Category Archives: Publishing

HOW CAN I CHOOSE THE RIGHT PUBLISHER?

When Vakasha Brenman and I set out to write The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn, all we knew was that we had a calling to share the truth of the unicorn’s story with readers.

Here are some things we didn’t know when we started out on this journey together:

  1. How long the project would take.

Vakasha recently passed away in May. In the 4+ years that I knew her, she must have joked about the first time I met her at least 200 times. In that now ignominious moment, I told her we’d be able to write the book in a month.

It took us a year and a half.

She never let me live that one down. And I love her for it. When a friend gets egg on their face, you got to rub that yolk on ’em good and long.

2. How to mesh our different work styles together.

I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf. Truthfully, it used to be (and to a lesser extent still is) hard for me to ask for help from others. In the past, this has made cooperative work difficult for me.

Vakasha was my polar opposite professionally. As a documentary and stage producer, she thrived on that level of close collaboration.

The first few weeks of working together were awkward. Communication between us was a challenge. Then Vakasha sat me down and told me she couldn’t work like this. The early drafts were nowhere near where they needed to be and it was odd for both of us to work together in the same house, yet treat each other like strangers.

After that day, we worked out a new style. Vakasha and I each did our part on our own when appropriate, but both of us focused closely on bouncing ideas off each other and making much of the writing process a collective effort. It was a lot more fun to do things that way and it led Vakasha and I to becoming extremely close friends. It also led to what we believe to be the best book on unicorns ever written. Of course, you should judge for yourself by picking up a copy.

3. How to find a publisher for our book.

When Vakasha and I agreed to work together at the end of 2015, I had already been around the block more than once as a writer. I had published more than 50 short stories and poems in at least 20 different literary magazines at the time. But this was different. This was a full-length book. And it was in a totally new space for me, writing in the spiritual and esoteric genres. I had a lifelong interest in topics of a paranormal, supernatural, and mystical nature, but there had never been the right avenue to pair that fascination with my writing ability. That changed when I met Vakasha and she shared her idea for a book.

We worked diligently on The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn for around 18 months, but then came the difficult part: what next? How would we find the right publisher? Could we even find a publisher?

As a former publisher myself with Beautiful Losers Magazine and a few other literary ventures, I understood that there was a big difference between getting poetry and short fiction published in literary journals and finding the right publisher for a book. Most literary magazines that focus on short fiction and poetry are online-only passion projects. Also, the vast majority of litmags don’t make any money, nor is that their intent; they are purely labors of love.

Obviously, when it comes to publishing books, such an approach isn’t feasible. For one thing, printing books costs money. Even the most barebones publisher will be looking (at the very least) to recoup the cost of printing an initial run. Naturally, there are many other expenses that must be considered, and so a publisher will certainly factor in the projected sales potential of a book into their decision to publish it or not.

That’s not to say that the quality of a book doesn’t matter, or an author’s platform, or the timeliness of a topic, or so many other factors that weigh into a decision to publish. But it does mean that getting a book published is far more difficult than getting a poem or a piece of short fiction published. It just is. There’s no way around it.

My first instinct was to ask a family friend who is a New York Times-bestselling author to see if he could open up doors for us. The problem was that he had already fronted a screenplay of mine to his literary agent. That agent, unfortunately, judged that the script wasn’t marketable enough to sell or take me on. Persistence is key, so I tried again with my family friend, but it was to no avail.

With my best contact burned out, Vakasha and I were in a tough spot. We had worked so hard on this wonderful book, but now had to start either cold pitching agents to represent us or self-publish. While self-publishing is a good avenue for some authors and for some books, we didn’t feel it was the right fit for The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn. And when it came to cold pitching agents, I had already tried that with a to-date unreleased YA manuscript that Vakasha had co-written with her friend Tim Steffen, and struck out after pitching more than 30 agents. I thought her and Tim’s book was as spectacular as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, yet none of these agents were interested in the concept.

It may sound strange to those gripped in a materialistic view of the world, and my spiritual beliefs are not a focus of this blog, but we felt that the unicorn was guiding our book, making sure that it would open up the right doors to get us to the finish line. We were right. It did, even in these difficult circumstances.

Vakasha remembered that her close friend Michael Mann had been a leading figure in the British publishing scene for decades. We searched through her Rolodex to find his number. When we finally found it, the number was no longer in service.

We were back to square one.

One thing I learned from my partnership, friendship, and mentorship with Vakasha is the importance of PERSISTENCE. The odds may be against you when you try to find a publisher, or do anything in life that seems challenging and in which most people fail; however, you need to give it your all and try. You may not always achieve your goal if you try, but you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t try.

And so we tried. Vakasha called a number of mutual friends. A week or two later, she received a call from Michael. One of these mutual friends had told Michael that Vakasha wished to speak with him.

In short measure, Vakasha shared our manuscript with Michael. He enjoyed it immensely, recommending it for publication to John Hunt Publishing.

From speaking with Michael, researching John Hunt Publishing, and seeing how they work with authors, we felt excited to work with them and hoped we’d be offered a contract. Sure enough, after multiple team members reviewed it, The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn was judged a good fit for publication.

Since then, it’s been a wonderful experience working with John Hunt Publishing. Their team members have helped us whenever we had a query about the publishing process, questions about negotiating art rights, and all the other aspects of publishing a book that were new to us. They’ve worked with suppliers in the UK and US and different industry catalogs to ensure our book has excellent placement. And they connected us to G L Davies, an amazing publicist who landed me an incredible number of bookings with wonderful radio and podcast hosts, including on the nationally-syndicated radio program Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. In fact, you can listen to my interview with Coast to Coast on Monday morning (September 7th) at 3:00 AM Eastern time / 12:00 AM Pacific time in the U.S.

It has been an amazing experience for me working with such a supportive publisher as John Hunt Publishing, but what about you? How do you find the right publisher for your book? What are the considerations you need to look for? Here’s a quick checklist:

  1. Do they publish books in your genre?

O-Books, one of John Hunt Publishing‘s imprints, specializes in books within the spiritual genre, especially when paired with personal development. Our book is a summary of the magical mythical unicorn across time periods, spiritual traditions, and cultures with a focus on how the unicorn can help you on your path. It’s a perfect match. If Vakasha or I had pitched O-Books on a book outside those parameters, it’s almost certain that they’d reject it. Many publishers specialize in certain genres. Make sure the publishers you’re targeting are a good fit in that respect.

2. How much input do you want from your publisher?

You wrote your book to the best of your ability. How comfortable are you with major changes to it at a publisher’s request? Find out if your publisher trusts their authors’ vision, like John Hunt Publishing does, or is likely to recommend numerous changes, some of which may not exactly be in line with what you wish to present to your readers.

3. How active are they in placement and publicity?

John Hunt Publishing has been fantastic for us in both respects. However, some publishers, because of limited financial resources or a more hands-off approach, take a far less active role. You may have to hire your own publicist or do the work yourself (look forward to a future post on that soon). As always, do your research before pitching a publisher or signing any contract.

4. Do you prefer a tech-forward experience or do you want a more traditional approach?

COVID-19 highlighted the dangers of a traditional, sit-down approach to publishing where authors are bogged down in countless meetings. John Hunt Publishing does a great job of keeping everything online, so that when you need support or team members need to touch base, it’s all done in a safe and easy way. This allows them to publish authors from around the globe, not just in their native UK. I think it’s great, but understand there are different ways of dealing with the business end for writers, so choose to pitch a publisher with a compatible approach.

These are a few factors to start with. Vakasha and I were fortunate in finding the perfect publisher for The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn. I wish you the best of luck in finding the ideal publisher for your book!

If you need a little help getting your manuscript into shape before pitching publishers, try our book review service. It’s far more affordable than hiring a developmental editor and will allow you to become aware of all the potential weaknesses in your book so that you can address these issues on your own. For more information, click here.

Can Current Events Advance Your Writing Career?

