7 Things You Can Do Today to Get on The Bestseller Track

7 Ways to Become a Bestselling Author (text)

But first, the publishing stories worth reading this week:

Amazon is Quietly Eliminating List Prices (David Streitfeld for The New York Times): A fascinating look at the deterioration of the list price/discount marketing tactic and how it’s influencing online commerce, including the massive online book business. I thought this was a must-read this week, and it’s definitely a trend worth watching for anyone involved in online commerce.

Training to Be a Good Writer (Leo Babuata of Zen Habits): “You get good by doing it a lot, and caring. You’ll never be perfect at it—goodness knows I’m far from perfect — but the only way to get better is to practice. And to care about what you’re doing. Do that every day, and every step of the struggle will be an amazing one.”

My Top 5 Favorite Marketing Books (Chad Cannon): “They say that reading is a key habit for success–that our society’s leading thinkers, investors, and decision-makers must be readers. I fully believe it’s true, and I love this quote from Warren Buffet. Once, when asked what his key to success is, he pointed to a stack of books and said: ‘Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.'”

Do You Lock Your Best Ideas in a Vault? (Benjamin Percy for JaneFriedman.com/Glimmer Train): “For every story or essay or poem you write, you withdraw one image, two characters, maybe three of the metaphors you have stockpiled—and then slam shut the vault and lock it with a key shaped like a skeleton’s finger. I used to be the same way, nervously rationing out my ideas.”


7 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Become a Bestselling Author Tomorrow

I hope everyone had a delicious and fun Fourth of July weekend! The fireworks in DC were a bust with all the rain, but Jarrett and I spent the first half of the long weekend exploring Louisville and Lexington. We ate:

  • Brisket and smoked sausage at the Blue Door Smokehouse (picked by Ashlea Halpern of Condé Nast Traveler as one of her two favorite BBQ joints in the country!)
  • The most glorious country ham on an Eggs Benedict at Proof on Main inside the 21C Museum
  • A 4-course tasting menu of delight at Edward Lee’s fantastic 610 Magnolia
  • Really very naughty sandwiches at Ouita Michel’s Wallace Station (that Hot Country Ham and Pimento Cheese sandwich…oh my.)
  • And because we couldn’t help ourselves: more of Ouita’s food at Smithtown Seafood. They’re participating in the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project that challenges chefs to create more sustainable burgers by adding mushrooms to their patties. This makes the burger better. In fact, it was the best burger of my life. Yes, I said it. Go try it and tell me if I’m not right.

I think we did some other stuff in between there, but mostly we ate, and a lot.

Which brings me to the question: what productive things can you do as a writer or blogger when you are, say, too gut-bombed on Southern food to concentrate on your manuscript? Not every moment needs to be write-or-die, and there are so many things that can contribute to your skill-set that have nothing to do with typing away.

Here are 7 of them, which I first covered for Bustle Books, and which I hope make for some easily digestible reading no matter how gluttonous your holiday was!

7 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Become a Bestselling Author Tomorrow

Want to quit your day job and become a full-time writer, with a long list of published books to your name and royalty checks flowing in? Well, the hard truth is that huge success in the book world doesn’t happen overnight. Even the most popular and high-earning authors had to struggle for years to master both their writing craft and the business of publishing.

The good news is that, even if your manuscript is more shambles than chapters right now, you can still be laying the groundwork for long-term success. One of the very best things you can do to make your publication dreams come true is to learn what you’ll need in the long run to not only get published, but also to successfully sell your book, build a readership, and become a full-time, professional author. Unfortunately, it’s so easy to get bogged down in the daily grind of just working on a manuscript, holding down a day job, and still trying to be a human who eats and showers and sleeps and sometimes even socializes. (Even if that socializing is mostly with books.)

In your quest to get your manuscript written, edited, and just done, make sure that you’re not rushing so much that you lose sight of the long-term skills needed to be a successful, full-time author — as in, an author who can make enough money from book sales to quit her day job and write for a living.

Publishing is a business, and even if you’re one of the lucky few who scores a book deal, you’ll still need to build creative discipline (so it becomes easier to sit down every single day to write), constantly improve your craft (so each book you write is better than the last), foster a network of writers and influencers (who will support and help promote your book), and build a readership (so your mom isn’t the only person who buys your book).

Luckily, there are things you can start doing today to lay the groundwork for success tomorrow. And the best part? Making these 7 habits a part of your daily life will not only get you where you want to go in the future, but they’ll make your current day-to-day more fun, fulfilling, and book-filled!

