Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to Get Published, Part 4: Reasons to Send Work Out Other Than Getting Published

O.K., I know this series of blogs was supposed to be about getting published. But the reality is that there is a crucial reason to send your work out that is only peripherally related to seeing your writing in print or on the Internet.

When you’re preparing to send your work out, your eyesight as an editor of your own writing suddenly becomes incredibly sharp. Why? Because you're putting yourself in the shoes of a potential reader of your work, rather than looking at your writing the way a dog looks at its owner. This objectivity is something we strive for constantly as writers, but most of us only achieve it sporadically. When you think about sending out your work, you scrutinize your writing with that objective glance that is so hard to find.

In fact, I would say that I never see my work with as much clarity as I do the moment after I press SEND for an electronic submission, or the moment after I drop a manuscript in a mailbox.

Don’t lose that precious moment of sharp-focus objectivity. Even if you’ve just sent your work to a publisher—especially if you’ve just sent your work to a publisher—capture that second of cold honesty to help you rewrite the work you just sent out. The mistake that you glimpse right after you hit SUBMIT or as the envelope irretrievably slips into the mailbox out of your reach is exactly the one you want to correct. Don’t worry that the publisher you just sent it to won’t experience the revised version. You can always change the text later if it gets accepted.

Meanwhile, you’ve been granted a sort of divine omniscience, if only for a split second, as if a magician had momentarily conferred on you a temporary superpower in the middle of your local post office. Put your trust in that sharp vision. Don’t waste the opportunity. After all, the goal is not only to get published. Yes, maybe in the long run, but in the short run, your job as a writer is to finish the pieces you are working on as well as you possibly can. If you do that part well, publication will follow in the fullness of time.

Other recent posts on writing topics:
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer

Friday, March 23, 2012

How to Get Published, Part 3: Where to Start

There are many hundreds of publishers, and thousands of magazines. Where should you start sending your work?

The best place to start is with the publications that you read. What are the magazines and publishers that really interest you? Think of how you would describe the work that they publish. Does that description also sound like your work? If so, which pieces that you’ve written would go best in which publications or with which publishers? You might want to make a list of publications to send work to, and map that against all the pieces of your writing that are complete and ready to send out. Unless a publication specifies that they do not consider multiple submissions, send your work to all the magazines that seem to match well with it.

There are also publications that pride themselves on discovering new writers. Those might also be another good place to begin. Publications with sections of work by first-time authors include Zyzzyva, The Last Word: West Coast Writing & Artists (only for writers on the West Coast, but that means San Diego to Alaska). I hear that Glimmer Train prides itself on paying at least one third of their honoraria to new or emerging writers. According to my friend Catherine Segurson, Poetry magazine showcases new poets in every issue. They also pay all their contributors.

But one tried and true way to get published is through a personal connection. It helps enormously to meet writers, publishers, and editors. Go to readings where magazines are launching their new issues, or where publishers are presenting their new books. Introduce yourself to the editors. Give them a business card with your name and email and website. Try to get a name and email or address of a person to send your work to directly, and follow up with that person by name, if possible.  

Meet as many people in the literary world as you can. For one thing, they tend to be interesting people! Keep your ears open about information on where to publish. Don’t be afraid to put your work forward, once it’s ready for publication.

Other recent posts on writing topics:
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka
Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer

Monday, March 19, 2012

How to Get Published, Part 2: Theme Issues and Anthologies

One good starting place for writers who are new to submitting their work for publication is to begin with theme issues of magazines and themed anthologies. Publishers announce they are looking for work for a themed issue or anthology by putting out a call for submissions. Calls for submissions often appear on several websites and in magazines. Probably the most useful listing right now for publications in the U.S.A. is the  New Pages site, since it is updated almost every weekday. Other sites are also very helpful, including Poets & Writers Magazine and Poetry Flash. There is a site called Writer's Relief that has a page just on anthologies that are looking for work. I also visit a website that lists calls for submissions in the U.K. and in other countries outside the U.S., called The Poetry Kit. More recently I've run across The Review Review, a website that also has some good calls for submissions.

