Have you ever seen a talented new writer rise to seeming stardom, only to crash and burn within a couple of years? I recall being a new writer and studying my contemporaries with a mixture of awe and fear, trying to figure out who the big writers would be in the future. Ten years later, nearly all of them were gone, even the big award winners.
So here are some tips for those who are starting out. I can’t tell you how many ways there are to go wrong, but here are some big ones.
- Make sure that each of your novels is better than the last. When a critic is wowed by your first novel, he’ll rave about it. Ideally, a dozen or more reviewers will do the same. But critics look for a pattern of greatness. If you turn in one of your trunk novels as your second book, something less than your initial offering, you’ll kill your career. Why? Because you’ve just created a pattern that suggests that you’re on a downward slope. Your great first novel was a fluke. You want your pattern to show that you’re growing in creative and writing prowess.
- Don’t be a one-trick pony. Most first novelists who grab rave reviews have a few things that they do well. They might have a gift for a certain tone or style, or perhaps for developing gritty characters. But if you do the same thing with every novel, readers are likely to get bored. For example, I once saw a novelist write a story about an abused child that wowed the critics. On her fourth novel about an abused child, a critic asked in a review, “Doesn’t she have anything else to say?” Perhaps not. Perhaps her own childhood experiences left her so scarred that nothing else seemed important. But it did cripple her career. So I recommend that with each novel, you struggle to expand your skills. Let’s say that book one was set in a contemporary location. Can you try expanding that—perhaps going into a historical period or moving to another continent? If your character voices all sound too similar, could you try extending your range in your next novel?
- Choose your turf. As an author, you eventually have to define yourself, try to figure out whom you want to become. For example, you might say, “I want to be the John Grisham of hard science fiction.” By doing that, you create a brand for your novels, a niche market that you can take over. If you try writing in several genres, the chances are good that you will fail to draw readers from one book to another. (Take it from me: I’ve written adult science fiction, adult fantasy, historical, middle grade, young adult novels, picture books, and so on. It’s great fun, but it’s a handicap when trying to develop an enviable career.)
- Make writing your priority. When you’re an excellent writer, you will often have job opportunities come your way. After winning Writers of the Future, I got a telephone call from a local computer company, where a manager asked, “If I start you at $24,000 per year, would you be able to come into work today?” At the time, as a college student, that was a good salary. Later I was offered jobs as a college professor, as the president of a small movie studio, as the vice president in a videogame company, and so on. But each time you as a novelist take on a side obligation, it squeezes your time for actually writing. As a novelist, keep your focus on writing, if at all possible.
Nominate Your Favorite Writing Websites
Hey everyone, Kami, one of Dave’s editors here. Some of you may have had me edit your writing assignments or manuscripts over the years. Some of you know that I also run a writing tip blog at SeptemberCFawkes.com. Over the weekend I had quite the surprise when I found out that I won the Writer’s Digest award for being one of the top writing websites for 2017.
This gave Dave the idea that we should mention the awards here and encourage everyone to submit nominations for the 2018 awards. Here is how to submit:
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “101 Websites” in the subject and which website(s) you’d like to nominate in the body.
If you like Dave’s writing tips, workshops, or seminars, I’m sure he would appreciate having MyStoryDoctor.com nominated. And if you are familiar with my site, I’m not opposed to being nominated again either 😉 If you can, please take some time to nominate any of your favorite writing websites.