The Secret to Creating Your Best Work? Find a Fantastic Editor

For many writers, myself included, there is nothing quite as nauseating as showing your work to another human being. We spend hours cultivating and nurturing our essays, novels, and collections, hoping our readers will do the same (and tell us how wonderful our writing is). We fear rejection and confusion, so we guard our work as carefully as possible until we absolutely have to share. Anyone who has participated in a workshop understands these feelings. We have all witnessed a generous and constructive conversation between fellow writers instantly devolve when one critic informs the writer they “just don’t get it.”

While it’s natural to be nervous, embracing editorial feedback is the key to writing at your best. In my experience as a student, writer, and publishing professional, I’ve met some fantastic (and some horrific) editors who have taught me what to look for in someone who edits my work. Below are three essential qualities, and while these may seem like no-brainers, trust me when I say they are rare. I learned the hard way.

  1. Your editor communicates.

We were all English majors, right? We excel at communication. For some, though, conveying feedback is a challenge. While working on my first AP English essay in high school, my teacher suggested I cut some material on the first page. However, there weren’t any edits marked on the first page, or any indication in her comments about what she felt should be cut. I later asked her what I could eliminate. She then drew a giant “X” through the entire first page.

It’s important that editors specifically explain what’s working in your piece, what isn’t, and why. “I don’t like it,” as well as “I like it,” won’t cut it.  They must be able to describe their thoughts in detail—line by line, if necessary. This feedback helps you understand where your writing soared, and where it flopped.

  1. Your editor asks questions.

Again, this may seem obvious, but it’s so important that editors ask questions about what you’re trying to say, instead of trying to figuring it out on their own. For example, I wrote a movie review for my college newspaper, and my editor was confused by one of my sentences describing the ending of the movie. Instead of asking for clarification, he changed the sentence himself. In the process, he changed the ending of the movie.

Great editors understand that a harmless edit changes the entire meaning of a piece. If something isn’t clear to them, they’ll note it and discuss it with you. If you tried to get fancy with your metaphors and they fell flat, they’ll ask you about (they’ll even help you make it work).

  1. Your editor wants to create your best work, not theirs.

The best writing advice I ever received was from a former boss, now mentor, who edited a blog post I wrote while interning for her.  Before we reviewed it, she told me the edits she had made could only be done to a piece that was well written. When she passed the draft back to me, now covered in red ink, my heart swelled instead of sank. I knew she wanted my writing to be the best it could be.

Look for people who want your story to shine, not their story or their version of your story. Great editors maintain the integrity of your content and style while making suggestions to strengthen them. They’ll show you ways to make your work stronger, and which path they would recommend, but they’ll leave the final decision to you.

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Elizabeth Venere is a marketing associate at Cambridge University Press. She lives in Brooklyn and loves travel writing and any crime drama. You can reach her at elizabeth.venere (at) gmail.com.

 

Want to contribute to our blog? Email ypgwriters@gmail.com.

Writing and Anxiety

Finding Use for All Those Words in Our Heads

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Photo credit: PracticalCures.com

 

by Taylor Pitts

I’ve had an anxious mind for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, after my brother choked on his breakfast one time and almost died, I refused to eat anything but broth for a week, terrified that I would have a close call like that, too. I was also afraid to fall asleep because I thought I’d wake up blind. I’m still prone to insomnia—not from an irrational fear of blindness, but because my brain simply won’t shut up. Those of you reading this article probably know what I mean. The constant flow of thoughts just doesn’t seem to ebb.

But it wasn’t until a few months ago that I had my very first anxiety attack. And I had it in a place where, before that day, I felt perfectly safe and content: at my work desk, typing away at some assignment I can’t recall because, let’s face it, I was pretty convinced I was dying in that moment. My mind fogged over and became detached from reality, convincing itself my body was shutting down. As a result, my brain administered an adrenaline overdose of flight-or-fight proportions. I think I’d been running on overdrive for weeks, even months, and didn’t realize how much this had been affecting me until my body reacted in a way I’d never experienced before.

After several days of reflection and self-care, I still didn’t fully feel like me. I discovered a new part of myself, and I didn’t know what to do with it. The stream of consciousness in my head amplified and developed a plot twist: worry. I worried when my next attack would be, where it would happen, how it would make me feel like I was no longer real. I desperately needed a distraction from the anxiety that always seemed to be right below the surface, waiting for me to let it back in.

It was natural for me to use writing as an outlet. Just like I’ve been anxious for as long as I can remember, I’ve also been writing my whole life. But it took that first panic attack to allow me to see all the ways writing and anxiety are linked. On bad days, writing contributes to anxiety—especially if you’re publishing in literary magazines or on a blog. The idea of putting your words out there for people to read and misinterpret, waiting for them to form opinions about you, can be a little terrifying.

But on good days, writing is a tonic for my nerves, a way to clear all the words out of my head and transfer them to paper. About a week after my first attack, I tried writing again. I had been avoiding it, afraid that the strain of worrying about my characters or my mess of a first draft would send me over the edge. But it didn’t. Just getting words out, no matter what they had to do with, was enough. Writing empties us in the best way possible. We take parts of ourselves, all the thoughts and worries in our heads, and put them somewhere else. And whenever we want to, we can look back at them and see proof of our existence.

Before I realized I had anxiety, I wrote every day out of obligation. I felt it was another job, something I needed to do to perfect my craft and get my characters to the next point in the plotline. Now, I write every day because it calms me and makes me feel real. Sometimes the anxiety threatens to detract from the healing aspect of writing, and it can be suffocating. But I’ve found that once I’ve hit that “publish” button, once I’ve given the world permission to witness my thoughts, my opinions, and sometimes, my secrets, the anxiety gives way to relief. It’s that feeling of finally making the decision that lets you know you’ve got this.

You’re going to be just fine.

Photo_TaylorP.jpgTaylor Pitts is a Midwesterner posing as a New Yorker and taking advantage of all the bagels and pizza the city has to offer. She’s a member of YPG, a writing tutor, and a production assistant at AMACOM Books. When she’s not copyediting manuscripts, she’s losing sleep over her YA novel and watching reruns of Gilmore Girls. You can find her at taylorjordanp.wordpress.com/.

Q&A with editor Toni Kirkpatrick

In our latest series, YPG Writers is excited to interview publishing professionals who have found freedom and success in writing. Toni Kirkpatrick is a freelance editor who for over 10 years worked as an editor at St. Martin’s Press. Her collection of short stories, The Bolero of Andi Rowe,  which was published under her maiden name Toni Margarita Plummer, gives readers a glimpse into the lives of characters who often defy social and cultural expectations, both of others and their own, and I highly recommend you pick it up. Below is our Q&A with Toni. –Stephanie

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For years, you worked at a big 5 publishing house as an editor. What brought you to publishing? Did you always know you wanted to be an editor? 

Although I was a voracious reader growing up, I didn’t really think about being an editor as a career choice until some Notre Dame grads came to talk to us about publishing as a good option for liberal arts majors. It made sense. I loved books, and other than becoming a famous author, this seemed like what I should do. The grads had gone to the Denver Publishing Institute. So I attended DPI the summer after graduation, then moved back to Los Angeles to attend USC for a Master of Professional Writing. After I got my degree I worked as a substitute high school teacher. I couldn’t find any other job! I had this idea that I would like to live in New York for a few years. And I knew that that’s where the publishing industry was. So with a green light from my mom I made the move, with only an interview with Random House scheduled. I stayed with a friend on Long Island and job hunted for three months. The same week I started temping (out of desperation), I was offered a position as an Editorial Assistant at St. Martin’s Press, where I worked for over ten years. And here I am, still in New York, much to my mother’s dismay.

