1. DON'T SUBMIT YOUR FIRST BOOK
Make sure your book is the best it can be. I read somewhere that it is usually a writer's fourth book that gets published. You are still learning to write during the first three. I personally have several failed attempts in a drawer. I might go back to them later, but no way am I submitting them without a major rewrite first. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule!
2. READ THE BASIC BOOKS
I am amazed by the number of people who tell me they want to be a writer, but have not read any basic books on writing. Here are five essential books I would recommend. Do not even think about sending your stuff to an agent until you have read these (or something similar.)
1. Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
2. The Artists Way by Julia Cameron
3. On Writing by Sol Stein
4. Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan
5. On Writing by Steven King
3. LEARN THE CRAFT
For me, the structure used by Hollywood screenwriters is most helpful. My breakthrough was hearing an audio course on Story Structure by Hollywood script guru John Truby. I realised that I needed a road map to keep my story fast moving, compelling and on course. Some people object that popular movies are 'formulaic'. You be they are! That's why they are popular. Writing is a craft like carpentry. You need to learn the skills involved. I have written a book with all the tips and tricks I learned from scriptwriters and movies which I hope will help prospective writers aged 8 to 80. It is called How To Write a Great Story. Read it. Apply the principles. Have fun!
4. GET SOME DISTANCE
Once you have written a book you think is good enough to be published, put it aside while you work on your next project. Then come back to the original book. You will be amazed at how much you will want to change about it.
5. GET AN AGENT
Very few publishers will look at stories sent to them by a person they don't know. They will only consider manuscripts submitted by an agent. To find an agent you have to search through a book called The Artists & Writers Yearbook (or its US equivalent) and send the first three chapters and synopsis of your book to likely agents. Even getting an agent is difficult these days, but hopefully one of them will like your story and start sending it out to publishers. Most agents take 10% of every payment you receive. It is worth it. Even after they have found you a publisher they do all the tricky stuff like asking for more money. This keeps your energy free for creative writing.
6. DON'T GIVE UP
One thing that separates successful authors from unsuccessful ones is persistence. Keep at it and don't give up. Don't listen to anybody who says you can't do it. Believe in yourself and in your desires. You have to be single-minded. Sometimes you have to sacrifice other things in your life. (For ten years I used to get up an hour early to write. I was a single mum with a long working day as a teacher.) Go on courses. Read books about the craft. Get together with other writers to encourage one another. Listen to podcasts like Prepublished and Writers Routine. There are many YouTube clips about writing, too.
7. WRITE TO ENRICH NOT GET RICH
J.K. Rowling is a once-in-a-century phenomenon and therefore NOT a helpful role model! If you are one of the lucky ones you will make a living by writing. But don't make that your main motive. Instead, write the sorts of thing you would like to read. Write about issues and questions that really interest you. Then, even if your book never gets published, the hours you put in will not be lost. They will have enriched your life. That is the best advice I ever heard, and I got it from my mentor, the wonderful John Truby.
Happy writing and good luck!
P.S. I’m sorry but I don’t read other people’s stories unless they are about to be published and need a quote or last minute notes. If you would like a professional to read your novel then I suggest you contact the excellent Jericho Writers. Of course you will have to pay them, but if you want to be a writer then it is worth it.
[This is an article I wrote over ten years ago in 2011 but I have given it a light update!]