Our Pages

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Career Checklist for New (and Experienced) Writers

Every year, on New Year's Day, thousands of new novelists resolve to finally write the book of their heart. And thousands of experienced, but unpublished, writers vow to get published.

Writing for publication is unlike any other job you've ever had. There's no formal training, no paid manager to make sure you're making your objectives. How can you know if you're doing everything you should on the road to publication? Too often I hear stories of people who wrote for years or spent a small fortune before finally discovering what they needed to do to achieve their goals.

With that in mind, I got together with my local RWA chapter president, Janis McCurry, and we came up with the following checklist to help new writers navigate the road to publication. I think even published writers may find some things have slipped to the wayside under the pressure to meet deadlines.

At the top of the list is a place to write your personal goal because that goal should influence every writing decision you make. How do you measure success? Is it in number of books written or in dollars? Is your ultimate goal to quit your day job? This goal-making process is a bit controversial. Some authors believe in only making goals for things you can control (e.g. number of pages written) and others believe you must dream big to succeed.

Whatever method you choose for measuring success, I hope this list will spark some ideas on how to move ahead. While the items on this list may help you get published, please remember that the writing must always come first. You can't sell if you don't have a polished, completed manuscript.

Primary Goal
I will ___________________________________________________by ___________________________________________________.

Steps on the Road to Publication:
_____Join a professional writers’ organization (like RWA)
_____Learn the craft (workshops/books/classes)
_____Find a critique group or partner
_____WRITE A COMPLETE NOVEL by writing___pages/day
_____If you are a RWA member, apply for PRO status
____ Enter contests (Optional)
_____Study the market
_____Learn to write a query letter and synopsis
_____Research agents and editors and create personal list
_____Query agents
_____Attend national and/or regional conferences
_____Pitch to editors and agents in person
_____Sign with agent
_____Develop a brand
_____Learn about contracts, taxes, and other legal issues
_____Network online and in person
_____Develop a personal website and/or join a group blog

I would love to hear your comments on this list. Did I leave anything out? What have you found most helpful in your quest to be published?


  1. Great list, Clarissa. There are three I have not really put much effort into. I think I will need to print this and keep it by my computer so I can check them all off by the end of the year. What I have found to be the most helpful is the critique group. They are the ones that really helped me improve my writing.

  2. Hi Amy! I think we are exceptionally lucky to have such a wonderful critique group. Good crit partners are hard to find.

  3. Fantastic list, Clarissa. I haven't joined a professional organization or attended a conference for financial reasons, so I haven't had the opportunity to pitch in person--but those are the only three things on your list that I haven't done.

  4. Cat, you have worked so hard and are so well-prepared, it won't be long before I'm buying your book in the local B&N. Good luck with all your submissions.

  5. Great list! I'm a list kind of gal and this year - to help me stay on track - I also created a weekly goal list and posted it in front of my computer. The goals are slightly different depending upon where I am in my writing, but it helps me focus. There are about 5 things on your list that I haven't done, but am working towards. Thanks again for the great post!

  6. Hi Meredith! A weekly list is an excellent idea. Thanks for sharing that idea with us :) It's always nice to see you commenting at the Lady Scribes.

  7. Thanks Clarissa! This list defined an additional goal for me. Writing for publication is so much more than pen to paper (or finger to key). The support of professional organizations or critique groups is a major advantage to writers in any career stage. Absent membership in such groups, blogs like this one really make a difference in maintaining your focus. This support can help writers in identifying the ways we sabotage our writing goals as we mesh writing with the other facets of our lives. You know - making a living, family, laundry, dishes . . .

  8. Hi Liz, I am really looking forward to your guest blog on Value-Driven time management next week. Thanks for helping out the Lady Scribes!

  9. Clarissa, what a fantastic list. Unfortunately, even if all the boxes are checked, some people will still not get published. I truly believe you have to have a great story, a readable voice and a LOT of luck.

    Happy New Year to all of you.

  10. Happy New Year, Liz L.! I think you are right about needing a great story, voice, and luck.
    A great agent helps too :))

    But I have heard so many stories of people who spent a fortune trying to get published before they discovered writers' organizations and learned that money is supposed to flow to the author.

    Our goal in making this list was to help writers see that there are plenty of things an author can do to help himself while he waits for lightning to strike. :)

  11. Excellent list! (I love lists, because I love checking things off. It's visual motivation.)

    I would add something to the effect "Learn to use critiques/advice judiciously so as not to lose your own voice" or something like that. I think it's often hard for new writers to not take all feedback as gospel.

  12. What a great suggestion, Gillian. I probably didn't think of it because I'm not sure I'm quite there yet. :) Thanks for commenting.