This is a guest post by Lindsay Detwiler.
The sun fading as the birds fluttered about my head, I sat on my parents’ deck, scrawling words in a green notebook. I was taking a college class called “The Literature of Health & Healing” where we studied the idea of having limited time to chase one’s dreams. My professor’s words that summer evening inspired me, and I started thinking about my own wildest dreams.
I’d always dreamt of writing a novel, and an idea had been floating in my head. The story consumed me with an inexplicable force, and the class’s themes compelled me to write the words down. That night after class, I sat down and I started writing, never thinking anyone would ever read the words. Each night when I came back to my story, I chided myself for wasting my precious time. At the end of summer, I shoved the faded green notebook underneath my bed to collect dust. I abandoned the dream, but the story never quite abandoned me. I came back to it the next summer and the next until finally I had a complete manuscript.
Four years later, those words I scribbled down would become the first pages of Voice of Innocence, my first novel. Now, two years later, I’ve published five novels and have two more contracted with my publisher, Hot Tree Publishing. It’s hard to believe this writing journey started with a faded green notebook on my parents’ deck that July evening.
In a way, I fell into the writing world. I didn’t expect my wildest dreams to come true or the words in that notebook to be published. I quickly learned how little I knew about the publishing industry and about how book publishing worked. Two years later, I’m still learning and growing. However, I’ve uncovered information I certainly wish I’d known as an unpublished author.
- Have confidence in yourself as a writer.
Not everyone can write a literary work. Be proud of your achievement and know published or not, you have accomplished something amazing. This confidence will solidify a foundation for you to build upon because the publishing industry can be a tough world to navigate. There will be ups and downs. Believing in your gifts will help you survive the days of rejections, harsh criticism, and perceived failures.
- Write what you are passionate about, not for the market.
Some writing advice websites or books will disagree with this. However, when I started my writing journey, I never planned on being an author. I was writing the story that spoke to me, the story I felt I needed to tell. This disregard for marketability allowed me to write from an honest place, which I believe is palpable in writing. Write the story that speaks to you and let the rest fall into place.
- Build a community and network now.
I learned early on that the writing world can be a lonely place if you let it be. I had no idea what I was doing and no one to really talk to—I didn’t know any authors personally. However, upon networking online with other authors, I realized how valuable it is to have fellow writers to converse with and support. Building your community online isn’t just about building readers. It’s about building a support system. I’ve come to realize authors, for the most part, are supremely kind and tireless supporters of one another. Start connecting now through blogging and writing communities online.
- Once you’ve finished one work—keep writing.
I vowed that if I ever got my first book published, I’d be happy with that accomplishment. I didn’t think I had any more stories in me. However, I’ve come to realize that the rush of writing and publishing is addicting. Once I had one book sitting on my shelf, I wanted to tell more stories. Even if your first work isn’t published yet, start drafting another work in order to keep your creative juices flowing. The best way to build a platform as a new author is to keep publishing. The more works you have, the higher your discoverability rate.
- Learn to be patient.
The publishing industry moves at a sluggishly slow pace. Learn to be patient. Focus on your other works and on building your social media presence while you are waiting for the next step. I went through months and months of rejections before I found my first publisher. I went through months of editing, cover design, and proofing before my first novel hit the shelves. I then went through years of building my author name and growing my platform. It is a slow business, so learn to be tenacious.
- Continue setting goals.
Published or unpublished, setting goals for your writing career is so essential. Set major goals and small goals. My first goal upon getting published was to have a book signing at Barnes & Noble. I still set monthly goals for myself to stay focused on self-improvement in my craft. By focusing your attention on what you hope to accomplish, you will stay motivated on the tough days.
- Get feedback from others.
When I wrote Voice of Innocence, I didn’t tell anyone I was writing a book. I didn’t let anyone read my work or hear my story. The first time my own mom read my work was after the contract was signed. In hindsight, this was a mistake.
Getting feedback from trusted friends helps you gain confidence as a writer, something you’ll need once reviews start coming in. I remember feeling like I was going to vomit on release day because I had no idea what people would say about my writing—I’d never let anyone into my writing world to know how it would be received.
Start sharing now. Communities like Wattpad can give you a starting point for getting feedback on your writing and building a fan base.
- Know you are already a writer. Publishing doesn’t change your value or worth.
There’s a misconception that to be a “real” writer, you have to be published. I fully disbelieve this. Getting published was certainly a confidence boost. However, getting published does not make one’s words any more valuable. I have students in my creative writing class who are stronger writers than published authors, myself included, because of their genuine ability to stir emotion with their words.
Publishing a book doesn’t guarantee you success or fame. Not every published author becomes the next bestselling author. If you are publishing for these reasons, I believe you’re not thinking about the bigger picture.
For me, publishing a book opened up doors to reach more readers. It helped me spread my words and stories to more hands. However, looking back, my unpublished manuscript still had the same veracity and weight as it does now.
You are a writer because you have a passion for words. No matter how many rejections you may get or how many negative reviews you receive, remember that no one can take away the power of your story or the impact you can have on others.
Lindsay Detwiler is the author of five contemporary romance novels and a high school English teacher. She is also a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post. Her sixth novel, Who We Were, releases on February 25th with Hot Tree Publishing. To learn more about her works, visit her on Facebook or on her blog.