Your story collection The Bolero of Andi Rowe came out in 2011, was blurbed by Sandra Cisneros and Lorraine López, and continues to be met with great acclaim. How has your work as an editor informed your success as a writer?

I had written drafts of mostly all the stories before I started working as an editor, but I continued to work on them until I won the Miguel Mármol Prize in 2009, and then up until the final manuscript was due for publication. Being an editor has absolutely made me a better writer. Because I read so much of other people’s writing, I know not to be indulgent with myself. And I’m more concerned with story and not just writing cool-sounding passages. I know you have to always have the reader in mind. That’s what I was always looking for as an editor and as a reader.

Navigating the literary world can sometimes be bewildering, especially for writers of color whose work may not always be embraced or sought after by mainstream publications. What are some of the friendliest journals and residency opportunities for writers of color, particularly emerging writers? What are some of the best publication opportunities specifically for Latinx writers?

Kweli is a wonderful journal run by the amazing Laura Pegram. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Submit to them! They also host writers conferences and workshops. Origins Journal is relatively new and looking for work. I also highly recommend the Macondo Workshop, which is now run by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio. It’s a group of incredibly accomplished and generous writers, many of whom are people of color. There will be another workshop next July and you can apply in the fall. For Latinx authors specifically, these journals come to mind: Label Me Latina/o, PALABRA, Huizache, and The Acentos Review. I’ve been published in the first two.

I think building community is a really important aspect of becoming a better writer, which is why YPG Writers does so much to connect writers, share pages, and offer supportive feedback in workshops. Where have you found a community of writers? What suggestions would you give to those who are seeking community?

I definitely count Macondo as a very important community for me. I only attended the Workshop twice, but I continue to keep in touch with those writers and am part of a small writers group (we “meet” online). I know that if I ever have a question or need a reader, I can rely on them. I also keep in touch with writers from my graduate program, but you don’t have to get an MFA to meet other writers. Depending on the genre you’re writing in, sometimes there are communities focused on that genre, like Sisters in Crime for mysteries, which I’m also a member of because I’ve worked with so many mysteries. There’s Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Historical Novel Society…the list goes on and on. There’s no reason to be the only writer you know. And if you work in publishing, there are always other writers to be found. My first writers group in New York was made up of publishing folk.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Write! It sounds so easy, but I still struggle following this advice.

What do you enjoy most about freelance editing now? 

I most enjoy having the time to really help someone with their work. Sometimes that means asking them to make big changes to the story, but that’s okay because now is the time for them to do this work, before it’s out on submission. When I was working as an Editor, I may have got in a submission I found promising. But if it wasn’t quite strong enough or needed a lot of editorial work, I ended up declining it. I needed manuscripts that were much closer to being ready for publication. I would tell the author/agent my thoughts, but I didn’t really have time to get into a lot of detail with them about what changes I thought the manuscript needed. And maybe I didn’t even finish reading the work. Now I can suggest overhauls without being faced with production deadlines and colleagues’ expectations. It’s all about taking the time to get it right.

Anything good you’ve been reading?

I want to write a middle grade novel next, so I’ve been reading more of those, catching up on what’s being published these days. It’s a lot of fun! And I’m reminded how much you can say in a children’s book. I’ve read Kate DiCamillo and Anne Ursu. I really enjoyed Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan and Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, which is YA but with just too good a premise to pass up. I’m looking forward to reading many more!

Tips for Conference Success: An Agent’s Perspective

A literary agent from Liza Dawson Associates dishes advice to conference-bound writers.

by Jennifer Johnson-Blalock

So you’ve finished your manuscript—worked with critique partners and beta readers, put it in a drawer for a month or so, read it again, revised until your eyes bled a little—and you’re absolutely sure that your work is as polished as you can make it.

Now you’re ready to find an agent. There are more ways to do so than ever before, from traditional query letters to contests to Twitter pitching events. But if you want face-to-face feedback, conferences are a great option. As you prepare for the big event, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Choose the right conference for you.