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2020: A Unique Year

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that 2020 has been a tumultuous year. Here in the United States, we’ve had the world’s worst outbreak of COVID-19, a major economic downturn that has left nearly 50 percent of Americans unemployed, and a national reckoning on race relations after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. And we’re only six months into the year…

Still, even with all that’s going on in the world, as writers we must continue to write and we must also continue to do whatever we can to advance our writing careers.

Shawn Hudson and Just Us

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For years, I’ve been sharing my advice on the finer points of the literary game with my friend Shawn Hudson. Shawn and I first met when I was the faculty advisor to Monroe College’s Poetry Club back in 2013. Shawn’s raw, gritty poetic style caught my attention. When I first heard his poem Project Windows, I knew he was a formidable talent. Despite the fact that I left Monroe shortly after we met, Shawn and I never lost touch.

Not all writers have a core ethos to why they write, but Shawn definitely does. He seeks to use his writing as a springboard to expose some of the hardships the Black and LGBTQ communities face in the United States and work to overcome these barriers to true equality and justice. To those ends, Shawn penned an excellent novel, Just Us, which centers on a fictional corrupt police department. Shawn later adapted Just Us into a screenplay.

The last time Shawn and I spoke, I told him now is the time for him to go full blast on pitching his screenplay. With Hollywood now giving serious attention to working with talent from underrepresented communities and with the Black Lives Matter movement informing the public on the often deadly outcomes faced by unarmed Black people stopped by police, now is Shawn’s best opportunity to get his screenplay considered by major studios.

That’s not to say that if things go back to “normal,” Shawn doesn’t have a chance to sell his screenplay. Of course that’s a possibility. But why not take opportunities as they present themselves? After all, selling your screenplay is not an easy task.

How Applicable Is This Advice To Me?

OK, that’s all well and good, but what if my writing doesn’t tackle issues of racial justice? What if I don’t write screenplays? What if I’m just a novelist? Does this still apply to me?

Absolutely!

If you’re a novelist who wrote a book about a pandemic, go ahead and pitch agents now!

If you’re a short story writer who wrote a piece of historical fiction about the Great Depression, go ahead and pitch the most competitive literary magazines now!

If you’re a poet who wrote a chapbook of poems about invasions from outer space…well, let’s see what the next six months have in store!

A Simple 3-Step Process

OK, now how can I turn this theoretical knowledge into a practical approach? It’s simple. Just follow these three steps:

  1. Pay attention to the news. If you haven’t already made a habit of following the news, do it.
  2. Find a link between current events and your writing. As you’re reading your favorite periodical or watching your favorite newscast, jot down some notes if anything you read or see is relevant to your previously unpublished/unsold material.
  3. Pitch pitch pitch! Once you’ve identified a link between your writing and something in the news cycle, pitch appropriate venues. As an extra tip, approach publishers or studios that have an explicit interest in this topic as part of their core identity or who have put out similar material in the past.

The Takeaway

If you haven’t yet been able to advance your literary career yet, you might just need to wait until the news cycle catches up with your dusty manuscript or screenplay. Once it does, seize that opportunity!

Questions?

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Do you have any questions about how to apply this approach or any other topic related to the literary game? Shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to help you.

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If you find this content helpful, please share, like, and subscribe. Thank you!

It’s Not You, It’s Me: A Truth About Rejection Letters

Introduction

If you’ve ever received a rejection letter from a publisher or literary agent, then you know just how much it sucks.

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But there is some good news.

Really, it’s them, it’s not you.

The Biggest Reason Why Your Writing Gets Rejected

I have a close friend who has an almost ungodly amount of perseverance. Usually, that’s an amazing thing to behold. Usually.

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A friend of hers is a poet. I’m the editor-in-chief of a literary magazine. Hey, wouldn’t it be great to feature her poetry in your magazine, Alfonso?

Nope.

While my friend’s friend’s poetry is strong, and she’s quite accomplished, this woman’s work was completely outside of the parameters of the writing we publish at Beautiful Losers Magazine.

