Short Fiction: Why Is It Important for Novelists to Publish?

Hi friends. It’s been a few days since my last post. Thanks for your patience. Life can get pretty hectic sometimes, but I always strive to publish valuable tips for aspiring writers on a regular basis.

I want to start this post with a few announcements:

1. A flash fiction piece of mine was recently accepted for publication by Pretty Owl Poetry. I’m quite grateful to publish with them, for they are, in my opinion, one of the finest new literary magazines around. The artfulness of their work really speaks to me. I’m honored to have my piece, “Riding in Cars with Girls,” in their fourth issue, which is slated for publication in January 2015. I hope that my readers will check that piece out when it is published, and enjoy the magazine on its own merits today.

2. In regards to The Literary Game’s Publishing Contest, due to a lack of submissions (only three), I must extend the deadline. This contest is intended to find the best untapped talent around. The contest deadline will remain open until thirty submissions are received. It was an error on my part to assume that this blog was popular enough to generate a massive amount of submissions. However, you can help make that happen by sharing the link to my blog on your social media feeds. All help in that regard is appreciated!

*

Many writers question the necessity of publishing short fiction in literary magazines. From a financial standpoint, anthologies of short fiction are far less likely to be purchased by a press or lead to representation by an agent. If they are sold, the advances would most likely be quite a bit less. Additionally, short fiction can be quite a bit more difficult to write than a novel. While in a novel, readers can forgive some sloppiness in execution (editors can handle most of that, but in all but the best novels, there are some points that drag, which can be expected in an 80000 or so word piece); short fiction pieces need to be flawless to get published and recognized.

My cousin Jerry Mallach has a great question whenever my creative mind comes up with a new idea: Where’s the ROI (return on investment)? He’s a business-minded, practical man, and a great inspiration. Look, writers love writing, but none of us want to starve or be miserable because of our love. Some of us may have day jobs to get by, or find other ways to get money, but if you show me a writer who’s so committed to their work that they have no concern for having at least a bare minimum of money for survival, I’ll tell you that you’re showing me a fool of the first rank. No one wants to be a homeless writer. No one wants to be a writer on the dole.

So, why is it so critical for novelists to publish short fiction in competitive literary magazines? Simple: it gets your name out. If you publish short pieces (or poetry) in enough strong literary magazines, when you pitch an idea to an agent or publisher for your novel, you will already have a track record of success. Just like an MFA, having an assortment of publishing credits will allow you to be taken seriously by publishers and agents. Your idea could be great, but showing your commitment this way can not only enhance your platform (which is critical for writers looking to avoid being doomed to the obscurity of the vanity press route), but also remove much of the risk for an agent or publisher.

I hope this post was helpful. If you would like personal assistance for any of your publishing needs, please click here.

Advertisements

A Look Inside the Mind of a Professor of Creative Writing

Truly, professors of creative writing perform a great service. Without their noble efforts, the next generation of literary phenoms would have a difficult time making their name in the literary game. However, you might be surprised by what thoughts run through their heads.

Without further ado, here’s a list of eight thoughts your creative writing professor would never share publicly:

1. You know, come to think of it, I really do think a monkey on a typewriter could write something better.

2. Yeah, a totally illiterate nation seems like a good idea right about now.

3. That’s an interesting sex scene. Obvious virgin.

4. Another story about high school melodrama. I wish they taught them better. Vertical not horizontal.

5. Oh. A disaffected young man in my classroom. I wonder who he will rip off? Bukowski? Hunter S. Thompson? Chuck Palahniuk? Tao Lin? Maybe he’ll be really cerebral and rip off Kerouac!

6. So, it’s a given that the bro with the backwards baseball cap will write in the style of Tucker Max, right?

7. I may not be Raymond Carver, but hey, it could be worse, I could be as bad as my students.

8. I hate my life. Why didn’t I get an MBA?

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 a 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, but 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. 

Now if you need a little bit of help finding literary agents to query, or for any other publishing concern, please click here. I’d be happy to guide you in the right direction.

 

Writers, All You Have to Do is Ask!

tooshy

While there are plenty of great editors and publishing consultants that you can choose to work with (and if you’d like to go that route, I would certainly hope that you would consider my services), sometimes all an aspiring writer needs to get themselves on track is to leverage their contacts. In the words of Morrissey in The Smiths’ song Ask, “Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to…” 

There are many steps to the writing process, but it can be broken down most simply to this:

1. Formulate an idea 

2. Outline that idea (optional, but strongly recommended)

3. Write like your life depended on it, and don’t look back. Any writer, if they’ve already done steps 1 and 2, can complete 90% of the work of capturing their idea without poring over every detail. Leave that to an editor, or if you want to take on the chore yourself (though it can be very difficult to be objective about your own writing), do it afterwards. Don’t waste time. Just write.

4. Edit your writing to get it to 100% 

5. Find a publisher

Regarding steps 4 and 5, but most especially step 5, if you have contacts in the industry, either people in publishing, other writers, or any other relevant ins, LEVERAGE THEM

I know that most of my readers are aspiring writers, and my services, though fairly priced, are simply outside of some of my readers’ budget. I can relate. I was in the same boat. I quit my job in the English department of Monroe College to really see what I could do as a writer. My friend Rairigh Drum helped me in so many ways. She knew that my writing needed MAJOR WORK when we were students at Beloit College, but she had seen some growth, and supported me along the way, as friends do. She let me stay in a spare room in her apartment in Clarion, Pennsylvania rent-free. She edited all my short fiction, making it much better, because I knew I couldn’t do it on my own (what writer could, we really do need editors). What happened? A string of acceptances. That didn’t happen before. Why did it happen? For many reasons, but most importantly because I ASKED for a favor. 

If you have people in your network who would be able to help you along the way, free of charge, LEVERAGE THEM. I’m always there for you if you don’t, but seriously, get creative and you can start advancing and not even have to spend a cent. 

In the spirit of this post, I’m going to ask YOU a favor: If you know anyone in the film industry, please help me out. I just completed a script with my co-writer Zubair Simonson called Brooklyn Blend. We just registered it with the WGA East. Think of it like Frances Ha meets Thank You for Smoking. The script is about a deluded Brooklyn hipster who thinks he’s a great musician, but really is a total hack, and how his ruthless ambition brings down a racist politician and lands a record deal. If you can help us get this sold or optioned, let me know (theliterarygame@gmail.com). See, it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Stereotypical Writers

I think it’s about time for another fun, satirical post.

Any writer privileged enough to know a few (or more) other writers is bound to have run into one (or more, if you’re particularly unlucky) of these stereotypical writers.

You know these types. They include:

The Drunken Asshole – Misanthropic and near always drunk, they idolize Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson, and blatantly rip them off in all their writing.

The Goddamn English Major – While able to compose excellent, technically perfect works of literature, their writing is always about the most mundane topics…like the core of an apple. They’re snooty to boot. They will not shut up about the classics, and about how modern fiction has no “weight.”

The Procrastinator – They could actually be a good writer, but they always make some sort of drama in their life. When you ask them what they’ve written lately, they go on for about an hour making justifications for why they’re not writing.

Mr. or Ms. Successful Writer – I’m published. Did you see my latest piece in X journal that you’ve never heard of? Did you know that X press that you’ve never heard of put out my latest book? These types are mildly successful, but judging by their major ego you would assume they’re as successful as Michael Chabon. Avoid these types at literary events at all costs.

The Angry Editor – Quite unsuccessful in their own literary pursuits, they become an editor not to help other writers, but to break them down. They use their position as a means of exacting revenge on the gods of the page.

The Wolf of Wall Street – They usually have little literary talent, but plenty of connections, and always come with a sordid past…and present. Their writing is only mildly entertaining, but because the world is not fair, they get huge advances. You’re not likely to run into them unless you’re popping bottles at the club or know how to cut lines with an AmEx card.

The Hipster – Their writing is nothing but a string of references that the poor, unwashed masses are too stupid to get. You’ll find these types frowning in coffee shops, frowning at indie shows, and swearing that they will be the next Tao Lin when they go home for the holidays.

 

Did I miss any walking stereotypes? Please feel free to comment below. If you found this post funny, please share this post on your social media feeds.

Writers Need Editors

There’s absolutely no question about it: writers need editors.

I love writing poetry, fiction, and screenplays. It’s a lot of fun. It’s what I love to do. It’s why I do what I do.

I hate editing. Well, let me be more specific, I hate editing my own writing. I hate editing my own writing because it’s very difficult to view my own writing objectively. Sure, I can do a copy edit, but invariably, it will need quite a bit more to make it, well, good enough to publish.

Most writers, myself included, after completing their first draft have the delusion that they’ve created a masterpiece. They couldn’t be further off.

I’ve been lucky to work with two close friends who have helped me edit my poetry and fiction. Without them, I wouldn’t have published any of my poetry or fiction, and I wouldn’t have had a script solid enough worth registering with the WGA East.

I know it is disheartening to see an editor skewer your writing, but it’s the only way that you can actually grow as a writer. If you are serious about growing as a writer, you need to swallow your pride, and work with a skilled editor who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear (because no draft will be perfect, or even close, and mere copy-edits aren’t enough to get your writing published.)

I’ve worked hard to grow from an aspiring writer to an emerging writer. I received A LOT of rejections along the way. It was humiliating. It felt like I was in front of a firing squad. I had to swallow my pride, realize I wasn’t able to do it on my own, and work with some great editors. I started making HUGE strides. I started getting to know many writers doing similar things and forming close professional relationships with them, I started having people legitimately compliment my work, and, of course, I started seeing my name in reputable, competitive, literary journals.

I couldn’t do it on my own, and neither can you, or any writer for that matter. I’ve been through the wringer, and come out on the other side, and I know for a fact that without a top editor for your fiction, poetry, screenplays, or any form of creative writing, your work is going NOWHERE. As a result of my experiences, I want to help you grow as a writer, and help you edit your writing, so that you can advance in your literary career. I may be myopic when it comes to my own writing (as all writers are), but I can guarantee you that if you choose to hire me as an editor, you’ll learn firsthand what a top editor can do for your fiction.

To sum it up: I couldn’t do it on my own as a writer. I needed to work with some of the best fiction editors around to get things going. Any writer can do the same with a dedicated, critical editor.

A Critical Mistake to Avoid When Writing Short Fiction

Don’t treat short fiction as a novel.

Whatever you do – DON’T treat short fiction as a novel.

What I mean is this: when you are writing short fiction, it takes a different approach than if you’re working on a novel. The key is brevity. You have to say just as much as you would in a novel, but you have to do so succinctly.

A good rule of thumb when writing any piece of short fiction: stick to as brief a period of time as possible. The story can take place in 15 minutes in one location. It doesn’t have to be wildly ambitious. 

Of course, in writing, as in all art, rules are meant to be broken…once you’ve achieved mastery. There are short fiction writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer whose short stories read like mini-novels in the depth and complexity of their plot. In my opinion, Singer was one of the best short fiction writers. He could get away with flouting that rule; and once you grow as a writer, by putting in much time and effort, you can too.

However, for now, as an aspiring writer, I suggest adhering to the following acronym:

Keep

It

Simple

Stupid

And I guarantee that your short fiction will be a lot easier to write, and have a much greater chance of getting published by a literary magazine.

Do you have any other tips for short fiction writers? Feel free to leave a comment!