Want a guideline from a successful writer that points the way to becoming a successful writer? I bet you do.

Harvey Rachlin, award-winning author of Scandals, Vandals and da Vincis, and dozens of others, lays out a nifty 50 rules for writers to achieve success in The Writer Magazine...Pay particular attention to the last one! 

From the experience of Harvey Rachlin:

To succeed as a writer in the world of publishing is no easy task. A plethora of writers—many of them seasoned pros or people famous from other fields—compete for the precious space in magazines and newspapers and for the limited number of book contracts offered by publishing houses. A writer needs talent, drive and dedication to break into the game or stay in it, not to mention a little bit of luck.

But opportunities abound. Industry folk are always looking for strong new voices, and the writer with respectable credits often has a leg up on the competition. Still, writing for publication is a challenging endeavor—a bit like shooting three-pointers from half-court. And for all writers, new and experienced alike, there are some basic rules that may serve as a blueprint for success. Here are 50 of them:

1. Pick a direction. What do you want to do? Write novels, biography, self-help, science fiction, essays, articles, poetry? The industry likes to peg writers, so set your compass and follow the needle.

2. Learn your craft. Different literary forms require different stylistic techniques. Learn and master the form you want to write in. Read, study (via courses, for example, or an MFA program), write; read, study, write!

3. Learn the industry. Whether you want to write books or newspaper and magazine articles or for the Internet, writing without knowing the markets is like trying to pin the tail on the donkey. Confidence and success come with identifying the publishers who are most likely to buy your work. Comb the trades and writing magazines, explore libraries and magazine stands, and search the Internet to see what the markets are.

4. Write all the time. Like concert musicians who practice every day to give their best performance, writers need to write all the time to do their best work. Periods of abstinence are a guaranteed route to rustiness.

5. Be a fountain of ideas. Ideas are the lifeblood of the writer’s trade. Train yourself to sprout fresh and innovative ideas by constantly thinking about what would make a great book or article. Ideas are all around you—headlines, culture, research, conversations, not to mention your own fertile imagination.

6. Pursue ideas with the greatest commercial potential. Who is the audience for your book? Is it sizeable? Does your book idea cover an angle that hasn’t been done before? To convince a publisher to offer you a contract, you want to present a book idea that has the greatest chance of success.

7. Run your nonfiction book ideas by others. Before you spend time writing a book proposal, make sure the book has a solid market. Get feedback from your agent if you have one, but if you don’t, ask someone knowledgeable whose judgment you trust, like a librarian or bookseller.

8. Learn how to write a great proposal. Generally speaking, for fiction, a complete manuscript or several sample chapters are needed for a publishing contract. For nonfiction, it’s proposals. Nonfiction-book proposals follow a basic formula. Learn how to craft a proposal, to write dynamite sample chapters, and to set your proposal apart from the competition.

9. Get started on something! Once you’ve decided what to write about, don’t procrastinate, just start. Get something down. You will write and rewrite, write and rewrite, but you won’t have anything if you don’t begin. No excuses; just results.

10. Read before you write. Starting to write “cold” can produce uninspired work. There’s nothing like great writing to warm you up to tempo, rhythm, flow, cadences, flavor, and overall élan. Before you begin pounding the keyboard, pick up a piece of writing that moves you and read it until your creative batteries are charged.
11. See it through. Writers come up with all sorts of excuses not to finish what we started. Don’t! Avoid distractions, stay focused, work out problems, and wrap it up.

12. Be sure your work is in the best possible shape before you submit it. In your eagerness to get published, don’t let your writing get short shrift. It isn’t finished until you’ve given it your best effort.

13. Hire an editor. After reading your work over and over, you can lose your objectivity about it. Before submitting your work, have a professional editor or someone whose editorial judgment you trust read it over.

14. Write multiple proposals. Every agent has his or her own interests and editorial contacts. Sending an agent several book proposals may increase the chance that the agent will like at least one of your ideas. It’s more work, but it may be worth it in the end. And you can always use the other proposals down the line.

15. Write books with international appeal. Foreign publishers buy books they believe will be of particular interest to their countries’ readers, so keep that in mind when planning or writing your book.

16. Build your platform. Unless they have a Ph.D., a slew of prestigious writing credits, or a guaranteed appearance on Oprah, it’s essential for nonfiction writers to beef up their credentials to get a book contract. Teach a course, build a media profile, do whatever you can to make yourself a recognized expert in your subject area.

17. Snag endorsements from established authors. If you can submit your work with sparkling blurbs from successful authors or leaders in your genre, you show not only that your work is of high quality, but that you are a professional committed to marketing your work.

18. Follow submission guidelines. Check publications’ or publishers’ websites for instructions on how to submit work, as well as for descriptions of what kinds of material they’re looking for. If possible, address queries and submissions to specific people. If you don’t know the name of an appropriate editor, call or e-mail the company and find out (although in some cases websites direct submissions to particular departments without naming an editor).

19. Write a great query letter. This is the first thing an editor or agent sees, so you want it to be a knockout. Look for books and magazine or online articles to learn the tricks of writing query letters that capture the reader’s attention.

20. Follow up submissions in a timely manner. It may take time to get a response, so be patient. But if several weeks have passed and you haven’t heard back, write (or call, if allowed) to find out the status of your submission. Keep orderly records of all your submissions and follow-up activities.
21. Find markets that can further your career goals. Do you want to publish in literary journals, music magazines, women’s magazines, or special-interest online sites? Research available outlets and either send in your work or query. Also, don’t overlook alumni magazines, trade publications, and other specialty magazines, which can also generate national recognition and book contracts. For fiction writers, keep in mind that agents and editors scour these types of publications for new talent. Let your work here catch their attention.

22. Read target publications before you submit. It’s one of the basic rules of publishing, but surprisingly it’s not always followed. Read several issues of any publication to which you wish to send your work to be sure your work is appropriate for it.

23. Suggest a column with your local town newspaper. Want to be an arts critic, a political pundit, a humor writer, an advice columnist? Write a few pieces on spec for your local paper and try to create a gig for yourself. This could not only build up your writing credits but later lead to syndication.

24. Find an agent. We all know writers need agents, but how do you find the right one for you? To aid your search, you could attend writers conferences, ask other writers, inquire at author associations or college writing departments, check the acknowledgments of books like yours, read writers magazines and industry trades, read online sites or correspond on writers forums, or check with professional literary agent associations, such as the Association of Authors’ Representatives.
25. Make sure your agent is working in your best interest. Just because you have an agent doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. Monitor the work of your agent to be certain he or she is doing his or her best on your behalf--helping you shape your work for submission, selling it, negotiating your contract, selling license rights, and championing you to industry folk. If your agent isn’t facilitating your career, talk it over with him or her, and if that doesn’t produce results, move on.

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