Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Top That: Eight Tips for the Wannabe Writer

Written by Leah Konen
Illustration by Molly Schulman

You’ve been writing for as long as you can remember, from childhood scribbles to angsty teen poetry to stories that made you think, “Hey, maybe I’ve got something here.” You’ve ignored all practical wisdom and guidance counselor stats on how much money working writers actually earn and have decided to try and make it as a writer after all. Where to begin? Leah Konen, author of the upcoming YA novel The After Girls shares her tips and tricks.


1. Stop stressing about how to get published and just write.
Before you bother yourself about the whole business angle, remember that the only people who get published are the ones who have a finished product to sell. Whether it’s a novel or a screenplay or a magazine article, put in the dirty work (the creative expression that inspired you to write in the first place) before you make your business plan.

2. Start calling yourself a writer.
Assuming you’re ready to commit to the first tip, start backing it up by the way you speak about yourself. Long before I wrote The After Girls—long before I completed a full novel, I began to start to call myself what I was—a writer. I wasn’t yet published, but by telling people I met at parties and events about my ambitions, it not only helped in building contacts, but it gave me a reason to be accountable—and it reminded me to shut off the Hoarders marathon and write.

3. Chill out about your “contacts.”
It’s time to ignore the guidance counselor again. When it comes to publishing, it’s not all about who you know. I signed with my agent by humbly sending my manuscript over to her slush pile. Then she did the rest. Even if you do have a connection, unless you’re famous enough to entice a publisher on your name alone (ahem, YA novelists Lauren Conrad and Hilary Duff), all your connection will do is move you to the top of the pile. Publishing is a business (and a tough one at that), and no agent or editor is going to take a chance on you out of the goodness of their heart—or because you went to college with their half sister.

4. Make friends with other writers.
Now that you’ve stopped stalking agents and editors on their Twitter pages, think about making the contacts you will need—writer friends. They’re good for critiquing, discussing plot ideas, guzzling wine post-rejection, etc. Simply knowing them will inspire you to write—and very likely write better. (And when you do sell your book, they’ll all attend your launch party.) To find writer friends if you don't have them already, join a Meetup, start a critique group, email that girl from your college English course whom you haven’t spoken to in years, or take a class yourself. I made some of my closest and most dependable friends from a Mediabistro course I took in New York.

5. Use the tools the Internet provides.
Once you’re ready for the business stage of the game, get thyself to AgentQuery.com. It’s basically the Facebook of literary agents. You can sort by fiction, nonfiction, children’s, sci-fi, chick lit—the list goes on. Each agent lists whether they’re seeking new clients and how best to query them. Plus, they’ve got helpful articles on how to write pesky things like query letters and synopses.

6. Write a kick-ass query letter. And a synopsis.
Speaking of query letters, after spending so much time on your manuscript, spend a good amount (I’m talking at least a couple of weeks) honing a great query letter. The query, which details your hook, title, number of words, and genre, is like a cover letter for your manuscript. It’s also the only thing many agents will read. Show it to those writer friends you made, collect edits, revise, and repeat. And don’t forget about the synopsis—three to five pages hitting the high points of your plot. You don’t need a synopsis right away for many agents, but it’s best to get it out of the way—don’t be like me and find yourself writing one under the gun when an agent requests it after seeing your query. . .

7. Share your baby with the world—and get ready for rejection.
Rejection is a huge part of the process at every stage, whether you’re looking for an agent, shopping a book to publishers, or raking in your first reviews. Remind yourself that everyone has different taste, and that writing is one of the most subjective arts around. When the rejections come—and they will—look at them as milestones, your hazing into the writer’s world. And remind yourself that J.K. Rowling received twelve for the first installment of Harry Potter.

8. Keep your day job—or develop a taste for ramen.
Not to be a downer, but if you got into writing for the money, you’re in the wrong business. Writing is about expressing yourself, about creating and sharing something that people can relate to and cherish as much as you do. For all the overnight successes, there are countless writers—many of them published more than once—who wait tables, teach classes, run companies, work in marketing, and do every other job you can imagine. That’s because we all need to eat, and some of us don’t particularly enjoy ramen. And if that’s not what you want to hear, just remind yourself why you’re in this in the first place. And return to the very first tip: write.

The After Girls comes out this month from Merit Press. Learn more at the author's Web site

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