WODW Recap: Turn Your Passion into Your Profession: Tips for Getting Published

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One of the many wonderful things about being in WIN is Women Opening Doors for Women (WODW). It’s a night filled with access to amazing women who are not only shining in their careers, but willing to sit down with other women and share their expertise. It’s a night to relive the reason that WIN got started: to give women a chance to help other women succeed. Last Wednesday, it delivered once more.

The Writing Group planned a dinner on the subject of getting published, and were truly blessed with an amazing group of speakers, including our host. In all, we had four authors to talk with, listen to and learn from. We are sill glowing from the evening. The authors and a recap of their advice are below.

Cathy Alter
Author of “Up for Renewal: What Magazines Taught Me About Love, Sex, and Starting Over” www.cathyalter.com

Holly Kearl
Author of “Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women” http://www.hollykearl.com/

Ruth Schimel
Ph.D., Career and Life Management Consultant, Writer of book series “Choose Courage” www.ruthschimel.com

Allison Silberberg
Author of “Visionaries In Our Midst: Ordinary People who are Changing our World” www.allisonsilberberg.com

Holly explained that she had already started a website and a blog in addition to her thesis, and that this established identity and credibility- especially the CNN story featuring her Master’s thesis – which helped earn publisher attention. She recommended starting a blog or other route to get your name and expertise out there in advance. She published without an agent, querying mainly academic publishers directly, but did find that her book is more expensive than she would have preferred and is limited in where it can be sold. Holly also gave everyone a 2-page document on how to write a book proposal, which will undoubtedly prove useful. Once she became known for her work, reading comments became bit of a landmine. She recommended avoiding the “trolls” as much as possible.

Allison shared that she keeps her stack of rejection letters to remind her that writing is not personal, it’s a business. The only failure, she urged us, is in not trying. She told that she has even kept in touch with some of the publishers who rejected her proposal. Sometimes it isn’t so much that they don’t like your book, it’s that they do not publish in that style or genre, or cannot accept any more while you are soliciting. She recommended creating an Excel sheet to track who you submit to, when, and if you get a response. In order to find and agent, she and Cathy recommended looking through books similar to the one you’d like to write and looking to see if the author thanked his/her agent (they often do) and then Googling that person. You can also ask booksellers for similar books or suggestions of where to query. Echoing Holly’s avoidance of the trolls, she cautioned that the naysayers will ruin you if you let them – but that life is too short, and “nobody knows nothin’.” Protect your energy and look for communities – writing groups (we totally agree), an assortment of readers, or similar venue. She reminded everyone to respect criticism even if you don’t agree with it. Above all though, write from the heart, and write with passion, but don’t be preachy. Keep in mind, in 5-10 years, when you look back, what do you want to see?

More practically, find a lawyer to go through your contract and negotiate; get your work copyrighted in your name (the Library of Congress does this) and make sure your contract specifies that it can be revisited in a year (also recommended by Ruth). The author often receives an advance, anywhere from $5-$40,000, when signing with an agent. Allison further shared the experience of a friend who chose to do developmental publishing (an option between self-publishing and traditional), and the nuts and bolts of how to go about it. This route brings financial risk, as the author pays about $35,000 to get it up and running. Royalties through agent-bargaining usually yields 5-15%; developmental publishing usually brings much higher royalties (~30%). But no matter how you publish, you need to “market the heck out of yourself.” Remember though, you don’t have to do it all in one week. Pace yourself for a marathon, not a sprint. Write an article for a newspaper or a magazine and mention that you are writing a book. Also, when you begin to send out proposals, know that they may ask to see the first three chapters, so have those ready. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you choose to self-publish, academic classes will not consider purchasing.

Cathy set us amateurs at ease by reporting that though publishing is daunting – she used to think writing a “Talk of the Town” piece for the New Yorker was her highest aspiration – it really is possible. Underscoring the emphasis that Holly and Allison put on believing in yourself and just getting started, Cathy recommended the “bum in chair” method to get things done: just sit down and write. She also encouraged the practical – practice your craft and think about what will sell in order to be a good, successful writer. Become an expert in your area. She went through an agent as well, and recommended that route. As Holly and Allison also said, Cathy advised having an elevator pitch ready. Be able to explain your book in 2-3 sentences. Some resources that Cathy suggested checking out are the Writer’s Center and the American Association of Independent Writers.

Ruth lent her experience and wisdom, sharing many materials that may be of use to us in our search for passion. She broke down and defined the terms ‘courage’ and ‘passion,’  and instructed us to remember that “all work is in self-revelation.” She also said to “speak from what has meaning for you.” In addition she also shared these quotes:

All good work requires self-revelation. – Sidney Lumet

As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live. – Goethe

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About WIN Writing Group

WIN Writing Group is a network within the Women's Information Network (WIN), Washington's premier professional, political, and social network dedicated to empowering young, pro-choice, Democratic women. From this organization, our writing group was formed to give WIN members a community in which to write. We focus on creative nonfiction, which is defined as any writing that is intended to be read as true.
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