A belated answer to a good question

A while back a fellow at a writer’s conference asked me this question: What should I ask you that I’m not asking you? Smart guy. He knew that sometimes you don’t have the wisdom to ask the right question. Unfortunately for him, neither did I. I was a new author. But now I know how to answer that question, and here it is: instead of asking, “How do I get published?”, ask, “How can I have a career as a writer?”

Of course, if he had asked, I wouldn’t have known the answer. Not then, shortly after my first book got published. But three years and a few books later, I think I could answer it.

1. Find a support group of other writers. And don’t assume you can only learn from the pros. I’ve learned stuff from kids about writing.

2. While you’re at it, help other writers. And like above, don’t assume you can’t enlighten other writers just because you’re not published yet. You probably have more wisdom and insight than you realize.

3. Be professional. Write regularly. Take criticism well. Try to meet deadlines, even if you imposed them yourself. Thank people for their time when they read or review your work. Be flexible. Don’t complain in public. Answer your email in a timely way. Do the same stuff you do at any job.

4. Keep working. When the big day comes and you sell a book, start your next book. Plan the one after that. Think five years ahead. I think of all this advice, this is what’s made the biggest difference for me. Not because the others are less important, but because this is the one I’ve followed the best.

5. Take an interest in the people you meet along the way. I recently attended an event with multiple authors, one of whom is a major award winner. She contacted each of the other authors before the event, made an effort to know our work, and mentioned us in her keynote. She learned the names and roles of all the organizers and thanked them in the keynote, too. I learned a lot from the way she went around her business.

6. Cut yourself some slack. I know lists like this make me anxious. They shouldn’t. You’ll make mistakes and won’t be perfect, and that’s fine. You probably aren’t doomed.

And just so it’s clear: your career has already started. You have a career as an author. It doesn’t begin or end with getting published. Obviously that’s a milestone, but it’s not the starting point or the finish line.  If you’re writing, and your asking questions, your career has begun.

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