How Do You Tell Who’s Going to “Make It?”

Hi, folks:

I just returned from Dragoncon this week, and while I was there, attending panels on writing and teaching my Basic and Advanced Writing Workshops, I began thinking about the “profile” of an aspiring writer who stands a good chance of “making it” into publication. Assuming, of course that the writer is creative and has a good style and can put a story together, there are other attributes that help immeasurably in succeeding these days.

Aspiring writers who stand a good chance of achieving success:

1. Write…and re-write. They write consistently, not just when the mood strikes them. They complete projects, and they rewrite them until they’re polished and as good as the writer can make them.

2. Accept constructive criticism. These writers know that the story comes first, and their ego comes last. They listen with equanimity when their work is critiqued, and they strive to maintain professionalism when working with a critique group or beta readers. They do not allow themselves to become defensive, angry, or sullen when readers find problems or mistakes in their work.

3. Network. They network with their peers in writing groups, and they network by attending conferences, etc. where they can listen to agents and editors speak about the publishing industry. They find out everything they can about how the industry works. Knowledge is power.

Caveat about writing groups: avoid the ones where “bashing the unpublished newbie” is considered an acceptable sport. These groups are useless at best, and can be amazingly destructive. A good writing group is composed of people who are writing the kind of work you’re writing (for example, mixing poetry and fiction is not a good idea) and working toward the same goals. The group is supportive, but honest, and it doesn’t degenerate into a kaffeeklatch atmosphere where people read their works, get praised to the skies, and never get around to submitting anything.

4. Submit. Let’s face it, no magazine or book editor is ever going to come knocking on your door asking to see those manuscripts you’ve got filed in your cabinet. In order to have a chance of getting published, the work has to be submitted. We all know people who just want to TALK about writing, rather than actually working on their craft and actually submitting their stuff.

5. Accept rejection in a professional manner. Rejection is just part of the game. Even established professionals get rejected, you know? I know it’s no fun, but don’t allow yourself to take it personally. There really isn’t a cabal of publishers/agents out there who are just slavering at the thought that they’re going to crush the hopes of another newbie. Really. Honest. Pinky swear. I know a lot of publishers and agents and all of them, every single one of them, really hope that when they start reading submissions that they’ll find something they love and can accept.

Anyhow, hope this has been helpful.

-Ann C. Crispin


  1. Great advice! It inspired me really, took up to writing a lot more in a shorter amount of time and now I really think I have a chance.

    I can’t go to cons, that’s a physical problem. I live in Switzerland and there’s nothing here that would interest English speaking editors, agents or publishers and the like. Well, nothing but me, and they don’t know about me yet. 😛

    I think I’ll manage, though, if I just keep at it and writewritewrite! Thanks for the great info, very much appreciated!

  2. What Shealanna said.

    Find a mentor, find a writing group, network with other writers – these things are fabulous in theory but incredibly difficult to implement. Each takes time and effort, and both are limited.

    I’m not looking for a shortcut (and I doubt any of the posters here are), but if someone has the super-secret list of potential mentors or productive writing groups, I’d appreciate a sneak peek!

  3. I agree that it would be best to have a mentor or mentors. But where does one find such kind people? Every pro I meet or contact via e-mail either looks down his/her nose at me as if talking to me is completely out of the question, or tells me that he/she doesn’t have the time to help anyone else (I can easily believe it). Conferences for me have been like the experiences someone describes above: a lovefest for the pros and their fan clubs/groupies, and a blank stare aimed at the rest of us (or even suspicion that we’re stalkers, even when they have corresponded with us casually on the ‘net!) It’s a very, VERY closed network, and I don’t believe I will ever be seen as a legitimate aspirant. The quality of one’s writing doesn’t seem to make any difference. I don’t know why that is, but it’s my lot in life, and I must be content with it or go crazy. (I chronicle some of my experiences over on my LiveJournal at shalanna dot, but that’s also a general journal, so if you visit–and you’re all welcome–don’t expect anything grand.)

  4. The advice Ann gives in this post is applicable to ANY career path. But especially writing. Still, that doesn’t mean that most people are capable of adhering to this advice The fact that fewer than 1% of aspiring writers actually achieve real publication (and even fewer than that support themselves exclusively with royalties) illustrates just how rare it is to find the person who not only has real talent and skill, but also the emotional depth, maturity, mental discipline, and flexibility required to succeed in a highly competitive business. Those that do are to be admired.

    I agree that most writers’ critique groups aren’t worth a damn. They tend to be populated with egotistical, untalented boobs who just engage in mutual circle-jerk sessions and insult/intimidate anyone who offers critique. You’re far better off seeking out professional mentors (i.e., people who already have an established track record of real success—i.e., book contracts, income, etc) who can take you under their wing, offer support, etc. I certainly had/still have mentors.

  5. i have not had such great luck at conferences, but have wondered if i should try again as the advice to participate is constant. it seemed like a lovefest for the “pros” while the rookies were left feeling drained of their money and we didn’t even have a shrimp cocktail to show for it.

    is this just me?! perhaps i failed to get the secret handshake handout in my welcome packet…

  6. Maybe you wait on one dream ’cause you’re pursuing another. Anyone ever set a MS aside for an evening because the kids/spouse/job needed their attention more? Hmmm?

    Those of us who wait aren’t giving up, just prioritizing. Some of us spend those years developing the toolkit required to tell the story that’s been on our hearts forever.

    Meanwhile, like many other folks, busy living life while we have other plans (J. Lennon).

  7. one thing i noticed (as an author who might just be “making it” with one book down and a few stories published) during my undergraduate workshop days was this:

    the kind of people who crept past middle age with no success whatsoever talked about “not being ready” to write novels, or great stories, or whatever they wanted to write. i figure there’s no such thing as being ready. there’s just what you want to achieve, and what you have to do to reach it.

    i kind of cocked my head in wonder at the kind of person that waits to chase their own dreams. seriously, nobody is ever ready. that’s why god invented revisions, and polishing, and all the stuff mentioned above.

    just what i noticed.

  8. This is brilliant! Thank yall so much for posting this!

    Also, no one can really “make it”. There’s always heights to reach for, no matter how high you get.

    If you feel it’s worth the effort to reach for it, then you’re a success.

    (Even if it’s just what I tell myself to sleep at night, it’s what I believe.)


  9. Good points. Writing and rewriting are deeply entwined. As to networking, its great advice.

    On that topic, I have been considering taking writing classes at either Gotham Writers Workshop or The Writers Studio in an effort to both improve my writing skills and to make contacts. Any thoughts on whether those groups are worth the investment of time and money?

  10. You hit it dead on! I’m glad you mentioned revising and polishing. During my early years, I wrote and wrote and wrote–then submitted and submitted and submitted. And, of course, I got rejected and rejected and rejected.

    I didn’t start to make headway until I really learned to revise and polish my work. It’s always felt meaningful to me that the first book I sold was the one that had gone through the largest number of drafts.

  11. As someone new to the process, I do have a question – is there a list of conferences somewhere? Or a way to find out what writing cons are happening in a given year?

  12. Just one question. What is the percentage of adults in our society?

    Maybe it’s just me, but there seem to be a lot of entitled adolescents who manage not to grow up into their sixties. What you are describing is a grown-up.

  13. One thing I have noticed at the SF cons I’ve been to is that the industry professionals I’ve met have been nothing but supportive. I’m working on my query and synopsis, but know that once I’ve got it done I have a great chance of breaking in; providing enough people like my work of course.

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Laray Carr Publications, a.k.a. LC Publications, a.k.a. LCP Media

SEPTEMBER 10, 2007

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