Cost and location are two primary concerns, and if you’re a genre writer, that will guide your decision as well. But if you have options, consider what the conference offers in terms of agent interaction. I’ve been to conferences with three-minute pitch sessions and ones with twenty-minute critiques. Decide what would be the most helpful for you—would you rather meet with more agents or get more feedback?

Make the most of your conference.

There’s so much more to gain from the experience than agent interactions. Attend panels strategically—think about what you really need to work on when selecting, and take a few minutes after the session to decide how to implement what you learned.

Network with other writers! Conferences can be wonderful places to find a new critique partner or writers’ group or just get support from people in the trenches with you.

Pitching isn’t the only way to meet agents.

Maybe you don’t have the extra money for a pitch session. Maybe your book isn’t quite ready. If I’m at a conference, I expect writers will approach me, and assuming I’m not late for a session or on a frantic search for the restroom, I’m happy to say hello. Then you can open your query letter by reminding me about our interaction, and you’ll be off to a great start.

But if you’re pitching, be prepared.

  • Tailor your pitch to the allotted time. In a three-minute session, you only have time for the elevator version—the punchiest two-sentence summary of what your book is about. If you have ten minutes, consider starting with the elevator pitch, then expanding.
  • Tailor your pitch to the agent, if you can. If you’ve specifically chosen me, I love to hear why you think your book would be a good fit.
  • Breathe. Not only is it necessary for your survival, it gives the agent room to ask questions.
  • If you get a request, follow up as soon as possible after the conference in the requested manner. While I’m happy to take a look at requested work any time an author sends it, it’s disappointing when something I was excited to see doesn’t show up.
  • If an agent passes, don’t despair. It’s subjective, and there are MANY more agents out there. But you may have as many as five minutes remaining in your pitch session—you can thank the agent politely and walk away, or you can make that time productive. Which brings me to . . .

Agents are there to help.

I won’t find a new client at every conference. The hope that I might is part of why I attend, but a bigger motivation is the desire to help writers. I know that you’re spending time and money on the event, and I want our meeting to be useful. So whether or not I request pages, I’m happy to answer any questions you have about the publishing process.

And while almost all agents avoid taking material home, I’m happy to give your query letter on-the-spot feedback if we have time. This isn’t true for every agent, but I know of  a couple others who do this. If not, you might ask how your pitch could be improved.

I hope these tips help you have a productive, enjoyable conference experience. One final word of advice, though:

You don’t have to go to a conference.

While conferences can be enormously beneficial, they aren’t the only way to land an agent. I read and carefully consider every query, and we all regularly sign people from the so-called slush pile.

Whichever path you take, good luck on your journey to publication!

Johnson-Blalock HeadshotJennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.

 

Note from the editor: Check out some writing conferences here

Q&A with Jenn Baker – Part 2 of 2 part series

 In our latest series, YPG Writers is excited to interview publishing professionals whose passion for writing has led them to success.  Jenn Baker does a little bit of everything, but even with her many responsibilities, she still finds time for writing. Below is part 2 of our Q&A with her. –Stephanie

Jennifer Baker received her MFA from The New School’s graduate program in Creative Writing and is an alum of The City College of New York’s baccalaureate program in English. She works as a production editor, is a contributing writer to Forbes.com, and is the social media director and a writing instructor for Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. Jennifer is a panel organizer for We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit organization that sprang to life from the #WeNeedDiverseBooks media campaign to increase minority representation (of all kinds) in literature, and is creator and host of the podcast Minorities in Publishing. Jennifer is presently working on a multi-generational linked story collection centered around race and family as well as a young adult novel with a diverse cast and essays centered around race, culture, and sexuality.

There have been a lot of conversations about diversity in publishing over the past few years. What advice would you give to young writers of color looking to get their work out there?

