Recognizing the Appropriate Training
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I thought my head would explode. The room was nearly the length of…well…it looked like a football field – though I know that was only in my imagination. It was my first conference. I had no idea what this menagerie of people meant, much less how to sift through.
When you are new to conference life, it can be overwhelming. We come, dreams instilled and hopes that we might just find a place at the writing table.
Conferences have two specific goals: 1) teaching 2) networking
Of these two goals, conferees have to sort through and figure out a path to follow, and once the path is made, what happens? Do you need the assistance of an editor, mentor, or coach? If so, where and how do you find who is best? The questions only tend to grow, but let's walk through the training you can gain at a conference.
Step one: Your work in progress (WIP) – It begins with your work. The biggest mistake new writers make is jumping steps. I find they jump steps because they don't know the processes yet. A conferee needs a work in progress before anything else can happen. Without a WIP, you cannot have paid critiques or mentoring. You cannot share your skills at a conference when you choose to have a 15-minute free appointment with a professional. WRITE something. Do your best. Conference faculty understands that your work may be incomplete or rough at best, but that's fine. They can look it over and guide you.
Step two: Choose classes that teach you WHERE you are at your writing level. Please don't make the mistake I made. At my first conference, I knew nothing. I chose classes based on names I'd seen in the conference bookstore – which was fine, except most classes I attended were advanced. There was wonderful information, but I learned characters before I learned plotting, so I wrote amazing deep, relatable characters but had no idea how to move them through a story. In essence, I learned things backward. Get the best bang for your buck and take classes that meet your current needs, then purchase the MP3s or CDs of the conference and take them home for future learning. Take advantage of those you can talk to in class, ask questions of and learn from face-to-face.
Step three: You have a manuscript ready to present to agents – Take time to make a one-sheet. Use it as you sit to discuss your work with an agent. Whether they take it with them or not is not important. Use it to help you remember the details you need to share. If your work is incomplete, let them know when it will be complete. Then listen to what they have to say. Remember, these folks are professionals. They are not the be-all-end-all to the success of your work. You earn that.
Here's the misnomer – that you'll pick up an agent on your first try or that you have a great opportunity to do this based on three polished chapters. Nope – first, an agent cannot sell, what is not written, so when you sit in front of them with three chapters of an unfinished book, you will get good feedback on the possibilities of your work, but it is very doubtful you will walk away with an agent. Why? You have nothing for an agent to represent or sell. Until you do, sit with them, pick their brains, and talk about your work and the possibilities, but don't expect to be signed. An experienced and well-seasoned agent will be particular about what they choose to represent. They understand a publisher needs to see that a writer can do more than polish three chapters. The writer must be able to tell a story and write it to its conclusion. Many a conferee can polish three chapters, but they cannot plot through an entire book. (Refer back to my experience of learning things backward). An experienced and published author can pick up an agent with a proposal and three chapters because they have proven their ability. The debut author needs a completed project so agents and publishers can see the skill.
Step four: Do you need a professional editor or mentor? Every writer can benefit from a professional
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editor or mentor/coach. My practice is to hire a professional content editor when I finish my novels. I do this because I want my work to be as clean as it can be before I send it to my agent, and he begins to shop it to houses. A good content editor can help locate any holes or questions that may arise in your manuscript so they can be corrected and cleared up before a publisher sees it. The cleaner the work, the more likely the publisher to add this work to their list of purchases. Does it sell your book? No. There are several considerations that go into the purchase of a manuscript, but this certainly checks off a box for publishers when it goes to the publications board. A clean manuscript means less time spent editing, equating to saved $$.
A good mentor or coach can help you through rough spots, assist in brainstorming, and help shape and develop a WIP. Whether you are a seasoned author or a new writer – this is always money well spent because it is one-on-one assistance. When they are done with your assignment, you will see a marked improvement.
Step five: Do your homework before you hire – You won't buy a car before you shop around and learn what is best. You shouldn't hire a mentor/editor/coach until you've done your homework.
Here are some suggestions to help you find the best training:
· Look at the professional's personal experience. An editor should be part of a recognized and reputable group who tests and assures their editors are quality editors, not someone who sits next to you at a conference and claims to be an editor.
· Look at years in the business. A well-seasoned author with books on the shelf or an editor who has walked the business for years, knows the process. They can walk you through what publishers want to see, and published authors can help you with new trends in your writing that help sell.
· Reputation and Integrity. This goes a long way in the industry. When you choose someone with these qualities, you know your needs are taken seriously. You won't be taken advantage of.
Finding the right training is a career step you will not regret. I know you'll find the perfect assistance. Do your homework and forge ahead.