Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writer's Wednesday - Volunteer to Publish

Leigh Duncan joins us today with a post about volunteering


I have a little road-to-publication speech that, quite frankly, I share without much prodding.  Today, though, we’ll skip past the years of agonized waiting and the manuscripts that weren’t quite good enough, and go straight to the best advice I have for anyone who’s ever dreamed of making the leap from unpublished writer to published author.

First, learn the craft.  No matter how talented you are, no matter how gifted a writer you might be, you’ll need a keen understanding of POV.  An awareness that story conflict means more than a hero and heroine who argue all the time.  To know “Black Moment” doesn’t refer to the latest trades on Wall Street.  (If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, make a beeline for the nearest workshop on Point of View, pick up Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict, Google Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey). 

Once you’ve completed a manuscript, next comes getting your work “out there.”  You might feel like Big Brother knows all, sees all, but no long arm is going to reach in through your bedroom window, grab the freshly printed manuscript off your desk and hand you a five-figure contract.  (Although, I wouldn’t mind if one did!)  Enter contests.  Learn how to draft a synopsis.  Start sending out those queries.  Sure, you’ll get rejections—everyone does.  Don’t let that get you down, and don’t stop submitting.    

Which brings us to the single most important piece of advice I can give any aspiring author—Volunteer.  Get involved.  Do what you can. 

I’m very active in my local RWA chapter, STAR.  Before I sold my first book to Harlequin American Romance, I ran the Launching A Star contest for years and coordinated critique groups for another large RWA chapter.  I served on the board of a couple of writers’ groups, handled transportation and arrangements for conference speakers, and judged more contests than I can possibly remember.  For several years, I hosted the Romance Readers’ Circle at our local Barnes & Noble—something I continue to do, along with serving as my chapter’s PAN Liaison. 

The friendships I’ve made through volunteering are invaluable.  Yes, it doesn’t hurt to know a few powerhouse writers, editors, and agents. And yes, they’ve given me some great career advice.  More importantly, those friendships sustain me through the times when things are not going well.  Not only do we celebrate successes together, we prop each other up with the rejection letters or the heavy edits arrive.  We’re there for one another.  We drink a lot of coffee, sip more than a few glasses of wine, laugh a lot, cry a little and…we learn together.   

I’m not the only one who thinks pitching in and helping out is crucial for a writer.  Paranormal romantic suspense author Leslie Parrish was STAR’s first president.  She edited the chapter’s first newsletter and, for years, she organized our conferences.  The author of twenty-six books, including a NY Times Best Seller, Roxanne St. Claire didn’t fool around when it came to volunteering.  She served as STAR’s Vice President, handled PR as far back as anyone can remember, became the chapter’s first PAN Liaison, and still hosts all our holiday parties.  And Kristen Painter (look for Blood Rights, her fabulous urban fantasy series from Orbit this October), what was she doing while she waited for publication?  Well, she co-founded Romance Divas, served as Vice President for two RWA chapters, and made sure both of them had a vibrant, up-to-date web presence.

If that sounds like a lot, it is.  Yes, you have to learn the craft.  You have to submit your work.  And yes, volunteering is a part of it, too.  Think of it as networking.  Through your contributions, your name becomes familiar.  And you form friendships that will last, not just the length of a career, but a lifetime.  I think NY Times Best Selling author Julie Leto put it best when she said, “The friendships and contacts I made during that time have been invaluable to me for a multitude of reasons, both personal and professional.”   

Let’s face it.  Writing for a living is a tough gig.  To make it in today’s market, you’re going to need all the help and support you can get.  From people who won’t use your latest rejection letter as an opportunity to suggest that maybe it’s too hard and you should take up basket weaving after all.  But from friends who will hand you a tall margarita, lend you their shoulders  to cry on, and then insist that you pick up the pieces and try again. 

That’s what my writing buddies do for me.  Have you made good friends through the things you do to support your local writing group?  And how has that helped you take the next step toward publication? 

Leigh's newest release is THE DADDY CATCH:
More than hooks and lines are in the lesson plans when an upcoming fishing trip with his new business partners forces a hunky thoracic surgeon to hire a feisty fly fishing guide. Dan Hamilton is a foster care success story whose wildest dreams are within reach when he’s asked to join in building a medical center on Florida’s east coast. Widowed Jessica Cofer wants little more than to help her young son grow into an honest man and preserve the natural beauty of Phelps Cove. Their temperatures rise faster than mercury on a summer day...until she learns the handsome doctor has his eye on more than her curves—he plans to steal the land from under her feet.

16 comments:

  1. Great advice, Leigh! Volunteering is one of the best ways to network in our business. And networking is how you meet people who can help you (that's how I met my agent!) But more than that, it gives you a sense of accomplishment in helping other writers.

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  2. Leigh here--I'm doing my best to straighten things out with my Google account, but for now I'll just post as Anonymous.

    Maria, The Pink Heart Society is one of my fav blogs, and it's wonderful to see you here this morning. I'm in total agreement with you--the sense of accomplishment that comes from helping other writers is huge! Love it!

    Leigh

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  3. My Google account is having a rough morning too :)

    Such sound advice, Leigh. Volunteering is crutial! It defintely opens up so many doors for writers, but most of all, you learn so much valuable information about the industry and craft, and create some lasting friendships with others just like you!

    Kara

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  4. Kara,
    As the president of the STAR RWA chapter, you have a terrific understanding of how important those who volunteer are to an organization. But it's a two-way street. The more you volunteer, pitch in, help out, the more you gain. And friends like you are one of the very best benefits. :)

    Leigh

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  5. I couldn't agree with you more about the volunteering. Even judging contests helps in the journey. There's no quicker way to see what you're doing wrong than picking up on it in someone else's manuscript!

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  6. Absolutely, Wynter! In addition to running the Launching A Star contest (which opens for entries very, very soon), our chapter offers members the opportunity to bring their current WIP to a meeting for Deep Dish Critiques. My own writing has improved tremendously from my involvement in those sessions.

    Leigh

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  7. Hey! I found a way around Google. :) I'll use the Name/URL option.

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  8. Great post, Leigh! A reminder to be involved at all levels of writing!

    Rachel

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  9. Says the perfect example of how to be involved, Rachel.

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  10. Great post, Leigh! I found my way into the STAR group and came to feel right at home through volunteering to run the Launching A Star contest, which you, Leigh, organized so well! Thanks!

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  11. Great advice, Leigh. The friends I found because of all the volunteering I've done and groups I've joined have been invaluable. I couldn't have done it without them.

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  12. Judy,

    Launching A Star has done exceptionally well with you at the till. And this year, with your fantastic line-up of editors and agents to act as judges in the final round, it's "the" contest to enter.

    Leigh

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  13. J.A.,

    You're so right! The connections and the networking are important aspects of volunteering, but it's the friendships you make along the way that stay with you forever.

    Leigh

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  14. Great post Leigh. After getting the 'call' through a contest, I knew I wanted to give back, so to speak, and now include judging contests as part of my writing schedule.
    And the LAS contest . . . well, the shiny gold star has it's own special spot on my desk.
    Again, great post :)

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  15. Helen,

    Congratulations on your shiny gold star! And on getting THE CALL!! There's nothing like that first sale. Made for Marriage will be out next January, won't it? This is such an exciting time for you. Enjoy every minute of it.

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  16. Thanks, everyone, for chatting with me here at the Pink Heart Society. I've enjoyed the time and hope you found something here that will help you along your road to publication.

    Leigh

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