When I attended my first writer’s conference in 2006, I thought I’d pitch an agent or editor and sell my book on the spot. After all, my college professor used my papers as good examples for her class, so these writing professionals were sure to read my work and sing the Hallelujah Chorus, right? Interviews on Good Morning America, Oprah’s Book Club, and a Pulitzer Prize would be sure to follow. Money would rain from the heavens. I was 28.
I’ll be 40 this year. I’m older, wiser, more experienced, and yet I’ve never met Oprah.
So let me step in as your coach and tell you how this really works.
- You have to write a book. I started many books before I finished one. And I probably only finished because I’d paid for a conference and needed something to sell to all those editors who I thought would come knocking. Editors or not, this is probably the hardest hurdle to clear. You don’t know you can leap over it until you do. So set that deadline for yourself, make the time, and feel free to write crap. Because this manuscript will likely be considered a false start anyway.
- Find a critique partner. Now because I’m the kind of person who takes off before the pistol is fired, I did have an editor request my manuscript after this conference and an agent sign me on the basis that I had an editor interested. This story didn’t get published though (thank goodness), and the most valuable thing that came out of my first conference was my critique partner. She got me back on track and trained with me. We moved at about the same pace and agreed to read each other’s manuscript. I not only learned a lot from her, but she ended up starting a publishing company which eventually published my Fun4Hire series. This is one of the coolest things about the writing community. Meeting all those famous authors is exciting, but it’s even more exciting to help your friends succeed.
- Enter contests. Christina and I both finaled in contests. This is great encouragement to keep going when it feels like your words will never see the ink of a printing press. It also looks good in a cover letter and can include great feedback. Often these contests are judged by your dream editor. You’ll be scored on exactly what they like or don’t like about your work. And sometimes, if they like your work enough, as in the case of the Harlequin contest I entered, they’ll give you a contract and publish it.
- Submit. Now I didn’t include “reading” as one of the six hurdles because normally if you want to be a writer, reading is no hurdle. It’s more like cheering from the stands. That being said, READ and research your favorite books to find out who sold and edited them. That’s probably who you should to submit your work to. Agents and editors know what they want, and you are wasting time if you send them something outside their interests.
- Get rejected. This is like shin splints. You don’t feel the pain unless you push yourself. Now you can commiserate with the rest of us. Feel free to keep count of your rejection letters or recycle them so your next rejection letter can possibly be written on the same fibers. Whatever you do, be proud. You’re writing isn’t perfect, but that’s okay. It’ll never be perfect. What matters is you’re working hard to beat your last time. Get up and keep going.
- Network. To some of you, this hurdle might be even harder than getting rejected. It’s like being interviewed after you lost a race on television. But you have to get in front of an audience to build what editors like to call a platform. It can be through social media, blogs, websites, radio, magazines, or newspaper. You are your own front man. You exude the the passion that pours into each of your stories. People want to read what you have to say because you inspire them.
If you continue to improve your performance and don’t give up, you increase your chance of crossing the finish line into publication. All I’m going to say here is that selling your first manuscript won’t be anything like you imagine it to be. It will be better.
There you have it. Though you should also know that on average it takes seven years to win a book contract. And then you face a whole new set of hurdles.
Is it worth it? Only if you can relate to Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire when he says, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.”
He never met Oprah either.