Tag Archives: authors

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.

What Is The Most Effective Way To Market A Book?

Here’s a question for you: How long did it take you to write your book?

Did you spend a few months on it? Maybe you spent a few months just on the first draft. Maybe it took you a few years and fifteen to twenty drafts until you sent it your publisher or moved forward with KDP.

It probably didn’t take you a few hours. It probably didn’t take you a few days. It probably didn’t take you a week. If it did, please do reach out, I’d love to know your secret.

You have invested an ENORMOUS amount of time into your book. Why? Because you have a creative vision. And you want to share your creative vision with the world.

Of course, most authors could hardly claim that they are able to share their creative vision with the world. In fact, the average self-published digital-only book sells just 250 copies in its lifetime. As for traditionally-published books, they tend to sell approximately 3,000 copies in their lifetime, with only around 250 to 300 of those sales coming in the first year.

Does that sound scary?

It can be, if you’re banking on 300,000 copies sold and your book being featured on Oprah’s Book Club. While it would be crazy to tell you that you’ll have a bestseller on your hands if you try this method (although that is within the realm of possibility), I can tell you that it will produce better results for you than doing nothing. It also tends to be far more effective than most other marketing strategies.

Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Get Interviewed On Podcasts, Radio, YouTube, TV, and Blogs

If you’re on a traditional publisher, you’re likely to be in a great position; most connect their authors to publicists.

My forthcoming co-authored book, The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn, has been helped immensely by G.L. Davies, my rockstar of a publicist at John Hunt Publishing. G.L. was able to get me an appearance this September on a nationally syndicated radio program in the U.S. that reaches over one million listeners. That’s not even mentioning the many other impactful bookings he has landed for me and many other authors affiliated with John Hunt Publishing.

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Now if you’re self-published, you already know that the buck stops with you.

There are two options that self-published authors (or traditionally-published authors without publicists) can take.

Agencies like Anthony Mora Communications (who I highly recommend working with) or other PR firms can deliver big results for you, but the price may at first seem way too high for many authors.

I ask you to think a little deeper.

Let’s say you spend $4,500 per month for four months of partnership with a public relations firm like Anthony Mora’s. That’s $18,000. That’s not exactly a $4 cup of coffee. Most authors who don’t have trust funds or offshore bank accounts would initially balk at such a figure.

However, what if they were able to get you 4,500 copies sold?

You’d break even with a $4 royalty from Amazon per book sold.

With a talented and reputable PR firm like Anthony Mora Communications that can get you major media attention, that $18,000 is well worth it and quite likely to be recouped. It’s very likely that you will not only break even, but far surpass your initial spend.

If you write nonfiction within a topic connected to your business or freelance work (or even if you write fiction or your book has nothing to do with your side hustles), the added attention will also have a good chance of rocketing those sales numbers up as well.

But let’s say you don’t have that kind of money to invest, even on a month-by-month basis. You can still do it on your own.

Granted, it’s a far more time-consuming process. Your results will also be less impressive because you don’t have the same kind of connections or social savvy that a top-notch PR firm offers, but you can still get spots.

What I’d recommend in that case is to target smaller blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and online radio programs in the beginning and then keep scaling up. If you’re within the same niche, you’re likely to get booked.

Why?

Because most content creators are desperately in need of content.

The Literary Game itself can be a place to get some free promotion.

We are currently accepting guest post submissions and interview queries. If your guest post pitch is on topic for our audience, it’s likely to get accepted (and if it’s off-topic but genuinely interesting, you have a good chance too).

Also, if you’re an author with an interesting backstory, you’re likely to get your interview request approved. You can email me if you need the extra promotion.

Here’s a tip: I love honesty.

You don’t need to lie and write in your email that The Literary Game changed your life or that I’m your favorite author. Just be upfront about your situation. I respect the hustle. Actually, it’s the thing I respect more than anything else in this life.

Ready to get started? Awesome! Give it a go.

For those authors who either don’t have a publicist supplied by their publisher or can’t hire a publicist because of financial reasons, be on the lookout for our upcoming post on how to cold pitch radio show producers, podcast hosts, YouTubers, and bloggers for interview spots. It’s a busy time with the forthcoming release of The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn, but I hope to have that one ready within a few weeks.

In the meantime, please share any questions you may have in the comments section.

Good luck!

-Alfonso

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Share, Like, and Subscribe

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

An Interview with Haroun Risa: Author and Humanitarian

Introduction

Hey friends. I recently had the opportunity to interview Kenyan author, actor, and screenwriter Haroun Risa. We discussed his novel series Mombasa Raha, My Foot, the alarmingly high frequency of human trafficking and sex tourism in the coastal regions of Kenya, and much more. Check it out below.

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Interview with Haroun Risa

Q: There are many topics authors could choose to write about; why did you decide to tackle the issues of sexual tourism and human trafficking in Kenya?

A: The issue of human trafficking and sex tourism is something that I haven’t seen anyone make a fictional story in order to raise awareness against an issue that has affected communities across the Kenyan coast. So I said to myself that I should highlight a real-life issue that has been there and continues to.

Q: How would you assess the response from the Kenyan government to sexual tourism and human trafficking?

A: The Kenyan government is yet to assess the problem because the tourists are bringing massive revenue to Kenya, so that explains why some issues like this are blatantly overlooked.

Q: Could international organizations like UNICEF do more to address these serious problems?

A: International organizations can be able to do a lot, if they actually team up with the local people doing something to stop the human trafficking from going on even more.

Q: Are there “tip-offs” that could help government officials, law enforcement, and everyday community members better identify people suspected of engaging in predatory sexual behavior?

A: Poverty is what really identifies the people involved, because their children are sold off mostly by the guardians to the traffickers for profit.

Q. What steps did you have to take to form a partnership with HAART Kenya?

A: In order to get to know the people involved, I had to invite a representative from HAART Kenya to my first novel book launch so that she would speak more about what the organization has done so far.

Q: How much research did you undertake before/while writing Mombasa Raha, My Foot?

A: I had to do a good deal of research on the topic for the sake of accuracy, and also I included a bit of what I went through.

Q: Despite the ordeals they face, your characters possess a remarkable dignity. Was that a conscious choice you decided to make while writing Mombasa Raha, My Foot?

A: It was a conscious choice, because I’m also planning on making the film adaptation of the novels, so the characters have to possess a degree of dignity.

Q: You’re not only an author of fiction, but also an actor and screenwriter. Which do you find most fulfilling: novel writing, screenwriting, or acting? Why?

A: Novel writing has made me feel content with my talents, but acting also gives me some satisfaction because, in the end, I’m still fulfilling my dreams.

Q: Mombasa Raha, My Foot is very cinematic in structure, with a fast pace and many quick scene “cuts.” How much do you think your experience as an actor and screenwriter has influenced your approach to writing novels?

A: It has influenced a lot, based on my acting experience I’m able to know how to develop characters who can captivate an audience upon reading.

Q: What would you say are some of the unique challenges and opportunities Kenyan authors face?

A: Printing good quality copies of their novels at an affordable price. This is among the main reasons why printing manuscripts is challenging at times.

Q: What are some of your biggest influences as a writer?

A: My own life experience, for starters, which has resulted in me making brilliant characters and story development that suited my topic and novels that followed.

Q: What type of feedback have you received from your readers?

A: Most have been talking to me about making the film adaptation of the novels, and even when buying the paperback of the first novel, they normally have a good feeling of “actually holding a novel.”

Q: How long does it take you to write a book?

A: Normally around eight months to a year, depending on the number of pages and story development.

Q: What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

A: Not that tied up, but pretty busy with story development and structure because once I’ve started I normally go up to three chapters.

Q: Aside from your literary and film-related pursuits, you’re interested in palm reading. How did you become fascinated by palmistry?

