5 Things That Made Me A Better Writer
and got me a book deal
I had been a closeted writer for years. Writing in secret, I pored over my Word document for months at a time, watching that word count steadily climb, and told no-one about it-- save my closest friends. The last thing I wanted was to tell someone I was writing a book and have nothing come of it; I'd be degected and ashamed of my unaccomplishment. If I waited until I had "something to show for it," surely that would be better.
Fast forward five years, I finally completed my first novel. It was my pride and joy. I still didn't want to tell people about it yet-- I wanted to wait until I had that publishing deal to flaunt in their faces. You know. Just incase it went nowhere. But it would definitely get published, right? I mean. I wrote a friggen book! That's the hardest part!
It was not the hardest part.
Cue the rejections.
I began querying this novel with very high hopes. I spent close to five hundred dollars (I feel shame just typing that) on opening page critiques, query critiques, and expert beta reading, all for naught.
After sixty-five queries, and sixty-five rejections with zero requests for more material, I heartbreakingly shelved the book I'd poured my soul into. I could have given up, decided that the past five years writing this book was enough, that I just wasn't meant to be a "writer," taken up fly fishing instead. But I didn't! I doubled down. I decided to try again.
All of my time querying and reading agents' Manuscrips Wish Lists gave me some perspective on what it was they were looking for, and a common theme was romantic comedies. I figured, hey, I'm hilarious, I've watched a few romcoms in my day, how hard can it be?
Reader, it was hard.
Querying my romantic comedy went much better. I sent a total of one hundred twenty-two queries, and re-wrote my query letter four times, my opening pages three times, and did a complete re-write of my book after seventy-five queries. I received sixteen full requests, with most of them near the tail end of my querying because I'd *finally* gotten everything right.
After a very successful December Twitter PitMad event where I received six agent likes and three small press likes, I decided to team up with the wonderful Alex of Rising Action Publishing to publish my very first book, which hits bookstore shelves August 2022!
So, when did I become a writer? At what point did I make that magical transformation? Was it when I finished my first book? My second? When I sent my first query? When I got my first full request? Or was it when I received an offer of publication? Or am I not yet a writer, waiting for some other goalpoast before I consider myself such?
I became a writer when I sat down and started writing. Whatever goals or accomplishments I had in mind, that I required for myself, didn't actually matter. The act of writing in and of itself was enough. It always was, and it always will be. Writing for me is catharsis, escape, a balm for my soul in a hectic life. It's the one thing I truly do only for myself, and no-one else. And if I didn't get that book deal? I'd still be a writer. I'd keep writing. Because that's what writers do. We write.
SO! I'd like to share some helpful things that got me from that awful first draft with plot holes bigger than Saturn and characters shallower than my three-year-old's kiddie pool, to the second book that hits shelves next summer, the third book I'm working on that may or may not already have an offer of publication ;)
1. Twitter Writing Community
If you hope to be a published author some day, whether it be self-published, hybrid published, or traditional published, joining the writing community on Twitter is your first step. Start browsing the hashtag #writingcommunity to meet people writing a similar genre as you are. Chat them up! Make friends! If you're querying, do the same with the #amquerying hashtag. When you're ready to throw your hat in the ring for pitch contests, join retweeting groups. People in the Twitter writing community are amazing, always helping one another with critiques and crafting. I've made some of my best friends on there! And, as always, don't be afraid to use the block button for anyone trying to rain on your parade. Nobody needs that kind of negativity in their life.
Feel free to follow me! I'm always down to meet new writing buddies!
2. Reading Widely
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I'm being totally serious. For that first book, I'd tried writing a young adult fantasy novel without having read anything in that genre since I was a teenager. And, let me tell ya from experience, Eragon and Twilight aren't good comp titles. Go to the library and read five (minimum) recently published books that seem similar to what you're working on. You need to have your finger on the pulse of what is working right now in the industry to properly write something that agents and editors will grab on to. Study these books. Take your favorite excerpts and physically type them out, word for word, so you can get a feel for the cadence and voice of how these stories are structutured. Take notes! How do these compare to your idea? You'll need this for your comparison titles on your query letter some day.