Does the fact that this woman’s writing was rejected for our magazine mean she was a bad poet? Absolutely not.

The truth is that every agent, publisher, and literary magazine has VERY specific requirements of what they’re looking for. If you aren’t an exact match for those parameters, your writing will probably be rejected.

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And it doesn’t mean you suck as a writer.

And it doesn’t mean that particular piece sucked.

It just means that you need to find a better home for your writing.

If you’ve received tons of rejections, you’d better spend a little bit more time finding an appropriate place for your writing.

Now if you’ve been doing this legwork and still are receiving tons of rejections, you may want to consider having your work edited by a professional editor.

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Conclusion

Treat agents and publishers like members of your preferred sex. You wouldn’t marry just anyone, would you?

Don’t send your writing to agents and publishers without screening.

Unless you like being left at the altar, you masochist you.

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Like What You Read? Like What You Read!

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If you found this post helpful, please do me a solid and like and subscribe. If you’re really looking for a way to get on my good side, then share this post on social media.

Any questions? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

 

How To Find A Literary Agent For Your Manuscript (Part Two)

Today, let’s talk about the most fun part of landing an agent—the query letter.

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Please don’t follow the example of the picture above. Above all, your query letter should be intelligible.

Your Opening Salutation

First things first, you need to start with an opening salutation. Just not any of the following:

Dear Agent:

BAD! Most agencies have several agents on staff. Find the one that most closely matches your book’s content and use their name.

Also, if no agents represent your type of material, don’t apply to that agency.

Your vampire novel will not go over well with an agent who represents literary fiction.

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Agents talk. Word can get around about unprofessional authors.

Dear Alfredo Colesono:

BAD! Some people have difficult names to spell. In my case, it’s called being of Italian descent.

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Expect an automatic rejection if you misspell an agent’s name. It’s a sign of sloppiness that will be assumed to carry over into your writing.

Hi Alfonso,

BAD! Don’t be too informal with an agent until you develop a rapport. Address them by their surname (e.g. Ms. Howell; Mr. Chan) in your query.

I’ve just written a novel that will change literature forever. And it’ll make you at least a million bucks. Only an idiot wouldn’t represent me. You’re not an idiot, are you?

BAD! A writer who toots his/her own horn only means that no one is tooting it for you. Let your work do the talking and save the grandiose statements for your mom.

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Query Letter Contents

So, what should you have in your query letter?

A pitch/synopsis of your work, usually in about two or three paragraphs.

A brief 3rd person biography with your writing credentials. If you lack writing credentials, include either interesting facts about you or your strongest accomplishments in another field.

For fiction, you’ll frequently include part of your manuscript. The number of pages requested varies, but industry standards usually range from three pages to three chapters.

A few agents will only want a query letter.

A few agents will want your whole manuscript.

Most agents (though certainly not all) will want your manuscript pasted into the body of an email.

Don’t send attachments if an agent wants your sample in the body of an email. It will be deleted unread.

Follow The Rules and Avoid the Slush Pile

The moral of the story is be nice to your agents and give them what they want!

There’s So Much More

What’s a synopsis?

How do I do a chapter outline?

Why do I need a market analysis?

What is this thing called “platform” and why do agents like authors with one?

Do I need to write a nonfiction manuscript before pitching it to agents?

I hope to get into these topics in subsequent posts. Until then, write write write!

I Need All The Help I Can Get

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If you found this post entertaining or informative, please do me a solid and like and subscribe. If you’re really looking for a way to get on my good side, why not share this post on social media?

If you have any questions about landing an agent, just leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to shoot a helpful answer your way.

Fighting the good fight with you,
Alfonso

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Find A Literary Agent For Your Manuscript (Part One)

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If you’re anything like me, then the thought of having to land a literary agent can provoke any number of responses. These include, but are not limited to:

Sobbing uncontrollably while cursing the gods for being born a writer.

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Checking Facebook. Then Twitter. Then your email. Then your texts. Then Facebook again.

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Considering whether magic or the law of attraction can be used to get you an agent without any bit of effort on your part.

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Hopefully, you’ll eventually come to your senses and scrap these less-than-useful approaches. But what then?

It Starts With A Book

$9.90 and Internet access. That’s all it takes to move your literary career forward and begin querying agents…

Of course, we’re writers, so having $9.90 and Internet access isn’t a guarantee.

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Oh yeah, one other thing, you’ll need a completed manuscript (if you’re a fiction writer) or a pitch for a workable idea (if you’re a nonfiction writer).

Not too much to ask, right?

For $9.90, you can purchase the E-book version of the Writer’s Market 2018 from Google Play. This book contains a comprehensive list of literary agencies that work with authors of all types, from middle grade fantasy authors to romance novelists and anything in-between.

And the best part is the Writer’s Market tells you exactly what types of books these agencies are looking for, eliminating any guesswork on your part.

Follow Those Submission Guidelines

Once you find an agency that works within your form and genre, all you have to do is visit their website.

Well, that’s not ALL you have to do. But it’s still pretty easy—trust me!

Different agencies, and agents within the agencies, will have different submission guidelines. Please please please follow those guidelines. Agents, like editors and publishers, will curse you and the next ten generations of your family if you don’t follow submission guidelines to a T.

How do I know that they’ll curse you and the next ten generations of your family? Well, after all, I am the co-founder and an editor at Beautiful Losers, a super cool literary magazine which you should totally check out. (Yes, this is a shameless plug!)

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Oh wait. About the cursing thing. That’s probably just me. I should get some help for that.

But seriously, follow those guidelines. You want to be seen as a professional, don’t you?

Many Agencies Have Multiple Agents

So it’s on you to find the agent that’s the best match for your manuscript.

Yes, it’s on you. No pressure…

Okay. Deep breaths. Try some more. Back with me?

The good news is that almost every agency has summaries of the literary interests of their agents. Find the agent that’s the closest match for the genre, style, and age target of your manuscript. If you’ve written a darkly comic picture book, don’t query an agent that specializes in upmarket women’s fiction.

That is, unless you like wasting people’s time. If that’s the case, you’re most likely a horrible person that would be awfully fun to hit the bars and make some poor life decisions with.

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But you’re used to making poor life decisions already, right? After all, you chose to become a writer.

Don’t hate me! I jest because I’m from Brooklyn. The sarcasm is love. Really!

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But Wait, There’s More

Query letters.

Author bios.

Synopses.

Market analyses.

Chapter outlines.

And more. Much more!

And I promise I’ll tell you all about how to navigate through it soon.

But first I need some sleep.

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Yes, you horrible person who likes to waste agents’ time, you may be fun to hit the bars with, but it’s only a little after 10 pm and I’m calling it a night.

I may or may not be a horrible person, but clearly it’s safe to assume I’m not much fun to hit the bars with.

Blah Blah Blah

If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for reading (you may want to get your mental health checked!)

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you may have noticed this post is very different from what you’re used to seeing here. I still want to provide helpful advice for aspiring and emerging writers, but the professorial tone is gone. You see, I’ve recently discovered that I’m actually not Ben Stein’s character from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Shocking, right?

If you found this post entertaining or informative, please do me a solid and like and subscribe. If you’re really looking for a way to get on my good side, try sharing this post on social media!

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If you have any questions about landing an agent, just leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to shoot a helpful answer your way.

If you have any funny stories about landing an agent, you can share those in the comments too. The more absurd the better! To quote the late Hunter S. Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Fighting the good fight just like you,
Alfonso

 

 

How Can I Balance Writing, Publishing, and Networking?

My cousin Jerry, by most any account, has a pretty good life. He’s successful doing work that he loves, makes a nice amount of money, has a beautiful and charming wife, and three great children. When I talked to him about some of the initial challenges I was facing after I quit my job as an educator and planned to make a go of it as a writer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur, Jerry told me a story. As a man in his early twenties, he quickly earned more than double the salary of many of his middle-aged coworkers. How? When others put in 40 hours on the clock, with maybe 10 hours spent actually doing their jobs, he put in 80 hours, working beyond what was expected. Now, he doesn’t have to work so hard, though he still puts in a great deal of time in projects he cares about. Those other guys, who knows what they’re doing now?

