Episode 52 - Leveling Up While You Wait For Success
Play • 54 min

We Make Books is hosted by Rekka Jay and Kaelyn Considine; Rekka is a published author and Kaelyn is an editor and together they are going to take you through what goes into getting a book out of your head, on to paper, in to the hands of a publisher, and finally on to book store shelves.

We Make Books is a podcast for writers and publishers, by writers and publishers and we want to hear from our listeners! Send us your questions, comments, and concerns!

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"Submissions September" Episodes Referenced:

Episode Transcription (all errors are entirely Rekka's fault)

Rekka (00:00): Welcome back to We Make Books, a podcast about writing, publishing, and everything in between. I'm Rekka. I write science fiction and fantasy as RJ Theodore.

Kaelyn (00:09): And I'm Kaelyn. I'm the acquisitions editor for Parvus Press.

Rekka (00:12): And today we apparently just have baking on our mind.

Kaelyn (00:17): Yeah, I don't. It was. I. I'm just really surprised that you watch the Great British Baking Show. I don't know why I'm surprised by that. I shouldn't be.

Rekka (00:26): Well, it starts when we're looking for holiday content, that's feel good and we don't want to worry about like, you know, getting drawn into one of those crappy made-for-streaming movies that everyone's talking about. And it turns out to be like worse than a Lifetime romcom kind of thing. That happened a couple of times this year. So we basically have said, okay—

Kaelyn (00:49): Lookin' at you, Christmas Prince.

Rekka (00:51): We can, we can trust Great British Baking Show. And so we started with the holiday episodes and then this year we were not satiated by the holiday episodes when we ran out of them. So then we just started watching season eight and now we're working our way back.

Kaelyn (01:06): Yeah. But, um, in this episode, you know, we're just—for full disclosure, get ready for a lot of baking metaphor as being shoe-horned—

Rekka (01:14): As many as I was eager to fill in, but I was, you know, like, you know, it was trying to be refined in my application of them.

Kaelyn (01:23): Yeah. Well, so along the lines of refinement, um, you know, today we're talking about, uh, leveling up. What you can do as an author, as a writer, to help improve yourself.

Rekka (01:35): Yeah. Cause you know, you can always be making forward progress even while you're waiting for the success to come to you, you know? Cause it's not going to come *to* you, for one, and for two, there's a lot of waiting involved for going out and getting it.

Kaelyn (01:51): Yeah. So I think a lot of people, especially those who have been trying, you know, sending out a lot of queries, trying to get published for a long time, fall into the trap of passiveness. Of, you know, just waiting for something to happen rather than continuing to work and improve themselves and try to make something happen instead. Um, it is publishing is a weird, I can't even call it balance cause it's pretty lopsided of just like, you know, having to rely on other people to say yes and no to things. But that doesn't mean that you have no agency in this process. There's other things that you can be doing to try to tilt the scales towards a yes more than no.

Rekka (02:36): And even if the scales aren't tilted, you are becoming a better writer, which is in theory why you're here.

Kaelyn (02:43): Exactly. Yeah. So, you know, today's episode, we go through some, um, you know, bullet points of different things that you can be doing while you're waiting to hear back or taking a break to sort of try and improve yourself and reevaluate. Um, this is everything from, you know, as we always like to talk about, working on your writing to, you know, coming up with like a plan and having goals in mind, we'll talk a lot about goals and what is realistic and you know, what you should be doing to meet those.

Rekka (03:15): Yeah. And if you, you know, if you put your entire career on pause while you wait for someone else to make a decision about you, you're going to spend more of your writing career on pause than you are actually writing. And so it's a good habit to get into, to send those, you know, queries or submissions out into the ether and then get back to it. And, uh, really that's what it's about. And even if you are nervous and creativity is hard, we have suggestions of other things that you can do that don't necessarily mean like sitting down with the keyboard and just writing and pretending like you've never sent a query out.

Kaelyn (03:54): Yeah. So, um, you know, as always, we hope this, uh, episode is informational and educational and uh, that you enjoy and we'll see you on the other side of the music.

New Speaker (04:19): Very nice segue Rekka.

Rekka (04:20): Thank you. Uh, speaking of which, I don't know if it's a nice segue, if you call attention to the fact that as a segue, like I think that negates any credit you get for coming up with a decent segue.

Kaelyn (04:32): Or am I just acknowledging your craft here?

Rekka (04:36): Speaking of which, uh, today, uh, we had no topic and Kaelyn said, what do you want to talk about? And my suggestion was to talk about what you can do when everything else is up in the air and out of your control to keep moving forward and keep improving yourself so that you are getting stronger as a writer and making yourself hopefully a little more appealing every, you know, every time somebody talks to you about business stuff, whether they're an agent or a publisher.

Kaelyn (05:14): Rekka's exact words were "leveling up."

Rekka (05:16): Yes. I used leveling up.

Kaelyn (05:18): Yeah, no, I liked it.

New Speaker (05:19): Well then you asked me what I meant. So I felt like maybe that wasn't a good description. Yes. Following the description, it's a good shortcut.

Kaelyn (05:29): Yes. I liked it. Leveling up. Yep. Okay. Yeah. So, you know, we're talking today about, um, as Rekka said, things you can do that are within your control to help move your career and forward and achieve your goals in writing. Because so much of this is not in your control. There is so much of just having to wait on other people to hand down judgements.

Rekka (05:51): Yes. And, and you cannot even wait patiently for their judgment and know that you get a good judgment.

Kaelyn (05:58): Yes. Yeah. On top of that, it's um, it's very, it's very much a spinning wheel of anxiety with a lot of this. Um, so yeah, but you know, that said you are not completely at the mercy of a cruel universe here. There are things that you can be doing to, uh—Rekka possibly disagrees.

Rekka (06:19): I might've pursed my lips and bopped my head side to side and say welllllll, you know, that's, that's debatable, but we don't have time for that debate.

Kaelyn (06:28): No, no, certainly not. Um, but in terms of writing, there are, you know, there are things that, yeah, you have to wait on external forces and powers and in some cases, deities to, uh, you know, let you know what's gonna happen here, but there's things that you can be doing in the meantime, you are not completely adrift on this sea.

Rekka (06:46): In fact, sometimes it's helpful to be doing things in the meantime. So you're not fixated on how you are adrift at sea.

Kaelyn (06:53): Writing, like every other craft, every other profession, there is always room for improvement and growth. You are never to a point where you achieve some sort of enlightenment status as a writer where okay, you now know, see and write all things. Anything that you jot down is perfect and needs no work whatsoever. There's not a —.

Rekka (07:16): Unless you're Stephen King.

Kaelyn (07:16): Unless you're Stephen King.

Rekka (07:18): Which is a result of capitalism, not necessarily skill.

Kaelyn (07:21): And possibly cocaine, but moving on.

Rekka (07:24): I thought that was his directorial career.

Kaelyn (07:29): But you're never to a point where you can't improve.

Rekka (07:35): In fact, if you got to that point, somehow you would probably be quite bored and move on to something new.

Kaelyn (07:42): Yeah. You pick up a new hobby, like, like crocheting.

New Speaker (07:46): Otherwise you'll just be sitting on that throne like Conan and going, dammit. Now what?

Kaelyn (07:49): Yeah. "And Alexander wept for, there were no more worlds to conquer."

Rekka (07:54): Yeah, yeah, exactly. "No more words to conquer." That's what I heard. Um, yeah. So my thought and I'm, sub-tweeting literally all of my friends right now, um, is how many times I have seen people get to a certain stage where they rely on the judgment, as you say, or the response from others to move ahead to the next thing they want and how that causes them to experience a deterioration in creativity and motivation, focus, self-confidence. I mean, like there's a lot of stuff that falls apart when all you do is recycle your inbox to see if something's come in.

Kaelyn (08:42): Yeah. This is, you know, there's a certain point where you're just beating your head against a wall, doing the same thing over and over again and not figuring out why this isn't working. Um, if you're just going to keep submitting the same thing over and over again, keep getting rejections and just go, "well, they just don't like it. It's fine. The way it is. I'm going to find somebody who likes us." You're not going to get very far in your career and you're probably going to end up pretty bitter. And—.

Rekka (09:09): Yeah. And that's, that's the part that I'm most concerned about is, you know, cause you're, even if you make it in this career, you don't necessarily become that, you know, Hollywood picture perfect writer, successful writer. Um, but your enjoyment of being a writer can really, you know, it can take a hit when you let that kind of resentment and bitterness seep into you.

Kaelyn (09:38): Yeah. So—

New Speaker (09:39): Don't become a rum cake of bitterness.

Kaelyn (09:45): Uh. Yes.

Rekka (09:46): Right. Cause the rum cake, you soak it with rum after you finished making it. And yeah, that's what I meant. I said what I meant!

Kaelyn (09:55): You heard me!

Rekka (09:58): We've been watching great British baking show lately, so like all—

Kaelyn (10:00): Oh hey, me too!

Rekka (10:00): Okay. We are not allowed to talk about that because, cause we'll just go on for hours. I'm sure. Yes.

Kaelyn (10:10): I have the best bread recipe now.

Rekka (10:12): You're gonna, you're gonna put your name into the hat and get on the show?

Kaelyn (10:15): Oh God. No, I'm terrified of everyone that's on that show.

Rekka (10:19): I would just hang out with Noel and, and Paul, honestly.

Kaelyn (10:24): Yeah. Yeah. They seem fun. Um, Paul, Paul's a little scary though.