Why begin your publishing career with themed issues of magazines and anthologies? For those publications, editors are keenly interested in work by writers from a particular group or region, or work written on a specific topic. They tend to be much less interested in whether you have published before, or whether you are a well-known author. The editor(s) of the magazine or anthology might also solicit work from well-published authors, but that’s all the better, since your writing, if accepted, might appear side-by-side with the writing of an author you admire, whose reputation will also draw attention to the publication.

When you submit work to a themed issue or anthology, be sure to read the guidelines extremely carefully. The editor’s phrasing will give you a sense of how loosely or strictly the publication is interpreting the theme.

Here’s a call for submissions from the website of Slipstream, an excellent poetry magazine: We are currently reading for another theme issue (#32) for which we will explore ‘Cars, Bars & Stars.’ A poem could include any combination of the subjects or only one. Creative interpretations are encouraged.” Clearly the editors are leaving the theme fairly loose, as they indicate by the phrase, “Creative interpretations are encouraged.” You have some leeway here.

Here’s an example of a stricter theme I saw on the website of Poetry Flash: “Windfall, A Journal of Poetry of Place is accepting poems about places in the Pacific Northwest for its spring issue. Submit up to five short poems that should not exceed fifty lines each.” This is much more specific. You don’t have to actually live in the Pacific Northwest to submit, if I’m reading this correctly, but you do have to write about its landscape and/or geography. The length requirement is also very specific, and would rule out any poem longer than a page and a half. You have to pay careful attention to those details when you are submitting, otherwise you are wasting your time and the editor’s.

Some journals, such as Slipstream, often publish theme issues, and those are ones where you might want to check their website regularly, to see what their latest theme is. Another good example of this is Spillway magazine, edited by Susan Terris. You may not think of a work you’ve written as being about a specific theme, but if you look with the lens of that theme, you may discover a side to the work you never saw before.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How to Get Published, Part 1: Is There a Right Time to Send Out Your Work?

Yes. The time to send out your work is when it is done. But how do you tell when a piece of writing is done? And what are the consequences if you send out your writing before it’s finished?

There are only so many magazines and presses that resonate with your artistic project. You want those publishers to form a positive impression of your writing. If you send them your creations before they are finished, or before you’ve started writing publishable work, these publishers will remember you as someone who is not creating work they want to include in their magazine or list of books.

Imagine you are going out of the house for an important meeting. Would you leave the house without your shoes, just because you’re eager to get to your meeting, or you think you might be late?

I started sending work to one of my favorite poetry magazines when I was right out of college, in my early 20s. At the time, I was experimenting with all sorts of literary styles. I didn’t have either the sophistication, maturity, or distance to write any of those styles well. But I didn’t realize it. I just wanted to see my work in a magazine I admired, next to writers whose poetry I loved. I sent that magazine I liked work for every issue, and each time they rejected it. The editors probably decided I was a writer whose work they didn’t need to pay much attention to, and I can’t blame them. Now, years later, I’m sending them work with a lifetime of reading and writing and teaching behind it, and they’re still rejecting it, possibly because their image of me was shaped by the early writing I sent them repeatedly.

Waiting till your work is ready to send out is even more crucial for writers who work in book-length genres, such as the novel or a full-length work of nonfiction. You might finish a good draft of a book and find an agent to represent the manuscript. The agent sends the work out to forty potential publishers. They might all reject it, if it’s not really ready for publication. If you’re lucky, some editors might give suggestions on how to improve the text, but increasingly editors are too swamped to read a second version. What do you do then? You’ve already knocked on every possible door, so when you do finally revise your manuscript and it’s in publishable form, there’s nowhere left to send it.

So how do you know when a piece is ready to send out? When you’ve worked as hard on it as you can. When you have no further questions about how you could improve it. When no part of it makes you cringe. When you’ve shown it to several people whose taste and opinions you trust, and you’ve thoroughly incorporated their feedback. When you’re changing phrases back and forth to other phrases that are virtually identical. Then it’s probably done. For now.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop, Part 6: Keep the Clay Wet


When I was a kid I went to an elementary school where we did a lot of work in clay. We shaped ashtrays, monsters, snakes, ballet dancers, and football players. At the end of art class, if we were still working on a piece, we covered it in wet paper towels and enclosed it in a plastic bag. When we returned to the studio in a couple of days, we would unwrap the clay and the piece had remained moist and malleable, still colored dark gray. We could change anything we’d already done.

