What to do while you’re waiting to get published

Recently someone told me that they’re a finalist in a writing competition at a major  conference. They were excited, and I was excited for them. It may not seem to non-writers that this is a very big deal. Most people just want to know if they’ve ever read anything you’ve written or when you story will be made into a movie. (I trust my readers here would never make these comments to a writer!)

The fact is, it’s rather hard to get a publisher these days (unless it’s DIY) so what do you do while you’re waiting for a break?

Well write, of course. But then? I like the idea of entering a writing contest.

If you’re a finalist or win a prize it feels like validation. And it is validation! You’ve distinguished yourself in a competitive field, no matter how small. And whether or not you win or even place, you’ve taken a step toward committing to your writing, to being more professional. You’re willing to put yourself at some risk (of disappointment) and you’re willing to take your knocks, and presumably, get up and do it again.

I remember placing in the genre novel contest at Pacific Northwest Writing Conference at the start of my career. It was my first validation, though not my first try. I had pitched a novel to several disinterested agents at previous conferences. So I had come up empty on earlier tries. I kept going.

It was good practice for what I would soon encounter on the road to publication and on the journey of a writing career.

When you’re willing to play the game, to participate, to risk and to persevere despite setbacks–even before you are published–you are building good practices and muscle mass for the road ahead.

I know, it’s scary. It’s far easier to stockpile stories, read them to supportive groups, and never enter the fray. It certainly is more comfortable, but you aren’t stepping up to the writing life. You may be stepping up to writing… but writing without marketplace feedback is not a full writing life. It’s a quasi-life.

So drive on! Polish your writing, submit it to contests, and then move on to finding an agent. (Ah yes, another scary step.)

Because: That fellow that I started out talking about? He now (in very quick succession) has an agent representing him. I’m not saying that this representation came from the writing contest. Just that he went from a fairly private writing life to entering the full game.

He’s thrilled. And I’m thrilled for him. I remember what it felt like. And it was the move that started my writing career. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s his start, as well.


3 Responses

  1. Kay, you are so right on. I encourage writers to enter contests not only for the reason you state–the validation–but also because strangely, we tend to revise and polish more diligently for a contest, with a strict page limit, than for submitting to an agent! I’ve seen it many times.

    I, too, got my first “sign” from the PNWA contest, in 1987. I got a 1st, 2nd, and 4th and was on a cloud. I was still very much a novice, which makes these in hindsight a miracle. Subsequent years, I was occasionally in the top 10. I took even those placements as a sign.

    Most of all, I recommend contests where the writer gets some feedback. At the least, the unique opinions are material for stand-up comedy; at best, they help you revise and give that atta-girl to submit.


  2. Kay says:

    Elizabeth, how coincidental, and how fun! I got my start at PNWA in 1993. And good comment about contests that provide written critiques. They are the best. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I am somewhat of a novice and your advice is right on time. I’ve been accepted by TATE PUBLICATIONS and of course was elated. In the meantime, I’m going to look up PNWA and get involved because the PC and I are real friends where story writing is involved. I too am one for short chapters and sometimes short chapters HAVE to suffice! Thanks for the information. You can find me on Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and Xlibris.com.

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