10 Easy Steps to Publication
and other fairy tales
Now that Iíve finally sold my first book, a futuristic to Leisure Love Spell, Sword of MacLeod, a January 1997 release, Iím surprised how some people think I suddenly know more than I did before I sold or that I have access to a magic formula. I have no formula, but I can list ten rules I followed as I worked toward publication and hope theyíll help you, too.
1. Write every day. It sounds easy, but itís not. Family, extracurricular events, work, and a dirty house tend to eat away at valuable writing time. The trick is to set a realistic daily goal and stick to it. After I attended the first Pikes Peak Writers Conference in 1993, I resolved to write two pages a day and did. Some days when the muse was with me, those two pages stretched into six or more. Other days I struggled to complete two. But I wrote and before I knew it, I had a book completed, which leads me to...
2. Complete a book. In order to be taken seriously by any editor or agent, you must finish a manuscript. Editors donít want to make an offer on a proposal without some guarantee that theyíll finally get a book. Iím well aware how another story starts whispering in your mind when youíre halfway through your current manuscript. What I do is jot enough of the new idea down to remember the facts, then press on with my story in progress. Usually the act of writing down the new idea is enough to quiet the whispers until I call for them again.
3. Attend conferences. If you can only attend one a year, then do so. Not only do the workshops inspire you to write, write, write, but the contacts made and information passed through casual conversation at these gatherings are invaluable. Study the conferences available to see which offers what will do you the most good. Now that the national RWA conference has only group appointments for editors and agents, you might want to target a conference with individual appointments. Some conferences are casual while others are more formal. Some conferences offer multi-genre workshops and authors. Others have a more specific focus. Ask others which conferences they recommend and why.
4. Participate in a critique group. Almost every published author I know belongs to a critique group and meets regularly. That isnít to say you must have a published member in your group. The Wyrd Sisters, a critique group in Colorado Springs, started with four unpublished writers who wrote unusual romances. With my sale, these original four are now all published. We learned, we grew, and most importantly, we critiqued. We brought stuff to every session and provided feedback on what we were given. The trick to a good critique group is finding the right mix of people. Sometimes it takes a while, but itís well worth the effort. In the Wyrd Sisters, each member has a different strength and weakness. We complement each other and force growth at the same time.
5. Join an Romance Writers of America chapter or another writing-oriented organization. By becoming an RWA member, you have access to information not always readily available or not known. I was truly naive before I joined my RWA chapter. When the Writerís Market said send an outline of the story, I sent an outline. Yep, Roman number I, II, etc. I still blush to think about it. Most chapters offer a variety of workshops from the basics of writing to promotional opportunities. Take advantage of these workshops. An RWA chapter also provides the support every writer--published or not--needs. Encouraging words for finishing a chapter may be enough to make someone continue on to the next chapter. Special tributes for a first sale make a wonderful time even more heartwarming. Attending someoneís booksigning not only makes the author feel appreciated, but gives the attendee a chance to learn how its done. After all, you may be there someday, too.
6. Learn from othersí mistakes. This could probably constitute another reason to join an RWA chapter, but not necessarily. Read the Romance Writerís Report and other publications to see what authors are doing right...and wrong. Lorna Tedderís Spilled Candy dedicated one issue to tips from writers on what not to do. Thatís one issue I intend to keep close at hand. I also had the advantage--though I didnít think so at the time--of being the last of the original four Wyrd Sisters to sell a book. I saw my fellow critiquers through their problems and worries with agents, covers, publication dates and subsequent sales. Thatís doesnít mean I wonít make any mistakes, but I feel better prepared to deal with the publishing business because of watching them.
7. Enter contests. I can say with certainty that if I hadnít entered Sword of MacLeod in the Pikes Peak Writers Conference Contest in 1995 that I never would have sold it. In fact, Iíd stopped writing it as Iíd heard there was no market for futuristics, but the story kept calling to me. I decided to enter the contest to see what kind of feedback it received and use that as an indicator on whether I should finish the book or not. I received one perfect score from a published author, who went on to offer her assistance to me personally. Through her, I met my agent. Because of this authorís encouragement, I went on to finish Sword of MacLeod and sold it. This is just one instance of wonderful contest feedback. RWA offers a multitude of contests and you should read the criteria carefully to discern which one best suits your needs. Many contests offer editors as finalist judges. This is a great way to get your manuscript in front of an editor. If sheís interested, she will probably request the entire thing. Most contests offer a critique, either as a part of entering or an extra option. Having a fresh pair of eyes examine your entry is invaluable as this unbiased judge can catch things your critique group, who have lived with this story for a while, have missed. Some contests, such as the Golden Heart, Silver Heart, and Maggie, hold a certain prestige by becoming a winner. I once had an agent ask to see my manuscript simply because it was a finalist in the Colorado Romance Writerís Heart of the Rockies Contest. You can use these wins in your query letters as additional credentials of your writing. Just entering a contest shows youíre willing to learn and grow.
8. Know your market and read. Donít try to send a 50,000 word contemporary to Avon or Berkley. While you have to follow your muse in writing your story, aim for a specific market at the same time. Knowing whether a story is for Harlequin or Avon helps decide the flavor and length of your manuscript. A Silhouette Intimate Moments is not the same as a Harlequin American. You show your professionalism when you submit the proper type of story to each publisher and save time for everyone. As part of knowing the market, I urge you to read...fiction, non-fiction and periodicals. Magazines such as Romantic Times indicate what publishers are printing now while chapter newsletters and the RWR keep you up-to-date on market changes. Read books in the line to which you hope to sell. Study them. Sexy. Sweet. Funny. Solemn. In addition, read non-fiction books on how to write--The Writerís Journey by Christopher Vogler, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King, Writerís Digest series of how-to books on plotting, characterization, and scene and sequel. While itís possible to become too involved in the "proper" way to write, I also believe a person benefits from knowledge. Sometimes I may read an entire non-fiction book and only benefit from one paragraph, but that paragraph helps me grow.
9. Volunteer. I noticed at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference over the past few years that those individuals who placed in the contest were also people who volunteered their time to help. Becoming involved in your chapter or conference broadens your horizons, introduces you to people you might not otherwise meet, and offers a wide spectrum of knowledge. If you want to learn how things operate or perhaps change them, the best way to do so is from within. Youíll discover as you learn and grow so does your writing.
10. Finally, but probably the most important--believe in yourself. Weíve all met those writers who faith in themselves is unwavering, but I think theyíre the minority rather than majority. We have to have a certain ego in order to write, but this ego is fragile and easily damaged by rejections from editors and agents or slice and dice by critique groups. Itís so tempting to just give up the whole thing. I know. During those two years after the other three members of the Wyrd Sisters had sold and I hadnít, I came close to quitting. But I didnít. The reason why? I asked myself, could I stop creating stories even if I wanted to? And the answer, of course, was no. Even if I never sold a story, I had to tell them. Iíd been telling them since I was twelve years old. So I kept on writing, kept on growing, and kept on believing that publication was a possibility and I made it. And if I can make it, so can you.
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