Issue 48 - A Writer's Action Plan - Sage Cohen, Diane Albright, Kerrie Flanagan, Victoria Ipri


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avigating the road to publication for a new writer can be daunting and even expensive. Between writers’ conferences, classes, resources, retreats, online services, and professional organizations, it can be difficult to figure out how and where to spend hard-earned dollars.

Writers should constantly be thinking about how these investments will help them propel their writing careers. But for those new in the field, this can be overwhelming. By asking the right questions and knowing what to look for, writers will be better equipped to make good decisions with their money and in turn, find greater success with their writing.

Invest in Your Writing: Associations

Writing can be lonely. Many tuck themselves away in their homes, in a coffee shop, or behind a set of headphones and try to lock away the world, while getting thoughts on paper or a computer screen. For this part of the process, you only need yourself.

But after the actual writing, then what? If you have questions, want someone to critique your work, want to discuss writing, or are looking for resources, where can you go? Writers’ associations are the perfect place to find that extra support. They are a way to connect with other writers and to stay in tune with the publishing world.

There are many different types of writing associations, so you need to do the research to find the one or ones that fit your needs. Here are some things to keep in mind when searching for an association for you.

What Do You Need?

What do you hope to get from the association? Do you want your affiliation with that group to round out your writer’s resume? Are you looking to connect with other writers? Are you looking for classes and workshops? Think about these questions and even write down everything you hope to get as a result of joining a writers’ association. This will help you stay focused as you explore different groups.

National or Regional?

National organizations tend to offer resources like legal advice, discounted group health insurance, website services, and a large number of members. Regional groups may not be able to offer the legal help; but they typically have luncheons, classes, networking opportunities, and chances for you to connect with other writers in your area.

Published or Unpublished

Some groups have publishing requirements to ensure that all members are at a certain level in their writing career. Others do not. For instance, The Authors Guild requires that you have a book published by an established publisher or that you have had three pieces published in national magazines in the past eighteen months. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has two levels of membership, one for published and one for unpublished. My organization, Northern Colorado Writers, is more of a come-as-you-are group and does not have any publishing requirements.

Benefits

Being part of an organization comes with benefits, but not all groups have the same perks. Some may include discounts to classes, a place to advertise your website or book, access to a special section of the website, a member newsletter, or special member events. Research the benefits the different organizations offer and find one that best suits your needs.

Dues

Most writing associations charge dues. These funds help cover the actual costs of running the group and may help pay salaries of staff. The other reason dues are collected is to ask for a commitment from the members. You tend to value what you pay for; and by paying association dues, you are saying that you value your writing.

To determine if this is a good investment for you, look at the annual cost. Then divide it by twelve to see what it is actually costing you per month. The Authors Guild, for instance, is $90 for the first year, which breaks down into $7.50 per month. By examining the monthly financial impact membership will have on your budget, it is easier to decide if it is something you can afford.

Being part of an organization devoted solely to writers helps you stay connected to others who have the same passion for writing that you do. Just do your homework and find the one that is right for you.

“When looking for a conference, don’t let the first price you see influence your decision.”

(Photo: Session at Northern Colorado Writers Conference)

Invest In Your Writing: Conferences

Ten years ago when I was new to the writing, I wanted to soak in all I could about the publishing industry and the craft of writing. The one thing that catapulted me into this world at light speed were writing conferences. 

I remember the first one I attended. I felt like Captain Kirk beaming down from the Starship Enterprise on to some alien planet. I felt out of place; I didn’t speak the language, and at times, I wanted Scotty to beam me up. BUT, once I made it through, I realized all my doubts and apprehensions about whether or not I belonged were self-inflicted. No one cared that I hadn’t published anything yet. It was clear we were all there for the same reasons—because we were passionate about writing and because we wanted to continue to hone our craft. Over the years, I have attended many other conferences and found them to be a valuable investment of my time and money. 

Now, ten years later, I am the director of the Northern Colorado Writers Conference, an event in its seventh year. I know how much time, energy, and costs go into organizing a good conference; but before you invest in a conference, here are some things to consider:

What is Included?

When looking for a conference, don’t let the first price you see influence your decision. Delve deeper to see what is included with that price. Are meals included? Do agent/editor pitch sessions come with the registration fee? How about critiques or special workshops? Sometimes the price of a conference looks almost too good to be true; and when you look closer, it is.

For instance, Conference A is only $150 for two days, but then each of the four meals are an extra $20. There is a $15 fee to get a pitch session with an agent, and the two-hour workshop with your favorite author is another $35. So if you take advantage of the full conference, your total cost is $280. Sure, you could bring your own lunch or go somewhere else (which will cost you as well), but you will miss out on some great opportunities to talk with other writers, the presenters, agents, and editors. On the flip side, Conference B is also a two-day conference with the same amount of workshops and pitch sessions, and it is $290, but everything is included.

By researching further, you found out the conferences were comparable in price. Now examine the offerings of each and decide which best meets your needs.

“...be sure to research the presenter to see what they write and their level of expertise.”

