Monday, August 22, 2011

Breaking Into (and Out Of) Print—Part Three

Last week we discussed ways to get a by-line or two while working on your main project(s). I said that I feel that doing so allows you to feel like a “real” writer.

A career in the arts is one that is built on past successes. Unlike most jobs, you don’t go in to work every day and complete your required production with a guaranteed payment each week. In the arts, whether it is acting, music, painting, or writing, your career is always built on the things you did recently. The job of the artist is to make others want more of what we have to offer.

Think about it: are you more excited to hear a new song by a performer you’ve come to love or one you’ve never heard of? Do you automatically buy a book by an unknown author or one by a writer you’ve enjoyed before?

One of today’s buzz words is “branding.” Artists and writers have always developed their own “brands.” You can easily tell a Picasso from a Monet. Taylor Swift’s songs don’t sound like Lady Gaga’s. As you write, you are developing work that you hope others will learn to recognize.

Having met and worked with many writers, I am still amazed at the number of people who say they want a career but don’t treat writing as a career. Here are some ways they break out of print:

1) They don’t set aside time to write regularly. It doesn’t have to be every day. My first novel was written primarily on Saturday afternoons. I was teaching elementary school and had three young children. I’m not one of those people who can get up an hour or two earlier or write late into the evening. With the help of a very supportive spouse, Saturday afternoons, though, were mine.

2) They don’t do their homework. They send picture book manuscripts to houses that only accept agented material. They send novel synopses to houses that only do picture books about nature. In short, they waste time, postage, and some editorial assistant’s time, and make a lousy first impression.

3) They fail to use connections. They go to writers’ conferences and get critiqued, but they don’t listen to what the editor said, so they don’t revise. Many times, I’ve heard writers come out of critiques with this bit of conversation: “The editor liked my story but they just did a picture book about a frog. She asked me what else I had.”

When an editor asks you what else you have in your writing pile she’s saying: I like your stuff. I like your style. I’d really like to find a place for you in our list.

If you don’t write regularly, you don’t have anything else to send. Connection lost.

We'll wrap up tomorrow with point #4 as well as a cautionary tale.

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