When I started off writing a book, I thought a book belonged solely to the writer who wrote it. I imagined that writers wrote alone in their hovels. The world intruded now and then, demanding rent and their attention. But everything else was about being alone in the silence.
I didn't have the luxury of heading to a desert island or heading to an artist retreat when I started my first book. I had a small baby at home, I was a freelance writer/producer, and I couldn't just walk away from my responsibilities. I wrote my book in my free moments, and wasn't sure if it would ever come to anything.
Once I was published, I discovered that many writers write just the way I do. They have jobs, families and other responsibilities. They give up their vacation time to attend mystery conventions and spend their own money to go on book tours. I felt more normal and learned the value of having a writing community with which to share ideas. Not every writer is social, so they often look at me oddly when I tell them they need to join writing groups and organizations and meet other writers. They believe, like I did, that the best writing is done in isolation. But for everyone who resists joining a group with Mystery Writers of America or Sisters in Crime, or getting involved in a group blog like this one, I'll let you know how the organizations have helped me.
- Share information: It's easy to be hoodwinked or enter a bad situation if you lack information. If you have a community of writers you can let them know if an agent has demanded money to read your book (a big no-no) or if a small publisher seems a bit shady. They might know someone who knows someone who can let you know if you're instincts are correct. Or if the company has a solid reputation. You don't have to go it alone and be taken advantage of by anyone unscrupulous. Not only have I learned stuff like that, I've also used the writing community to find out about competitions (like the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic Best Traditional Mystery competition, which I entered and won!), to find my agent and to learn about other opportunities like anthologies.
- Stop talking to yourself for awhile and get some new ideas. Writers are wonderful storytellers, and I've spent many evenings laughing myself silly at a bar surrounded by wonderful people. And not only writers come to conventions--I've met poison experts, federal agents, police dog handlers, fingerprint analysts, forensic examiners, private eyes and so many others. I got great ideas from them all, and many are generous about answering questions later on if something comes up in a story I'm writing.
- Be prepared to be a published author. I started meeting agents before my book was done, and learned about pitch sessions, the publishing world and met lots of writers (some who generously blurbed my first book). I took home bookmarks and new books, and started reading great writers who were being published right now. Although it's no guarantee, I really think that getting out of the house and meeting your community will help you get published sooner. So will reading current mystery writers. If nothing else, you'll certainly be more prepared when your moment comes and you get the "call."
- Don't go it alone.
|Bouchercon 2010 -- Criminal Minds do brunch (photo courtesy of Shane Gericke)|