COMMUNITY

OR

LOOKING BEYOND GOOGLE

Listen to me. I made a mistake. #authorconfession is a boppin’ hashtag these days, but let me spell out something very real for you: I didn’t do what I should have done. I could have done it better.

If you are a new author looking to get into the publishing world, please don’t make the same mistakes.

Like a true newb, I began my writing career by Googling “how to publish a book.” Don’t get me wrong, Google is a marvel of the modern age. It fetches me my recipes, assesses my maladies, and saves me the social anxiety of actually calling the post office to inquire about office hours. If someone told me that I could either have a magic wand or Google Search for the rest of my life, you’d better bet I’d choose the latter. Can a wand give me a weather report for the next three days? Compare thousands of flight prices in a second?

Puh-luh-eez.

However, Google (much like a magic wand) does have its limits. The literary world is vast and well-connected. Success in the throes of the publishing multiverse is not something that people usually “stumble upon.” Sure, Google will tell you in a beautiful, bulleted list to “write a book,” “write a query letter,” and “query agents”—and that’s by no means wrong—but if you have ever done any of those things, you know that they are much more than simple steps. Sure, you can Google “how to make a baby,” but I’m sure that you will find much more practical, seasoned counsel by seeking out an authority on the subject.

I started out on the Google route. I cannot forget the opening of that first query letter; the seething words still wriggle in my brain:

Dear So-And-So Agent,

I am seeking representation for my debut dystopian thriller…

Eek. Rewriting half of the first sentence makes me cringe.

Looking back, I think that a part of me was afraid to ask for help—shy, and almost ashamed to even admit that I was writing a book. It was over a year before I “went public” about my aspirations—a year after that before I was making any sort of headway. It took a lot of head-beating frustration before I finally acknowledged my need for community.

Here’s a real #authorconfession: When I finally plugged into the writing community, my entire trajectory changed.

Now, we throw the phrase “writing community” back and forth like the word “feminism.” We have a basic understanding of the word and sound awfully smart using it, but call on three different people to give you a concrete definition, and you’re going to get three different things.

When I talk about the “writing community,” I speak in the broadest scope you can imagine. Really, I should say “literary community,” because readers, librarians, parents of readers, agents, editors, and publishers have just as much to say about a writer’s craft as the writer does. We’re going to plunge into the mechanics of the literary community over the next few months. Conferences, social media groups, contests, conventions—we’ll hit it all.

Be sure to stay tuned for a discussion with the masterminds behind the MG Book Village, a brand-new hub where readers and writers can connect and share.[1] This project is the living, breathing embodiment of what I’m talking about when I use the word “community,” so I think you’d do well to listen to what they have to say.

Regretfully, I only reached out at the point of desperation. My query letters weren’t working. My book just wasn’t working. I went to my first writing group with the wayward hunger of a child seeking a totem, scanning the room for that grizzled, gray-bearded sage who was going to demystify the path before me.

There were no kung fu masters or scar-faced warriors, but instead, a group of supportive, bright-eyed authors who welcomed me in an instant. When I expressed my frustrations with my floundering query, I was immediately directed to author Kate Miller, a local writer who successfully queried and sold her urban fantasy, Karma Patrol, through #PitMad.[2]

I reached out to Kate, introduced myself, and explained my situation. We exchanged emails for a few days, then agreed to meet at one of the weekly Panera write-ins held in the area. When I finally arrived at the back corner both, I was nervous and even a bit star-struck. I mean, here was a published author not only willing to sign my copy of her novel, but help me advance my own work with her free time.[3]

I can still see the scene in my mind’s eye: Kate reads my query, purses her lips, and then says, “Here, let me help you.”

“Here, let me help you.”

I was shocked. Dumbfounded. Stupefied. I sat there, half mortified, half awed as a published author stopped what she was doing, sat down, and took me through the steps of writing a good query. Kate ended up helping me rewrite the query for my first novel, which never did sell, but prepared me for marketing the one that did. Even more invaluably, she shared the resources that she had used to make her query shine—sites, blogs, and reviewers that I had never even heard of before.

Kate didn’t write my query for me. She didn’t hook me up with an agent, tell me how to revise my novel, or submit anything on my behalf. She did something better than all of those things combined: She gave me the knowledge and the tools to succeed on my own.