Rekka (10:28): No, see, I, I swear to God, Paul is only sc—see, I said, we weren't allowed to talk about this and we're talking about it. I said, um, the other day that Paul is only scary because of the way they edit the episodes. Like if you, if you have your ear to what's going on, like, yes, he walks around and stares at people, but I'm sure that's the same face I would make, if I were watching people I was concerned about, you know? Um, but he says really encouraging, wonderful things to people whenever he's given the opportunity.

Kaelyn (10:59): But then, when they have to bring it up there, he's always the one like picking the bread up and like knocking on it. And he's like "I will rip this in half." It's a little, um, it's always, Hmm. "I, uh, think it's a little bit underdone didn't that mate."

Rekka (11:14): Wow. Was that, was that your Paul Hollywood?

Kaelyn (11:17): That wasn't a good Paul Hollywood.

Rekka (11:19): Paul Hollywood isn't Australian.

Kaelyn (11:22): Yeah, but it does call people mate.

Rekka (11:24): I have not really heard him say that yet. I haven't watched enough. Obviously we need to finish this episode so I can go watch some more. Yeah.

Kaelyn (11:30): Okay. But so you can be Paul Hollywood.

Rekka (11:33): So wait for judgment from Paul Hollywood and be—

Kaelyn (11:38): You can be your own Paul Hollywood

Rekka (11:40): Be David from season eight, where you take all that critique and you actually turn it into more skill.

Kaelyn (11:47): Yes. So.

Rekka (11:48): Everyone go watch season eight. And so, you know what reference I just made.

Kaelyn (11:51): We'll stop. I promise we're stopping right now.

Rekka (11:54): I don't know if I'll I'll cut this or not. It was kind of fun. Depends how long this episode is. Since you told me it was all me, it's going to be short. So we need that filler, like rice crispy in the middle of a cake for structure. Sorry.

Kaelyn (12:10): Oh my God. It's amazing because I don't think there's been a single thing made on that show that you would eat.

Rekka (12:16): Oh, I can't eat a word of it. A word of it?

Kaelyn (12:18): Yeah.

Rekka (12:18): I can't eat a crumb of it.

Kaelyn (12:20): Yeah.

Rekka (12:20): Words are for writers. Crumbs are for bakers, but it is delightful to watch.

Kaelyn (12:26): That said, speaking of words... We're going to get back on track here, I promise.

Rekka (12:33): Nah.

Kaelyn (12:33): Um, no. So there are, you know, there's a lot of different things you can be doing that are under your control to try to make yourself more appealing and to take, uh, to give yourself agency in this process, where frankly, um, it seems like you don't really have a lot of that through all of it.

Rekka (12:54): It depends. And I, and I think this is exactly the point, what you see as your goals.

Kaelyn (13:02): Yeah. Exactly.

Rekka (13:03): Because a goal is a thing, in theory, that you have some amount of control in reaching. But if you say your goal is to get an agent and get a big publishing deal and become a best seller, where is the control in any of that? Let me tell you: there's none.

Kaelyn (13:25): There's only so many writing courses you can take to get yourself to a point where you've written the world's greatest book.

Rekka (13:33): But there are so many writing courses that will promise to make you a New York Times bestseller.

Kaelyn (13:38): Yeah. Um, let's, you know, let's take a step back here and kind of identify, you know, some things that are attainable and things that just happen. New York Times bestsellers. I won't insult anybody by saying they just happen, but there's a lot more machination that goes on in behind the scenes—

Rekka (13:57): Machination is the right word.

Kaelyn (13:57): Yeah, than you realize, um, New York Times bestsellers aren't because everybody loves these books and, you know, buys a ton of them. There's a reason that the same books sit on this list for weeks, months, in the case of Harry Potter, years. Um, and it has to do a lot with, um, publishing houses, marketing dollars, um, to be clear, they're not bribing the New York Times, but the New York Times is not picking their bestseller list strictly based on how many of these books are sold.

Rekka (14:34): And not even based on the merits of the book itself.

Kaelyn (14:38): Yes. Having the aspiration of being a New York Times bestseller means what your actual aspiration is, is to be a globally known household name. Because that's kind of what you are looking at to get on these, some of these lists. Not always. And you know, of course, you know, bestseller lists have all kinds of subcategories and different genres, et cetera, but that is not a realistic goal because there is very little direct influence that you can exert over that process.

Rekka (15:13): A goal itself, as we said, you know, you have to have some control over, and there are, you know, definitions in business planning and all that of what makes a goal. And the obnoxious, you know, uh, acronym is S.M.A.R.T., which means that the goal is specific that the goal is measurable, that it's achievable realistic and time-based, and you can see how the things that I mentioned earlier, getting an agent, getting a big publishing deal, becoming a New York Times bestseller doesn't really match this S.M.A.R.T. goal description definition. You cannot say, "Oh yes. By September I will be a New York Times bestseller."

Kaelyn (16:06): Not this September, I hope.

Rekka (16:08): Or you cannot even say, "Oh yes. In 10 years I will have an agent." You know, like you cannot control these things.

