Today we continue our series on “Six Simple Steps to Literary Lionhood.”
In our first three installments, we covered (1) achieving literary lionhood immediately, (2) actually writing something, and (3) getting feedback on your first draft.
Once you have gotten that feedback, you can use it to revise the first draft into something better. You might think it will then be time to submit your work for publication.
But first, Dear Reader, let us mention another step you should not overlook or skip in your understandable haste to be published. You can perform it while you are revising; or earlier, as you seek feedback; or even while you are writing the first draft.
You can actually do this step from the first moment you become a literary lion. In fact, it is an essential part of being a literary lion.
Step Four: Associate
Writing is a lonely occupation.
Alone, you put words on paper. Alone, you revise those words. Alone, you submit your work for publication. And when your book, story, or poem is not chosen—it is you alone who faces the rejection.
It takes strong character and steadfast purpose to keep going.
To counter the loneliness inherent in the craft, you will bless yourself and others by forming as many friendships, alliances, and acquaintances as possible in the literary community. Think of it as a “Lonely Pens Club.”
A quick way to get started on this is to attend a writers’ conference.
The Writers’ Conference
Real testimony from writer and literary lion Larry F. Sommers:
I remember the first writers’ conference I attended, not that long ago: The University of Wisconsin Writers’ Institute, one of the nation’s premier events, held every (non-COVID) spring in Madison.
Writers, agents, editors, publishers, and writing coaches thronged the halls and meeting rooms of the conference venue for four glorious days. Some of them I knew already. A couple of the event’s organizers were UW writing instructors, Christine DeSmet and Laurie Scheer, old friends of mine. Three or four members of my writers’ critique group, Tuesdays With Story, were fellow attendees. But there were hundreds of other people, previously unknown, just waiting to be met.
As I chatted idly with these folks, attended workshops with them, conversed with speakers, teachers, coaches, agents, and various kinds of promoters, it dawned on me: “THESE PEOPLE ARE MY TRIBE!”
Some of them are as different from me as it’s possible to be. They’re working on stories and projects far removed from mine. But all of us know the thrill and the terror of writing one’s ideas down on paper, revising and rewriting, showing our work to others and receiving the inevitable critiques.
We may be fighting in different wars, but we’re all in the same foxhole.
Some people you meet at a writers’ conference will become close friends, with whom you feel a deep sympathy. Some, not so much. But even the kooks and the weirdos are worth meeting, listening to, and getting to know. Almost every writer has something to share—some bit of craft, philosophy, or marketing knowledge—that you can use. And they are amazingly generous with their knowledge.
It may surprise you to learn that they consider you a valuable contact and a source of useful information. In this foxhole there are no strangers.
When you attend a conference, it’s wise to go “loaded for bear.” Study the conference schedule to dope out which workshops and learning sessions are musts for you. Bone up on any presentation materials thata may be distributed in advance. Learn the names and reputations of agents, publishers, and other key participants.
If the conference offers opportunities to share your work or to compete in impromptu writing challenges, figure out what you have to do to be included.
A writers’ conference is like a large, juicy, orange. In view of its dollar cost and relative infrequency—you really should suck it dry.
Bring business cards and hand them to everybody you can hand them to. Accept theirs as well, and write down or remember what you know about each person. The day after the conference ends, send each new contact a message of friendship and hopes for future engagement.
Follow your new friends on social media. Attend their book launches, readings, signings, and other events. Be a social butterfly in the cage of literary lions.
The Critique Group
In Installment Three: Get Feedback, we touched on the importance of joining a writers’ mutual critique group. We won’t repeat that advice here but will mention a couple of ways this kind of group can help you befriend others in your tribe.
In the first place, some of these writers you interact with month by month may attend the same regional writers’ conference you attend. So you’ll already have friends at the conference; your initial plunge into the larger milieu need not be cold turkey.
Also, because of frequent contact with these people, you will come to know them and their writings very well, as they will you.
If anybody’s support will combat the cloud of gloom that may envelop a writer in her solitary task, it is these folks. They are your tribe-within-a-tribe.
Make it a point to pop in on readings, signings, or book launches in your community. Be there for your friends. Buy their books, post reviews, and spread the word. It’s a matter of supporting your fellow writers and your local independent booksellers. This support may come back to you when it’s your turn to make a personal appearance—but it’s what you would do for friends in any case. And it also helps you to become known among the writing and publishing community in your locale.
In all this, Dear Reader, remember that your writing is a gift. In the first place, it’s a gift to you from your Maker. In the second place, it’s a gift you may give to your community. Only when the gift has been recognized, realized, and given away may the chance arise to earn money as a result. And the fruits of that quest are unpredictable at best.
So don’t get ahead of yourself. Play the long game.
In all your comings and goings with writers, agents, publishers, and others involved in the business of turning stories into the commodity known as “literature,” don’t be afraid to mention and defend the work you’ve been doing—but only within the general context of sharing within the tribe. Never commandeer center stage in order to promote your work.
Make sure to express your genuine regard for fellow writers and your appreciation of their work.
Be patient, and associate.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: “Step Five: Submit”
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer