Notes to Aspiring Writers

Tomorrow the Midwest Writers’ Workshop kicks-off in Muncie. It was there that I met my agent two years ago. (Here’s a recap of the 2007 conference.) This year I’ll be a junior member of the faculty. I don’t think they actually have junior members, but my duties are light.

Here’s my schedule:

Thursday: I’ll be lingering all day, attending sessions and eating cookies, but I’ll officially be schmoozing  at

3:45-4:15 Social Time / Book Signings; coffee


4:15-5:15 pm [1] Panel: Path to Print: First-time Authors” (Ingrid Cummings, Kelsey Timmerman, JD Webb, Diane Freed)

6:00-9:00 Evening Program: Pizza Party, Book Signings, Special interest tables “Buttonhole the Experts” (I’ll be hosting a table about how to land an agent.)

Saturday – I’ll be around

In honor of the conference and to help an writers out there here’s  a post I wrote in 2008:

Notes to Aspiring Writers

I had a fella email me today that is trying to break into writing, specifically travel writing.  I decided to paste my response here.  I’ll continue to update this and use it to direct future “how the hell do I get published” queries.

I think that every writer has their own path to getting published.  No book or website or email can tell you what exactly will work for you; in fact, they often distract us from what’s most important – actually writing.

My path went something like this…

At first, I traveled for traveling’s sake. To experience the freedom of the open road and all that jazz. I was a bum. It was pure. It was beautiful. And then, the writing bug bit me and now travel plays second fiddle to writing. I can no longer bum. If I’m not working on a story, or what could become a story, I’ve got to move on to one or I’ll go nuts. Damned writing anyhow. It had to go a screw with the bum gig.

I was living in Key West and wrote a column for the local weekly paper.  I got paid $0.  My column was titled Travelin’ Light and I give any credit of what success I’ve had writing to the obligation of writing a weekly column.  I probably wrote over 100 columns and I started to place them in a couple of other papers – small ones in random places in Ohio and Illinois.  During this period of time I emailed about every paper with a circulation over 50,000.  I’m not kidding.  It was a monumental waste of time, but it taught me a lot about marketing my work.  Occasionally I submitted individual stories to newspaper travel section and got published in Raleigh, NC, and Indianapolis, IN.  I met an editor of the Christian Science Monitor at a writer’s conference and landed several publications there.  This led to some radio work and by far my most impressive writing clips.  I planned the Where am I wearing? trip and right before I left an agent contacted me if I had thought about writing a book about the trip to which I responded, “holy crap I just crapped myself.” I’m eloquent like that.  I came back from the trip with a lot clearer idea of what the book was.  I went to a local writer’s conference here in Indiana and met another agent. While I was asking her questions about how to work with the original agent, she asked me what my book was.  The other agent lost interest and she became my agent.  A few months later she sold my book.  That’s it.

Some tips:

* We need deadlines to actually make us write, no excuses.  By far the most important thing is writing.  From my first column until now, I’ve come a long way.  Everybody knows that practice sucks so try to find yourself something that you can contribute to on a regular basis. Even if it is only your personal blog or local paper, you need something that people are going to read so you hold yourself to higher standards.

* Dave Barry on writing: “Do things not think things.”  I still think I have a long way to go as a writer, but I think what success I have had is just as much a credit to doing interesting things as writing well about them.  Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your perspective, a good idea will sell bad writing.

* Go to writer’s conferences and make contacts.  I’ve only been to a few, but all of my “breaks” (Christian Science Monitor, landing and agent) have resulted from writer’s conferences.

* Be completely indifferent to rejection.  When I submit something I make sure that it’s my best work, but once it is out of my hands, I don’t expect anything to come of it.  I call this being cautiously pessimistic.  I have stacks of paper rejections and MB worth of email rejections.

* Don’t do it for the money.  I do it because I just love writing.  I’ve always had other work and still do.  If I would have taken a year off to make a go at the writing thing I probably would have said screw it a long time ago.  Patience is required.
Getting your book published:

Subscribe to <a href=” “>publisher’s marketplace</a> for their daily deals email.  They report what agent sold what to what editor.  Pay attention to agents that are selling stuff like yours.  Visit their website to see what their submission guidelines are and submit away.  I was in the process of doing this, but got lucky that agents found me before I went looking for them.

Here are some links to more bits on writing:

On editors
Exploiting aspiring writers
Getting an agent
Blogging build a writing career

Add a comment
Larry says:

Have fun. SELL some books Kelsey. Harper needs a college degree.

Thanks for the great tips!

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