Every content world has rules of its own, and breaking them—on purpose or not—can land you in the Disgraced Corner. Fiction writing is no exception. Here are 10 tips on abiding by the unwritten rules and staying popular.
1. Be humble.
Never assume your writing is perfect. It’s not. Nothing is. Be realistic about your work, and understand that good writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration, which in this case means editing.
2. Master grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Getting these basics right helps you do more than convey your message clearly. It also signals the reader—likely from the first page of your story—that you’re a potentially serious writer. If you’ve taken the time to master the basics, there’s a chance you’ve taken the time to master more complex storytelling skills. But if you fail on this most basic level, many readers will assume you can’t tell a story, either, and will pass you up.
Have your writing beta-read by someone proficient in grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and take the time to learn from each correction you receive. Worst-case scenario, hire a professional proof-editor to go over your texts before you unleash them on the publishing world.
3. Master the basic building blocks of writing fiction.
They are: plot and structure, character, description and setting, dialogue, theme, style, point of view, and conflict. Mastering them will allow you to give your readers a satisfying experience and a lot of “I love this author” moments. It takes the guessing out of the craft: you will be able to tell what works and what doesn’t work, instead of having to rely on some vague seventh sense. (The seventh sense is awesome. It’s just not enough, sometimes.)
You can attend workshops and courses to develop these skills. Reading professional blogs is also a good way to gain in knowledge. Just don’t forget to complement knowledge with practical exercises!
4. Always strive to hone your writing skills.
For this purpose, you’re going to need two things: plenty of exercises, and plenty of feedback. One without the other won’t do the trick. You can’t hone your writing skills without sitting down to write, and you cannot hope to advance without receiving some kind of professional feedback to guide you. Which is why you should…
5. Welcome beta readers and editors into your life.
Without professional feedback, you’ll never know if you’re advancing in the right direction, or how far you still have to go. Embrace editors and beta readers (those who read your manuscript and offer their input, often for free). They might open your eyes to issues with your writing that you could never see on your own. Always nurture a group of loyal beta readers, and treat them with respect. Learn from what they say. Which will require you to—
6. Grow thick skin and a love for critiques. They’ll only help you.
There’s a certain masochistic quality required to enjoy critiques. It’s practically like saying, “Here is my baby, now rip it apart.” Good editors and beta readers will do just that—they will leave no word unturned, even the words you love. Get used to it. Love it. Revel in it. While not every comment will be right on target, you should welcome anything that makes you review your writing with fresh eyes. It’s the only way to get better.
7. Develop a brand.
Have you reached the publishing stage? Congratulations. But there’s more to being a successful author than signing a contract for your novel. When the editing ends, the marketing begins (and some would say, even before that). If you want to gain loyal readers, you have to build a brand for yourself.
Cultivate your online presence with a professional website and a blog. You can go as far as creating a logo for yourself. Help readers go from your first book to the next one by writing in the same field or even by writing a series. Don’t mix vastly different genres under the same pen name. Prove that you’re worth sticking with throughout your writing. Create a comprehensive, cohesive body of works that will hold your readers captive.
8. Showcase glowing reviews and ignore bad ones.
Curate a list of the best reviews you find, and post it on your website and blog and in social media. Do not mention bad reviews. In fact, ignore these. Do not respond to them in any way, do not complain about them, and do not badmouth the reviewer. The same can also be called:
9. Always be professional.
Once you become a published author, you become a public persona. Whether in person or in the digital world, keep that persona professional, kind, polite, and humble. For example, don’t post personal issues and complaints on your official Facebook wall. Use it to keep readers intrigued about upcoming books, to draw in new readers, and to generally advance your writing career.
10. Always be authentic.
You don’t have to say everything you think, but when you do say something, make sure it resonates with the real you. Readers can sniff out dishonesty, and deception often costs more than it’s worth.
Let your quirks and idiosyncrasies shine through. They are what makes you interesting. Allow your readers to establish rapport with the real you, and they will follow you gladly from book to book.
Putting it All Together
Humility, professionalism, and the pursuit of quality will take you a long way in establishing your author brand and leaving your mark on the literary world. Be the best writer and person you can be, and the rest will follow.
Alex J Coyne •