Jilly: Dreaming Big, Planning Small

Dreaming Big, Planning SmallFor me, RWA National is a natural time to take stock and set a plan for the next twelve months. A year ago I’d almost completed the McDaniel Romance Writing Program and had decided that my manuscript needed re-writing rather than revising. In Atlanta I was thinking about the changes I planned to make, and I charged my batteries by attending lots of great writing craft workshops and inspirational talks by my favorite authors.

I also went to a Spotlight presentation by St Martin’s Press, and I made a particular note of the introductory remarks by Jennifer Enderlin, who said: “Dream big. Have unrealistic exectations. Think as big as you possibly can.” I took that advice to heart, and it’s locked in there. After all, if I don’t believe in my abilities, why should anyone else?

The last twelve months have whizzed by more or less according to plan. On Friday morning, I’ll kick off my search for an agent with a face-to-face pitch appointment. I know from my past business life that I’m not a whizz at interviews, but I’m guessing that I won’t be the only one with that problem. I’ve prepared well enough to get the fundamentals of my story across, and as long as I do that, the agent should be able to judge whether it’s worth her time to find out more. Fingers crossed.

When I get home, my next move (probably in September) will be to start sending out query letters. I think the stories I write would be a good fit for traditional publishing, and while I’m dreaming big, I’d love to find an agent who believes in my writing, an editor who can help me make my stories as good as they can be, and a publisher with the distribution and marketing clout to give me the chance to grow a readership.

That’s my dream, and I’m going to chase it hard, but I’m not naive enough to rely on it. I have to find an agent and an editor who believe they can sell my work, and that’s not controllable. In the words of one of my judges from the recent Fool For Love contest: “I think you’re close. It’s just a matter of finding an editor interested in the story. I don’t believe any rejection you get is because there is fault in your writing. You just have to find the right match.”

Or to borrow from another correspondent: “There are so many different kinds of readers looking for their kinds of books that you can see why publishers’ marketing depts. tear their hair out. And you can also see why a rejection from one editor just means that that’s not her kind of story, it doesn’t mean that the story isn’t good.”

So at RWA this year I’ll be choosing career-focused presentations that help me get my head around my two priorities for the upcoming year: giving the traditional track my absolute best shot, and deciding what to do next if that doesn’t work out. There’s plenty of great stuff to choose from, but my highlighter immediately hovered over these workshops:

Dreaming Big
The Hard-and-Fast Rules for the Kick-Ass Query and Synopsis (Nicole Resciniti & Julie Ann Walker)
What Good Is an Agent? (Steven Axelrod, Bella Andre, Liliana Hart & Kristin Nelson)

Planning Small
The Slow Writer’s Guide To Making A Living (Courtney Milan)
Indie Success with No Publishing History (Melody Anne, Kathleen Brooks & Liliana Hart)

What’s your dream? Are you chasing it right now, or are you taking a more pragmatic approach?

9 thoughts on “Jilly: Dreaming Big, Planning Small

  1. Very interested in the relative merits of going the traditional agent/publisher route or self publishing. It seems that self publishing has the potential to be a good starting point for a career. Are you dead set against it Jilly? (I’ve met lots of writers recently for whom the validation of getting traditionally published is almost more important than anything else.) Would any of the other eight ladies or blog readers consider it?

  2. I’m not dead set against self-publishing, Rachel – I think it’s a great thing that authors have so many choices these days – but I am aware of how much work is involved. I went to a Q&A session by Bella Andre last year in Atlanta, and one of the first things she said was ‘work life balance is overrated.’

    The traditional route is not about validation for me, simply that I’d like to spend as much time as I can learning my craft and writing new stories, not learning how to make a great book jacket and trying to deconstruct Amazon algorithms. There are people out there who are already expert at those things and my preference would be to work with them if I can.

    That said, I intend to go to a lot of the self-publishing workshops, quiz Kay until she tells me to stop, and generally get as well informed as I can, so that I understand what my choices are. Chuck Wendig did this great blog post recently arguing that every writer should try self-publishing something http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/07/16/why-you-should-act-as-your-own-author-publisher-at-least-once/

    • Heaven knows I’m no expert! But I have done some self-publishing. I myself would like to be traditionally published, because as you say, Jilly (I went to that Bella Andre workshop, too) — having real success in self-publishing is a lot of work, and if I have limited time, I’d rather spend it writing. The level of commitment I’ve been able to make on social media and for promotion is about the level you need to augment a traditional route, rather than generate a readership from scratch. That said, the promotion budgets for new writers at major houses are small, so…it’s probably more about the personality of each author rather than any objective criteria in figuring out what’s best for pursuing a career.

  3. Jill, I’ll be working the agent/editor appt desk on Friday morning from 8-11, so I’ll be there to cheer you on. 😀

    Based on my experience at the Desert Dreams conference (my first time pitching), the agents/eds were really cool, very laid back, and completely understanding when I said I was nervous. I brought notes and told them I was going to read off some of them and they were fine with that. Just talk about R&C like you do with us and you’ll do great!

    Who are you meeting with?

    • Very glad you’ll be on the appointment desk, Justine, it will be a boost to see a familiar face. I think Kay has an early appointment, too. I’m looking forward to it, in a strange sort of way, because however it goes I’ll learn something useful. This is another milestone and (all together now) It’s A Process 🙂

  4. Wow, would LOVE to hear what Courtney Milan has to say about writing slowly and still getting your work out there. Writing will never be more than part-time for me and I had all but given up hope of ever selling anything given the crazy schedules self-published writers seem to keep and the expectations publishers seem to have. Do you take blog post requests? 🙂

    • This is very much on my mind, so I’ll see what I can do, Jennifer 🙂 . I haven’t written next Sunday’s post yet, so it will probably be a stream-of-consciousness ramble of first impressions. Hopefully something a little more considered the following week.

  5. Looking forward to hearing what happens at RWA! I think the standard advice is to follow your dream, but keep writing the next book.

    I would be interested in self-publishing because it *seems* like it’s easier when one writes something very quirky. But, I’m a terrible saleswoman (three months in Mary Kay, and I think I sold one lipstick to someone who wasn’t family). I don’t have the artistic sense to create a great cover, and designing a marketing campaign? Oh, boy.

    Traditional publishing means I have all these people to hold my hand and make my book into something really sharp. If I can pass the barrier . . . .

    I won’t rule out self-publishing, but I’m allowed to keep my options open.

    • Definitely keep your options open, Michaeline, and also remember it’s not an either/or decision – you can do both. Lots of traditionally published authors seem to be going the hybrid route, maybe using self-publishing as a home for their more experimental writing.

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