Tuesday, June 21, 2011

8 Keys To Becoming A Successful Writer

Mark Terry

If you look up “professional writer” in the dictionary (you know, one of those fat, printed books with lots of unusual words), you may see Mark Terry’s picture. Freelancer, novelist, non-fiction author, short-story writer, blogger—he’s got all the bases covered. On his blog, This Writing Life, Mark calls them like he sees them, and he sees a lot. He’s blog touring to support his latest release, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS (see below for details). Please welcome Mark Terry to home plate today! (okay, so I was in a baseball mood)

8 Keys To Becoming A Successful Writer
by Mark Terry

You can tell I’ve been freelancing for a living, with the “8 Keys To…” Could be anything: Marketing Your Medical Practice, Choosing New Carpet, Picking Out A New Toilet.

Anyway, I’ve written 13 books, over 600 magazine articles, over a dozen book-length market research reports and hundreds of web page content, directories, white papers, etc. Here are some things that I think can help make you become a successful writer (by whatever definition of “success” you choose).

1. Read a lot.

You would think this was a given, but it isn't necessarily. I have, for years, read rather broadly in the mystery/thriller/suspense area - cozies and PI novels and police procedurals and flat-out thrillers and espionage, etc. A few years ago I began to feel like my reading was getting narrower, so I consciously started expanding outside my chosen genres. I read nonfiction books, some sci-fi, some fantasy, some YA novels, some historical novels. I'm just trying to feed my brain a bit more.

2. Write a lot.

If you're a slow writer, that's okay. Just make sure you're a regular writer. Writing is a muscle and it can get flabby and atrophied if you don't use it a lot.

3. Collect a lot of rejections.

If you're not making a living as a writer and you're not getting very many rejection slips, you're probably not working hard enough. I’m a full-time freelancer and I’m constantly marketing and constantly being rejected. That's just the business. But if you've written a novel and you tried two publishers and they turned you down and you gave up, you gave up waaaaayyyyy too early. If you tried to get a dozen or even 50 agents to take you on and you gave up, you gave up waaaaayyyy too early. The market’s changed with e-books, but still…

My advice is this: don't quit until you've accomplished what you set out to do. Plan on getting an agent? Send queries until you've got one.

4. If you've published a novel, keep marketing.

This is hard. But I've often thought of my successes in almost all areas of writing as coming about from a kind of "constant push." I've thought of it as like me having my shoulder to a rock that I'm trying to move. If I constantly apply pressure, eventually it'll move some. And once it starts to move, I get some momentum going. Sometimes I try a big shove and sometimes I ease off (but not entirely; I always try to be at least leaning against that rock), but there's always some pressure going on.

5. Reach out.

I'm trying harder to help other writers. I wish I had had more mentors when I was struggling. There are limits to what I can do, but I am trying.

6. Stretch.

Like reading outside my immediate preferences, I think it's a good thing from time to time to try something different. I’ve been writing an SF novel for a year or two. I wrote a nonfiction book proposal that my agent is currently marketing. Try something different. It’s good for you. It works different muscles.

7. Allow yourself to hope.

But realistically. It's okay to hope you'll sell a novel for seven figures and get a hot movie deal and end up on Good Morning, America, but you might also get struck by lightning while taking out your garbage on a sunny day. It happens, but not often. But allow yourself to hope you'll get published, that you'll get an advance, positive reviews, and be able to build a readership. Hope big.

8. Have a life.

Writing isn't everything. I've said it again and again. Don't let this passion (obsession) ruin your life. If your happiness depends on getting a book contract, on becoming a novelist, on making a living as a novelist, on hitting the bestseller lists, you're letting your life be run by things you have no control over and letting people you've never even met have too much control over your life. Have a life. Makes friends. Pay attention to your spouse and children. Travel. See movies. Go to a museum. Take your dog for a walk. Play an instrument. Sing. Laugh. Go to the gym. Take up yoga or tai chi or macramé or soap carving or building life-size replicas of historical monuments out of beer cans. Live.

What did I miss?

Valley of the Shadows

THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS, is the fourth in the thriller series featuring Homeland Security troubleshooter Dr. Derek Stillwater, and it’s been getting some great reviews. Check it out, along with the first three in the series, THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK, THE SERPENT’S KISS, and THE FALLEN, as well as some of Mark’s other works. Also be sure to visit Mark’s blog, This Writing Life.

Thanks for visiting the blog today, Mark!



Mark Terry said...

Thanks, Alan!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Great advice. Especially about having a life. Otherwise, get into recycling because you won't have anything new to say!

Mark Terry said...

At the very least it'll give you something to write about. Moreover, well, there's more to life than writing.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks for the tips, Mark! So true about the marketing...it really never stops. Good to think of it as something to work on steadily, instead of a sudden, crazy push.

Alan Orloff said...

Mark, thanks so much for visiting the blog today. Those are some good pointers! Best of luck with THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS.