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Worth & Soul of Words
A newsletter by Ken Baker,
author for young readers
April 2024

How to become a successful author

Discover the keys to becoming a successful author.

Image derived from photo by geralt from Pixabay

Did you know?

Keys to becoming a successful author

According to WordsRated, 95 percent of manuscripts sent to publishers/agents are below the standard required to publish. Additionally, the chance of an author getting their work published is between one and two percent.1 So, how do you increase your odds of becoming a successful author that rises above that 95 percentile in meeting or exceeding publishers' standard requirements?

Different authors will likely give you different answers to those questions, but I believe most published authors will agree on the following:

  • Read lots of books—Especially read the types of books that you want to write and recent releases of those types of books.
  • Write, Write, and write—The only way that you can become a great writer is to write a lot. Unless you put the hours into actually writing you won't develop your talent to levels needed to be to be successful. That means before and even after you're published, you will end up writing a lot of things that aren't publishable or won't be published.
  • Continually improve your writing skills—You have to put the work in to becoming an excellent writer and storyteller. That includes 1) attending writing conferences; 2) studying advice, techniques, and insights from experts (i.e, published authors, major editors, and agents); 3) taking writing classes; and 4) participating in critique groups and/or writing communities.*
  • Write because you love writing—As the statistics above imply, the majority of authors experience significant rejection of their work, even successfully published authors. If you don't have a high passion for writing, that high level of rejection can turn wannabe authors into I'm done with this writers.
  • Write stories that other people want to read—You can be an exceptional writer, but you'll have little success unless you can create stories that others will love to read.

* Hint: When it comes to improving your writing skills, attending conferences can check all the boxes. You can learn from industry experts in hands‐on workshops, classes, presentations, and critique sessions, as well as become part of a writing community. For me, the two most impactful writing conferences with a national reach that give you the best value for your money are in Utah: Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) and Life, the Universe and Everything (LTUE)Life, the Universe and Everything (LTUE) for SF/F writers.

Carol Lynch Williams and WIFYR


Shout out!

Interview with Carol Lynch Williams (WIFYR founder) on author success

My good friend Carol Lynch Williams has valuable insights regarding the road to authorship, as a successful author herself and as founder of the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) conference.

Here's an excerpt from a chat I recently had with Carol:

Me: Tell me a little bit about your journey to becoming an author.
Carol: I always wanted to be a writer. It was one of my dreams. My mom was a writer and wanted to publish, and I followed in her footsteps. While she never had a book of her own published, she instilled in me the love of reading and the love of putting new words on paper.

By the time I was 16, I was writing the stories that would end up in my very first novel, Kelly and Me. I entered a contest that Delacorte used to run, The Delacorte First Young Adult Novel Contest. I knew I'd written a middle grade novel, so I made the characters in the book 13 and 14 instead of 11 and 12. I also had to make sure that I had at least 100 pages of text. Unfortunately, I was two pages short. So, I increased the font size to 14 and was able to meet the contest rules. To my surprise, four months later, I got a telephone call from an editor telling me they wanted to publish my book.

Me: What things helped you most in that journey.
Carol: We were avid readers in my home. Reading is the first thing that helped me. Books were always available. We went to the library (back in the old days when you could only check out 10 or 15 books) and I always took the number I was allowed. I read like crazy.

Later, after my first book was accepted for publication, I found the perfect critique group and I stayed with those people for years and years. Ken was a part of my group. Rick Walton, Cheri Earl, John Bennion, and so many more. Almost all of us in that group ended up with books coming out.

Me: This is WIFYR's 25th anniversary. What inspired you to create this wonderful writers' conference?
Carol: Dr. Chris Crow came to me one day and said he wanted to put together a conference that was different and better than anything out there. He, John Bennion, and I brainstormed for a long time until we came up with that first Writing for Young Readers. And yes! It was 25 years ago. Who can believe it?

