Writing can be a solitary pursuit. Sometimes that independence is a good thing, allowing a writer to work full speed ahead. But all writers, whatever their experience level, eventually have to step out of the vacuum and let someone else read their work. Whether you're looking to get a piece publication-ready or just want a second set of eyes to look over what you've written, a writing consultant can be of great help. How do you find a good writing consultant to trust with your work? Here are some tips for making the search.
- Check online writing sites. In the Internet age, it's a cliché to say everyone's got a website, I know. But everyone's got a website, and if you search "writing consultants" or "writing websites," you will find all sorts of leads. Or you can take a shortcut by letting one popular site do the work for you. Writer's Digest has compiled a list of writing-related websites. Several of them are consultant pages. You can browse the link for yourself at Writer'sDigest.
You might also check sites related to the kind of writing you like to do. Screenwriting website MovieBytes, for example, has lists of screenplay consultants (including yours truly...).
- Check writing magazines in print. If you don't want to web browse, check out magazines like Writer's Digest (print version) or Writer. These magazine usually feature some consultant advertisements and sometimes have special sections focused on writing consultants.
- Have a checklist. What a person wants out of a consultant is an individual thing. Some people just want someone to read one piece, give some concrete suggestions, and move along. Other people want to establish a relationship with a consultant and get ongoing feedback. Some people want no-holds barred criticism, others want career advice. Before you pick out any specific consultants, figure out what you want from the consultant you eventually choose.
- Check teaching and consulting experience/credentials. Once you've narrowed your search to a few different consultants, it's time to do some digging into their backgrounds. After all, writing consultants are often expensive, and you're trusting them with your work- so you want to get good advice, and get what you paid for. So, to begin with, check out things like how long a consultant has been at the job, if she has experience teaching, for instance, at colleges or in professional programs. Look into what her academic background might be. Of course good consultants can be new to the job, can lack any classroom experience and can have a degree in who knows what non-writing field. There are no hard and fast rules. But you do want to know what you're getting into. It's up to you to decide what kind of background you'd like your consultant to have.
- Check professional credentials and professional experience. In the writing world, professional experience is often just as important as educational background - often even more important. When dealing with a consultant, you certainly want someone who has a talent for conveying what they know about writing. There are plenty of people who have this aptitude who have not, say, won six Pulitzer Prizes, two Oscars and opened their own magazines. In other words, don't expect your consultant to have Ernest Hemingway's resume. Or, if you find such a consultant, expect to pay big bucks for her advice... Instead, look for some professional experience- published articles, books, or comparable experience in whatever your genre is. For example, I do screenwriting consulting. I have never had a script of my own produced. But my clients can see on my website that I have had several scripts place in the finals of various contests, I have consulted on several films that have been produced (not very good ones, but still...) and I also have worked as a television critic for about seven years. So, I have some experience to go on.
As you're checking credentials, compare what the consultant's experience is with what she charges. I believe consultants should charge a price commensurate with their experience. In other words, I don't charge as much for my consulting as an Oscar-winning screenwriter would. On the other hand, buyer beware: Some people have mediocre credentials that they doctor to sound impressive and, accordingly, they charge more money than they may actually be worth. For example, a screenwriting consultant who worked (in an undisclosed capacity) for a "major studio" (for an undisclosed time period) back in 1985 may or may not be worth $100 more an hour than people without such jobs on their resumes. Again, you'll have to use your own best judgment as to whether the consultant is worth the price.
- Look at what's provided. As I said above, you want to go to your consultant with an idea of the services you'd like to receive. If you visit her website, check out her print magazine ad, or call her on the phone and find out she is not offering these services, obviously, it's on to the next consultant on the list.
On the other hand, if it seems like this consultant offers the basics you're looking for, for example, written critiques, phone consultations, professional advice, etc., dig deeper, ask for more details and see if the package the consultant offers gives you enough of what you're looking for. You may even hear about some new services you weren't aware of to begin with.
- Go with your gut. The most important thing to do when you're looking for a consultant is to go with your gut. If a person's website is filled with glowing reviews from past customers, all sorts of professional bragging points, and great prices, yet you feel like you're being sold a bill of goods- go with your gut. On the other hand, if you come across a consultant who doesn't have all-star credentials but seems to be enthusiastic, bright, and reasonably experienced, go with your gut there, too.
You have put significant time into your writing. Sharing it with anyone, let alone someone who is going to give it a thorough critiquing, let alone someone you'll have to pay? Well, that's not easy. Be careful who you trust, but also be confident there are a lot of writing consultants out there who really do want to help your work be all it can be.