I recently returned from my annual trip to the North Wildwood Beach Writers Conference in North Wildwood, N.J. I taught a workshop and took part in a question and answer panel with all the other presenters. Most of the questions during the panel revolved around how to get an agent and a traditional publishing deal. About halfway through the 90-minute session, I asked the attendees how many of them write five to seven days per week. About five people raised their hands. Seeing that response made me think about what questions aspiring writers should ask at these events. I've divided the questions into three categories based on experience level and how much material the writer has completed.
Always wanted to be a writer but have only written a few short stories and other scribblings.
Questions to Ask:
How do you develop a writing habit? What can I do to improve my writing? How do I develop my writer's platform?
While some beginner writers are ready to get their work out into the world right away, most need to hone their craft. By learning how to develop a routine and how to make incremental writing improvements, you're likely to "level up" by the following year of the conference. I've included the "writer's platform" question because all writers at every level should be learning how to promote themselves even at this stage of the game. Starting a blog or an email list now will mean a lot a year from now.
Have a writing habit that gets you writing 3-5 days per week.
Have written multiple stories, novellas and perhaps a rough draft of a novel
Questions to Ask:
How do I further improve my craft as a writer? How do I write faster and more frequently? How do I develop my writer's platform?
When you have a routine set up, I would consider you a Level 2 writer. As a fiction writer, I would put myself in this category, because I've got a rough draft of a novel and several short stories in the can. Because you have a routine going, you now need to focus on refining your craft to make sure you're producing better and better content. You also need to work on producing more content by writing faster and up to seven times per week. The more you write, the better you'll get. I also included the platform question again, because now you're really getting to the point where having a base of followers will mean a lot. If you have the ability to reach several hundred people at a time (through e-mail, Facebook, etc.) you will be even more prepared as a writer by the time you reach Level 3.
You've finished several projects, including at least one novel. You've shown the projects to multiple other people and they've vetted your work. You've been writing consistently for at least a year
Questions to Ask:
How do I self-publish or submit to agents? What should I do now that I've finished something? How do I develop my writer's platform?
You've been building your skills for at least a year, and you have some work ready to share with the world. Now you're ready to ask how to get the work out there. You can ask about self-publishing or submitting your work to agents. While I lean toward self-publishing, I understand that many people have dreams of signing with a hot shot agent and taking the world by storm. As long as you've been writing for a while and your work has been vetted, I have no problem with that. I take issue when you're a Level 1 or Level 2 writer who isn't ready yet.
The question about what to do when you finish something is important because it's not asked by that many writers. When you finish a project, you might be tempted to keep tinkering with it until you get it just right. Instead, you should start working on the next book. The more you write, the better you'll get. The more you have ready to publish, the more likely you are to succeed.
Of course, I had to include the writer's platform question once again to make a point. Writers need a platform. You need a way to get in touch with and find readers. Even if you're traditionally published, this is essential. Learn how to build this platform from the agents, writers and other professionals at conferences. They may have a method for reaching readers that you've never even thought of.
Many writers at Level 1 and Level 2 go to conferences to learn how to get an agent. What they should be learning is how to work harder and smarter. I didn't feel comfortable as a writer until I started working on my craft every single day. There is no shortcut in this process. There's little point in submitting to an agent or trying to get self-published if the work isn't all that good. Build yourself up as a writer. Get better and faster and smarter. By the time you reach Level 3, you'll have a lot more options for getting your work into the world. Just remember to develop your platform to reach your potential fans first.