I’m convinced that the successful author really only needs two things—perseverance and patience. Perseverance because this career isn’t easy. It takes a lot of humility, learning, and hard work to become a good writer, and even more to get published. And patience because…
You will wait. A LOT.
Especially if you go the traditional publishing route. Though to be honest, self-publishing involves plenty of waiting too.
When will I be doing all this waiting, you ask? Let’s say you’ve made it through those first glorious weeks or months of writing your draft, you’ve slogged through the revision trenches, you’ve polished your manuscript until it shines. Now what?
You send it to a critique partner or beta reader, and while they read it, YOU WAIT. Once you get their feedback, you can edit again. Oh joy! Then you have some options.
Self-publishing? Send it to your developmental editor, and then YOU WAIT. Contact your cover designer and get that cover rolling. While YOU WAIT. Send your book for copy edits and formatting. YOU WAIT.
Or perhaps, if you want to go with traditional publishing, you jump into the exciting, terrifying world of the query trenches. And while all your potential future agents read your query, YOU WAIT.
What’s that you say? You’ve got an agent now! Whoop! After you’re done celebrating (and revising your manuscript again with your agent) it’s time to go on submission. While editors read your book, YOU WAIT. AND WAIT. The stakes are much higher now, so every day that goes by feels even more important.
Hooray, you’ve scored a book deal! But getting that contract pushed through the publishing house takes a long time. YOU WAIT. And your editor needs to put together your edit letter. YOU WAIT. Cover design and line edits and copyedits and proofreading take time. YOU WAIT.
Even once everything is ready, that release date still feels like it’s a lifetime away. YOU WAIT.
And the worst part is, most of the time, you don’t even have any idea how long you’ll be waiting. Only that it feels indefinite.
Sure, in between all those periods of waiting you might feel overwhelmed with deadlines and scrambling to get done whatever’s in front of you, but during the waiting? Time crawls past like a lazy sloth. What’s a writer to do?
Well…you could refresh your inbox every two minutes. Or you could binge watch the latest series on Netflix. Or you could reorganize all your closets (and mine too, once you’re done with yours… ;)).
But you already know that’s not what I’m here to say. Instead, may I offer you 11 different ideas to make all that waiting productive for your writing career?
1. Write (or pre-write) something else.
This is the one everyone will suggest. “Write the wait,” they say. And it’s true, if you want to make writing a career (even part-time), you’ve got to keep writing. Plus having a new and exciting project will help take some of the pressure off the one that’s out on submission. But if you’re new to the waiting game, or super excited about the query letters you just sent five minutes ago, it can be hard to concentrate on a new project. So, moving on to other ideas…
2. Create a Pinterest mood board and/ or a WIP music playlist.
If you haven’t already done either of these things during the writing phase, and you can’t make yourself focus on something new, creating a mood board or playlist can be a fun and useful distraction. Not only can you share these with your future readers when your book comes out, but the mood board will come in handy when it’s time to talk cover design. And if this manuscript isn’t the one, then at least you got some practice for later.
3. Read a craft book.
Sometimes in the frenzy of drafting, it’s easy to squeeze reading to the edges. Now’s a good time to pick an area of your writing that might be weaker and see if you can improve with a good craft book.
4. Read in your genre.
Ditto here. Now that you’ve got time on your hands again, catch up with the latest books in your genre. You’ll see what ideas have already been done, find comps for your project, and hopefully get inspired for your next book.
5. Join a local or online writers’ group.
If you haven’t already connected with a writing group, whether locally or online, now’s a good time to do a little research and find the right group for you. A good place to start is finding the national organization for your genre (such as Romance Writers of America, the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or Science Fiction Writers of America). Often, joining one of these at the national level opens the option to join special interest chapters and local groups. Your local library system or independent bookstore might also have suggestions.
6. Take an online class or attend a (virtual) conference.
Many writers’ groups offer classes on a whole assortment of topics, ranging from genre-specific (like Regency clothing, fighting maneuvers, and crime-scene forensics) to general craft, marketing, and publishing workshops. It can take a little digging to find ones that interest you, but the cost is typically very affordable and you don’t usually have to be a member of the group to join in.
[Shameless plug: My local RWA chapter is offering a virtual retreat in just a few weeks, and you’re welcome to join us! Find out more here.]
7. Work on your platform.
This one is kind of a biggie, and something I knew nothing about in my early writing days. Publishers and agents have differing opinions about how big your platform needs to be, but pretty much across the board they want to be able to google your name and find something. At a minimum, I’d recommend a website (pay the extra cash to get your own domain name, not the free wordpress one) and at least one social media account (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc) dedicated to your writing—not just a personal page. Ideally both these items will have consistent branding (fonts, colors, images, mood) that reflect a bit about you and what you write. You want to look like a professional, the kind of person literary agents, editors, and readers want to work with or buy from. If you’ve already got the basics or have lots of time to kill, you can expand into an author newsletter (yes, even if you’re not published yet, even if you’re querying), a blog, more social media accounts, or even consider starting your own podcast.
8. Buy a writing planner and learn how to use it.
Why do we always wait until December 31 to set goals and make plans for the new year? Often it’s hard to stick with those resolutions because we’re overwhelmed trying to do too many things at once. If you don’t have a writing planner, why not buy one now, even if it’s the middle of the year? You’ll probably score a good deal, and you have plenty of time on your hands to learn how to use it. If buying a planner isn’t your thing, what about creating your own system? The internet is full of ideas for bullet journals, bulletin boards, or pretty much any other organizational system you can dream up. Get your writing life organized now, and you’ll be well on your way to a productive career.
9. Organize your writing space.
While you’re at it, take a look at your writing space. Do you have a set writing space? Not everyone needs one, but many people feel more motivated if they have a space set aside to keep their hoard of notebooks, pens, sticky notes, craft books, and other writerly paraphernalia. Take a little time to carve out a nook for yourself, or to declutter and spruce up the one you have, and you may find yourself suddenly motivated to write.
The writing community is generally very giving, and if you’ve ever thought about trying to give back, now might be a good time. If you’re in a writers’ group, you might consider volunteering for a committee or board position, depending on the level of commitment you want. If you’ve ever entered a writing contest, you probably know they always need judges. Judging is a great way to give back and hone your own ability to offer helpful critiques. Other options include beta reading for someone else or helping another writer in an area where you’re gifted, such as offering a free query critique or help with their website.
11. Research your next steps.
Waiting can feel like it will go on forever, but trust me, it won’t. You will have next steps. If you’re self-publishing, you might need to research cover designers, formatting software, and distribution options. If you’re going traditional, you might need to figure out how to query, create a list of agents, or evaluate publishing imprints. If you’re farther down either of these tracks, you might need to learn about marketing, how to finding reviewers, or how to create and print your own swag. There are also side hustles to consider, like creating your own nonfiction writing courses or books, selling products like t-shirts and mugs, or branching out into public speaking.
See? You don’t have to be impatient and bored after all.
If you just sent your first batch of queries, it’s okay to spend a day or two refreshing your inbox. We’ve all been there. But given how slowly this industry usually moves, don’t linger too long on Netflix or your closets. Get up, get moving, and make the most of this time. Before you know it, the wait will be over and you’ll be on to the next exciting stage.
How about you? What waiting stage are you in, and how are you making the most of the time? Leave a comment below to share your tips!