I am very often asked what the secret or key is to getting published. I don't have a secret or a key. Such a thing doesn't exist. If only it were that simple! But here are a few things that I think are essential for a writer to do.
1. Read. Should I write that in all caps? READ. This is the single most important preparation in order to become a writer. There is a saying that, "You must read a thousand books, before you can write one." This is absolutely true. Read widely. Read critically. And then reread.
2. Write. Sounds obvious I know, but a lot of people talk about writing, but never actually do it. You must be a doer. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Everybody has them. Actual complete stories are rare.
3. Study craft. Just because you are passionate about a great idea, doesn't mean you know how to get it down on the page. No writer is strong in all areas, but strong storytelling draws on many components--character, plot, pacing, dialogue, twists, setbacks, setting, subtext, foreshadowing, backstory, tension, point-of-view, subplots, tense, first drafts, second drafts, tenth drafts! The list goes on and on. The wonderful thing is there are tons of books out there on craft by a lot of smart people. Learn from them. I have an extensive library of craft books. A few of my favorites are:
Story by Robert McKee On Writing by Stephen King Bird by Bird by Anne Lemott Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler
The Anatomy of a Story by John Truby Save the Cat by Blake Snyder Into the Woods by John Yorke Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland Writing From the Inside Outby Dennis Palumbo
4. Rewrite. Yep. Many times. Great stories are not written in one sweep. A complete first draft is a huge accomplishment. Huge. Congratulations. Few writers make it that far. But it is not the end of the process by a long shot. My books usually go through at least six drafts, sometimes more. Revision is where you get to make that rough lump of clay into something beautiful, but it takes time and patience. Don't jump the gun. You only get once chance at a first impression.
5. Join a writers group. Essential. It might be one online, or one in person, but you must get feedback on your writing. I get lots of requests for mentoring from young writers. I really wish I could do this but I can't. If I said yes to even a fraction of these requests I would have no time to write myself, not to mention I am still a part of a writer's group where we give each other feedback. It doesn't matter how many times you've been published, you still need that support group. Here are a few resources that might help you out with this:
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators aka the SCBWI. - A great organization for writers. They have regional chapters all over the world and frequent conferences and abundant resources for writers just starting out. A must for new writers to learn the basic ins and outs and connect with other writers.
Figment - This is a reading and writing community created especially for teen readers and writers. They have forums, contests, places to share your work, and much more.
Teen Ink - Another site dedicated to teens who read and write. Lots of fabulous resources including a forum where teens can share their writing and get feedback.
6. Be Persistent. This is the single-most consistent trait I have seen among published writers. They didn't give up. Neither should you. Your first book may not get published (mine wasn't) and your second and third books may not either. Those are not wasted stories. They are part of your learning process, if you allow yourself to become your own best critic and learn from them. Don't keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Learn, grow, and try again.
7. Read. I said that already? It bears repeating. Read.