From time to time, I receive emails from people curious as to how I write and publish. Those are two very big questions, and they are questions that must be tackled separately as they are very separate parts of the job. And while most people don’t ask, there is a third part to the job, too: selling (some like to call that part marketing, but it’s more than that).
I will say this first: You don’t have to do all three parts of the job. You can write without ever publishing or selling, and many people do. It is very feasible, often desirable, and can be be extremely rewarding to write without ever sending your work out into the world. And if you don’t send your work out there, there’s no need for the third part, selling.
But, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, if you do have the desire to publish and sell, you must, first and foremost, write.
Let me say that again. You cannot publish or sell without first writing. I realize that’s a “duh” statement, but I know from experience that we all tend to get ahead of ourselves when it comes to all the pieces and parts of the all-encompassing act of publishing.
Which brings me to my #1 tip for people who want to write, but don’t know where to start: Just start. Open up Word or Scrivener or a notebook, and just start getting words down.
My daughter, Maggie Sunseri, is in the very early stages of making a career out of writing. Having already written and published two young adult novels as a teenager, it would be easy for her to get ahead of herself in the process of trying to learn everything there is to know about publishing and selling novels. On one hand, she’s done this before; on the other, she had a lot of help the first time around. This time, she’ll be learning all of the ins and outs of publishing and selling so that she can make the business side of things her own. She’ll be rebranding in a lot of ways, because she’s now writing in a different genre (paranormal romance — not young adult), and she’s grown and changed as a writer.
I’ve encouraged her to take a couple of steps back from her first experience in publishing and see every step in the process for what it is. More importantly, to see why you can’t move on to steps 2 and 3 without step 1.
A few months ago, Maggie was in the stage of wanting to learn everything there was to know about becoming a published author, asking questions like, “Should I indie-publish? Or should I query agents and traditionally publish?” And “if I indie publish, what does that process look like?”
My advice to her then was, “Just write.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Even if you buy into the advice of “just write,” the next question is always, “What do I write?”
Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question for you, nor could I answer it for Maggie. You have to take a hard look at what you enjoy reading and where your imagination leads you when you’re considering the prospect of writing. Sometimes I discover just enough of a story to get me started on an idea as I’m falling asleep at night or while I’m cleaning the house. It’s almost always when you’re not looking for it. And I have found that when I sit down at the computer or with a notebook and just start writing, I usually discover something I want to write about.
For Maggie, after encouraging her to “just start writing and put aside all of the other questions around publishing and selling,” she now has this advice for people who are just getting started:
The hardest part of doing anything is taking the first step. For writing, sometimes that first step is just putting your intent out into the universe that you’re looking for a story. But once you have your idea, it really is just about writing that first sentence. It doesn’t have to be a good sentence, or even the sentence you’ll end up with in your second draft. I honestly believe that sometimes writing is just faking it till you make it—you sit down and type, and you hold fast to the belief that what you’re typing is going to carry you somewhere—to a whole, completed story. And you believe this in spite of all those nagging doubts until it becomes a reality, and sometimes it’s hard to even believe it then. That’s what I’ve been doing while writing my current trilogy, a paranormal romance about witches, and I’m fairly certain it’s what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.
As you can see, there’s no mention of anything other than story in Maggie’s advice. She’s solely focused on creating right now. Because without a good story (or three), the rest doesn’t mean anything.
If you’re interested in following Maggie’s progress, be sure to sign up for her newsletter at maggiesunseri.com. And if you’re a reader of young adult, be sure to check out her two-book dystopian series: Awaken and Arisen.
LOOKING FOR MORE WRITING ADVICE, READ THIS: How Nora Roberts Taught Me To Be More Prolific