Just how badly do you want to be a paid, professional writer?
If you are serious about being published, here are a few basic suggestions to follow:
1. Write! Don't just talk about it or plan how you're going to do it, or dream about the life you'll lead when you are published.
2. Write Regularly. Ask any published writer and they'll tell you that writing is about discipline way more than it is about inspiration. Don't wait for those rare moments when the muse strikes. Write every day, even if it is only an hour a day. Put yourself in the right place for the muse to come find you.
3. Develop your craft. Published writers often talk about how they never stop learning. For me, that's part of the fun of this journey toward publication, that I'm always learning new things. Never rest on your laurels; always keep improving your skills.
4. Treat this as a career, not as a hobby. This is more important than it sounds. You cannot expect other people (editors, agents etc) to take you seriously as a writer if you don't take yourself seriously.
5. Learn the business. Yes, you're an artist, but it still helps to know the business end of the industry you're trying to break into. And I don't just mean reading the types of books published by the publishers you're targeting (though that goes without saying). Learn about how royalties work, what trends are developing in publishing, which imprints are opening/closing, what the agents are saying on their blogs. Learn, learn, learn.
6. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, behave like a published writer. You can start small by printing business cards, starting a blog, developing a web presence. But even if you are not yet in the public eye, remember that everything you say and do in the public arena should be professional. In every correspondence with editors or agents, no matter how hurt or rejected you feel, stay courteous. In everything you do and say, be polite. And that includes Facebook. One day you plan to be a public icon - and you don't want to be remembered as a person who bad-mouthed a certain agent or editor or writer. You want to be remembered as that incredible writer who is also a really nice person. At least I do!
Is there anything else you can think of to add to this list? All comments welcome.