A: A South African palm reader gave me a detailed reading of my palms, and a good number of what someone goes through appears clearly on their palms. This made me more interested in the art of palm reading.

Q: Do you have any parting words for our audience?

A: It is truly important to never give up on whatever talent or dream you may want accomplished.

Purchase Your Copies of the Mombasa Raha, My Foot Novel Series

The first FIVE books in the Mombasa Raha, My Foot novel series are now available on Amazon. You can purchase all five Kindle editions for $49.95 USD. Grab your five novels through this link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085NJZG3X

Haroun Risa’s Biography

Haroun Risa is an actor, author, and scriptwriter from Nairobi, Kenya who has been featured on both local and international film and TV productions, including the feature film 18 Hours alongside the acclaimed Netflix production, Sense8.

His interests range from palm reading to traveling, filmmaking, meditation, world music, reading novels, documentaries, journalism, acting, dancing, motorsports, soccer, basketball, and writing.

Haroun Risa is using the Mombasa Raha, My Foot series to raise awareness against human trafficking and sex tourism in Kenya, joining hands with HAART Kenya, the NGO in Kenya known for fighting both cross-border and mainland trafficking.

He has also gotten into the agroforestry world and has been part of Emesera Forest Tree Nurseries Ltd., an organization known for advocating for the planting of the fibrous-root, clonal variety of the eucalyptus tree, among other beneficial agroforestry projects.

Haroun Risa’s Social Media

You can find Haroun Risa on major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to catch a glimpse of his blog posts alongside the snippets of productions he has been featured in or interviews from various TV shows.

Help Haroun spread the word by using the hashtag #mombasarahamyfoot on social media.

Interested in Being Interviewed?

The Literary Game is looking to interview authors. If you’d like to be interviewed, simply send us an email with a cover letter telling us a bit about your writing and background. We’ll get in touch if there’s a fit.

Specifically, we’re looking to feature writers who satisfy one or more of the following criteria:

  • Writers who have overcome significant hardship to achieve success.
  • Writers who have a unique life story.
  • Writers who have controversial or unorthodox opinions about writing and publishing.
  • Writers who have made a difference in the world.
  • English-language writers based in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.

Apply today by clicking here.

Interview with Brian Anderson

I’m privileged to bring my readers a conversation with one of the finest up-and-coming novelists around, my good friend Brian Anderson.

In our discussion, Brian shares his thoughts on his excellent novel Groundwork, the writing process, and many other topics of interest to aspiring writers.

Brian Anderson, author of Groundwork, on the left, Alfonso Colasuonno, founder of The Literary Game, on the right.

Free Cash For Writers

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“Every night before I go to sleep
Find a ticket, win a lottery.
Every night before I rest my head
See those dollar bills go swirling ’round my bed.” – Patti Smith, Free Money

This is probably going to be the shortest post ever on The Literary Game. Writers, by all means, start applying for grants. If you receive one, it may not be equivalent to winning the lottery, yet I cannot imagine any writer (OK, maybe James Patterson, Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling) not needing a little extra money while chasing their literary dreams.

Take a look for yourself at these grants featured at FundsforWriters by clicking here, and apply, apply, apply!

In success,
Alfonso

p.s. Sharing this post helps other writers find out about an amazing resource to obtain grants. Just sayin’ 🙂

 

30 Books You Must Read If You Want To Become A Literary Badass

In The Literary Game, I repeatedly mention the simple three-step process necessary for success in the literary world:

  1. Get to writing.
  2. Have your work edited.
  3. Find appropriate places to publish.

However, in truth, no matter how excellent an editor or publishing consultant you choose to work with, all your efforts will probably be for naught if you are not well-read.

Reading more is one of the most critical things that you can do to become a successful writer. Without a truly voracious love for the written word, your work will likely be stale and not publishable. There are exceptions, but they are VERY rare, and you are probably NOT the exception.

Personally, as an author, I take it as an affront when writers do not read at all. I view those individuals as carpetbaggers. While some writers read more than others, as dependent on their lifestyle and other factors, it is important that all writers actually read, both to improve their own work and to support the profession as a whole.