The point of this story is simple, if you’re serious about not just writing in your spare time, but making a career of being a writer, you’d better work hard. Still, even if you put in 80 hours per week, in such a competitive position as creative writing, if you’re not working smart, you just might end up stuck in as bad a position as Jerry’s former coworkers.

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One of the most difficult concerns for any writer looking to not just break in, but succeed, is the balance of writing, publishing, and networking. Here are a few suggestions that should help you work smarter, not harder:

  • Above all, write. One novel, three short stories, five poems – that’s not enough. Don’t even think about publishing or utilizing contacts and networking until you have a solid body of work. One success wouldn’t make a career, and the amount of time spent doing so is counterproductive. Make writing a consistent habit, have a lot of work to show around, and then start thinking about networking and publishing.
  • Understand that writing probably won’t make you rich. J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are the rare exceptions. That said, many writers can make a living off of writing alone, many times even off of creative writing alone. It helps if your budget isn’t extreme. If you are single and live in an area with a low cost of living in the United States, you could probably get by on around $1000/month. While you wouldn’t be living well on that, you could survive. Then, through perseverance and building your reputation, you could make a good deal more.
  •  The Internet is your friend. Creating a blog centered around your writing, or other topics of interest to writers, could be a great way to attract attention. Taking a participatory role in the culture of the writing community online will open yourself up to many new opportunities. Helping others will lead them to helping you. Websites like Upwork and Craigslist present many opportunities for publishers looking for ghostwriters. The pay may not be great, but with a body of work, a high-character approach, and determination, you can get those jobs and build traction. Do so.
  • Don’t be an outsider. Jumping off the previous point, many communities on the Internet are niche. If you write science-fiction or romance or mysteries, find where those writers and readers gather and become a part of their communities. Above all, help as many people as you can. Being a self-serving renegade can kill your chances of succeeded in today’s literary world.
  • Understand your markets. Don’t submit an 80,000 word science-fiction novel to an avant-garde poetry site. Respect publishers by being familiar with the writing that they publish and reading a significant amount of it. When you read the work that publishers put out, you’ll quickly know if it’s similar to your own. If it’s not, don’t waste your time and the publisher’s time with a submission. There are so many magazines and publishers that there is bound to be one that’s a good match for your style. Use Duotrope, Poets & Writers, or the Writer’s Market and find it!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a favor. In the words of new wave singer Morrissey of The Smiths, “Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to…” If you have a friend or other contact who could potentially lead you to a solid break, don’t be afraid to ask them for what you need. The worst they can do is say no. Of course, make sure that you’ve done the basics first. Above all, follow their suggestions afterwards. Nothing burns out a good contact more than asking for a favor and not following through after someone does what you ask.

Taking these suggestions into account, you’ll be in an excellent position to advance your writing career. What do you think? What advice would you give to a new writer seeking to follow their dreams? Let’s start a dialogue.

 

A Guide To Publishing Etiquette

Maybe I have some sort of undiagnosed personality disorder, but one of my biggest pet peeves is writers who don’t follow the submissions guidelines for Beautiful / Losers Magazine. When a writer sends us an email with their poems or stories attached as a Word document, I become visibly filled with rage. My blood pressure shoots up. My smile turns upside down. And then I delete it, but not after having soaked in my righteous anger for a bit. If you don’t believe me, just ask my fiancée.

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The last thing any writer hoping to get their submission accepted for publication wants is for an editor’s face to look like the one of the man above. Chances are, if an editor has that face before even reading your submission, it’s toast.

So, how do you avoid making editors displeased? It’s simple: etiquette!

