This past week I spent four amazing days at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Everywhere, groups tucked into corners between panels to help each other get ready for the great and scary pitch sessions. Someone mentioned feeling intimidated to come to their first conference, ready for battle in the Hunger Games of aspiring authors. Instead, they found themselves wrapped in the comfy arms of the writing community. I’ve been wrapped in those arms for years. It’s nice in the arms!
For me, most of those arms have been virtual ones. And something I noticed at the conference was that many writers weren’t familiar with the online community and sources that make this whole writer-to-author process so much less frightening! Want your query package critiqued? Want to learn which agents will be good fits? Want to learn more about craft? The online writers community has got your back.
Here are some of the most helpful online resources for writers hoping to become authors that I’ve collected during my years of learning about writing and the publishing industry.
First up, K.M. Weiland’s “Helping Writers Become Authors.” Hold onto your hats, because there’s both a website AND a podcast! You not only get bite-sized tips on all sorts of topics, but K.M. Weiland’s guides on characters arcs and plot structure are fantastic. They’re a huge help at the editing stage, guiding you to examine key moments and deliver memorable moments to readers.
Like the idea of learning while brushing your teeth in the morning? Another podcast I faithfully subscribe to is the Writing Excuses Podcast, which delivers craft advice from a panel of published writers. Pro tip: their archives offer gold beyond what’s available on iTunes.
Former agent, now freelance editor and consultant, Mary Kole has an incredibly helpful blog, Kidlit.org, that tackles both the industry and editorial advice inspired by her experience working with writers. While the focus is supposedly on children’s and teen lit, I’d say 90% of the content can apply to any novel. Mary Kole walks you through common mistakes writers don’t even know they’re making. She also has a book called, “Writing Irresistible Kidlit,” that has a respected home on my bookshelf.
Lastly, I can’t talk about craft without mentioning one of the most significant impacts on my writing, Holly Lisle, who offers both articles and courses. Her articles are refreshingly practical. Instead of, “Have high stakes!” Holly breaks down how to actually accomplish those overly-general writing tips. During a revise/resubmit where I was completely overwhelmed, I splurged on her course, “How to Revise Your Novel.” It changed everything about how I approach revision. I jumped right into, “How to Think Sideways” after that. If you’re ever getting frustrated with reading things like, “Give your characters voice,” “Fulfill your promises,” or “Start with a strong premise,” and are screaming, “But how?!” I recommend Holly.
First mandatory reading assignment: the Query Shark Blog. Aspiring authors send their query letters to The Shark (literary agent, Janet Reid) for public critique. It’s…brutal, Game of Thrones-esque entertainment, with a high dose of snark, but oh so educational. Read from the beginning. Yes, the beginning. And enjoy the chum bucket as you get whipped into querying shape.
At the same time, make your way through Nathan Bransford’s thorough guide to querying. It answers questions about what agents want to see, a mad lib guide to get you started, even strategies for how many to send at a time.
Then, when you’ve a solid grounding in what makes a good query, head on over to the QueryTracker Forums, where you can critique and get critiques for query letters, pitches, first pages, and synopses. While there are other writer communities online that do similar things, after spending time in a few, I’ve found QT to be the most supportive and welcoming of the bunch. It’s also a great place to do arrange page swaps and feel out potential for critique partners in your genre.
Finding the Right Agent
Now it’s time to take the plunge and approach agents. I highly recommend QueryTracker.net. Wait, didn’t we just cover that one? Nope. While they’re run by the same crew, they are separate sites with distinct purposes. QueryTracker.net is an amazing, beautiful, magnificent tool for exploring agents and keeping track of the queries you’re sending out (hence, the site name). You can search for agents by genre, but also see data like how long they take to respond and whether they’re more or less likely to request pages. You can easily see who you queried, whether you’ve sent out pages, and how long you’ve been waiting. If you get to the point where you’re querying in large batches and maybe have partials out, this is a great way to avoid embarrassing confusion.
Agentquery.com is another agent data base. It’s very basic, information only, but has the benefit of collecting information on preferences beyond stated genres. Instead of just, “Mystery” listed as a genre accepted, they’ll post information gleaned from interviews or provided by agents themselves like, “Not interested in mysteries unless it’s chicklit.” This is great in helping you figure out if your project is up an agent’s alley.
My ultimate secret weapon in the agent search is the Literary Rambles Blog, though it’s only geared toward picture book through YA. While not as exhaustive as an agent database, the depth is incredible. The blog hosts pick an agent to feature, then scour the internet for any information, from preferences to reputation. The picture you get of agents here is likely to be more complete than what you’ll find elsewhere, and there’s often a ton of links provided to interviews and sources to explore.
So there we are—the resources that have been warm shelters along this shadowy path toward publication. It’s certainly not the only resources I’ve tried, and I’ve also read tons of books on all of these subjects, so if you have any questions about the process or want peeks into my writing bookshelf, just ask! You can comment below (you don’t need to be a WordPress member to comment!) or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the online community, we love to help, and we have cookies.
(Okay, not real cookies, but we love saying we have cookies and offering each other cookies. It’s a thing. Don’t worry, you’ll learn.)
Tune in Monday, for the next Inspiration and Perspiration interview! I talk to Megan Snedden—photojournalist for BBC, National Geographic, USA Today, and more—about what it takes to turn a creative passion into a career.
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