This is a guest post by Jessica Bayliss.
Hello, Wonderful Writers!
The author journey is long. Long. It takes forever to get an agent. Even when you sign with one, it can take months to years to sell your book. Then you wait for it to come out. And to get the next book deal. In between, there are a lot of things to wait for: people to read and give you feedback, wait times until reveals and announcements, delays in getting an answer so you can move on to something else.
This process takes a LONG time.
But, it’s not all an endless, sweaty slog along a dusty trail. I swear. There are many bright spots along the way. Today, I want to talk about something else that happens during the writing journey: a bunch of seemingly inconsequential events that actually are really important.
I learned this concept as a psychology pre-doctoral intern, leading a CBT psychotherapy group for people in recovery from addiction. One of our therapy concepts was Seemingly Inconsequential Decision: or, the little, unimportant choices we make daily that keep us stuck in a loop that replays our addiction. The decision to get gas here instead of there (because here just happens to be near the market where we buy our cigarettes or the bar we like to stop at after work). The decision to skip a workout, which leaves more time open, which means we might get bored, which increases the chances that we’ll want to hang out with the wrong crowd. In therapy, by helping clients see how these seemingly unimportant events are actually important, they gain greater insight and more muscle to power forward in their recovery.
Right now you’re probably like: 1) what does this even have to do with writing? and 2) I thought this was supposed to be motivational; how is this positive?
I’m getting there, I swear!
So, as writers, this holds true for us in a potentially positive way. Though that journey from first words typed and published book is long, there are always other things that happen along the way that contribute to our success, though we may not know how until later. Here are examples from my journey. I’ll call them “Trail Markers,” because I just love an extended metaphor. (The most important thing to keep in mind is: this looks like such a nice string of lovely things, but at the time, I couldn’t see the string at all. It’s only now, as I look back, that I can see how each event was an important step on the path to my larger success.)
Trail Marker 1: I told my dear friend, the one whose quote I use at the end of these posts and who has now passed from cancer, that I was writing. She was ecstatic (no one celebrated others’ successes with as much joy as her), and she was kind enough to put me in touch with a writer friend of hers, the fabulous Abby Sher, author of AMEN, AMEN, AMEN. Abby was willing to look at a sample of my writing and give me some resources! One of them had to do with SCBWI and writers groups.
Trail Marker 2: I joined a critique group that I located through those materials. That group wasn’t the best fit for me, so I ended up joining another one, which also wasn’t the best fit for me, so I found another one in the summer of 2013. In that group, I noticed an old friend, the wonderful Cristina Dos Santos, who I’d lost touch with maybe seven years prior, but who was apparently writing. I reached out to her, and she invited me into her writers’ group.
Trail Marker 3: That group was the right fit. Those ladies are now some of my best friends. Now, I have all these new best friends!
Trail Marker 4: One of them told me about a small press looking for stories for an anthology. So I wrote one, and that ended up being my first accepted story. That wasn’t the end of my journey; getting into an anthology wasn’t my end goal, but it was a fabulous success that motivated me and led to more opportunities. One of the authors on that anthology became one of my current CPs; we still trade manuscripts.
Trail Marker 5: Later, I was invited to attend an author workshop with one of those writer group friends (the fabulous Janae Marks, whose book, FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON, comes out next year), and I chose to attend a Middle Grade romance talk; I used what I learned there to write the second short for the small press.
Trail Marker 6: And that got accepted. No, it wasn’t an agent offer or a book deal, but it was so cool, and it led to more opportunities. That anthology was all MG horror stories, and one author in particular has a successful MG/YA horror series.
Trail Marker 7: Later, when I was working on a MG horror, I had some questions, and so I reached out to that author, Ty Drago, of THE UNDERTAKER SERIES. He was very open to talking to me since we were in the anthology together, and he was super helpful.
Trail Marker 8: Later, he came to me and asked if I’d like to help read submissions for his lit mag, Allegory Magazine, and I was like, “Sure!” Becoming an editor on the project wasn’t the end of my road either, but I learned SO much about story by reading those submissions; it helped me get better at writing. I also got to give other authors their yes-moment, and there’s nothing like that.
Trail Marker 9: Later, when I had an opportunity to be a mentor for PitchWars, I felt very confident I could help other authors with their books, and my work with Allegory helped there. Being a PitchWars mentor isn’t the end of my journey either, but now, through that, I’ve met SO many other authors, and I’ve learned from them, been supported by them, and helped to support them back. (The thrill I get when I ask authors to send me their full MSs is almost as exciting as when I was the recipient of such emails). And my mentee got an agent!
There’s more. I could go on. For example that same small press put out a call for novellas, so I wrote one, and that book, BROKEN CHORDS was published last year. Ty was kind enough to write a blurb for me. Because I wrote that novella, I was invited to Palm Peril in February, and I got to be on a panel and have dinner with R. L. Stine. This string of events never ends. If I come back in three months, I will see how it has grown again.
All of these things were little boosts along the way, but none was the ultimate end of my journey. It wasn’t like I started writing saying “Being a Pitch Wars Mentor is my goal,” but all of these things were endpoints in and of themselves anyway. They were all small successes that not only helped buoy me and keep me motivated for the longer hike, they also opened new opportunities that absolutely support my success long term. And, they’ve been hugely fun and rewarding and satisfying. I’ve learned from them. I’m growing every day.
So, my points here are: 1) you never know what one opportunity will lead to in the long run. 2) the journey may be long, but there are many, many places to pause and simply enjoy the view along the way. 3) You just have to get a little ways down the path before you’ll be able to see how these things have all been instrumental in your success.
What seemingly inconsequential evens have opened new paths for you on your author journey? Leave your stories in the comments. I’d love to hear them.
A huge hug to Amber Gregg for having me back on Judging More Than Just The Cover, and until next time, remember: You can do it! You can write!
Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand.
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