Janet here. I'm thrilled to have friend and fellow Hoosier, Cathy Shouse in Seekerville today! Cathy has been hanging out with us for ages so is probably a familiar face. We're delighted to have her on this side of the post. I think you'll appreciate her savvy advice. Welcome Cathy!
Janet invited me to share thoughts on my experiences as a published nonfiction writer aspiring to fiction.
Here’s the best advice I’ve got to make publishing dreams come true: Show up.
Get the writing out of your head and onto the page and take it somewhere. It almost doesn’t matter where. Get in the game.
Personally, I keep putting myself out there, whether it’s to write a news story, enter a contest, revise my book or just write a blog post. LOL
I do this even when my friends think I’m overdoing it. Even when I’m wondering if I’m over doing it. :)
And in between exploring new possibilities, I have to work harder than I’ve ever worked before to improve my writing.
But for me, making myself Show Up is half the battle.
Because I know that to reach my publishing dreams will take the courage to Show Up over and over. I’ll need to have the guts to keep reaching for new opportunities and to risk failing time and time again.
What’s really great is that sometimes, I’m rewarded beyond my expectations.
In 2006, I’d been studying and writing fiction and fantasized about being named a Midwest Writers Workshop fellow. The prize was an overnight writing retreat and professional editing for my manuscript.
But I didn’t think my writing was ready, or maybe I was just insecure.
I rationalized that rejection is part of the business, but there was no point in entering something I couldn’t win.
By 2007, I was determined to try for MWW, but the deadline was gone. Then I saw it was extended. And I got a message from my friend, Crystal, urging me on.
I figured my best shot was for a nonfiction slot. But my real dream was fiction. So I dropped the fiction entry into the mail right before our spring break trip to L.A. I told myself the trip would help soften the blow of what would certainly be a rejection.
But I was chosen one of six 2007 MWW fiction fellows! What a shock.
After a fabulous learning experience, since I know something about marketing, I volunteered to help MWW with some publicity for the retreat. Ultimately, I landed a spot on their committee. And working on the committee has generated countless professional rewards. I’m so glad I Showed Up for MWW!
In 2008, an online writing group friend, Jan, was excited about Debbie Macomber speaking at an RWA conference in Chicago. We realized we lived three hours apart. I was torn about the expense, but decided to go to the conference, for the craft workshops I needed and to meet Jan.
Reality set in when I peeked in my closet. Eek! My Mom Jeans wouldn’t cut it in Chicago. After hearing a webinar on making a good impression and reading that editors want young, energetic writers, I decided on a makeover.
I met with a Nordstrom’s personal shopper for free. She didn’t even snicker when I gave her my budget, or my measurements. She found me a terrific blouse and a great jacket, which I never would have chosen. And introduced me to Spanx body shapers!
We went over budget but I looked like a million bucks. I studied her shoe selections and trotted to Target for knock-offs. Plus, I made an appointment with my young hairdresser to update my style.
That’s the blouse she picked, in the photo of me on this blog. What do you think? Do you like my hair?
At conference, the first person I met complimented me on my blouse and asked to take my picture! She turned out to be a blogger for a national publisher. Woo hoo! I’ve maintained contact since and gotten tons of publicity by posting twice on her blog.
So many conferees noticed my special blouse and a jacket that those became icebreakers. Afterward, at one of Debbie’s book signings nearer home, I wore the blouse, which she remembered. That led to my writing a news story about her.
While I don’t have a fiction book contract yet, I continue to study craft and enjoy the journey!
Here are a couple other times when “showing up” counted.
Focus on the Family wanted contributing writers and required newly written samples. Some writer friends didn’t apply, saying it was too much work.
I went all out, interviewing experts, writing and rewriting. On deadline day, I was ready to hit send when I realized I had misread the guidelines. But there was no time to make changes.
What to do?
I opted to send what I had, with a brief explanation. I was chosen for the next round! After two more rounds of submissions, I became a contributor, where I learned valuable lessons and boosted my credentials.
In 2009, I supported my RWA chapter by attending a local conference we hosted. A bookseller who had won a national RWA award was talking fiction and happened to mention little books “flying off the shelves.” They were historic photo books written about thousands of places around the country, produced by Arcadia Publishing. I was hesitant, since I’m not an historian. All buildings look the same to me, unless there’s a red bulls-eye on them.
Still I decided to “show up” and e-mailed the acquisitions editor. She asked for a proposal.
Too bad I didn’t know history. So I asked around at my historical museum. Just when I was trying to get up the guts to stop the nonsense, they brought a paper saying representatives for local natives—actor James Dean and Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis—were on board.
In July, my book Images of America: Fairmount released.
It was a wonderful experience, which helped my fiction efforts, partly because I got to know my hometown, which has inspired the setting for my fiction book.
Don’t get me wrong. Every time I’ve shown up has not gone perfectly. I have nearly fallen on my face before—literally. Once, after making a great connection with a top agent sitting in the hotel bar, I walked a few feet and landed on my knees. It was a sunken bar area and I’d missed the step and fallen straight down.
I didn’t even look back to see if she had watched me leave!
I have found out that if I Show Up and something doesn’t turn out, just the habit of trying new things is good for me. It helps my forward momentum, as I reach for my dreams.
Okay, now it’s your turn. Is there something you need to be doing but have hesitated and now plan to go ahead with?
Is there something you “showed up” for that went better than you imagined possible?
Everyone who comments today will be included in a drawing for a $10 Barnes & Noble gift certificate and a copy of Janet Dean’s second book, Courting the Doctor’s Daughter, the story of a determined woman who showed up to make her dream come true.
I’ll be back later this afternoon to join the discussion!