Saturday, August 17, 2013

Getting f2f as a writer

(A solo post by Mark)
I tell my writing students they need to think of writing as a business if they want to succeed. Sure, there's the writing part of the business -- the creative, imaginative expression of plot, character, setting, of snappy dialog and themes that capture the hearts of readers.

But that's a given. That's why writers write.

Just as important for the aspiring author, I tell my students, is taking yourself seriously as writers. That means managing your routine and resources so you save time for such things as publication research (doing your  homework to make sure you're targeting the right pubs), organized and methodical submission/rejection tracking, and developing (or maintaining and growing) a platform through social media and networking.

Once you start having publishing success, the business aspect of becoming a writer increases by at least a magnitude. Regardless of the size of the press -- from Indy Pub'ing to Small-Press to the Big Five -- you're now expected to take a proactive role in publicity and promotion through readings, blog tours, pithy tweats, Goodreads Giveaways, and anything else you can do to raise your visibility.

But that's not all.

I used to tell my students they needed to apportion money for query and ms postage/returns. Nowadays, e-subs have virtually eliminated such expense. A writers' ability to project an e-presence has made it
possible to develop valuable networking relationships regardless of geographical distance.

Yet e-contacts can only take you so far. I still tell students and other aspiring writers they should also consider attending at least one -- preferably more -- professional trade conferences each year.

Yes, they represent an extra expense, but writers' cons are an investment worth considering, particularly from the perspective of your writing as a business. They're tax deductible, and they add to the credibility of your serious intent.

I'm reminded of their value every summer because I organize and stage an annual writing conference called Writing the Rockies. Ours is intended mostly for aspiring authors, but we try to bring in enough big dogs to draw attendees from the ranks of published authors as well. Although I find my own time consumed in mostly oiling the on-the-ground conference machinery, I still manage to attend several sessions and most of our keynote addresses and readings.

Just as important, anyone who attends such events will tell you many of the most important venues occur between the formal presentations, sessions, and workshops. Not to mention the chance to sign up for a pitch or bend the ear of a publisher or agent face to face.

Despite my own ringmaster duties, I always manage to pick up important new trends, pocket a useful business card or two, and steal minutes to recharge by engaging in conversations with other writers and industry professionals. After all, everyone there shares the same passion for both the act and business of writing.

That sort of interpersonal communication is nigh impossible to duplicate in an entirely online environment.

If you're serious about your trade as a writer, think about budgeting some time and, yes, some money to attend a writing conference, even a retreat, as regularly as you can. Chances are, there's a writers con not too far from home.

Check out the pages of one of the excellent trade mags (and trade mag subscriptions should be on that list of biz expenses as well) or online resources for events in your area. Most of these pubs include listings just after the first of the year for summer programming, providing you with a chance to shop around for one that fits your particular areas of interest -- maybe even plan a vacation for you and the family in the conference environs close to the same time.

Yes, take your writing time seriously, but make sure you're looking at all the options that help you take yourself seriously as a writer as well.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Cautionary Tale

To visit other IWSG postings, click here
(A solo post by Mark of Kym-n-Mark)

Welcome to the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop, hosted by our incomparable Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh (thanks, Cap'n!), hop postings shared on the first Wednesday of every month:

"Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!"
 * * *

Many of our blog friends know I make my living as a writing teacher. Part of that job description consists of sharing with students a list of what *not* to do, and usually drawn from the annals of what I've done wrong along the way. It's a long list.

One I've yet to share with students is how I didn't get my first book published.

At the time, I already had several years under my belt as a newspaper staff writer, learning to write to deadline and to column-inch length. I'd also had some success doing spec articles for magazines. But what I really wanted was to try my hand at a longer work.

The result was a memoir about my growing up in a family mortuary business and then working for 13 years (yes, I know, an ironic number) as a reluctant mortician after my dad had a heart attack. Wait, there's more: the book was a dark comedy à la Six Feet Under -- still popular at the time but nearing the end of its first-run seasons.

I'd spent a couple years teaching students how to write an engaging query letter, and here was my chance to do instead of just teach. So I wrote this killer query and fired off my first volley of letters to ten targeted agents, all the while researching and preparing a second volley of queries.

Imagine my surprise when seven of the first ten agents requested the manuscript. Huh, guess I'd been giving
my students the right stuff after all. And I began to worry which agent I should accept.

Turned out, no worry there. One by one, they each sent their regrets over the next six months while nonetheless wishing me success. With some else.

Okay, here comes the cautionary tale part: I had a good idea, the timing was right, and most of the agents told me they liked my writing style. But each in their own way -- sometimes with finesse, sometimes ... not so much -- told me the ms wasn't ready. It needed more shape, they told me, more arc, more of a controlling theme. It read like an unrelated series of anecdotes when there was clearly a larger story.

In a phrase, it wasn't ready to submit.

Crestfallen, I put the ms in a drawer, where it rightly sat for almost ten years. And I've tried never to make the same mistake:  
Don't send out that ms unless you know it's really, really, really, REALLY ready. Getting in the door is hard enough and, if you're lucky enough to get an invitation to go inside, try to make sure you're bearing gifts that let you stay.

There might be a silver lining, as it turns out. Last year, and five published books later, I had an editor ask me if I had anything he might look at. At first, I said nothing (really, really, really) ready. Then I told him I had a project I'd set aside but wanted to revisit. When I told him about the mortuary memoir, he invited me to send it his way when I thought it was worth looking at. I pulled out the ms again, spent several months revising and shaping (those agents were right, and on every count), and then sent it on.

Don't know the outcome yet, and probably won't until the end of this year.

And if that project never makes it into print, at least it still makes a great cautionary tale to share with my students.

Think I'll wait, though, to see how the story ends.