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Getting Started as a Writer in Today's Publishing World

Your head is abuzz with stories. Words pour out of you and you can't stop them. You prefer writing in your journal and daydreaming to watching television. You're interested in sharing your writing with the world, but how do you get started? Today's publishing world can seem overwhelming to new writers.

Read a Lot

Everyone who considers writing as a profession should read a lot.

"For a writer, the importance of reading is immense," says Crawford Kilian. He is an author of many books and a writing instructor at a college. "A successful writer by definition is a voracious reader, on countless topics. If you'd like to be a writer but you don't enjoy reading, find something else to do."

Donald P. Webb is the managing editor of the weekly fiction webzine Bewildering Stories. "Writers best prepare themselves by reading," he says.

"Reading what? Great literature. But that's not exactly fun, is it? No, it isn't; not at first. It's hard work. When I finally opened John Milton or Marcel Proust and read them for fun, I knew I've made it to the big leagues as a reader. And that's where a writer wants to be."

Shula Klinger is a writer who has just published her first novel for young adults, The Kingdom of Strange. She remembers: "Throughout my first years of school, I borrowed hundreds of books from the library and cherished those that were bought for me. I spent hours reading and wrote diligently in diaries from a young age."

Write Every Day

Besides reading, writers have to write. Even if you have writer's block and nothing to say, write at least a few lines a day. Write on your computer or with pen and paper. Write about your day at school or about your dog. Observe the smallest details and write about them.

"Discipline varies according to the person, but it all comes down to the same thing: 'practice makes perfect,'" says Webb. "Or, if not perfect, whatever that is, then at least better. And remember that for a writer, practice includes reading as much as writing."

Get Professional Feedback

So you read a lot and you write every day. You take extra classes. You study punctuation and plot. Finally you join a writers' group and get the dreaded feedback from your peers. Some say, "You're wonderful!", and you walk on clouds. Others say, "You're lousy."

Don't despair! Just find a good teacher.

Like many professionals, Webb distrusts peer feedback, especially for beginners. "We can learn some things from those who are at the same level as we, but we learn the most from our betters. A beginning writer needs feedback from a teacher or from a writer experienced enough to fill that role," he says."

Prepare Your Manuscript

If you have a story or poem you think is ready to be published, it might be time to send it out. But before you send your story anywhere, you must prepare the manuscript correctly.

"Of course any writer has to research a journal's submissions guidelines carefully and format the manuscript accordingly; that goes without saying," says Webb. "All publishers will reject ill-prepared manuscripts out of hand.

"If a writer can't be bothered to write accurately and punctuate grammatically, editors can't be bothered to read the manuscript. It's simply a matter of common courtesy; and if that courtesy is lacking, the submission will not be considered."

Find the Right Market

Besides preparing a flawless manuscript, finding the right market is essential. The annual Writer's Market books are the best up-to-date sources of market information. If you write mysteries, search for magazines that publish mysteries. If you write love poems, find magazines that publish poetry.

Kilian has a dim view of the current publishing situation. "Magazine markets have almost disappeared," he says.

"Book publishers are driven by the need to publish only blockbusters, not the 'mid-list' books that take a few years to find an audience. Nothing is easy about 21st-century publishing."

But Webb sees some good news in publishing: there are more ways to get your words out there.

"It's much easier now than it used to be to get published," Webb says. "The Internet and print-on-demand publishing have made that a fact. The real problem is getting read. The easier it is to publish anything, the harder it is to find readers."

Learn to Deal With Rejection

Unfortunately, even when you have an error-free manuscript and send it to the right market, you often get rejected. Learning to deal with rejections is as much a part of writer's life as reading and writing.

What do you do when you get a rejection? You don't give up! Send your story to a different magazine. Fix it if you can but keep it in circulation until it finds its niche.

"Get back to work!" says Klinger. "Go to the computer, change the name and address on the submission letter, hit 'print', add some excerpts, pack it up and go to the post office."

Love Your Work

Rejections are tough. A writer's life is often lonely: just you, your computer and your story. To handle these hardships, you have to love writing and draw huge delight from your story coming alive on the page. For many writers, that means they keep writing, even when they're not making money from their art.

"You must feel compelled to write, as well as have the talent for it," says Webb.

In his opinion, it's too hard to make a living by writing fiction. "I wouldn't want to try it," he admits.

Kilian seconds the notion. "Who would want to make writing a job? You'd have to write what the market wants, not what you want, and you'd have to write at a horrible pace. Better to have a job that pays the rent, and write what matters to you. If it doesn't sell, so what? At least you won't be evicted."

According to Kilian, there is a difference between writing as a hobby and writing as a profession. "The professionals are usually on salary, like journalists," he explains. "They write what they're asked to.

"I prefer to think of writing as a vocation, a calling that requires you to engage in a lifelong conversation with yourself. If the conversation is so good that other people will pay to listen, that's great. If not, you're still learning more about yourself and your life than you otherwise would."

Once in a while, fiction writing does pay off. The lucky break occurs. You get an e-mail from a publisher who says "Yes!" What happens next?

Klinger outlines her own recent experience. "First, you run around the house doing airplane impressions. Then you call and send e-mails to all your friends. Then you settle down and read the e-mail more carefully."

And after that you write some more. A writer's work is never done.


The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.
Online version of the most important little book for writers

Writer's Digest Magazine
Resources, forum, tips and articles on different aspects of writing

Writer's Groups and Associations
Provides links to many writers' groups and associations in USA

Publishing Central
Answers many questions about publishing different genres

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