Kaelyn (16:15): Yeah. These are, these are forces beyond your, your ability to control.

Rekka (16:21): Are they achievable? Yes. Are they realistic? Yes. Bue because they happen in reality, but not because you can just sit down in a checkbox, you know, to-do list and say, "I will achieve these things."

Kaelyn (16:34): Well, that's the logical fallacy that plays into the lottery. "I could win because somebody is going to have to win this." "Somebody will win this, why shouldn't it be me?"

Rekka (16:43): Or "I should play because if I don't play, then I cannot win." It's not the same as "If I do play, I will absolutely win."

Kaelyn (16:51): Two different, two different logical issues there. Yeah. But there's, you know, there have been so many books even that got exactly what they needed to be successful, and flopped.

Rekka (17:03): Yep.

Kaelyn (17:04): I think in some ways it helps to think of books like movies. You know, there's a lot of stuff that goes into them that has to do with marketing, has to do with names attached to it, has to do with, you know, can you get the right audience? Did you, you know, make the book appealing to the right group of people? The same way, books flop the same way movies, flopped, and you know, there's time and money investments that go into them. And, you know, it's, it's all a numbers game. Um, you know, that said, it's the same thing with the awards, to an extent, you know, like you don't just win an Academy award because your movie was fantastic. There are tons of really fantastic movies that have not won awards. It's all marketing. it's very political and very who-you-know, et cetera.

Rekka (17:47): And we did do an entire episode on fiction awards. So go back and listen to that from last year, I'll link it in the show notes, if you want to hear about how that works. Um, and that's another bingo card item. And, and maybe that's how I distinguish them as like, "these are things that I put on my bingo card that I hope someday that I will punch off, you know, and say like, yes, I got an agent. Yes. I was guest of honor at some writing conference. Yes. I was, uh, received my 100 rejection." You know, like those are on there, too. Uh, won an award, uh, got a big, you know, publishing contract with X number of zeros, you know, put those on that list, but don't make them your standard for whether or not you've achieved what you want. And if that's all you want to achieve, please reevaluate step back and ask what, what it is that you really want out of a writing career? Pretend that none of that can ever happen and just work on you. What can you work on?

Kaelyn (18:51): Yeah. So to that end, and you know, we're going to get in a minute here into some of the things you can be doing in the meantime. And this we'll, we'll certainly circle back to this, but decide what you want out of your writing career that is not to be the next Stephen King, because that's not necessarily a realistically attainable goal for everyone.

Rekka (19:10): Or what that means to you, that you want to be the next Stephen King. Do you want to write a lot of like hometown horror stories? You can do that, but, and you can appeal to Stephen King's audience. "If you like Stephen King, if you loved The Stand, you will love this," you know, but, um, can you control whether you have that same level of success? Absolutely not.

Kaelyn (19:33): You know, deciding like, well, I just want to get a book published. I don't necessarily need it to be one of the stories I've already written. Um, I don't necessarily need it to be in this specific genre in this genre only. "I just would like to have a book published" versus maybe a different goal is "I want to get this book that I've written published." And we'll talk about that a little bit more down the line here, but, um, so, you know, let's kind of get into this here. Some things you can do to improve your chances of attaining your goals. Um, first and foremost, as we always talk about, one of our favorite things to harp on: work on your writing.

Rekka (20:13): Yeah. Don't stop writing when you send off a query to an agent. You know, like don't make that the only thing you've got in your hopper.

Kaelyn (20:20): Yeah. As we said, there is no such thing as the writer who has attained enlightenment. That's not,

Rekka (20:28): Especially if it's your first novel. Chances are, you're not very close.

Kaelyn (20:33): Um, there's always room to be working on and improving your craft, um, in any craft really, but especially in writing. Um, it's, you know, and you may be thinking, okay, well, "I got published or, you know, I had some short that were picked up. I'm good." No, that doesn't matter. Go join a writing group anyway. Go take some, you know, maybe you don't want to take some courses. I mean, I, I love taking courses and things. I don't know why you wouldn't want to do that. But you know, join a writing group, attend a workshop, take some courses, join a group that Um, you know, reviews each other's work and gives feedback. Read things and give feedback on them. That's a great way to improve your own writing is to help other people work on theirs. So I know this is something we say all the time, "work on your writing, here's ways to do it," but this is a great way to be moving yourself along. Because on top of just staying on top of your writing, what you're doing is you're probably creating new stuff while you do this, that you may not have otherwise taken the time to do.

Rekka (21:40): And every word you write is more skill that you are building.

Kaelyn (21:44): Exactly.