But don't stop there. Read outside your genre, too! Read poetry, romance, adventure, literary fiction. Read it all. You never know what you're going to learn. And YES, audio books count! Don't let anyone tell you they don't. That's ablesist BS.
3. Beta Reading Swaps
Once you get settled into the writing community on Twitter and make some new friends, do a few beta reading exchanges. I'd recommend starting with the first chapter, just to be safe-- they may not enjoy your writing, and you may not enjoy theirs, and that's not a measure of the quality of writing. We've all read a fully published novel and just noped right out of there after a few pages, right?
Reading other unpublished works helps you see the difference between a novel that's had a literal team working on it, versus just one writer on their own. You'll notice what they're doing right andsome areas that could be improved upon, and in doing so you'll be able to view your own work in the same way. Their perspectives on your writing are an incredible asset, too, since we become blind to our own work after reading it so much.
Always, always, always take feedback with a grain of salt. Rest and digest with whatever they send back. Do not get upset, do not get angry. Thank them for their time, apply what you agree with, and table the rest. If there is something you disagree with, save that note for later and see if it comes up multiple times from different readers. Writing for yourself is one thing, but if you're seeking publication you are creating a product, and a product needs to be sold, which means outside opinions matter.
I've started beta reading on Fiverr and love it! Helping other writers brings me so much joy, and definitely helps me with my own work.
4. Crafting Books
Holy moly have I read some amazing crafting books! This could be an article unto itself.
- The Emotion Thesaurus. This book lists all the various emotions one can have, how it feels internally, and how it's expressed externally. For an emotionally constipated person such as myself, it is a fabulous resource. I keep it by my side whenever I'm writing. Is it cheating? Maybe! Does anyone care? Nope.
- Save The Cat Writes A Novel. This book goes over the trajectory most novels take so you can make sure you hit all the beats and make sure your pacing isn't too fast or too slow. My main takeaway from this book was how important the one sentence pitch is.
- Romancing The Beat. Whether your novel is a romance or not, it probably has a romantic subplot. This book will help you hit all of the necessary beats to keep your reader wanting more, right up til the last page.
- Story Genius. This is by far my favorite crafting book. If I had to pick just one, it's this. It explains the psychology behind what makes a story great and how to harness it for your own work. If only I had read this sooner! *shakes fist*
- Understanding Show Don't Tell. I had to do a major revision with my novel after reading this book. I thought I understood, but I totally didn't. Now I write much more engrossing stories!
There's also lots of great podcasts available to writers, if that's your thing!
5. Vocal Media
Shameless plug! Vocal Media gave me a place to separate myself from the books I'm working on to write whatever the hell I felt like, without having to worry too much about being rejected. A writer's world is full of rejection, and Vocal Media is a vacation from it.
Working on short stories helped me become a better writer because I can focus on just one thousand words rather than the full eighty-five thousand of whatever novel I'm writing. Creating character and plot arcs that are intriguing in a short space has made my writing much stronger. Plus, you can play around with different ideas and themes without having to devote months of time to it.
It also brought me out of the writer's closet! I came out on Facebook that I write and started sharing my work with my family and friends, and they were very supportive. It was helpful to see the stories that resonated with them, what worked, and what didn't.
The challenges make for fantastic writing prompts and, hey, you might even make some money doing it! I did. It could happen to you!
You can become a member of Vocal Media for just a dollar your first month if you'd like to try it out! Seriously, I love it. I shout from the rooftops to all who will listen about this fantastic place.
Those are my tips for improving your writing! I still have so much to learn, as the writer's journey is never over. My best writing is still to come!
Just remember that you already are a writer. Not when you finish your book, not when you start querying, not when you get that book deal, but right. now.
So go forth, and write! Write, my pretties!
About the author
I'm a romance and comedy writer from BC, Canada. My debut novel (Not) Your Basic Love Story came out in August, 2022. Now represented by Claire Harris at PS. Literary!
I'm on Twitter, Instagram, and Tiktok