Being published isn’t the sign of a great writer, but it is the first step toward being a successful one. If you’ve been writing and sending out your work for awhile but haven’t been published yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not a good writer. It probably just means you aren’t doing all the little things that published writers do.
Here are the main things published writers do that unpublished writers don’t:
Published writers write with purpose. Not everything you write is going to be good. Published writers know this. But they also don’t just sit around forcing themselves to write all the time. If you want to be a published writer, you need to focus on writing your best work, not just on getting words down on paper. You should have a purpose every time you sit down at your typewriter, keyboard, notepad, or wherever you choose to write. Whether you’re editing your novel manuscript or working on a short story writing prompt, you should always have a reason for doing what you’re doing.
Published writers pick the right places to submit their work. The main secret to getting published is to send your work to a place that will publish it. Sounds pretty obvious, right? Well, many writers don’t follow this simple advice. Many writers just throw out their work and hope it sticks somewhere. Published writers create a submission strategy and choose the venues that are the best fit. They don’t just send out any old story to any old publication. They spend time getting to know a publication before carefully picking a piece that meets their guidelines.
Published writers play by the rules. In the writing business, the rules are the submission guidelines. If you don’t follow them, you won’t be published. Period. If the maximum word count is 2,000, your 2,001-word story doesn’t stand a chance. If they want standard manuscript format, then your triple-spaced document in Comic Sans isn’t going to fly. Follow the guidelines to a T if you want your work accepted. Of course, following the guidelines doesn’t mean you blindly listen to every piece of writing advice out there. Published writers also know there’s a time and place to break the rules.
Published writers read a lot. If you write more than you read, then you are never going to be a successful writer. Published writers obviously write a lot, but they spend even more time reading. Reading helps you hone your craft. And don’t just read in one particular niche. Read a wide variety of work. The more exposure you have to different voices, the more of a master you’ll become at your own craft. As I used to tell my writing students, the best way to become a better writer is by reading. Of course, at some point you have to put down your book and write.
Published writers write with confidence. If you’re constantly sitting around bashing yourself, then it’s going to be hard to be a successful writer. Published writers aren’t the ones complaining about rejections on social media. They aren’t saying self-deprecating things about themselves on Twitter. They aren’t spending their time Googling “Am I a good writer?” Published writers hold their pens confidently and run their fingers over the keyboard as if it’s the most natural thing they’ve ever done. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t doubt yourself, and it definitely doesn’t mean you should be a cocky asshole.
Published writers never submit first drafts. Or second drafts. Or third drafts. Many inexperienced writers want to send out their work as soon as it is finished. Published writers are patient and wait until a manuscript is as close to perfect as possible before they even think about sending it out. Revise, revise, and revise some more before you decide where you’re going to send a piece of your writing.
Published writers never give up. Every writer gets rejected. No matter how many times you’ve been published, you’re still going to get occasional rejections even if you have a great submission strategy and only submit your very best work. Rejection is part of the game. But published writers never accept rejection as the end. They continue to revise their work and persevere. Hell, I once had a piece rejected by over 50 publications before it was finally accepted by a venue offering professional payment rates.
If you believe in what you’ve written, you’ll get it published eventually if you follow the above tips from published writers. It might take a little longer than you want, but it will be worth it when you see your name in print.