One of the things no one tells writers about becoming a successfully published author is the importance of building your literary community and participating in book culture long before you land an agent or a publishing contract. There are no shortcuts to creating a career as an author. I hate to disillusion you of the idea that you will be “discovered” and become rich and famous as an author. But it doesn’t happen that way.
It takes a literary community to make a book great. Read the Acknowledgements of any book you’ve admired.
It takes a good idea to get a publishing contract, but it takes more than that. You need to understand how the publishing industry works for the genre you write. That kind of knowledge is gained through participation in professional organizations and associations. There are many and some are essential to a writer’s career. Authors Guild, AWP, Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, Romance Writers of America, National Association of Science Writers, National Association of Memoir Writers, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Historical Novel Society, Military Writers Society of America. Join at least one professional writing organization. You learn more about your craft and your profession. Understand what is expected of the author and a manuscript submission.
Through literary centers and writing programs, you can find a community of writers. From novice to teaching faculty, you meet others who will help you advance your craft and learn the
business of being an author. Those whose books get published tend to be those who seek the advice and guidance of professional editors and published authors. If you can’t find a class near you, consider taking one online from The Loft Literary Center or Gotham City Writers.
On social media, connect with those authors whom you admire and those who are bestsellers in your genre. Observe how they engage with readers, use social media, and create their online persona as an author. Study their websites, promotional materials, and marketing campaigns.
Join or start a writing group. Having the support of other writers who are committed to improving their work and seek constructive criticism can be an enormous boon. You become accountable to other writers by showing up prepared with new material and by showing respect to their work by offering feedback they can use to revise. Learning to give and get critiques is an asset. Members of your trusted writing group are honest, offer encouragement and moral support, and eventually become part of your advance sales team.
To write a book that sells and readers find satisfying you need to read a lot and talk with other readers about books. It is not a coincidence that many authors today have worked in a bookstore or volunteered at a library. Join one or more book clubs and listen to what readers like and don’t like. Are you on Goodreads? You ought to be. Before you have an author page there, you will be want to have an account as a reader and establish your network of friends and reader community. Write reviews of your favorite books and those comparable to yours. And as a reader, consider this research into what readers do and don’t like in the books you’ve read that are similar to yours.
Attend book festivals and literary fairs. If you’re a children’s book author, attend the book fairs at your public schools. Around the country there are regional festivals which bring all kinds of book authors and readers into direct contact. Here’s a list.
Get to know your local and regional bookstores, used and new. Spend time getting to know where your book would fit on their shelves. Ask questions about what books they recommend and why. Attend author readings and other literary events at bookstores. Meet other authors and ask them questions.
Become a patron of your public library. Get to know the reference librarians and those who acquire new titles in your area of interest. Request your library purchase books you believe other readers will enjoy. Attend library events including book sales. Familiarize yourself with their community programming.
Volunteer for community events. Spelling bees for school fundraisers. Crossword puzzle competitions for the community foundation grants to local teachers. If you write about mental health issues, volunteer for a bowl-a-thon for your local chapter of NAMI. If you write about veterans, donate your time to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. If you write about domestic violence, become involved in supporting a local women’s shelter. As a writer these experiences are good research for authentic writing, and as an author, these same experiences create relationships with people who will become invested in your book’s success because they have come to know you.
Contribute to books in prisons. Be a mentor to writing students. Become a steward of a Little Free Library. Teach English to immigrants. Participate in storytelling events. Attend poetry readings. Tutor for Project Literacy. You don’t have to do all of these things, but cultivate literary community and participate in the world as a literate citizen.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…