If we didn’t wrap the piece in damp towels, the clay would dry out, turning a paler gray, and we could only make limited changes, mostly by adding on, and even then, the new clay often would not bond with the old.

What does this have to do with writing? Many writers feel that their early drafts cannot be touched. They get too attached to a certain version of a piece of writing, and they resist making changes. They don’t keep the clay wet. As a result, they ignore feedback, and even refuse to pay attention to their own instincts and thoughts about what is or isn’t working in their writing.

It’s vital if you want to finish a work with the same quality of writing that you “keep the clay wet.” Don’t get too attached to any one phrase or draft or scene or character. What has to go, has to go. What you replace it with will be even better.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Reflections on the 2012 AWP Conference in Chicago


It’s amazing to think that the annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in Chicago from February 29 to March 3, 2012 was attended by 11,000 souls. The number of attendees easily exceeded the population of Montpelier, the capital city of the state of Vermont. The sheer number of writers, editors, and publishers who attended was eye-popping.
Seeing so many literary people in one place—exchanging thoughts in the hotel lobbies, crowding panel discussions, attending off-site events in bars—it was exhilarating. After a couple of days of rubbing elbows only with writers, though, I longed to see a plumber. I suppose that’s partly because the vast number of writers raises vast questions, not the least of which is: How can one writer make an impact in an artistic community that large?
I do feel extremely hopeful when I see so many literary publishers persisting and even thriving in a stormy economic climate, and in a culture in which publishing and literature can sometimes seem totally invisible or irrelevant. Hundreds of publishers filled four exhibition halls, each as large as a city block. It was impossible to visit every table, even in four days. I salute all the exhibitors who spent that long weekend in the innards of the Chicago Hilton.
There were many high points for me. I loved the celebration of Tia Chucha Press, a Chicago institution that has given us so many fabulous authors. Luis Rodriguez, the publisher, in typical fashion, turned the podium over to the poets. Michael Warr’s poem with the refrain “When Ella starts scatting” really resonated for me.
The offsite reading for upstreet magazine was terrific. Three poets, three prose writers, each excellent. Hats off to editor Vivian Dorsel. Bill Zavatsky’s new poems were fantastic, especially his elegy for his mom. Promising younger poet Hannah Fries also impressed.
At the panel discussion on the ghazal, Ravi Shankar’s tribute to the late, great Agha Shahid Ali was moving, bringing back memories of that brilliant and mischievous poet.
Mark Doty was, as always, a standout. He read in the Page Meets Stage event in the Hilton’s Grand Ballroom, one of the few examples of Rococo-revival design, a school I didn’t know existed. I loved Mark’s poem about walking his dog in a graveyard.
Chicago was an amazing setting for the conference. It’s a city that has kept many of its architectural gems, and added new ones. I got to take a walking tour (in a hailstorm) of some of the downtown highlights, sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The tour included the Chicago Cultural Foundation building, one of the most incredible structures in the entire country. Not one but two domes made of exquisite stained glass. Irish marble inlaid with iridescent tile. Sipping soup in the Atwood Restaurant in the historic Reliance Building—also a one-of-a-kind moment.
I asked many of the people I met what their favorite part of the AWP conference was. The last person I asked was wheeling his carry-on out of the Palmer House Hilton elevator on the last day of the conference. His comment: “The bar.”

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tips for the AWP Conference: Picks for Saturday, March 3


These are one poet’s personal and quirky picks for events for the AWP conference in Chicago in 2012. I’ve highlighted presenters I’ve seen in the past or topics that seem interesting to me.

9:00–10:15 AM. Lorenzo Thomas’s Extraordinary Poetics. Lorenzo Thomas’s many contributions to literature have not been sufficiently acknowledged since his untimely passing in 2005. He was an important poet and translator. High time for this panel. Private Dining Room 2, Hilton Chicago.

