Monday, June 29, 2009

Backspace—A Writer’s Resource

Three years ago, I let go of the safety net of a real job and started writing and gigging full-time. As all you writers know, this is an amazing juggling act of writing, submitting, taking classes, participating in critique groups, reading, studying, and discovering how it will all come together in the end. The end of writing is not the end of course; it is only the beginning of the next leg of the journey, if publishing is the goal. Now that I’ve completed the novel that started out as a memoir and morphed five times into something better, I’m almost ready to show it to agents. I say ‘almost’ because I want to make sure not to spin my wheels and blow my chance to make a good impression with the right person. I don’t want to waste my time and other people’s time. I’m reminded of standing on the edge of the high dive at the town pool when I was twelve years old. It’s a long way down, but there’s no going back.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching someone from my critique group jump before me—a perfect swan dive, an Olympic quality dive. She polished up her first 50 pages and got on a plane to New York to attend the Backspace Writer’s Conference. She found the conference on the Backspace website and with nothing to go on but her absolute belief in her project, off she went. She returned with an agent and a book deal soon followed.

Now that I’ve polished Nine Mile Creek to my satisfaction, before I jump, I want to be sure I have it right. What does it mean to have it right? Google writers’ resources and you get thousands upon thousands of hits. I skipped all that and went straight to the Backspace website. Upon entering, I felt like I’d wandered into the writers’ secret candy store. All those familiar agent names I’ve seen in Poets & Writers every month, they were there, just waiting for me to show up it seemed. I began to wander the aisles of this website slash candy store, and discovered an extensive collection of valuable articles written by agents, editors and other writers for would-be authors like me. They were talking about everything I wanted to know including what makes a successful pitch, what are the best ways to get published and what to expect when you do, how did they land an agent, and what makes a good writer’s website.

On the Backspace site there are links to agents and editors, blogs and websites. There is a newsletter and an extensive list of links to other writers’ websites. I mined these for ideas for my own:

Backspace has a blog, posted on Publisher’s Marketplace, the Backspace Writer’s Place Blog.

If they offered nothing but the website, they would, in my estimation, fulfill their mission of writers helping writers. But there is more than just the online discussion forum and endless dossier of resources. Their annual face-to-face conference puts writers in an intimate setting where they can, if they have the guts, get blasted for what is wrong with their query letters. If they make it through that, they get a second day of encouragement and face-to-face pitching opportunities. When I say you have to have guts, I mean you really have to believe in yourself. In a June 22nd post by Jeanette Schneider on the Backspace blog about her experiences at the Conference this year, this fellow writer recounts:

I shook as I sat at a table…worried that the other writers were better than me, more talented, more literary, if there is such a thing. I looked around the room to see nervous smiles, anxious laughter, excited introductions and I realized I was amongst my peers.”

You have to have enough nerve to show up and be counted with others who most likely feel just like you do, who have worked hard like you have, and now must jump off the far end of the proverbial high dive.

My friend and colleague, Naseem Rakha, who walked away from the Backspace Writer’s Conference with a top-drawer New York agent, has talent and a well-crafted story that made the agent cry. She also had the guts to get on the plane and show up. She believed in herself and her story.

If you have that, Backspace has the resources you need to succeed on the next leg of the journey. In no time, Naseem’s agent had inked a deal with a big publishing house. Fast forward to this year, Naseem Rakha’s book and she are already award-winners. The book, The Crying Tree, will be released this month. She will present the book on July 13th at Powell’s Books in Portland, 7:30, and on July 15th in Salem, at the Tea Party Bookstore, 6:30 p.m.

To succeed in writing and publishing one must be brave, and willing to let go of the safety of knowing what will happen next. But in addition to nerves of steel, one must also possess the knowledge of where the good resources are and the wisdom to use them.

I suggest joining Backspace, one of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers:
I want to thank Ali McCart for presenting this resource, the Ink-Filled Page, and everything else she does for emerging writers in the Portland area and beyond.

1 comment:

  1. Ali McCart11:30 PM

    Thanks so much for adding your insight on Backspace, Camille!

    For those of you who don't know, Camille Cole and her story "The Flower Thief" were featured in *Ink-Filled Page* in the 2007 anthology. You can get your copy at Powell's or at Camille writes and dreams in the Portland, Oregon, area.