Getting Published in a Highly Competitive World

By Mary Ellis

CBA, CBD, ECPA bestselling author

Everyone who reads the newspaper or watches the evening news is amazed by the financial wealth a certain British novelist has amassed by creating a fantasy young boy and his school chums. After writing her first book in a coffee shop since she couldn’t afford to heat her apartment, she has gone on to become the richest writer in history. Some may be inclined to ask: “If such prosperity can be made by writing, why shouldn’t I jump in, too?” More realistic people when asked about pursuing writing as a career will scowl and mutter under their breath, “Give it a try, but don’t give up your day-job.”

A would-be novelist yearns to know where the truth may lie. I am happy to say that somewhere…anywhere in between the two extremes is what a potential writer might expect. But financial reward isn’t and never should be motivation for becoming a novelist. If you realize at some point in your life that no other options exist for you, then your choice is clear. However, make sure you’re willing to dedicate plenty of energy and all your free time to pursue this dream. How to get started, you ask? I will start by telling my story of how I got published, and then offer nine helpful hints that I learned along the way.

About ten years ago, I began writing my first book—longhand! I researched the time period and pertinent details, prepared a rough outline, and filled up three notebooks of paper. I added sentences and scribbled in changes until the book became almost unreadable. Only then did I sign up for a class on computers, the Internet, word processing, etc. This process I do not recommend. Once I learned about the wonders of spell-check, page formatting, and the ability to move paragraphs around with the click of a mouse, there was no going back! I typed the manuscript from my longhand draft and when finished, I had a one-hundred-thousand-word Civil War romance, loaded with medical, nursing, and battlefield details. Proud of my accomplishment, I attended my first romance writers’ convention and quickly discovered no one was buying American historical novels other than the Wild West. At the time, novels set in Regency England or the Scottish Highlands were the rage. How disappointed I was! I might have saved myself heartbreak had I found this out a tad earlier. However, American history was my passion, and this was the book I was meant to write. Had I chosen another genre or locale, I probably never would have finished the manuscript.

To discover the type of book you should write, look at the books you love to read—cozy mysteries, inspirational romances, historicals set in Victorian England, or perhaps true-life stories based on people who rise above disabilities or exceptional circumstances. Read, read, and read some more the books by your favorite authors. Study their style and what makes them unique, not to copy them but to get a feel of how writers differ from each other. If by this time you’ve discovered the idea for your story, sit down in that chair at your table or desk and start writing.

Block out a period wherein you can work uninterrupted for at least several hours. Try to make time for your writing each and every day. Maybe you’ll decide to investigate what publishers are buying right now or maybe not, since that is always changing. Either way, get busy and let nothing or no one discourage you. Have faith in yourself and in God, and let the small details work themselves out.

Now that I have you writing, here are nine steps that may help you along.

#1 Finish the book. If you have something simmering on the back burner of your mind, get it down on paper, (or at least into your computer.) Stop talking about writing and do it. If you wait until everything is clear to you, until you know everything about your characters or your plot, you’ll never begin.

#2 Learn your market. Once you know you can write a book, investigate using the Internet what market exists for the specific type of book you have created (or wish to create.) If your masterpiece isn’t what publishers happen to be buying at the moment, find out what is. Set your “baby” aside—someone may be looking for just that kind of book in the future. Adjust your subject matter or your style for the second book. I’m not recommending that you jump into the popular genre if it isn’t your cup of tea. You will never succeed if you don’t write something from your “heart.” But be willing to try a different time period or a different style (first person versus third person, for instance.)

#3 Join a writers’ organization. Each type of fiction (Christian Inspirational, romance, mysteries, science fiction, young adult, etc.) has a network to help you connect with others pursuing the same goals. Join in and benefit from those walking the same path. Writers’ loops, blogs, workshops, online seminars, and professional conferences are available to help.

…Come back next Tuesday for the remaining six tips and to learn the advantages and disadvantages of being a writer.

Mary Ellis

 copyright 2009 (may not be reproduced without permission)

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Mary Ellis grew up close to the eastern Ohio Amish community, Geauga County, where her parents often took her to farmer’s markets and woodworking fairs. She loved their peaceful, agrarian lifestyle, their respect for the land, and their strong sense of Christian community. She met her husband in college and they married six days after graduation.

She, her husband, dog and cat now live in Medina County, close to the largest population of Amish in the country—a four-county area in central Ohio. They often take weekend trips to purchase produce, research for her best-selling books, and enjoy a simpler way of life.

Mary enjoys reading, traveling, gardening, bicycling and swimming. Before “retiring” to write full-time, Mary taught Middle School in Sheffield Lake, Ohio and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate for twenty years—a job with amazingly sweet fringe benefits. All three of her Miller Family series, A Widow’s Hope, Never Far from Home, and The Way to a Man’s Heart have made the CBA and CBD bestseller lists. A Widow’s Hope was a finalist in the ACFW Carol Awards for 2010 in the long contemporary category, and a runner-up in the 2010 Holt Medallion Awards.

Visit Mary’s blog: MARY ELLIS’S HOME THOUGHTS

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  1. Getting Published in a Highly Competitive World (part 2)
  2. Thoughts on the e-world
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