How not to be a successful writer: two big things to avoid

You’ll know by now, dear reader, how much I share the love for creative folk on this site. Writers are a warm and fuzzy bunch – we adore inspirational stuff and are really good at supporting and encouraging each other.

I always want to be supportive, but sometimes it’s frustrating because people can get in their own way.

There are two big ways to shoot yourself in the foot if you’re serious about publishing. The first is spamming people for support. The second is failing to accept who you are.

Don’t spam your offer
In your travels through social media, it’s likely you’ll encounter individuals who’ll follow you and push their work before you’ve even exchanged two syllables.

In the past on Twitter, I’ve had requests from new followers to support their book proposals on online publishing platforms. Apparently the more votes you get, the more likely you are to be considered for a deal.

(It sounds like a bear pit to me but hey, it’s a free market. If anyone wants to take on that kind of process, knock yourself out…)

What you’ll come across in instances like this is a ‘Thanks for the follow – please vote for my title at…’ ask. Check out their follower stats and they look impressive, but on further examination, it’s clear this kind of person is doing the same to everyone: collecting huge numbers as a means to an end.

Even so, being a generous sort, you can still give them the benefit of the doubt. You can check out their proposal and decide if you believe in it sufficiently to vote for it.

I’d rather see a good wedge of prose

To be honest, when it comes to creative writing, I’d rather see a good wedge of actual prose to decide whether the project is worth supporting, rather than a short synopsis which seems – how can I put this? – a tad implausible.

It’s worth bearing in mind one important thing here. In this kind of scenario there’s virtually zero commissioning effort going on, with equally questionable quality control. Corralling anyone and everyone to randomly vote for a book deal doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

If a writer is serious about getting into print or producing an e-book, they’ll do one of two things: find an agent to help them get signed by a publisher, where commissioning is done with proper care; or go ahead and self-publish.

There are better ways to increase your profile as a budding author on social media. Interaction is great; taking the ‘I want’ approach is not. Social media is precisely that: social. It’s about building relationships. Apart from anything else, why should anyone support your proposal if they don’t know you from Adam (or, indeed, Eve)?

It’s far better to build a following by communicating with others, scanning the web and sharing great content, reading blogs, joining forums and discussing the written word.

If you want people to see your writing and haven’t done so already, definitely set up a blog. Every writer should have a port of call on the web.

At its best, being a creative is all about community. If you want to be published, it’s important to be noticed for the right reasons, and to give rather than take.

Aspiring to… nothing
The second ‘how not to’ is a trap many fall into: calling themselves an ‘aspiring author’. If you want to be taken seriously as a creative, don’t call yourself an ‘aspiring’ anything.

‘Aspiring’ conjures up images of a starving artist living in a garret on fresh air while waiting for fame to find them – whether that’s actually the case or not.

It sounds amateur. It’s a label that does no one any favours.

Instead of calling yourself an ‘aspiring author’, try: ‘I’m a writer’. For example, are you writing a novel? Are you committed to being published? Then you’re a writer. Everyone had to start somewhere. Did they suddenly become a writer just because they got a book deal?

The imposter syndrome can kick in

I understand that this notion can be difficult to accept. The imposter syndrome can kick in big-time – or perhaps you might feel like you just haven’t earned it yet.

In my own experience, it was only when I was confronted during a coaching session by a creative mentor – herself an artist, journalist and gallerist – that I finally accepted it.

‘You are an artist’, my coach said. The idea was alien to me, as if she were describing someone else. I paused for a moment, stunned by the information. ‘Really?’ I replied. ‘Yes!’ she said.

When I examined the facts, and my coach gently reminded me of my achievements so far, it was true.

If you’re finding it hard to accept calling yourself a writer, do what’s necessary to embed that belief.

Even if you are writing a novel, try short form in the meantime: it’s far easier to get stories and articles published online and in magazines, whether literary or other. Commit to blogging regularly, put time and care into your posts, and share them on social media. Enter writing competitions – they’re especially good for creative writing, life writing and different types of fiction.

Get your name out there – the world is wide and someone will love your work!

First, though, acknowledge who you are. Be authentic. And don’t create doubt in anyone’s mind by selling yourself short.

If you can put words on a page and capture an audience with them, you’re a writer. That’s all you need to know.


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