Workshop 3: Plotting Your Fiction Career: 12 Steps to Becoming a Successful Novelist
Janice Thompson (right) encouraged a crowded room with her writing journey in her Thursday evening workshop elective at the 2011 ACFW Conference. Thompson had been writing for many years when, in 1998, she was encouraged to define what success in writing looked like for her. Seventy-six books later, she is still committed to a heart obedient to the call of God in her writing.
Twelve steps to making it happen
As much as you want to be used by God, He wants to use you even more.
- Defining success is the first of 12 specific steps to becoming a successful novelist. Thompson emphasized keeping this first step in focus and committed to God while working on the other steps collectively.
- Practice goal-setting. Thompson calls this “realistic dreaming.” Every aspiring author needs to map out where they want to be in one year, three years, and even in five years—otherwise, how will you know if you’ve arrived? Once long-range goals are set, daily goals of word count, editing hours, etc., can be set to reach the strategic goals.
- Learn the craft, learn the business, and pay your dues. Thompson shared her motto: “Do the work. Do it well. Do it in a timely fashion.” She stressed the importance of attending conferences, taking online courses, and finding a critique group. She reminded the class it is important for iron to sharpen iron, but it shouldn’t slice your heart! She also said there are no shortcuts worth taking when it comes to the hard work of writing and rewriting if a novel is going to be all it can be.
- Discover and establish your voice. New writers are tempted to try and sound like their favorite bestselling author, but Thompson said it is an honest personality and voice that must shine through, and this can only be done with writing, writing, and more writing.
- Look and act like a pro. Everything from business cards, to one-sheets, to queries, to blogs and websites should show excellence and professionalism, while keeping an author’s own personal style and voice.
- Pitch sellable ideas. Do the homework before approaching agents and editors. Having a clear and thorough understanding of genres and subgenres and the markets available will save an aspiring author a lot of heartache and backtracking. Thompson cautioned against writing for what is hot right now, but it is important to know what publishing houses and retailers are looking for.
- Work with an agent. A well-matched agent is in your court and committed to your book and your career. Thompson again stressed the importance of doing the homework and committing this search to God.
- Think about branding and taglines. Often authors shy away from this important step or stress over it. The other extreme is to not give it thoughtful consideration. She suggested some constructive brainstorming in helping find the perfect brand.
- Focus on career selling. Ultimately each writer must decide if they want a “one-hit wonder” or if they are willing to do the hard work of being a career writer. Publishing that first book is exciting; builder a writing career is life-changing.
- Garner readership. A writer must know their target audience and write a message to that audience. Readers will naturally gravitate to authenticity. Grow a tribe with authentic passion.
- Learn to do marketing and public relations. This is a scary step for many writers, but a lot of information is readily available for the willing student and today’s market requires a strategic plan. Blog tours, book signings, and speaking engagements, along with a social media presence, all contribute to a strong marketing plan.
- Pray without ceasing. Thompson ended the session with an admonition to follow God’s leading, understand the seasons of life He is guiding you through, and be willing to shift gears and refocus as He directs.