The first thing I did when I decided I really wanted to get serious about publishing a novel was to join a local chapter of RWA. I was fortunate to have joined a group known nation-wide for its critiquing expertise. Chicago-North RWA is one fabulous bunch of talented and insightful writers. Being a part of this group (going on almost fifteen years now) has been the best learning experience a writer could ever have.
Each month we do three full critiquing sessions. As a rule, I never submit anything (whether it's to a contest or a publisher) before having taken the first chapter before the group in a critique session. The best part is, not only do I get to polish up my own work after it's been critiqued, but even when I'm not the critiquee, I learn so much from other's manuscripts and the comments made about them.
Another valuable learning tool is contests. Before I was published, I always entered new manuscripts into contests. The comments and feedback from contests (well, the reputable ones) is also very valuable. I've been fortunate enough to have some contests wins under my belt, which lookes nice in a query letter or on the brag page of a published book. Nowadays it's more difficult to find a contest that will accept new work from a published author, but it's not impossible.
I've also learned to listen to my editors. My first editor at Wild Rose, the fabulous Kat O'Shea, taught me a lot about writing. I still tend to write with her 'voice' in my head, especially when I'm editing. I have a different editor now, and I'm learning new things from her as well.
The most important thing about improving your writing as an author is to be open to learning new things. Listen to those who know what they're talking about. Writing is so often thought of as a lonely, solitary journey. It doesn't have to be that way at all.
Until next time,