My dear, late friend Emyl Jenkins was known for sprinkling her fairy dust over many writers.
Once again, she did it when I attended the James River Writers Conference. Her delightful husband Bob attended to award the Emyl Jenkins Sexton award, which recognizes individuals who continue her legacy of inspiring a love of writing and writing education in Virginia. He talked about how she spent so much time helping other writers, she sometimes needed to be reminded to follow her own advice: “Put the seat of your pants on the seat of the chair and write.”
That’s what I’ve done for the past two years, and have a first draft of a manuscript of travel essays. I decided to attend the JRW conference to learn more about fine-tuning the book, the publishing process and finding an agent.
I learned how much more I need to do, and what I was doing right. Here are some of the tips:
Attend a conference. This is the obvious one, but I found myself hesitating to register for the JRW conference. It was worth every penny and giving up a weekend of writing.
I worried. Do I belong here? Is my writing good enough? Turns out almost every writer has those thoughts. Mystery writer Maggie King shared a great tip, “At a conference, I pick one person and I talk with them.” She says she usually makes a new friend or discovers a fan. Either way, she said, “You’ve done your good deed for the day.”
Identify beta readers. These are individuals who, early on, read your manuscript and point out plot holes, poor dialogue and inconsistencies among other things. I did that with the travel essays, and I’m now reworking the material.
Write a strong query letter. This is your chance to sell an agent on you and your manuscript. You want the letter to be authentic and polished.
Most writers aren’t going to have the success that David Baldacci did with his first query letter. He shared the story during a luncheon Q&A.
He said he wrote in his letter, “I guarantee if you read the first page, you will read through until the last page.” He figured they’d read the manuscript just to prove him wrong. Fortunately, he was spot on, and he now has 34 novels to his credit.
Agent Cherise Fisher said a query letter reveals the author’s knowledge of herself and that’s important to her. “I am looking for a partner in bringing this book into the world.”
Maggie King, Joanna S. Lee, Maya Smart and Angele McQuade talked about the power of community during the James River Writers 2017 conference. Shawna Christos moderated. (Photo by Cynthia Price)
Join a community of writers. These can be face-to-face or online. Maya Payne Smart says she gets more out of in-person writing communities. “You see (the writers) are real people. There is something to putting a face to the stories you hear,” she said. “It’s important to have people cheering for you.”
Joanna S. Lee said it’s okay to join online and then simply “lurk” until you are ready to contribute.
One benefit of an online community is the flexibility. “Not all of us can be in person within the community whether because of work or obligations,” said Angele McQuade.
Just write. The one piece of advice I heard repeatedly is what Emyl always told me — you need to write. McQuade said, “You need to recognize when you are having too much fun within the writing community and aren’t writing.”