I love writing, and if had never secured a book deal I’d still be perfectly happy sitting in my room scribbling away. But one of the most rewarding parts of being published is having a whole, separate “writing life”.
I started creating my writing life before I ever won my book deal. It began with a visit to the Irish Writers Centre. They have talks and courses, they run competitions and host readings. It is a place to meet other aspiring writers, which can be even better than meeting established authors because they know exactly what you’re going through. While I found the Irish Writers Centre brilliant, it is not the only place to go. In Dublin, there is also the Big Smoke Writing Factory, and there are plenty of writing festivals and clubs around the country where writers who are starting out are as welcome as published authors.
Of course, online resources are great, especially interactive ones such as Twitter and Facebook, and I couldn’t leave out the wonderful writing.ie! But there is no substitute for personal interaction.
A few years ago, I entered the Novel Fair competition being run by the Irish Writers Centre. Some of us who had entered decided to meet weekly in the months coming up to the closing date, to give each other feedback and polish our work. It was an intense few months – we were each working on our own books while providing commentary on the others’ work.
Devastatingly, none of us won the competition! But we had all enjoyed working together and felt our writing benefited so we decided to keep meeting on a monthly basis. The Second Monday Writing Group has now been meeting for nearly two years, and we can really see the improvement in our writing. We have all moved on to new novels from those we were working on for the Novel Fair back in 2012, and some of our members have been short and long listed in various competitions.
For me, their feedback has been vital in shaping my work, and I find the time I spend reviewing others’ work is also beneficial for me – I apply what I learn and critique to my own work. I would advise any aspiring writer to join a writers group. I recognise that I have been particularly lucky with the people in my group – they are all so friendly and positive. But they are not afraid to critique when a piece isn’t up to scratch, and that’s exactly what a writer needs – constructive honesty from other writers. While the feedback is important, just meeting with other people who have the same passion for writing as I do is vital to having an active “writing life”. Keeping writing to the forefront of my life ensures the next book will get done.
We live in an increasingly global world where you have to make yourself known to succeed. If you are serious about getting your book published, be proactive about it. That doesn’t mean start sending your manuscript to anyone who might take it. Rather:
– Do your research on agents and publishers. Read their submission requirements and stick to them rigidly – remember they receive hundreds if not thousands of manuscripts a week and are just delighted when a misspelt word or incomplete submission gives them an excuse to toss it aside and reduce their slush pile. The Writers and Artists Yearbook is a vital resource in this regard.
– Create a “writing CV”. Consider an agent reads your manuscript, and likes the look of it. “Who is this person?” she wonders, as she starts to read your cover letter. Just describing yourself as a writer doesn’t fill the agent with confidence. Remember, they will be taking a gamble on you – giving their time and effort to make your dream come true. Show them you’re serious. Perhaps you are in a writing group. Maybe you review books on a blog. Have you entered any short story or flash fiction competitions? Is there a local writing festival to whose committee you can offer your services? You don’t have to be published to show you are serious about having a “writing life”.
– Consider self-publishing. It is an accepted and respectable way of getting published. In fact, many agents and publishers look to those who are serious enough about their writing to self-publish when scouting for new talent. I personally know of people who have secured traditional book deals when they were “discovered” by agents after self-publishing.
Some years ago, I went to a talk given by a publisher. He stood up and looked around the room of about 60 eager, aspiring writers. He proceeded to tell us how difficult it is to get published and that, maybe, if we were lucky, one out of the 60 of us might get an offer of publication at some point in our lives. We all looked around, suddenly deflated and depressed.
I completely disagree with that attitude. Of course getting published is hard, but it is doable – new authors are signed every day. If you put the work into (a) your novel, and (b) your search for publication, it is a very realistic goal.
I will always champion competitions – because that is how I got published. Poolbeg Press were running a Write a Bestseller competition with TV3, the prize being a book deal. With such a well-known and respected publisher I didn’t think I stood a chance, but I entered anyway, because I was being proactive about my writing life. It was a complete shock when I found out I’d won just over a year ago. To be honest, I’m still not completely over it! So I’m glad I ignored the attitude of the speaker who tried to convince me that getting published is just too hard nowadays. My own experience is proof of what can happen if you go for it 100%, regardless of the odds.
(c) Jennifer Burke
Check out Jennifer’s previous articles in this series here:
Read Margaret Bonass-Madden’s interview with Jennifer here – ‘On Being a Winner’