As I prepare for what’s coming next for me (more on that in a future post), I took a look back to see what really helped to launch my career as a ProWriter and what propelled it to the level of selling a million books and hitting the major bestseller lists.
Before I tell you the three things I did that really moved the needle, let’s be clear. A lot of this business is totally out of your control. Luck helps, timing helps, sometimes world events help (or not).
But as the Chinese say, Luck favors the prepared, so why not take control of the things you can control?
Action #1: Be a Writer.
I’m not talking in any mystic mumbo-jumbo, positive thinking, zen kind of way. I mean act like a professional writer NOW. No matter where you are in your career.
Learn the business. Educate yourself about contracts and both NYC publishing as well as small presses and indy options. What works–and what doesn’t. Learn how to write sales copy, what makes for a great cover, how to plan your finances. Like it or not, every professional writer is a small business owner. Think like you’re CEO of You, Inc.
Read everything in your genre to learn who your comparisons are–and a whole lot outside of your genre to learn even more about where your genre may be headed. Often a popular theme in one genre (YA vampires anyone?) will start to bleed into other genres as popular culture embraces it.
Besides, reading in other genres refills the creativity well as you see how authors pull you into their stories, which conventions work, and you can more easily admire their wordplay.
My agent has a rule for successful writers: Write 2k, Read 2k, every day.
The biggest game-changer for me came on the day I told my partners at my medical practice that I was cutting back to forty hours a week (considered part time when you are a community pediatrician) to focus on my writing.
Until then, no one (not even my family) knew I was writing or had dreams of someday becoming published.
If you want to be a ProWriter, own it! When you’re introduced at parties and someone asks what you do, say: I am a Writer.
Don’t just dream it…BE IT!
Action #2: Dig deep and find your theme.
No, not English composition type of theme. YOUR theme. What emotional promise do you make readers with everything you write?
(Yes, there’s another word for this. Your Theme IS your BRAND. Once you find it, it will influence everything you do!)
Once I declared myself a writer and began pursuing publication, I stumbled with how to pitch my books to agents and editors.
Clearly there was a crime at the center of each plot, but they weren’t whodunnits. Instead, they focus on the relationships and the impact of the crime on the people. Probably because that was the reason I left SF/F to write thrillers: I was trying to heal myself after a close friend was murdered.
I looked closely at all my work–even the half-baked ideas and stories from high school. Including those fantasy and science fiction novels I’d written in college and med school.
Reading my “body of work” all together over one weekend, I realized no matter the genre, I had a common element running through the stories: the main characters were ordinary people finding the courage to face the evil in their worlds.
At first I labeled this as: Heroes are born every day.
But I realized that wasn’t really describing the other aspect that ran through all of my work: the fast-paced, adrenalin-rush, high stakes pacing.
So I came up with: Thrillers with Heart.
And everything clicked into place. How to pitch my books, who my readers would be, what kind of visuals to use on my website…even what genres I could explore without losing my core readers.
As long as I kept the promise of a Thriller (breathtakingly fast-paced) with Heart (a strong emotional relationship and character-driven plot at the center of the story), my audience would enjoy them.
Dig deep, deep, deep! What do your stories past, present, and future all have in common?
Love conquers all? Home and hearth? Betrayal and revenge?
Finding your theme is like finding the path out of a dark forest on a moonless night. Follow it and it will lead you home, every time.
Action #3: Trust your readers.
This has been the biggest game changer for me. It was my readers who put me on the NYT list at #2. They’re the ones who helped raise $12,000 and six forensic scholarships this year through the Buy a Book, Make a Difference program. It’s their fan mail that makes me laugh and cry as they write to thank me for entertaining, inspiring, empowering them or helping them to overcome adversity.
Without them, I’d be lost.
With them, I have an answer to every question: Will it delight and excite and make my readers jump for joy?
It doesn’t matter if you’re unpublished–invent your ideal reader. Who is he or she? How old? Why are they drawn to your books? What are they looking for: escapism? empowerment? excitement?
Fulfill their needs and they will come back for more.
(And don’t forget if you’re just starting out: agents, editors, reviewers are all readers, too! They want to be transported and enchanted by your writing. Give them what they want!)
I always tell people the best piece of writing advice I ever received came from Jeffery Deaver when he told me: Never forget, the reader is god.
Once I understood what he meant, everything else about this business became easy.
Find your readers. Understand what they want. Give them that and they’ll come back for more.
There you go. Three game changing actions you can do today to launch your career to the next level.
Ready to share your stories with the world as a ProWriter? Check out the courses created by myself and Joanna Penn on The Secrets of a ProWriter, Breaking into Publishing , Secrets of Indy Publishing, and How to Reach Readers and Market Your Novel.
Click HERE for more info.