The Multi-Pronged Assault: Strategic Planning for Aspiring Writers
Posted by Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane Jun 22 2010, 1:13 am in career, goals
Maybe I’ve read Sun Tzu’s Art of War too many times, but whenever I start to talk about trying to break into the publishing industry, my vocabulary always starts to drift toward terms more commonly used in siege warfare. It’s too easy for me to picture the Publishing World as an impenetrable citadel and myself as the general of a ragtag rebel army storming the gates. (The Fortress of Publishing can and shall be taken and I’m just the girl to do it!)
My writing buddies have heard me talk about my multi-pronged assault and flanking maneuvers more often than is probably healthy for a girl who writes bubbly comedies, but at least I’m not the only one attacking writing with a militaristic mindset. Former-green beret and best selling author Bob Mayer wrote a book called Warrior Writer and talks frequently about strategic and tactical goals in his posts at the Genreality blog.
I’m a big believer in strategic planning for writers. We can’t just wait for the publishing career of our dreams to be handed to us on a silver platter. We have to pursue our dreams with the determination and cunning, waging our campaign deliberately until we achieve victory (however we choose to define that victory).
I call my plan of attack the Multi-Pronged Assault. My weapons aren’t trebuchets and battering rams, but query letters and contest entries.
There are several avenues of attack for the aspiring author. Contests, queries to agents, queries to editors, conferences, and writers’ organizations (both online and in person). If your end goal is the Big New York Publisher, one avenue of attack may be writing for a digital press, a smaller print press or category romance.
Any one of those methods could be the way you get the right editor’s attention (and skyrocket you to fame and fortune, right?), but you can’t predict which one it’s going to be. That’s why I’m a firm believer in keeping my eggs in a few different baskets (to mix metaphors).
None of us have the time or energy to do everything, but by playing to our strengths and diversifying our efforts, we give ourselves a better chance of success. Here are my tips for making yourself a multi-pronged strategic assault plan.
1. Select a few contests a year that will benefit you the most (either with feedback, prestige, or final judges you’d like to get the attention of). Contests can bring validation, and help you learn how to identify helpful comments and withstand the hurtful ones. But don’t get sucked into only entering contests. The time and money spent on entering every contest on the planet could be used to shoot out a few queries to agents or sign up for a conference.
2. Research & query agents who represent your subgenre and try to have at least two queries/proposals out at all times. (The two queries thing is so when you get a rejection, you always have another iron in the fire to focus on, rather than the R. If you’re feeling really ambitious, Kresley Cole had a “Rule of 25” where she always had her writing out at least 25 ways – queries, contest entries, etc.) If you aren’t sure where to start in the agent hunt, Shea wrote an invaluable post for us on the agent hunt.
3. Try to attend at least one conference a year – if you’re short on cash look for a smaller, regional conference in your area with lower conference fees and transportation costs. The setting will be more intimate and you’ll be likely to get more one on one time with attending editors and agents. And sign up for a pitch if possible – they commonly result in requests and guarantee you face-time with an editor/agent if you’re too shy to seek them out in the bar.
4. Join a chapter and get involved. The connection with fellow writers can improve your writing, make the writing experience less solitary, and potentially open doors. Through online writing loops, I hear about online opportunities for pitches & queries like Agent Shop.
If there isn’t an RWA chapter near you, you can still join Romance Divas, the RWA online chapter or one of many online special-interest chapters like Beau Monde (regency historical) or FF&P (Fantasy, futuristic & paranormal). If you’re in danger of spending all your writing time networking, try scheduling a specific block of time for loops & chapter emails (and set a timer so you don’t get sucked in).
5. Consider writing a short story or novella for an epublisher or one of the Harlequin “brief” or “bites” lines. Quicker than writing a complete novel, this can be a great way of getting your foot in the door and learning some of the ropes of publishing. And if you have big dreams for your full length masterpiece, you don’t have to feel like you gave up on your Big Book’s New York chances if you write something fresh for a quickie line. Harlequin has them for Historical, Paranormal, & Erotic, and epublishers have even broader ranges.
You never know which method is going to find a vulnerability in the Fortress of Publishing’s defenses. No one way is guaranteed to work for everyone and we can’t predict which avenue of attack is going to be the one that leads to your juicy contract. So fire everything. And always having some of your soldiers (queries/contest entries) out fighting for you.
The siege on publishing can feel like a hundred-years-war, an endless campaign. Morale is threatened by the strength of the walls, the seeming impossibility of our task. But others before us have broken through and more are battling through every day. It can be done, so don’t lose hope.
I’ll leave you with a little Sun Tzu: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” So plan your victory. And then go get it.