There are lots of missteps or mistakes one can make in any career. Some are unavoidable and ultimately prove to be learning experiences that help to mold you as a writer and to provide landmarks along the path of your career. The motto I would urge you to embrace is: Experience translates into wisdom. Wisdom thrives on knowledge. Knowledge is power. As a writer you already possess the power of the pen, but, if you’re like most writers, your greatest desire is a strong, powerful, enduring career. Absolutely doable as long as you avoid the first and biggest mistake any writer can make: Giving up. Never, ever give up!
As you develop your writing voice and flex that storytelling muscle, there are a few things you should consider up front. What sort of stories do I enjoy writing? What do I write best? What type of stories do I want my name to evoke when mentioned by a reader or editor? Simply put, what’s your “brand?” I’m not suggesting that a writer can’t delve into more than one arena, but I am saying that the vast majority of your best known and most successful authors are associated with a specific type of story. Who wouldn’t think of horror when Stephen King is mentioned? Or John Grisham when talking legal thrillers? Or romance in a discussion about Nora Roberts? When you’ve mastered a genre to the point that your name is synonymous with that genre, then you can rest assured that you have built a sizeable audience. A sizeable audience equates to good sales. I would urge you to avoid the mistake of writing all over the place and FOCUS. Decide where your strengths lie (romance, suspense, mystery, whatever!) and focus. Create amazing characters immersed in a compelling story that shines with your distinct voice!
Avoid surrounding yourself with (perhaps well-meaning) folks who undermine your confidence. If your goal is to be a published author and to have a long prosperous career then you must treat your writing as a business. Love your friends and family but avoid allowing too much outside influence in your business, particularly if it undermines your confidence, frustrates you, or just plain old confuses you. Focus. Work hard And trust your instincts. Again, remember that knowledge is power so make knowing the market and the industry a part of your work. Amid other industry professionals is the best place to learn (conferences, chapter meetings). My younger daughter is a nurse and although she is licensed and employed she must take a certain number of classes each year to stay licensed. Just because you get that first book published, whether traditionally or on your own, doesn’t mean you’re done with learning. The industry and the market are evolving and changing, stay on top of those changes.
Once your book is available in the marketplace, don’t be afraid of the reviews or the reader feedback. Make note of any points you feel are useful and put the others behind you. Frustration is detrimental—avoid it! Every single reader is not going to love every single book you write. Even you won’t love each one equally. Each story is a unique creation with distinct characters who, like real people, are different. If you have difficulty dealing with bad reviews, avoid them.
Lastly, once your career has gotten off the ground, I would urge you to avoid two major pitfalls we face every single day in this industry by doing two things: 1) Never forget that this is business. As creative people we have a tendency to forget to put on our business hats when it’s time to talk contracts and the like. 2) Never stop growing as a storyteller. The day you think you can’t learn anything new in the course of writing a story is the day you stop putting your whole heart into your work.
What’s your favorite advice to give when it comes to career?