1. Find A Job In A Field That Makes You Stretch Your Writing Muscles

Everyone knows that the best way to improve your craft is to write every day. That kernel of advice is straight out of freshman year’s Creative Writing 101. But then you graduated, were dropped into the real world (ugh!), and realized that no one was going to pay you to stay home in your yoga pants and write all day from your couch. Or maybe you landed on a career track and worked your way up but still have that dream of being a writer gnawing away at you…even though your daily work doesn’t leave much room for creativity.

Either way, it may be time to take a serious look at moving into a career (or going freelance) that allows you to build your creativity. Many of the most successful authors have gotten their start in journalism (either online or in print), and they’ll often say that the sheer discipline they learned from meeting deadlines every day made it possible for them to write their own work at the end of the day.

If you look carefully, you’ll find that there are hundreds of writing jobs that will pay you for your words. But you will have to stay open-minded: you may not be writing about topics that are 100 percent your jam, but you’ll be still be learning the mechanics of writing, how to brainstorm and pitch quickly, how to handle editorial feedback, how to meet deadlines, and how to write even when the muse is on vacation.

Of course, a career switch is not a move to take lightly, but as I wrote about here and as bestselling authors like Hugh Howey say:

“Writing is much more than putting your butt in a seat. It’s making sure you have the time and financial freedom to write…”

2. Get on Twitter

Twitter is a glorious hub for writers, editors, agents, and other publishing professionals to chat about books. Your knowledge of the publishing industry will grow by leaps and bounds just by checking in and hearing what people are saying. Twitter is every writer’s best friend — you’ll start to crave the streams of conversation during the hours of drafting drudgery. It’s also a great way to make Twitter-friends with other writers in your genre, which can help you build a network that supports your launches and cheers you on along the way.

Search for #amwriting for writing inspiration, #querytip for commentary from agents on how to query, and #pubtip for publishing advice from industry insiders. And make sure you follow all your favorite authors, publishers, and literary agents, so you don’t miss out on invaluable snippets of free advice! (I personally try to Tweet a lot, if you’d like to say hello!)

3. Attend Writers’ Conferences

You know how chipping away at your WIP day after day can get well… mind-numbingly boring and painful? Like you sort of want to jab pencils in your eyeballs just so you can stop staring at the blinking cursor? Yeah, you need to get out. Make it count as work by going to a writer’s conference, otherwise known as a carnival of fun and delights for the lonely writer. Sign up for sessions and workshops, rub elbows with editors and agents, and network with other writers who totally get the whole pencils-through-the-eyeballs thing.

4. Join a Critique Group

Newsflash: Writing doesn’t improve in a vacuum. Yes, as much as you may want to smack a fellow writer right in his smug mug when he points out that your main character is still flat and two-dimensional, there’s a good chance that’s exactly what you need to hear. As tough as it is to handle criticism of your book baby, it’s the only way to keep improving and growing as a writer. However, always keep in mind that a good critique group should have the whole constructive part of criticism down to a science—the last thing you need during the emotional struggle of birthing a book is to be berated.

5. Build a Readership

One of the hardest things every writer must learn is creative discipline—the sheer willpower to sit your butt down and write every single day, no matter how uninspired or exhausted or zombified you feel. The only way to master this is to just keep doing it. Luckily, the more you flex your creative muscle, the easier it will be each time you sit down to write. Setting up a website and adding content to it every week is one of the best ways to publicly commit to doing your creative thing, with the added bonus that you can begin building a readership at the same time as you’re building discipline.

Every single writer should have a website—either a portfolio website if you’re writing for other outlets and want to showcase clips, or even better, a content-based website where you share blog posts, vlogs, or podcasts every week. Creating content for your website every week is a great way to build creative discipline, tell people who you are and what you care about, establish your brand and voice, and build a readership before you even have a book to sell.

6. Read Like Crazy

Sure, you may have heard this one before, but are you really doing it? It’s easy to slip off into the world of reading online articles and your Instagram feed instead of a book, but nothing will invigorate your creativity like reading a book.

And, as important as it is to read obsessively within your genre, make sure you also read outside of your favorite genres once in a while. If you write young adult books, try reading a business book; if you write fantasy, jump into a biography occasionally. It’ll keep your writing from becoming stale and too similar to everything else in your genre.

7. Go to Readings

Chances are your local bookstore or library has a robust schedule of readings, signings, and other author appearances that you may be missing out on. Readings are one of the easiest ways to meet your favorite authors, and they can be such a dose of excitement and a morale boost to help you slog through the endless hours of typing at your laptop. Use them as an excuse to get out of the house and remind yourself that, one day, you’ll be reading to a rapt audience from your own published, successful book.

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7 Ways to Become a Bestselling Author (long)

This post was first published on Bustle Books. See that version here!

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