Wednesday, July 3, 2013

33 Five Traits of Published Writers by Megan Shepherd

We're thrilled to have Megan Shepherd as our guest today. She's the author of the YA gothic thriller The Madman's Daughter and the forthcoming sequel Her Dark Curiosity (January 2014), plus The Cage Trilogy, a YA sci-fi to be released starting in summer 2015.


 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 soufflĂ© 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.


Visit Megan's website
Check out Megan's blog
Follow Megan on Twitter






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.

Purchase The Madman's Daughter on Amazon
View The Madman's Daughter on Goodreads

33 comments:

  1. It's more a lifestyle than a hobby or vocation.

    Love that!

    Great list. I agree those traits are going to get you where you want to go.

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    1. That is a such a great quote, isn't it? My favorite (or at least tied with the idea of it being a curse :D) is this:

      "...you can actually see their determination and passion and professionalism in the way they present themselves."

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  2. Well yes, I think that you succinctly pinpoint what I have said for a while now: namely that the chance of success rides on the back of a lot of hard work and dogged, single-minded determination. A little genius and a dose of wit helps, of course, but it it this quality of grit and do-it-or-die-trying that opens the doorway of opportunity in the end.

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    1. Well said, Austin! I love your point about opening the door of opportunity!

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  3. These are such great points, Megan, and I couldn't agree more. Talent is nice, but it doesn't replace the old-fashioned butt-in-chair doggedness that is shared by every published writer I know.

    Thanks for a great post! We are honored to have you here on the blog with us.

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  4. This gives me hope! :D I have all five of these things! (Well, I could do better with #5., but I'm working at trying to figure all of this crazy stuff out).

    Thanks for the great list! :D I would add having a presence online (though I guess you covered a lot of that in #5.). I've already started to work my way up just from having a teeny tiny blog that only my parents and grandparents used to read. Once you start commenting on different blog, people start showing up. It's crazy how it works, isn't it?

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    1. It seems like you are doing all the right things, and I still can't get over the fact that you are only 13 years old! I wish I had been HALF as accomplished as you when I was TWICE your age! It's fantastic that you are pursuing writing so seriously and intelligently!

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    2. Aww, thanks so much! :D Your blog is one of my absolute favorites! (And your giveaways are AMAZING! I enter ever single one of them).

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  5. This gives me hope. Everyone at 'work' gives me weird looks when I tell them I'm going to write almost every lunch brake. I must do it.

    Thank you for this article!

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    1. I think it is hard for people who don't write to understand what we do. I can't tell you how many people have told me they had always intended to "write a novel" the minute I "came out of the closet" and said I was writing. Being online and seeing other people struggling to learn the craft and the business is a huge inspiration for me. Without that example, I might well have given up and decided I just didn't have the talent for it. Instead, I just realized I had to put in the hours/years and do what it took to learn. It's great that you are taking your lunch hour to do what you love!

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  6. These are such wonderful points. Thanks Megan.

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  7. Great tips on what we have to do if we're serious about our writing. I confess I need to follow the write all the time tip better.

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  8. So true.... It is our obsession!

    I've ways believed in hard work, and timing is everything!

    Nice to meet you Megan.

    Thanks for the interview Martina.

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    1. That's definitely true about timing! It's funny because an author friend and I were just talking about this last night. There's that adage about things happening for a reason, and I think that's especially true of timing in publication. It can feel like a long road getting there, but I can look back on the journey now and see that I would have been unprepared if it had happened to me any sooner. The hard work I put in makes me look at the prospect of revisions and second books and all the myriad other things I have to look forward to with a foundation of knowledge I wouldn't have had a year or two ago. I found myself nodding the whole time I was reading Megan's post.

      Yes, we're obsessed. But that's a good thing, right? :)

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  9. Yay, I fit all of these criteria. I even get up at 5 am on Christmas morning to write. And pray my kids don't wake up too early due to their overwhelming excitement.

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    1. Which is why YOU are my hero. Seriously, Stina, you are a beacon of inspiration. I have learned so much from your posts and your example of determination to succeed!

      GREAT things are in store for you. Very, very soon!

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  10. I met Megan at Chautauqua a few summers ago and am so thrilled to see her success - she's such an inspiration. And her list is definitely a wake-up call because I think I've been spending too much time on #5 and not enough on #1.

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    1. I heard about about Megan's professionalism and talent from her agent before Madman's Daughter came out. She became an example and inspiration for me right at that moment! And wow, am I impressed you went to Chautauqua. I have heard such great things about it!

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  11. Obsession! There's a good word for it. I feel kind of self-conscious saying I recognize these traits in myself, not being published or anything. But I think a sixth trait might be "not giving up" or "stubborn" or "mulish" or a similar synonym. ;)

    Also, I love the cover -- very Ophelia.

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    1. Not being published doesn't diminish your desire or determination! Like Megan, I suspect it's the determination to be published! hang in there!

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  12. Megan, I don't know you, but it seems you know me lol! Okay, not really. But the traits you described are eerily familiar. Even when I've thought of ending the writing because of family of self-pubbing just seemed like so much...I couldn't not write. I just adore storytelling. So wow...just wow.

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    1. I love the way you phrased that, Angela! Loving to tell stories is very different than loving to write words, or loving the idea of a being a writer, and I suspect it pretty much guarantees success. To me, storytelling automatically suggests a connection between the teller and the reader/listener. That's awesome in the original sense of the word! :)

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  13. GREAT piece, Megan (and Martina). So Very True. :-) I started devouring books about the business of writing 30 years ago and have shelves full of titles about writing and the publishing business. It's like an addiction. Writers also tend to love stationary stores, too . . . :-)

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    1. I am laughing with you about the stationary, too. I have an entire chest of drawers devoted to stationary. You know, in case I suddenly get an itch to write someone a letter. I also frequently write notes to put in with giveaway books I am sending out, and then forget to put them in before I seal the envelope. Grr.

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  14. obsessed...addicted...cursed...A writers life is totally blessed :) Lovely article Megan. It took me most of my life to come to terms with the fact that I was doomed to be a writer, now at the age of 50 something I am finally published. Nice to meet you both.

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  15. Congratulations on being published! I'm a late bloomer myself, so I totally understand the-having-the-writing-itch-but-not-giving-yourself-permission thing!

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  16. Thank you, Megan! I often think you published authors are cut from a totally different cloth. It's good to be reminded that with enough hard work, we can achieve success. :)

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  17. Love, love, love this. Yes, we only fail if we stop trying and stop learning. Thanks so much for this. And by the way, LOVE the book blurb and cover.

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  18. Great article, Martina. I've only been writing seriously for three years now, but I've both the will and the passion for every part of the writing process. I happily spent Fourth of July writing away the day (in between dips in the pool with the kids). I'm not yet published, but I certainly intend to be.

    Your book trailer hooked me! Another to put in the TBR pile on my Kindle. Congrats on your success, and best wishes for future sales. :)

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  19. Sorry. Meant to acknowledge Megan in my comment. :)

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  20. I'm nodding in agreement at all of these! And I love the title of your book, its intriguing :)

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  21. Thanks so much for the wonderful tips! I agree 100%!

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  22. Great article - really enjoyed reading it. Writing is all consuming and as you've said Megan, even when you're not writing, you're thinking and creating. I've conducted quite a few courses for aspiring writers and I think it does become obvious fairly quickly which of the participants like the idea of writing more than the act. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience.

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