I have the great pleasure and honor of being a Query Kombat judge this year. This time last year I was the girl sitting alone in the cafeteria, looking at the table of cool kids (the judges and contest organizers), daydreaming that one day they’d mosey over and ask me to sit with them. Since then, I’ve landed a couple of publishing contracts. The cool kids didn’t actually ask me to sit with them, but when I got up the courage to inquire if they had a seat for me they said yes!
I’m new to being a published author – just starting out on this journey. My first novel was published on 1/12/16, and I have a contract on a series with the first installment releasing on 5/31/16 and the second on 7/5/16. This time next year, a lot of you will have agent and/or publishing contracts. For some of you, Query Kombat will be what lands you that contract. Regardless, each and every participant will learn something from the contest that will put them closer to that goal.
So, in the spirit of this contest, I’m going to do one of those Five Things Every Writer Needs to Know to Get Published columns. I know there are a billion blogs with similar lists out there, but this business is hard, and writers need as much encouragement as possible. I know that I personally go through periods where I compulsively read author success stories and advice columns to keep my spirits up and visualize how one day that could be me with the bestselling novel.
Before I was an author, I was a working musician. A lot of this advice comes from what I’ve observed growing up and living in the music scene, because any sort of artistic career is hard, and a lot of the same advice applies no matter which discipline you’re involved in. So I don’t know if I have wisdom, but I do have long experience.
So, here we go:
1. Believe in yourself.
It is likely going to be a longer road than you’d like. Even once you have that contract, you have to find your audience, build a platform, and keep writing books in order to keep your audience. It’s hard work, and no matter how much you love it, there are probably going to be times when you want to scream and cry and perhaps drink heavily. For instance, when a critique partner tells you to change everything you love about your book; when you get another agent rejection; or when a reader leaves you a snotty one-star review.
When that stuff happens, go ahead and do your primal screaming and slug down some wine, as long as sobriety isn’t one of your probation requirements. But keep believing in yourself. Don’t necessarily get thick skin, because that isn’t always compatible with being an artist. Nor should you probably believe you’re always right and every one of your critics is always wrong. But you should know that no matter how many harsh critiques, rejections, and bad reviews come your way, you still have a valid vision. You are still a good writer. And you will always have some new and beautiful thing to offer the artistic community that no one else can. So absorb and/or disregard that criticism and rejection and let it strengthen your writer spine.
2. Work at becoming the very best at what YOU do.
Notice I don’t say to work at becoming the very best, period. You have your own brand of creativity, your own voice. Develop that, hone it, own it, and take joy in it. Flaunt it for the world, and let other people see the incredible awesomeness that you are.
Notice I also don’t say to simply become the very best at what you do. No one should ever stop learning and striving to be better, to learn more, or discover some new aspect of their art. If you do, you’ll likely get bored and stagnate. So work at it, and keep working.
3. Writing is work, but it’s also play.
Writing is endless work. You don’t just write a book and then you’re done. It’s a full-time job which can become a career if you keep at it. It’s also, in my opinion, the bestest, most fun-diddly-unnest job in the world…even at the times when it’s not.
Sometimes writing is a slog, and sometimes you get so lost in your story that it’s shocking when other people look at it as a commodity. There will likely be times when you forget that it’s work, or that it’s play, or both, and that’s okay. But try to remember both so that you can keep going.
You will have probably have people tell you that writing isn’t a real job. They might tell you to grow up, stop dreaming, and get a nice job in industry. They might say that if you were a real artist, you’d keep doing it no matter how hard it gets and even though you are getting paid jack. In fact, some people will tell you bullcrap like art belongs to all of us and so you should give your books away for free. Most of those people are either idiots, misinformed…or just jealous. After all, most people can’t do what we do, or at any rate, they don’t. The people who say they’d write a book if they had the time—well, there are 24 hours in the day for each and every one of us. We’ve written books, and they haven’t. They can hate all they want. We’ll keep writing (and also see above about the screaming and drinking).
Conversely, there are people who will try to tell you, or sell you books about, how to carefully craft a slam-dunk bestselling novel based on market trends. That $hit might work for someone, but…whatever. I believe books should be born of passion and imagination, and not be something we crank out mechanically purely to make money. Having an eye on what sells is one thing, but that shouldn’t be the only consideration.
4. Make friends in the writing community.
I’m the worst person in the world at meeting people, but I’ve made so many wonderful friends by joining writers’ groups, joining contests, and trolling writing hashtags on Twitter. Follow other writers, agents, and editors. Learn from them, support them, and let them support you. Writing can be a very lonely thing sometimes, but we’re really all in this together. Writing buddies can be critique partners, mentors, and part of your street team when you’re published. Agents and editors are a wealth of information, and they’re generally nice people.
Entering Query Kombat is a great way to get involved in this community. If you’re new to it, welcome. If you’re a veteran, it’s nice to see you!
5. Keep writing.
This goes without saying, and everyone says it, but it bears repeating: the only thing that all published authors have in common is they didn’t give up. There is a path for each and every single writer to publication, and you will find it, as long as you keep writing.
Those are my five things. I can’t wait to get to know all of you through Query Kombat!