I recently spoke with EPIC Group Writers about what it was like being a newspaper columnist and fiction author. Over the course of the past 12 years, I’ve moved from being someone who writes as a hobby, to writing full-time. I’ve written “I Brake for Moms” for more than nine years. At Sno-Isle Libraries, there’s a 37-readers-long hold list for my latest book, “Sweet Bliss.”
How did this happen? Mainly, by not giving up, and learning important lessons along the way. If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book, this column is for you.
Begin with the end in mind. Never start a project until you can describe it in two sentences. In publishing, this is called “the hook,” “the longline hook” or “the elevator pitch.” It doesn’t matter if you are writing a novel, a children’s book, a newspaper column or a Christmas letter; know what you’re doing before you start doing it. People don’t intend to write the most boring Christmas letter of all time, they happen to do so because they don’t have a plan. For more help, read “Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing,” by Libbie Hawker.
Get to the point. The world no longer has patience for prologues. You need to capture your reader’s attention within the first 5% of a composition. If it’s a 250-page book, that means the first 12½ pages. If it’s a 500-word essay, that’s the opening paragraph. Readers deserve clarity. They are giving you their time, and you should not waste it — or worse, bore them with backstory.
Know your audience. Who wants to read what you are writing? Will they read it online, in print, on a tablet or on social media? Understanding audience expectations is critical. Romance books need happy endings. Children’s books need accessible vocabulary. Cooking blogs require high-quality food photography. Read the top-selling performers in your category so you get a better understanding of what your audience enjoys.
Write every day. It’s very difficult to write half of a book and then come back five months later and try to finish it. Even taking two days off on the weekend can interrupt the flow of creativity. But if you can commit to writing at least one paragraph every day, you’ll stay in touch with your storyline. I draft on my MacBook Air — or my trusty old Alphasmart Neo 2 digital typewriter — for faster productivity.
Decide if you are a hobbyist or a professional. There’s nothing wrong with being a hobbyist. Writing for the pure joy of writing is a worthwhile endeavor. People who make their living by writing, however, must also master the business of writing for profit. Traditionally and self-published authors need book marketing expertise, backlists and more to survive. They can’t write whatever strikes their fancy; they must write what sells. For more information, read “Book Marketing is Dead: Book Promotion Secrets You MUST Know BEFORE You Publish Your Book,” by Derek Murphy.
Guard your wallet. If you want to go to grad school or fly to New York for a writing conference, go for it. But please understand that your return on investment might be minimal. You don’t need a master of fine arts degree to land a book deal. You don’t need to spend $300 to attend a writing conference to finish writing your book. Instead, search for writing tips online. Watch free YouTube tutorials. Form a critique group. Borrow books about writing from the library. Think twice before you give someone your credit card. Preying upon an author’s hopes and dreams can be a lucrative business. I should know. I’ve been ripped off quite a few times over the years, which is one of the ways I’ve learned these tips.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at email@example.com.