1. Discipline. You can be the most talented writer in the world and still utterly fail as a professional author if you don't maintain a writing schedule and treat your writing like a business as well as an art form. It's important to set aside time to write each day, even if it's only fifteen minutes. Consistent progress is also key; if you write for a half hour here and there and never commit to a formal schedule, you'll probably never finish your novel.
2. A desire to learn and improve. If you aren't reading, you aren't learning how to write. And, as much as I want you to buy books and keep me employed, it bears repeating that you do not need to spend money to improve your craft. Borrow books from your local library, join a critique group, attend free lectures and readings in your area, and practice, practice, practice. If you ever reach a point in your career at which you're convinced you can no longer improve, it's time to retire.
3. Skill. I do believe there is an element of skill involved in writing, but as in most endeavors, discipline and a deep desire to learn and improve can often make up for a lack of innate talent. Some people are naturally excellent writers; some people are not. If you fall into the latter category, you're going to have to work extra hard to raise your manuscript to publishable quality.
4. Luck. Unlike skill, which (though largely uncontrollable) can be made less crucial through hard work and dedication, luck is a factor in your career as a writer that you generally won't be able to affect or account for. It's often a very large factor, but there are a few things you can do to minimize bad outcomes and increase the likelihood of good ones:
· Network. The more people in the industry you know (from fellow authors to agents to editors), the better. Attend conferences if you can. Even if none of them directly lead to the sale of your manuscript, someone may think of you and refer you to an agent/editor who may be perfect for you and your work.
· Earn yourself a good reputation. This sort of ties into the above, but you don't want any factor apart from your work itself to give an agent or editor a reason to say no. Having a reputation as a likable author who's easy to work with won't get you representation by itself, but having the opposite reputation may make it hard for you to find an agent.
· Follow agent guidelines. Simple. Don't get your novel thrown in the proverbial circular file because you couldn't follow directions.
· Don't give up. Remember Jacob Appel? Yeah. 'Nuff said.