When it comes to getting that elusive publishing contract, we all obviously have to spend a lot of “butt in chair” time writing and honing our craft. However, I think a lot of people limit themselves because they don’t find ways to take their ideas and passion out into the world more.
For me, getting my first publishing contract came about because I took advantage of the chance to meet with editors face to face, and have some work critiqued. I wasn’t expecting to be offered a contract quickly, but rather wanted to start networking, developing relationships, and learning directly from decision makers.
Since then, I have attended numerous other conferences and related kidlit events, bid on critiques, entered competitions, reviewed books, interviewed creatives, and applied for mentorships and grants. Each step has helped me understand the industry better; learn about particular publisher and editor tastes; come up with fresher ideas; write more suitably for the market; and start to develop my personal author brand.
I know from speaking with numerous editors that, when they’re thinking about whether or not to publish a book, they don’t just consider the work itself, but also the person who wrote it. Is the author proactive and immersed in the industry? Do they understand what buyers and readers are looking for? Will they take feedback well? Will they market their books actively? Can they be relied upon? These are all traits you can demonstrate to publishers by taking advantage of relevant opportunities.
Sure, you may not get a contract from a meeting with an editor, and they may in fact recommend you rethink the entire story, but look at what you can learn from this. Similarly, you may not be chosen as a finalist in a competition, or receive a grant or mentorship, but in putting your documents together for these opportunities, you’ll probably be forced to think seriously about not only the stories you create, but also why you write, where you want your career to go, and more. This clarity can be invaluable.
Of course, if you put in the effort and do the hard work (even when it’s midnight and you’re tired and the last thing you feel like doing is writing that application or editing that manuscript) you might just be selected. Taking advantage of opportunities – which, thanks to the digital age are available to everyone these days, regardless of location – you can get a boost to your confidence and career that is a real turning point.
One opportunity in particular that I urge you to consider is government (or private) grants. I have received two from my local Sunshine Coast Council here in Australia over the last year, as part of their Regional Arts Creative Development Fund; I’m sure you’ll find there’s something similar available in your area.
The first grant, I used to attend a kidlit conference interstate, where I booked manuscript assessments with editors. Happily, both gave me “Revise and Resubmit” requests, and I’m waiting to hear back on whether they’re interested in pursuing the stories further. Even if they come back with a “no thanks” though, I at least learnt from them in the sessions, made helpful contacts, and know that when I submit to them in future they’ll (hopefully!) remember who I am.
For the second grant I did something different. I spoke to one of the coordinators at the Council about my wish to participate in international opportunities that could be pursued online. While this wasn’t something the Council had approved before, I was encouraged to submit my application and have a go. I’m pleased to say the grant was approved, and I was actually asked if I would speak at a Council panel sometime this year to talk about thinking differently when applying for grants.
For my application, I created a 12-Month Professional Development Plan that stepped out some of my major goals for 2018, and ideas for achieving them. My plan detailed a variety of memberships, consultations, webinars, critiques and courses I wished to invest in, and how exactly I thought each one would help me reach my goals. I also made sure to link in how I could use the knowledge received from these programs to give back to my local community. Furthermore, I noted that these online activities are better for the environment, because they’re done from home and don’t require travel. I tied this in to the Council’s sustainability initiatives.
One of the inclusions on my grant application was a membership to Rate Your Story. I had heard from author friends that this is incredibly helpful because it means you receive critiques from well-regarded, multi-published authors, and that you can have your work critiqued without having to spend time going over other people’s work in return. (While I’m a member of numerous critique groups and find this really helpful, it’s nice to save time too when I need to.) I’m already thrilled that I joined, and am finding the fact that I can submit 18 manuscripts throughout the year prompts me to write more, so I maximize my value – just another benefit for this writer who struggles with “butt in chair” discipline!
If you feel like you haven’t been getting as far as you’d like with your author career recently, I highly recommend looking for opportunities you can take advantage of, either in your local area, around your country, or even on the other side of the world. There are lots of them out there if you do your research and stay up to date, and they can really help you take your work and achievements to the next level.
