How To Balance Writing, Publishing, and Networking?

My cousin Jerry, by most any account, has a pretty good life. He’s successful doing work that he loves, makes a nice amount of money, has a beautiful and charming wife, and three great children. When I talked to him about some of the initial challenges I was facing after I quit my job as an educator and planned to make a go of it as a writer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur, Jerry told me a story. As a man in his early twenties, he quickly earned more than double the salary of many of his middle-aged coworkers. How? When others put in 40 hours on the clock, with maybe 10 hours spent actually doing their jobs, he put in 80 hours, working beyond what was expected. Now, he doesn’t have to work so hard, though he still puts in a great deal time in projects he cares about. Those other guys, who knows what they’re doing now?

The point of this story is simple, if you’re serious about not just writing in your spare time, but making a career of being a writer, you’d better work hard. Still, even if you put in 80 hours per week, in such a competitive position as creative writing, if you’re not working smart, you just might end up stuck in as bad a position as Jerry’s former coworkers.

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One of the most difficult concerns for any writer looking to not just break in, but succeed, is the balance of writing, publishing, and networking. Here are a few suggestions that should help you work smarter, not harder:

  • Above all, write. One novel, three short stories, five poems – that’s not enough. Don’t even think about publishing or utilizing contacts and networking until you have a solid body of work. One success wouldn’t make a career, and the amount of time spent doing so is counterproductive. Make writing a consistent habit, have a lot of work to show around, and then start thinking about networking and publishing.
  • Understand that writing probably won’t make you rich. J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are the extremely rare exceptions. That said, many writers can make a living off of writing alone, many times even off of creative writing alone. It helps if your budget isn’t extreme. If you are single and live in an area with a low cost of living in the United States, you could probably get by on around $1000/month. While you wouldn’t be living well on that, you could survive. Then, through perseverance and building your reputation, you could make a good deal more.
  •  The Internet is your friend. Creating a blog centered around your writing, or other topics of interest to writers, could be a great way to attract attention. Taking a participatory role in the culture of the writing community online will open yourself up to many new opportunities. Helping others will lead them to helping you. Websites like Upwork and Craigslist present many opportunities for publishers looking for ghostwriters. The pay may not be great, but with a body of work, a high-character approach, and determination, you can get those jobs and build traction. Do so.
  • Don’t be an outsider. Jumping off the previous point, many communities on the Internet are niche. If you write science-fiction or romance or mysteries, find where those writers and readers gather and become a part of their communities. Above all, help as many people as you can. Being a self-serving renegade can kill your chances of succeeded in today’s literary world.
  • Understand your markets. Don’t submit a 80,000 word science-fiction novel to an avant-garde poetry site. Respect publishers by being familiar with the writing that they publish and reading a significant amount of it. When you read the work that publishers put out, you’ll quickly know if it’s similar to your own. If it’s not, don’t waste your time and the publisher’s time with a submission. There are so many magazines and publishers that there is bound to be one that’s a good match for your style. Use Duotrope, Poets & Writers, or the Writer’s Market and find it!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a favor. In the words of new wave singer Morrissey of The Smiths, “Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to…” If you have a friend or other contact that could potentially lead to a solid break, don’t be afraid to ask them for what you need. The worst they can do is say no. Of course, make sure that you’ve done the basics first. Above all, follow their suggestions afterwards. Nothing burns out a good contact more than asking for a favor and not following through after someone does what you ask.

Taking these suggestions into account, you’ll be in an excellent position to advance your writing career. What do you think? What advice would you give to a new writer seeking to follow their dreams? Let’s start a dialogue.

 

A Guide To Publishing Etiquette

Maybe I have some sort of undiagnosed personality disorder, but one of my biggest pet peeves is writers who don’t follow the submissions guidelines for Beautiful / Losers Magazine. When a writer sends us an email with their poems or stories attached as a Word document, I become visibly filled with rage. My blood pressure shoots up. My smile turns upside down. And then I delete it, but not after having soaked in my righteous anger for a bit. If you don’t believe me, just ask my fiancee.

