One of the things I hear amongst aspiring traditionally published authors is that all we can do is our best- that as long as we’re doing the maximum to try and obtain an agent and get that book deal, there’s really nothing more we can do.
But what is the maximum? And am I really doing it? I’ve tried to compile a checklist of stuff we’re ‘supposed’ to do.
Write. There’s writing of course. We’re told not to get stuck on one project but to try different realms, genres, style and to always keep moving and improving our craft. Does that mean we should be writing a book a year? A certain number of short stories? Poems?
Polish. We have to learn how to effectively revise. Find critique partners and betas. Critique material for other people in order to hone a critical eye.
Query. We can’t very well call ourselves a querying author if we aren’t sending out queries. But how many queries? How often? If we take a break from querying, are we no longer a ‘querying’ author?
Blog. Having an online presence and author’s platform used to be a ‘must’ but now some authors and agents are saying it holds no sway and barely puts a dent in the promotion that needs to be done in order to have a successful book launch or career. But still, we’ve got to put our name out there and garner interest for our books and what we have to say. Just in case.
Subscribe to Publisher’s Weekly. To keep an eye on new trends- what’s selling and who’s buying. (I haven’t done this)
Enter pitch contests, first 250 word contests, first chapter contests, break-out novel contests. (Yeah. I haven’t done any of this in a really long time either.)
Self Publish. Because having a self-published book or series that is selling well is a way to garner attention and interest from the traditional publishing industry.
Get short stories or excerpts published in a magazine or an anthology of some sort. (I only have one short story. What can I say? I’m long-winded. So does this mean I should sit down and write short stories in hopes of getting them accepted into an anthology? )
Go to writers conferences. (Never done this. I live too far away. And have you seen the prices?)
Anything I missed? This already feels like a lot and I’m only doing about half of them (and those few alone suck a big part of my time and energy into the trying-to-get-published-vortex). Could I be doing more? Probably. But for me, the maximum is giving your all in the areas you can. Truth is, you could be doing all these and it still might not be 'enough' to get published.
How many of these are you guys doing/have you done?
Do you ever feel like no matter how much you do, it’s never enough?
I've done them all (except conferences) and always feel it's never enough. Now, since I'm self-published I stick to about half of them, but writing is always #1 priority.
I'm not sure being self published is a must. I think we should all do what we can given the rest of our life--family, work, etc--and that's enough at least until we get an agent and hopefully published.
Great post. It's hard to know what to do and what no to do. But I think you're right in that we should do what we enjoy the best we can. Writers get bookdeals without doing any of those, so.... It's really about the book. I agree with Natalie, self publishing is not a must. It shouldn't be a way to get traditionally published. One should self publish b/c they want to! It's a different path.:)
Hmmm, I'm a bit lacking in the things I do, according to that list. Unfortunately, anything that costs money is difficult at the moment - I love the fact that submitting by email is becoming the norm, postage prices were starting to be a deterent. Ah, the glorious life of a writer!
Ugh. I know what you mean. I feel like I'm not doing enough. I've done some of what you mentioned, but I think you are right--we can only do what we CAN. :)
Don't forget reading! You should be reading ALL THE TIME! :/ And critique, of course.
I have a dayjob and almost-4 kids under 5 years old. So I mostly just write, blog, contest here and there, and critique less than I should.
Do I think it'll stand in the way of me getting published? Yep. Every day. But I get little enough sleep as it is.
I do a lot of them. I love conferences (we now schedule the family vacation around the one I go to each year). I love blogging. I don't own a subscription to PW (other than the children's weekly email update). I'd rather spend that money on workshops.
Oh, and I don't write short stories. I don't like reading them (I like my stories complex), so it wouldn't make sense for me to write them. The only short stories I like are those based on characters from books I've enjoyed. And that's because I know the characters. I don't feel like I'm missing out.
I think "giving your all" means doing what you can without sacrificing your family and other responsibilities--being published would never be worth it if it meant sacrificing my family.
Crap, I didn't do hardly any of that!
You make a very good point, actually. There is so much we can do, and I bet very rarely to any of us do ALL of it.
And a big old :P to Alex!!! LOL
It's certainly important to write the best book you can AND write a query that promotes the book in the best way possible. Because I think -- more important than all the rest -- is the right book for the right agent at the right time. There's an element of luck in there that we can't control.
All you can do is increase the probability by continuing to write books, write killer queries, and get your writing out there to as many people as possible.
Great list. I had a chance to attend a pair of writing workshops at the World Horror Convention a few years ago, and it was both the most daunting and most invigorating experience of my life.
As for Publisher's Weekly, I used to read it religiously, both for trends and books to watch for . . . until they decided the online edition was no longer free. $240 a year is a bit steep for something I used to read for free.
It does seem like a lot, and I'm sure not all multi-published authors do all of this all the time. I tell myself to do what I can and take one day at a time!
I was just talking about writing conferences with one of my CP's yesterday,and the prices do seem outrageous just for a few minutes of face time that don't even guarantee you a better response than you'd get simply querying.
It's especially tough when I feel like I'm doing at least the majority of the things you mentioned, and nothing happens, but then people who do few or none wind up with agents and make it look easy. So unfortunately, luck is a huge X-factor.
Oh wow, how did I not find your blog until now? This is quite an impressive list! You're definitely thinking of all the bases--which doesn't mean you (or we!) should actually hit all of them. Like Laura mentioned, self-pubbing isn't a must, and it sounds like for you getting to conferences and things like that is not so easy. By far, the writing, revising and querying have to be the most important. But these are great ideas to explore!
I've thought about this a lot lately, and I've done or am doing most of the items on that list (I'm not currently self-published and I don't write short stories). But one of the things I've been thinking about with regards to my own journey is this: I'm afraid many writers, including myself, put way too much emphasis on all the other stuff way to early.
