To help celebrate the release of her book Beer and Groping in Las Vegas (published by Secret Cravings Publishing) I asked author Angela Quarles to share some of her wisdom on the various online sources available nowadays for writers.
Breaking into Writing: Harnessing the Power of Social Media and the Web
Thank you Peter for having me on your blog!
Peter and I were talking about how different our paths were, even though we graduated at the same time from college. While I did write non-fiction for my Master’s, I hadn’t pushed any of it far enough to seek publication, though I still hold out hope. I didn’t pursue fiction in earnest until four years ago, and so found a different landscape to help my career along than you did.
I say in earnest, because I did toy with writing fiction in the 90s and did try to find some help on the web, but there just wasn’t the support system we have today, and I guess I wasn’t committed enough at that time in my life to figure things out the old-fashioned way.
I think one of the reasons I embraced social media so heavily is because I knew how little I knew and needed all the help I could get! Also, coming from a web design background, it seemed like a natural extension for me.
Find Online Support Networks
My first foray into writing fiction was on a Jane Austen fan fiction site in 2005-2006, and I made friendships there that I still maintain today. We exchange WIPs to Beta read for each other, and support each other on social media. I’m still in awe of the fact that most of them I haven’t met in person, but we’re each other’s biggest supporters. All for joining a forum on a whim and engaging.
I’d have to credit one online network, though, with actually getting me past the dabbling phase, and that is NaNoWriMo.com. I couldn’t seem to get past Chapter Six in my first WIP, and my fellow Jane Austen fan fiction writing friends told me about this. I was terrified, but I accepted the challenge. It didn’t give me the luxury of worrying that my writing was crap and so I actually did it and had a complete novel for the first time. It got me past my fear. I participated again the next year (2010), and won, and that was my time travel romance, MUST LOVE BREECHES.
One of the first things I did when I felt like BREECHES was getting to the point where I needed feedback was research online critique sites. I finally settled on critiquecircle.com and joined in the summer of 2011. Boy, what a great decision! I found a wonderful support system that helped me leapfrog ahead in my learning of the craft.
Join the blogosphere and the Twitterverse
Then by September, I felt it was time to dip into the blogosphere with my new pen name. I created a blog and felt so silly posting the first post, since I didn’t have anything published. Who would come by? I wasn’t even sure my mom would. I also joined Twitter, and I think it was doing those two things simultaneously that helped me wade in. I can’t stress enough how grateful I am that I did it that early in the process. I think waiting until you have something to sell is the absolute wrong time to join Twitter and to blog. I’ve formed friendships online, found support for craft questions, found critique partners, and more. The knowledge available to me via these channels is incalculable and I sucked it up! Besides, social media is like one big cocktail party–you don’t want to be that jerk pushing your Amway products. That’s why it’s so much better to be a part of the party and making friends and getting support before you have something to sell.
I also created a fan page where I cross-posted my blogs and posted occasional updates. My ‘likes’ grew slowly there, however. I resisted creating a personal profile because of the extra work, and didn’t do so until Thanksgiving of this year. When I finally caved, I’d friended more people in 24 hours than I had accrued in ‘likes’ over the space of a year! It’s grown three times as much since that first day. A whole nother world opened up for me and I wish I’d done it earlier. So many writers are there that I can interact with in a way I couldn’t with just a page or on Twitter.
I also created a tumblr site and a goodreads page and began friending people. Goodreads was how I reconnected with Peter. He saw me as a suggested friend and realized it was me, despite the pen name. We messaged back and forth and he told me about Miss Snark’s First Victim, a great blog whereby you have numerous opportunities to get your work in front of agents. I added it to my Google Reader, and in March won the Secret Agent contest! That was my first official feedback from anyone in “authority” and it gave me loads of confidence.
Unfortunately one great network I tapped into will be ending in January, and that is sixsunday.com. I started a little over a year ago, joining in with more than a hundred other writers every Sunday posting six sentences from our WIPs on our blogs. I wasn’t content to just post, though, and for months I tried to visit and comment on every other participant’s post. Those writers returned the favor and I slowly built up some followers. I also discovered some wonderful writers that way, whose work I now buy when it comes out, and who also became critique partners (more on that below).
By interacting with fellow writers and following agents and editors, I became immersed in the publishing world and felt more informed.
