Thursday, April 23, 2015

Teen Writers: 5 Ways to Come Across as Professional in the Industry

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When I began my writing journey five years ago, I quickly learned that being taken seriously as a teenager in the industry was not going to be easy. For some reason, many adults already have a pre-conceived idea of teen writers: that they are wannabes who are only seeking publication for fame and recognition. Or that they will only become published because they're so young. Or that they are trying to rush into publication without first sharpening their writing skills. 

Frankly, I can't blame some of the adults who hold these opinion. Besides, they may have been seeking publication for years ... if not decades. They have studied the craft. They know how the industry works. It might not come across as "fair" to them that a teenager is able to write a book and land a publishing deal without having to go through much effort. 

So what can you, a teen writer, do now to decrease your chances of coming across as the typical teen author "wannabe"? And how can you impress an agent/publisher by becoming a professional in an industry filled with experienced adults?

1. Attend writer's conferences. 

I can't stress how valuable it is to attend a writing conference. Not only do you learn a tremendous amount of information on the craft and business of writing, but you also have the chance to network with other writers, find a writing friend (and potential critique partner), make connections, and pitch your book to agents and publishers. 

The only thing is that conferences can get pretty expensive. However, there are plenty of small conferences that you could attend as well. 

If you are able to attend a conference, trust me: It'll be worth every penny!

The first conference I attended at 16. Pictured with my first writing friend, Author Katy Kauffman
My second year at this conference, when I was 17. Pictured with my mom. =) 
My third year at BRMCWC, when I was 18. Pictured with Katy again.

Fourth year attending BRMCWC, 19. I received 2nd place in their contest's blog category. =)
Fifth year at BRMCWC. Purple Moon was a finalist in the YA Fiction and First Novel categories.
(And that's my publisher standing next to me.)

2. Study the industry. 

A lot of aspiring authors skip this step. However, if you want to become an "author" and not just a "writer", then research is vital in your journey towards publication. 

Writing is an art, yes -- but it is also a business. And by doing this homework, your chances of signing with an agent or a publisher will increase.

Learn the process of how a book is published. Become familiar with the publishing houses and the books/genres/authors they publish. Learn the trends of publishing: Where it has been, where it is, and where it's going. Also, research literary agents. Make a list of the ones that represent your genre. Understand what makes a reputable agent, what the role of an agent is, as well as the author/agent relationship.  

{I've compiled a list of industry blogs on the bottom of this page.}

3. Familiarize yourself with how a book is publicized. 

Even though publishing companies do help authors promote their book -- the truth is, much of the promotional efforts are up to the author. That's why publishers want to sign with authors who understand marketing. In fact, when an author sends a proposal to a publisher, they are to list strategies they have brainstormed on how they will promote their book. 

Here's why: If there are two different authors who have pitched similar stories to a publisher, the publisher is likely going to sign with the author who has the best marketing strategies OR the biggest platform. (Of course, they do take into consideration the quality of the writing and story as well.)

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Being an author requires more than just having a talent for writing. You are selling a product, too, which makes you an entrepreneur. And as an entrepreneur, understanding the ins and outs of how to promote your book is a must.  

4. Study the craft. 

You might ask: "Isn't writing an art? Can't I just rely on my natural instincts to write a book? I read enough novels, anyway; I know what goes into the making of a good book."

Yes, writing is an art. But so is filmmaking. And just because a filmmaker might watch several movies and have a "talent" doesn't mean they automatically know everything about how to make a high-quality film.

Is it okay to write the book that's on your heart before studying the craft? Of course. Reading other books and writing our own is, in fact, the best way for a writer to learn the craft. 

However, if you want to become published some day, you should, eventually, study. Just like you would with any field. And here's why: Acquisition editors (publishers) and literary agents receive multiple submissions per week. They can quickly spot which writers have done their homework and which ones haven't. 

And since they receive so many submissions per week, they usually have a list of things they look for when thumbing through their pile of manuscripts. If you want to stand out in their submissions pile, I'd suggest doing this rather than simply trusting your writerly instincts. 

Besides, if you are really passionate about writing, why wouldn't you want to learn how to better your writing? Why wouldn't you want to learn how to strengthen a scene so that the emotion is conveyed more powerfully? Or learn the techniques that could help your writing to show rather than tell?

As writers, we should want to write the best story that we possibly can. Besides, learning the craft is exciting! Call me a nerd, but I feel like a kid on Christmas morning any time I buy a new writing-craft book.  

Personally, I don't want to submit the story that I created out of natural instinct. I want to spend time with it. I want to make it shine by applying what I've learned. I want to write a book that will resonate with readers, one that will stand out in the midst of a publisher's submissions. 

{Click here for a list of craft-books and blogs.}

5. Grow your platform.

As I mentioned in #3, a publisher is highly impressed when an author already has an established platform. Nowadays, a huge portion of the marketing efforts is done via online. And even though not every author is active on social media, I have noticed that publishers do want to see at least somewhat of a web presence from their authors. 

But remember: A platform isn't grown overnight. It takes much time and effort. And even though growing one will definitely help in the long run, keep in mind that the most important thing you can do as an aspiring author is to write. That should remain your top priority. 

 What are other tips you could add to this list? Which of the ones I listed have you benefitted from the most? If you haven't gotten this far into your writing journey yet, do you find research overwhelming or exciting?

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