For example, I wish I had had two completed manuscripts, including edits, ready to pitch when I went to my first conference.
Also, although I love the writing community, I sometimes wish I hadn't put so much pressure on myself to blog before I had put more pressure on myself to become a much better writer. This issue could easily be debated b/c so much good has come from blogging, however, I think some of us (me) sometimes forget that writing and writing WELL is TRULY what matters most for fiction writers - not # of blog comments, contest finals, Facebook likes.
That was a little pep talk to myself. Thanks for the fantastic list and getting my mind going on priorites.
Well, this is a good post, especially for newbies to the writing game such as myself. So a big 'thank you' for taking the time to write this one up :)
The problem I have at the moment is feedback; I never know if anyone is reading my work as no one leaves a comment - so frustrating in the extreme.
As for how many of those pointers have I actually done?
Well, I am writing, I am certainly trying to polish (hard without feedback as to what needs polishing), I have a blog. And I am about to enter a 750 word opening chapter competition soon. Apart from that, nothing else.
I have found a very informative and helpful site by Katie Weiland - 'Wordplay: helping writers become authors'. So it might be worthwhile popping over there to see what's useful to you. I don't think you can have enough help when it comes to learning the craft.
A big thanks to you, Katie for joining me at the hearth - it's a pleasure to have you there and I hope you enjoy your stay :)
I do a few of them, but not all of them. I haven't finished polishing and I haven't queried yet. I probably should subscribe to Publisher's Weekly, but I haven't done it yet. Once I have the polish part done, I would like to try those contests. I've done the last three, though.
But I think you're right. Sometimes you can do the best that you can do.
I definitely feel like there's more I can do, but there's just not enough time. So I focus on the writing and polishing part, because hopefully I can make my book the best it can be.
Never enough. Actually, never 'good' enough.
I went to WFC last fall, and am going to Toronto for it this year. Next year is in London. You should try to go to that!
I tend to look at "rules" more as "guidelines." I do what works for me, and try not to sweat the rest. In regards to your list - I do five out of nine.
I barely do any of those. I am not a lazy writer - I'm quite disciplined about that - but I'm definitely a lazy self-promoter or whatever.
It doesn't help that I'm constantly reading contradictory ideas about marketing and self-promotion. It's all become white noise to me, honestly.
It seems to me that no one knows why some books sell and others don't.
Holy crap, I am so in this boat with you right now! I feel like I'm using my time better, making more progress and getting further behind on my life. When you figure it all out, write it as a book and I'll buy it :)
You're right--it's too hard to do it all. I think our best is what we are able to successfully juggle with the rest of our life responsibilities. I write, blog, sometimes twitter and occasionally FB. That's all I can handle.
I think you could always be doing more, but it's a matter of what you're willing to sacrifice to do it. And sometimes that sacrifice is too great.
I never realised that writing involved so much actual work.
For me I'd add continue enrolling and completing recommended writing courses if money allows! Great list!
It is tricky because writing should come first. That's what sells and if you can't do that well then it doesn't matter what else you're doing.
The hardest part, for me, is finding the right balance.
I've been to an expensive conference and talked to four editors there. One requested a partial and said nice things, but it was still a rejection. I used some of those comments in a query letter (something agents say do NOT do), but I got several requests for full manuscripts with that letter. Perhaps it was the fact that I went to the conference (by invite based on my synopsis) and the agents kindly overlooked my gaffe in including the editor's kind words.
I struggle to keep up with blogging, but I don't want to give it up. It's fun.
I don't spend nearly enough time writing. I let distractions, like this, keep me from working.
The only thing I excel at is reading a ton and thinking about ways to improve my writing based upon what I read.
I'm with you, only done/doing about half of them. I strive to do my best at each one, but life throws a lot more than just writing at me spreading me thinner than I would prefer. Ah, the life of an aspiring writer :)
Hello Katie! My first visit, will visit you again. Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed your posts. Congrats for your work. If you wish to follow back that would be great I'm at http://nelsonsouzza.blogspot.com
Thanks for sharing!
I think the most important part is to make sure that you still enjoy it, above all things.
Wow! I feel out of breath just reading this list. Seem to be doing most, except for the last 3.
One thing that I found took a big chunk of time, alongside actually sending out queryies, was researching agencies and agents. Tracking down who was who, who represented what, do they look like a good fit, are they reputable...
I'm just focusing on writing and polishing for now. I like the idea of having more than one novel completed before I begin the query process. My goal is year end.
That's one heck of a list. I'm doing or have done quite a few...more to the point, the static one that I'm always doing is writing. If I stop blogging, don't go to another conference, choose not to self-publish or whatever, I'll continue to write. READ and write. Because reading is a good way to familiarize oneself with a genre or different genres.
That's a pretty comprehensive list! I would add joining a really good writers forum. I belong to Litopia but there are lots of others out there :-
I don't condone my approach, as these days everything helps, but I didn't do a damned thing except write-write-write for fifteen years. No conventions. No writing courses. No nuthin'. I did, however, send out one submission per week when I'd completed a novel, and just kept on going. I did buy a couple of decent "How to write" books, Carole Blake's "From Pitch to Publication", and got some professional editing done toward the end, but mostly I just read as much as I wrote and learned from there. Do whatever works best for you, and be able to take criticism if you get any.
Totally agree on the conferences--overpriced, MOST of them. Yet you hear it all the time from agents, "Go to conferences." For what it's worth, I did hear that some confs have scholarships available? But querying still seems the most direct route, to me.
This is the kind of list that makes me go on a nice, productive procrastinatory streak.
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