If I asked you to describe a published author, what would you say? Would you think of someone famous, with their book on every shelf, living in the big city and going on book signing tours across the country? Sure, that may describe a portion of the published authors in the world, but that certainly isn’t true of every single one. Oftentimes, there are published authors living right in our hometown, we just don’t know it.
The area I live in has a population of a little over 800,000, and though we have our fair share of cities and attractions, it’s not a super famous area (except for a misnamed Billy Joel song). When I learned the library in my town was holding a Local Author Fair, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Were there really that many authors from our area? I decided to check it out though. It gave me the opportunity to listen to an author panel and speak with a few of the writers, and I certainly learned a lot.
Lesson #1 – Don’t be afraid to meet other writers
I was the youngest person at this author fair, so I felt a bit like a fish out of water. It was nerve-wracking for me to go and talk to the various authors at their booths later on, but I did so anyway. And though I should’ve expected it, the authors I talked to were very kind and friendly towards me, and didn’t appear to think any less of me because I was younger. I was very appreciative of that – even though there were many years between us, we could still connect over our passion for writing.
Lesson #2 – Networking with other writers is important
One of the authors on the panel talked about the importance of networking. Usually when I hear the word networking, I think of trying to find agents or publishers, but she spoke about networking in terms of building camaraderie between writers. She went on to explain that when writers encounter something that we don’t think we can do – such as marketing a book – our writer network can help is overcome that obstacle. She recommended finding a local writer’s group and joining it in order to find and build those connections.
Lesson #3 – Writers come from everywhere
I was fascinated by the variety of people that were at this author fair. I had the privilege of talking to writers who were also psychology professors, family therapists, attorneys, IT workers, and environmental scientists, and so on. Seeing that diversity among writers showed me something that I knew, but had never really seen – Storytelling spans more than just one group of people, everyone participates in it in one way or another. As an English major with vague career plans, that gives me hope. Even if I don’t end up being a full-time writer, I can still be a writer no matter what field I find myself in.
Lesson #4 – Plotting and Pantsing are both good writing styles
One of the common questions in writerly circles is: “Are you a plotter or a pantser?” If those words sound weird to you, a brief explanation: plotters tend to outline their stories with varying degrees of detail and have a game plan going into their projects. Pantsers, on the other hand, usually “fly by the seat of their pants” (hence the expression) when it comes to writing. Preference of these styles varies depending on the writer (and sometimes their personality), but they both work. The writers on the panel made a point to mention that longer projects often require more of a plotter attitude, but it’s also important to remain flexible, especially when it comes to character-driven projects. Stories and characters can often take on a life of their own, and thus you need to be aware of where the story is naturally going rather than force it to follow your plan exactly. As one panelist put it, “I’m not a slave to the outline.”
Lesson #5 – Have a variety of people critiquing your manuscript
Though this term wasn’t used by the panel, this is what I’d call beta-reading: asking people to read your manuscript and offer feedback. When you ask for beta readers though, make sure you have a variety of them – old and young, male and female, and so on. Not all of them may be in your target audience, but it’s useful to have a number of different perspectives regardless.
Lesson #6 – Daily writing goals may not be as helpful as you think
Along with that, the panel also discussed the pros and cons of setting daily writing goals. They said that working on your writing every day can be beneficial, but setting a daily word goal can sometimes do more harm than good. If something happens that prevents you from meeting your daily word goal, it can be frustrating and unmotivating. That can lead to what one author called “imposter syndrome” – in other words, feeling like you’re not a “real writer” because you didn’t meet your daily word goal. Sometimes life gets in the way of writing, and that’s okay – just try again tomorrow.
Lesson #7 – Different publishing routes offer different levels of control
The authors on the panel had published their works in a variety of ways: self-publishing, publishing with a small company, and publishing with a large company. If I were to describe the differences on a scale, this is what it would look like:
Self-publishing allows more control, but it also means you have to hire your own cover artists, editors, and do your own marketing. Small publishers do things in a variety of ways, but they will often take care of other things in exchange for some control. Big publishers will take care of everything, especially marketing, but it gives the creator less control. All three options are viable, however, and the choice can depend on your goals for the work and other factors as well.
And that’s my experience with the Local Author Fair! Though I didn’t stay very long, I had a good time and really enjoyed interacting with the people I met there.