Literary agents are a really big deal. They're the gatekeepers to the industry, unless you choose to self-publish, which is also a fair option. But if you're going traditional, agents are the ones who can guide your career, improve your writing, and collaborate with other people in the industry best. I recommend you get one.
B: Beta Readers
You need people, besides your mom and your agent, to look over your work. These will be your beta readers, critique partners, etc. They help you edit, give you real reader reactions, and encourage you on your way. As tempting as it may be, if you want to be a serious writer, you can't hide your work from other people. So be brave!
If you don't have a very good character, it's hard to have a good story! There are three basic aspects you want to focus on as you create a character: relatability, likability, and interest. When the character starts running the story themselves, then you've got it. Read some more about this in this post from the POV of one of my own characters.
Though it's important to follow the rules in writing, you also need to have a little daring. Try something new and different in your work! If you pull it off right, you'll have something amazing to give to the world. If you don't, you've still learned something. More thoughts on challenging yourself here.
All artists have to put some of themselves in their work, and this comes not just through experiences, but though emotion. You have to feel your work and put that feeling through in a way so that the readers will feel too. Emotion matters. You can't let yourself get blocked by an inability to face up to yourself. In fact, writing is a great way to better understand the issues you face in real life.
Relationships matter, and that's why it's important to write them into your work. Friends and family should be included in some way so as to better show the nature of your main character and deepen the story. Put some thought into those who surround your protagonist!
Even though it's important to stand out, you also have to fit in enough so that librarians, bookstores, and everyone else can market your book and shelf it appropriately. Know your genre (and category), and keep to it as you write, edit, and promote your book.
Conflict. Drama. Emotion. All of these need to be emphasized in order for you to hook the reader into your story--which means they necessary for you to get an agent or editor, too. Know what your most exciting, original, and key points are, and focus on them in your writing and your querying. Pull them in so they can't let go.
It's important to read the works of other writers in order to better understand the way literature works. Figure out which writers you idolize most, and figure out what it is about their writing that makes them so powerful, like I did in this post!
Comic relief is important, as any screenwriter can tell you. While the intense stuff is totally necessary for the hook and for the emotional influx, you need to give your reader (and yourself) a break every once in a while. Otherwise, you'll be too exhausted to make it through.
K: Kill Your Darlings
This common piece of editing advice is very important: there will be lots of phrases, paragraphs, even scenes you've written that you love, but that just don't fit into the book. You have to cut them. YOU MUST KILL YOUR DARLINGS. Don't let your ego get in the way of the story.
Love is one of the deepest and most vital human emotions, so in accordance with letters E and F, you need to put some kind of focus on it. Don't shy away from romance and other expressions of love just because it might be uncomfortable or unfamiliar for you. Explore them!
Remember, when you send out to agents and publishers, you've got to have everything formatted properly. This is a business, so be professional and do what you're told.
N: Not Just Art
Related to the above, while so much of writing is about the art, it's a business too. It's a hard dichotomy to balance, but you've got to find the business person in you and use them. I have some tips based off of James Patterson's career here.
You are the writer, and you should know more about the story than any of your characters. You also will have your own agenda, your own focus, your own voice. But it's vital, absolutely vital that you don't let that get in the way of actual story and the writing. To make a brief religious segue, God loves us and he's got a plan for us, but he doesn't commonly just throw himself into the middle of things: that's not how life works. For an Inception-themed post related to this, click here!
The most important quality you can have as a writer is perseverance. So much of this process depends on you, so you have to have dedication and focus to get it done. It also takes a lot of stubbornness to get through the many, many rejections you will receive when you get to the point of sending out to people. If you give up, then you never get anywhere.
Querying agents and editors is one of the hardest parts of this career, because this is the point at which you switch from the art brain to the business brain. You've got to work on all the professional, business-like, marketing stuff that will pull those you're querying in, and you've got to follow the rules as closely as possible, but you also need to hold onto that artistic spark. It takes practice to master!
Amidst all that perseverance, take a break now and then to recharge! You get your best inspiration from life, and you can't live life just by writing, unfortunately enough. Take care of yourself, do some fun stuff, and then get back to your writing.
Don't forget, in all of this, to stay true to your central story and the inspiration for it. What you are creating is one small piece in the giant story that is mankind, and the way it fits into that scheme is incredible. Tap into the human experience, maybe explore archetypes a bit, and make it a good one.
"Timbre" is a musical term used to describe the difference in sound between various instruments and voices. Your story has a unique sound that needs to be brought out and differentiated. Voice, tone, and setting are all important pieces in this process of making your book a beautiful piece of the larger symphony.
You have to fit in enough to be marketable, but you also gotta stand out. Figure what about your book is unique and make that a focus in your campaign for marketing and querying. It helps to think about why you chose to write this book in the first place; most likely, there was something unique in what made this matter to you. If you can't think of anything unique about your book, it's definitely time for some rewriting.
The first thing to understand about the publishing industry is that everything moves at a really slow pace. I'm talking maybe years to write, probably years to edit, definitely years to get it published. You've got to keep your expectations realistic.
Worldbuilding is one of the hardest and the most important aspects of writing, particularly for speculative fiction. One great thing to remember, as I learned at Ch1Con from Patrice Caldwell, is that your worldbuilding should be focused on the world as your character sees and knows it. After all, POV is absolutely vital to the way your audience understands the story.
X: X Factor
Here's a really hard truth: there is something to this that's totally beyond our control, that x-factor. Luck, a sense of je ne se quois, finding the right people to support your book--all of these things are beyond you, and you have to live with that. Just stay focused on what you can control.
Y: Your Audience
Please remember your audience. Although you should write for you, it's vital that you edit for them. In accordance with letter O, you can't let yourself get in the way of the story that your readers need to hear. Remember what their prejudices and habits are and play into that as much as you can.
After all of this, you have to rise up from the dead and do it again. Perseverance. Dedication! Another zombie-related tip? Look back at old stories and books or journals and recycle those ideas to create a new one. You might find something really awesome.
Images via marafitzgerald.blogspot.com, weheartya.com, breathlessbooks.wordpress.com, scribendi.com, and sequa.info.