The Benefit of Hindsight
So many times during my journey to publication, I found myself asking if the choices I was making about how to pursue my writing goals were leading me in the right direction. Perhaps some of you are experiencing the same quandary.
Every writer's journey is unique, but in an effort to help you discover the right path for you, I'd like to offer the benefit of my hindsight. The following items are choices I made that I believe played a significant role in propelling me forward in my writing career. Perhaps they will help you in your own decision-making.
• Read extensively in your genre. I've often heard publishing professionals recommend that writers read a variety of genres to keep their ideas fresh. I do better when I'm focused. Long before I wrote historical romance, I read historical romance—nearly to the exclusion of all else. Because of this, I know my genre inside and out. I know my readers because I am one myself.
• Join a professional organization that fits your writing niche. I firmly believe that the best thing I ever did for my career was to join American Christian Fiction Writers. You need to surround yourself with people who know your business better than you do. Whatever your genre, there is a national organization out there that you can join. Do it, and get involved.
• Join a critique group. One of the benefits of joining a professional organization is that it allows you to network with other authors who share your passion. Find two or three authors that you respect and form a critique group. They will help you polish your manuscript and become a friendly support system.
• Enter contests. Contests are a great way to get feedback from publishing professionals and build your author credentials. However, remember that an editor will only buy your story if the middle and end are as strong as the beginning, so give the rest of your book as much attention as the section you enter in the contest. The year I finaled in the ACFW Genesis contest is the same year I signed with an agent and received a three-book deal from Bethany House.
• Attend national conferences. Conferences are expensive, but if you have a manuscript that is ready for publication and you can't seem to get past the slush pile, they are the best way to get your foot in the door. But they are not magic. I attended the ACFW conference three times before I made the connection with my editor that eventually led to a contract. Were those other conferences a waste of time? Not at all. I attended classes on craft, I met other authors who were in a similar place on their journeys, and I gained experience in pitching my ideas. My craft improved, I landed an agent and an editor at my fourth conference, and now that my first book has released, many of those early writing friends are the same people who are now helping me market by hosting me on their blogs, serving as influencers, and creating positive buzz for my book.
This is only a sampling of the decisions writers face, and only based on one writer's experience. I hope, though, that by sharing some of what I've learned through hindsight, it will help you look forward and make choices that will keep you moving in the right direction.
Karen Witemeyer is an author still facing a myriad of choices as she seeks to market her first novel, A Tailor-Made Bride. She continues to attend conferences, is active in her critique group and writing organizations, and plans to start entering contests for published authors this next year. Oh, and that story of hers that finaled in the Genesis in 2008? It will be released in October under the title, Head in the Clouds.
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