Hello, everyone! Since Tuesday’s writing advice day (I really should post the schedule somewhere…), I’m bringing you a list that’s been a while in the making.
Everyone knows that in order to publish a book, you need to be able to write, and write well. (Before you point fingers, Twilight was a fluke.) That much is a given, a fact generally understood as obvious. You need to be able to write, read, and edit, at the bare minimum.
But what other skills are necessary to make it as a novelist?
- You’ll need thick skin. Metaphorically, anyway. The average aspiring novelist receives as many as a hundred rejections if not more before a publisher signs on to publish their book. Most will send a cut-and-paste rejection. You’ve heard the line before: ‘We’re sorry, but this isn’t for us.’ What sometimes hurts even worse, though, is when a publisher offers feedback with their rejection. It’s generally constructive, and it might even help you polish your manuscript into something that won’t get rejected next time… But it also serves as a reminder that no, it wasn’t that they were just unable to accept any more of your genre, or whatever else you may have told yourself. They just plain didn’t like it. On top of that, you’ll need thick skin even after your book’s on the market. There will always be critics, bad reviews, and mail from people who downright loathed your work. If you learn early on to just roll with the punches, to accept that not everyone will appreciate what you’ve created, I promise it won’t end in even half as many tears.
- You’ll need confidence. Putting it simply: If you don’t believe in your book, nobody else will either. I’m not saying to brag or act like an ass about it, but be proud of your book where it counts. The publisher doesn’t want to hear, ‘It’s my first book so it might not be very good’. The public doesn’t want to read an interview where you say, ‘I’m really not sure how this got published.’ If you’re collected and confident about what it is you’ve created, you’d be surprised how many people will get behind you. How are readers supposed to give you a chance if you won’t give yourself one?
- You’ll need business savvy. Long-time novelist Holly Lisle has recently switched over to self-publishing. The reasons were many, but one of the primary factors that influenced the change was the fact that for 90% of novelists a publisher works with, they haven’t the slightest clue how to market them. Thus the success of your book becomes entirely up to you. At some point, after you’ve completed your manuscript but before it’s out on the market, you’ll need to put some serious time and brain-power into how, when, and where you’re going to market your book. If the publisher puts something together, all the better, but don’t just sit back and let them let your book slip into obscurity. On that note, make sure you know what you’re signing when your publisher sends you the contract. Make sure you at least retain the rights to advertise and market your work, or you could wind up in serious trouble down the line.
- You’ll need flexibility. From the very start, in fact. You’ll need a flexible schedule so that you can sit down and write whenever time permits. You’ll need to be flexible when your editor sends back that dreaded list of changes, because I know for a fact that you’ll hate at least one of them. You’ll need to be flexible when your publisher asks for more changes still, and flexible again when they, not you, determine what your book looks like and how and when it’s going to be published. Then you’ll need to be flexible when your publisher says, ‘No, we don’t want that sequel after all. It just won’t sell in this market.’ On that note, you’ll have to be flexible pretty much every time the market changes. You’ll have to decide if you’re going to stick with what you’re writing and risk rejection after rejection again, or be flexible enough to write something a bit more marketable and have a better shot at publication. All in all, it’s one big mess, but learning to be flexible definitely cuts down on the stress a little bit.
- You’ll need focus and perseverance. You’ll need focus to keep on track writing your book and perseverance to finish it even when it’s not going as planned. Then, when you pitch your second book and you’re given that impossible deadline, you’ll need focus and perseverance yet again, tenfold in fact. There’s no time for distraction, in the big biz. No time for writer’s block, no time to wait for inspiration to strike.
- You’ll need patience. Do you know how long it takes to write and edit a book? Okay, that one varies, so here’s a better question: Do you know how long it takes to hear back from a publisher? From the day you send them that crucial query letter to the day they reply? Months. A lot of them, in fact–six months is average, if not on the low side. Then once you get published, the odds are that your book won’t be an instant success. It takes a lot of time, and even more marketing, before you’ll have even close to the number of readers you’d like. Not to mention that you’ll need patience to deal with the non-writers in your life who see you slaving away and ask why you don’t have a real job. Heh.
- You’ll need to hone your researching skills. Even a fantasy book takes a shocking amount of research to bring it to life. How do you fight with a sword? A spear, an axe? How about horses–how long can they run without rest? If there’s no grass or grain, what can they eat? The questions are endless. For something like sci-fi, you have science thrown into the mix. No matter how much fiction you put together, you still have to know how at least some of the science works, by default. And you’ll not only need the skills to find out the information you need, but the skills to find it fast, and to find it without too much extraneous information that might bog you down.
- You’ll need to be able to read aloud, and with expression. No, this isn’t as crucial as thick skin and patience and whatnot, but I still say it’s almost indispensable. One of the quickest ways to spot flaws in your manuscript is to read it aloud to yourself, but if you aren’t reading with expression (that is, reading it in a storyteller’s tone, adding inflection to dialogue, etc.), at least 30% of the flaws can slide right by you. On top of that, one popular marketing tool for authors is staging a book reading. If the author herself can’t read it in a way that brings the story to life, how likely are the attendees going to be to buy the whole book?
…Sheesh, I sound like such a cynic. Hah.
I’m sure there are more, but these eight are what have really hit me so far. Look out for Thursday, it’s either a book review or something that can be learned from whatever book I’m reading at the time. And until next time, farewell!
(Editing in this note: When I published this, WordPress says to me, ‘This was your fourth post! Dope!” …Really? ‘Dope’? If any WordPress publishers happen to read this, exactly how old are you, anyway?)