By this past summer, all this effort paid off in my experience at the Romance Writers of America National Conference. My roommate I’d met over twitter, struck up a friendship, and became Beta partners, and I ran across folks I’d only met online. I blogged about this experience in my post “Recap of RWA12, plus other news!”
Reach out for help online for more specific stages in your writing journey
When I was close to the query stage, I utilized several forums to help me fine tune my query while I got my MS ready. The most helpful was agentqueryconnect.com, but I also got good feedback on querytracker.net (and a Beta partner who wanted to read it after helping me with my query). Then in the Spring, I did a small burst of querying (a little over a dozen) and had above a 30% request rate. Unfortunately, rejections followed, so I stopped. But I knew my query and premise was solid because of the request rate. Since I already had a support system, I put out a call for Beta readers on my blog during one of my Six Sentence Sunday posts and got many takers. I spent the summer incorporating feedback and fine tuning the prose so that by mid September I was ready to try again. I began querying, and at that time a twitter pitch contest was going on, so I tweeted my pitch and got two requests for partials. One of those turned into a full and then a week later, into an offer of representation! I already had a half dozen partials and fulls out and so notified everyone else and ended up with about 15 fulls out. In the end, I had three offers of representation.
Since this is about social media, it’d fit in better if I said I went with the agent who discovered me over twitter, but I actually went with one I pitched to at the RWA conference. But, I honestly don’t think my manuscript would have been in the clean and polished state it was without all the support and knowledge I gained from being an active participant in the blogosphere and Twitter.
How querying was different for me than for Peter
One aspect I did notice during the query stage that ties into this topic is that there were many agents I queried who had only opened up to email queries as late as one year ago. That’s how fast things have changed. I didn’t send out one snail mail query, and so saved all that money on ink, paper and stamps, plus the agonizing wait for the mail. It’s weird to think that if I had been a little faster in getting my manuscript ready, a good number of the agents I wouldn’t have been able to query (because I couldn’t have afforded it, honestly). There were still a number who were on my last resort list—if I didn’t get any nibbles from my email barrage, I would have snail mail queried them. Probably a year from now, many of them will accept online queries.
Try various online tools
Be open to online websites you hear about from other writers. I wrote the novelette BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS while I was waiting to hear back from that first initial round of queries. A writer friend told me about duotrope.com as a great resource to find submission opportunities and to organize submissions. It helped me find new outlets I hadn’t heard of, including the one that I ultimately went with for publication, Secret Cravings Publishing. This is now my first release, coming out tomorrow, a geek romantic comedy!
Another great site I heard about was SavvyAuthors.com and I immediately dived into that community this past summer and made friends. They also have pitch contests, which I entered and won some requests for fulls from editors! They also have online classes, and I took several of them to help hone my craft.
What this means for me now
Now, more than a year after diving into social media under my pen name, I have my first release coming out. Again, because of the support network already in place, and the friendships I’ve made, I’m already getting pre-release support. Others are promoting my book without me having to ask, and when I posted that I was looking to find spots for a blog tour, many contacted me, happy to help.
Writers are a wonderful breed of people and truly if you’re not embracing Twitter or Facebook to reach out to fellow writers, you’re missing out. I can’t yet speak to what it’s like to interact directly with readers. Frankly, I’m a little nervous!
What about you? Have you taken advantage of all the channels available to writers online? What are your favorite places?
For more information on BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS:
Here’s the blurb…
Can a djinn and a magic slot machine bring two geeks together?
Riley McGregor is a geek trapped in a Good Ole Boy body and as owner of a microbrewery, smart chicks never look at him twice.
Rejected by a geek who wanted to “trade up,” Mirjam Linna would rather immerse herself in work than be the girlfriend-of-the-moment. Stranded in a Vegas hotel, she makes a wish—a night of hot sex with the man of her dreams. It’s granted. She agrees to dinner, but afterward, she’ll say thanks, but no thanks, and see what’s on the SyFy channel. But when they meet, they’re surprised to find they had a shared connection in their past. Sparks fly as these two learn to be in the moment, be themselves and find love.
Fans of Star Trek, Star Wars, Monty Python, Firefly and Marvin the Martian will enjoy this romantic comedy.
And, of course: