The Path to Publication, part 4: Putting it out there

image(Number 1 of 3 posts in response to attending the Creative Nonfiction writing conference in Pittsburgh, PA, May 23-25, 2014)

Well, here I am in a hotel room in Pittsburgh trying to process all the information I received today at the Creative Nonfiction Conference. After a 9-hour drive yesterday and 5 hours of informational input today, my brain was ready for a nap!

Questions arose, but being the introvert I am, I needed time to think through it all. During a break two editors/presenters were standing right next to me and I couldn’t even think of what it was I needed to know. Duh.

But, after some processing time (and some scrummy Indian curry), I can share my main take-aways from today (some of which is surmised and not necessarily exactly what was said), and again, I will only discuss traditional publishing (but I will say that the info I heard today has confirmed my intuition that I should go the traditional route):

1. Submit to literary journals and magazines (print and online) to:
a) practice your craft
b) gain readership and develop a writing resume
c) develop relationships with editors (especially those of small presses who will, in general, work closely with you and offer encouragement, guidance, and “membership” in a community of writers.

Note: Essays/short stories can be published first and still possibly be included in a full-length work at a later date. Inclusion in an anthology is also an option.

2. “Creative Nonfiction is where it’s at!” — Lee Gutkind. BUT the subject of the nonfiction is most important.
What is it ABOUT? It can’t be just about you. No matter the brilliance of the writing, if the subject isn’t going to appeal/resonate with an audience (or editor/agent first), it will not get published.

3. Having an agent or not depends on your goals
It is imperative to have an agent if trying for a big press (and always have them negotiate the finances), not necessary if choosing a small/independent press. (But maoke sure you interview the editor to determine that the relationship and amount of promotion they will do will work for you.)

5. Develop your platform and brand through:
a) your own blog or submitting to other blogging sites (Huffpost, etc.)
b) Twitter — tweet other (good) writers’ work, there is a reciprocity that occurs online
c) online writing communities, and other outlets such as Goodreads, Buzzfeed, Medium, etc.
Editors notice this visibility.

But — and I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before — above all: YOUR PASSION IS YOUR BRAND AND PLATFORM!

The Path to Publication, part 3: Pitching for a date

As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, the whole pitch-query-agent-proposal-publisher thing has filled me with fear and dread for a long time. It took finally reaching out to some friends and acquaintances in the know and attending a very helpful (and focused) workshop to make it feel almost do-able.

And as promised, I am sharing here some of the advice I received (some of which will conflict). Please note, that this information is a summary and cannot reflect every helpful tidbit. In other words, get thee to a workshop for the most thorough insight on how to start the publication process. (As an aside, one author highly recommended going the self-publication route. At this point, I do not feel this is the right way for me, so I will focus here only on traditional publication.)

On agents and publishers, the first step:

    1. Don’t contact publishers directly.
    2. If you are close to finishing the book, do that.  Then start looking for an agent.
    3. If you want to sell on proposal, put together a brief proposal (think movie trailer) for an agent.
    4. Contacting a few publishers while researching agents is an option.
    5. Possibly request a casual conversation — no query yet since the books aren’t done — with a local publisher for insight on “final” draft.
    6. You do not need to have the book finished to begin the process. But prepare two “perfect” (your strongest) chapters ready to use as sample material.

On Pitches (a summary of information shared by David Corey at the League of Vermont Writers conference, April 26, 2014):

  1. Pitch is like the pick-up line to get you the date (the query letter is the first date)
  2. Pitch is a very short story (100-150 words)
  3. Use 3rd person, present tense
  4. Specific and concrete: talk action and character, not theme or intangibles (i.e. “the meaning of life”)
  5. Use nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs
  6. Use your own voice and make sure it reflects the tone of the book
  7. Paint a picture: show, don’t tell
  8. Make the reader care… in ONE SENTENCE!

On Query Letters (a summary of information shared by Joni Cole at the League of Vermont Writers conference, April 26, 2014):

  1. Use your own voice (don’t be all formal and “professional”)
  2. Make it memorable (“give it a heartbeat.”)
  3. Be specific: give “nugget” of the story without going into plot: a) The “grounding spot”: what started the story, why is there a story? b) What does character want to do? c) What’s in the way?
  4. Include genre and word count
  5. Personalized opening to agent (make you sure this is not a complete “cold call” so you have something to reference to make it personal)
  6. Show you did your homework (know the market: help them sell the book): a) who’s your competition? b) why is your book different? c) what’s your niche market?
  7. Platform: Who are you? a) credentials b) networks and mailing lists c) blogs, followers, etc.
  8. But above all: “YOUR PASSION IS YOUR PLATFORM!”

