While We’re Waiting: Finding Success Before Your First Book Deal

Happy Tuesday Everyone! While thinking about today’s Sensibility and Sense blog post, I ran across an article I wrote for the The Mitten (Michigan SCBWI newsletter) back in 2012. And since I’m in a place where I’m doing lots of submitting and waiting while working right now, I thought this would be a great post for today. I hope this article inspires you to find lots of writing opportunities while you’re waiting to hear those magic words, “We’d like to publish your book!”  Enjoy!

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, PBS Television, Getty Images

“Let’s think of something to do while we’re waiting, 

While we’re waiting for something new to do.

Let’s try to think up a song while we’re waiting,

That’s liberating and will be true to you.” Fred Rogers

Who doesn’t love Mr. Rogers? With him, even the not-so-fun process of waiting becomes a catchy, sing-it-in-your-head-all-day tune as you trudge through notes, revisions and edits. But what does a hard working writer for children do when the revisions are finished and the envelope is sealed and in the mail (or attached to an email)? We’ve often heard the best thing to do is move right on to the next project rather than eat way too many Peanut M&Ms and check your email every fifteen seconds. But if you’re drained of fresh ideas, need a little pocket money, or in my case money to pay the bills, or if you’d like some credits to add to your resume, consider looking outside of kid lit for some boot-camp-style writer’s experience.

Write Locally

One of the first places I got my writer’s feet wet was through the local newspaper. Local newspapers often look for freelance writers to cover charity events, school news, local heroes and outstanding volunteers. Assignments are not quite as plentiful now due to smaller budgets, but there may still be work available for writers wanting to add credits to their resume by covering a story well for a small amount of money.

Another resource for local writing is regional magazines. Groups like MetroParent Publishing have several print magazines as well as online content. These groups take queries, and if you can establish a relationship with an editor, will put you on a list for future assignments.

In each case, query the managing editor or look for submission guidelines in the fine print. For these types of publications you are an independent contractor and invoice for your work for an agreed upon price.

Internet and SEO Writing

Another place to cut your publishing teeth is through Internet and SEO writing. Websites are always looking for great content writers, and companies will pay freelance writers to keep their blog content fresh and “green” (not constrained by dates and times). Websites like FreelanceWriting.com let you pitch for posted jobs. Writer’s Access provides writers to companies at per-word prices and gives hired writers an account where jobs are claimed. Complete the work to the style guide in the allotted time and you get paid. Good ratings on Writer’s Access can get you on client love lists for future projects. Bright Hub, Demand Media and Scripted are also good content channels.

Search Engine Optimization writing is incredibly specific, focusing on keywords that drive traffic to a website through search engines. SEO content writers have a list of keywords that must be used a certain number of times in an article. SEO content writing hones skills quickly due to the limited number of words allowed to write a readable, informative piece.

Benefits of Different Writing Experiences

Having to find some paying work a few years ago was truly one of the best things that ever happened to me as a writer. Mr. Rogers teaches children there are ways to improve, learn and grow during times of waiting. Here are just a few things I’ve learned:

  • Editors- Working with editors before you get a book contract teaches you how to look at your work honestly and grow a thick skin when it comes to making changes. You learn to slash, burn and not look back.
  • Word Count- Writing to a word count makes you choose only the best words. You can’t get this anywhere else. I’ve learned you can write about almost anything in 500 words or less.
  • Publishing Credits- Getting publishing credits for your resume is important. Having a list of places where editors and agents can read your work, even if it’s outside of children’s literature, lets them know you are a hard-working professional worth a second look.
  • Increased Confidence- To a writer, getting published means everything, even if it’s just a short article buried on the Internet. It boosts your self esteem and gives you the courage to keep trying. Getting your name in print, no matter how insignificant it may seem, helps you move forward.

So, if you find yourself in the waiting zone, like Mr. Rogers says, “Think of something to do.” You’ll probably find that even the smallest writing assignments teach some big writing lessons.

Sensibility- The writing journey can find writers at many bends in the road. Use these times to enhance your experience by trying new and different kinds of writing.

Sense- Every writing credit gives you that much more credibility with editors and agents. Get in the habit of looking for writing work that can establish you as a professional to your writing community.

What kinds of writing work do you do outside of your chosen genre?

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