There are often best and worst lists – for example the 10 best jokes, the 10 worst ones. (Some make it on to both lists, which just goes to prove humour is subjective!). Then there are the best and worst cars, supermarkets, holiday destinations and so on. Almost anything can be listed if you try hard enough!
What can be a pain is not knowing what the best and worst options are at times – and this does go for writing and publishing too. When you are starting out as a writer, where do you go to for advice?
When you are moving onwards and upwards (no matter how slow the pace!), how do you build on that and chat with other writers in a similar position? How do you know which publishers are genuine, as opposed to those who you shouldn’t touch with any kind of barge pole?
I thought I’d share some of the best and worst decisions I’ve made as a writer. Comments are particularly welcome from other writers on this one.
The worst decisions I’ve made
1. Not taking up writing sooner than I did. By far, this is my biggest regret. You do underestimate how long it will take to get work out there. I do sometimes wonder if I’d started five years earlier, where would I be on the writing road now?
2. Not deciding to widen what I write sooner than I did. Due to not seemingly being able to get anywhere with my novel, I ventured into short story writing. After a lot of work and learning how to improve what I wrote, I started being shortlisted in Writing Magazine competitions, and then further good news came when Bridge House Publishing took my A Helping Hand and put it in their Alternative Renditions anthology.
I then started writing for Cafelit who are linked to Bridge House and then took up their 100-word challenge and became addicted to flash fiction. This then of course led to my first published collection of flash fiction From Light to Dark and Back Again via Chapeltown Books.
The point of this is to illustrate I had to be open to trying new forms of writing. I wasn’t for a long time because I was so focused on getting the novel out there. Now I know that if you can write in different forms, you should do so. The nice thing with short story and flash fiction writing is there are so many outlets for these. You can have work out there while working on a much longer project. (It all helps build up your writing CV and publication credits too).
3. Not realising you have to know what markets are out there. As a result, you tailor your writing to meet their needs, not your own, but the secret here is you have got to love what you write. What you are doing here is tailoring that love to a saleable environment. There is one very big plus to this though. You will come across things like competitions you didn’t know existed but may suit you. It pays to see what is out there writing wise. (Also looking at the markets will also show you which publishers may be interested in the kind of writing you do). When you’re ready to pitch your work you will go to the right place!
4. Being terrified of the very thought of networking! When I realised it meant chatting about books, something I love doing, that terror disappeared very quickly. Now I have to watch that I don’t “bore for Britain”!
5. Not engaging with social media as soon as I could. I love using social media now both to talk about my writing and to support friends with books out. I love writing posts I hope will be helpful to others and using things like slideshows and still images to brighten those posts up. But it took me a while to get going on Facebook (and even longer for Twitter!) and I still haven’t got “into” Instagram. I have learned though it is important to focus on those social media platforms you enjoy and so “do” them well rather than try to cover everything.
6. Not discovering the joys of writing non-fiction sooner. I have much to be thankful to Chandler’s Ford Today for here!
The best decisions I’ve made
1. Asking for advice when I really needed it and trusting my gut instinct that something was up with the publishing contract I’d been offered. The covering letter that came with it was riddled with spelling errors and this just rang very loud alarm bells. You’d expect better from a publisher, right?
So I asked the Society of Authors and, despite my not being a member at that time, they went through what I’d been offered and told me what was wrong with it. Yes, I’d nearly been caught out by a vanity publisher. That nearly is important! I turned the contract down and got my manuscript back. (I had wondered if I’d have trouble there, thankfully not).
What was lovely was the Society of Authors advised I could join as an Associate Member there and then because I had been offered a publishing contract or I could wait until I received a “proper” bona fide deal. I joined up immediately and have never regretted it. Once I had enough short stories out there online and in print, I was able to upgrade to full membership but the bottom line is I will always get a contract checked out. I also know precisely where to go for that!
Never ever be afraid to ask for advice. One of the things I love most about the writing world is that it is generally supportive and if one writer doesn’t know an answer to a problem, someone else will or they can at least point you in the direction to go to find out more. (And especially for the indie author, don’t forget ALLi – the Alliance of Independent Authors).
2. Going to reputable writing conferences such as Winchester Writers’ Festival and Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I’ve learned loads (and continue to do so), made some wonderful friends (and plan to keep on doing that!), and the information you share with other writers as you chat over coffee or dinner can again lead to you finding out about markets and competitions you were unaware of.
3. Taking up Richard Hardie’s advice to send in an article to the editor of Chandler’s Ford Today. I needn’t say more…
4. Getting a smartphone! Useful for keeping up with emails while on train journeys etc, the biggest thing I’ve used here is an app where I can get on and draft my stories and articles. Phenomenally useful. I can email these back to myself, store them in another app so there is no danger of losing what I’ve written. Easy enough to copy across to my Scrivener program when I want to work further on the pieces. Also gets me to effectively increase my writing time by making use of “dead time”.
5. Never giving up. Every writer will feel at some point as if they may as well give up. All those rejections become a little bit too much and you wonder why you put yourself through it. But it is normal to feel like that (something you don’t realise when you first start out). It is normal to receive enough rejections to wallpaper a wall with too. The trick here is to try to learn from any feedback you receive (if you’re lucky enough to get that) and remember there is nothing to stop you sending a piece out to another competition or magazine that may suit it if your first choice turns you down.
6. I haven’t made it yet! The writing journey is an ongoing one but that is the great thing about it. You need to enjoy the ride – most of the time anyway.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.