My own writing tends to bridge the gap between literary fiction and alternative literature. If you write in either genre, getting familiar with a few of these books is essential. Also, if you write in a different genre, but just want a good read, consider the following:

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil – This isn’t a novel, but rather a recollection of the original 70s punk scene from the figures who lived it.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – Four outsiders in a small southern U.S. town search for acceptance and a reprieve from their alienation.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor – Like all of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories/novellas, this one is dark and saturated with religious themes.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver – In my opinion, this is the best collection of Raymond Carver’s short fiction.

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson – A young American journalist goes to Puerto Rico, makes a barebones salary, gets drunk, gets laid, and tries to avoid being killed by the locals.

Women by Charles BukowskiThe red pill of male-female interactions told only as Bukowski could.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – “I had to stop reading this because I started seeing people as meat.” – My friend Ben. That about says it all.

NW by Zadie Smith Two best friends navigate cross-cultural issues in modern day England.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – The best prose writer alive.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shtenygart – For those sad bastard moments.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth – Neurosis encapsulated.

Taipei by Tao Lin – Hipster life in the 21st century.

Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale by Chuck Kinder – The story of two hard-partying, life-wrecking buffoons who eventually make it as successful writers.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – Perhaps the best book written in the 21st century.

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem – From outcast white kid in a slowly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood to liberal arts college party boy to young professional. No, I cannot relate to this story in any way!

The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight – An entire movement was born out of this book (Islamic punk).

Demonology by Rick Moody – An incredibly sharp collection of short fiction.

Junky by William S. Burroughs – Easily William S. Burroughs’ most accessible work.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Satan comes to Moscow. Not going to make a Putin joke.

A Crackup at the Race Riots by Harmony Korine – This is postmodern writing done by the director of Gummo and Spring Breakers.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – One of the funniest books I have ever read.

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh – Explore how the lads of Trainspotting became junkies.

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley – An interesting fictional look into the world of tobacco lobbying.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – A Greek-American family’s story as told through several generations, including through the life of a hermaphrodite.

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon – Within 24 hours, your wife divorces you and you’re fired. What else can you do but drive across America talking to people? The finest travel writing I have ever read and a personal inspiration to me as both a writer and free spirit.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn – Carnies are people too.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf – If you like sparse prose, Haruf was the master.

Black Hole by Charles Burns – In this graphic novel, a weird sexually transmitted disease is spread in suburban Seattle in the 1970s.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney – Writing in the 2nd person that is actually good!

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes – A quote from the character Enid Coleslaw: “These stupid girls think they’re so hip, but they’re just a bunch of trendy stuck-up prep-school bitches who think they’re ‘cutting edge’ because they know who ‘Sonic Youth’ is!”

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno
Publisher, The Literary Game

 

My Journey to Publication

“Don’t make a career out of this.”

I still remember, twelve years later, the words that a creative writing professor at Beloit College penned on one of my admittedly horrible short stories. Those words hit a nerve. Even today, they remain one of my biggest motivators.

For better or worse, I personally respond quite well to negative motivation. I love to prove people wrong and show them up. While my stories in that professor’s class were indeed horrible, his remark was erroneous, as he did not know my own path and character.

I chose to be a creative writing major at Beloit because it seemed fun. Upon entering college, I did not have much of a plan as to what to get out of it, aside from gaining real-world experience and leaving a sheltered boyhood behind. While I am sure that many of my peers in the program had written for years and knew exactly how to improve, for me, the program at Beloit, a very free-form one, was difficult to navigate. The open-ended nature of our program would certainly be ideal for a motivated writer with some experience, but I found it frustrating. The basics were never taught, and being sheltered, I did not have many interesting life experiences under my belt to write from. As a result, my writing was both juvenile and poorly crafted.

