Self Promotion Part 3 - Be a Better Writer.
Updated: Jan 7, 2020
Having been around the publishing industry for a little while now and attended talks and panels with industry professionals, I occasionally get asked for advice about how to get a book read by more people.
So I have some advice, but I have split it into a few articles as the draft ended up a long to be a single article.
Part 1 - Promoting online
Part 3 - Be a better writer
Part 4 - Get your writing out there
My advice, it comes with the caveat that there is no right answer in publishing and book promotion, there is no magic bullet, it is mostly a combination of luck, trends in book marketing and the personal taste of a variety of industry professionals. Although it does obviously help if your writing quality is high and you have written a good book, but just being a good writer is not necessarily enough. Having said all that, you can increase your chances of being lucky in a combination of ways.
You may read this and wonder whether all this effort is worth it, it does not guarantee you a published book, let alone a best seller. You can always find a successful author that does not have a social media presence or a website, so you may question if you really need to do any of these things. And really nobody can answer that, is it possible to be successful without these... yes, are you guaranteed success... no... but if you want to do all you can to be the most successful writer you can be these are my suggestions.
This is primarily aimed at #NewWriters but could be a reminder or checklist for others too.
Part 3 - Be a Better Writer
This area is huge and I'm not going to list specific writing advice as such, but more point you in the direction of how you can help yourself.
There are always examples of authors who have not done any of these things to be better; you don't need a qualification to write books, but if you are not getting the success that you would like, then looking at how you can improve might be helpful.
1. Writing courses, peer review and critiques
There are a variety of courses from academic; certificates, diplomas, degrees, masters and phds, to short study sessions and writers retreats. While fundamentally the only way to improve your writing is to keep doing it, learning from others' experiences rather than than your own mistakes may shortcut that process. A writing tutor or ongoing peer review/writing group can provide feedback over time rather than a course over a few days in which you have to take in a lot over a short time. The short course can provide insights and master classes with different voices, particularly if you attend a number of different ones. You can pay for a critical look at a piece of writing as a one off.
Many universities offer academic writing courses.
One example of a particularly prestigious master class is the SF foundation.
The BSFA have workshopping groups called Orbiters. This means that you get the honest critisism of other writers in return for your views of their work.
The Clarion course in the USA has a bit of a cult following as does the group inspired by that in Milford.
A quick internet search will find you a variety of others.
Having alpha/beta readers can be really helpful, by which I don't mean a close friend or family member who has read all your stuff and thinks you are the best writer ever... I mean people who read your work and give you a critical opinion of how you can improve it. Of course their criticism or suggestions may not be objectively "right" but if you have a few readers who all have a concern about a particular aspect or section, then it is reasonable to assume that needs looking at. Even if you disagree with someone's point it is worth considering carefully. But also worth saying that just because there are areas that need work does not mean that your work is "bad" or that you have no talent, not taking criticism personally can be difficult, but is worth doing.
Don't underestimate how important it is to know and have read what is cutting edge and what is popular in your genre. See what people are talking about, what has won prizes, what is at the top of Amazon seller lists and read it. Try to understand why it is getting attention and what it is doing differently from others in the genre. Don't simply reproduce this in your own work, but think about how your work would benefit from their example or what the next step on would be.
3. Keep Writing
Of course a most important way to improve your writing is to keep doing it. If you want to be a professional writer, treat it as seriously as you do your paid work. If you schedule and structure your working life, then do the same with your writing. If writing becomes a routine habit then you are more likely to stick to it even when you don't feel inspired.
Many writers suggest writing everyday, but I appreciate that other commitments, family, job, health etc, might not make that possible. But if you can, that's great.
The old adage "write what you know" is ok, but these days you can extend your knowledge almost infinitely using the internet. If you plan to write Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror it's pretty certain you are planning to go outside of your personal experience. Even if you have never visited other world or flown on a dragon, you can look at planetary science information or aerodynamics to add realism to your work.
In addition, if all of your characters look, think, feel and sound like yourself then it's going to be a confusing tale. Having people of different genders, race, sexuality etc gives your tale depth, but it also reflects the authors view of their idealised society.
If you decide that your futuristic world will have "solved" disability then you are saying that people with disabilities are a problem to be "solved". Disabled people, and I'm one of them, are going to pick up on this a theme and you may find it reflected in reviews or opinions of your work. I use my own area of disability as the example, but of course this is likely to apply for readers with other identities also.
But again, research is the key, there are hundreds of blogs, books, tweets and social media posts from people saying what their life is like. Read them, take a moment to be in their skin and then write about them sensitively and realistically.
Ideally get someone with a different identity to your to read your work and sense check it, but do think about paying them for their time. If you find a great resource or opinion online check if they have a ko-fi or patreon you can donate to or if they are a writer, maybe buy/review/recommend their book(s) as a thank you.
5. Proofreading and Editing
If you are submitting to a publisher or self publishing then your work can be improved by the services of an editor or proof reader.
A proofreader is primarily going to consider the grammar of your work, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, etc. Ideally you have used spell checkers etc prior to sending, but a person can consider these items in greater depth and accuracy.
An editor will consider the writing style and whether you are conveying your work in a convincing and interesting way. They may be going through each line to correct things; a line edit, or they may be reading it and giving you a report or more general advice about how it could be improved.
It is worth ensuring you know what you are expecting prior to engaging the services of an editor or proofreader as prices can vary considerably. It is always worth looking at a few different people/companies offering these and check reviews/reputation as well as cost and expected results.
Hopefully you have found found this useful, please do comment below if you have additional advice.
Part 4 - Get Your Writing Out There