Rant of the Moment: Eyes on Your Own Homework!

I love helping people reach toward their dreams. Truly, I do, or I'd never judge another contest, do another writing workshop, or post again on this blog. Nearly everyone I deal with in this way is polite, appreciative, and encourages me to do more with their enthusiasm. But every now and then, I'm bothered by someone who expects me to do the heavy lifting for them, to hand over the keys to the kingdom, as if I keep a set in my back pocket. They e-mail for advice or cadge my home phone number out of my husband for a niece of a friend. And I spend time - often quite a bit - because I remember how it felt to be hungry, and it gives me great satisfication to toss a handful of seeds onto fertile soil.

But I admit, I run out of patience with those who feel entitled to a short cut. Because (here comes the hard part) there aren't any shortcuts. We all hate that, but it's true.

Everybody on this Earth comes equipped to daydream. We're made that way, and that's a Very Good Thing. But don't expect to get too far on daydreams alone.
If you want to bring what you've imagined into reality, it's going to take hard work, probably the hardest work you've ever done in your life. And don't imagine for a minute that anybody out there can do this "homework" for you.

First of all, you have to put your work on paper. This is going to take sustained attention, and you'll have to give up something else along the way. Then you'll need to edit. Ruthlessly, after receiving feedback from someone with no stake in your success. A good way to find this someone is to attend writers' groups and ask if anyone would like to form a critique partnership or group, where you'll be expected to give as much as you take.

While you're doing all this, you also have to read -- great gobs of books from the same section of the bookstore where you expect your project to be sold. And these need to be brand new books, especially releases from emerging and debut authors. (Established bestsellers don't necessarily have to follow the latest set of market expectations. These authors have already found their audience; you've yet to do so.) New releases tell you what was selling in your genre about a year ago.

So what's selling now? I'd suggest subscribing to Publisher's Marketplace and eyeballing the deals reported there daily. Not every agent reports sales, but it's a great place to start.

Next, you need to get out there and research agents. Find out who's repping the kind of book you're schlepping. You can look up Who Represents through Publisher's Marketplace (see previous link.) There are plenty of other good resources, such as Query Tracker, and there are even great sites to help you figure out if an agent is legit, such as SFFWA's Writer Beware. Finding out about agents has gotten so much easier since I began the process years ago, and many have websites and/or blogs letting you know how they prefer to be approached.

Finally, you have to start submitting the most polished, marketable work you can manage. On your own, without anyone introducing you to their agent or suggesting that their editor acquire your book immediately. Because the truth is, that hardly ever works, and even if it did, you'd miss out on the lessons you're supposed to learn along the way.

If you've read all the way down to this point, I strongly suspect you already realize that this dream is your dream, and you'll have to do the heavy lifting on your own. Because though you may find allies, no one is ever going to care as much whether your novel or book project joins the crowded shelves than you do. As long as you know that, and build your own sweat equity, I wish every one of you the very best the writing life has to offer.

But if you're a lazy slug who wants to sit next to me and peek off my homework without cracking your book, that wouldn't work with me in high school, and it's not going to fly now.


Nancy J. Parra said…
LOL- very good post...and oh, so true!
Joni Rodgers said…
Wow. I feel coffee and a backstory here...
Geeze. I just corrected a boatload of typos. Groan and my apologies. I shouldn't be allowed to blog before coffee...
Lark said…
LOVE this post. I've spent every extra minute I can steal over the last month on revisions I know make my ms MUCH better--without being told by my agent or CPs they were necessary. Reason--I want this to be the best book ever written. Okay, the best book I can write.

You're so dead on--nobody will do the work for you and shortcuts don't get your books on the shelves of B&N, Borders or (dare I suggest I want this?) Walmart. You've helped me see the way--it's up to me to put my butt in gear and walk/limp/crawl it.
This is why you're going to sell. I really admire your dedication on both the craft and business side.

Wal-Mart, here you come!
Great post Colleen! I often look over the sea of faces when I give workshops and see shock register as I explain how much research and work goes into getting your novel published. Most people just don't realize, I think. I have to say that once they do, most people knuckle down and do it (if they have a true, deep desire to write for a liviing), but yes, there are the few who want writing to be the way to easy money, and for you to take them there ... :-)

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