Go you! And I really am excited, so forgive me if I’m still looking at you like a mother looks at her toddler stumbling around. You’re so cute and you learned so much, but you have SO much more to learn, young grasshopper. So what do you do?
Research Writing- Notice this comes after writing the book to me. Why? Well, because there’s tons of advice out there and even the “experts” disagree. They can quickly crush the spirits of anyone with only a passing resolve and a few chapters to their name. But once you get to the point where you have written a book, you really need to start looking at what those experts have to say and learn to apply it.
Read writer blogs, agent blogs, and books on writing . . . Study active vs passive voice, what makes for good dialogue and characters, plot structure, grammar, and the publishing process. I can write more about those things individually too if there is interest, but there is already tons of information out there and some of it’s extremely helpful.
And some of it is not. Or at least, not every bit of advice is applicable to everyone. So go in looking for advice that helps you. If it doesn’t help, it is okay to discard it. Ultimately, it is YOUR book and you have to make the hard choices yourself as to what will make it “good.”
Another good reason to write a bunch before getting too much advice . . . you’ll have a voice and “you-ness” to your book that can’t be so easily taught. Frankly, part of my desire to write was to “fix” some of the books I read. The point is moot if I then decide I have to mimic everyone around me. There are some things in my books that shall never die (and some of those things have pointed ears). You will discover your own list of “things” too. Just play with everything else around it, finding a balance with what’s currently seen as “good writing practices” to appeal and speak in a language your audience is used to seeing. That is how you show what is “you” to its best advantage.
Meet more writers- For this one, the order isn’t so important. You can meet new friends at any time. And writer friends are simply the best. They can give you all kinds of perspective, new ideas, and encourage you to keep on going. Even if you don’t exchange work with everyone you meet, just having a new community to turn to is invaluable. You also start to learn who your audience is and what the market is like just anecdotally.
Where do you find these writers? I find writers all over the place (it’s amazing how many just SHOW UP once you say you have written something) but one of the best ways is to sign up for a conference. You can learn things from the presenters, network, and meet new writing friends all at the same time!
There happen to be a lot here in Utah (I go to LDStorymakers a lot), but there are other ones too. Just start searching.
Find someone to read your book- It’s good to be self-reliant, but there does come a point where you just can’t look at your book objectively anymore. Also, while you may find a lot of information by researching, applying it may be hard until you see your book from someone else’s eyes.
And of course, some of the best and most knowledgeable “readers” you could have is another writer. They will also be the most critical if they are doing their job right. I’m a very critical reader, which is why I always recommend people finish a book first before hitting me up for reading any part of their work. I do not want to kill your dreams prematurely. I want to know you have some foundation for stick-to-it-ness before I attack.
And I WILL attack. Some not used to this kind of feedback might even call it mean. This is because it was done to me right out of the gate. It was hard at first, but it quickly became one of my best and defining moments in my writing. It was done out of love and made me improve by great leaps and bounds. Critical readers might not always seem loving (even when they are) but again, use your best judgement because some readers might be such a mismatch for you and your writing you would be better without them. The best readers will also support your vision and praise what they like as well. And they will NEVER tell you to stop writing.
What I tend to do is sort feedback I get into three categories—things I agree with I will always do (and sometimes I need some time to think about a suggestion before I know if I agree with it or not). Things that show up from multiple sources I will sometimes do. And things that I don’t agree with and only see a few times, I will NEVER do. Critical readers are good. Critical readers are necessary, but balance it out and use your best judgement always.
Whatever the advice is, please be gracious in receiving it. Lots of times people will be happy to give you the opportunity to brainstorm solutions and ask questions, but don’t try to argue too much. It’s their opinion, you asked for it, and trying to change it after the fact doesn’t do anyone much good. If you don’t agree with it, still be gracious (and delete it quietly on your own). Giving thorough feedback takes much more effort than simple reading, so just try to recognize it as the gift it is before moving on.
Read someone else’s book- Sure, this is payback to help writers who have helped you, but really you are only helping yourself. Once you learn to give an objective eye to someone else’s stuff, you will also learn to give a more objective eye to your own. Do they do some things that really bug you as a reader? Might want to check and make sure you aren’t doing the same exact thing.
Between reading someone else’s book and getting feedback on your own, you both will end up SO much better. I have been part of my current writing group and swapping with the same small group of amazing girls for around four years. The difference between the stuff we see now and the stuff we sent out at the beginning is night and day. We have learned from each other’s strengths everyone has improved so much, and a lot of time, we didn’t even realize it was happening.
Formal writing groups with regular swaps are great. Internet groups can be helpful too. Just like conferences, they are everywhere once you start to look and can really be as easy as tracking down a few interested writers and getting things going.
Write another book- There are some people who will say that the first book you write will always be crap and should be discarded. I am NOT one of those people, but I do believe that you will do yourself a disservice if you try to market the first book you ever write without trying to write another one first.
Just like writing a book teaches you things nothing else can, so does writing another book. When I only had one book to my name, it seemed it was just another part of me. I couldn’t have people look at it or effectively edit it without feeling like I was under attack, personally. Once I had another book, that feeling lessened. Now people could attack either book and I didn’t feel like my whole career and identity as a writer was on the line. And once I got to that point, the first book got so much better. My “first book” now hardly resembles the book I started with. It’s SO much better, and maybe someday, I will get to share that one too (companion book to Stone Bearers).
So you wrote a book. Yay! You did some research, you swapped, edited, and started another book. What’s next? Well, for me it was publishing. More on that next. :)