I was at an event the other day and I was asked by a twelve year old ‘But what do I have to DO to be a writer?’ The obvious answer was WRITE! But I knew that wasn’t quite what she meant. The trouble about being a writer is that isn’t like a lot of jobs. There isn’t a set way into it like there is for a job like teaching or being a lawyer or a vet. In fact, most writers I know have done lots of different jobs before becoming a writer and many still have another job as well as writing. Yes, you can do a course in creative writing but writers don’t have to have any particular training. That’s one of the great things about it in my opinion. Anyone can become a writer no matter how old they are, where they live, what their formal qualifications are. All you need is the ability to write, the determination not to be put off by rejections, the self control that will make you sit down and write a whole book all the way to the end and a large (very large) chunk of luck!
So, here are my top tips…
Practise writing as much as you can and always look at what you’ve written and work out what is good and what could be better. Writing takes a certain innate talent but it is also a skill to construct a satisfying story and like any skill it improves with practising. So write lots and always aim to make your latest piece of writing better than your last.
Don’t let people put you off. I had seven years of rejection letters and although many of my friends and family started off being supportive after seven years a lot of them were saying maybe I should think about doing something else. But I kept going, I got the chunk of luck I needed and now I’ve had over 160 books published. I’m not saying be arrogant and think the world is wrong and your work SHOULD be published but keep believing that you can be a good enough writer, be open to learning, keep trying and keep improving and hopefully one day your persistence will pay off.
And then there’s the practical side. Once you’ve written something you think might be good enough to be published you will need to send it to a publisher or to a literary agent. If an agent takes you on they will then do the hard work of sending your manuscript round different publishers and hopefully getting it published. In fact, some publishers will also only look at manuscripts submitted by an agent. But agents get approached by a lot of writers and it can be very difficult to get taken on by one. I was rejected by loads! You can find out the names of agents and publishers in either The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, The Writers’ Handbook or by looking on the Internet.
If you decide to send your manuscript off to a publisher directly then do some research first before you send it. Publishers rarely want to publish two series that are very similar, so a publisher who has a unicorn series already will probably not want another unicorn series for the same age group so you would be better of sending your idea to a different publisher, one who publishes that kind of thing but without having anything too similar in their list. Also look at the word length. There are no hard and fast rules but as a rough guide a series book for 5-8 year olds will be somewhere between 4,000 and 8, 000 words and a series book for 8-12s will be between 10,000 and 25,000 words. A stand alone novel might well be longer. Checking these sorts of things before you send a manuscript off and having an idea of who your book is for, what age group, what type of reader will make your work look more professional.
And that’s it! Hopefully an agent or publisher will sign you up and that’s how you become a writer. For any of you reading this who do want to be a writer GOOD LUCK and don’t give up!