Friday, October 5, 2012

The Mark of a Successful Writer by Terri Blackstock

Many of us have learned that the journey to publication is a tough road to travel. But how many times have you had a conversation with someone who was clueless as to just how much time and work it takes to get published? I’m so pleased that award-winning author Terri Blackstock is here to share some of her wisdom and experiences with us. ~ Dawn

The Mark 
of a Successful Writer

My friend, a successful businessman, wrote a novel in his spare time. Now he wanted me to read it and give him advice. I read a few pages and quickly realized that his book was a mess. It was far from ready for publication. In fact, I worried that he’d embarrass himself if he sent it out this way.

Unable to tackle everything wrong with the book, I picked a few of the overarching problems and told him what he should do to fix them. In my mind, it would take him much longer to revise the book than it had taken to write it. Since he knew nothing about the craft of writing novels, he would need to learn some of the basics of writing, and the book would require several more drafts and many, many hours of focused attention.

Imagine my surprise a couple of weeks later when he told me, “I fixed my book! I took a few hours Saturday and knocked out all those changes. I’m ready to submit it to publishers now.” I couldn’t help thinking how clueless he was. I usually take my books through umpteen drafts before submitting them to a publisher—and that takes months--then a couple more drafts after I get editorial input. But he had fixed his in a few hours?

Needless to say, he sent it to every paying publisher he could find, and they all rejected it. He finally decided to self-publish. I encouraged him to hire an editor, but he didn’t think he needed it. Though he was very successful in his career, and had put many, many hours into learning and honing his professional skills, he had decided that becoming a writer didn’t require any of that.

For many years, writers had to endure the process of submitting to publishers in order to break into the market. Though that system could be frustrating and discouraging for many, it was a way of vetting their work. It forced them to rewrite over and over as they got input from publishers. By the time someone decided to pay that writer for his work, it was a reasonably polished product that had a shot at success in the marketplace.

But all that has changed now that self-publishing is so easy and so attractive. Many writers are skipping all those steps—often because they don’t know any better—and they’re throwing their work out there before it’s ready for the light of day.

If I had one piece of advice for today’s writer, it would be to devote as much time to learning your craft as you would to training for any other career. Assume that your first draft of your novel is just that—a first draft, during which you learn who your characters are—and force yourself to rewrite it and rework it until you practically have it memorized. Then choose your path. If it’s to go the traditional publishing route, then submit it to editors and follow their suggestions, and believe them if they don’t think it’s ready. If your path leads you to self-publishing, hire the toughest editor you can find, and be willing to pay what he/she is worth. With their feedback, dig back in and rewrite again and again. Don’t list that book until you’re certain it can stand up to the competition out there.

Then you’ll have the best shot at success, and those of us who read your book won’t have to be embarrassed for you.

Click to reach Amazon.
Terri Blackstock has sold over six million books worldwide and is a New York Times bestselling author. She is the award-winning author of Intervention, Vicious Cycle and Downfall, as well as such series as Cape Refuge, Newpointe 911, the SunCoast Chronicles, and the Restoration Series.

To learn more about Terri and her books, please visit


  1. Amazing tips, Terri! When I arrived at my first writers' conference, I thought I had something ready to go to print. By the end of the week, I knew I had so, so far to go. What an eye-opener!

    Thanks for the reminder to polish our work before we submit (or publish).

  2. Terri--Excellent advice. Like you, I've had a friend or two show me a book they were so proud of writing. A quick scan convinced me that they were miles away from having it ready to submit.
    Independent editor Ray Rhamey tells me he and his colleagues think it takes writing three or four books before a writer begins to "get it." Unfortunately, once a writer completes the first book, their pride demands that they share it. What they need to do is get a critique from someone who knows writing, then go through the work about umpteen more times to edit, polish, and finish it.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Great post, Terri! As a writer I know it takes tons of time and several drafts to get something closer to ready for an editor's opinion. As an editor, I could relate with many of your comments, especially choosing just a few overarching elements to comment on. I heard recently that it takes 10,000 hours to get proficient at something. So, the key is to write, write, write, and study the craft of writing. Throw a critique group and a professional editor in there and now we're getting somewhere, hopefully. Thanks for visiting Seriously Write!


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