Thursday, February 14, 2019

Publishing Far and Wide to Sharpen Your Skills, Thicken Your Skin

By Aly Brown, @AlyConnerBrown

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

JH: Being a writer encompasses many forms, and not all of them include fiction. Aly Brown shares her story about how a wider career path improved her writing--and saved her sanity. 

Aly Brown is a newspaper editor and author represented by BookEnds LLC. She recently inked a deal with Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan for a nonfiction middle grade book on Alvin Submersible called The Last Unexplored Place on Earth. Release date 2023.

Take it away Aly...

We talk about it often, the sometimes heartbreaking publishing process. Between searching for an agent, searching for a book deal, and then reading brutal reviews, writers – those oh-so-sensitive creatures who live in their own world creating stories before they’re thrown to the wolves in the real one – must navigate the process without losing their schmidt.

Right now, my agent and I are in the midst of submissions, and we’ve been in the midst of submissions on and off for what will be four years this summer. Prior to signing with her, I was in the midst of querying agents… for about ten years. If things hadn’t turned digital, I could have built a lovely house of cards with all those rejection letters.

But the thing that saved me and thickened my skin more than anything was writing for a different vein of publication. It’s become the thing I suggest to budding writers who are still refreshing their email every three to five seconds or crying about nasty book reviews.

I started working at my local newspaper as a full-time journalist and copy editor nearly three years ago. At first, the job was something I pursued because I had writing experience and they were hiring, but I never expected that analytical AP-style writing and editing would help not only my creative writing but my ability to brush things off and move on.

Why? Because you don’t have time to care. I mean, you care. Kind of. But only for a half second before you’re onto the next project.

I went from waiting around for years for someone to publish something – ANYTHING – I wrote, to my editor tapping her toe as she waited for me to finish typing. Then it went to print that day.

Once it was online, the comments poured in. And some pissed me off, honestly. When you’ve spent hours researching immigration law, interviewing impacted families, and then hours more weaving the information and recordings together, it kills you to read comments from headline readers who clearly didn’t glance at the content.

But you sit on your hands. You say nothing. And you move on.

That experience has helped me burn through rejections and ignore the noise on social media when it only served to be a negative distraction.

This can help you too. Even if you don’t necessarily want to write for a newspaper, find another publication and start pumping out stories.

How to turn waiting around into writing your ass off

I know everyone says you should write your next book while you wait for word from agents or editors, and that’s perfectly grand advice... if you can do it. But what if you’re the kind of person who just can’t get into the swing of things when what-ifs are looming over your head? You want to dive back into that creative part of your brain, but you can’t while you’re in the get-it-done business mode of querying and subbing to publishers.

Try this instead.

1. Write something different for an online or local print publisher. 

Do you have a hobby you love, a political topic you’re passionate about, an obsession with llamas? Consider the following:

a. Digital. Seek out high-quality websites covering those topics, preferably ones you already frequent as a reader, and make a pitch to write a free guest article. You will get a byline with a link to your website, which is very SEO-friendly and helps grow your audience.

b. Print. I’m sure you already get something that lands on your driveway each week, whether that’s a local paper or magazine covering events and people in your area. Do you have something to say about your hometown? Take a look inside and find the managing editor’s name, and again make a pitch. This time you’ll even get paid as a stringer or freelancer. So, bonus.

c. Build your portfolio. The beauty of writing for different publications to take your mind off the grueling process of querying or subbing is that, in the meantime, you’re building your portfolio. Sign up for a free or cheap portfolio service and start compiling your work.

2. Write often. 

Deadlines will make you a stronger professional. If you get your foot in the door and you like working with a particular publisher, ask if you can submit an article once a month or once a week. This is where having a deadline will light a fire under you to write. Writers need deadlines. The issue with writing your next book is that no one is telling you when to finish, so it’s something you can put off.

a. Ditch the writer’s block with constant content creation. What else happens when you’re writing constantly for other people? You get to the point where you can do it in your sleep, and that kind of fluid writing transfers over to your creative writing. I haven’t stared absently at a blank screen in years.

b. Get paid. Even if you start off writing for free just to build a presence and get your mind off querying, you can eventually build relationships and open the opportunity to get paid in places that may not have paid you before.

3. Shrug away the crappy comments, because they’re a coming. 

With tough topics that have conflicting opinions on the matter, I used to worry about pissing people off. My managing editor would say, “If you do a really good job, you’ll piss everyone off.” Why? Because that probably means it was a balanced piece, and both sides will believe you didn’t burn the other side properly. So I learned to stop reading comments. Remember that immigration article I mentioned earlier? That headline reader didn’t get it. Sometimes people won’t get it – they won’t get your work. Your job isn’t to make everyone happy.

a. Constantly publishing eases the burn of reviews. Opening yourself up to comments from the public through articles published on a regular basis will sharpen your ability to say one of the three things:
i. That was a great review, and it made my day.
ii. That person doesn’t get it, and I won’t let it ruin my day.
iii. That was an honest review, and I think I can take it into consideration to make my work stronger. This, again, is a skill learned from article publication that will transfer into your book publishing realm.
When it comes to the tough business of publishing, don’t be the one waiting around for the phone call. Go out on lots of “dates” with other publications and have yourself a merry distraction. It can only help you grow as a writer, a professional, and a person.

1 comment:

  1. Alythia, what you say makes perfect sense. It’s about putting your business mind to work, and keep emotions in the background. I wrote psychiatry program content as a nurse practitioner. That spurred my writing as a coauthor for two friends. That pushed me to take a copy editing certificate course, and start writing a historical fiction book. Thinking back, the process helped my creative mind! Thanks for the reminder! ���� Christine