1. Dialog is key. A scene is so much more engaging when two people are in it. Especially if those two people each have their own agenda, and each is trying hard to advance it. Pay attention to body language, setting, their reactions to each other and reactions from those around them. Also, dialog is a great way to build tension on a variety of levels. A debate is a heck-of-a-lot more entertaining than a stump speech.
2. Focus on your tribe. It’s been said that all you need to be a successful author is a small, dedicated audience who want everything you write. These are the folks who are going to share your work around, who will be eager to read the next thing, to cheer you on, even when things look rough.
3. Nail the details. Maybe you’re writing fantasy or science fiction or something nobody’s ever seen before. Doesn’t matter. If you get down the details of place, time, character, they will create the image you need to build in the reader’s mind. If you are working from any factual basis, like historical fiction or contemporary, getting the details wrong will blow the reader’s trust. Make a few mistakes about the wrong things, and they’ll never let you forget it.
4. Engage with your big ideas. What is it you really want to say? Are you saying it? Are you working to your fullest to make the strongest work you can?
5. Polls are important–but polls don’t know everything. Yep, you’ve got to submit. You’ve got to get the work out there to be read, and sometimes it won’t stick. The editor rejects it, the readers give it low reviews (or worse, no reviews), it comes out the same day as something else that distracts the world from your great work. Take what you can from these experiences, but maintain faith that your work is worthy and that, even if you didn’t win today, if you keep working, you’ll get a chance to rise again.