“You write because you have to.” I heard this sentiment expressed several times by a few long-time authors during a “The Joy of Writing Short” panel put on by California Writer’s Club at Book Passage. I picked up words and phrases about the world of publishing like: cruel, fickle, tough, competitive—and getting more so all the time. But don’t let those words dampen your spirit; they said all this while talking excitedly about being writers and authors.
The panelists were memoirists, short story writers, and magazine article writers: Zoe F. Carter (www.ImperfectEndings.com) is the author of the memoir Imperfect Endings: A Daughter's Story of Love, Loss, and Letting Go; Joan Frank (www.joanfrank.org) is the author a story collection, In Envy Country; Frances Lefkowitz (www.FrancesLefkowitz.net) is the author of the memoir To Have Not; and Peg A. Pursell's (www.pegalfordpursell.com) 93-word story, "Fragmentation," was the title story of the (February 2011) Burrow Press Anthology entitled Fragmentation and Other Stories.
Writing short fiction and articles for magazines, newspapers, and literary journals was their focus. The short Mother Memoirs I encourage and teach you to write weren’t covered, but then that’s my job, and, as you know, I blog on it weekly.
Below is a summary of the pointers and highlights of this lively discussion as the panelists answered questions from the audience on writing and publishing:
- Each magazine has a distinct voice and a style. Edit your work to fit the magazine. Do your homework.
- It’s not just about how good a writer you are. You need sources, and you need to learn the business. 50% of getting something published is writing. 50% is the other stuff like connections, social networking, marketing, and, yes, luck.
- Luck plays a very significant part, but you also must write something that is very, very good in order to command attention in a saturated market.
- 7-10 years is the usual length of time to get a book published; it doesn’t matter if it takes 25 years to get published, it’s worth it.
- Persistence is huge in marketing. Be prepared for warfare. Believe in your work and keep moving forward with persistence to point of fanaticism (I wouldn’t go that far!). Grow yourself as an authority in your subject matter, and keep getting it out there.
- How to get published in magazines:
- Study the magazine for the right fit
- Shorter pieces (1,500 words) are easiest to get in
- Find the name of an editor to direct your query to
- Tell them about why you’re the best person to write this article
- Send a “clip,” which is your portfolio or examples of your published writing
- Read their submission guidelines – this is not only necessary, but also respectful
- Traditional magazines have a 3-5 month lead time
- A good email query letter is your best bet. Be sure to keep track of your submissions and queries in an organized way. The panelists agreed that Doutrope Digest is a great, free resource.
- Move into online reality, but make sure the blogs on which you post have quality. Online publication is great because it gets you out there & your work disseminated quickly. Online networking can lead to people asking for your writing. (Writer’s live in a capsule. It can be a lonely life, so social networking is a great way to meet people.)
- Don’t lose the power of the moment. If something happens in the news you have to get your story about it up that same day or it’s too late.
- Contests are very valuable to enter. They can be a stepping stone.
- Never stop learning – take classes, read books on craft, read voraciously, join critique and/or writers groups.