Eventually, we took the conference away from Brigham Young University, and we've been running it on our own since. It's now Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, and it's a crazy good conference. Sharlee Glenn, who spoke at an event we did last week, said, I can honestly say this is the best, intensive writing conference in the United States. And it is. We've seen two people who have come to our conference win Newbery honors, many, many people get astounding book deals, lots of New York Times best sellers, and often someone finds their agent or editor.

Me: Why are writing conferences important aspects in a writer's growth, development, and success?
Carol: Well, Ken, you've taught at the conference, and you know what it can do for a writer. Our goal is to teach people to become the very best writers they can. That's always our hope.

Me: What sets WIFYR apart from other writing conferences?
Carol: We often talk that Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers is like a mini MFA at a fraction of the cost. Anyone who has gotten a Masters in Fine Arts knows it can be an expensive ordeal. What we do at Writing and illustrating is not that far off from what happens in a Masters program. You don't end up with a degree, but you do end up knowing far more about publishing than anyone ever learns when they are at their MFA in writing.

Morning participants are at the conference for 40+ hours of a week. You're with those who are like you, perhaps writing a picture book, a fantasy novel, a book in verse, or nonfiction. Your class is small, intimate. Editors and agents visit the classroom. You have a one‐on‐one with an agent or an editor. The people who come to our conference are looking for new manuscripts.

Afternoons are filled with craft classes. You get to pick and choose which ones you want to go to. And this year we have 15 plenaries with speakers like John Cusick, Ally Condie, Ann Dee Ellis, and Jawad Arash.

Me: What do you hope your conference attendees gain from participating in WIFYR?
Carol: I find the most joy when people come to the conference and then find success. They get a book contract, they find an agent, sometimes they finish a novel they had been stumped on, and then my biggest hope is that the work they are doing improves significantly. I always tease the students that I teach at Brigham Young University that my goal for them is to take care of me in my old age. Now that that I'm old it's imperative that those who come to the conference publish also!

It is always so exciting when someone finds exactly what they need in the world of publishing. It's a lonely, hard place without friends, mentors, and fellow writers who want to see you succeed.

Learn more about Carol Lynch Williams

As an FYI, this June, WIFYR highlights three agents and one editor from well-known New York literary agencies and publishing houses, as well one local agent, two local editors, more than a dozen published authors, including a NY Times #1 Bestselling Author.

Book business and life

My personal journey to becoming an author

My personal journey towards becoming an author began with reading dozens of book on writing fiction, writing fantasy, writing children's books, plots, character, comedy, setting, and more.

I sought out mentors in Dave Wolverton and Rick Walton, who each had a significant impact on helping me understand what I needed to do level up my writing, giving me advice, and were simply great friends that I miss dearly (both have since passed away).I also joined critique groups for writing novels and picture books. But where I gained the depth of knowledge and understanding of how to improve my writing and made crucial connections with others in the book industry came from attending writing conferences.

Since I started out as a fantasy novelist, I attended Life, the Universe and Everything (LTUE) every year for several years, learning from greats like Jane Yolen, Robin McKinley, Orson Scott Card, David Wolverton, Patricia C. Wrede, and more. When I first started my career, Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) didn't exist yet. But even after HarperCollins published my first book, Brave Little Monster, I attended one of WIFYR's weeklong intensive morning workshops. Since then I have often presented and taught other writers attending WIFYR, while always learning something new myself from those presenting.
Ken Baker giving a writing presentation at UVU

Heart image by Ken Baker

What I love

Teaching others to write

After writing, teaching is one of my great passions. I especially love teaching others how to improve their writing skills.
That's why I often teach at WIFYR, presented at a variety of other writing conferences, taught writing classes for the University of Utah's Continuing Education department, and have been a guest speaker multiple times in writing classes at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. If I had a Master's Degree I'd love to teach aspiring writers at the university level.

P.S. - Know any aspiring authors?

If you know an aspiring writer who might benefit from this newsletter issue, please share it with them.

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Thank you

Thank You image by Ken Baker

Thank you to Carol Lynch Williams for being willing to participate in this month's newsletter.

1. Dean Talbot, Author Statistics, WordsRated, February 16, 2023

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Copyright 2001-2023 by Ken Baker

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