From the mailbag: “I was wondering if you could give me a few hints on how to put myself out there to get published. I feel like I’m bumbling around in the dark trying to figure out the next step to take, and any advice is greatly appreciated.”
There are many ings involved along the way to publishing.
Off the top of my head, I can think of several: finishing, critiquing, researching, convening, querying, revising. I’ll say a little bit about each one in a series of posts. And readers, please chime in with ings I’ve forgotten!
This is essential. You need to complete what you’re writing. And be aware that it’s extremely unlikely that the first story you finish or the first novel you write will sell. This is okay. You wouldn’t expect the first dress a designer sketches to appear on a runway, or the first sculpture an artist sculpts to have pride of place in a gallery. You may be writing for years and years (and years) before you write something that is eventually published. Try not to worry about this too much. You’re working on your craft.
But it’s lonely out there, you say. I want some feedback! Well, in that case you may wish to seek out another ing:
Some folks loathe critique groups. Some find them vital. Critique groups can be especially useful if you can find (or create) one whose members have a wide range of experience. Folks who’ve been published for some time have knowledge of how the industry has worked for them over the years; folks who are newer to writing bring fresh perspectives. (If you want to create a group, here’s a good set of ground rules to look at from a group I was in back when I lived in Ann Arbor.)
Two great things a critique group can do:
1. Help you learn how to evaluate other people’s work.
Trying to articulate what works and what doesn’t work for you in someone else’s manuscript is an excellent way to train yourself to recognize things to improve in your own writing.
2. Help you get used to having your work evaluated by others.
Getting used to critique isn’t just about developing a thick skin. That’s important. But it’s equally important to see how differently people react to the exact same manuscript.
One person seizes on a detail you tossed in casually and insists that it’s vital to the plot. Another completely ignores what you thought was the best scene. A third suggests a fix for a problem you didn’t know you had.
This, too, is all okay. You’re getting used to what it’s like for people to see things in your writing you had no idea were there.
(This does not stop when you’re published.)
Next: researching and convening!
And a couple other posts I’ve written about publishing that may be of interest: