Friday, June 24, 2016

A Friday NO-Fridge Link to My Post on How (one) Lit Journal Editor Thinks

It's been a busy travel week for me (complicated by my wrist still being in a cast), so instead of the usual Friday links of interest to writers, there's just one this week; as it happens, one of mine.

Like, I suppose, a lot of writers who send work out via Submittable -- the seamless interface that facilitates easy submissions to thousands of literary and (increasingly) mainstream publication venues -- I was not aware until recently that there's more to the site than submissions. 

Their blog, for example, houses articles on many aspects of the creative life, including guest posts from a diverse cadre of artists. 

While exploring the site, I was coincidentally thinking about writing an article on demystifying the editorial process at a literary journal. Since I can only speak for the one where I edit the Creative Nonfiction section, Compose Journal, that's what I did.

This week, the Submittable Blog editors published "Want to Know How Lit Journal Editors Think? What One Issue's Accepted Work Can Tell You."  In it, I walk the reader through the CNF pieces in the Spring issue of Compose, talk about why a piece was chosen, and give some behind-the-scenes tidbits about the editing process.

I hope you will read it, and then consider exploring some of the blog's other offerings.

(FYI - for my readers who also occasionally write about the writing life, the Submittable blog pays for accepted guest posts. And, the editors were a pleasure to work with.)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- June 17, 2016 Edition

> Joshua Becker, at the Minimalist advises, "Accomplish More with a 3-item To Do List." My comment at that post: I have been doing this for years. Didn’t know it was a real thing. I just call it my 1-2-3 Rule. Long to do lists are overwhelming. But who can’t do 3 things?  (And there -- you've just gotten one of my *secret* coaching tips.)

> Read and weep (a little - in the spirit of what my father sometimes said: Beware what you wish for - you might just get it.) "Lisa33 and Me -- The Harrowing True Story of a Six-Figure Advance," at Rottingpost.

> One of my bigger editing pet peeves: dialogue tags other than said or asked.  (Okay, very occasionally I can see the need for something like whispered which usually can't be communicated via the dialogue itself. Then again, I'd probably opt for action, if appropriate, like...he leaned close to her ear and...). My writer pal Linda Sienkiewicz weighs in with "Nancy Pontificated."

> The Wall Street Journal reports that HarperCollins launched a Facebook Live initiative, featuring live video with authors interacting with readers on HC's FB page daily (and also on the individual authors' FB pages).

> At Book Riot, Kelly Jensen with "33 Ways to Have a More Bookish Summer." Why not? (hat tip Buddhapuss Ink)

>Love food and literature, and are local to New York's Hudson Valley? Check out Read and Feed on July 30. Details: "Basilica Hudson, in partnership with CLMP, the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, announce READ & FEED, the launching of a projected annual event bringing together artisanal makers of food with artisanal makers of literature." Tickets here.

> At Writer Unboxed, Donald Maass asks (and does a pretty good job of answering) 

"What Makes Fiction Literary: Scenes Versus Postcards." Be sure to check out the many good comments too.

> Finally, if you have not done so yet, do read Maggie Smith's excellent poem "Good Bones" at Waxwing Magazine. It's rare for a contemporary poem to "go viral" but apparently that's what has happened this week. Read it and, if you're paying even sideways attention to U.S. and world news lately and are weary and disheartened, you'll know why it's struck such a universal chord.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Jeopardy Clues to Crappy No Good Writer's Luck

I love the television show Jeopardy. I record it to DVR every night, and my husband and I watch it later before the news comes on. In the arena of our family room, I always win! One of our cousins was a contestant once, a poet I know competed once, and tonight a former writing workshop participant will appear.

But this post isn't really about Jeopardy. Jeopardy was just a convenient hook. This post is about something else, but let's play a little Jeopardy shall we?

Here's our clue:

Two physical injuries, which in combination spell disaster for a writer and editor who was so recently happy that the academic semester was over, and was ready to deep dive into her own creative work.

And the correct answer would be:

A broken wrist on the dominant hand and falling so hard on one's posterior, that sitting for more than 15 minutes, even after 10 days, is all but impossible.


Well at least I got a nifty bright red cast on my right arm (yes, I asked the orthopedist for a colored cast, just like a little kid). As for the other end and the other injury, the less said the better. (Except to say: pillows, a jerry-rigged standing desk, and Mineral Ice.)

