Many writers bemoan the fact that they have to invest -- OOOPS, spend money (!) on their careers -- well before selling a ms. or seeing any results from sales. I was fortunate to have been raised by parents who understood the importance of preparation and schooling and who taught me that to have anything worthwhile, it takes time and sacrifice AND, quite often, money.
That understanding has served me well. First, as a teacher, but for the last many years, as a writer. Most writers recognize the need for computers and technology without a second thought. Unfortunately, for many, the cost of attending conferences or courses, building a platform by speaking and appearing at locations without pay, even donating articles, books and resources while having to spend on other resources, adds up so quickly that they pull back. That hesitation, however, can slow the course of their career and writing opportunities tremendously.
Thankfully, I married a man who, though not a "reader", also supported my growing obsession and said, "Go for it!" Though I had been writing and selling articles and stories for several years, teaching English and history full time while being a very busy rancher's wife and mother of three, etc., meant I was burning my candle at two ends. I think a lot of writers do that, especially in the beginning. But my husband said, "If you really want to write, don't be afraid to quit teaching full time, if that's what you need to do." So I did....
The next step, spending money in the process of writing, came next. My father -- who had passed away by then -- had always said, "Never, NEVER, be afraid to invest in YOURSELF." My mother and family kept reminding me of that. My twin sister and mother even insisted we load up my sister's old pickup truck, and four of our children, and head up to Montana where I was wanting to go for primary research into the history of the Marias Massacre, the background for the novel I was pursuing (ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS, which then WON a WILLA Literary Award)! We looked like something out of the Grapes of Wrath :-) Packed into her 1969 pickup, in August -- with no air conditioning -- we headed north! With four little boys, it was quite an adventure.
But I realized through that endeavor that getting to those locations where you need to SEE, hear, or feel your STORY, is critical. I even suspect that part of the reason the novel went on to win a WILLA Award, from Women Writing the West, was because I had spent so much energy and time researching primary documents and visiting sites that were integral to the story. Hopefully it made the story much more authentic because I was not sitting at home trying to imagine the locations Red Eagle and Liza Ralston struggled against but walking over ground they would have walked....perhaps that's why PRP was also willing to re-release the novel in December 2013 (thank you, Cheryl and Livia)!
After that trip, I also began to see the need to attend more writing conferences and courses. I had already found Women Writing the West and when the conference came to Sacramento, I jumped on board. What a great group! I have since attended at least ten Women Writing the West conferences, and even did a stint as President and WILLA Chair.
Besides meeting the awesome women who people the organization, through WWW, I met the editor for Arcadia Publishing and immediately began a relationship with them, having now sold them four titles. Two of those titles have gone into second printing and the last one my coauthor and I did for them (POSTCARDS FROM THE STATE OF JEFFERSON) was actually one that Arcadia pitched to US! At WWW, I also met the publisher who accepted the ms. for HISTORIC INNS & EATERIES IN THE STATE OF JEFFERSON (Old America Publishing), AND two conferences ago, I met the editor from Globe Pequot who accepted the pitch for ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP, just released. ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP is now ranked #57,000 on amazon.com.
I also met the agent I worked with (only for a short time) at a writers' conference. Although the relationship didn't work out, I began to build the confidence that helped me approach other agents and editors at conferences.
I have since attended RWA conferences, PNWA conferences, a Willamette Writers conference, even smaller local and regional conferences. I dragged my husband to L.A. and attended a four-day Screenwriting course because I wanted to jump into that genre, and I traveled to Portland (320 miles north) for six weeks to attend a screenwriting course. Some of my writing friends shook their heads at how willing I was to travel long distances to learn more or seek out new opportunities. Of course, living in a remote, rural area -- I had little choice but to travel!
I began to speak to small writing groups and offered myself to schools in the area, even traveling a couple hours each way, to speak and share; sometimes I sold a book or two, but often sold nothing. I joined a list of historical writers and began writing for our local NPR/JPR station and its quite famous historical essay series (I still contribute 3 small essays each month!). I accepted a "job" as a writer for a new regional publication, JEFFERSON BACKROADS; in exchange for my writing a long piece each month, I "receive" free ads and publicity. This year, I'll be attending the Western Writers of America conference in Sacramento and can't wait to meet writers who have attained such great success as many of them have done!
Another expense that seems to "pay off" includes contests (although I'm quite selective). I've entered many different contests and have placed in a number of them, even winning the cost of registration, presentation at the banquet provided the finalists and winners, and a private pitch session for one of my scripts, through Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA).
Clearly, I consider the cost of attending conferences as a necessary investment in building my career. It provides so many opportunities for meeting and networking that the investment of time and money comes back many times over. I look back and think to myself, "Wow! Had I shrunk from spending the money out of fear or feeling the pinch, I'd have missed so much!" So, if you've hesitated until now, just "Go for it!" Search the internet, find local, regional, or national conferences, or courses you know will expand your horizons, and jump in!
For more about my books, visit my website: www.gailjenner.com
For more about the WILLA Literary Award guidelines/application, visit: http://womenwritingthewest.org/pdffiles/2014_WILLA_guidelines_application.pdf