Rekka (21:45): Giving you the chance to say, you know, is, "am I using economy of phrase? Am I, um, you know, getting emotion across the way I want, am I, is my world building, you know, solid? Am I leaving the reader wanting more? Or am I leaving them in a coma because I've, you know, overdone it on the exposition?" Every time you write and you revise, you have the chance to analyze this and you have the chance to look at yourself honestly, and your writing honestly, and figure out, you know, how do you, how do you want to improve it? Like if you say "this revision pass, I'm going to work on characters," you know, or "this next book, I really want to delve into characters where before it's been all like, you know, the hero doesn't really change. It's just an adventure. And this next book, I really want to give the character arc the spotlight." You know, look for ways to challenge yourself. Because if you're just doing, what's comfortable, it is a little bit less effective. It's still good to keep writing. If you mostly do the same thing, but you are going to grow more, the more you flex your muscles and try new things.

Kaelyn (22:56): Think back through the careers of all of the, you know, best-selling authors, you can name off the top of your head. They have not recently been writing what they started out writing.

Rekka (23:10): Yeah. And that's the weird thing is—

Kaelyn (23:12): Maybe they stay in the same genre, but the stories and the books themselves are not the same.

Rekka (23:21): If you think about our obsession with classics, it's really interesting how people want to go back to like an old Spielberg movie and point out how this was so much better than any of his recent work. Um, or they want to go to an author who's written twenty books and they go back to the first book and they, you know, this series was their favorite. But if people look and even musicians, you know.

Kaelyn (23:48): I was gonna say.

Rekka (23:49): "This album is classic," you know?

Kaelyn (23:51): Yeah.

Rekka (23:52): But when you take in the discography or the bibliography or the filmography as a whole, people get really annoyed when artists evolve and change and don't do things the same way.

Kaelyn (24:07): I think one of the best, uh, things I heard of that ever was I was listening to an interview with Billy Joel of all people. And Billy Joel, by the way, is a ridiculously talented pianist, like apart from, you know, we just think of him as like these poppy classic songs that are, you know, old people dance to at weddings and stuff. Billy Joel is actually very into classic piano music. And it's a very highly skilled with it. And then he composes as well. Things that aren't like, you know, what we think of Billy Joel music. And I was listening to him in this interview and he, um, he said, you know, like "I was to the point that like I was getting bored with, you know, just playing like Big Shot and Scenes From An Italian Restaurant over and over again. Um, and so every now and then I'd stop and I'd play like, you know, something new that I had written or something that was just, you know, not on an album, but, and everyone would, you know, I could feel the audience die down a bit." And, but he did say at the same time, these people have paid a lot of money to come here and see me play the songs that they love. And what he said was "I need to strike a balance between that because I'm going to be miserable if every time I just, you know, have to get up there and perform the same songs over and over again with no creativity." And so that's what happens with writing too, if you're just regurgitating the same stories over and over again with no evolution and no creativity?

Rekka (25:36): You're not going to want to stick around long.

Kaelyn (25:38): Yeah. I mean, I would think you'd get bored of that eventually. Um, especially, you know, if you're not in a position where you can challenge yourself, I think that's something that drives writers forward a lot is trying to challenge themselves and solve problems within their books.

Rekka (25:54): And I think, you know, the genre does evolve and you are going to be left behind. You know, so if that's something that's concerning to you is about being included in the genre when people talk about it, you know, don't stand still.

Kaelyn (26:08): Yeah. And that is, um, our next point here is reading. Apart from doing a lot of writing, one of the best things you can do is reading. And you know, some of this is just because you're absorbing other people's writing, you're seeing things they did, identifying techniques, tricks, et cetera. But also you're keeping up on the genre that you're interested in.

Rekka (26:27): And the more books you could read. And there are a lot of them, you know, don't get me wrong. My To-Be-Read pile is, you know, taller than I am. But when you have read a lot of things, when that agent calls you back and wants to talk about your book, you will know if you've read something similar to your book that you can help position it with and help narrow down that audience again.

Kaelyn (26:50): There is nothing to me, quite as disheartening as talking to an author, you know, like people I would just run into at conferences or seminars and stuff, and they'd be telling me about their book. And I'm about to say, "Oh, sure, send it along. I'll take a look." And they say, "Oh, so it's like such and such." "I'm sorry, what?" "Oh, okay. Oh, you haven't read that. Oh, okay. So kind of like this." And I don't expect everyone to have read every book, but if I named four or five and none of them are ringing a bell even a little bit, that's, um, I'm kind of looking at this and going like, does this person like science fiction and fantasy? You know, it's and again, I don't expect everyone to have read everything or for their tastes to line up exactly like mine, but there's a lot of stuff I haven't read that I at least have heard of. And I'm familiar with where its place is in, you know, the, yeah.

Rekka (27:48): I mean, at least look at the long list for awards each year and make sure you're familiar with what's going on there. Even if you don't read every piece on there, um, you know, what, what is the appeal? Why did it make it to the long list? And yeah, that's a big day of homework. I did not assign you some light reading there. Like, you know, the long list itself is long. And then you also have to look into each book and see what's going on. Take a look at the cover. How was it being placed on the shelf? Is it, YA? Is it adult? You know, and be aware of the different aspects of how that book is being marketed. Because someday someone will ask you, hopefully, how you want your book marketed and you need to kind of have this background.

