Right after the new year, my agent Lauren Abramo posted a blog called 10 Things Every Aspiring Author Should Try This Year over on the Dystel & Goderich blog site.
She had some great advice, and I decided to run through her top 10 list to see how I compared. In case you’d like to do the same, please check out the link where she goes into detail on each of the line items I mention below.
1. Write an amazing query letter.
I did, I did! *g
Getting agent representation was one of my top career goals for this year (we can peek at the rest of them some other time) and I pursued it with single-minded determination. (*pause while I see if anyone buys the latter portion of that statement*) Okay, maybe not single-minded. I also had to work and read and write and angst over various aspects of my life.
But getting an agent was a top goal and I made it a point to do my best to see that happen. (In case you missed it, my post on how I rose from the slush is over on the Manuscript Mavens blog.)
But, I bookmarked those sites this very day, and will make a concerted effort to hit them at least once in a while.
I maybe didn’t *completely* fail this item, as I do read other industry blogs, such as the D&G blog, Miss Snark, various other agent/editor/library/bookseller blogs, and of course the blogs of my writer pals, whether published or not. (Does that get me half a point?)
3. Head down to a bookstore or surf over to one online and check out whatâ€™s going on in your category.
I actually do pay close attention to this. Not just in browsing, but I regularly quiz my friends on things they’ve read or new titles/authors they’ve heard of. I discovered Stephanie Rowe thanks to Maven Darcy, Sherry Thomas thanks to my CP Kel, Scott Westerfeld thanks to my pal Diana, Elizabeth Hoyt thanks to Maven Lacey, Orson Scott Card thanks to my brother Rob, Stephanie Meyer thanks to Dionne Galace, Colleen Gleason thanks to her t-shirt at last year’s national, and so on.
Not all of those are representative of my genre per se, but every time I read a popular and/or well written and/or good book, I learn something, either about craft, or about what readers want. (Or what publishers think readers want.)
4. Attend a writersâ€™ conference.
In fact, I attended not one but three writers’ conferences. The Miami Fun in the Sun conference in February, the STAR Super Saturday conference in May, and the RWA National conference in July.
My primary goal at all three of these conferences was pitching to agents (see line item #1 above) and scored a request from almost every agent I pitched to. How ironic that I actually ended up scoring representation via slush pile???
5. Stop over thinking.
I freaked out so many times this year. I don’t know why. I am usually a ridiculously calm, easy going person (and still am, even in the bizarrest or most dangerous of situations) but for some reason, this year I was hyper-sensitive about my writing career, or lack thereof.
I think I felt like I needed to achieve something that unequivocally proved forward momentum, in order to justify all the time and blood and heartache spent writing, critiquing, revising, plotstorming, driving/flying to conferences, mailing out 400 page manuscripts, etc.
This is not a cheap or easy process, and I came reeeeally close one time to making a Bad Mistake, for which I am now ever grateful I didn’t pursue. I’m not going to go into details on that, as I don’t want to burn any bridges and may pursue that particular path at some point in the future, but for now my current goals lie in agent representation (check!) and print publication (…still waiting.)
6. Write something, anythingâ€”â€”daily or weekly or whenever you can fit it in your schedule.
Well, pass mostly. (Another half point?)
I tumbled off the writing wagon about a month ago when I was in Costa Rica, and for one reason or another never got back on with that particular WIP. I have been blogging almost every day, and commenting regularly on other people’s blogs, and critiquing my CP’s fabulous manuscripts (shout out to Lacey and Carrie, whose stories rock, and to Darcy, whose story is in my Inbox as I type, and I simply can’t wait to dive in!) and attending the national conference, and pursuing agent representation, etc, so it’s not like I’ve been ignoring my career.
I’ll get my very first revision letter sometime next week, and from that moment on, it’ll be full steam ahead on that project until it’s polished enough to be shopped in NYC. Not sure that counts as “writing” per se, but I’m counting it as “being a writer”.
7. Be honest with yourself.
Well, pass mostly. (Yet another half point. *sigh*)
Lauren’s main point with this was to be honest with yourself about the industry and your chances in it. If your book sucks, know this, shelve it, and write something else. If your book rocks, but is unsalable, know this, shelve it, and write something else. If your book is totally publishable, and you think you will retire on your advance money, check out Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me The Money breakdown and get thee a reality check.
I’ve been really honest about myself with all of these things (which is why I shelved my first two stories and they will soon be disappearing from my writer web site) but the thing I’ve maybe not been so honest with myself on is the amount of time all of this takes, and the fact that it may never happen, agent representation or not.
Although I’ve been writing off and on my whole life, I’ve been seriously pursuing publication for much less time than most of my writing pals, and yet I feel this horrendous pressure to hurry up and make something of myself already. Getting an agent totally took the edge off of that one, and I’m feeling myself again.
If years go by and I’m still in the same boat, no doubt those old ugly feelings will creep back in, and I’ll just have to remind myself yet again that there are no guarantees in this business, regardless of how well you may write or how awesome your story/characters/high concept may be. All we can do is do our best and keep trying.
8. Calm down.
As mentioned in line item #5, I went from Calm Erica to Roller Coaster Erica over the last 2-5 months. Thankfully, my CPs and writer pals have no problem with fish-slapping me back to normalcy whenever insanity creeps in. As mentioned before, I’m hoping I’m over that and can get back to my normal self very soon. (In my defense, my personal life has been less than calm between February and now, which no doubt leaked into my professional life.)
9. Find your place to write.
I bought a new house (new to me, anyway *g) and converted a spare bedroom into an office. I had an office room in my apartment previously, but it was shared with my boyfriend, and was not All Mine. No more. I now have a room to call my own, with a computer and desk and bookshelves and filing cabinets and a love seat slash hide-a-bed and I can close the door and stow away inside any time I please. (Ah, bliss!)
As exemplified in the thumbnail cover links to the right of this post, I have been reading like crazy. As of today, total book count for this year is 57, which means I’ve been reading almost two per week. The books range from 200 pages to 600+ pages, from non-fiction craft books to literary fiction to popular novels, from books read to better ground myself in a particular genre to books read for pleasure, but all in all, I’ve been reading, and plan to continue doing so.
Every book I read helps me to be a better writer. If I enjoy a book (or an aspect of a book), I ask myself why, and if I can identify that magic spark, perhaps I can put my own spin on it in my own writing. If I do not enjoy a book, I try to analyze where it went wrong for me, so that I don’t make that same mistake myself.
Looks like I scored a 6.5 (for the record, Lauren said nothing about scoring your progress on her original blog post–I’m making it up because I grew up a Cosmo girl at heart and can’t resist a good quiz) out of a possible 10. But the year is not yet over! I still have time to ground myself more in the industry, calm my crazy butt down, and write, write, write!
YOUR TURN: Where you at? Have you done (or are you doing) any of the items on this list? Do you have suggestions of your own for other aspiring authors? Inquiring Ericas want to know!