Writing Credentials: What You Need to Accomplish Writing Goals

The first book I ever bought for myself.

The first book I ever bought for myself.

This post is for the Five Year Project/Do You Have Goals bloghop.

The writing world has changed a lot with the possibility of print-on-demand and e-book publishing. As more members of the reading public have experience with not-ready-for-publication ‘Indie’ books, having writing credentials becomes very important.

When I was a child, I bought books by going into a bookstore (and begging mommy or daddy for money). The writers of the kind of books you see in bookstores have one kind of writing credentials— their books are published by big publishing companies who can afford to turn down second-rate writers. They also had high-quality proofreaders and editors to help each author make his book the best it could be.

Writers who are self-published or published by a small press no one has heard of also need writing credentials. But they don’t get it just by having a book out there in the marketplace. Small press authors have the advantage that their small press probably has a small number of readers already familiar with them who will look at their book and not mistakenly conclude it’s self-published. But for the majority of readers, small press authors too need writing credentials to prove to the potential reader that they are competent at their craft.

How, then, can you establish writing credentials? Here are some ways:

  1. Get some writing published in a paying or prestigious/known market. It can be short fiction, flash fiction, poetry or non-fiction articles. Anything to show that you aren’t the only one who thinks you can write.
  2. Get some influential people to read your book. No, I don’t mean trying to peddle it to Stephen King. Try some book-related blogger with a good following— or some following. Offer him a free copy of your book— ‘free’ as in you don’t demand a review in exchange, but just suggest they review it if they feel inclined to.
  3. Interact with quality writers online. Buy and review their books, suggest your Facebook friends follow the writers’ Facebook author pages, tweet when they have a new book out. Don’t try to self-promote your book to them, just be a friend. Just the fact that you associate with a quality writer will make your potential readers feel that you at least know what quality writing looks like.
  4. Learn to act like a professional writer. And by ‘professional’ I mean those writers paid royalties by a traditional publisher. They are the writers who interact most with the publishing world and with other writers; they tend to know how to act. How to learn? Subscribe to Writer’s Digest and read each issue cover-to-cover. Read books on how-to-write by actual authors you’ve heard of. My favorites are Lawrence Block, James Scott Bell and, yes, Stephen King (I used to be his #1 fan.)
  5. Avoid vanity presses. Savvy people know the names of the vanity presses— those deceptive presses who pretend to be traditional publishers, but accept any books as long as the author-victim can pay the fees.
  6. Keep on writing. Don’t publish just one book and then go into full time book-promoter mode. Keep on writing, keep on publishing. People who won’t take a risk on your first book may give one a try once you have five books out.

My goal update

I have some long-term writing problems that have, in particular, stood in the way of my finishing most writing projects. My goal now is just to get a novel or two finished.  But I get very inhibited when I sit down to start to write a new novel, I tend to give it up as a bad job by the next day.

So I’ve started a Scrivener project that is basically an idea file. Each ‘chapter’ is a different writing idea, and in it I put ‘scenes’ that can be notes on the idea, character ideas, or scenes from the work itself. If I get to the point where I am actually making progress on an individual project and want to concentrate on it for a while, then I’ll move the stuff to its own Scrivener project. If I can figure out how. (Note: before I bought Scrivener I used a free software, YWriter, which I could also use that way if I’d thought of it.)

I have two projects I’m cautiously optimistic about. One takes place on another planet, a colony of Earth, and the main character is an orphan girl with psionic abilities (mostly teleportation). The other is a contemporary piece about a former child star, now age 17, who announces to her progressive parents that she’s going to become a Catholic, but before that family fight can come to its conclusion, the girl is attacked by a vampire and ‘turned’. (I’m fairly sure I shouldn’t try to work on both of these projects at the same time.)

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4 thoughts on “Writing Credentials: What You Need to Accomplish Writing Goals

  1. The big question, then, is which will you tackle first? I think the story about the psi-capable girl is “evergreen” in terms of audience appeal, but perhaps too common (barring a really interesting twist on the trope) to be guaranteed to stand out from the crowd. The Catholic-vampire thing (wow, what were you drinking?) would tap into the current craze for All Things Vampire, and would certainly add something new with the religious angle, but the bloodsucker craze may already have crested. Keep us posted.

  2. Lisa Nicholas, I don’t really worry about which of my ideas is more original because they get more original as I work with them. And about the vampire craze having crested— they’ve been saying that for a couple of decades now, so I’m not too worried.

  3. I have similar issues with writing novels and haven’t managed to finish one yet. That’s why I’m getting writing credentials with short stories – building my platform, networking and filling out my portfolio – while I give myself the time and space to get my first novel done. It means I can work at my own pace without feeling guilty that, meanwhile, my writing career is at a standstill. Good luck with your writing, I’m sure you’ll find what works for you soon.

  4. Short stories are a good idea. You can learn a lot by writing them, and they help build your status as a writer. Thanks for the good-luck wishes, I need it.

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