Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Things you can do now to help your writing career

By Janet Skeslien Charles

An author’s career begins long before publication. In this article, I would like to share what a few fellow writers and I have learned through being a teacher of creative writing, working on the editorial team of a small literary journal, and working with a critique group made up of five writers of literary and commercial fiction, memoir, and sci-fi. A decade later, four are published authors. We all had different approaches, personalities, writing styles. We had some successes and made mistakes. I am certainly not an expert in publishing but perhaps sharing strategies and mistakes can help other on their journey toward publication.

Commit to a goal. A chapter a month, a scene per day. Find an objective or schedule that you can stick to. Finish a novel within a year is too vague, but finishing a chapter per month is a tangible, measureable objective. Don’t wait for inspiration. It may only come once a year. Writing is hard work and the quicker you commit to a writing schedule or an objective, the quicker you will move towards finishing a piece.

Send your work out. This may seem elementary, but you have to send your work out to be published. The writer in my group that is not published is by far the best editor and writer. She is also the most timid about submitting her work. After sending ten queries, she gives up. Submitting work is like looking for a job or dating – filled with rejection; however, you have to keep trying until you find the editor or agent that loves your work.

Read. Writing is a passion but it is also a business. Read new books to learn about the market. Read the classics to learn about structure. Read agent websites and submission guidelines. Read sample query letters and synopses to help you learn these documents.

Be an active member of the writing (and reading) community. Go to readings, volunteer at the library, start a book club, or join a writing group. Support your local booksellers. In our group, one author bought all of his books online. Another was a good customer of the local independent bookstores and volunteered at the library. When it came time to do publicity, the first author was turned down when he asked to do readings. The second was invited to do several presentations, and her book was featured in bookstore newsletters and websites. Another author in the group interviewed writers on her blog. When her book came out, several of the writers asked to interview her on their blogs. She also began a lecture series and met great authors. As an author, you will end up doing a lot of publicity for your book and it is easier to be in a position of being invited rather than having to ask. Start making connections now. Support other authors, local booksellers and libraries, because they are the ones who will be rooting for you.

Write for newspapers, journals, and magazines. When working on my novel, I let myself be consumed by one project and didn’t write anything else. In addition to working on a book-length project, another writer in the group chose to write essays and articles. When her book came out, she had already made several media contacts and had several articles and reviews about her book. A French publisher recently told me he finds English-speaking authors through their short stories. A writer in my group was signed by an agent who had read one of her short stories. Start building a portfolio now by writing short stories, book reviews, essays, and articles.

Publishing is a contact sport. It is no coincidence that many writers live in London or New York. Attend conferences and workshops. Get out and meet people. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Live in a small town or foreign country? Join the editorial board of an online journal or organize your own critique group, in person or online. In our group, one author met her agent at a conference and another got a glowing endorsement from an award-winning author she had met at a workshop.

Think before you write. “Where to begin with this misbegotten horror?” I have seen fellow writers frustrated with their unpublished status pen nasty blog posts and reviews. You may hate a book and want the rest of the world to know how terrible it is. Resist. Remember W. Somerset Maugham words: “It may be that you only get out of a book what you put into it and see in it only what you are.” I have learned something from everything I have ever read, even if it is only what I don’t want to do in my own work. Before you post something about another writer’s work, make sure the criticism is constructive. Focus your energy on writing your own book instead of trashing someone else’s and on being a positive force in the writing community.

Janet Skeslien Charles is the award-winning author of Moonlight in Odessa, which has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She has led writing workshops for over a decade and currently works as the programs manager at The American Library in Paris.

Janet grew up in Montana where she studied Russian, French and English. She spent two years in Odessa, Ukraine, as a Soros Fellow.

Moonlight in Odessa explores the dark side of marriage brokers and Internet dating with a light touch. Daria, the young heroine, has a talent for fixing people up. Everyone, that is, but herself.


  1. Great advice and agree with all of these. Esoecially point four - seek any opportunity to connect writers and share what you've learned. Now more than ever, this is vital.

  2. Thank you for this inspiring post, I have found it really informative and helpful.