Kaelyn (28:32): Now some of you may be going, "why do I need to be bothered with all of this? Why can't I just write the book I want to write? And if somebody is interested in it, they can get it published." Now here's the thing. Yes, you're right. On some level, it's like, "I don't, this isn't my full-time, you know, career goals and aspirations. I just wrote a book. It happens to be, you know, a science fiction and fantasy book. I enjoy that. I'm not super mega involved in all of this. I have some books I like, why can't I just write this book, put it down, and walk away?" And the answer to that is in some cases you can, yeah. That is a thing that can happen. The reason that's difficult to do is because you're going to be working with an agent and editor and a publishing house that eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff.

Rekka (29:15): Right. And they rely on this for their, for their careers. And if you aren't as passionate as they are, they're not going to be passionate for you.

Kaelyn (29:22): I know it's a weird, difficult spot to be in. I know it's kind of like a answer. You got to sort of get yourself in the club. Like you need to demonstrate—.

Rekka (29:34): Or at least know who's in the club.

Kaelyn (29:36): Yeah. Or at least know who's who's in the club. Um, I, I'm going to use this example, even though I really don't like it because I have a lot of problems with the fashion industry, but there's a scene in The Devil Wears Prada where, uh, Andy walks in and, you know, Meryl Streep's Anna Wintour avatar character is, you know, berating somebody and she says, do this. And, um, Anna or whatever her name is laughs. And they all look at her and she's like, Oh, I'm sorry. I'm still just learning about this stuff. And everyone in the room is very insulted because she is a complete newcomer and outsider to this. And Stanley Tucci gives her this sort of dressing down later where he says, "you happened into this job. There are people who spend their entire lives wanting to work in this industry. They dream of working here and you only deigned to work here. So you want to know why no one likes you, it's because you don't take us seriously. And therefore we can't take you seriously." It's very similar with publishing.

Rekka (30:47): I don't feel like that situation—I mean, yes, there are people who are like," okay, agents come to me, bring me your offers." But, um, I feel like there are a lot of people who look for an agent so that they end up with a mentor and someone who's going to educate them on all this. And it would be great, I'm sure, for the agent to hear that you've done some of the homework already.

Kaelyn (31:20): Yeah. So that kind of leads us into one of the other things that we can, you know, discuss here is work on ways to make yourself more appealing. For a lot of writers, the ultimate first step is landing an agent. There's a lot of stuff that goes into this. Listen to the Query Letter episode, listen to the Agents episode, listen to all the Submissions September, probably because that's, you know—

Rekka (31:46): Yes. And also there are a lot of agents out there with YouTube channels or podcasts of their own, and newsletters, mailing lists, you know, like there is a lot of information out there to be had to help you understand what's going on from the agent side so that you can make their lives a little bit easier by not expecting miracles of them, but also not expecting them to do the work of educating you.

Kaelyn (32:09): Yeah. So everything that I just mentioned, you know, that we talked about with the Agents episode, with Submission September, with the Query Letters, all of those have a significant element of things beyond your control. What you can do to make yourself more appealing to an agent or a publishing house is as we said, familiarize yourself with the genre, but also have a plan.

Rekka (32:31): Know what kind of books you're going to be writing in a couple of years? Not necessarily like, "I have this one book, please make it sell." You want like, okay, "I have this book." And then they say, "What else you working on?" And you have more than one answer for them.

Kaelyn (32:45): I think beyond, you know, all of the agent pet peeves that were talked about in terms of submission and querying, one of the things in agent least wants to hear is "I don't know what to do with myself and my book." I think there is very little that is more disheartening than he completely directionless author. Um, it's one thing to show up and be like, "well, I don't, I don't know how this industry works. That's why you're here." It's another to be, "I have no idea of what my goals and plans are beyond just this book." Um, Rekka made the example before of think how hard it is to cook for somebody who doesn't know what they want to eat. Yeah. Now imagine it's a book.

Rekka (33:31): Yeah. Now imagine that your career depends on this person being successful at and enjoying their dinner.

Kaelyn (33:37): Yes, exactly. So, um, you know, all of this ties together with writing, into reading, into getting yourself into the genre and that kind of atmosphere in a world that you want to publish and live in.

Rekka (33:54): As part of that, I would also suggest, and, you know, we all hate social media, but get on social media and just be aware of the discourse going around in your genre. Hear the discussions that are taking place. Hear the concerns that people are having. Um, either over the industry or subject matter or diversity or, you know, all the different aspects that go into a community and an industry and a livelihood. There's a lot to just absorb. Like you don't even have to participate. You don't have to feel like you have solutions.

