By Shannon Baker
I’ve got a new book coming out! This has been a dream of mine for a very long time. In fact, if the first novel I completed had been a baby, it would be able to drink in any state of the union now. If you’re here on the RMFW blog, it’s a pretty good bet you’ve got this dream, too.
This message is for everyone struggling to land a traditional publishing contract. I do know the world has turned and this isn’t the only road to publishing. I’m dabbling in indie publishing, too, which is a story for another day.
Congratulations! You’ve come to the right place and you’re doing exactly what you should be doing—along with writing every day. (Okay, I know successful writers who don’t actually write every day. But unless you know you are special, I’d recommend “touching the ball” every day.)
That other thing you should be doing? Getting informed and involved. You’re here reading about writing, learning what’s new, what people are publishing and reading, who the publishers are. That’s good. You need to understand your market and how it works. While remaining isolated and researching publishing might work for some people, I don’t think it’s enough for most of us.
There is no substitute for good writing and you must study your craft and practice it. I highly recommend peer critique. (Again, I know bestsellers—CJ Box, Joseph Finder—who never had critique partners. But most of us are regular folk and need help from our friends.)
There is something else you can do to get more involved. In my case this made a huge difference in my road to publication.
Yeah, I know how it goes. We’re all busy. If you volunteer it takes time away from writing and improving your craft. That’s all very true.
I remember sitting at my first RMFW Colorado Gold conference watching this boisterous, supportive group of writers who had known each other for years. Most of them were published. One of the speakers gave full credit for her success to RMFW and pointed to a table of published writers, all of whom were volunteers in some aspect of RMFW. Every one of them.
But I lived in Nebraska. How could I volunteer from out of state? (Remember, this is before everything was online.) I kept returning and meeting more people every year but still felt like an outsider, shy and afraid to join in. Then my chance came. Someone suggested I volunteer to run the agent/editor pitch appointments. It was something I could do long distance. I jumped at the chance. The first year was a disaster. I didn’t notify the agents and editors of their schedule, assuming they knew they had appointments starting at 8 A.M. They didn’t. The next year was a little better. With the help of dedicated writer friends who volunteered beside me each year, we got better and better. I worked in that position for nine years. After that, I was registrar for three years, and now I serve as board treasurer.
Every single one of these positions has been purely selfish. In the truest Ayn Rand tradition, there is no altruism. I am not that good at meeting people. I am a terrible self-promoter. (For instance, I’ve had business cards printed for each of three books I’ve had published. I have never made it through handing out one box of 250.) But working with conference, I met so many people. While I got tongue-tied around the agents and editors, I felt comfortable joining groups of my writer friends and these Golden Guests would be part of the group. That made getting to know the professionals very easy. I even learned most of them are regular folks.
I didn’t parley volunteering into a book contract overnight. Some may argue volunteering had nothing to do with signing with Midnight Ink. I know otherwise. Because I’d met so many people through working at the agent/editor pitches and registration, I felt at home and comfortable at conference. I’d learned that editors and agents are real people. So when I had an opportunity to meet Midnight Ink editor, Terri Bischoff at conference, I didn’t pitch her my book. We spent time getting to know each other.
Terri didn’t acquire my book because we’d made a connection at the conference. But she read it with a more open mind than she might have. She also was willing to take on a book that needed an extensive rewrite and I don’t think she’d have done that if she hadn’t met me first. Or, if I’d missed my opportunity to get to know her because I was too nervous to talk to her.
So here are my bullets on getting that traditional contract:
- Write every day
- Read a lot
- Learn all you can about the publishing industry
- Get involved
- VOLUNTEER (especially with RMFW)
Roll call: Who’s going to join us in Denver in September for the Colorado Gold conference? What a line-up! Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords and William Kent Krueger, the amazingly wonderful mystery writer. Also, loads of Golden Guests (agents and editors).
Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Broken Trust, due March 2014, takes place in Boulder, CO. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. She serves on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at her website.
About Broken Trust: Nora moves to Boulder and lands a job as an accountant at an environmental non-profit. But the trust is rife with deceit and corruption. Nearly half a million dollars is missing and one person has already been killed for knowing too much. Complicating matters are Nora’s uninvited visitors: her mother, Cole Huntsman, and a Hopi kachina that technically doesn’t exist. As the body count climbs, Nora races to stop a deadly plot to decimate one of the planet’s greatest natural resources.