The "How To" Truth
"How To" books on writing abound. How to plot, how to edit, how to create memorable characters, how to, well, fill in the blank. Authors, agents, editors and teachers give workshops, speeches and dispense advice in copious amounts. In fact, you'll find a lot of that same advice right here on this web site. I wish I had a nickel for every time I've read or heard something along the lines of "Reach high", "Show, don't tell," or "Your characters must be in conflict." Well, duh! Writers already know that. Even if you read every single How To book and attend every lecture or workshop you can and apply all that advice, sigh: It still doesn't work. Why not?
The beast must belong to you.
Earn the knowledge. Make it yours. Re-invent the wheel. I feel like I ought to belabor this point because it's the magic key to getting published but in all honesty, you have to spend some time thinking about what I've said.
It's the difference between knowing how to start your car and being able to build one on your own. If that sounds like a lot of hard work, and maybe even unnecessary to boot, well, then you don't get it, and you won't get published. A writer must know all the rules and what happens when they get broken. A writer must know the meaning of words and how position and surroundings affect the meaning. So sorry, but writers must know the rules.
A Brief Note on Higher Education
I am have a Master's degree in English at Sonoma State University; I went part time, since I didn't have the time or money to go full-time. John Gardner (The Art of Fiction) was right. Being in school again definitely took time from other things in my life, my day job, my fiction writing, my family and my budget. But you know what? Being in graduate school was absolutely worth it. Of course it's profitable and enjoyable to read on your own but it's quite another experience to read and discuss your readings with students and professors with depth of knowledge about the subject matter. In addition, I went into the program knowing my writing skills are fairly well mastered (small joke there!) but, again, exposure to other professionals was invaluable. I don't regret it for minute.
Learn it. Absorb it. Analyze it. Dissect it. Make it yours. Read my section on critique groups and why you should belong to one.
None. If you learn to do this, you'll be published.