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The last thing any writer hoping to get their submission accepted for publication wants is for an editor’s face to look like the one of the man above. Chances are, if an editor has that face before even reading your submission, it’s toast.

So, how do you avoid making editors displeased? It’s simple, etiquette!

  • Always read the submissions guidelines and follow them to a T.
  • Find out to whom you should address your cover letter.
  • Send a respectful cover letter.
  • Don’t get angry if they reject your writing. Don’t respond at all in such a case.
  • Read their magazine first.
  • Submit work that fits with the aesthetic of their magazine. To find out what the aesthetic is, read it!
  • Be patient. Sometimes it can be a spell before you hear back from a publisher.
  • Don’t paste your submission in the body of an email if they want attachments.
  • And, of course, DON’T SEND YOUR SUBMISSION AS AN ATTACHMENT IF THEY WANT IT IN THE BODY OF AN EMAIL 😉

How to avoid making editors displeased? Treat your submission to a magazine or publishing house with the same respect you would take to a job interview. Put your best face forward, do your homework, follow the rules, and you’ll be in the best potential situation for success.

Did I miss anything in this post? What do you think are some of the things to avoid when submitting writing to a publishing house or literary magazine?

Thinking About Kindle Direct Publishing? Hire a Formatter!

Do you want to publish on Kindle Direct Publishing? Great! Just make sure to get your manuscript professionally formatted prior to uploading it on KDP or you might be less than satisfied with the results.

I was excited to roll out a collection of short stories, tentatively titled New Weird America, on Kindle Direct Publishing. I edited all ten of my stories once again, making sure they were as tight as possible. I wrote my dedications, my biography, my title page, my table of contents, the whole shebang. In less than a day, KDP had my title up and running. Two days later, I took it down.

A word to the wise – the formatting you use in Word (or Pages, or whatever you use to type your manuscript) doesn’t always translate so well to Kindle Direct Publishing. My table of contents looked completely off. My introductory pages were cut off in weird places. I didn’t even get a chance to actually see how my stories looked from the free introduction, but given what I had seen, it needed to be pulled.

With the new possibilities for reach using Amazon Direct Publishing, self-published authors need to consider the possibility of hiring professionals to format their manuscript for readability on Kindle. I found a website, Word-2-Kindle.com, that does this job for only $49. I suggest that anyone new to KDP utilize their service, or others doing the same.

The rap on self-published books is that they are of poor quality. Formatting issues that hinder a reader’s capability to enjoy your work are a big turnoff. To uphold the standards of your writing, make sure to get your manuscript professionally formatted prior to using Kindle Direct Publishing.

Self-Publishing: The (Potential) Rise of a New Literary Middle-Class

Hey, it’s been way too long since I’ve published an actual post here on The Literary Game. I can’t make any promises that I’ll post with any regularity, but let’s give this another shot. Before anything, I want to let you all know that I want to make some changes to this blog. I am not the god of writing. I have my perspective on things, and yes, I’ve been published online a bit and have a degree in Creative Writing, but the authoritative tone of the previous posts is going to be no longer. Instead, I want you to join me on a journey through the literary game. Together.

If you caught the farewell post a while ago, you might remember that I’m working on a new project, Beautiful / Losers Magazine, which you can check out by clicking here. Dario Cannizzaro, co-founder of the magazine and a good friend of mine got me to do a total 180 on what was once gospel truth to me – self-publishing. For my longtime readers, you’re probably aware of how much disdain I had for self-publishing. While it is true that there is a lot of weak, sloppy work out there in the world of self-publishing, there is some incredible stuff as well. Whether it’s easy to find, that depends on your Web savvy.

So, how did I change my perspective? Well, it all started when Dario mentioned to me and Austin Wiggins, the third member of our triumvirate of co-founders, that he had completed a novel titled Dead Men Naked. Dario asked if we would be so kind as to read his manuscript, and offer our thoughts. In short, it was damn good! Now prior to reading Dario’s book, I had been on a mission to get a poetry chapbook published. I know that the Big 5 publishers wouldn’t be interested, for obvious reasons; however, I reached out to a few friends in the “underground poetry” movement who are further along in their careers than I am. I had some leads, and some people who genuinely wanted to help, but it came to nothing.