Write and submit, rinse and repeat. Another biggie is reading as much as possible in what you want to produce along with finding a community to help build your voice. Most of my critique partners I met at residencies or conferences, plus I learned editing on the job, and am always learning every day. It’s so key to keep writing and build a thick skin from rejection. Because, to be honest, some places only want to read/hear the problematic stories of marginalization. So if you write a sweet romance starring two girls that is not about someone being in the closet and struggling with being a lesbian it may be harder to sell because that mindset of “othering” people is so ingrained. But it’s changing and you have to believe that that sweet story with no drama will find a home somewhere. And if not now then the next story and the next and the next. What keeps so many marginalized people from publishing is the industry and gatekeepers, but also the fact that we get so disheartened we stall or give up all together. And that hurts us when more people leave the industry as artists because we need those varied stories. So for literary magazines join duotrope.com and look up the literary zines and their submission times and submit like a mofo. Keep writing, get feedback from trusted peers, revise, revise, revise, and submit, submit, submit. You’ll always get a no. Even bestsellers and Pulitzer prize winners get rejected, so don’t think it’s only you. One of the differences between you and them is they keep writing no matter what.

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YPG Writers knows that one of the most important parts of being a writer is finding a writing community. That’s why we host events and workshops and present opportunities to read and critique each other’s work. How else can writers seeking a community find it? Are there any that you’ve found in NYC that are particularly helpful?

I’d also suggest readings and local workshops where you may link up with like-minded writers. Pardon if I plug one of my employers but Sackett Street Writers Workshop has pretty affordable classes and I’ve found that the workshop groups tend to have members who bond over work and stay in touch to build their own group outside of the workshop. This has happened to me in other workshops, not in NYC and in NYC. Additionally more online communities are popping up in terms of chats on debut authors and pitch contests that happen online that you may be able to find like-minded people virtually as well. WriteonCon usually has a virtual meet up for writers of children’s literature. So that’s a helpful virtual forum. There’s also a group I could recommend that has people by region, including NYC, but it’s secret so feel free to ping me if you’re a writer who identifies as a woman or gender nonconforming and I’d be happy to invite you.

What are you reading right now?

Currently reading The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings of James Baldwin. I’m working on an essay on race/PoC identity in America and his work plays a major part in that discussion.

 

Don’t Overthink It

Letting Your Ideas Guide Your Writing

by Sarah Woodruff

I’m often asked where my inspiration comes from. Maybe it’s because I write about serial killers and people are afraid I have bodies stashed in various locations around the city.

To me, writing requires the perfect blend of limiting deliberate thought, and then allowing time to explore all possible characters and scenarios.

What do I mean by that?

I can’t sit down and brainstorm ideas; instead, I have to write things down as they come. I have a horrible memory and also a mental block where I’ll be able to remember exactly what I was doing when I had the great idea, but not the actual idea itself. After losing plenty of perfectly useful thriller plots, I’ve become the desperate person who grasps for anything in reach to chronicle my musings whenever they appear. I absolutely hate when ideas come to me in the shower, which they often do. Then I have to repeat them to myself like a mad woman before they leave me. Capture ideas, treat them well, and then let them spiral off the page is a philosophy I try to follow.

If I have a beginning sentence, I can write an entire chapter without planning much of the content in advance. So I collect opening sentences too, pages and pages of them in the notebook I carry with me or recorded in my phone. The starting point sets the mood, gives me an indication of my character’s state of mind.

Don’t be afraid to write in bits and pieces, to leave space between paragraphs when an elusive thought is missing. You’ll fill in the gap eventually if you let yourself move on. Linear thought is certainly not a crime, but it can easily become a self-imposed hurdle. How do my characters get from here to there can be too forceful of an inquiry. Instead, try thinking my character was here, and now they’re here, and let the details work their way in later. Skip a few chapters and write a scene with your character already settled into a new situation, and see if their dialogue or actions prompt clues as to how they’ve arrived in this place. Working backwards may even make your scenes feel more authentic.