To read snippets of my memoir, click here. I will be adding more as this journey progresses.

 

 

A Path to Publication, part 1: It isn’t about publication

everestYou know what scares me?

Publishing my book.

No, let me rephrase that. You know what DID scare me?

Yup, until a week ago, the idea of going through the process of getting my book published gave me chills. It seemed a Mount Everest of Unknowns, with only the guarantee of the frost-bite of Rejection Letters.

But, I now know the fear was because I wasn’t ready. I am now.

I am ready to take this journey that I know will challenge my stamina and self-confidence. I don’t know what lies ahead, what crevices, cliffs, and peaks I will face, or even how long it will take. This is probably going to be a loooong, slooooow hike.

And I invite you to come along with me. It is my hope that by sharing the journey, it won’t seem so lonely or so cold. And for those who are also wishing to publish, I hope it might serve as a Sherpa, a guide: learn from my mistakes and find encouragement in my successes.

So, here’s where The Story of My Story is now. I won’t start at the very beginning, that was the day I was born, and who’s got time for all that? I won’t even tell you how I became a writer or how I came to write the particular book I wrote (although finishing it will become the part of this story which I am very much looking forward to reading myself…).

OK, let’s start here:

Once upon a time — oh, about eight, 15, 22 years ago — I thought the apex of my life would be to get published. I thought it would be as a novelist, but then I realized I like writing about my own problems too much to make up problems for non-existent people.

Fast forward a few years. I started blogging and then I got my first by-line in a tiny magazine. Fast forward again to now. I have two weekly columns in my local paper and I see my name on the cover at least once a month. Publication is no longer a big deal.

Now, wait a minute, you say. Having a by-line in a small town’s paper isn’t exactly The Big Time. No, I know. But what it has done is taken the OMG!-ness out of it. I’ve gotten used to knowing my words are being read over coffee and commented on in cyberspace.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m no longer wanting to be published for the sake of being published (I just yesterday heard about someone who is writing soft porn, not because they are called to write it, but because, as they said, “I just want to be published.”).

Oh, don’t get me wrong, when (I believe in positive thinking) I first see my book in a bookstore window I will be doing Pharrell’s “Happy” dance on the inside (or maybe just for fun, I’ll do it for real while telling all the staring passers-by, “That’s my book. See that? I wrote that. That’s me. See?”).

No, I now want to be published because I believe that what I have to say, what I have learned – My Story – is important and can be of help to others. I know — because it already has with some with whom I have shared it — that my story resonates. Therefore, I believe I have an obligation to share it with the world.

But wait, I still haven’t said where I am right now along this path to publication. Well, I’ve babbled enough for now. I will start with my latest story of Serendipity in the next post.

To read snippets of my memoir, click hereI will be adding more as this journey progresses.

Just a quickie

No, not that kind (get your head out of the gutter).

No, this is just a quick, boastful post to say…

I GOT PUBLISHED!

In Mama Says (this is the link to their blog, not the zine itself). My understanding is it is just a small Vermont publication, but I don’t care. You have to start somewhere, right? and a homegrown zine in my own state is as good a start as any. It is an essay on talking to my children about God and religion. I can’t wait to actually see my name in print.

And, on another happy note: It is official… I will be teaching a journal workshop at the end of February. I will be listed on the Writer’s Center website with bio and everything (not that I have much of a bio).

I believe the life of my dreams is beginning to unfold. Ironically, it is happening at the same time as my day job, my dream job, is becoming a bit of a nightmare. It seems serendipity is poking in its nose making sure I am fulfilled and feeling appreciated at a time when I could be feeling far from it. And I have more proof of this.

Even though I am tired from work, battling children and housework, I have started singing again. Like Agnetha from Abba, I could sing almost before I could talk and I have been singing alone or in a group my whole adult life. My highest achievement was singing with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra chorus, which I had to leave when my unborn child insisted on sleeping on my lungs. Since then, I haven’t sung much at all (which I will also blame on my children). But recently I joined a church choir that has an amazing reputation and an even greater repertoire. A few weeks ago after the performance of Messiah, the soloist approached me and hugged me because she, amazingly, remembered me from my VSO days (over 6 years ago). She told me she remembered I had a beautiful voice and was glad I was singing with Rip (the incredibly talented director of the church choir). I don’t know where this will lead but I’ll keep singing and wait to find out.

I tell you this, not to boast, but to prove my point: DO WHAT YOU LOVE… you WILL have success!