The following is an article I passed on to the Federation of British Columbia Writers entitled “Passing the Torch”.
Those of us who take our writing seriously spend days, weeks, months, even years in the writer’s cave. It would be easy to become myopic without a support community. The best sources of stimulation for writers are good books and peer networking. The ultimate encouragement comes with that first acceptance by a publisher. However, the road to publication is strewn with pitfalls.
Having struggled for ages to find a publisher, despite numerous conferences and workshops, and despite having self-published a handful of books, I had all but given up hope of ever being professionally published. How I found two publishers for four books in three years is everything short of a miracle. Now, I’m delighted to share my good fortune with other struggling scribblers.
My strongest advice is Get Involved. Become an active member of the Federation of BC Writers. Volunteer. Share your talents. Attend readings and launches. Attend writers’ conferences.
Another very important piece of advice is to find a good editor. Grammar and spelling editorial skills are not enough. Try to find an editor who understands your specific genre of writing. If you write for children, find an editor who deals with YA Literature. If you’ve written a novel, find a story editor. It was necessary to find an editor for my poetry. She knew what would be a marketable style.
Editors can be expensive. Since it’s your name that will be before the world, how much can a good edit be worth to you? Might as well bite the bullet. If you’re writing to get rich, quit trying to get published, but don’t stop writing! You may improve, get recognition elsewhere, and eventually get published.
Through one of my workshops, I advise writers towards good Query Letter writing. The query letter is generally a make or break introduction to a publisher. That letter has to be nothing short of perfect.
A concise précis is a must. The précis is sometimes called an elevator speech. How much can an eager writer tell a prospective publisher between the parkade and the first floor of the Sheraton Hotel?
When all else is ready, ask an established author to read at least part of your manuscript and write a blurb for the book jacket. If the author is fairly well known, this blurb will also serve as an excellent piece of information for a publisher. Some authors, although very busy with their own work, are very happy to encourage an aspiring author.
Another skill I pass on to fellow poets and authors is the ability to read a work in public. Many authors are a delight to listen to. Some, however, despite being excellent writers, are dull and almost inaudible. As a trained actor and having taught voice for many years, I’m able to pass on the advice and skills that help participants to quickly learn to overcome shyness and anxiety to become dynamic and exciting presenters.
Quite a few established authors offer workshops in Memoir Writing, Characterization, Poetry, Developing Setting, Dialogue. Each of these is always an excellent investment.
My final piece of advice to all is: Keep Writing. A gift to two of my grandchildren was a set of hardcover notebooks with pen attached. Writers learn to write by writing. Even in the primary grades.
WRITE and KEEP WRITING – WRITE SOMETHING EVERY DAY. Ben