Kellie Byrnes lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, and is often found out and about with her two cheeky dogs (who both inspire and distract her from her work). Kellie is a children’s author, book reviewer, and freelance writer with a BA degree in Literature.Her debut picture book, CLOUD CONDUCTOR, will be released in 2018. She is a member of SCBWI and 12x12, and has recently been awarded a mentorship with author Adam Lehrhaupt as part of the 2018 Writing with the Stars program. Kellie’s ghostwritten work has also been published on sites such as Huffington Post, Forbes, Lifehacker, Entrepreneur and Inc. You can find her online at www.KellieByrnes.com, on Twitter at @KellieJByrnes, and on Facebook under KellieByrnesAuthor.
Writing is full of ups and downs—the adrenaline rush of getting something published may be followed by months of rejections, sluggish sales, or radio silence from editors. Sometimes it’s tempting to just throw in the towel. But your writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. Take a long view to ensure that you don’t fizzle out after the first lap. Here are some suggestions to help you set yourself up for writing success in 2018 and beyond.
1. Scope out the competition
Any good athlete needs to know their competition. Read the newest books in your genre to stay abreast of trends. Browse the shelves at your local bookstore or categories of interest on Amazon. Which books practically leap into your cart, and why? Consider how you can imbue your own books with that magical quality.
2. Build your endurance
Marathoners don’t start off running 26 miles. It’s great to have lofty goals as a writer. But while you’re waiting for that book contract, you can build your resume by writing for magazines, newspapers, the SCBWI Bulletin, blogs, etc. Not only will you gain publishing credits, you will gain experience working with editors and connections in the publishing industry. The educational market is another great way to get published and build your skills.
3. Hone your skills
Complacency never won any races, and I’ve never met a successful writer who did not keep studying their craft. Continue to improve your skills by taking classes, attending conferences, and participating in challenges or contests. Getting regular feedback from critique partners and industry professionals is essential as well.
To attain excellence in any sport, an athlete needs to specialize. Writers can also benefit from focusing on a niche. This niche can be narrow or broad. Most of my books generally fall under the umbrella of science, nature, and agriculture, so I consider that my niche. Maybe your niche is humor or history. Consider what you can become (or already are) an expert in, and how you can become known for that expertise this year.
5. Invest in good gear
There’s no law against running a marathon in jeans and flip-flops, as far as I know, but people will take you more seriously if you look like a runner. As a writer, you have a public image to uphold as well. Make sure your social media and website look professional and represent you well as a children’s writer. Agents and editors can and will check out your online presence – don’t miss out on an opportunity because you can’t resist snarking on Twitter or bashing your former agent on your blog. Your website should look neat and focus on what you have to offer your audience. If you haven’t yet established an online presence, make that a goal for 2018.
6. Join a team
Even in an individual sport like running, a partner can provide much-needed motivation and support. Writers need a team as well. Participate in challenges, classes, conferences, Facebook groups, or your local SCBWI chapter to network and build friendships with other writers. We need each other’s support, both before and after publication. What new ways can you connect in 2018?
7. Run the race
My marathon-running friends sign up for races far ahead of time to motivate themselves to train. The publishing industry moves incredibly slowly most of the time. In order to keep your career in motion, it’s important to plan ahead. Keep making contacts and submitting your work throughout the year. Set yourself monthly goals for submissions, or find an accountability partner. Book speaking events or sign up for workshops to help impose deadlines on yourself.
Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year filled with writing success!
Lisa Amstutz, author & RYS Judge
Lisa Amstutz loves to make New Year’s resolutions, even though they usually fizzle out by February. She is the author of more than 80 children’s books and numerous magazine and newspaper articles. Lisa serves as a volunteer judge at Rate Your Story and as Assistant Regional Advisor for Northern Ohio SCBWI. She offers website, manuscript, and educational packet critiques. For more information, see www.LisaAmstutz.com.