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Building a Writing Career—While You're Waiting for Your First Contract

Waiting is a big part of the writing life. You wait for inspiration, for editors and agents to respond, for your book to sell, and finally for your book to be published. All that waiting can take years! You’ll want to keep writing and submitting while you’re waiting, of course. But it’s also smart to put some time and effort into building your writing career—even before you sign that first contract.

I waited six years to sell a children’s trade book—a little longer than average, but not an unusual length of time. During that time, however, I authored around 80 books for the educational market, published stories in children’s magazines, and gave presentations at schools and writers’ events. These things provided income and a platform that came in handy when that first trade book was finally published.

If you find yourself stuck in waiting mode, here are four career-building tips to consider.

1. DIVERSIFY. Whether you’re passionate about picture books or novels, take a break occasionally and pen an article for a magazine or apply for work-for-hire jobs. Write for testing companies. Enter contests. Write blog posts. There are lots of ways to get published while you’re waiting for that big break – embrace them! They’ll add to your resume and you’ll gain valuable experience in working with editors. Read how prolific nonfiction author Melissa Stewart learned to do this here.

2. TEACH. It doesn’t matter whether you have a book published or not. You can do school and library visits and share your journey with kids, or speak at conferences and share what you’ve learned with other writers. It may help to pick a niche to become an expert in. The Internet opens up a host of other opportunities – if you can come up with a service to provide, there’s probably a market for it. A prime example is Julie Hedlund, who started her very successful 12 x 12 Challenge before her first book was ever published.

3. PROMOTE. Many children’s writers have gotten their start by promoting other writers’ books on their blogs and social media. Cheering others on and sharing your love of kidlit with the world will help build a community that will gladly return the favor when the time comes. Vivian Kirkfield and Maria Marshall are masters at this!

4. NETWORK. Keep working at building your writing community. Go to conferences and SCBWI events; join a critique group, kidlit Facebook groups, etc. They are great places to learn about new opportunities. I had no idea the educational market even existed until I attended a local SCBWI event nine years ago. The presenter, Colleen Kessler, pointed me toward Laura Purdie Salas’s course on writing for the educational market, which is now an e-book. Six months later, I had my first assignment.

These tips can help you build a writing career before you ever sign your first contract. Do you have other ideas or experiences to share? Leave them in the comments below – I’d love to hear them!

Lisa Amstutz is a freelance editor and the author of 100+ books for kids. She serves as ARA for Northern Ohio SCBWI and as a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story. For more about her books and editorial services, see

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