Most Important Advice?
Okay, I'll be the first to admit I'm not the most veteran author/publisher in the room; but one of the questions I get is for what advice I'd give to new or aspiring authors. It's a fair question, if not a bit broad. My answer....well, it's many answers, all depending on where you are in the process. In light of that, it made me think it's time for a new list.
1. Stop using the word "aspiring" in this context. An "aspiring author" just means you'd really like to have a book published someday. Now, all things being equal, twenty years ago the phrase "aspiring author" made a lot of sense. You could be a writer but, not yet having found an agent or a publisher, your options were incredibly limited. Today, however, with the self-publishing offerings available, anyone can get their material published. So, please stop aspiring. Do it. Don't make me quote Yoda, because I totally will.
2. You should be writing. In the famous advice of, well, pretty much everybody, "Write, Write, Write!" Don't just send your manuscript off and wait impatiently for the phone to ring. Take a little bit of time to appropriately celebrate that big milestone, and then get back to work. Always look for ways to improve your writing skills, and never be too afraid of self-examination. A little fear, sure, is natural. But don't let it stop you.
3. Take it Seriously. Being an author is just like being any kind of other thing which is roughly job-shaped. It requires work, discipline, and, these days includes things like business savvy, networking skills and the ability to engage in "people time." Don't expect anyone else to magically do it for you. Nobody's going to be your sherpa.
4. Don't take it TOO seriously. It's not a race, it's not a contest, and if you don't end up becoming the next J K Rowling or Charles Dickens, don't let it crush you. The fact is, there's already been one J K Rowling and one Charles Dickens, so be content to be the next YOU. And if you don't manage to create the next Great American Novel... well, honestly, I hope that's not your actual aspiration. Write what you enjoy. Or, if your goal is commercial success, write what will make you money. But either way you go, it's essential that you accept that you might not make the sort of commercial success or general recognition you may have as your goal. The number of variables in having the right book at the right time, delivered in the right way... well, I'm just saying a lot of us authors haven't yet quit our day jobs. Think long, plan well, be patient.
5. Get to know...everybody and everything. The new key to getting things going in this age of the internet is getting yourself out there. Meet other authors, meet other artists, learn the business and offer your services. Also, do your homework. A lot of what I've learned was gleaned right off the internet, through a variety of help sites and instructions from the pioneers who had gone on before, but also a great deal of it was through fantastic and miraculous mentors and friends who I've been privileged to know as I've gone along.
6. Live. One of my college professors gave me the advice which would later (and since) become my life's motto: "Experience everything." When you feel the cold, dead fingers of "writer's block" start to creep around your heart, get away from the business of expressing and get out into the world and drink it in. Watch the sun come up, watch it go down. Do the same with the moon. Smell the rain. Dance. Close your eyes and listen to the world turn. Talk to a stranger. Watch people. Go someplace you've never been. Look into silence, and breathe in that which looks back. Yeah, be a little zen in your being. The stories are there, you just have to let them wash over you. You're the pen. Life is the ink.
Whatever your medium, telling stories is the distilled essence of any artform. Being an author just means you've had that artistic work created. Being published is just one form of construction, whether it's through a corporate publishing house, using a structured service provider, or doing it all yourself. Whether you want to write your story and share it with family and friends, keep a copy all to yourself on your bookshelf, or put it out into the world for all to see, decide what it is you want and get it done. Just like every path starts with a single step, every story starts with a single word.