What is it? What is the magical key that makes a person a successful author?
I am here to tell you that there isn’t one. It is a lot like losing weight. You work hard. Then you work hard some more. When you’re done with that… yep, more work.
You can start in many places. I started in the 6th grade writing my first novel, because I knew then that I was going to be an author. The book was horrible, but kind of cute in retrospect and, yes, I still have it. It wasn’t until the 8th grade that I learned to actually complete a project. Then life intervened for a while and after I got married, I went on writing books until my husband encouraged me to write short stories and try to get them published. So I did.
I won third place in a short story contest of which publication was part of the prize. I got a two-part story published in Cricket magazine (really a nice bit to put on my writing resume) and have had numerous near misses with another short story. Short stories certainly aren’t the only way to get into writing, but they are a valid option for getting some credibility.
Now I’m learning the things they don’t tell you about in the 6th grade when you tell your teachers and family that you’re going to be an author.
Editing. This is a long process. It can be fun. It can be downright maddening. I like the results, but I’m not always so fond of the process for getting them. Right now I am taking on online revision class put on by a well-published author (Holly Lisle if you are interested) and, while I don’t think all of it will work for me, I think enough will to make it worth the time and money. Learn to edit well if you want to get serious consideration.
Feedback. Oh, this was hard. I still need about an hour to tend my wounded ego every time I get real, solid feedback on something I’ve written. That said, it is so worth it. Learning to find the value in the feedback/criticism of others is one of the best things you can do as a writer. Smother that protective streak that makes you want to assault anyone who dares criticize your darling gems of literary brilliance and see what you can learn to make them better. Also, learn to give feedback to others. You can learn a lot about finding problems in your own work by trying to find them in the work of other writers and everyone benefits (just remember that tact and honesty are very important).
The dreaded submission. You think you have a beautiful synopsis and query/cover letter together. You send them out, knowing the agent or editor will be stunned to tears by your amazing talent, then you get them back with a rejection, read them again, and cringe at how awful they are. How the hell did that happen? I don’t know myself. I’m still unraveling the great mystery of the perfect submission packet. I just finished another attempt at the synopsis for book one of my trilogy today. I like it better than the last one. I suppose that’s progress.
Determination. You really want to write? Then know what you’re up against. A lot of people want to be successful authors. Many won’t be because they don’t try, or they won’t put out the effort to know their profession (learn, learn, learn), or they just have really crappy luck (a lot of people who think they are in this category actually belong to one of the other two). You have to work hard, you have to deal with criticism and rejection, and you have to try. Ask yourself if those precious moments when your writing is going perfectly and you’re simply floating on a euphoric cloud with words bleeding out your fingertips are worth the struggle. If the answer is yes, you’re off to a good start.