Making it as a writer – Alicia de los Reyes

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By Alicia de los Reyes

Hi! I’m Alicia de los Reyes, author of DIY Chick Lit and the soon-to-be-published DIY Writing Retreat. In addition to fun writing guides, I write non-fiction and fiction, and my work has appeared in publications large and small. I’m excited to be writing a monthly column here about making it as a writer: how I do it, how others do it, and what it means today. Welcome! I would love to hear your feedback and suggestions for topics you’d like to see here. Email me at alicia dot delosreyes at gmail dot com. And if you like, you can find out more about me and my writing at♥

What “making it” means

Millions of women (and men) aspire to “making it” as a writer. I am no exception. I have wanted to be a writer since I opened my first spiral notebook. In my early days, my goal was to reach unimaginably high page counts. I wrote one story when I was nine about an adopted Russian girl named Lana that was fourteen pages. I shared this with my dad. He said, “Great, Alicia.” I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t more impressed. Fourteen pages! I was basically halfway to a novel.

Now that I am older and wiser, I still strive to high page counts, translated as word counts in the bottom left-hand corner of my Word screen. I surpassed fourteen pages long ago, and my father was duly impressed.

My goals have shifted since I was nine, and so has the world of writing and publishing. “Making it” today as a writer can mean many things, now that we have the internet, the ability (and obligation?) to market ourselves, and platforms that allow us to self-publish with little or no investment (of money).

So what does making it mean to me now? For starters:
• Selling a certain number of ebooks through Amazon — enough to pay my rent
• Getting more stories and essays published in respected journals and magazines
• Winning a writing contest
• Having a certain number of visitors to my website each month — enough to put in a query letter without fear of getting laughed at
• Getting a traditional book deal.

This is what I want now. If you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you that making it would mean:
• Publishing my first ebook
• Building a shiny new website
• Getting my stories and essays published in a non-local magazine or journal
• Finding a job that earned me more than my teaching assistantship
• Getting any kind of affirmation at all from anyone that I was on the right track.

Cover [FINAL - JPEG, SIZED]Last year, I had just graduated from my MFA program and was writing, for kicks, an ebook on how to write chick lit (that would become DIY Chick Lit – I was feeling terribly afraid of what would happen to me now that I was out in the real world. Would my writing suffer without workshop partners? Would I replace all my writing time with TV?

Aside from a period of intense addiction to Buffy the Vampire slayer, my fear made me stick to a pretty tight morning writing schedule. Though I had my ups and downs last year, I published my first ebook. I found reviewers and was even featured on my longtime heroine’s blog: The Crafty Chica. Just last month I found out that one of my stories won an Editor’s Choice Award as part of the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing competition and will be published this month. And another article came out in a well-respected magazine.

The lesson? Even though I achieved all of these goals — even though I made it — I’m still trying to make it. I’m working on my next ebook (DIY Writing Retreat) and sending out queries right and left. I am trying to be a better Twitter user and share my work with others regularly, even though none of that comes naturally to me.

In a year from now, I plan to make another list of goals — milestones that would prove to me that I have made it. And I’m sure that some of the items will be things that now I couldn’t imagine were possible. Publishing my novel? Going on a book tour? Getting a sparkling review from one of my author heroines?

What does making it mean to you? Take out a piece of paper (or open a Word doc) right now and list out all the magical, wonderful things that would prove to you that you had made it. Then think back to last year — what did you want to do then that is no longer on your list?
These things are proof — proof that you are making it.

In this column, I will share with you tales from my first year trying to make it: the nitty gritty of how I published and marketed my ebook; my query emails to editors, bloggers, and reviewers; my spreadsheet for submissions; and how it all feels. Often, I’ll give you a super-quick, two-minute exercise that you can do to reflect, write, or otherwise nail down some of these nebulous ideas. And I’ll respond to your questions and comments. Cheers!

Alicia de los Reyes is the Seattle-based author of DIY Chick Lit: A Writing Guide and DIY Writing Retreat: A Guide to Getting Away. She is working on a non-fiction book about a year in an evangelical church. Find more of her writing at


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