Five Traits of Published Writers
by Megan Shepherd
I've developed a secret sixth sense since becoming a published author. I can go to a writing conference and within a few minutes tell who is going to be successful at writing and who isn’t (as least in so far as getting publishing equals being successful, which ain’t always the case). Maybe it isn’t always accurate, and certainly isn’t entirely fair, but in a lot of cases, it has been right. So what exactly do these people have in common? The same traits I see in a lot of my published writer friends. It isn’t that they’re a certain age, or a certain gender, or sit in the front row at conferences, or are proactive when it comes to cornering agents and editors at cocktail hour.
It’s that they want it enough to work hard for it, and you can actually see their determination and passion and professionalism in the way they present themselves.
For the purposes of this post, let’s define hard as “even when it’s not fun or convenient, and at the expense of sanity and a social life.” In a way, aspiring to be a writer is like a curse. We all love to think of it as a fun and creative hobby, but the truth is it can be terribly stressful: demanding long hours away from friends and family, consuming your thoughts, making you ache with jealousy and feelings of insecurity. But, sometimes, the payoff is worth it. Here are the main traits I see in published authors and writers who I predict will be published one day:
1. They spend most of their free time doing it.
By the amount of time I talk about gardening, you’d think I was some kind of homesteading maven who plucks zucchini from the vine and makes a soufflé every night. Sure, every year I buy a few tomato plants and stick them in the ground, weed when I remember to, curse the slugs and whatnot, but I’m hardly a master gardener. The truth is, I like the idea of gardening a lot more than the actual work. Many aspiring writers fall into a similar category. And that’s okay! My occasional gardening makes me happy and I get a few tomatoes out of it. But those writers who are going to be successful aren’t just in love with the idea of it…they MUST do it. It’s an obsession that eats away all their free time whether they want it to or not.
2. They’re constantly working.
My published author friends work nonstop. They get up at 5am or else stay awake until 5am. They write on Christmas, during lunch breaks, while at their children’s soccer games. When they’re not actually writing, they’re making observations and planning through books in their heads. It’s more of a lifestyle than a hobby or avocation.
3. They are obsessed with reading.
This seems logical, but you’d be surprised. I only know one published author who “doesn’t read much,” and she’s definitely the exception and looked at with weird stares. Most authors read all the time, both for pleasure and for work. They love to talk about books, are constantly browsing in bookstores and sneaking away to libraries on their lunch hours.
4. They know what they want.
Many published authors had very specific goals when they started out: in most cases, to be traditionally published. Some even knew the editor or publishing house they wanted, or the size deal. It doesn’t always work out that way, but they set their goals high and then took those goals seriously. “Getting published” can have so many meanings: self-published, published with a small press, or a large press, or one book, or an entire career. Serious writers educate themselves on the market, but also think deeply about what they want, and let that shape the work they do.
5. They know the business.
We all have the fantasy of a hermit writer in some cabin without internet, communing with nature and pounding out pages on a typewriter and sending them Pony Express to their editor, who magically turns it into a successful book. The truth is, very few published authors these days can get away with being recluses. Most are very active in their marketing and social media efforts before and after their book deal. They read up on trends and publishing as a business, and take initiative in their own works’ success.
If you’re an aspiring writer reading this post and feel you have all these traits in spades but aren’t yet published, don’t get discouraged. Sometimes it really is just a question of time or luck. Remember that every published author spent years struggling before they got their first deal. When I meet aspiring writers at conferences who I think are going to be successful, I sympathize with their frustration at the publication process, but at the same time, I know that if they keep working at it, it will probably happen.
About the Author
Megan Shepherd grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where her family has owned and operated an independent bookstore for over 35 years. Shepherd attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she majored in international studies and went on to live and work in Costa Rica, Senegal, Scotland, Spain, and many other countries. Now, Shepherd has returned to Western North Carolina and is a full-time writer of young adult novels.
She is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.
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About the Book
Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid and trying to forget the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he's alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she's determined to find out if the accusations were true.
Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward, Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the secret of her father's new life: he experiments on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.
Inspired by H.G. Wells's classic The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Madman's Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect.
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