When you’re starting out as a writer, waiting to land that first contract, it can be hard to think of yourself as a professional. However, this mindset can get in the way of your success. Fortunately, it really is possible to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ when it comes to writing like a pro! Here are seven tips.
1. Treat your writing like a job. It may not be your full-time job—or even a paying job at all—but when you think of it that way, your feelings, actions, and results will follow. Even if it’s just an hour or two a week, schedule time for your writing job and honor that commitment. During your writing time, WRITE. Don’t open your social media, don’t answer the phone, and above all, don’t wait around for the muse to show up.
2. Educate yourself. Never stop learning. Read books about the craft and business of writing. Read books in your genre. Attend conferences and workshops. Join free writing challenges and Facebook groups online. Take courses or find a mentor. Join SCBWI. Pick and choose the options that fit your schedule and budget.
3. Build your skills. While you may long to write the next literary classic, few writers find a direct route to success. While you’re waiting to find an agent or get published, build your writing muscles by writing for newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc. Find critique partners to help you strengthen your story before sending it out.
4. Network. Join SCBWI, attend conferences or workshops, or network on social media. Contribute value to others, and you will find that it comes back to you. In all your interactions, remember to keep it classy. Put your best foot forward, both in person and online.
5. Submit your work. Do your research and target submissions carefully. Remember that there is a human on the other end. Write the kind of cover letter you would like to receive if you were in their shoes – personal, thoughtful, and professional. Follow guidelines and format your submission correctly. If you’re not tech-savvy, ask a friend for help.
6. Expect rejections. They are an inevitable part of the writing business. Even best-selling authors still get them! Eat a piece of chocolate or commiserate with a friend – then put it behind you and send out your story again.
7. Once you’ve received a contract, you really are a pro. Congratulations! Now it’s even more important to act like one. Keep your correspondence friendly but professional. Respect your editor or agent’s time. Follow instructions carefully. Ask critique partners to review your revisions before sending them in. And above all, meet your deadlines!
Lisa Amstutz is the author of more than 100 children’s books, including Amazing Amphibians (January 2020) and Plants Fight Back (forthcoming). She serves as a volunteer judge at Rate Your Story and as Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Ohio North. She also offers critique and mentorship services at www.LisaAmstutz.com.
What would you do to get a good story? Track a tornado? Visit avolcano? Watch wolves copulate? Sometimes doing research means getting out of the library and into real life. It means trading in the computer for a pair of snowshoes, or maybe some hip waders, and joining scientists in the field.
I’m working on a project right now that involves wolf breeding research. In order to better understand it, I volunteered to become a member of the team of observers. Yes – that meant I had to go to wolf mating training - complete with diagrams and slides. I won’t share them here – this is a G rated site. But now that I am a trained observer, I get to spend the next few weeks hunkered down in a deer blind watching wolves poop, urinate, and hopefully copulate. Some people think I’m crazy, but I consider it a part of the radical research I am willing to do to write a great nonfiction book.
Hands-on experience helps authors understand the complexity of a subject and in turn relate it to their audience. Some of the best nonfiction authors go to great lengths to learn about their topic firsthand. Author Mary Kay Carson is often in the field with scientists and just spent last spring out chasing tornadoes. Patricia Newman’s award-winning book Sea Otter Heroes had her out on the water visiting the critters themselves. And just ask author Peggy Thomas about the time she gave an elephant a rectal examination. It’s all in the name of nonfiction writing and all for the desire to write the best and most accurate story possible.
So what nonfiction story are you working on right now and what lengths are you willing to go to gain in-depth knowledge about your topic?
Me – I’ll be the author wearing hand and foot warmers silently recording the deeply personal behaviors of mating wolves.
I can’t wait!
We’ve all done it. We walk into our local bookstore and there is an author sitting at a little table with a stack of her books trying not to look pathetic. We quickly duck behind the greeting card rack, and ooze over to the bargain bookshelves, acting especially interested in the History of Manhole Covers in Providence, Rhode Island. When she looks away in desperate hope to the next person coming in the door, you make a dash to the café. This calls for a stiff caffeinated beverage!
I’ve been on both sides of that torture device called the signing table. I’ve been the skulker and I’ve been the victim author. I’m a survivor of an interminable two-hour signing in which the only people who approached me were a woman asking for the bathroom, and a child wanting to know if I was J. K. Rowling.
But signings CAN be a way to interact with your public, whether it’s at a bookstore, a book festival, or a literacy night. The key is to think like a carnival barker. How can you entice, not the adult with the credit card, but the child with command of the adult with the credit card.
Here are some fun ways to draw children to your table, which will bring their parents and make both stay long enough to chat with the charming author and peruse her must-have books.
Many authors snag kid attention by providing an activity related to their book. For my book Substitute Groundhog, I provide everything to make a pop-up groundhog puppet that needs no supplies. I wrote a catchy jingle to go with it, and I act it out with the kids when they finish their puppet. While waiting for the child to finish, parents will flip through my books and ask questions. Or I ask them—“How many groundhogs would you guess we have in the wilds of Texas?” (Answer: none)
A final example is for my nonfiction book, The Hole Story of the Doughnut. I provide doughnuts printed on heavy cardstock along with sequins, gems, and small beads. Children first color the frosting and glue on the “sprinkles” while I chat with parents about the sea captain who invented this delicious treat as a teen cook’s assistant on a sailing ship.
Think about how you can make your table cover work for you (ALWAYS have a table cover), signage with kid appeal, activities that are easy and relatively quick and clean, and things to take away that have your books and contact info. It may lead to a sale long after the signing.
Good luck—and speak kindly to the next hopeful author you see sitting alone at a signing table. Maybe even buy her book. One day that might be you!
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.