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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.


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