Learning the Business of Writing

I spent four years at an accredited university earning a degree in creative writing.

Not a single class of those eight semesters involved publishing, marketing, or the entertainment industry.

I do think that’s a major issue that the school has at least partially addressed since my graduation, but I was left with a lot of holes in my knowledge of the real world of professional writing when I thought (with complete and almost adorable naivety) that I could step right off that curb into a storm of accepted manuscripts, large book advances, and agents shoving each other out of the way for the chance to represent me.

… Okay, in the spirit of honesty, I didn’t really expect that.

I did, however, expect I would be prepared to get at least something published within a year of graduation. That definitely didn’t happen.

At this point, my name has appeared in print in a local newspaper (about a year and a half with them now), on this blog, and on half a dozen novel drafts still in progress. I’m not even there yet, but at least I’m working and moving forward, which I’ve learned is often far more important (for me) than getting any contract in the first 6 months out of school.

I’ve also been active in writing groups of a number of sizes and levels of professionalism. Even though I haven’t checked everything off the “Aspiring Author Professional Checklist”, I do know what I should be doing.

Honestly, how many of us know what we should be doing, aren’t the best at them yet, and are working toward getting better?

 

Now… here’s what you can do:

Attend professional events.

Go to writing conferences and attend lectures even if the subjects currently go over your head. The packed halls might be intimidating. You may feel, at first, you don’t belong. Attend the lectures and even an intensive, and take notes. These events are generally open to the public, and no one will kick you out for not being published yet. If the organizers are filling seats with interested people, then they’re happy campers. If it’s any comfort, your money is as good as anyone’s.

Approach experts (with the knowledge no one is required to talk to you).

If you admire someone’s work, write them and let them know. If you know someone in your network is already in the business of writing, publishing, even illustrating, tell them you’re interested in learning more. More important, make this worth their while. Some people are only too happy to talk about what they do to an interested party. Others may be happier talking if it’s over a plate of cookies or a shot glass of their favorite libation. If this is a mutually pleasant experience, you’ll have a valuable resource for professional advice and insight.

Diversify your input streams: who are you listening to?

Why are you listening to them and not someone else? What do you want to learn from them? Where can you find experts? One reliable friend in the business is great, but several is better. Pick up well-recommended podcasts, magazines, professional journals, and continue to read voraciously. Don’t forget that book sales rely on readers, so reach out and listen up to what the community of readers, bookworms, sales professionals, and fans has to say about what’s on the market.

Research.

Learn about the publishers putting out the most popular books. Learn who your friends/mentors are published with. Find out about their publishing packages and those of their competitors. Observe what a company publishes, as well as when during the year (that’s surprisingly important).

 

Knowing what would be good to do and doing it are powerfully different things. That’s pretty much the human condition. So, while I can’t say “here’s what worked for me”, I can confidently say this is how to learn the ins and outs of writing professionally.

No one class can teach it to you, any more than a single year of experience can make anyone a professionally recognized master of anything.

So, start small. Don’t break your budget. Be the newbie and embrace the awkwardness.

Try the things they recommend. Remember most things take practice, as well as trial and error.

Finally, what works for one person doesn’t work for everyone, so there’s no perfect way to write/publish/submit/query/promote/grow.

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