Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Writing Life: It Takes a Village, People!

by Kemble Scott

It's been said that the odds of getting a debut novel published are about the same as winning $25,000 or more in the lottery.

I don't know if the chances are quite that slim, but ask any aspiring writer and they'll tell you it's no cake walk. Most publishers won't even look at your submission unless it's represented by an agent. Getting a smart, competent literary agent is nearly impossible. Actually, getting a stupid, incompetent agent is hard too!

One way to greatly improve your odds of being published is to become part of a community of writers. You'll learn from people who have already gone through the same process. If you think writing a book is tough, try reducing your brilliant tome down to one attention-getting paragraph. That's what you'll need to do to pitch your work. Writers help each other overcome these obstacles. You may even make the connections that lead to an introduction to a terrific agent or editor.

In the Bay Area, we're lucky to have all sorts of organizations and groups that welcome aspiring writers. You don't need to have an MFA, and few (if any) require a litmus test.

Here are just a few of the many opportunities...

Left Coast Writers and The Writing Mamas Salon both operate out of Book Passage. These groups are run by seasoned pros with regular meetings. Your game will be immediately elevated.

The California Writers Club has branches throughout the state and offers up-close access to experts willing to share their knowledge about publishing.

Conferences are great way to meet a lot of writers and industry professionals in a very short amount of time. Book Passage is famous for launching careers at its conferences for Mystery Writers, Travel Writers and Children's Books Writers and Illustrators. The San Francisco Writers Conference happens in February, and a spin-off for non-fiction writers called Writing for Change is just ahead in August.

There are also two terrific organizations where you can volunteer and find yourself planted deep in the middle of a forest of great writers. 826 Valencia in San Francisco tutors inner-city kids with their reading and writing. You'll be working along side other authors, including founder Dave Eggers.

I volunteer my time over at Litquake, San Francisco's literary festival. From October 3 to 11 this fall, more than 350 authors will participate in readings and performances. There are dozens of venues that will need volunteers. Planning work is done year round, so you don't have to wait until the event to get involved.

The Executive Director of Litquake is Elise Proulx. She happens to also be one of those smart, competent literary agents that are oh so rare.

See how it all comes full circle?

Of course, getting your work to the point where you feel confident it's ready for publication is also a challenge. Joining a writers group can help, but they are not always easy to find. In my next posting, I'll tell you about a very successful writers group that will critique every word of your work.

1 comment:

Kate Douglas said...

Writers groups are terrific for many aspiring novelists, but not so much for those of us who choose to write genre fiction. The few groups I visited during my journey to publication were totally negative experiences. I finally found the support I needed online and through the Romance Writers of America national organization. If I had paid attention to the insults and jeers that were the writers groups response to my work, I wouldn't have my twenty-six novels and novellas currently in print with four different publishers sitting here in my office, nor would I be working to fulfill my current contract for more stories in my series with Kensington Publishing. We all take a different route to publication, but I have to does indeed take a village to write a book!