| Don’t Write Alone
Toolkit New Year’s Resolutions for Writers (That Aren’t About Writing)
This year, rather than making resolutions about how or when you write, consider focusing on the skills and habits that will help you maintain a career in the ever-changing world of publishing.
Love them or loathe them, New Year’s resolutions have a way of popping into our heads every January. If you’re a goal-oriented writer like me, it’s tempting to make a list of all the big things you hope to accomplish: This is the year I’ll start that novel! Find an agent! Finally dare to add the word writer to all my online profiles!
But I’m also self-aware enough to know which resolutions are doomed to fizzle by February. Any attempts to change the way I actually write, for example, usually end in failure. No matter how inspired I am by authors who wake up in the dark and produce at least one thousand words before dawn, I’m a night owl whose brain doesn’t start functioning before midmorning. I salute the members of the #5amwritersclub, but I’ll never be one of them.
The same goes for my short-lived experiments in keeping a rigid daily schedule. Through frustrating trial and error, I’ve learned that I work better in fits and starts rather than forcing myself to write for a set number of hours (not to mention that I’ve got kids and other responsibilities that sometimes upend any set routine).
This year, rather than making any resolutions about how or when I write, I’m focusing on things that are writing-adjacent: the skills and habits that will help me maintain a career in the ever-changing, often-frustrating world of publishing. No matter where you are in your creative journey—established professional or just getting started—I hope you’ll be inspired to try some of these too. It’s never too early or too late to give your writing life a boost.
I’m going to take control of my audience. Over the past ten years, writers have felt increasing pressure to build a large following on social media. Unpublished authors hope a strong online brand will give them a leg up with potential agents and publishers, while established writers are encouraged to post regularly on their Facebook pages or #Bookstagram accounts so they can stay constantly connected with readers.
You can spend years assembling an impressive online fan base, but who ultimately “owns” it? Not the writer. Elon Musk’s chaotic takeover of Twitter has been a harsh reminder that social media companies could implode at any time, leaving writers with no way to access all their followers. I’ve heard stories from self-published authors who were extremely successful promoting their work on Facebook until the company changed its recommendation algorithm. Suddenly, far fewer people were seeing those authors’ pages, and sales cratered.
Going forward, I’m going to worry less about my online-follower count and put more effort into building an email list of readers I can communicate with directly. I don’t want to spam anyone with braggy newsletters (I’m too lazy and disorganized to write one every month, anyway), but I’ll politely ask anyone who shows an interest in my books if I can add them to the list, just so I can let them know when I have a new one coming out. If you’re curious about actually starting an author newsletter, check out this resource from Nisha J. Tuli.
I want to learn a visual skill. As I’ve written before , authors are increasingly expected to do their marketing, even if they’re with a traditional publisher. That means learning to photograph our books with Instagram-worthy lighting and props; creating custom swag or bookplates for giveaways; or producing an attention-grabbing book trailer. This year, I’m going to take some of the free online tutorials offered by the design website Canva, then up my photo-editing game by learning the basics of Photoshop .
I pledge to build more personal connections. I hate the term networking , and most writers I know hate doing it. (We’re all basically introverts, right?) But no one has helped my career more than my fellow writers, whether it was sharing advice about online ads or recommending me for a freelance assignment. One of my priorities this year is to post more reviews of books I’ve enjoyed (tagging the author) and to send fangirl DMs or emails to the authors of books I really loved.
How can you build your own writer network when you’re just starting out? Go to book readings and introduce yourself to the authors. (I promise, they’ll be thrilled you showed up and that they aren’t faced with empty rooms.) Follow the online #WritingCommunity to commiserate with other people who understand how tough it can be to keep going. Shout out the books you love, and who knows—one of your favorite authors might eventually become a real-life friend. It’s happened to me!
I will discover new ways of publishing. Authors used to have two options for getting their books in front of readers: find agents and sell to traditional publishers, or self-publish. But new hybrid models now offer a third option, from all-inclusive editing-and-design services to independent “small press” publishers set up by individual writers. (The writer Kris Waldherr posted a detailed rundown of how she did this for her most recent novel, Unnatural Creatures: A Novel of the Frankenstein Women .)
Like practically every industry post-Covid, traditional publishing is currently in a state of upheaval, with many younger employees quitting or going on strike. Now more than ever, I want to learn about alternate ways to get my books out into the world.
I want to go to a writing conference. For a very long time, even after I was a published author, I wasn’t sure if it was worth the time and expense to go to a writing conference. Would it be full of pretentious, intimidating people? What would I really get out of it?
When I finally decided to go to the Historical Novel Society conference four years ago, I wondered what I’d been so worried about. For an entire weekend, I was surrounded by people who loved reading and writing the same kind of books as me; published or unpublished, everyone was positive and supportive. This summer is the first time the conference will be held in person post-Covid, and I’m already looking forward to nerding out over historical trivia with my writer friends.
If you don’t have access to a writing conference nearby (or understandably don’t want to spend money on a plane flight, hotel room, and registration fees), many events now offer online options, from author talks recorded at the Miami Book Fair to the online-only History Quill Writers Convention , which will be held in early February.
I’ll get better at promoting myself. Like many writers, I tend to be self-deprecating when I talk about my work. (“Sure, I wrote a book, but it’s not like I’m saving the world.”) It’s only recently that I’ve realized it’s not self-centered to talk about my novels—it’s a crucial way of selling them. If I don’t sound excited by what I’ve created, why should anyone else be excited to buy it?
I recently posted something about my latest (non-bestselling) book on my personal Facebook page, and within a day, distant connections and acquaintances were messaging me to say they’d just bought it. No one wants to annoy their friends and relatives by posting constantly about their writing projects, but there’s nothing wrong with reminding them what you’re up to every now and then. Celebrating our accomplishments is important for our mental health and sometimes (hopefully?) can also pay off financially.
I will expand my comfort zone. Many writers I know are feeling unsettled at the start of 2023, worried about further industry consolidation and fewer opportunities. Since the only thing I can control amid all this uncertainty is my own writing, I’ve decided to branch out, experimenting with different genres and even completely different formats (I’m currently working on my first screenplay). I have no idea if any of these efforts will ever pay off financially, but if nothing else, I’m learning to be more flexible as a writer—which hopefully will turn out to be a valuable skill in itself.