Writing is a business. This is the mindset I’ve giving myself for 2015. I’ve always treated my writing like a hobby, and that has to change. In order to reach my goals of publication and eventually full-time writing, I need to hone the professional side of the writing craft.
Sadly, the business aspects of writing are something they don’t teach in school – at least, they didn’t at my university. We had classes on literature, poetry, journalism, technical writing, creative writing – but nothing on finding an agent, publishing, legalities, copyright, etc. They did drill plagiarism into our brains, but it was because of academic integrity, not due to the potential professional ramifications. Even still, much of what they might have taught on the business of writing would no longer be relevant. I went to college a century ago. (Okay, it was the 1990’s…. still, it was last century, right?)
The landscape has changed, and it continues to shift. There are as many publishing avenues as there are types of readers. The information regarding publishing is vast, spread, differing and even downright contradictory. So how does a software engineer with aspirations of full-time writing navigate these troubled waters in such a manner as to set herself up for success? I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve managed to make it through life thus far with a fair amount of accomplishment under my belt and most of my sanity intact. I’m trusting my inner compass to steer me the right way. Here are a few steps I’m currently taking.
1. Talk to Those Who Know – And Listen
I’m putting this one right up there in the number one spot. I have friends and acquaintances who are published, both agented and self, who enjoy varying degrees of success and independence as writers. One thing about writers: They love to share their story. Another thing about writers: They enjoy the successes of other writers. So when I’m writing a query letter, or an elevator pitch, and I have the desire to write “This Sucks” in giant, bold letters in the margin, I reach out. I have a snug little group of writers who are always ready to offer sage advice, words of encouragement and the occasional kick in the butt.
But just talking to these wonderfully helpful people isn’t enough. Like any student, I must approach my new learning with eyes, ears and mind wide open. It’s great to be told you’re on the right path. It’s comforting and reaffirming. Sometimes, it’s even better to be told that’s not quite right from someone who knows what they are talking about. These little course corrections are what drive success. By taking advice, I sculpt the lump of clay that is my destiny into exactly what I want it to be.
2. Keep an Open Mind and Learn All the Things
A long time ago, in a galaxy right here at home, there was only one way to get published. That’s not the landscape of today’s market. There are many ways to put work out now. Some obviously pay better than others, but when it comes down to it, writing is still a bit like playing the lottery. You may have the winning ticket in your pocket, or you might have just enough to get a cup of coffee. It really depends on the readers, how you market your work, and how much effort you put in. And there’s where it parts ways with the lottery metaphor. You have to know the markets, and you have to find your niche. In order to accomplish this goal, you must read, study and search, regardless of which publishing path you take.
There are amazing success stories told by self-published authors. There are agented books that flop and wind up in the bargain bin. The best way to determine what I need to do to drive my own success is to Learn All The Things. I’m reading up on what drives success, where the pitfalls lie, and what the options are. I’ll query for agents, and I’ll also study the art of self-publishing. I’ll attend conferences, network, talk, read and learn. Like any professional endeavor, you are only as successful as you make yourself. Success doesn’t come along because you created something. It happens when you put your work out there in just the right way. In order to know which way to go, I need to understand the landscape before me. The surest path to understanding is unbridled study.
3. Learn to Love Self Marketing
I read an article somewhere not long ago that said publishers very much appreciate a new author who comes with a ready-made fan base. Even if it’s just 100 people following a blog, that’s 100 less people that the publisher has to attract. It also shows that the author is confident enough in her work to self-promote. I then talked to a local author who reiterated the same concept. She asked if I had a blog, and how my Facebook and Twitter follower counts were coming along. At the time, I’d just started this blog, and I’d not pushed too hard to promote my other social media accounts. These discussions and articles have led me toward self-marketing.
Now that I’m doing it, I love it. Every new blog follower has a giant place in my heart. Every time someone favorites one of my Twitter posts regarding my books, I get all happy. These are my future readers. They are the ones who will help me realize my dream. You – yes you, dear reader – are appreciated. You are here, reading this blog, and maybe even leaving a like or a comment. You are helping me tell the world that I’m emerging, and soon, I’ll be out there, offering stories to the masses.
4. Do The Hard Stuff
Writing loglines and query letters is hard. Honestly, I think it’s harder than writing the novel itself. I sat down in Barnes & Noble last week with a notebook, a pen and a peppermint mocha, and I started scrawling out loglines. Next to the first one I wrote, “weak.” The next one was, “sucks.” The third was, “WTH?!!” I reached out to a friend, and she gave me some words to play with. It took several tries over a couple of days, but I finally got the exact right sentence that describes my novel.
Then I moved on to the query, which of course, includes the logline, and then expands upon it with a short synopsis. Even. Harder. I fussed and toiled with it for an entire day before I’d even entertain showing it to anyone. Again, I reached out to my Friends In the Know, and got great suggestions. I feel a bit better about it, but there is still some tweaking to be done. Not to mention tailoring for direct submission to a targeted agent!
And then there’s the whole idea of editing. I wrote 60,000 words. It’s slowly climbing up to 70,000 in the process of editing. That means reading, re-reading and reading again. It means killing the thought-babies that don’t work, no matter how much I loved them when I wrote them *Insert the sound of an entire prologue hitting the cutting-room floor*. When it comes right down to it, I’m writing to publish. That means it needs to be solid and concise before it even gets into the hands of an editor. And then I’ll have to edit all over again! It’s difficult and sometimes painful to be one’s own worst critic, and yet, in the business of writing, it’s a necessary characteristic.
5. Practice Patience
I want to be home, writing, with a cup of coffee and a cat at my side. That isn’t going to happen for some time. I know this. In the meantime, my kids need to eat and my mortgage needs to be paid. I have a solid day job, and while it’s not nearly as enticing as curling up with my characters and fighting that next battle with them, it does serve its purpose, and it’s not entirely without enjoyment. I know I’ll get there, but it’s one foot in front of the other until I do. I have a supportive family, an amazing network of friends, and the drive to get where I need to be. Even though I can see the destination like a castle on a hill, it’s still off in the distance. I’ll just keep plugging forward, dodging or tackling whatever comes my way, until I enter the gates and make that writing palace my home.
6. Be a Pleasure to Work With
The moral of this story is that writing isn’t just sitting down and putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and banging out a story. It’s also about learning how to put yourself out there with confidence, humility and grace, such that you make yourself an enjoyable working partner. I won’t be in this alone, even if I do decide to self-publish. I’ll still be working with editors, cover artists, marketing agencies, etc. For a writer, it’s about getting your work into the hands of others — preferably if those hands have given you some amount of money first. The world is a big place, your book is a very small item. Making it stand out takes work, and all work is better when accomplished by a team. Even in writing – a career that seems extremely independent – collaboration is a must. At all times, in all dealings with others, I strive for a professional demeanor coupled with enthusiasm for my own ideas and those of my coworkers.
It’s going to be a long road – a life-long path, to be exact. I will never stop being a writer. And it will become my life’s work, all in good time.
Photo Credit: Sarah Houghtelin, Performing Artist, Educator, Director, Choreographer; http://sarahhoughtelin.weebly.com/