Writers, do not go out in the backyard to plant flowers alone when all the outside steps are still wet from days of rain, your entire family is 100 miles away, no neighbors are outside to hear you scream, and your phone is in the house.

I'm writing this using voice dictation, which works great for emails, texts, and posts, but I can't seem to get the hang of it for any real writing. For that, I'm tapping away with the left (spastic!) hand, and two fingers on my right hand, making a zillion errors. But I am writing still, though s..l..o..w...l..y. I'm lucky that my editing clients and adult students have been understanding. And I'm lucky to have a husband and two sons who are all helping out. But enough about that.

On the good-news front -- and frankly, I needed it, as this latest accident was the latest in a series of incidents that are adding up to a not-so-lucky year thus far -- a few short essays have been published recently.

One piece, "Break a Leg," appears in Cleaver Magazine. It recounts a small mistake I made while working with horses as a teenager, and how that reverberated through the rest of my riding life -- and beyond.

The second short nonfiction narrative is running over at Purple Clover, and (depending on what you click/enter from) carries both my original title, "A Father, a Road Trip, and the Polyester Mafia," and the clever one editors gave it to improve clicks (to be fair, it uses a line I wrote within the piece): "Goodfella: I liked being the rich kid whose father may or may not have been in the Mafia."

I'm the smallest person in this pic
(probably  the last time that was true!)
I'll say this about it. I was born, raised, and still live in a part of New Jersey where The Sopranos took place. In fact, part of the pilot was filmed across the street from my son's preschool (all the moms thought it was going to be about opera singers!) and once when they were filming a half mile from my house, I nearly rear-ended a Hummer because I was so distracted by the sight of Tony walking out of the funeral home on our main drag.  This story pivots on a road trip to California when I was a child and overheard my father acting like he was a mafioso. (wink wink)

And that's the story from here for now. 

Image: Flickr/CreativeCommons - horse, Blake Hall; Jeopardy, ShawnMSmith;  others, mine

Friday, June 3, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- June 3, 2016 Edition

> Running out of ideas of where to write away from your house/office? Read Shaun Levin's two-part guest post at Aerogramme Writers' Studio: "Taking Your Notebook for a Walk," an A to K  (and L to Z) of interesting places to write. I thought I knew them all, but many of these surprised me (mostly in a good way).

> Writer Jac Jemc shares her acceptance/rejection stats for applications to writer residencies. 

> Judy Blume has joined the growing list of bestseller authors who have opened independent bookstores. 

> Check out Brooklyn Magazine's "50 Fictional Women We're Obsessed With."

> Planning a blog tour to promote your book? Women on Writing has a few tips.

> At the blog of The Writers Circle (where I teach locally), founder and co-director (and historical novelist) Judith Lindbergh recently posted Part Three (finding an agent) of an excellent, detailed series on getting published. Part Two tackles "the dreaded synopsis," while Part One focuses on the elevator pitch / query letter.

> Interesting, short interview by Debora Black with Mira Ptacin (about the writing, and the difficulty of selling), her memoir, Poor Your Soul, at Bill & Dave's Cocktail Hour. (For a bonus, follow the link at the end to Ptacin's lovely post on her journey to E.B. White's writing shed--and her own move to a Maine island.)

> Finally, enjoy this Yankee magazine essay about a quirky bookstore customer, by my Bay Path University MFA teaching colleague Kate Whouley.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Teaching a Class for Writers on Submissions Strategy? Better check my own stats first!

I'm gearing up to teach a local four-week summer class, Submission Strategies, and so I'm combing through my own mid-year stats. This includes tallying up: what's been submitted, how many times, to how many different venues; what's been accepted or rejected; what's been published or will be soon; how much I've spent on submission and contest fees; how/if I've placed in any contests; and what shape my "to submit to" list is in. 

Though I keep thorough records on every aspect of my submission life--via my own Excel spreadsheets, on Duotrope, and (automatically) at Submittable--this exercise at nearly the mid-year mark is proving enlightening. 

I discovered, for example, that although I thought simultaneous submissions were lagging, in fact, I've been keeping pieces circulating to about a half-dozen prospective venues at all times (this tells me I'm keeping up with making 'plan B' lists and then using them).

