As 2023 comes to a close, here are some things I’m thinking about when it comes to this writing life.
Being published does not make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer.
Publishing is no longer a “one size fits all.” With the flourishing of print on demand, the growth in audiobooks, reader’s comfort with electronic media, and the sheer volume of fledgling writers, storytelling is alive and well. If you’re a writer and you want to share your work, you can find a way to do it. It might be a printed book but it might also be a graphic novel or a screenplay or an open mic at the local café. You may not get the six-figure advance you’ve dreamed of, you might have to learn a new skill, or spend some of your own money, or move out of your comfort zone, but if you want your story to be heard, there are dozens of ways to achieve that goal. Savvy authors aren’t spending as much time trying to please gatekeepers. Instead they’re focused on finding and connecting with readers.
Have something to say.
Too many authors worry about HOW they’re going to get published instead of WHAT they’re going to publish. With the sheer numbers of books being released every year (and 2024 is already shaping up to be a juggernaut), wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the novels had a solid point of view? If, as well as plot, the characters were struggling human beings trying to figure out how to live a meaningful life? If the content not only made our hearts race and our minds analyze, but also contributed to our understanding about what’s important in life, how to best parent a child, how to deal with negative emotions, how to make and keep friendships and marriages alive? While my 2024 suspense thriller has plenty of twists and turns, even a red herring or two, it also has something to say about the number of women each year who experience harassment, stalking, and violence at the hands of men. Stop and think about an aspect of human behavior that makes you angry, or worries you, or makes you want to retch, and write that into your story.
Don’t be a jerk.
The recent debacle over on Goodreads (and if you missed it, well, it wasn’t pretty) points out the need for kindness, support, and respect in our writing community. While some have posited the need for agents and publishers to educate young writers about how to treat their cohorts, shouldn’t this have been done a long time ago on the playground, in the classroom, or at the dinner table? Despite what some believe, life is not a zero-sum game. Your success does not diminish my chances to get an agent, land a publishing deal, or catch a reader’s attention. As my swim coach used to say, keep your eyes on your own lane. Repeat after me: don’t tear down your fellow authors.
Don’t say yes when your heart says no.
No one can do it all. If your tendency is to agree to every request that’s made of you, you’ll burn yourself out by June. Agree to do a blurb if you feel you’ll love the book or if you owe the author a favor but if it’s not in your genre or if the due date will disrupt your own publishing timetable, decline and move on. Offer to shout out about your friend’s release but say no to being on the street team. Turn down the speaking gig that doesn’t pay enough to cover expenses or that’s too far away. Pass on serving on a board that’s too time consuming. Volunteer only for causes you believe in, not out of obligation or “how it will look.”
You don’t know it all.
Remember, there’s always more to learn. Commit to learning one new skill in 2024 that will improve your life as a writer. It might be tech-related—learn the ins and outs of Zoom, or how to make an effective reel. It could be craft-focused—improving your dialogue, analyzing how to hide clues, or studying plot structure. It could be market-focused—experimenting with Facebook ads, or running a book giveaway, or redesigning your book covers. Resolve that by the end of the year, you’ll have one additional tool in your belt that will improve your life as a writer.