The journey has been a mixed bag of learning experiences - some fun, some unexpected, some downright painful but as I've said to many, I wouldn't trade what's happened for anything on earth. I've been keeping track of the good, the bad and the ugly experiences and over the next few posts will be sharing the things I've learned.
While every author's journey is different, there are probably some common issues we've all had to deal with, or wished we'd known about sooner. And it's my hope that by writing about them those still on the journey to being published or are newly published might find the information useful.
In this first post, I'd like to talk about goal setting and preparing for the day you get THE CALL.
During the early years after I discovered the Romance Writers of Australia, I coasted along enjoying the sense of community of being among other writers and being a writer. Nothing wrong with that but something I didn't do was set achievable goals. I just assumed things would "magically happen" or "fall into place" and "one day" I'd be a published author.
It wasn't until I began identifying goals and steps I needed to complete to achieve the goal that I progressed. I've blogged about this before so I won't go into detail other than to say as a writer you need to set yourself some short (a year) and long term (5 years) goals. Work out the things you need to do to make them happen.
A short term goal might be to enter a writing contest to get feedback. The steps involved would be to:
- research a number of contests - USA? (perhaps using Stephanie Smith's Contest Page for Authors) or Australia? New Zealand? UK?
- pick one
- budget for the contest fee (you may have to forego those bars of chocolate - sacrifice is part of this process, sorry (-: )
- polish the entry
- download the entry form/scoring sheets
- set dates to have these things done by (a vital step)
- enter the contest
- analyse feedback
- work out your budget
- research the workshops on offer (when the schedule is released - what is the most beneficial for you at this stage in your journey? Will they be craft, career, industry based? A mix?)
- plan ahead to find a roomie (if you want to share costs)
- again, set dates to have these things done by to make sure you achieve these steps
"But I'm not published. Surely I don't need one until that happens?" I've heard this a few times over the years and to be blunt, this line of thought is a little short sighted.
You're going to need a website and developing one BEFORE you're published is a darn good idea. Why? Let me list the reasons...
- First and foremost, once you publish you'll be on the biggest learning curve since you learned to read as a child. You'll have the whole publishing/editing/marketing and promotion process to grapple with (along with your every day life commitments) and teaching yourself web design or arrange hiring someone to do it for you will take time. It's stressful enough being a newbie author without having to deal with this.
- If you design your website yourself expect to spend MASSIVE amounts of time learning how to do it and "getting it just right". I created my own website three years before I received THE CALL, using iWeb and a template because I couldn't justify the cost of hiring someone at the time. I changed the template twice and I've tweaked the content, pages, formatting and font numerous times. Updating the home page every month takes time but I can do it now in about an hour. Over three years I've streamlined the process.
- If you hire a web designer then you need to research a good one by checking out sites you think look good and finding out who did them. Once you've hired someone you're going to have to consult on details and provide content and information for the pages. If you get them to update you have to also provide that content on a regular basis. Time, time, time.
- When you're querying agents & editors you can include your website as a reference point in your letters. And agents and editors will look it up if they're interested.
- So will other authors and writers. It boils down to web presence and exposure. If you aren't visible then no one will even know you're there.
- No content? Then keep your website simple. Home Page. Author Bio Page. Contest Success Page. That's all I had for a couple of years.
Ho-boy! Another huge subject to tackle BEFORE you publish. The monster that is social networking can be a nightmare, overwhelming and time consuming - no doubt about it. So again, thinking about how you're going to make it work for you. It will also impact and play a part in author branding.
"My editor wants me to do everything." Of course they do. Connecting with your readers is important.
BUT the one thing you need to remember - your primary role is to write books. If you don't produce them, then no amount of social networking is worth squat.
So, again, while you have the time as an unpubbed author, think about all the options available to you and make some decisions on what you might like to try and what you will commit to.
I liked the idea of blogging but I didn't want to create a glorified diary or journal about what I had for lunch or spruke about how many words I'd written that day. Every man and his dog can do that. I wanted a specific purpose for my blog. And there lies the key to blogging - purpose.
Why blog? Why are you blogging?
This was part of my goal setting process. I chose to blog initially for the following reasons:
- I like writing.
- I wanted to write posts to help other writers like myself (a way to give back what others had done for me at one time)
- It was a way to overcome geographic isolation (here in Australia and internationally) and connect with an audience - readers and writers.
- Expand my blog readership.
- Through the promotion of local authors (Australia & New Zealand)
- And to develop a broader network of contacts by interviewing authors from USA.
- Develop it as an avenue to promote my work.
There are a host of social networking options available to authors - blogging (individual and in groups), Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google +, Goodreads, Shelfari, Author Newsletters, writing articles for magazines, etc.etc. It's all a matter of finding something you want to try and enjoy doing.
It's no good taking the scatter gun approach and doing everything, you won't see effective results that way - ask me how I know, yep, been there, tried that, drove myself mad and had to re-address my approach and purpose for doing it. Better to pick one (or two) and do it/them well.
I've narrowed my focus down to my website, blog, and author newsletters. Doesn't mean I ignore the others entirely, I do frequent Facebook and Goodreads which I enjoy, occasionally I pop in on Twitter but I've decided it's not something I particularly prefer. And, I've learned, if I don't get to the social networking sites of my choice then so be it, it's nothing to stress over.
So, it's important to prepare for the big day, the day many of us have dreamed of for so long. One I thing I'm very glad I did was get things up and running BEFORE I received the Call. I had the time and could poke along at my leisure to develop these things. There was no pressure.
And this freed me up to enjoy what came AFTER THE CALL. I was able to focus on the steps involved in being a published author. Sure there was stress, but a whole lot less than what I would have put myself under if I hadn't.
So, what are your thoughts on these subjects? Does anyone have any tips, hints, lessons learned to share? Anyone with a question they'd like to ask?