I thought I had on hand a low number of polished and ready to submit pieces, but in fact, I have more entries in the "pieces ready to go" column than I remembered.

I was heartened to see that I had submitted to a lot more new-to-me venues, and yet I also noticed that this meant my "to submit to" lists are being depleted and I need to plump them up with additional new places to try. Translation: spend more time researching venues that are a good fit.

My stats on what's been accepted or rejected weren't really a surprise. Don't we all have that mental tally in our heads pretty much all the time? But I noted that overall percentage of acceptances to rejections can be drastically skewed when one stubborn piece doesn't find a home until it's been rejected 27 times.

I was also unfavorably impressed with how much I've spent on submission fees at this point in the year. It's not a lot really, but it's more than I thought or budgeted for. Those "little" $3 fees do add up. I try to think of this as a marketing expense, and in a larger sense as a way to support literary publishing. Still, I wasn't thrilled to note that I'm more than halfway through what I'd mentally allotted for the year, and we're not quite at the halfway mark on the calendar.

I enter very few contests for short pieces of work (so have virtually no budget for that), but had earmarked more serious funds for entering my newly revised full-length memoir manuscript to contests run by trustworthy boutique or university publishers that offer book publication and a small advance. Likewise for entering a short essay collection in creative nonfiction chapbook contests. I'm on track in this budget area and have been a finalist in one chapbook contest, but most of the book pub contests won't announce results until later in the year.

I learned a lot more, and even did MATH (can I tell you how much this hurts my head?), finding the numbers that tell the rest of the story. A typical outcome went like this: an essay was first sent exclusively to one venue, which required a $3 fee. When that one said no, off it went to four others simultaneously (no fees); I withdrew the piece from the three I hadn't yet heard from as soon as one of the four said yes. But other pieces that made their simultaneous way round and round, sometimes added to the submission fee budget, though in a few cases, that was offset by payment. 

In future, I'm going to make it a habit to scour my submission stats this closely on a quarterly or at least semi-annually basis, instead of just skimming them along the way and waiting until January to look back carefully at an entire year.

I'd love to hear how other submitting writers handle tracking submissions and related stats.

Images: All Flickr/CreativeCommons. Submit - Amy[treespacestudio]Stats - SimonCunningham/LendingMemo;  Headache - PierreWillemin. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I've Run Out of Other Cheeks and There's No Room Left on the High Road.

In the nine years this blog has been going, I've tried to keep it upbeat, tried not to complain (too much or too often), or waste time or yours with petty grievances. Not today.

So there's a writer/editor who put out a call for submissions for an anthology about 18 months ago. (Let me say first, and as my readers, you likely already know: I have VERY thick skin, and roll with rejections every day.) I thought carefully about the stated theme of the anthology, and I submitted a pitch for an essay very much on-topic that also addressed an aspect of the subject matter that wasn't likely to be over-represented.

You never know with these things. I've been on the YES end of a cold anthology essay pitch many times, and I've also been on the NO end many times. You pitch (or submit), and you hope. You know it's a crapshoot. If it's a NO, you (or at least I) regroup and decide: whether to pitch the editor something else; to write the original essay anyway and find another market for it; or figure I tried, maybe this anthology is just not for me. And you walk away a little disappointed, but not particularly bruised. It's the way things go.

But in the meantime, you wait for a response, and you hope. If you're me, you start notes for the proposed essay anyway. Maybe you begin writing a brain dump draft. Because, why not?

This writer/editor's negative reply came back in less than two hours, and included all of the following:

1. The idea was "obviously outside the range of what I want." (It wasn't outside the topic at all, though it would address a little-discussed but important aspect. Okay, she didn't want to go outside that box, got it. But then shouldn't the original guidelines have noted that all ideas had to be on-the-nose? Or was she just lying about the reason for rejection, because she went on to inform me that...)

2. Even if she were inclined to like the idea, she would need someone other than ME to write it because I don't have enough "audience drawing power." (Guess she didn't like my social media numbers. Or I didn't fit into some idea of the kind of top drawer writers she wanted in the book. This seemed like the kind of opinion she ought to have kept to herself, especially as it wasn't a stated criteria. Yet if she wanted only top writers, who not solicit them directly instead of putting out a public call? Also, she's not exactly a household name herself, even in writing circles.)

