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The First Step to Becoming a Published Author

Writing a novel is daunting enough. Becoming a published author is just downright overwhelming. It’s not enough to just have a story that you’re passionate about. You also have to market yourself to an industry that’s wildly competitive and full of a zillion other voices all clamoring for the same thing: “Notice me! Notice me!”
Excuse me a moment, I need to go hyperventilate and reevaluate my goals and dreams.
Okay, back!
So! You want to become a published author. You’ve got the story burning in your soul. You’ve got characters that have become dear companions. You’ve got grit, you’ve got determination, you’ve finally gotten over the crippling self-doubt that tells you that you’re never going to make it and you should just get a real job!
Okay, maybe “gotten over” is a strong phrase. But at least you’re doing a good job pretending it’s not there. (Also, definitely consider that ‘real job’ if your bank account is suffering. Responsibility should never take a backseat to dream-chasing, but that’s a story for another day.)
ANYWAY. You want to become a published author. But query letters are daunting and how do you even find an agent anyway? Wait, do you even need an agent? Maybe you should just self-publish and save yourself the trouble of facing rejection. Is all this stress and heartache really worth it?
If you’re like me, then these might be some of the questions you’re asking yourself as you get started on the road to becoming a published author. These are probably the questions you’re asking if you clicked on the link to read this blog post, hoping that this Sarah Danielle chick might have the answers for you.
Well, you’ve come to the right place! Because—actually wait, no, I have no idea.
Wait, wait, wait! Don’t back out yet! That’s the point!
I don’t know yet what it’s going to take for me to become a published author, because I’m not there yet. It has been 31 days since I decided that this was an endeavor I was going to pursue. I’m only one month into the 10-year goal I set for myself to get published. (Published before 40! Woo! *Fingers crossed*)
But that’s what this blog is going to be about. This is my journey to becoming published. Everyone’s journey will look different, but my goal here is to share with you my successes and my failures to help you navigate your own path.
And so, to begin with, I want to share with you the first and most important step I have learned that is necessary to becoming a published author: Show up.

The First Step to Becoming Published: Just Show Up.

This might sound simple, but for me, it has been the greatest obstacle I’ve had to overcome. 100% of writers who don’t let their work leave the comfort of their own screens never get published. (I made that up, but it sure sounds right.)
You can hide behind draft after draft, telling yourself that your story must be perfect before anyone can see it, but here’s the thing. It will never be perfect. You and I, by ourselves, will never create masterpieces such as The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.
We cannot compare our first or even fifth drafts of writing to published works because the books we read on the shelves have been crafted by whole teams of professionals. There may only be one author’s name on the cover of the book, but if you read through their Acknowledgements section, there are a slew of names who impacted the final product.
That doesn’t mean we don’t work to perfect what we have. We absolutely should do the best that we can with our stories. We should polish and edit ruthlessly. But we should not let the process hold us back from starting the journey to becoming published.

When should you show up?

At a local writers’ conference I attended, there was a panel discussion on marketing. One of the points I remember poignantly is that the right time to start marketing your book is before you’ve even written it.
Excuse me, what?
How do I market a book that I haven’t written? How do I start advertising a work that doesn’t have a title? How do I promise people a story that may never get picked up by a publisher?
Well, spoiler alert, you’re reading about it. This blog, this whole website, is how I am showing up. There are three works in progress listed on my homepage, only one of which I can guarantee will go out into the world because I am going to share it for free on Substack.
Honestly, I feel like an absolute imposter creating this blog and putting myself on Instagram as a writer. I am terrified of offering writing advice and then proving I don’t take my own advice when my work, Forsaken By Shadows, finally sees the light of day. The last thing I want to be branded as is a novice and a hypocrite.
But the truth is, I am a writer. And so are you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never sold a story before. If writing is in your soul, you are a writer. If you stay up late pounding keys on your keyboard or plotting new miseries for your protagonist, you’re a writer. You know if you’re a writer.
So don’t wait for someone else to say it before you feel like you can justly claim the label as your own. Present yourself proudly. Make an Instagram, start a blog. Tell the world about your passion project.

Show Up Right Where You’re At

We live in a day and age where your following online matters. The sooner you begin to build that following, the better it will be for you when you start sending your query letters.
So show up now. Don’t wait for everything to be at its absolute best before you begin your journey to becoming a published author. Take Instagram photos of your cat obstructing your writing process by sitting on your keyboard. Share writing memes that inspire you. Brand yourself as a writer even as you’re learning the craft.
Don’t get me wrong. Strategy is important. SEO and algorithms can be your friend or your downfall. The academy of YouTube can tell you all about it.

But if I had waited until I fully understood the best strategies for social media marketing, I’d never be here. And I get it—I’ll be shouting into an echo chamber for a while. There will be many long and discouraging days ahead of me.
But if I never show up, I’ll never get there at all. My stories won’t get to live and breathe in the hearts of others. You cannot win a race that you do not start.
It’s entirely possible that this, my very first blog post, could become a monument to failure. But if I make—oh, if I make it! What a testimony to look back on. What a journey to point to!
I hope you find encouragement in my journey as we travel together towards becoming published. I will be writing about all the things—query letters, SEO, strategy, marketing, that time I turned the main antagonist into the main protagonist fifty pages into the story and had to retcon everything. (My co-author was THRILLED.) Every step I take on this journey to becoming published, I will share for you to glean from.
But until then, take the first step in becoming a published author. Just show up, and be ready for a hike. Let’s do this thing together.

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