Saturday, 25 June 2011

How to get published

It has been asked of me so many times that I thought I'd like to put a little Q & A on here for the benefit of everyone. What's your writing process? they'll ask.

Don't take it as gospel, though, like I have done previously when reading other authors' suggestions on how to get published. (Namely On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Good book, but I think at the time I read it I was too much of a Stephen King disciple to not take anything he wrote/said/claimed as gospel. On Writing is of course a fine read and I recommend it.  So is Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, as suggested by one of my dear writerly friends.) Remember that this is all very subjective and unique to my own experiences - so take this as what I have found works for me. There are many ways to slice a cake, after all.

I have published fiction in Birmingham Words (Birmingham, England). I have also published two works of memoir as an undergrad at Ball State University - one in Thoreau's Rooster (Assumption College, Worcester, MA) and the other in The Broken Plate (Ball State University, Muncie, IN). The piece in Thoreau's Rooster was selected as one of the top twelve out of fifty submissions.

I have a bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from Ball State University in Indiana, USA. I have a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Leeds in England. 

Tip # 1. Read these

 You'll find some familiar titles in the above stack: George Orwell's 1984, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, among others. These are a few books that help you open your mind. They keep you lifted off the ground, in another world, as you read. This is exactly the purpose of books, of story. These are a few great examples that will help you in your passionate process of getting published.

Tip #2. Read these

You could be in a library or scanning some unfamiliar titles on Amazon, or Ebay, but I can guarantee you you will find something that you will like and something that will help you grow. Read the classics - read about Schroedinger's cat, and other things philosophical things about watching shadows thrown on a cave wall, and then go wider than that. Don't look at the covers. Read the first lines and then all the way to the last page. Things like Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe will get you there.

Tip #3. Write about your experiences

Professors and teachers the world over have said it so many times in creative writing classes: write what you know. I can't find any way to argue with it, because so many things come out of our experiences. I find that I write about specific memories conjured up out of thin air: like looking out of the window of the present and glancing into the past. You can look back into those times in your life when you were the most angered, or ecstatic, or helpless, or saved, and these are the things that make a good story. Let your life help weave it, let your imagination carry it through.

Tip #4. Write as often as you can, as much as you can

Sometimes it feels like you just never have time. Like the whole world is pressing on you and you will just pop from the pressure. Job, family, kids, taxes, bills, your house needs repair, your studies are getting the best of you. But you have to block out time to write. I wrote a book when I was up to my ears in activity: I was a full-time university student at age 21, about to graduate the next year, with homework and three jobs piling up on top of me and gnawing at me like the dickens. But I made myself close the door, turn off my phone, and close out my Internet homepage for just an hour or two a week and just plow through this story and I found that the absolute best thing about writing is that you really do lose yourself in the story. Even if it is very hard to focus. Some of us have to write at 5 am every single day, 2,000 words a day, even on Christmas and their birthday, to get through everything (Stephen King). Some of us have to book a hotel room in secret, and won't let it go even when she's giving birth to her first baby and crowning (Kathryn Stockett, The Help). Some of us write on Saturday, the only day they have to themselves (me). It might take King six weeks to finish a book; it will take me seven years to finish off a fourth draft.

Even though it might be hard, and you are staring off into empty space with absolutely nothing banging around upstairs, you can still rest assured that you will have something to work with. I write blindly. I don't look at what I am typing and I don't read over it for grammatical/punctuation/spelling errors. That is for later, when the first draft is done. For me, re-reading something I have just typed is likely to derail the process. I like to just bash it through, get it out on the computer screen, and ignore all those wiggly lines Word throws in there, because at this stage they don't matter.

Tip #5. Edit and Proofread

When you finish your first (or second, third, fourth, tenth) draft, celebrate! Take a break for a week! Or a month! Congratulations, you've done it!

Then get right down to editing. You can do this yourself or you can pay a service to do this, but it can cost a lot. There are different types of editing (hard edit, etc. Great information on this page.) I just do this myself, but that is because, at this time in my life, I am cheap. It can be worth it to recruit your friends/family have a read of your printed-up manuscript because they can catch things you never saw, even though you were the one who wrote it. Strange but true. These friends and family members who read your manuscript are providing a valuable service to you so make sure to pay them back in kind: take them out to lunch or throw a BBQ for them in your back yard. (I am just in the process of organizing one myself!) 

Editing and proofreading are invaluable because it is impossible to get  published if you have a messy manuscript. Read it, check it, read it again. And again.

Tip #6. Be prepared for rejection

Don't be discouraged when you send out your (newly polished) life's work to a magazine, a writing competition, a university literary journal, a literary journal like Glimmer Train, or a literary agency and get rejected. It is all part of the process! Remember it is a very subjective market. And, as hard as it is, don't compare yourself to J.K. Rowling. Unless it makes you feel better that she had 12 rejections before Harry Potter was accepted for publication. Or that Audrey Niffenegger (Time Traveler's Wife) got 24. Or that Kathryn Stockett (The Help, and the film adaptation is due out in August) got 60. Just remember it is like comparing apples and oranges. Send your covering letter and any other precise bits they want (perhaps a short synopsis or a longer, 4-page synopsis, and the first 10,000 words or the first 10 pages, etc.) and make it the best you can. Then hope. (My current rejection count: 14.)

And last but not least....

Tip #7. Read these

Which, of course, is good for you, because you love to read!

I hope this has helped in some way. Happy reading and good luck.

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