I have recounted on this blog several times now about how a friend of mine’s belief in the potential in my writing, even as rough as it was back then, got me to actually love writing for the first time in my life. The confidence that he instilled in me, coupled with my desire to show up the professor who wrote those motivating words on that abysmal short story, were the impetus that led me to start submitting my poetry to literary journals.

Of course, I failed. And failed. And failed. I had, if I remember correctly, my first 24 submissions rejected. Believing that success was assured, I was both blindsided and devastated by the actual results.

I knew that the poems that I was submitting to these literary magazines were objectively good. People that I trusted not to humor me regarding my writing informed me that they were, and many were shocked at the sea change in quality from my juvenilia. This time, I had carefully edited the poems, scrutinizing every line. However, they were not being accepted for publication. The reason for this was that I was sending these poems to literary journals that were simply not a fit for the alternative sensibilities inherent to my creative writing. Traditional literary journals did not cater to the type of writing I was producing, and, of course, they rejected it.

My friend Russell, the man who inspired me to write in the first place, taught me the basics of publication by introducing me to Duotrope.com, but naturally I didn’t use it effectively. I used it to find journals that were esteemed, did not read any of their content, and submitted my poems with only a cursory regard for the submissions guidelines. My whole approach was lazy and disrespectful, not just to myself, but to the publishers of these magazines and the entire literary profession.

Personally, I believe that there are no obstacles in life that cannot be overcome. I knew that if I worked harder, I could get my poetry accepted in literary magazines. I began to read many literary journals, and the ones that I enjoyed reading, ones that featured poets and short story writers with, for lack of a better description, punk rock sensibilities, caught my interest. I discovered amazing writers who I had never heard of, ones whose works appealed to my love of Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson, larger than life writers who both lived and wrote on the edge. When I would read the works of these writers like Doug Draime, Misti Rainwater-Lites, Holly Day, Michele McDannold, Catfish McDaris, Sarah E. Alderman, and Lynne Savitt, among many others, I knew that I had found many skilled people doing exciting things in the alternative presses.

I decided to submit my poem Like A Library in the Suburbs to one of these alternative presses, Michele McDannold’s Citizens for Decent Literature, then one of the top places to publish for alternative poets, and had my poem accepted. I felt vindicated to know that a poet who I respected thought that I had talent enough to publish me, and that if I just targeted effectively, sending my writing to journals that I enjoyed reading and that featured writers with roughly similar sensibilities, I would have a good chance of getting my work accepted. Since then, I have about a 33% acceptance rate for my poetry and short fiction, which would be closer to 60% if not for being overly ambitious and reaching out to some of my favorite magazines that are not perfect fits for my writing.

I will never forget those words that professor wrote, but now, with many publications under my belt, three excellent screenplays composed and currently shopped, becoming lead writer for an amazing startup, being interviewed by literary magazines, and developing publishing projects of my own, I realize that those words were nothing more than a judgment rendered without sufficient evidence. I love writing, and I know that I am good and that I will only continue to improve.

I hope that my story gives you the confidence you need to fully embark on your career as a successful writer.

In success,
Alfonso

Writers Need To Capitalize On Opportunities

One of the foremost problems that new writers who are intent on breaking into the literary world face is the quick realization that there is tremendous competition. Sadly, many aspiring writers who are not cognizant of the nature of their profession end up quickly demoralized, as they see that their writing is not reaching an audience, not being published, and being heavily critiqued by those who do read it.

I started my writing career primarily as a poet. My friend Russell Jaffe offered me the opportunity to open at his poetry reading if I were to write a few poems, and I took him up on the offer. I realized, free from the constraints of an organized creative writing program, that I had some talent. From there, I started writing many poems. Later on, I was able to get many of them published once I realized how to find and effective target literary magazines.

After finding success as a poet, I was desirous of publishing short fiction. I was working four different positions at an academic institution, spread out over six days. I didn’t have much time or energy left to write when I was off work. My opportunity came when a friend of mine who believed in my writing offered me free housing in rural Pennsylvania and also promised to edit my writing. I took her up on that offer, producing an assortment of short stories that met my standards and were able to get published.