Write in the margins of your notebook while you’re sitting in meetings. Type a few paragraphs into your phone between subway stops. Let your mind drift until you’re aware of a tangled string of ideas that must be deciphered and saved, preserved in the pages of your next novel. Then unravel them in whichever direction you choose. Most importantly, don’t get trapped in a conscious search for your next great novel, because the ideas will eventually find you; when they do, you need to be able to trust yourself to make sense of them.

I don’t like to think too much about where ideas come from because I don’t want to ruin the illusion, the vision that can come alive at any point. But once I’m struck with one idea, I feed it all the fuel it needs to keep burning. At times I find myself with a single word as my inspiration, one that manages to propel me into an alternate reality with its weight and color, a ferociousness that gives way to a voice without a plot.

Don’t always expect big things from a percolating idea; appreciate the subtlety, the simple burst of energy that will surely expand as you allow yourself to be swept up in it. If a character speaks to you, let it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who they are, what they might want, or where they’re going. We grow our own lives, slowly evaluate the world around us, so let the voices do the same. Definitely don’t plan to reach 1,500 words by lunch, or 5,000 words by the end of the week. You’ll know when you’re done writing if you listen. It’s instinct, it’s need–it’s a feeling that propels you forward like nothing else in this world. I survive off the highs of creating, of dispelling thoughts that might otherwise be left unsaid. I crave the moments where I can’t keep up with them, these ideas that are my own and yet are attached to plights I’ll never personally experience.

Similarly, there’s a plethora of paradoxes embedded in the art of writing. It’s what interests and challenges me, seeing if I can capture life’s inconsistencies and unanswered questions and examine them in a new light. Writing fiction gives me a chance to understand my own confusion and conflict through the lens of multiple personalities and viewpoints. Introspection is the oxygen that moves and colors the ideas that strike you, the substance that makes your characters dynamic and relatable. It propels the satisfaction that comes when you let your ideas condense and expand without borders. I think of my words as a chance to add deeper meaning to daily human interaction, to stray from the circumstances I’ve been given to tackle a world unlimited.

If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you should forget you’re writing while you’re writing. That’s how you know you’ve got a good piece of writing in front of you. Then you can close the notebook or shut the screen and walk away feeling a little lighter–knowing that it’s gone straight from your mind to the page, and it’s not going anywhere. Even if no one else ever reads a word of it.

 

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Sarah Woodruff is a contributing writer for YPG, a book reviewer for Off the Shelf, and an international publicist at HarperCollins, which means she gets to work with media contacts around the world and sometimes has a chance to travel. She spends too much time writing thrillers, singing karaoke, playing guitar, and pretending she’s over her ice cream obsession. You can find her at @swoodswords.

 

Q&A with Jenn Baker – Part 1 of 2 part series

In our latest series, YPG Writers is excited to interview publishing professionals whose passion for writing has led them to success.  Jenn Baker does a little bit of everything, but even with her many responsibilities, she still finds time for writing. Below is part 1 of our Q&A with her, in which she shares some of her gems of wisdom. –Stephanie

Jennifer Baker received her MFA from The New School’s graduate program in Creative Writing and is an alum of The City College of New York’s baccalaureate program in English. She works as a production editor, is a contributing writer to Forbes.com, and is the social media director and a writing instructor for Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. Jennifer is a panel organizer for We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit organization that sprang to life from the #WeNeedDiverseBooks media campaign to increase minority representation (of all kinds) in literature, and is creator and host of the podcast Minorities in Publishing. Jennifer is presently working on a multi-generational linked story collection centered around race and family as well as a young adult novel with a diverse cast and essays centered around race, culture, and sexuality.

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How do you find the time to
write while also balancing so many other responsibilities? What are some strategies you use?