3. That under no circumstances should I contact her again with another idea for this same anthology; I had my one shot already. (Wow. Didn't realize I was dealing with a royal personage who had granted me the honor of a one-time-only email audience.)

4. That under no circumstance should I give out her email address to other writers because she was already inundated with pitches. (Then why did she post it on a public website in the first place?)

It stung, it felt in part personal and mean-spirited, and in part wholly unprofessional. But I shook it off. That's what you do, right?

I also wrote the essay anyway, and it has since been published in a venue I like by an editor who treated me well. So I guess I "won" in some odd way. Still.

The anthology will be published soon, and via email, via Facebook private message, via Twitter private message, and via newsletter (which I'd sworn I'd opted out of), I've been asked to: sign up for an automated social media support campaign; write a book review; request a local bookshop to stock it; LIKE the book's Facebook page; support a giveaway; and otherwise support the book's release. (Gee, guess my reach is okay after all!).

I know the right response is no response, that the right thing to do is to do nothing, to say nothing. And so that's what I will do to "support" the book. Nothing. I will also not ever reveal this person's identity, or the name of the book.

I have been in this "business" for 30-plus years, and some days I get so freaking God awful tired of that damned high road.

That is all.

Images: All Flickr/CreativeCommons. High Road - Tim Roach/aka atoach; Red Flag-TerryJohnston.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- May 27, 2016 Edition

A big bunch of links to last you through the long weekend. Enjoy!

> Richard Russo and Jenny Boylan team up in a Studio 360 podcast, on "Plot Twists in Books--and Life," and I can't think of a better writer-friend combo to tackle this topic.

> From the front lines (or front office, anyway) of the O.Henry Prize Stories, Kelly Luce reports, in Electric Literature, on "12 Things I Noticed While Reading Every Short Story Published in 2014-15 (or, Extremely Long Titles That Are Complete Sentences Are Still Very Much a Thing)" 

> Authors, need help coordinating book promo events? Check out Have Book Will Travel, which is "connecting authors with reading series and venues."

> On Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29, you can listen in on, and ask questions, during a select few live sessions at the Creative Nonfiction Magazine Writers Conference including "Write This Way: How to Find and Develop a Niche in Your Writing" moderated by Keysha Whitaker, with Shannon Reed, Jason Bittel, and Christina Marusic; and "Ask an Editor Panel," moderated by Ellen Ayoob, with Hattie Fletcher, Geeta Kothari, and Jessica Bylander.

> The new app Litsy aims to be a place to "share and discover your favorite books with your favorite people." At Book Riot, Brenna Clarke Gray characterizes it "as if Instagram and Goodreads had a beautiful, perfect baby."

> Looking for more places to find good links for writers? Try this "Afterthoughts" newsletter from Chantel Hamilton.

> New Pages is now doing Lit Mag Reviews. (Correction: STILL doing reviews! Don't know why I thought they were a new feature at the New Pages site. I stand corrected. Still excited to know of this resource.)

> In Britain at least, The Guardian reports that paper books are outselling ebooks.

> At the Los Angeles Review, Corey Ginsberg weighs in with some rules about rejection for writers--and for editors, too.

> Finally, earlier this week, I had a horrible, no-good, very bad Monday of rejections--four in my inbox before lunch! The next morning I found Kathleen Siddell's great funny/not-funny piece, "How to Face an Inbox of Rejection" on the Brevity blog. Bravo.

Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/CreativeCommons - Billie Grace Ward / wwward0

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Memoir Excerpt: Flash Nonfiction at Litbreak

Among my latest published online works is the short nonfiction piece, "Searching for Silvio," which appeared at Litbreak a couple of weeks ago. 

It's a tale about the odd things we do when someone we care about asks us to; about how, if we're honest, we do one thing but we are all the time really doing something else entirely; and about the unusual and unexpected ways grief and memory find their way into almost everything. It's also about bonds between siblings, the lifelong desire to be loved, and the gift of quirky and sometimes bothersome relatives.

Here's a small excerpt:

"First, I recruit Lenore, my best friend of 45 years, who loved my father, knows all about his dippy relatives. We canvass the hangouts, asking counter clerks and old geezers if they know my uncle, and some do, but no one has seen him in days. They call us doll and honey and give us buttered rolls and donuts. At the Hot Grill, I order a frankie-all-the-way-one. But we don’t find Silvio."