At present, I am a communications partner for a new startup. My duties entail that I be responsible for producing any accompanying books related to the startup once it goes public, in addition to more mundane duties related to day-to-day correspondence and copywriting. As anyone who has previous experience with entrepreneurship knows, sometimes it can take a bit of time for a venture to go public. Being that I lead a pretty Spartan lifestyle, one that is supported through freelancing my services as an editor and publishing consultant, and that the startup needs some time before it can reach fruition, I have a significant amount of downtime. During this time, I have been writing screenplays.

The reason that I’ve chosen to write screenplays, again, boils down to opportunity. My cousin Andrew Friedman works at FOX. He regales me with fabulous stories of parties with Method Man and Seth Rogen. His mother worked for 25 years in sales at Paramount Pictures. Furthermore, my girlfriend Lauren Rubin, as a graduate of Vassar College, has an assortment of high-powered contacts in the film industry. Her mother, Joanne Larson, through her business dealings, also has access to a multitude of producers and other film professionals. This access, and the potential for serious rewards from success as a screenwriter, has led me to conclude that this is the perfect opportunity for me now.

So, in short, to quickly ascend as a writer, leverage any existing opportunities immediately. 

If you are unsure of the nature of the opportunities around you, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who do I know who has offered to help me?
  2. Who do I know who has a foothold in any way in the writing community? Would they be willing to help me if I asked them?
  3. Are there any opportunities local to your area or current life related to a particular type of writing?

I wish you success in capitalizing on your opportunities.

I Want To Be A Writer – What Do I Do Now?

I have had the pleasure of speaking with many individuals who are impressed by the fact that I am a published author. Quite often, the topic of conversation quickly switches to their desire to become a writer. Few of these people ever end up actually writing anything, and of those who do, many quickly become discouraged, as they have no direction as to what to do next.

For a new creative writer, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is this: What is going to be my path?

To become a writer, one who is paid, one who is recognized, one who is celebrated, you have to have more than just a vague intention. You need to develop a plan. 

When you’re starting out as a writer, unless you have achieved some degree of acclaim from some other facet of your life, you are at zero. No one knows who you are, and no one has any reason to pay attention to your writing, aside from friends and family. This is the reality. This is a discouraging starting point, but it is where at least 90% of writers start. The question then, again, is where do I start?

Below are a few separate paths you might want to explore, once you unequivocally decide that you are serious about becoming a creative writer:

  1. Begin publishing short fiction and/or poetry in reputable magazines. This has been my approach, once I became serious about becoming an author. I found journals that published writing that was similar in style and content to my own work, targeted them, and began getting published in order to start the process of making my name.
  2. Start writing your novel. Without any prior publishing credits and with no platform, you are going to have a difficult time landing a publisher for your manuscript. Undoubtedly, your only choices will be independent publishers or self-publishing. If you choose to try to get published with an independent publisher, ensure that your work is tightly edited and hire a publishing consultant. If you go the self-publishing route, be clever and persistent in your marketing approach to ensure that your work is not ignored amongst the sea of self-published novels.
  3. Connect with local writers. Find writer’s workshops or seminars in your local area and begin striking up friendships with other writers. You can have other, more experienced, writers take you under the wings and show you the ropes.
  4. Obtain proper training. I highly recommend the incredibly practical, affordable and effective Gotham Writer’s Workshop if you want a quick run-through of the principles of creative writing in an interactive environment. If you are looking to obtain your Bachelor’s Degree, enroll in a creative writing program. If you are looking to obtain a Master’s, consider applying to MFA programs.
  5. Land a writing job. One of the best ways to become an effective writer is to write daily. If you want to write creatively, perhaps landing a job in communications, where your writing acumen will be utilized and sharpened every day, would be an excellent first step before embarking on the world of creative writing.

Whichever path you choose, I wish you success in your journey as a writer. I am here for you if you have any questions.

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno
Publisher, The Literary Game