9:00–10:15 AM. A Poetry Congeries Reading. David St. John, Camille Dungy and more. Sounds like a major new literary venture. State Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton.

Noon–1:15 PM. A Call to Arms, Imagining a Better World: Celebrating the Long Tradition of Chicago Activist Writers. This panel includes the well-known activist Bill Ayers. Great topic. I hope they include Edgar Lee Masters, a fave of mine. State Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton.

1:30–2:45 PM. Staged reading of my play, Things I Didn’t Know I Loved, about the Turkish writer Nazim Hikmet, performed by Chicago’s Caffeine Theatre. Wiliford A, Hilton Chicago.

3:00–4:15PM. Men from Venus, Women from Mars: Writing from the Perspective of the Opposite Sex. Another great topic. State Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton.

4:30–5:45 PM. Literature and Evil. Great topic, great panel, including Marilynne Robinson and Ha Jin. Don’t miss this. Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago.

4:30–5:45 PM. Ear Candy: Teaching the Pleasures of Poetic Meter. A topic that poets should talk more about, and maybe even know more about. Continental B. Hilton Chicago.

4:30–5:45 PM. Poetry Reading: Pitt Poetry Series. Strong line-up, including Toi Derricotte and David Wojahn. Worthwhile. International Ballroom South, Hilton Chicago.

4:30–5:45 PM. Homage to Edouard Glissant. Fine Caribbean fiction writer who wrote in French, deserves to be better known in U.S. Lake Michigan, Hilton Chicago.

Zack Rogow’s play, Things I Didn’t Know I Loved, about the Turkish writer Nazim Hikmet, will be given a staged reading at AWP on Saturday, March 3 from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. in room Wiliford A, Hilton Chicago, 3rd floor.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tips for the AWP Conference, Picks for Friday, March 2


These are one poet’s personal and quirky picks for events for the AWP conference in Chicago in 2012. I’ve highlighted presenters I’ve seen in the past or topics that seem interesting to me.

9:00–10:15 AM. Literature and the Internet in 2012. The panelists are all editors of Internet magazines, so this might have substance. Grand Ballroom, Palmer House.

10:30–11:45 AM. Graywolf Press Reading. Includes D.A. Powell and Albert Goldbarth, both very worth hearing. International Ballroom South, Hilton Chicago.

10:30–11:45 AM. On the Move: Contemporary African American Women’s Literary Fiction. I don’t know the panelists, but it sounds promising. State Ballroom, Palmer House Hilton.

Noon–1:15. Why We Need a WPA for the 21st Century. It’s probably a pipe dream, but hey, pass the pipe! Wabash Room, Palmer House Hilton.

1:30–2:45 PM. National Book Critics Circle Celebrates Award-Winning Writers. You get to hear Jane Smiley and Jennifer Egan. Hard to beat. Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago.

3:00–4:15 PM. A Reading and Conversation with Luis J. Rodriguez and Dagoberto Gilb. Luis Rodriguez is a wonderful reader. I bet this will be a winner. Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago.

4:30–5:45 PM. Arab and Arab American Feminism. Good topic, and it features Youmna Chlala, who is very worth hearing. Lake Erie, Hilton Chicago.

4:30–5:45 PM. A Reading and Conversation with C.K. Williams. Hugely original poet who doesn’t appear that often in the U.S. Grand Ballroom, Hilton Chicago.

8:30–10:00 PM. A Reading and Conversation with U.K. and U.S. Poets Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Philip Levine. Sounds terrific. Philip Levine is a living legend. International Ballroom North and South, Hilton Chicago.

Zack Rogow will be signing copies of his new book, My Mother and the Ceiling Dancers, at the Kattywompus Press table (bookfair booth 721) at the AWP conference in Chicago on Friday, March 2, 2012 from noon to 1:00 p.m. His play, Things I Didn’t Know I Loved, about the Turkish writer Nazim Hikmet, will be given a staged reading at AWP on Saturday, March 3 from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. in room Wiliford A, Hilton Chicago, 3rd floor.