This time of year many people are busy making goals, taking stock and trying to change their lives. Writers are no different so they’re setting word counts, listing projects and combing through submission guidelines. These are all good and useful things but in the creative arts, and even day to day life, most of the “big breaks” come from out of nowhere. Whenever I talk to established authors about how they started in publishing I come away with stories of coincidence, chance and luck. But when I talk to writers who want to break into the business I often hear they want to be a New York Times Bestseller or they want to be published in a particular magazine or win such and such an award. They set their goal and work toward it singlemindedly.
This is an admirable approach but doesn’t take a lot of things into account. For one, your goal may not give you the big payoff you were expecting. Maybe you get the publishing deal you were hoping for but the experience doesn’t turn out to be as great as you expected. Also, maybe your goal can’t be achieved or there’s something better out there but you just don’t know about it yet.
This is why it’s also important to cultivate opportunities which increase your chance of getting a big break or stumbling onto something you never heard of. Creating opportunity isn’t hard but it can be uncomfortable. You simply need to put yourself out there with no specific expectation of reward. So, you can volunteer to read slush, submit a piece for no pay, edit a fellow writer’s work, throw a party, organize an event. Meeting new people is probably the best way to create opportunities. Be open and friendly about your goals. If people know what you’re interested in they might just hook you up.
Here’s an example of an opportunity chain that worked out for us. RDSP recently decided to rent a lodge and organize a writer’s retreat. This was daunting because we hadn’t done one before and didn’t exactly know how but we found an awesome luxury lodge that we really wanted to hang out in. Then, through a series of unfortunate events we lost some funding for the project and also did not start promoting soon enough. At that point the whole thing looked like a really bad idea. But we went ahead with the event.
Even with the short notice we were able to get many people to come, including some we’d never met before. We had the chance to meet James & Janice Leach the minds behind DailyNightmare.com who then blogged an excellent recap of the event and were also the suppliers of the fabulous skull pies that everyone went crazy over. We met Bram Stoker award winning novelist Kealan Patrick Burke for the first time and got a chance to build bonds with many other writers, both ones we’ve published and ones we haven’t. While talking to the rental person I mentioned that we were doing a writing retreat and it just so happened that he needed some writing help. We worked out a trade and will now be able to do another writing retreat which will allow us to make more connections and create more opportunities. Though we loved that lodge and have always wanted to do a writing retreat it never would have occurred to us to barter writing for a discounted rental. That’s just an opportunity that came along because we took the chance and did a retreat. Plus we learned a little something about hosting retreats.
I see many writers who pass by small opportunities because they don’t fit into their projected goal path and I see people who force opportunities by trying to get to know a certain person and racking up favors with a balance sheet at the ready. But the key is just to find what interests you and dive in. The opportunities will come. It won’t be exactly the thing you’re hoping for but it could lead there or even to something better. The important thing is to keep your eyes open and make the most of any opportunity. Enjoy the process and you won’t have any regrets even if you don’t achieve the particular goal that you set for yourself.
Jennifer Barnes has a B.A. in English with a concentration in poetry from the University of Maryland. She is an editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press an indie publishing company that champions, “fiction that foams at the mouth.” Barnes was inspired by the art of Kristen Margiotta to pen a children’s book, Better Haunted Homes & Gardens