Even though writers work much of the time in isolation, establishing connections with other writers is helpful for encouragement and support. In this post I’m sharing some of the activities that were helpful to me, and that I suggest for other writers.
1. Join a Writers' Group
Guests featured at group meetings are professionals such as published authors, editors, cover designers, layout consultants, and illustrators. These people have “real world experience” in the industry and willingly share tips and contact information for their connections.
2. Become Involved in a Meet-up or Critique Group
The stories authors desire to create are not always the ones they write. Critique Groups and Meet-Ups provide settings where yet-to-be-published authors participate in critical discussions concerning form and content. By design, such groups are small and allow time for analysis and evaluation of each participant’s writings. Accountability to others helps writers become better with creating storyline, developing concepts, constructing dialogue, finding redundancies, and eliminating conventions errors. The goal is to assist writers in taking their manuscripts from rough drafts to polished stories.
3. Attend Conferences
Whether attending a genre specific conference or a general writing conference, attendees will be provided with a glimpse of the inner-workings of a very structured industry. During the sessions, literary agents, professional editors, and publishers’ representatives attempt to prepare writers for the long, difficult path to publishing.
Writers attend conferences to learn. It would take hundreds of hours of research to find the information about publishing that is provided to writers during a single conference.
Writers need to understand that, even though they will have opportunities to meet many people who could potentially be their ticket to success, it is rare that an attendee snags a literary agent or gets any kind of a contract. Even though some writers receive initial encouragement, they often find themselves being put off by the editor or agent once the conference has ended.
For all non-groupies of the writing world, be aware that literary agents and publishers’ reps are the rock stars of these events.
4. Enter Contests
The main benefit of entering a contest is receiving honest feedback on a manuscript.
Contests need to be carefully selected. Usually, the first 30-60 pages are requested. To enter pages other than the first sixty, the writer needs to locate a contest that will accept pages of the author's choice.
When small publishers run contests, they are looking for books to publish. The work an author submits to a publisher must be in the requested genre and all guidelines should be carefully followed. The best critique I received came from a small publisher that, after announcing their contest, made the decision to sell to a larger publisher. Going beyond the call of duty, the owner of the company sent me a personal letter with detailed advice and encouragement.
Some contests charge an entry fee. If paying an entry fee, it is important to enter only those contests that provide a written evaluation from either an editor or a literary agent. Most do not.
Conferences sometimes sponsor contests that promise entrants both a checklist and a written evaluation of the story sample. Often, winning entries in each genre are made available to literary agents and editors engaged as speakers. (What these people do with the winning entries is anyone’s guess.)
Receiving feedback on a conference entry from three professionals (a literary agent, a novelist, and an English professor) was a turning point for me in my writing. The feedback I received was so consistent that it almost seemed that, even though these people did individual, “blind” reviews, they were sitting together discussing my first thirty pages. This input pointed to a weakness that seemed to derail the story for each of them. The remainder of the writing received good reviews. I fixed the problem by rearranging some chapters and doing a major rewrite of another.
There are many additional ways in which writers find support and build camaraderie. In my new city, I have found a group that, once a month, provides a time for sharing personal narratives, essays, and poems. I enjoy interacting with this new group as I accept the challenge to keep writing.