That’s right, six books and I still type with four fingers – two on each hand. But I’m not too proud to ask for help. As a professional, I can’t afford it. And neither can you.
The good news about today’s publishing market is that everyone can be an author. That’s also the bad news, because there is far more competition. To get your work read, it needs to be polished and professional. From translating your ideas into a story to typing a clean final draft, getting help can make all the difference.
Fortunately, there are all kinds of help available: friends, writing groups, workshop classes, consultants, editors, and online programs. Deciding what’s best for you can be harder than the actual writing. Writing is the fun part! (At least, I hope so.)
Friends & Family members are great. They can be perfect for that enthusiastic first read, when you don’t want anyone messing with your delicate idea. But their feedback may be about helping you, rather than the work.
Writing Groups are like a professional family, because they keep you motivated to turn in pages. They can provide a sense of community to lonely writers who spend too much time with the imaginary people in our heads. When it comes to critiques, be careful. Years ago, I stumbled out of my first group critique only to learn that the man who had ripped my family drama to shreds was a cameraman writing porno. My second writing group was made up of other authors who taught at the Writers Program at UCLA. This was a Dream Team – except we were too busy to schedule regular meetings. Last week, I was invited to join another writers group, so accomplished and committed that I had to ‘try out.’ After writing and consulting on my own for over a decade, I was wary. I researched the other members, read their work, and reviewed my other commitments. When I got the green light, how could I refuse? It can only make my work better. And that’s the goal.
Workshops and classes are a wonderful way to go. They provide leaders to keep writers on task with relevant comments and equal time. The Writers Program at UCLA provides training for instructors of quarterly workshops. Private workshops have devoted followings that can last for years. The down side of any group is that you may not get feedback as often as you like.
Manuscript Consultants are the best way to get specific, expert story advice. Invest your money wisely by finding a good one through referrals and reputation. Make sure your manuscript is in the best shape possible before submitting it. Good consultants will analyze your work and show you opportunities for improvement. They will not steal your idea, nor write it for you, so anticipate doing a revision. Relax and enjoy the process, knowing that the results will make you proud. Once your work is published, your name is on it forever.
Editors are your last chance to polish your work. Sloppy printing implies sloppy writing, and you’ve worked too hard to rush this part. If you have an agent and a traditional publisher, an in-house copyeditor will be sure the manuscript is perfectly formatted. If you are self-publishing, find someone to proofread the printed word. Go beyond spellcheck with Grammarly or other online tools. At a conference last week I heard about a writer who printed a thousand copies of her book - with a typo on the cover. After years of work, she blew her savings on a product that online stores refused to carry. And yes, readers will judge a book by the cover. Make yours a beauty!
Don’t be too proud to ask for help. That’s the secret to being professional.
Leslie Lehr is a prize-winning author, whose new novel is What A Mother Knows. Her essays appear in the New York Times, Huffington Post, and anthologies such as Mommy Wars. A graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts with an MFA from Antioch University, she is a member of PEN, The Authors Guild, WGA, Women In Film, The Women’s Leadership Council of L.A., and is a contributor to the Tarcher/Penguin Series “Now Write.”
Leslie mentors writers through private consulting and Truby’s Writers Studio.