It’s tough. It was easier when I was in graduate school and had steady deadlines. For about a year after grad school I had a weekly schedule where I wrote 7 hours a week, spreading that out over 3-4 days. Now that I do even more it’s harder. But I did this project called #WriteLikeCrazy that Tayari Jones started 3 years ago that was sort of anti-NaNoWriMo in that the premise is: Do what is reasonable for you in 30 days. So I said: 1 hour a day minimum, every day. And I did it! I’ve aimed to keep to that schedule whether I’m tired or busy or not. What helps me with that 1 hour, even when I’m blocked or tired, is setting a timer. There’s something called the Pomodoro method where you set a timer, write (or do a task) for 25 minutes, take a 5-10 minute break then start again. And you do this say 4 times and take longer breaks after that if you choose to continue. The busier life gets the more helpful it’s been to do small stretches than long ones so I’m consistently in the work. I’d suggest people try it.

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How do you suggest a publishing professional who is also a writer use their position to help them achieve their writing goals?

Depending on what area you work on you can learn more about the process of editing: what do you like to read, what have you found interests others in terms of how someone tells a story, how to keep pacing and so on. As a production editor my position has helped me key in on being a better critic of others work as well as my own. I don’t see all the holes in my work but perhaps I’m more removed and in a position to focus on what makes sense, grammar, and coherence to make a work flow better from a developmental and technical standpoint. If you worked in editorial, for instance, you may be looking to see what makes you fall in love with a story. In marketing/publicity the same may happen or you may recognize what stands out to you. All that can help you as a writer hone your storytelling skills.

Additionally, you can learn more about the business from connections. Maybe for some people knowing the business may be a deterrent for the creative side, but it can help you a lot when starting to query or in terms of networking to not have to query and meet people who know you and your personality thereby becoming interested in what you may be writing as well. The more editors and agents I meet in my professional and activist life the more I know who I may want to reach out to (or not) once my work is polished and ready to go for submissions.

A lot of authors will say that finding a mentor is one of the key parts of success. How does one go about finding a mentor in a way that doesn’t feel forced?

At a reading a year or so ago Ashley Ford mentioned how she connected with her mentor, Roxane Gay. She and Roxane established a friendship that started on Twitter. They got along, and sometime later Ashley asked if Roxane would mentor her. But it was a no pressure situation. Ashley was super polite in approaching Roxane. And for Ashley she said if Roxane had said ‘no’ it wouldn’t have changed anything. So basically, if you do have a relationship with someone, ask (nicely) and see what happens. I wouldn’t go up to someone randomly. I love Zadie Smith, however, I wouldn’t expect her to be my mentor just because I’m a fan. Establish some kind of relationship where you respect them or if they don’t know you that closely, you can present your case and interest and determination to do what you need. Also have your questions and expectations ready for what you want in a mentor and what they have time for. (And respect their time.) Do you want someone to read your work monthly or get coffee with to talk monthly? Do you mainly want someone to help in terms of craft and advice on a one-on-one basis or would you prefer a group setting of your peers? Do you need contacts mainly? If so, then you don’t need a mentor, you need to network. Consider those questions.

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Additionally, if you’re a member of AWP they have a mentorship program where they pair aspiring writers with established ones for a few months every year; and they’re seeking more marginalized mentees. We Need Diverse Books also has a mentorship program and applications will open again next spring. I’d also check out Poets & Writers magazine to see if there are any contests where one of the prizes is one-on-one mentorship or personal critique of work. Also, if you worked with someone at your graduate/undergraduate program or in a workshop or otherwise ask them if you think they may be a fit for your work. I’d say similarly in finding a member in publishing too. If there’s someone at your office you respect and think may be able to help guide you in ways with advice, why not reach out and ask if they may have time to help you out every so often? I think the biggest hesitation is asking but if someone is polite I don’t think anyone will be mad at for you for the inquiry. I mean, they could be but that could be more about them then the person asking.

Check back next week for part 2 of our Q&A with Jenn!