I’ve noticed this magic that happens in the writing community. (It might not actually be magic, but in my world, there is a lot of magic. For instance, radio, television, Internet, telephones. How do they work? If you tried to explain it to me, you wouldn’t be the first, and yet, for me, it’s still magic.)

The fairy dust I’m talking about is the direct correlation to volunteering and involvement in writers’ organizations, and writing success. You might know this already, but writing well is hard. There are so many elements to conquer and there are always new challenges to tackle. When I was starting out, I had no idea how much I didn’t know. I showed up at my first conference with a completed manuscript I expected to hand off to an agent with whom I had a 10-minute appointment.

At that conference, I got my comeuppance. I immediately volunteered to run the agent/editor pitch sessions for the next year. What an eye-opening experience. In the next several years of running that event, I saw every mistake an aspiring writer can make when presenting themselves and their work. I had candid conversations with the professionals we invited. I learned they are mere mortals and come in every flavor the rest of us do.

I moved on from that job to registrar and met still more people. Picked up bits and pieces of this and that, adding to my knowledge of craft and the business side of writing. So much more goes on at a conference than what you learn in the best workshops.

After that, I glommed onto a board position. Kibitzing before and after meetings I learned all kinds of interesting information, such as new publishers, agents on the prowl, super-cool ideas with marketing and promotion. And I made friends. Lots and lots of friends.

Probably the most beneficial part of the whole process was that friend component. Savvy folks call it networking and making contacts. But that’s not what it was for me. I connected with the people I worked with, the new writers scared witless to meet with an agent, and the jaded New York professionals who’ve been in the game for decades, writers who know how to plot, produce words, create amazing work, bloggers eager for guest posts.

My first real contract was a direct result of volunteering. I didn’t pitch my editor at the conference where we met. In fact, I hadn’t done my research to even know what she was acquiring. The truth was, I’d been attending and volunteering at that conference for so long that I felt truly comfortable. It wasn’t stressful for me to strike up a conversation and soon we became friends – as you do at conferences. That easy relationship led to a contract. Magic, right?

I’m not particularly shy, but I can get intimidated by being an outsider in a crowd of people who all seem to know each other. Volunteering is the ultimate icebreaker. It gives me a job and a reason to engage. I start to meet people, who introduce me to other people, and soon, I’m not standing against the wall pretending to talk on my phone.

Grandpa Baker explained the principle of Give and Get to me when I was a kid. He used it as a way to measure experiences or business dealings. I Give my time and a certain amount of angst when I volunteer. I Get a whole slate of benefits – knowledge, friends, comfort, contacts, and that magical bit that soaks in by osmosis and defies definition but makes all the difference. The Get is greater than the Give.

Shannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series, set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills. She was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2017 Writer of the Year and Stripped Bare earned the author a starred review in Library Journal (as their Pick of the Month) and a nomination for the 2016 Reading The West Award from Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers. She also writes the Nora Abbott Mysteries (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues inspired by her time working at the Grand Canyon Trust. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimaraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books).

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