  • Always read the submissions guidelines and follow them to a T.
  • Find out to whom you should address your cover letter.
  • Send a respectful cover letter.
  • Don’t get angry if they reject your writing. Don’t respond at all in such a case.
  • Read their magazine first.
  • Submit work that fits with the aesthetic of their magazine. To find out what the aesthetic is, read it!
  • Be patient. Sometimes it can be a spell before you hear back from a publisher.
  • Don’t paste your submission in the body of an email if they want attachments.
  • And, of course, DON’T SEND YOUR SUBMISSION AS AN ATTACHMENT IF THEY WANT IT IN THE BODY OF AN EMAIL 😉

How to avoid making editors displeased? Treat your submission to a magazine or publishing house with the same respect you would take to a job interview. Put your best face forward, do your homework, follow the rules, and you’ll be in the best potential situation for success.

Did I miss anything in this post? What do you think are some of the things to avoid when submitting writing to a publishing house or literary magazine?

How To Make Money From Self-Publishing Your Own Writing

Many new authors choose to self-publish their writing. Oftentimes, this comes about for two reasons:

  1. A lack of confidence in their own writing’s ability to be published.
  2. A lack of knowledge of how to get their writing published.

However, some writers prefer to self-publish in order to get rid of the middleman. I understand that sentiment; however, I caution against publishing with a vanity press or through Amazon or Smashwords unless a writer is willing to put the money, time, and extreme effort into making the endeavor worth their while, or alternatively, if they have ties to individuals of influence/a large platform.

The reality is that for most writers who self-publish, no one will read your writing, and you will make virtually no money from your self-published book. Without the reputation and marketing that comes with a publishing house, amidst a sea of self-published material, your work will languish in complete obscurity. It sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.

For this reason, I urge many writers to have their writing edited to a publishable standard and then partner with a skilled published consultant. Without those two things, many talented writers will simply never get their start, unless they are willing to devote countless hours doing the job themselves, which often will still produce futile results.

Even with all the challenges for most individuals, I absolutely advocate self-publishing in two, and only two, specific circumstances:

  1. You have a large platform. You may never have published even a single poem or short story in your life, but if you have achieved a great deal in some other sphere of influence and people recognize your name, then choosing to self-publish your writing isn’t such a bad idea. With a little bit of marketing, you can still have self-publishing reap results, often more than if you choose to publish via the traditional route.
  2. You have “true believers” who have large platforms. Do you have family, friends, coworkers, business partners, spouses, or others in your life who think your writing is stellar? Do they have large networks? Are they willing to spread the word and help you out? If so, you should consider self-publishing.

While writing anything to completion in and of itself is an accomplishment, for many writers that isn’t enough. All writers want their work to be read. Additionally, writing a novel or other long work is a serious time consideration. Time is money, and most anyone would love a return on the investment of their time. While, of course, writing isn’t and shouldn’t be about the money, I firmly believe that artists ought to be paid for their efforts. There’s nothing ugly about that all, and I imagine none but the most misguided or masochistic would disagree.

In short, while self-publishing is normally a questionable idea, if people know who you are or if you have even one powerful contact in your corner, then consider giving it a shot. 

In success,
Alfonso

 

 

Five Major Turn-Offs That Publishers Hate

I like to break down the writing process into three simple parts:

Step 1 – Writing

Step 2 – Editing

Step 3 – Publishing

The first two steps are rather straightforward; however, the third step is often cause for consternation amongst many writers. While getting your writing published can be a difficult challenge if you do not put the work in (or hire a publishing consultant), you can dramatically improve your chances of publication by simply avoiding these five common mistakes:

#1 – Make sure that your manuscript is edited. I fully understand the impulse to take the initiative and just go for publication after completing a manuscript. For me, this hasty approach has never led to actually getting published. Even though I help other writers as an editor, I fully acknowledge that I, like every writer, can be quite myopic about my own material. It’s my baby, and it’s perfect—except it’s not. My friend Rairigh Drum edits my fiction, and my girlfriend Lauren Rubin and writing partner Zubair Simonson edit my screenplays. I trust them fully to take the quality writing that I produce and shape it into something excellent. I could not do it without them, and most likely neither can you. Having a qualified editor that you can trust pore over your manuscript is critical to catching both the simple errors in spelling, grammar, and syntax that can make a publisher reject your manuscript, and also to catching the larger errors, like plot holes, weak description, or vague characterization that can also doom your writing.