And meeting Kate was just the beginning. After taking that first timid step, I began to seek advice left and right, reaching out to anyone and everyone I could. Authors like Erin Straza, Dianne K. Salerni, K.B. Hoyle, T.S. Robinson, and Jennifer Bushroe were all both willing and gracious to offer me help and support—and this is by no means an exhaustive list! Little by little, I began to lean into the community and look to experienced authors for advice on the road ahead.

Finally, I arrived. PATEL PATTERSON AND THE APOCALYPSE KEY is now under contract, and I do a clumsy little jig every time I think about the release date this October. However, I can’t help but look back on what I’ve taken from this experience, and if you’re a newbie author, I hope that you will read and heed a few lessons that I learned the hard way:

People have gone through what you’re going through. They have conquered.

We talked about this in “Weathering Rejection.” All authors are rejected in some form or another. When you look at authors in the writing community, you see an entire army of warriors who have fought in the very same battle that you are now fighting. This should be inspiring, and you should take comfort in the fact that each of them won in their own special way. Ask them about it. You might learn something.

You are not the only one out there.

Sure, the writing community is made up of successful, best-selling, award-winning, and published authors, but it’s also made up of authors like you and me—those of us who are up-and-coming. The ones who haven’t quite figured it out yet, but are learning as we go. As much as the writing community can be a place to ask questions and seek advice, I’ve also found it to be a forum for compassion and encouragement. We’ve all been there. Many of us are still there. You may struggle through this (Arguably, everyone does.), but you’re not struggling alone.

There are people out there who want to share their knowledge.

Art is the competition of the noncompetitive. Part of me cowed to think that the literary community was made up of snobbish, secretive elites who guard the keys to publishing like a branch of the Illuminati; but nothing could be farther from the truth. Every author I’ve ever talked to has been gracious, able and willing to help a newbie when called upon to do so. Chances are, that author was helped by someone else along the way, and in this fashion, everything is payed forward. That’s why I’m writing this post. That’s why I’m writing this blog.

I have found both the writing and the literary communities to be warm, welcoming, and tight-knit. When you find your tribe, whether it be centralized around a mutual love (writing, reading, books in general), genre, or craft—stick to it.

Connections matter.

I have always been told that luck is preparation meeting opportunity. Preparation is the easy part: Write the book. Edit it, get it beta read, and polish it as best you can before you send it out to the world.

Opportunity, on the other hand, can be a bit trickier. How does one put oneself out there? Besides sending out hundreds of letters, how can you make the connections that land you where you want to be?

I can’t answer that question, and I doubt that you will find anyone who can. Like I said, everyone’s journey is different, and nobody arrives in the exact same place. However, putting yourself in the right place at the right time can be something of an art. Meeting people who may know other people and positioning yourself in a place to meet those people may not be a bad idea.

Here’s a prime example: I didn’t query my publisher. I met them at a conference. I was at that conference because of another publisher who wanted to sign me, and I had met that publisher in a Twitter contest. I didn’t even approach my current publisher. A few of their authors and editors overheard me talking to another author, liked the sound of my book description, and approached me afterwards.

Wild, eh?

This is what I’m talking about when I tell you that every connection—no matter how far-fetched and distant it may seem—matters. Who are you to say that your author-publisher love affair won’t be more of a romantic comedy than “love at first sight?”

Make connections and treasure them. Networking is invaluable; you never know where it is going to end.

“Well, all of those things are fine and dandy,” you say, “but I’m not much of a social person, and I have no idea how to get myself involved.”

While both of those points are valid, I’m going to knock them down. You don’t have to be “social” to be connected. With today’s media frenzy, participating in the community can be as simple as reading a blog. There are so many ways to get plugged in, you don’t have much of a choice. Let me throw you a list off the top of my head. You’ve got…

  • Writing groups
  • Blogs
  • Writing conferences
  • Conventions
  • Social media groups
  • Social media contests
  • Podcasts
  • Newsletters
  • Magazines
  • Libraries
  • Bookstores
  • Classes

And this list is by no means extensive.

So do yourself a favor: Do better than I did. Get plugged in. Ask for help. Seek advice, and take it from a real person before confiding anything to the Google search bar.

[1] This is my blog. I reserve the right to shamelessly promote my own posts as much as I want.

[2] Don’t fret. We will get into Twitter pitch contests.

[3] Kate is also a doctor, so her free time doesn’t come cheap.

h.kates

H. Kates is a war gamer turned author. Her middle grade fantasy, PATEL PATTERSON AND THE APOCALYPSE KEY, debuts October of 2018.

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