During the month of January, our partners at PEN America hosted a series of webinars under the umbrella theme of “You Are a Writer,” with professionals in the field covering different topics of the professional development and careers as writers in various genres and arenas. Below are some nuggets of wisdom gathered from the knowledgeable, enthusiastic panelists during these sessions.

Starting Out:

On story openings: Start on the day that is different – even if it’s the smallest thing.

Try explaining your story/idea to someone who is NOT a writer to see if it’s clear.

You need to hire yourself every morning – with compliments, money, treats, whatever works.

Have a manifesto for yourself. Keep it in sight. (see: Octavia Butler)

Who are you as a writer? Why do you write? Who do you want to touch?

Writing accountability groups can act as retreat-like environments if you don’t have the time/money/resources to dedicate to a “professional” writing retreat.

Ask questions of those with more experience.

You write for the people who are going to “get” your writing/style – not for the haters, or the likes, or the social media attention.

Revision Tips:

On reading your work aloud/revising: If you are confused by a line, the reader will be confused by the line.

On revising sections that aren’t working: If something isn’t working, take it to the body – How does this feel to the character(s) in this scene?

The first edit is always the hardest.

Building a Platform:

Writers need to know their audience’s community. They need to know, for themselves, why their book matters and why this story is theirs and theirs alone to tell.
Find the people who want your work and explore their world – find ways to connect to it.

Community over competition. Remember that no one has the same dream list as you, or wants to/can tell the same stories as you.

Getting a book successfully produced is about convincing people. The writer convinces the agent who convinces the editor who convinces the publisher who convinces the sales/marketing team who convince bookstores & the media who convince the public.

Publication and beyond:

Show your skill AND style when pitching/querying.

On finding the right agent/publishing company: it’s more important to work with someone who’s in it with you than to work with a big [publishing] house.

Corporations aren’t moral – by definition they can’t be. They exist ultimately to make money, and that’s it. But the people who work for companies can e, and have an obligation to be. It’s up to the workers to drive the conscience of a company.

To build a sustainable career/publication, you have to address the why of it, not just sell a product.

Basics of how to become an editor: Practice on writer friends, examine the reader POV, workshop – your work, others’ work, all the work you can get your hands on.

Writers on Social Media/Internet Platforms:

Pick one social channel and master it – choose the one that brings you the most joy (it will still be work).

Twitter & Instagram are best for authors and can help develop/connect to community, but they can also be toxic. They are not essential to a writer’s success, but can be instrumental in helping marketing efforts. An author website is highly useful, but spend the time/effort/money to make it so – readability, ease of navigation, personality, accessibility are all essential to a good website, and if you don’t possess the skills, be willing to pay someone who is a professional to help you build and design one.
Same goes for book covers if you’re self-publishing – hire someone.

Author photos should communicate who you are. Be aware of their professional purpose, and the framing (if funds are tight, focus on getting a couple shots that can be easily cropped to portrait, landscape, and square formats to use on multiple platforms).

Author bios should address who you are as a writer, but also show personality a bit. Credit yourself, especially for thins you’re about to do, not just what you’ve done in the past. Project future success.

Ultimately, a writer’s (or anyone’s) choice to be on a social platform should be on their terms – using what works best for them, and their well-being. And also being aware of what people (anyone) having access to you really means.

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