Thursday, March 07, 2019

An Author’s Journey: What’s important?

By Ray Flynt

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Before we dive in today, a heads up that I'm over at Writers Helping Writers talking about show, don't tell. 

Whether they take the traditional path or the indie path to publication, writers face similar challenges to achieve their dreams. 

Two decades ago, I had the opportunity to hear Maya Angelou speak. She told the story of another presentation she’d given to inspire writers and artists, after which a teenaged girl approached and said, “Listening to you, I’ve decided what to do with my life. I want to be a star.” Our audience, comprised of adults, appreciated the irony.

Just as billions of galaxies comprise the universe, millions of writers fill an authors’ cosmos—all struggling to let their work shine through and find an audience. Stardom is for an elite (and lucky) few. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Whomever might be billed as such, has toiled mightily to hone their skills to perfection and—at last—earned recognition for their talent. Anyone who claims a modicum of success has a story to tell of a buried manuscript, or an early endeavor no longer worthy of association with the advancements in their craft. Salmon during spawning season have nothing on artists who swim upstream against a tide of competition, all yearning for the attention and affection of readers.

Consider this quote by Richard Bach: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

I’m reminded of the old adage for three things a plumber needs to know: 1. Hot is always on the left, 2. S*** flows downhill, and 3. Friday is payday. This five-point list for authors isn’t quite so simple, but food for thought nonetheless.

1. Quality Matters

You’re a writer first and foremost. You may not consider yourself a marketing expert, social media guru, or a good web designer. You can, however, focus your attention on what matters most—write the best story you can. Dot the Is, cross the Ts. Consult a dictionary. Cozy up with a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. A well-written book is the first step toward achieving success as an author.

(Here's more on treating your writing life like a real job)

2. Have a Support System

how to get published
Unlike many creative art forms (e.g. an orchestra, band, or theatrical production), writing is a solitary activity—you gazing at a computer screen bringing words to life. It’s doubly important to have friends and family providing unconditional support. We all need to hear attagirl or attaboy periodically. When I wrote my first novel, my wife encouraged me every chapter of the way. She wasn’t a critic, but she kept me going at those moments when I felt discouraged. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. I finished that book, which in retrospect wasn’t very good. But I had crossed the finish line, which told me I’d be able to do it again.

In addition to encouragement, it’s important to seek out a network of trusted writers who will share constructive feedback. They can identify strengths and point out weaknesses in your plot, or faults in your phrasing. As writers, we know what we want to communicate. Working with a critique group, writing partner, or even experienced beta readers, provides a sounding board to ensure that your intentions are coming through. Think of it as quality control. Whether and how you make changes is your call.

3. Keep Your Perspective

how to be an author
As an author, where are you in your publishing process? Have you just finished your first book, or are you working on novel #18? Following the marathon analogy from earlier, your thoughts on that first circle around the track are quite different than when you’ve rounded those curves for the umpteenth time. It’s only human nature for you to want your book(s) to match what you’ve seen your writing idols produce.

One of my early revelations at a writing conference was when I heard that my favorite author had written two unpublished books before achieving best-seller status. (I’ve heard similar stories from other writers who have become household names.) Always have high hopes, coupled with realistic expectations. When you make a mistake, learn its lesson and move on.

(Here's more on defining what success means to you)

4. Be Prudent

Prudent: “Acting with or showing care and thought for the future.” I’m talking about your writing future. There are no shortages of individuals and companies who will gladly separate you from your money, ostensibly to further YOUR writing career. You’ve seen the come-ons: An invitation to join a “select” group of aspiring writers at a villa on the Riviera for an immersive week of writing at the cost of $4,800, or a marketing scheme that promises your book will secure a top-10 ranking on Amazon. Look under the hood. Kick the tires. Choose wisely.

We’ve written before about indie author as entrepreneur and how, as with any small business, you must be prepared to “invest” (time and money) in aspects of your publishing career (cover design, web design, advertising, personal appearances, social media, marketing, conferences, and more). It’s better to start small, evaluate the results, tweak strategies, and then focus your resources into what works best for you.

(Here's more on juggling multiple tasks and thriving) 

5. Look for Inspiration

being an author
When it comes to advertising, your social media presence, and/or marketing, you have the benefit of seeing how others—including your writing heroes—handle those same tasks. Take inspiration from what works for them. That doesn’t mean you’ll achieve their same level of success by adapting a marketing idea used by James Patterson or Danielle Steele. You know that they have the resources to hire the best talent.

Figure out how you can personalize what they did and make it work for you. Okay, so your hero has 50,000 friends on Facebook and you only have 500. We market in order to expand the number of people familiar with our work, right? A base of 525 friends next month represents a 5% increase. I’d call that a success.

Now if I could just figure out how to boil this down to those three simple plumbers’ rules! As always, your comments are welcome. They also give me ideas for future Fiction University articles.

Ray Flynt authors two series: Brad Frame mysteries, and one featuring journalist Ryan Caldwell. He’s also written a political suspense, KISSES OF AN ENEMY. A native of Pennsylvania, Ray wrote and performs a one-man play based on the life of Ben Franklin. Ray is a member of Mystery Writers of    America and active with their Florida Chapter. He is a life member of the Florida Writers Association. Ray retired from a diverse career in criminal justice, education, the arts, and human services.

Website | Goodreads |

About Unforgiving Shadows

Brad Frame lived a serene but aimless existence on Philadelphia’s Main Line until his mother and sister were kidnapped and murdered.

The tragedy transformed his life.

After helping the police catch their killers, and with the aid of his mentor, Philadelphia Detective Nick Argostino, Brad opened his own private detective agency vowing to help bring justice to others whose lives had been turned upside down.

Eleven years later, Brad is invited to the execution by lethal injection of Frank Wilkie, one of two men responsible for the death of his mother and sister.

Thinking that Wilkie might have something to say, Brad reluctantly attends. Wilkie remains silent, but as Brad exits the prison the chaplain races after him, thrusting the condemned man’s Bible into his hands.

Within hours another man is anxious to get his hands on Wilkie’s Bible, and Brad suspects the motivation could involve the still-missing ransom money.

But as the reason becomes clear, Brad’s world is once again turned upside down. Aided by his associate, Sharon Porter, Brad unravels an eleven-year-old mystery that casts new suspicion on family, neighbors and business associates alike.

UNFORGIVING SHADOWS is the first book in the successful Brad Frame Mystery Series.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |Indie Bound | 


  1. I loved this! Especially point number 2. I think as writers, we don't generally reach out to people we can lean on because we're meant to toil in solitude. But I think I need to put this into practice so I can have a few cheerleaders and to also know what day it is. :)

  2. I think an author can change the whole thinking and he can make an amazing idea. That's can bring many things..