Q. I’ve been writing on and off for years but never seem to get over the hump of actually getting anything published. Now I’ve decided I’m going to make a real effort to become a selling writer. Do you have any tips that will help me achieve success?
A. Find a critique group to join. If there isn’t one in your area, consider starting one. If you don’t know writers in your area, post signs in large churches or Christian bookstores. You may be surprised how many closet writers are out there. It is also possible to join or start an online group. For an online group, you e-mail your manuscript or chapter to the other members; and they send back their responses and suggestions. The feedback you get from an in-person or online group can be invaluable. Even well-read people—whether they write or not—can be helpful.
Start collecting writers guidelines and sample copies or book catalogs from periodicals and publishers you want to target with your writing. Most now have their guidelines available on their Web sites. Although it helps to see sample copies of magazines and book catalogs, you can also learn a lot by spending time studying their Web sites. Magazines often include sample articles or whole issues (read them), and book publishers list their current books. A word of caution: Never submit to a new or untapped market without thoroughly studying the guidelines and Website. Editors don’t have time to waste on writers who have not done their homework and will often toss submissions that don’t follow their guidelines.
Learn what you need to know about rights and copyrights. Although the Copyright Law can be intimidating in its entirety, only a small portion of it applies to you as a writer. You especially need to know what rights to offer and what rights to sell when submitting a manuscript to a periodical publisher. Keep in mind that when selling a book, the rights are covered in the contract, so you don’t need to be concerned about them when submitting a book manuscript or proposal.
Determine what age groups you want to target with your writing: young children through senior adults. Once you know what age groups, use the Christian Writers’ Market Guide to identify periodicals and book houses that target those ages. Keep in mind that every periodical has a specific, target audience, so your chances of selling increase when your manuscript is of specific interest to that age group or audience. Note that in some cases the audience will share a common interest, rather than be for a specific age group, such as a magazine for pastors.
Make reading an important part of your preparation for writing. Read a lot of the kind of manuscripts you want to write. If you want to write for magazines, read as instructed above. If you want to write novels, read a lot of the genre you want to write. If it’s nonfiction books, then read books on the same topic to be sure you have something new or different to say. Your reading should also include how-to writing books, classics, and bestselling books in both the Christian and the general markets.
Collect ideas for your writing. It always helps to have a notebook handy where you can jot down ideas as they come to you. Every time you have an idea for an article or a book, write it down and start collecting additional ideas or resources for that topic or plot and keep adding them to a file folder until it includes enough ideas and inspiration to start the writing project. Your notebook should also include a section of brief ideas you might develop in the future.
Of course, this list could go on for several more columns, but I’ll end it here and add one more tip. Pray over every project to determine first if it is taking you in the direction God would have you go and then to ask His blessings on the writing and on those who might read it after publication.