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. The first thing you’ll need to do is set aside specific times to write. If you wait until you have time, it won’t happen. That means a number of things. You will need to determine where writing is going to fall in your life. It certainly does not have to be a full-time pursuit, but you do need to set aside specific blocks of time to dedicate to your writing and related activities. Mark those dates on your calendar, and honor them as you would any other appointment.
All this means that in order to have sufficient time for writing, you are going to have to give up something you are already doing. If God is calling you to write, then He may not be calling you to do some of the other activities that have taken over your time.
It will also help if you have a place set up where you can do your writing. Although you may work on a laptop—meaning you can write anywhere—it helps to have somewhere to go where you can move out of a casual setting to one where you are motivated to get down to serious writing. This will also be the place where you keep your market guide, style book, reference books, and other tools of the trade. Make it a place you enjoy being in, not one you dread to enter. Going to your special work place also serves as a signal to family members that you don’t want to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.
Speaking of tools of the trade, it is now essential that you work on a computer. I don’t believe any periodicals or publishers will now accept hard copies of your manuscripts unless you have an electronic version as well. If you aren’t able to work on a computer, then you will likely have to hire someone to type your manuscripts into a computer, which may cost more than you’ll make on an article or short story.
The next step will be to determine what it is you are going to write. If you write nonfiction, what topics interest you and are you qualified to write about? If fiction, what genre or genres? Whatever you decide to write, it is important that you write enough of one topic or type of writing that editors and readers begin to recognize you as someone who is well qualified to write that kind of material. Building that kind of reputation leads to assignments from editors.
Once you determine what you want to write and who your potential audience will be, it’s time to start identifying which periodicals will be interested in what you have to offer. If you were planning to start with a nonfiction book, don’t. It is critical that you build a reputation in your field by writing regularly for the publications interested in your topic. An editor is going to expect you to have that body of work as preparation for doing your book.
However, if you are writing fiction, periodical credits are not that important although you could start with short stories. Use the Christian Writers’ Market Guide to identify potential markets, get their guidelines and sample copies, and spend time reading and studying them to determine how well your articles might fit there. This step is critical. Don’t skip it.
In order to stay on track, it will be important to set goals for your writing output. Although it’s interesting to see what other writers are doing in the goal department, it’s important that you set your goals based on the time you have allotted, the type of writing you are doing, and the amount of time needed for research or interviews. Stay realistic, and only up the goals when you feel certain you can meet higher ones. Mark each goal on your calendar, and work diligently to meet each one.