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The 5 Commandments of Becoming a Published Author

Writing is a passion. It’s an art. It’s an expression of personality and creativity. It’s a jumble of words that are interpreted differently by everyone who comes across them, regardless of how concrete they are. Above all, it isn’t really very hard to do. All you need is paper, a pen, and a bit of spare time. Yes, it’s easy to write, but it isn’t quite as easy to become an author.

Becoming a published author is akin to beating the final boss in a video game about the literary world. With a pen for a lance, you pass every stage in the writing process and level up until you are finally knighted and dubbed a member of the court.

Hopefully without melodramatically mixing metaphors the way I just did.

There are five qualities a person must develop in order to “make it.” I call them the five commandments of becoming a published author.

1. Thou shalt not be inflexible.

We are naturally biased about our writing. We think it’s perfect the way it is. Changes, especially big ones, are hard to make when we think we’re done. However, fresh eyes often see things we don’t, especially those that belong to people who have been in the business for a long time. Being rigid is going to hold you back, no matter what. The “It’s my piece, so I know best” attitude will bite you in the head, shoulders, knees, and toes. You have to give a little to gain a lot. Publishers, editors, and publicists will appreciate and note that you are easy to work with, and that is extremely important.

2. Thou shalt trust thyself.

No story will ever be perfect. I repeat: No story will ever be perfect. Proofreading is indeed extremely important, but there is such a thing as going overboard. Second- and third-guessing yourself can lead to the essence of the piece getting lost in the midst of simply too many edits. A good strategy is to go all the way through a couple of times, and then leave the project alone for a while. Revisit it one last time after you’ve spent some time apart. You will return with a new perspective.

2nd Draft critique & editing services can help you perfect your manuscript, query letter and more.

3. Thou shalt not mimic another author.

It’s easy to fall into that trap. It may start out as just looking for inspiration, but remember, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t read the work of your favorite authors for inspiration but tread softly. Think back to when you had to turn your college papers into plagiarism scanners. Book buyers are even more pedantic and harsh than your toughest professor. The nitpicking will drive you up to a wall, and though it is impossible to be different in every aspect, copycats are unpopular among readers.

4. Thou shalt not be impatient.

Don’t be pushy. Agents and editors have many other things to do. They will get to your project when they can, and constantly nagging them to make you a priority won’t work. It takes time to read a proposal and make a decision. A good book isn’t enough to keep a publisher or agent in your corner. A positive attitude is just as important as having an excellent piece.

5. Thou shalt not give up.

Nothing happens overnight. It is extremely unlikely that the first publisher or agent you seek out will give a first-time author a standing ovation and a contract right off the bat. There may be heartbreak. You might see the polite “I’ll pass on this project” many, many times. You might have someone read the first few pages and then ask for a full manuscript, only to turn it down in the end. This journey is chock-full of let-downs, but you are the only one who can seal your fate completely. Get feedback from experienced professionals, work and rework until your fingers fall off, and most of all, never give up.

All your dreams can come true if you grow out that spine and stubbornly chase them across seas and oceans.

Walt Disney said that. More or less.

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