Now there are many small presses that publish a wide-range of material, but generally, much of it is outside of my stylistic parameters. My poetry and fiction is edgy, with a raw spirit that I guess rubbed off on me from spending the better part of the last twenty years hanging out with crazy punk rockers and other assorted misfits. My work isn’t for the book club or professors at Yale, and many of the small presses cater towards a more elite set than my work, which purposefully tries to be accessible and portray life on the margins. That said, I kind of hit a wall, just like many other writers trying to get a book out.

After speaking to Dario, and hearing that a talented writer like him was going the self-publishing route, and later learning that Austin was planning to do the same, I realized maybe I should reconsider my skepticism of that path. The Big 5 are looking for people with platforms, books that can make a huge amount of money. The small presses, by virtue of their limited resources and reach, can’t provide a significant income and can be quite difficult and time-consuming to get published with, due to sheer volume of submissions, stylistic parameters, entry fees, and limited windows for submissions. For a writer who loves writing and wants to make it their career, self-publishing, with a little bit of luck, talent, and extreme skill in marketing, can lead you to the literary middle class.

There are many talented writers who are broke and struggling to find publishers for their material. Why not take my example, and give self-publishing a second look? Make a name for yourself online organically, and scale from there. You can write and make money at it, maybe not at Stephen King or J.K. Rowling levels, but enough to pay the rent while doing what you love, so give it a try!

Six Reasons Why Duotrope Is A Game Changer For Publishing Short Fiction And Poetry

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As you may know, I offer publishing consultancy services for writers looking to publish their writing.

Here’s a dirty little secret, you can do the job 100% by yourself. Tonight, I am going to expound on why if you write short fiction and/or poetry, you need to subscribe to Duotrope.com. For only $5/month ($50/year), you gain access to a searchable index of over 5,000 literary journals. Without a doubt, Duotrope is the key to finding esteemed literary magazines to publish your short fiction and poetry.

Here are six reasons why any short story writer or poet needs to get on Duotrope:

  1. You can search to find journals that match your writing – Regardless of what genre you write in, you can find journals that will publish your type of writing by searching based on genre, subgenre, style, topic, and audience.
  2. You can search based on acceptance ratio – If you need a confidence boost, you can search by acceptance ratio and find journals with higher acceptance rates.
  3. You can search by average response time – Many literary magazines take at least a month to respond and waiting as long as six months for a decision is not uncommon. If you are looking to quickly rack up publications, you can search based on fastest response time.
  4. You can understand what editors are looking for – For many literary journals featured on Duotrope, there are interviews with editors, allowing you to better understand the rationale behind their selection process and what pet peeves they have about many of the individuals who submit to their publications.
  5. You can get paid – Granted, few literary magazines pay for short stories or poems and those that do rarely offer more than $50, but if money is a factor, you can use Duotrope to find literary journals that offer financial compensation to their contributors.
  6. You can keep track of your submissions – Duotrope is extremely convenient for writers who plan to send out their poetry and short fiction to many publications. Using Duotrope, you can track your submissions. This can come in handy when you need to remember if a poem or short story has been submitted to a publisher already, and if so, if it can be simultaneously submitted.

I guarantee that if you utilize Duotrope, it will be a lot easier to find journals to publish your short fiction or poetry.

Of course, even using Duotrope, finding places to publish does require some time and effort. You can click here for more information about my publishing consultancy services if you would prefer to kick your feet up and relax.

How To Make Money From Self-Publishing Your Own Writing

Many new authors choose to self-publish their writing. Oftentimes, this comes about for two reasons:

  1. A lack of confidence in their own writing’s ability to be published.
  2. A lack of knowledge of how to get their writing published.

However, some writers prefer to self-publish in order to get rid of the middleman. I understand that sentiment; however, I caution against publishing with a vanity press or through Amazon or Smashwords unless a writer is willing to put the money, time, and extreme effort into making the endeavor worth their while, or alternatively, if they have ties to individuals of influence/a large platform.

The reality is that for most writers who self-publish, no one will read your writing, and you will make virtually no money from your self-published book. Without the reputation and marketing that comes with a publishing house, amidst a sea of self-published material, your work will languish in complete obscurity. It sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.

