Today, as a public service (Ta-DA!), we begin a series of articles meant to help You, The Aspiring Author, conquer the himalayas of literary greatness.
We propose that you achieve this impressive goal in SIX SIMPLE STEPS.
“Simple” is not the same as “easy.” The six things you must do to pluck fame and fortune from the slushpile of rejected hopes are as simple as any six steps can be.
If they were easy, everybody would be Stephen King.
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” / Let us go and make our visit.(Literary Allusion Alert: File under “T.S. Eliot.”)
Step One: Skip Straight to “Literary Lion”
Cut the line.
Do not wait for greatness to be thrust upon you. Thrust it upon yourself.
Since becoming a literary lion is your goal, go ahead and be one. Believe me, if you can’t do this one simple thing, you’re not going to find the other five steps any easier.
(Caveat: What We Are Not Saying. We are not saying “Fake it till you make it.” You can’t fake literary accomplishment. You have to get it the old-fashioned way, like the guy in that old commercial says. You have to earn it.)
If you haven’t begun to do so yet, then begin now.
You must do all kinds of inherently literary things. Such as, for example, “Write.” But that’s Step Two.
Meanwhile, there are a lot of other literary things you must do in addition to writing.
When you do them, as you must, you will be living the literary life—like it or not.
Are you prepared for this?
You must read. We don’t mean just “read.” Everybody reads for fun, don’t they?
(No, not actually. Lots of people never read anything more interesting than a cloned Facebook meme. But if you’re still with us, then you are probably one of those who do read, at least for fun.)
At the risk of repeating ourselves, we don’t mean just “read”—we mean READ.
Read everything you can that’s a classic of your genre. And for balance, read things that are poorly-executed examples of your genre. Read things outside your genre entirely.
Read books and articles on the art and craft of writing. Read pieces about the business of writing, and how to sell your work.
Read books, stories, articles, and blog posts by friends (more on this in “Step 3: Get Feedback” and “Step 4: Associate”). Read your own work, with a view to improving it. Read miscellaneous books that come to your attention, just because somebody said they were good.
Read good literature. It may help you figure out how to write good literature.
An up-and-coming writer of our acquaintance, Larry F. Sommers, testifies:
“I was seventy years old before I got serious about writing. I thought I was quite a reader, but since becoming a literary lion, I’ve averaged fifty to seventy-five books a year—not to mention stories, articles, and poems.”
When you read this much, two things will happen: (1) Your library card will get threadbare from use. (2) Partly-finished, recently finished, and not-yet-started books will occupy every horizontal surface in your vicinity. Welcome to literary lionhood.
(Lionhood is the state of being a lion—a literary one, in our case. Lionization—Haha!—maybe in the Afterlife.)
You must gather your tools about you. There are certain things you will need. Some of them cost money, and you must be prepared to invest in them.
You need a good, standard dictionary such as Webster’s New World College Dictionary or even the Oxford English Dictionary if you can afford it. Either hardcopy or electronic version will cost money. (The many freebie dictionaries found online are about worth what you pay for them.)
You will need the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. It’s the starting point on important matters of style for nearly all publishers. But you also need a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, which in some particulars contradicts the Chicago manual; it’s still worth owning for its brief but powerful advice on how to write the English language. And you will want at least a couple of writers’ magazines; we recommend The Writer and Writer’s Digest for starters.
In order to get your work widely read, you will need to sell it. Therefore you will want some useful compendia of marketing information, such as Writer’s Market or Writer’s Handbook; Jeff Herman’s Guide To Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents; and a $25 monthly subscription to the enormously useful PublishersMarketplace website.
Basic tools of craft are needed just for getting your words down on paper (or its electronic equivalent). Some particular brand of laptop computer, let’s say; or a ruled notebook and pens or pencils of a certain kind; or an antique Underwood typewriter; or goose quills. Every writer has his or her own preferred substrate. But whatever it is, you need to have it, so you can, you know, write (see “Step Two: Write”).
We seriously recommend a good computer and a copy of Microsoft Word. If you originate your manuscripts in any other medium or format, you will still need to copy it over to a computer file before a publisher can use it to bring you lots of fame and fortune. But suit yourself.
You must make your presence known. This falls, really, into “Step 6: Platform.” But the problem is, you can’t wait till the end of the process to build your platform. You’ve got to start now.
A writer’s “platform” is simply the sum total of credible ways by which that writer makes his or her work known to the world. If you’re a major motion picture star, all you have to do is write a book and let the publicist mention it to the world. You have millions of adoring fans already; some of them will buy your book.
For those of us who are not celebrities, it’s harder. You have to acquire fans one at a time and keep them interested in you and your writing until you can publish a book and press it into their hot little hands. It takes time for an unknown author to build a following of people who can be relied on to buy a book. Start now.
You make your presence known by authoring a blog; by frequenting one or more social media engines such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.; by showing up at writerly events in your vicinity, such as book signings and readings, literary chats, etc.; or by attending writers’ courses and conferences.
As you do these things, more and more people will begin to recognize you as a fixture of that part of the world they think of as “literary.” That’s good. That’s what you want.
You must write. This is self-evident, but we include it here because it is an essential part of becoming a literary lion. “Essential” in this case means, “You cannot omit it.”
But never fear. The writing part is so important we devote an entire step to it. In fact, the very next one in this series, “Step Two: Write.”
So here and now it suffices to say that writing is the quintessential literary activity. The more time you spend writing, the more time you spend in the world of the literary lion.
THEREFORE, Dear Reader: When you faithfully practice these key disciplines of literary lionhood—reading, gaining possession and use of essential literary tools, making your presence known in literary venues, and actually spending regular amounts of time writing your work—you will not have to pinch yourself, or poke yourself in the eye (which we would not recommend in any case) to know that you are living the literary life.
You will have stepped into the Twilight Zone which is the literary world, on your way to the base camp for scaling the literary himalayas.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: “Step Two: Write”
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Author
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)