Kaelyn (34:28): Yeah. That was exactly what I was going to say is you don't even need to participate. You can just be like an observer or a lurker.

Rekka (34:34): That's the nice thing about Twitter is like everybody's airing their dirty laundry on Main. And you can just, you know, get an idea of what's out there without having to step into anything messy to begin with before you've got an agent before you've made a name for yourself. However—

Kaelyn (34:48): I would even, I would even go so far as to recommend doing everything you can to avoid stepping into anything messy.

Rekka (34:54): Yes. Uh, what I might suggest is with all that reading you're doing, um, it might be nice if you, you know, talked on Twitter about what you're reading and, um, and how it's impacting the way you're thinking about your own writing. Like keep it keyed into the fact that you are a writer. Like don't make a review Twitter account, make a, "I am a writer. Here's the subject matter I'm engaged with." And, you know, like, "this makes me think about this in this way as I do my own writing" kinda stuff.

Kaelyn (35:28): And along those lines though, you know, it doesn't have to be a review account, but never hesitate to shout out an author who you're reading and either enjoy.

Rekka (35:36): Oh absolutely, that's what I'm talking about. But like, for example, I read a book recently where they were dealing with subject matter that I absolutely had plans to approach on my own and I was concerned about a certain aspect of it. And um, this author handled it, you know, in a way that made me go, "okay, this is something to consider as I go into this."

Kaelyn (35:57): Never hesitate to, you know, shout out somebody whose work you're enjoying or who, you know, has contributed to your ability to do your own work. It's um, trust me, authors cannot hear that enough.

Rekka (36:09): Right. Yeah. Definitely to understand, to know that someone is out there seeing what they're trying to do and appreciating it is a big deal and it will get you maybe—um, I don't know how soon this next one was going to come up, but it might get you a little bit into networking, um, on Twitter, on social media, you know, in your groups and stuff like that. When you are talking about the work that everyone else is doing and appreciating it, and without, you know, posting 10 times a day, "my book is on Amazon at this link," you can also present the fact that you are a writer as part of this discourse.

Kaelyn (36:48): It's funny because I was reading something quite a while back about how people get jobs. And most people get jobs through the recommendation of other people or through people they know. Um, I think a lot of that comes from, you know, reputation and, uh, what's the word I'm looking for here? Recommendation. Because, you know, as I always have to, I have to explain sometimes, especially for my previous job where I dealt with a lot of new hires, hiring a new person is expensive. It costs a lot of money to onboard a new full-time employee. Um, which it doesn't seem like it should, but it actually does. The same way authors are an investment. So having friends or just even people, you know, and interact with in the industry who, you know, someone can say, you know, "Rekka, you're an agent, do you happen to know Kaelyn? Like I was interested in working with her possibly like, is she, you know, is she cool? Like, should I talk to her?" And coming to that person to be able to get some feedback on you is, is very important. Um, I think, you know, especially go back and listen to our Agents episode. Agents, you know, have to be very careful about these things and have to be careful about who they choose to work with because somebody who you talked to a few times and they seem like pretty cool and everything, and then they can just go off the rails. That is time and money down the drain that they are not going to recover.

Rekka (38:28): Yes. And it's going to make them more nervous to sign the next author—.

Kaelyn (38:31): Definitely.

Rekka (38:31): —which is not a benefit to anyone. Um, but if you, you know, if you're not even sure where to begin with networking, I would suggest volunteering with some of the organizations that put on conferences, whether they be in person or online.

Kaelyn (38:46): Absolutely. Yep.

Rekka (38:46): Um, that's a great way, assuming you're reliable that you can build a networking, or at least an awareness of who you are, to people who might be able to help you with a recommendation later, um, whether you know it or not. You know, like if people appreciate the hard work you put in to help with, uh, you know, an event or they appreciate that you were able to run the Slack that, you know, corresponded with, uh, uh, an event that was prerecorded or, you know, whatever else is going on in the world right now, it's hard to predict, but

Kaelyn (39:23): Yeah, God only knows if we'll ever have in-person

Rekka (39:27): Conferences again. Well, we will certainly be thinking hard about it. Um, but anyway, the, the idea that you proved yourself reliable. Yes. Like that person maybe didn't read your writing, but they can say like you have a good head on your shoulders. You, um, were where you said you would be, when you said you would be there. You signed up and you didn't flake. Um, you were able to go above and beyond by helping people, you know, in ways that wasn't really in the job description or whatever.

Kaelyn (39:56): I will tell you, I have my current job because of that. Because yeah, this is because my boss is somebody that knew me before I worked for him. Yeah. And knew that I was a reliable straight-forward person who could do basic math. Yeah. That's the only requirements for my job, basic math.

Rekka (40:18): Yeah but the Venn diagram of all those things is a small overlap. But yeah. I mean, you never know how being decent and helpful to somebody is going to pay off later and, you know, do it for altruistic reasons. But it's a good idea too.

