Thursday, February 14, 2013

Get Yourself Out There!

I'm a writer, read my book, cap
Every writer needs readers. 
Real writers want their work to be read. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it? But a lot of writers neglect key tasks that will help them find readers for their work.

Everyone in our writing group is working on, or planning, some kind of written work intended for readers. We're not simply writing for our own pleasure or as some kind of personal therapy, we're writing to communicate an idea, information, an experience, or a story to readers. Ultimately, we want our work published -- i.e., made easily available to the reading public who may be interested in what we have to say. We want to get our work "out there."

Now, these days "publishing" does not necessarily mean getting a contract with a traditional publisher -- it might mean "published on the web" (a blog post or online article), it might mean "self-published" (electronically or in print) or some other method of getting your writing in front of readers' eyes. One of the things all these means of publication have in common, though, is that you are more likely to find readers if you already have readers -- the writer's variation on the old dictum that it's easier to get a job if you already have a job. That sounds paradoxical, but it is nonetheless true.

Consider this article which describes seven key traits that distinguish published writers from unpublished ones. Which of these traits do you already possess?

1. Consistency. Published writers write every day, while the unpublished write in fits and starts.

Do you write every day? If not, why not? Some lucky writers are able to have large blocks of time each day to devote to writing, but most of us don't have that luxury. Still, there's hardly a person alive who couldn't find twenty minutes a day to write. Maybe it wont' be at the same time every day (although that is best for acquiring a writing habit), or it may be only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, but you need to set a schedule for writing and stick to it. Pick a time and place where you can minimize distractions and do it. Be diligent.

2. Purpose. Published writers write to help and inspire others, while the unpublished tend to write for themselves.

Those of you reading this who are members of the Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers Group know about this. Each of us is motivated to write because, in some way, we want to serve God and our neighbor by communicating our knowledge, experience, ideas, or vision. As in any other area of life, humility is key here. We shouldn't abandon or neglect our task simply because we've decided it's no fun, or too hard. But we must guard against false humility, too -- that little voice that says, "I'm not very good at this. No one is going to care what I have to say. I'm not a professional writer." You can learn to be a better writer, but only if you actually write.

3. Platform. Published writers have a platform established before their first book comes out, while the unpublished may not even know what a "platform" is.

So what does the term "platform" mean? It means you are already "out there" and people know you, respect your work. This one is scary for a lot of us, especially those less savvy with the new media. But the fact is that the easiest way to get your work read is to learn to write about it through some online presence, by writing a blog and making good use of social media . If you do that, you'll be more likely to get a publisher interested in your book when it's ready. Start now.

4. Reading. Published writers read about writing and publishing, they don't just sit around wondering why they haven't been successful.

Reading, in this sense, means learning. Many of us in our group are as yet unpublished. Maybe we're working on our first novel, or maybe we want to translate experience writing for our parish newsletter into work that will gain wider readership. In either case, we all have something to learn, about the craft of writing, about the art of marketing and promoting our work. In writing, as in any other vocation, continual learning (in addition to continual practice) will help you be the best writer you can be. And as the world of writing, publishing, and reading continues to change it's important to learn what works today, as well as learning from great teachers of the past.

5. Work. Published writers know that they have not only to write but to revise, blog, market, and take care of other chores that unpublished writers regard as optional or unnecessary.

To be a successful writer (however you choose to gauge success), you've got to do some slogging along the way. As with any other job -- yes, think of writing as a job, not a hobby! -- there are boring but important things that must be done. For some, the dreaded chore may be writing when we don't feel like writing, or revision, while for others it may be building a marketing platform or maintaining a blog. You wouldn't tell your boss, "I just didn't feel like doing that," would you? Be your own boss and make sure everything gets done.

6. Website.  Published writers have a website with their name on it, while unpublished writers have a freebie blog (like this one!), which they seldom update.

This, for many (or most) of us is something we'd rather not bother with. Maybe the idea of having a website with our name on it, for all the internet to see, may seems to much like an act of pride or vanity. Or the technical challenge of getting a web site up and running may seem overwhelming. But if we think of this as one of those "boring but important" chores I mentioned earlier -- something necessary to share our God-given talents and expertise with the world -- we can get past the mistaken notion that we are indulging the sin of pride by creating our own website. And if we really are doing number 4 above, we'll learn that it's not as daunting a task as it may seem.

7. Marketing. Published writers understand that this is necessary in order to get their work to the readers who will benefit from it, while the unpublished delude themselves that a publisher will take care of this for them.

This is another potentially boring chore that is nonetheless crucial to becoming a published writer. There's just no way around it, folks, these days those getting published for the first time are much more likely to be those who already have a marketing plan and an established "presence" online. We only hurt our chances of getting published if we neglect this task. Our potential readers are out there, somewhere, and we need to start connecting with them even before our book is published. And if we don't have readers, we might as well not have written.

By the way, if all this talk about platforms and marketing gives you a knot in your stomach, you should take a look at the Author Media blog, where I found the seven traits discussed above. They have lots of readable and helpful articles on the various aspects of building an author platform. You'll also find some good advice in this post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner.

I'll be writing more about each of these in future posts. Until then, look back over this list and identify which areas you need to work. Make a commitment to yourself to do something concrete to make sure that you have or acquire each of these seven traits of published authors.

If you have experience or advice on any of these points -- or if you can think of others -- leave a comment below. Even better, if you're a member of our group write your own post on this topic.