it's not done? "Oh, could you wait another year?" I don't think so. You want to keep their interest when you have it.
3) Send queries to agents and publishers at the same time. If an agent bites, then they can start pitching you to the big houses. Some houses won't even look at a manuscript if there is no agent representing it. But not all. If a publishing house wants your novel, then undoubtedly you will have ten agents at your door waiting to pick you up as a client. But how do you know a good agent from a bad agent? Do your internet research. Many websites are devoted to telling you who the top agents are on the market, and most reputable. Follow the directions listed on the publisher's or agent's website on how they want to see the submission. Failure to follow these simple rules will land you in their slush pile, where it will become lost forever.
4) If you are a first-time author, have someone professionally edit your book before you mail it to a publishing house. Nothing will turn a publisher off faster than a poorly edited manuscript. This is the part where you grow thick skin. Be able to take criticism. If you can't, you're in the wrong business. Again, there are many places on the net where you can learn how to get a decent editor for a decent price. Do your research.
5) Be patient. You may not hear back from an agent or publisher for over a year. Sometimes not even at all. Keep submitting and keep refining - AND KEEP WRITING! Just because you have a completed work, don't stop there! You always want to stay ahead of the game. Make them know you are prolific. No one wants to represent an author who only has written one novel and has no other ideas on the hot plate. BE CAREFUL OF SHARING YOUR IDEAS! Protect your ideas, even when you have them copyrighted. Nothing is more sacred than your own genius. Not until your work is in print can you talk about it. That's the only way you can ensure someone won't try to steal your future.
6) Network. Plain and simple. Go to writer's conferences, workshops, book signings and read. The only way you're going to learn is to make those connections. Conferences are a great way to meet agents and editors of publishing houses. You would be surprised how many authors become successful after they meet the people they are trying to draw ineterest from face-to-face. I'll raise my hand here.
7) And if you manage to become published, your work is not over. Market, market, market. It's a never-ending process. Find every avenue you can to take that will make people learn about you. There's a thousand different ways to reach people. Just ask John Kremer (hint - look up his book). A good publisher will have their own marketing department and help you promote your work, but the bulk of authors, even those in big houses, do most of their own marketing.

Now that the lessons end here, I will see you when I arrive at the next island, hopefully it will be the one called "Success."
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