Regular readers know that it took me ten years to find an agent, and another six months after signing with her to land a book deal. During that time, every New Year’s Eve I’d stare down into my drink and resolve that this year I was going to get published.
That is not a good resolution. I’ll tell you why.
A writer has very little control over whether or not they become published. Nuances of the market, trends, financial belt tightening in the industry, a book too similar to your own that breaks out… all of these things are beyond a writer’s control. You might as well make your New Year’s resolution that this year you’re going to win the Westminster Dog Show – as the dog, not the handler.
(Side note – it’s not impossible. In 1903 unaware Victorians named a lemur best in show for the Foreign Breed Class at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in London)
On New Year’s Eve of 2009 I looked down into my drink (they were getting bigger) and told myself to come up with a better resolution, because the old standby of “get published” wasn’t coming through for me. I decided instead that I would join an online writer’s group.
And that changed everything.
My forum of choice was AgentQueryConnect. First I lurked, occasionally sending direct messages to posters whose commentary I enjoyed. Then I began posting, throwing myself into the world and meeting people that I continue to interact with to this day. Next I found a few posters that I thought would be a good fit for critique partners, and made that personal connection leap.
And as Frost says, that has made all the difference.
I continue to use the critique partners that I met on AQC, all of whom have gone on to become published writers as well. Through AQC I learned how to write a query that works, format a manuscript the right way, write a synopsis, and navigate the industry in general. I learned how to take control of the little things that could add up to “get published.”
So here are some writerly resolutions that I suggest for 2017, ones that are entirely within your power to execute.
2. Get serious about tracking those queries. Sure, you’ve had rejections, but do you remember from who? Or even why? QueryTracker.net is indispensable, and I highly recommend going for the paid version. It’s worth it.
3. Find a critique partner that isn’t your mom or a friend. If you want a real critique it needs to come from another writer – not just a reader. Finding someone online to give you feedback takes out the awkward quality of a friend who might not want to tell you something isn’t working, and also allows you the freedom to go ahead and cry in front of your computer without them ever knowing you did. A good CP should be at about the same level you are in terms of craft and career. Get online, find someone in your genre, and trade manuscripts.
4. Pay for membership in a writer’s group that fits your needs. Whether you write mysteries, sci-fi, picture books or adult literary, there is a professional group that fits your style. Most groups offer different levels of membership depending on whether you are published or pre-published. Examples are SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), MWA (Mystery Writers of America), SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), ITW (International Thriller Writers) and RWA (Romance Writers of America). You can learn a lot from these communities and their publications.
5. Scout out local opportunities. I’ve met with various writer’s groups that home-base out of a local library or private home. Ask your local librarian if s/he knows about any such groups.
6. Subscribe to a professional magazine that seems like your style. I highly recommend both Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers (even though I totally hear Adam Sandler’s “Hoagies & Grinders” in my head every time I get a Poets & Writers in the mail).
7. Learn about what’s going on in the industry itself. Yes, I know. You’re a writer, not a business person. In this day and age you must be both. You can glean a lot of information about the industry from both online forums, writers groups, and professional subscription listed above. However, if you can afford a subscription and want to mainline industry info, Publisher’s Weekly is the way to go.
8. You need to know what’s selling if you want to position yourself and your work in the market. A subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace will tell you who’s buying what, and what agents are selling right now in your genre. This is not a necessity, but it can be a good tool.
9. Go to a writing conference in your area. I only attended one as a pre-pub – and it was romance centered – but it was close, convenient, and affordable. It gave me the opportunity to sit down at a table with agents and published authors, and most importantly, I learned how not to approach time by watching other people make snafus.
10. Lastly, write your book. Yes, that’s what I put last. Everything above is instrumental in getting your work published, and most of them are actionable before you have something to show and share. If you have a finished manuscript, most of the above goals will help change and craft that ms during the road to publication. If you haven’t started yet, you can still dive in and learn as you go.
Now, 10 things you shouldn’t do in 2019… or really, ever.
1 Like I said before, don’t set goals that aren’t in your power to meet. Broad goals like get published aren’t going to do you any favors. Find the baby steps towards that big goal and make those your aim.
2 Don’t be frustrated by the success of others. Comparison truly is the thief of joy. If you’re reading a book that has sold a million copies and you think yours is better, that’s actually a good thing. Maybe yours will sell a million and one copies. Take heart. Getting angry only wastes your energy.
3 Similarly, don’t trash other authors in public. If you think someone’s writing sucks, that’s fine. Is it really important for you to tell them that? In a few years you might find yourself looking for blurbs for your book, or your publicist might be trying to place you on panel – and that author you badmouthed will remember.
4 Don’t be fooled by the positivity machine. This is something that has come up again and again on the podcast, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate here at the beginning of the year. People use social media to make themselves look good and authors are no different. In 2019 we’re be posting our new covers, great blurbs, and book tour dates. Don’t think for one second that we didn’t go through a dark night of the soul to get there, or that that night only happens once. Writing is not easy for any of us. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
5 Don’t let anyone tell you there’s one right way to go about writing. We all have our methods and many writers will tell you that each book requires a different approach. There’s no quick and easy method. There’s no magic bullet. What works for one will fail for someone else. Find your way.
6 Don’t let anyone tell you there’s one right way to get published. From self-publishing to small presses to the Big Five, you’ve got to find what fits you. That means learning your strengths. Are you good at marketing and promotion? Would you rather write than spend your time hand selling? Know the answers to those questions – and many more – before you decide which path to take.
7 Don’t grind yourself into the ground. Seriously. One of the worst pieces of advice that I hear is never give up. It’s fine to give up. In fact, it’s healthy. I’ve said it on the show before but it bears repeating. It took me 10 years to get published but I wasn’t sending out queries everyday. A person can only handle so much rejection and stay mentally and emotionally healthy. Take a break sometimes. For months, even. I did. Give up for a little bit. Then jump back in.
8 Don’t convince yourself you’re an undiscovered literary genius. Sure, there’s a chance you might be, but it’s much more likely that you’re a good writer with a decent idea who needs to hone their skills a little bit more to break through. The tortured starving artist thing doesn’t look good on anybody.
9 Don’t blame the system. Yes, writing queries sucks. Yes, it can feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Yes, the gatekeepers can feel like your enemies. They aren’t. The system exists for a reason and that reason is because it works. The vast majority of the writers I know found their agent through cold querying, and it took an average of 7 years for them to find that agent. There could be many reasons you’re not published yet: your writing just isn’t ready, the market isn’t right at the moment for your story, or maybe you’re great at novel writing but aren’t very good at queries. The answer to why you haven’t broken in yet isn’t the query process, and telling yourself so is only an excuse to not see the real reason.
10 Don’t beat a dead horse. I meant that literally – why would do that? But also, don’t keep querying a book that isn’t getting anywhere. I received over 130 rejections for a particular novel, as well as partial and full rejections. I kept querying it. I was determined. This was my ticket. I started writing the sequel to the book that no one wanted to read. Then I got smart, realized I was wasting my time, and moved on to a new idea that was titled Not A Drop to Drink.