For this reason, I urge many writers to have their writing edited to a publishable standard and then partner with a skilled published consultant. Without those two things, many talented writers will simply never get their start, unless they are willing to devote countless hours doing the job themselves, which often will still produce futile results.

Even with all the challenges for most individuals, I absolutely advocate self-publishing in two, and only two, specific circumstances:

  1. You have a large platform. You may never have published even a single poem or short story in your life, but if you have achieved a great deal in some other sphere of influence, and people recognize your name, should you choose to self-publish your writing, with a little bit of marketing, you can still have self-publishing reap results, often more than should you choose to publish via the traditional route.
  2. You have “true believers” who have large platforms. Do you have family, friends, coworkers, business partners, spouses, or others in your life who think your writing is stellar? Do they have large networks? Are they willing to spread the word and help you out? If so, you should consider self-publishing.

While writing anything to completion in and of itself is an accomplishment, for many writers that isn’t enough. All writers want their work to be read. Additionally, writing a novel or other long work is a serious time consideration. Time is money, and most anyone would love a return on the investment of their time. While, of course, writing isn’t and shouldn’t be about the money, I firmly believe that artists ought to be paid for their efforts. There’s nothing ugly about that all, and I imagine none but the most misguided or masochistic would disagree.

In short, while self-publishing is normally a terrible idea, if people know who you are or if you have even one powerful contact in your corner, then consider giving it a shot. If not, and you would like to take a more traditional route, I am available to move your writing career forward as a publishing consultant.

In success,
Alfonso

 

 

Five Major Turn-Offs That Publishers Hate

I like to break down the writing process into three simple parts:

Step 1 – Writing

Step 2 – Editing

Step 3 – Publishing

The first two steps are rather straightforward; however, the third step is often cause for consternation amongst many writers. While getting your writing published can be a difficult challenge if you do not put the work in (or hire a publishing consultant), you can dramatically improve your chances of publication by simply avoiding these five common mistakes:

#1 – Make sure that your manuscript is edited. I fully understand the impulse to take the initiative and just go for publication after completing a manuscript. For me, this hasty approach has never led to actually getting published. Even though I help other writers as an editor, I fully acknowledge that I, like every writer, can be quite myopic about my own material. It’s my baby, and it’s perfect – except it’s not. My friend Rairigh Drum edits my fiction, and my girlfriend Lauren Rubin and writing partner Zubair Simonson edit my screenplays. I trust them fully to take the quality writing that I produce, and shape it into something excellent. I could not do it without them, and most likely, neither can you. Having a qualified editor that you can trust pore over your manuscript is critical to catching both the simple errors in spelling, grammar, and syntax that can make a publisher reject your manuscript, and also to catching the larger errors, like plot holes, weak description, or vague characterization that can also doom your writing.

#2 – Not conducting yourself as a professional. I’ve mentioned my story before about how I sent an expletive-laced letter to Brian Fugett, publisher of Zygote in My Coffee, and still had my poem accepted by his publication. I highly recommend that you do not do the same! For 99.9% of publications, you would want to approach your query letter the same way you would write a cover letter for a position in the workforce. When you interact with publishers or others in the field, engage with them in the same way you would conduct yourself during an interview. Put simply: cut out the horseshit in your communications.

#3 – Delusions of grandeur. You very well might be the best unpublished writer around; however, let the critics say it. Tooting your own horn will turn off publishers, and make you look like a giant ass in the process.

#4 – Sending good material to a publication outside of your niche. Most every publisher, aside from the Big 5, cater to a specific niche. If your writing is excellent, but it does not fit the form, style, or genre of the publishing house, it will be rejected. Just because a piece of writing may be good, it doesn’t mean that every publisher would be interested in it.

#5 – Not following directions. Most all reputable publishing houses list clear rules on the submission process. If you disregard them, even if you do everything else right, it will likely lead to a rejection.

By avoiding these five common traps, your success rate in terms of getting published will improve. If you need any further help in publishing consultancy, I am available to help you.

In success,
Alfonso