Kaelyn (40:35): And that's exactly what I was just going to say is," this is not using people. Yeah. This is, you know, you may like, you may feel like squeamish about it. You may feel like, Oh, I'm just, you know, I'm just trying to, like, I feel dirty for just trying to get my face and my name in front of all these people." First of all, you're helping them with something. Okay. So if you want to think of it in terms of that, then think of it as transactional, but that's not necessarily what's going on here. This is how people get involved in things and get introduced and meet people. Um, it's, it's difficult. And for some people, this kind of thing does not come easy. They can't walk into a room and just start chatting people up. But if you have a reason to talk to people?

Rekka (41:18): That was exactly what my thinking was. The first time I went to the Nebulas, I volunteered, you know, I'd never been there before, but what I did know was that it was a really long weekend. If I didn't get to know anybody to have conversations with, I was going to be feeling real awkward by that third day. So what I did was I volunteered and I volunteered in the book room, which meant that there were coworkers to speak to, um, people who could, you know, show me the way that the room was working. And then I had conversations with those people about books. I had conversations with those people about publishing. People would walk in and say, "what's good?" And I can make recommendations because I'd been reading in my genre and I knew some of the books in the room, you know, like this works out really well on many levels.

Kaelyn (42:01): And by the way, one of the great things here is that if you're volunteering at a writer, writing conference or a science fiction and fantasy conference, you're going to be around other people that enjoy those exact same things.

Rekka (42:13): Well, it's easy to have those conversations at the genre conferences rather than like, say it's just the book fair, you know? Um, yeah. It's—

Kaelyn (42:22): Well, I wasn't even going, you know, like this is, it's really easy compared to, "Oh, come meet, you know, a group of friends that I know."

Rekka (42:29): Oh. Yeah. Yeah. Cause then, then you end up designing a podcast. I mean, yeah. Um, no, the, I think that was the best choice I ever made. I think that's why I had so much fun that first Nebulas conference was because I had a purpose and it wasn't the entire weekend, but then, you know, there were people I could, you know, pass by in the corridors between, um, presentations and panels, who I'd talked to in the book room, you know. And you could smile and nod. And I was getting really good about, you know, just talking to random strangers and that translated into having conversations later in the corridors, in, you know, in the, you know, restaurants and all that kind of stuff, because I'd already sort of like dip my toe in. And in the capacity of like, "this is my job to do this," it really helps.

Kaelyn (43:24): And you know, what's, and we've definitely talked about, you know, conferences and all of this stuff before, but just one more thing to sort of reinforce there. A lot of people come to these things by themselves. There is going to be a lot of, you know, single people just walking around who, are just there because, you know, if it's something like the Nebulas that moves every two years, um, you know, maybe it was in their neighborhood and they decided to check it out.

Rekka (43:48): This was the year that we're going to try it out. Yeah. And now keep in mind, some people come alone and they're there to have friends and family reunions, basically, with their found families within the community. And you don't want to tread on the toes of people clearly having a more intimate moment, but you know, like being there is the first step.

Kaelyn (44:07): Believe me, there is no shortage of friendly people eager to talk to somebody about their favorite Orsen Scott Card book that you're going to find. Yeah.

Rekka (44:17): Or, or someone a little more recent like P Djeli Clark or, you know

Kaelyn (44:23): Have you been to the Nebulas, Rekka?

Rekka (44:25): I have. We clearly ended up in different corners because nobody that I've ever stepped into a conversation with at the Nebulas is going to want to go off about Orsen Scott Card except in a different way than you're referring to.

Kaelyn (44:38): Fair. Fair.

Rekka (44:38): So anyway, um, you will find your people, they are there, they're in different corners. Check a different one if you didn't find them the first time. But yeah. Um, networking is important and volunteering is a great way to get started in networking. And even though we've currently moved into a virtual space where all these conferences are happening online, there's still a way to network by volunteering.

Kaelyn (45:02): Yeah. Absolutely. And by the way, the fact that a lot of these are moving online and hopefully will stay virtual and therefore available to more people will give you more of an opportunity to participate and attend with these. Um, you know, it was definitely a problem that, you know, like there's a lot of these big conferences that had very little virtual presence, and so—

Rekka (45:24): Very little virtual presence, and they required you to fly in from another country if you weren't a United States citizen, which therefore like you've already just pretty much blown half of your salary, if not more, for the year just to get here and you haven't even paid to get in the door or for the hotel room yet. So they were very restricted and these online, um, it it's a good thing. And even if we go back to in-person conferences, there needs to be—if you're hearing me conference organizers, I think you already know, but—uh, it needs to, it needs to stay expanded into these virtual spaces. For sure.

Kaelyn (45:58): I think one of the things and not to get too sidetracked here, but I think one of the things that put off, you know, apart from sort of this awful gatekeeping aspect of these, these events, but I think one of the things that put off the organizers ma…

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