Category Archives: Publishing

Breaking One of the Sacred Cows of Publishing Etiquette

One of the most important messages that I attempt to convey through the material on The Literary Game is that if you want to be a successful writer, one whose work is published in well-respected literary journals or independent publishers, it is critical to conduct yourself like a professional. It is essential to address publishers respectfully, and on the terms laid out by their submissions guidelines. This is an excellent rule to follow, but like all rules, there are times when this one must be broken. 

Although I hate the idea of labeling any writer’s work, much less my own, for those who are inclined to put everything into neat boxes, it can be said that my poetry and fiction is “alt lit.” Much of my writing draws from the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle, having grown up associating with some wild friends. Naturally, writers write what they know, and I am no exception.

The alternative literature community has its own values, ones that offer many parallels to the punk community. There is an emphasis on DIY (do it yourself), challenging expectations, some shock tactics, and a “hardcore” approach. Whereas the traditional literary world can be seen as fairly conservative in its manner, these alternative writers who are building their own literary magazines operate as a sort of counterculture.

I do not recommend doing this, especially if you are not writing material with similar themes, but I am compelled to share the story of how I approached Brian Fugett, publisher of Zygote in My Coffee, one of the leading journals of poetry in this milieu. I wanted Brian to publish a poem of mine, “You Fuck Like You’re on Antidepressants,” but I had never previously communicated with him before. In a stroke of boldness, I sent him a rather untraditional cover letter, essentially cursing him out and not so subtly telling him that he would be a fool not to publish my poem. When he responded with his decision, the first part of his email was him returning the favor and cursing me out, and the second was him accepting the poem for publication. I knew that Brian, and his journal Zygote in My Coffee, did not want to associate with unprovocative writers, and so I chose not only to submit a poem that was an appropriate fit, but a cover letter as well.

So, what is the takeaway from this anecdote? While there are rules that should be followed to increase your chance of success in anything, including publishing your writing, sometimes breaking those rules can lead to amazing results. 

Cheers,
Alfonso

How To Find Appropriate Publishers For Your Writing

The whole process of becoming a successful writer, at its essence, can be boiled down to three simple steps:

1. Write the manuscript of your novel (or short story, poem, etc.).

2. Have your work edited to a publishable standard.

3. Find an appropriate publisher and submit your writing.

Regarding step 3, one of the most common errors new writers make is submitting their writing to publishers who have no interest in the style, genre, or content of their work. There are few publishers who do not have VERY specific parameters of what publish. If your writing falls outside of those parameters, the chance that your submission will be accepted by that publisher is close to 0%, no matter how good your writing might be.

First, let’s backtrack for a second. If you have amassed a body of writing that’s been edited and is ready for publication, but have no idea how to get published, it is critical that you become familiar with these two resources:

Duotrope.com – Duotrope is a subscription-based (only $5/month) catalog of most every high-quality literary journal, contest, and many publishers. Duotrope is highly recommended for any writer looking to find a home for their short fiction or poetry. For contests, I personally prefer using Poets & Writers (pw.org). For manuscripts of novels or nonfiction, the Writer’s Market is a far better resource.

Using Duotrope, you can search over 5,000 literary journals by a variety of limiters, allowing you to find journals that are a match for your genre, form, etc. Once you find a match using Duotrope, it is essential that you carefully read through at least one full issue of the magazine (or at least ten pieces of fiction or poetry for those that are not issue-based). Does your work convey similar themes? Is your writing style similar to that of the writers they publish? How does the content of your writing compare to the content of the authors published in the magazine? If you perform your due diligence and truly study the publication, then you will be aware of whether or not your writing is a match. If it is not, do not bother wasting your (not to mention the publisher’s) time by submitting your writing, as it will not be accepted.

I have not found a single public library in the United States that does not have a copy of the Writer’s Market in their reference section, and many have older editions available to check out. The Writer’s Market is an invaluable resource for anyone who has written a novel (or a long work of non-fiction). This book has an index of publishers that you can browse through, with quick descriptions about the publishers. Using the Writer’s Market, you can quickly identify potential homes for your fiction amongst a variety of independent publishers. Once you notice a potential match, I recommend that you visit the publisher’s website and read some of the blurbs of the books they’ve put out. Again, are they similar to your manuscript in genre, style, and content? If so, you should submit your manuscript and see what happens. If not, do not waste your time, as you will not have your manuscript accepted.

Of course, there is also the self-publishing route, which has its own advantages and drawbacks, but that is a topic for another post.

In short, the key to getting your writing published is to ensure that your writing is a direct match for what the publisher puts out. If your writing fits a publisher’s niche, you have a good chance of getting your work accepted.

In success,
Alfonso

How I Started Getting My Fiction and Poetry Published in Various Presses

I graduated from Beloit College with a BA in Creative Writing in 2007.

The first journal that published my writing was O Sweet Flowery Roses, a non-competitive journal put out by my friend Russell Jaffe. That was in 2008. He ran some more poems of mine in 2009.

It wasn’t until four years later that I published my first piece in a competitive press, Michele McDannold’s journal Citizens for Decent Literature. That was in March 2013. One month later, I had a second piece accepted by Jack Marlowe’s Gutter Eloquence Magazine.

I was finally getting my writing published in excellent journals, alongside MFAs and prolific writers with many books to their credit. I had grown enough as a writer in the past decade to have reached a point of being able to write well, but the question was what now?

I was employed at Monroe College as a librarian, English tutor, substitute professor, and advisor to the campus Poetry Club. I truly enjoyed my jobs at Monroe College, but I knew I had a choice to make. I could either stay in academia and write a little bit here and there, or I could take a leap into the unknown and really move forward as a writer. I did what I knew was best and left my position at Monroe.

Some might consider it crazy to leave a good job that you enjoy behind to pursue your literary dream. Maybe it is. However, if I didn’t do that, I know that I wouldn’t be the writer for an upcoming blockbuster TV series’ accompanying book. I know that if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have my writing widely published. I know that if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have had any time to write period.

I left New York for a friend’s home in rural Pennsylvania. She gave me a free room. I wrote, and I let her skewer my writing, working with me as my editor until my writing was flawless. Afterwards, I sent out my writing and much of it got published.

Why did it happen? How did I go from ten years of no publications to someone beginning to make a name for himself as a writer? I credit it all to the bold move of burning my bridges and just going for it.

Now, of course, it’s not just about being bold. You have to mix boldness with intelligence and hard work. I wrote incessantly. I worked with an excellent editor who gave me great feedback because I knew that no writer can be objective about his own writing. I spent countless hours reading and researching various literary journals to find which ones would be appropriate matches for my writing. That’s how I did it. I realized that there is no other way, but that three-part process:

1. Writing: You need to write all the time. Some of your ideas will be great and others will not, but just keep writing. It’s the only way you will improve.

2. Working with a skilled editor: Rairigh Drum saved my fiction. My stories were good, but she made them excellent. I couldn’t have done it on my own. I needed her. All writers need editors.

3. Researching the publishers: No matter how great a piece of writing is, if you send it to a market that’s an inappropriate fit it’ll get rejected. The hours I spent researching literary journals online was not only an exercise in finding other amazing writers, but it really allowed me to find appropriate homes for my work.

I hope you found this blog post helpful—now go out there and make your mark on the literary game!

Five Ways to Effectively Market Your Self-Published Book

In previous posts, I’ve been quite critical of self-published books. The reason for my reluctance to advocate that writers go that route is that quite often self-publishing is a complete dead end. Virtually no one ends up reading the average self-published book. Of course, there are many exceptions, but this is the case for the vast majority of books published with vanity presses.

Self-published books have a bad reputation because many could have benefited from a massive edit on content, and oftentimes even on basics like spelling and grammar; however, there are quite a number of incredible books that deserve to be read that have been self-published.

So, how do you keep your self-published book from getting lost in the sea of anonymity? Here are a few helpful suggestions:

1. Tell Your Friends and Family. By tell your friends and family, I don’t mean just your closest friends, your partner, and your mom and dad—tell EVERYONE in your network. Find appropriate, non-awkward ways to pitch your book to everyone you know. Explain that you would deeply appreciate it if they read your book and if they tell others about it afterwards. If you go the traditional route and just plaster social media, very few of your contacts will actually proceed with reading it, much less helping you publicize your book; however, if you treat your contacts respectfully by approaching them individually, you’ll get much better results.

2. Leverage Your Life. Whatever passions, work, and undertakings you are a part of, find an appropriate way to connect your book to them. Whatever base you have in your area of expertise, find a way to connect it with your book in a way that’s respectful of that world.

3. Become An Internet Player. The Internet is democratic. If people like your ideas and your presence, and most especially, if you’re helpful to others, people will respond. The best way is to start a blog, frequent message boards, become a beta reader, of find other ways to help writers via the Internet. The more writers you help, the more people will be open to reading your work and helping you promote it.

4. Make a YouTube Promo. YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google. Try making a captivating video to promote your book in a way that it might go viral. If it’s just a direct pitch to buy the book, few viewers will care, but if the video itself will stick in people’s minds, you’ll get many new readers.

5. Have a Website for the Book. If you’re good with technology, develop an aesthetically pleasing, content-rich search engine optimized website to promote your book. If not skilled in that regard, hire a web designer and SEO expert. Either way, you need a website for your book. If possible, try to make the website as interactive as possible. If you simply ask people to buy your book, yet you don’t really help others or interact with them, few people will take you up on your offer.

I hope these ideas are helpful if you choose to go the self-publishing route.

-Alfonso

No Publisher Should Ever Be Overlooked

When you’re an aspiring writer, any offer to publish your writing should be accepted graciously!

Now, I don’t necessarily mean vanity presses, but that’s a post for another day. Any competitive press or literary magazine that would like to publish the manuscript of your novel, poetry, or short fiction should (in most cases) be accepted wholeheartedly.

There are certain places that everyone would like to publish with. Of course you’d probably like to publish with The New Yorker, Granta, Glimmer Train, Tin House, PANK, Word Riot, or any of the Big 5 publishers—so would every other writer; that doesn’t mean that the obscure journal with a subscription list of 1,000 should be overlooked.

The fact is that any competitive press is just that—competitive. They screen out lots of writers’ work. If any publisher or press likes what you’ve sent them, that’s a huge victory. It’s not a slight to get published somewhere that isn’t widely known, even amongst literary crowds. Keep in mind that the big publishers pay attention and are always scouting for new talent. If nothing else, you are building quite a portfolio.

The reality is that it’s just not common for most writers to start at the top of the heap, unless they have a wide platform from being notable for some feat other than writing. If you have the chops to get published, no matter where, that’s a huge victory. Embrace it. The journals and presses that you may be seeking to publish with quite possibly may take note, and soon you will be on your way!

-Alfonso

Literary Agents: Are They Worth Querying If You’re An Aspiring Writer?

Since I started working with aspiring writers in December of last year (with my old project that’s currently on hiatus, The Adept Writer, a literary journal designed to promote the work of aspiring writers), I’ve seen a lot of writing from unknown writers. The quality of the work has varied. A writer like Russell Zintel of the University of New Hampshire really impressed me with the quality of his poetry. One fan of the website wrote in to say that he was the next Tao Lin. Maybe.

I met an aspiring writer named Zubair Simonson about six weeks ago. I have some advertising for the website on my briefcase (I admit it looks funny, but it gets the word out.) He noticed it, and after our brief conversation, he sent me the first chapter of his novel. It knocked me out.

After I read Zubair’s chapter, we set up a meeting to discuss his prospects. He asked me if he should query literary agents. Zubair had previously self-published one book that received unanimously great reviews from those who read it, but like most self-published authors, very few people had read his book.

My concern was Zubair’s platform. He had done a few smart projects in film and web TV as an actor and director, but they were not in Hollywood or even in an independent studio, but homemade movies with friends. He blogged for a religious organization, but his name was not huge in that sphere. He had a self-published book that anyone who read loved, but almost no one had read it.

Still, I told Zubair that he should query a literary agent.

Any aspiring writer should query a literary agent. The worst that could happen is nothing. 

Now certainly many literary agents will refuse taking on a client that has no platform. If you haven’t been published in big literary journals, if you don’t have an MFA, if you’re not known in some other sphere, even if your work is dynamic, you will still probably get passed on; however, why adopt a loser’s mentality and not even try?

When you’re an aspiring writer, you need to go for the throat. You need to make things happen. Yes, most likely, if you don’t have a platform, if you don’t have an MFA, if you haven’t published in big literary journals or won contests, and if your work is mediocre or poorly edited, you don’t really have much of a chance. Still, if you work to accomplish as much as you can within where you’re at, then it’s certainly worth a shot. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

Boost Your Platform and Reap the Rewards

Every aspiring writer (and truthfully, every emerging writer too) needs to be heavily involved in a writing-related project. It doesn’t matter whether it is a project that you create or whether you latch on to an already established project; either way, you must do more than just write in order to be taken seriously in the literary game.

The sad truth is that there are (and always will be) many talented writers who will never get their work out to the literary-inclined public. They may publish on Smashwords and generate a readership consisting of little more than family and friends. They are great writers, yet they won’t have their books discussed (dissected?) by critics. They are talented voices, yet they won’t have their books on display at The Strand. No one will read their work, regardless of what they create, because they never amassed a platform.

You already know that you need to submit your writing to literary journals and small publishers, and to connect with agents. However, if you keep getting rebuffed, even though you’re doing everything right, you need to consider your platform, or more specifically your lack of a platform.

I think Lena Dunham is a genius. Lena Dunham received a $3.7 million advance for her new book. Why did she receive that much money? Of course, she is quite a talented writer (and actress), but the reason that she received $3.7 million for the rights to her manuscript, while many other writers would be lucky to receive $4,000, let alone publish at all, is because of her platform. She created a television show (Girls) that depicts the life of modern cosmopolitan twentysomethings in a way that has never been done before, and because of that she reaped a considerable reward from Random House.

If you are struggling as a writer, you need to analyze your platform. Who are you? What have you accomplished? Is your name is known at least within a certain niche group? If not, you need to get cracking. Create your own blog, start a literary group, become a reader for a literary magazine—just do something to get known in the sphere of writing (unless you can do something quite a bit bigger in some other sphere.)

It all comes down to platform. If you have a modicum of talent, you can write something that can get published. However, without the platform, it makes it quite a bit harder. All you have to do is get known, then all the rest will take care of itself.

Do you have any good tips for writers looking to enhance their platform? Please feel free to share them by commenting on this post.

Six Mistakes That Publishers Hate

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As an aspiring writer attempting to build a name, you don’t want to irritate publishers. There are many mistakes that publishers hate. Please make sure to avoid the following:

1. Responding to Rejections – If your writing is rejected by a publisher, don’t respond to the rejection under any circumstances. A response is inappropriate. A response trying to convince a publisher otherwise, insulting them for passing on your writing, or bemoaning the rejection is a huge faux pas.

2. Poorly Edited Material – Even if your concept is interesting, if your writing is poorly executed you’re wasting a publisher’s time—and your own. You must have your fiction edited before sending your work out to a publisher. There’s no way around this step.

3. Material That’s An Inappropriate Fit – How do you imagine a publisher would feel if they had to reject (as they will) the most amazing piece they’ve ever read because it’s totally incongruous with their style? Show some respect and submit your writing to appropriate markets.

4. Fanfiction – I don’t really need to say anything more: it’s called copyright.

5. Ignoring Submission Guidelines – You can’t send seven poems to a literary magazine if they ask writers to send no more than three. You can’t send a short fiction piece as an attachment if the literary journal wants it copied in the body of an email. Always read the submission guidelines before submitting and make sure to follow them.

6. Unprofessional Query/Cover Letters – You’re not displaying personality, all you’re doing is showing a lack of professionalism. A too informal cover letter rubs many publishers the wrong way, even when submitting somewhere that appreciates edgy work or presents itself on their website as rather informal. You’ll be seen as an amateur, regardless of the quality of your writing.

Have you ever made any of these mistakes? It’s time to ‘fess up about your tragic experiences so that other aspiring writers can avoid making the same errors.

I imagine that sharing these experiences will also have a cathartic effect, but don’t quote me on that…

Do Your Homework Before You Send Out Your Writing

before-you-send-out-your-writing

If you were unemployed, what would be a better use of your time, sending out 100 unedited resumes to different positions, many wildly outside of your skill set, or sending out five targeted resumes to positions that are a match for you based on your skills, experience, and possibly even contacts within the company?

The answer to this rhetorical question is obvious.

The same rule applies when submitting to literary journals, agents, or publishers.

It really is not in your best interest to submit your writing everywhere. Why?

1. It shows a lack of respect for the agent, publisher, or literary magazine. You’re expecting them to work with you, but you’re not spending even the slightest bit of time finding out what they’re about. If you think about it, it’s a pretty classless move.

2. It can seriously damage your reputation. Even if your writing improves dramatically, once you’re inside, you’ll realize that the literary game is a small world. You don’t want people remembering you as the aspiring writer who carelessly sent work out to everyone in the industry.

3. It will bruise your ego. Facing countless rejections without any acceptances mixed in will hurt. That’s not to say that you won’t get rejected if you strategize, but you’ll mix those rejections with more than a few acceptances.

So, how do you research publishers, agents, or literary magazines?

Two websites and one book can help you to target effectively. They are Duotrope.com, PW.org (Poets & Writers), and the 2014 Writer’s Market.

With that information at your fingertips, you can begin the process of researching good fits for your writing.

How To Maximize Your Chances of Getting Published

Here’s a scenario: You just completed a short story or poem. Now it’s time to start sending it out to literary journals, right?

How about this one: You powered through and completed your manuscript. It’s time to hire a literary agent or start sending your manuscript to publishers, right?

I applaud the enthusiasm of most aspiring writers, but please, SLOW DOWN.

There are two things that you must do first, before you can reap the rewards of a job well done:

1. Have your writing carefully edited.

2. Find a few literary magazines or small presses that could be an appropriate fit for your writing.

Sadly, even if you follow these two steps, the odds are that you’ll still face some journals or presses that will pass on your writing. However, if you choose not to follow this advice and submit poorly edited pieces to literary journals and small presses that are wholly inappropriate for your type of work, it’s likely that all you’ll meet with is rejection—and much of it.

Save yourself the stress. Do the right thing. Slow down. Have your piece edited, find a good home for it, and then watch how easy it can be to start building a name for yourself in the literary game.