Sunday, January 5, 2014


At the Local Authors' Fair at Topeka and Shawnee County Library, I was on a panel for ADVICE TO BEGINNING WRITERS. Here are my notes from that event, as I promised several people. Other panel members were Dennis Etzel, Eric McHenry, and Thomas Fox Averill. They echoed many of these ideas and discussed the role of magazine editors and writers in more depth. Thanks to them all.

·         Pay more attention to quality than to publication. Being a published writer is not like being a rock star. It is learning to articulate life experience well, and it is a life-long pursuit. Most writers continue to improve into old age, so buckle up for the long haul. When you go to conferences, try to learn more about writing and less about how to publicize your writings.
·         Do the apprenticeship time. Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers has a wonderful section where he gives examples of 10,000 hours as a minimum apprenticeship for exceptional accomplishment. The Beatles played in Germany seven days a week, several sets, for years before they returned to Liverpool and become outstanding. My mentor, a novelist, said it took ten years to learn how to write a novel. Ten years.
·         Send individual pieces out for publication. If you are a poet, send out 3-5 poem submissions to literary magazines or commercial niche magazines. If you are a prose writer, send out short stories or essays or novel excerpts. When you have about a third of a book already published in magazines, then consider a book. The validation of the magazine publishing process will show book editors that you have experience and quality.
·         Consider publishing a chapbook first. This is a 12-24 page booklet, usually staple bound or it can be a letterpress art piece. This is a closely related group of poems, in form or content. It is an inexpensive way to share poems.
·         Know your local presses. Buy books from them. Support them. This is localvore literature, and you can participate!
·         Prepare for the page, part 1: 5 ½ by 8 ½ normally, 10.5 to 11 pt font, so poets need to be aware of limitations. Prepare for the page, part 2: have letter-perfect grammar and spelling and usage. Hire a professional proof reader if necessary
·         Understand the difference between a “vanity” press and an independent press—small literary, university, or industry presses
·         Take advantage of print-on-demand. Start a press or magazine. Publish yourself if your audience is local or family or another niche not served by literary presses and/or the NY industrial complex
·         If you submit to any press that is not vanity, be prepared to show (1 previous publications of individual poems or excerpts if possible (2 a target audience and indication of interest from your target audience (3 a market plan—reading schedule, friends who will used the book in reading clubs or classes, etc.
·         Be ready to market your work—no one does publicity any more
Here's a link to a related podcast with authors who appeared at the event, interviewed by Miranda Ericsson