I'm preparing to give a three hour course at the Off Campus Writers Workshops on how to prepare and sell a manuscript. I've never really done this before, and honestly, I had to think about my own path to publication. While I'm still relatively new to the industry--just 18 months out there--looking back gave me a real chance to review what worked and what didn't. All this from the benefit of hindsight, you undertand. I've amassed a lot of tips over the past 18 months, below are just a couple, because room doesn't permit listing all the others:
Write The Manuscript, Then Write Another If You Must:
When I go through my (relatively) short period of marketing to publication, it helps to have friends who remind me of the years I spent writing prior to even attempting to market. On a recent vacation over the holidays a friend commented that she was always surprised that I'd disappear once during each day to write. I'd forgotten this, but she's correct. Even with the sun and sea beckoning, I'd find time that day to do what I loved.
When I finally sat down and mapped out an actual timeline, here's a bit of it:
I had one manuscript completed, three others 60,000 words in, one (thriller) screenplay submitted to a contest, and three short stories written before I even took my first step to marketing. Interestingly enough, the screenplay contest was the only instance of marketing-if submitting it to a contest counts--that I had actually attempted before sending out my manuscript. (I still love the screenplay, and I intend to send it to my West Coast agent for submission, but first I want to turn it into another manuscript. It's a good story, and I really think those characters deserve a whole novel before they get sold as 95 pages of dialogue).
Meet Other Writers in The Chicago Literary World:
I've been helped along by other writers who came before, many listed on the sidebar of this blog. Laura Caldwell was the first writer who graciously invited me to a post signing dinner with her friends. I was unpublished--everyone else was well published. She made me feel welcome and gave me a glimpse into the world that I wanted to join. Marcus Sakey and I were in an early writing group I'd been invited to join. He was navigating through his first novel's publication at the time and I learned by watching him and still call him for advice. Libby Hellman was always gracious when we met at conferences and invited me to join her writing group (I couldn't at the time due to a standing aikido class). That writing group included Michael Dymmoch. I didn't know Barbara, Sean, Bryan, David H, or Kevin, but I'd met David Ellis and he once gave me tips at a conference.
Julie Hyzy critiqued my first attempt to actually show anyone something I'd written. This is a funny story. I was attending my first Love is Murder conference and I'd signed up for a manuscript critique by one of the published authors. Somehow my name fell through the cracks and I found myself standing at the registration table trying to correct the situation when Julie walked up and announced that she'd not been given someone to critique. We both laughed, I handed her my manuscript, and off she went. Thirty minutes later she came running back to me and said, "I love this! You can write! Don't worry!"
Need I say that Julie made my year? After that I felt stronger and more confident, though the book I sold was a second manuscript written after the one she'd read. Yes, like many writers that I know, I have a manuscript on the shelf.
Another early friend was Tasha Alexander. Tasha moved to Chicago a few years ago, and she would drag me into groups of industry folks at the pre conference cocktail parties for the former Midwest Literary Festival. I usually try not to insert myself into an industry group unless I'm invited, and Tasha was always the one waving me over. A note: my hesitance to insert myself meant that I met industry professionals a lot later on in my marketing attempts. Probably not the best way to market oneself, but it all worked out in the end.
Join A Writing Organization.
One of the first organizations I joined was Sisters in Crime http://www.sistersincrime.org where I met Luisa Buehler and Gail Lukasik, both of whom gave me advice in the early going. I'm told that there is a "guppies" group at SisInCr that is a great forum for new writers, though I haven't used the group myself.
There are many other writers both published and unpublished that have helped lend their support, assistance, and advice over the past years and still do. I couldn't begin to list them all here, but I do my best to acknowledge them in my books. The Chicago literary community is thriving, and if you're lucky enough to live here and you want to join it, your best bet is to begin attending the conferences in the area and adding to the fun. You won't regret it.