I just got home from the second Alaska Women’s Summit in Anchorage, where I was blown away by the caliber of the presenters. The second day, attendees are encouraged to bring a younger woman with them, and I brought my niece, Dawn Peppinger, who started working for the US Postal Service in high school as a part-time carrier. Last year she was promoted to marketing manager for the USPS for the entire state of Alaska. Talk about by your bootstraps. And I’m not at all proud of her or anything.
The point of the Summit is to connect, to keep each other informed about our work going forward, and to mentor. For example, Hillary Morgan of YWCA Alaska spoke about a YWCA initiative to achieve gender pay equity in Alaska by 2025. Today, Alaska women make 67 cents of an Alaska man’s dollar. Every panel was equally revelatory and informative and inspiring. I tweeted from it, and so did a lot of other attendees.
I myself presented on a panel with another Alaskan writer, Leigh Newman, talking war stories about the writing business. This morning I found an email in my inbox from a 25-year old Summit attendee named Rebecca, who writes, “I have had a few poems published in small, local journals, but have never done anything big. Any advice or information you’re willing to share would be a most welcome gift to me.”
This is my reply.
The best advice I can give you is to write every day. Even if it’s only one sentence a day, that will be one sentence more than you had the day before, and by the end of the year you might have a story, or an essay, or a poem, or a book. And don’t set the bar so high (“I’m going to write 10,000 words today!”) that you intimidate yourself out of writing at all. Start a blog if you haven’t already, and commit to writing something for it once a week.
Rewriting is your friend. W.H. Auden rewrote his poetry until he died.
Start or join a writing group where you read each other’s work and speak honestly about what works in it, and what doesn’t. Your guiding principle as a group should be constructive criticism, not destructive.
Finish. Some of the world’s greatest writers will never be published because they spend their lives rewriting their first four chapters and no time at all writing the last one.
So far as publishing is concerned, the industry is changing so rapidly that any advice I give you today will probably be wrong tomorrow. The holy grail of authors used to be a publishing contract with a legacy publisher in New York City. Today, many writers are starting out by publishing their work in e on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, all the e-book platforms. NY publishers pay attention. Amanda Hocking self-published on Amazon, became a bestseller, and signed a contract with St. Martin’s for $2 million for four books. John Locke and Sylvia Day, Hugh Howey did the same.
Here are a few websites that will greatly inform you about the business side of writing and the state of publishing today:
The Passive Voice He’s an intellectual property attorney, married to a novelist, and his website is the best aggregator of links to pro-independent publishing news.
Hugh Howey He’s in the forefront of independent publishing, and has the added benefit of being a nice guy about it. Really helpful to newbies.
Joe Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing An indie writer, snarky, fun, and right most of the time. He was one of the first indies to self-publish, and he’s been writing about it for longer than anyone else.
Subscribe to publishing industry newsletters, like PW Daily and Shelf Awareness. Consider attending writers conferences, like the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference in Homer.
[Addendum on 11/7/14] Join an author’s organization. The two best are Sisters in Crime and the Romance Writers of America. Both are excellent sources of useful, practical information for the writer.
But the most important thing is to write every day. If you don’t write, you won’t publish, be it with legacy publishers or independently. You have to do the work first.