Every professional writer I know works with a writing group. So if you want to write and publish books (or stories, poems, or essays), probably the single best thing you can do is find a good writing group to work with.
So how do you find a writing group?
1) Get involved with some of your local writing organizations. In Colorado, for instance, there’s Northern Colorado Writers, The Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI, Pikes Peak Writers, Light House Writers, etc….
2) Take a creative writing class at your local community college or university. This is another good way to meet writers who seem to understand your artistic vision, who are at a similar stage in their writing journey, who are dedicated to improving, and who can give you good critical feedback (those four things are key). If you find someone who meets those criteria, stay in touch with them. Finding the right members for your group is critical.
3) If you can’t find a good group in your area, search for an online writing group.
The goal in finding a writing group is to find other serious writers who can both push you and support you. Usually 4-6 dedicated writers works best for a group. Taking writing courses can help you develop the knowledge of craft needed to discuss each other’s writing effectively.
Note: By helping members of your writing group find success you’re also helping yourself. Learning to critically read and respond to another person’s writing is one of the best things a writer can do to improve their own sense of craft, character, and story structure. Also, if a member of your group gets published, that might lead to connections that help you get published (that’s how it worked for me). Writing groups tend to succeed together.
Quick aside: Running the workshop.
The bread and butter of the writing group is the workshop. There are a lot of ways workshop can be done, but it’s important to balance encouragement with criticism. Writers can learn just as much from hearing what’s working as they can from hearing what wasn’t working as well. I think workshop is most effective when the group starts off by talking about what they liked in a manuscript, and what they thought was intriguing and effective. From there, it’s good to move into suggestions (focusing on the big stuff first). Then ending with a focus on praise and potential (what could this piece be/do?).
For me, the best readers are ones who not only focus on the manuscript as it is, but try to imagine what the manuscript could be, and give suggestions that help me figure out how to get it there.
Enjoy the journey!