(Photo: Author Todd Mitchell teaching a class at NCW Studio)

Selection of Workshops

Workshops make up the bulk of any writers’ conference, so you want to make sure there are a wide variety of choices for you to pick from. Look at the topics, but then be sure to research the presenter to see what they write and their level of expertise. Finding workshops in your genre is important, but it is good to expand your writing horizons and consider attending workshops in different genres.

Access to Industry Professionals

Conferences are a great place to meet professionals in the publishing industry. Having a chance to talk with them and ask them questions is a definite perk to investing in a conference. See what opportunities are available at the event like cocktail hours or meals where presenters are assigned to tables. These are ideal times to start up casual conversations with the agents, editors, or presenters and make a connection. (This is not a time to pitch your book idea though, unless asked.)

Pitch Sessions

Many conferences offer opportunities to pitch your book idea to an agent or editor face-to-face. This can be a definite plus if you have a completed manuscript or book proposal ready, and you are seeking an agent or publisher. If this is an important component of a conference for you, research each editor or agent to make sure there is at least one who represents your genre before deciding if this is a good conference for you.

Keynote Speakers

A big-name author can be a huge draw for a conference, but I caution you not to base your decision on this factor along. Many times, the keynote speaker comes in, does her talk, and then leaves after a book signing. This is only about one hour out of the whole event, so make sure the rest of the conference lives up to the hype of the one speaker.

To find a conference near you, visit the Shaw Guides.

“Every successful author needs a good editor, just like every successful athlete needs a quality coach.”

(Photo: Dori Eppstein-Ransom)

Invest in Your Writing: Editing services

Most writers at one time or another during their writing journey consider hiring someone to edit their work. And if you are self-publishing, this should be top on your list after completing your manuscript.

First of all, it is important to know the different types of editing that are available. For the most part, editing can be broken into two categories, copy editing and content editing.

Content Edit (or Substantive Edit)

This is where an editor closely examines the content of the work. She will look for character development, story arc, pacing, and overall flow of your piece. This type of edit will not include fixing the punctuation, grammar, and similar details. A content edit can be broad with a read-through and general comments on the whole manuscript. It can also be in-depth with the editor going through and offering comments on the whole piece.

Copy or Line Editing

This is when an editor goes over your work with a fine-toothed comb to fix all the grammar, punctuation, tenses, passive voice, and other, more objective elements in your piece.

What to Look for in a Good Editor?

Dori Eppstein-Ransom, professional editor and founder of The Writer’s Elf, offers her suggestion on how to find a good editor that will work for you:

Every successful author needs a good editor, just like every successful athlete needs a quality coach. Unfortunately, professional editing is one thing many authors will often forego because it can be an intimidating step in the writing process. Here are ways to ease that pain and push through to what will be a well-manicured, ready-to-submit manuscript:

  1. Look for an editor who doesn’t try to change your voice, but will help you enhance your voice and efforts.
  2. Find an editor who is willing to push you in a supportive manner, but also one whose personality meshes with your own.
  3. Determine needs (on both sides) and overall fees up front. Be prepared to pay for approximately half of the agreed upon amount before the work begins.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, albeit it’s a great place to start. The value of working with a professional editor lies in the difference between a dusty manuscript on your home library bookshelf and a well-read novel flying off the shelves (virtual or actual) of your favorite bookstore.

Pricing

Good editing is not free, so it is important to have an idea of the going rates. In the front section of The Writer’s Market is always a chart providing information on current rates for those looking to hire an editor. This chart shows a range of prices, so you can see low, high, and average rates; plus, it also breaks it down into the various types of editing services.

“The biggest thing to pay attention to when considering classes is the level of expertise of the instructor.”

Invest in Your Writing: Writing Classes

If your goal for the upcoming year is to improve your craft or your knowledge of the industry, classes can be a great way to do that. These can be taken locally, or there are online options as well.

Where to Find Classes

If you are looking to take classes locally and in person, check with your local library. Many times libraries offer free or inexpensive options. If there is a writers’ association nearby, see if they offer classes. Community colleges are another great place to look.

There are many online options now for classes. Some take place at a certain time and others are self-paced. WOW! Women on Writing always has a fantastic lineup to choose from on a variety of topics. Gotham Writers’ Workshop is another option. They offer classes at various locations in New York City as well as online.

What to Look For

The biggest thing to pay attention to when considering classes is the level of expertise of the instructor. If someone is teaching a class on writing for national magazines, look to see what and where she has published. If the only thing on her list of published clips is a handful of articles in a local magazine, you might want to think twice about taking the class.

Price can also be a factor; but you have to take into account that if you want high-quality instructors, you are typically going to have to pay more. Good instructors put in a lot of time in not only teaching the class, but also the prep time before. It might be worth it to save your writing money for a more expensive class from a topnotch instructor, instead of a few less inexpensive classes taught by mediocre instructors.

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Investing in your writing through classes, associations, conferences, and editing services can help advance your career in a positive way. They don’t need to all be done at once; but when you are ready, do your research to ensure your money is being spent wisely.

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Kerrie Flanagan is a freelance writer and director of Northern Colorado Writers. The annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference is March 30-31 at the Fort Collins Hilton. Her 130-plus articles can be found in various national and regional publications. You can read her blog at http://www.the-writing-bug.blogspot.com or visit her website at http://www.kerrieflanagan.com.

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