#2 – Not conducting yourself as a professional. I’ve mentioned my story before about how I sent an expletive-laced letter to Brian Fugett, publisher of Zygote in My Coffee, and still had my poem accepted by his publication. I highly recommend that you do not do the same! For 99.9% of publications, you would want to approach your query letter the same way you would write a cover letter for a position in the workforce. When you interact with publishers or others in the field, engage with them in the same way you would conduct yourself during an interview. Put simply: cut out the horseshit in your communications.

#3 – Delusions of grandeur. You very well might be the best unpublished writer around; however, let the critics say it. Tooting your own horn will turn off publishers and make you look like a giant ass in the process.

#4 – Sending good material to a publication outside of your niche. Most every publisher, aside from the Big 5, cater to a specific niche. If your writing is excellent, but it does not fit the form, style, or genre of the publishing house, it will be rejected. Just because a piece of writing may be good, it doesn’t mean that every publisher would be interested in it.

#5 – Not following directions. Most all reputable publishing houses list clear rules on the submission process. If you disregard them, even if you do everything else right, it will likely lead to a rejection.

By avoiding these five common traps, your success rate in terms of getting published will improve.

In success,
Alfonso

 

 

 

 

 

When A Publisher’s ‘No’ Should Be Understood As ‘Not Now’

When you submit a manuscript to a publisher, there are four common outcomes:

  1. Acceptance
  2. No response – Unfortunately, some publishers who decide to pass on manuscripts will never inform you that they have done so. A good rule of thumb that I use is that if I have not heard from a publication one month after the latest period of time in which they normally respond, I assume they have rejected the piece and disregard any simultaneous submissions restrictions.
  3. Form rejection – A polite way of informing you that your submission was not close to meeting the journal’s standards conveyed through a form cover letter. This is sent to most writers whose works are rejected by a publisher.
  4. Personal rejection – This is a personalized rejection from a publisher, often telling you what was good about your writing, but listing the reason/s why it was not chosen for publication.

Receiving a personal rejection, counterintuitive as it may seem, is a good sign. Publishers receive countless manuscripts, and the amount of time it would require to personally respond to all applicants would preclude the business of the publication from ever getting done. When a publisher takes time out of their busy schedule to send a personal rejection, it means that they view your writing as solid enough to comment on. They like your writing, but feel that something about it misses the mark.

Jack T. Marlowe was the publisher of Gutter Eloquence Magazine. Aside from my friend Russell’s journal O Sweet Flowery Roses, Gutter Eloquence was the first journal where I submitted my poetry. Mr. Marlowe commented that he liked the grit of my writing, but that it needed a bit of polishing. I started my literary career with 24 rejections in a row, yet his was the only one that was a personal rejection. Not coincidentally, his was the only journal that was an appropriate fit for my writing.

After I landed my first poetry publication in Michelle McDannold’s Citizens for Decent Literature, I decided to submit to Gutter Eloquence Magazine again. This time, having spent the extra effort in shaping my poetry up and choosing the most appropriate fit for the magazine, I had my poem accepted.

The takeaway is this, when you submit your writing to a publisher and receive a personal rejection, you should know the following:

  1. Your writing is perceived to be of excellent quality by the publisher.
  2. There is a specific issue with your writing that led the publisher to passing on it, but that the work as a whole is strong.
  3. You should consider submitting a different manuscript to this publication at a later date.
  4. You should not submit the same manuscript with revised changes there, unless the publisher specifically asks you to do so. 
  5. You should find other journals or publishers that are stylistic fits for this manuscript, and after considering the revisions the publisher suggested, submit your writing again to a new publication.
  6. You should never argue the rejection with the publisher.

So, in short, while any rejection for a writer hurts, a personal rejection is actually a good thing. It means you are quite close to the mark, and with a few tweaks, you can easily publish your writing in that publication or in a variety of others.

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno