What I Wish I’d Known – Part 1

It’s Not all About Writing

When I started writing seriously again (that’s a different story – I’ll tell that one later) and had completed my first “real” manuscript I, like so many new writers, thought that the greater part of my work was done.  It was a good book, it had excellent characters, and all I needed to do was get the written words in front of some people and they’d love it, savor it, and want nothing more than to publish it.  With that surety buoying me up, I went to a conference, paid some extra money to meet with the editor of my choice in person, and went into my pitch session with utmost confidence.

I came out of the pitch session in tears, ready to quit the writing world for good, and with no hope that anyone, anywhere, would ever want to read a single word I’d ever write again.  A little melodramatic, I know, but I’m a writer.  I’m allowed a little melodrama every now and then.  Anyway, this experience lead me to some serious introspection.  That book was shelved, I started writing something completely different (actually about as different as you can get), and I went back to the grindstone with my preconceptions shattered and a realization that writing alone is not enough.

You have to know how to explain what you’ve written.  You have to pitch stuff correctly to the right people, in the right way, and at the right time.  It’s kind of like trying to ride a pogo stick, on a tight rope, while firing a machinegun at a 10-inch target 100 yards away.  Can you hit the target?  Eventually.  It’s just going to take a lot of bullets for one to hit home.

So I wrote some more, took some classes on how to pitch stuff well and realized that my writing itself needed some additional work.  I finished that manuscript and set it aside and worked on various other projects.  I got a job in sales, which helped me learn how to pitch stuff, how to talk to people, how to fake smile even when I’m nervous or the situation is unpleasant, and even how to be in a really awesome writing group.  I went back to that same conference again the next year, though this time with no illusions as to my writing prowess being better than anyone else’s.  I wasn’t about to try another pitch session (I’m still not, honestly). I didn’t have either the polished manuscript or a good pitch for anything I’d written.

As luck would have it, for me, that was the right place and the right time.  An editor sat down next to me, I made some sarcastic remark – as I frequently do – and a couple months later I had a contract for a book.  I honestly don’t really remember what I said or how the conversation really went.  In fact, I think I pitched a different book than the one that actually got accepted for publication.  But what I realized is that it’s the conversations, the ability to speak and relate to people that was the key factor I’d been missing the first time.

There is no magical formula for how to say the right thing at the right time outside of just to talk.  Editors, agents, authors, fans, and everyone else for that matter, are all just people.  If you can make a connection with them, they’ll listen to your tagline for your book.  Writing (and life in general) is about the connections you make.  Don’t get so focused on writing the book that you forget that becoming published and, honestly, becoming an author in any form, is about making connections and learning to explain what you’ve written as part of who you are.  You never know when opportunity will knock.  Don’t miss it.

Categories: What I Wish I'd Known, Writing/Editing Tips | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “What I Wish I’d Known – Part 1

  1. rahmuss

    Wow, hitting that target seems pretty impossible. I’d probably break the Pogo Stick, fall off the tight rope, and shoot myself in the foot. Ouch!
    When I feel like there isn’t anything on the line then it’s really easy to talk to people; but once I see some possible negative consequence to saying the wrong things, I get nervous and a bit tongue-tied.
    Here’s to hoping an editor will sit down next to me with me knowing who they are. 😀

    • Yes, in the moment it does seem pretty impossible. The point is to keep trying until it not only doesn’t seem impossible anymore, but until it seems like no longer trying is impossible.
      Having an editor sit down without knowing who they are certainly helps in that regard too 🙂

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