So You Want to Be a Writer!

In my last post, I mentioned an article about marketing that really impressed me: How Content Marketing Changed My Life, by Kiri Masters.

Today I’m going to talk about the article again, but from a different perspective. The article hints at one of the biggest factors in determining whether or not you’ll be a successful writer.

Before I tell you what it is, read the two little scenarios below (they’re true, by the way). Do they sound like you?

  • A friend wants to be a writer. She writes a charming memoir about her teen-aged daughter and a dog she rescued. Friend submits the memoir to the Reader’s Digest. They reject it. My friend stops writing.
  • A friend wants to be a writer. After spending most of a year writing a book about his tropical-fish hobby, he asks me to edit it. I notice that he consistently writes fla. for Florida. Sometimes he capitalizes the names of the fishes, and sometimes he doesn’t. Many words are misspelled.

The bad news is that neither friend is headed for success. The good news is that they don’t have to  accept failure.

Let’s begin with Friend #1, who wrote about the daughter and the rescue dog. She made an obvious mistake – sending her piece to the wrong magazine. Reader’s Digest is deluged with submissions, and her memoir isn’t a good fit anyway – the Digest usually prefers more dramatic articles.

But choosing the wrong market wasn’t her biggest mistake. Here’s where she really went wrong: she didn’t want to invest any time and energy into her writing project. She told me she “didn’t have time” to go to the library and search Writer’s Market for a magazine that would love her piece (it was well written).

Her second big mistake was giving up right away. Remember Kiri Masters and the article that impressed me so much? Masters warned that blogging (the strategy I use to market my own books) often takes years to attract book buyers. The same principle applies to almost any kind of marketing. If you’re not committed to writing for the long haul, you probably shouldn’t even get started.

(I’m going to throw in an extra story. A friend self-published a three-volume adventure novel. His sole marketing idea was to send a copy to Colin Powell, hoping that Powell would be photographed holding one of the books. Are you surprised that he sold very few books?)

Friend #2 had a different problem: he raced through the writing process at top speed, not thinking about annoying details like capital letters. But even that wasn’t the real problem. Here’s what really threatened to sink his project: he didn’t go back over his book a second time (or a third, fourth, or even fifth time). He didn’t even bother to run his book through a spellchecker.

Now obviously he had a competent friend (me!) who knew how to fix all his mistakes. So do those pesky mistakes really make a difference? Yes, they do. They’re a symptom of a much bigger problem – not having his brain fully engaged as he was writing.

When I read his book, I kept seeing terms that weren’t defined and advice that was clearly over the heads of the new hobbyists who would be looking at his book. He had to face the long, arduous task of rewriting almost a fourth of it before I would even start editing.

I also told him (I run a tight ship!) that I’d be glad to fix the formatting and usage errors that are common to many writers. But geez, Louise – you’ve never seen fla. in a book, have you? And you’re fully capable of running a spellchecker and looking up the names of the fishes you’re talking about.

(Another detour. Why fishes? Because he was talking about many species in his book. You would do the same for deers and – surprisingly – fruits. A bushel of apples would be called fruit. A bushel of apples and pears would be called fruits.)

There’s a happy ending for Friend #2. He is revising his book! Friend #1 never did try her hand at writing again, and that’s a shame – that memoir was wonderful, and it would have thrilled her to see it published.

Persistence – that’s the key to success!

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