Resources to Improve Authors' Writing
Hiring an Editor
When it comes to sharpening one's writing, nothing beats the support of a skilled, experienced, human editor. When hunting for help, look for an editor familiar with your genre and ask for references as well as samples of his or her work. Not every author can afford a professional editor, and you may very well find success without one, but that doesn't mean you can skip editing altogether. Should you not hire a formal editor, you must to find someone with editing skills who is willing to help you for free. This may be a family member with experience teaching English or an English major at your local university.
Because your personal connection with an editor and that professional's experience with your specific genre can make such a big difference, we do not recommend using "blind" editing services like Writer’s Digest “Second Draft” editing and critique services or CreateSpace's editing services, however the help of a generic human editor is most certainly better than nothing.
In most professional realms, contests are a waste of time- primarily designed to promote the host and offering little in terms of attention and rewards for the actual participants. This does not seem to be the case in the writing realm, at least with some contests. Authors we have interviewed (who have both won contests and simply placed as finalists) have found these competitions to be an excellent way to:
- Garner feedback and receive fair, unbiased criticism
- Get on the radar of agents
- Catch the attention of publishing houses
- Build up general brand awareness and readership
Should you know of a well-reviewed and respected contest relevant to your genre, you may therefore consider submitting an entry- especially if you have a finished manuscript that you are in the midst of promoting or preparing for publication.
Free Online Courses
You do not have to pay money to take a structured course on writing. In a separate guide, we updated and built upon a list of free online writing courses originally found within reddit's subreddit for writers, /r/writing. Should you be interested in taking free online courses related to writing, check it out.
Resources to Improve Authors' Careers
Finding a Mentor as an Author
Mentors need not be limited to the corporate world; they can help you climb the ranks as an author as well. Should you have a successful author as a mentor, he or she can introduce you to other useful professionals (publishers, editors, cover designers, fellow authors, etc.), share a treasure trove of insights that can help you make better-informed strategic decisions, and provide perspective and solace when you are met with rejection.
Seek out a mentor who has published books within your general genre and is, career-wise, where you would like to be in five or so years. Should you find a good candidate (ideally someone who also lives nearby or would at least be willing and able to speak with you on a monthly basis), reach out to him or her directly. Be honest about your motives, respectful of their time, and clear about your commitment.
Should the idea of cold calling potential mentors be too much to bear, you may also be introduced to a mentor through a formalized mentorship program offered by a writer's group.
Joining a Writer's Club or Organization
There are a litany of writer's groups out there. Some are local and very unstructured while others span the nation and have highly organized local chapters. Benefits of joining a writer's group range from emotional support and networking opportunities to a wide range of professional perks and services. The type of organization(s) you ultimately join is contingent on your personal references and needs.
Some organizations, such as The Author’s Guild, are oriented toward the pursuit of authorship on the whole, whereas others, such as Romance Writers of America, revolve around a specific genre. Both offer great resources. The Author's Guild, for example, provides legal assistance, health insurance plans, panels and programs, and even media liability insurance. RWA runs popular contests, offers networking at local chapter meetings (as well as though their online forums), and education through conferences and workshops.
Membership in most formalized author organizations comes with a fee (typically something reasonable; Author's Guild membership starts at $99 annually). So long as you actually utilize the resource a given organization has to offer, we deem the fee to be entirely worth it.
Writer's Digest is the top "commercial" resource for authors. Its roots as a published guide for authors (first known as Successful Writing) go back to 1920. New issues are released eight times a year.
The physical magazine version of Writer's Digest Magazine offers interviews, tips for authors, calls for manuscripts, and market listings. Its online property, WritersDigest.com, offers a litany of resources, from articles to an open forum, writing competitions, information about writing conferences, links to affiliated (paid) services, and even Writer's Digest University, which provides both free and paid online workshops.
The website and its various bits of free content and services offer plenty of guidance and information, however should you be an avid print magazine reader, go ahead and sign up for the publication.
The fee-based editing services and workshops provided by Writer's Digest may be useful should you not be able to find a dedicated editor or attend in-person writer's group meetings and classes, but still need structure and regular feedback to stay motivated. That said, you will probably be able to find all of the information shared in Writer's Digest workshops via free online resources and low-cost books. You must simply be willing to do a bit of research and have the discipline to go over educational materials and garner feedback on your work independently.
Resources for Understanding the Publishing Industry
If you're interested in working within the publishing industry, you may wish to familiarize yourself with the "Big Six:"
- Hachette Book Group
- HarperCollins (subsidiary of News Corp)
- Penguin Group
- Random House
- Simon & Schuster
To gain a better understanding of who these publishers are and what they do, check out The Digital Shift's guide to publishers in the library ebook market. Though composed for an audience of people interested in ebooks for libraries, this guide provides a good overview of not only the Big Six, but also a number of other significant publishers, along with a brief glance at what each player is doing with ebooks and audiobooks (which one might argue are the formats that matter most in this day and age).
Should you be interested in working through the traditional publishing industry, you will need to know who to contact and how to send queries and submissions. Writer's Market is the go-to resource for such tasks.
Writer's Market is an annually-updated publication offering information on magazines, contests, and publishing houses to which you might submit writing. Writer's Market also shares tips on submitting work, protecting your rights as a writer, charging fair prices, and gaining a competitive advantage in the field. Its online property hosts the intel shared in the print publication in a more easily-accessible and filterable format along with convenient features such as a helpful pay rate chart and a tool you can use to manage submissions to various publications (note that you will need to be a paying subscriber to access this information).
Though Writer's Market is the leading publication when it comes to trade information, Literary MarketPlace, another annually-published industry reference point, may also be of use to you- especially if you want to do some heavy data mining. The book, along with its online property, claim to have "the world's largest, most complete database of the book publishing industry." Using the website's search tool, you can query publishers by type, genre, city, state, and zip code and filter results by size and number of publication issued. You can also search for names of publishing-affiliated professionals you meet at conferences and networking events to find their contact information and more detail about their employers. The site's Job Title Index and downloading functionality will even make it easy for you to print mailing labels addressed to everyone in the Literary MarketPlace database with, for example, the word "editor" in their titles.
Should you not be willing to purchase Literary MarketPlace, keep in mind that most libraries carry it.
Resources for Finding a Good Cover Artist
Should you be in the market for a book cover artist, consider starting with Amazon.com and looking for books with covers you love. Reach out to those books' authors and ask them who managed their cover design and created the art. Not every author will get back to you, and not every cover artist with whom an author worked will be available (or within your price range), however asking around will most certainly introduce you to some interesting options.
Major Social Networks for Artists
You might also look for cover artists by browsing around major artist websites, namely Dribble, Behance, and DeviantART. Though it can be dreadfully fun to browse through general art on these sites, you can save time and find more qualified (or at least experienced) candidates by running searches for "book cover art."
Most artists are fairly easy to reach, though you might need to click through to personal websites or external profiles to find contact information. When working with an artist on cover art, be clear about what you want on the cover and provide examples (be it of the artist's previous work or another artist's work) of what you would like your cover to look like in terms of tone and style.
Helpful Books for Authors
If you love to write, there is a pretty good chance that you also love to read. If you turn to novels for personal solace, you may also want to turn to them as a resource. Some of the most popular books on writing include:
- Stephen King's On Writing
- Strunk and White's Elements of Style
- Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein
- The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
- A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller
For something a bit more adapted to the modern ebook age, consider checking out How to be a Writer in the E-Age, And Keep Your E-Sanity ($2.99), co-written by one of our public interview subjects and bestselling author, Catherine Ryan Hyde.
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