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    • CommentAuthorOddman
    • CommentTimeAug 19th 2008
    Alright. I'm writing a book. I want it to be published. And I want to make money on it.

    What do I need? How do I choose a literary agent? Do I even need a literary agent? What other steps should I take to get my work out there? And I know it probably shouldn't be a problem, but can age and lack of a college degree deter any agencies? Concerning copyrights and such, what are the steps I need to take to protect my IP? You're an intelligent bunch, so I hope some of you out there can offer me some guidance/advice in this field.

    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2008
    Get the book done before worrying about stuff like this, if it's your first one.

    If you write something, then the copyright is yours, so don't worry about that either.
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2008
    Really what you should be doing is trying to get short stories published every damn place until an agent or a publisher contacts you and asks you for a proposal for a novel.

    A lot of agents will read mss for novels (more than would read film scripts) and you could get lucky. In terms of what to look for - see who's on their books already and see if you can "fit in" with that.

    Most of the major publishers have a department for reading unsolicited stuff but realistically these books never make it to the printing schedule.

    So - short stories, articles - anything that gets your writing out there that might make a publisher say "I wonder if he has a book in him...."
    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2008
    Also - don't expect writing fiction to make you any money. If you want a guaranteed income from writing, then do what I did and go into business copy writing. If you can sustain a career doing that, then you can also write stuff that you want to do alongside it. Don't fool yourself that the beautiful and precious ideas that well up from your soul will ever mean a damn thing to anyone else. If they do, then that's cool, but don't bank on it.

    One other tip - never use the word 'Chedda' ever again. Please. Just... don't...
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2008

    One other tip - never use the word 'Chedda' ever again. Please. Just... don't...

    Yes. This.


    Many writers make up significant portions of their income from other projects or careers, rather than relying solely on the proceeds of their books.
    • CommentAuthorWiseEyes
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2008
    @Oddcult - so any advice for getting poetry/short stories published? Is it too much to hope that self published work will ever garner attention? It seems like a bit of a stretch to me, but I'm still planning on publishing it, because I want to make it without having to wait for the phantom publishers to like me 500 yr after my death.

    I've started sending stuff to various contests and publications. I figure I'll start off with the small stuff and try to work up, hopefully improving my writing as I do. Is this a good idea?
  1.  (3364.7)
    Is this a good idea?

    Yes. Even the basest contest or publication adds to your writing resume, and, should you be able to provide multiple instances of this, it shows that you're consistent. Pardon the expression, but any asshole in the world can take 12 years and write a book on the side. What happens when the day comes and, after you're first published, you need to write the second one, and your contract only gives you a year to do it in?

    Again, that's a long-shot, but better to think ahead. And any writing experience is good experience. Good writers learn from their mistakes and from their successes.

    Just remember the lesson I learned early on: The road is horrendously long, no matter what path you take. Eventually, you'll either keep on the trail or find someplace else to be, all depending on how much the work means to you.
    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2008
    >I've started sending stuff to various contests and publications<

    Best way to go. There are plenty of websites that publish fiction and other writing too. Just don't expect to get paid anything in the short term. Don't be a prima donna. And just keep churning it out.

    There's far more work for someone who can consistently hit deadlines than there is for someone who has to keep tinkering with their long-awaited work of brainmelting genius.
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2008
    so any advice for getting poetry/short stories published?

    Persistance. Lots and lots of persistance. If the editors give you feedback, listen to it.

    If you're having trouble finding markets for your work look on and Duotrope's Digest.
    • CommentAuthorWakefield
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2008 edited
    I shouldn't be pontificating about this shit since I'm still figuring it out myself. But whatever.

    Rule of thumb: your academic history and age mean very little compared to the quality of your writing.

    Also, forego the contests. Shun them. You're not going to pull a profit, if that's what you're thinking. $20 reading fee? Get real.

    I disagree w/ TF's statement that you should blanket literary journals. You have to be selective.

    New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly were, as of a year ago, pretty solid for giving up-and-coming writers exposure. NYer especially.

    Case study: ZZ Packer got a story in the Atlantic and had 3 agent queries. She got one in the NYer and had around 10, which more or less led to the publication of her collection Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.

    That being said, the NYer has a certain aesthetic and probably won't publishing experimental stuff unless your name is David Foster Wallace or Murakami. Which it's not.

    Other hot magazines that are probably read by agents:

    Tin House (publishes new writers)
    McSweeney's (publishes new writers)
    Glimmer Train (publishes new writers and, hey, even has contests for new writers! But too bad their shit is boring.)
    Virginia Quarterly (doesn't)

    So I disagree that "the basest contest or publication" will help you much. Agents are conscientious of big name periodicals. Think: Quality control.

    Also, choose wisely and be selective. Each journal has different aesthetics. VQ, Glimmer Train, and Tin House generally publish more realistic fiction. McSweeney's is more open to weirder shit. So are Agni, Noon and N+1.

    Still, the thing that REALLY matters is the quality of your submission. Everything else is tangential and mostly an ego boost.

    Solicit agents once your novel is pretty much written. Write a personal cover letter (ie "So you represent Michael Chabon, who is an inspiration to me and I thought yadda yadda"). Major publishing houses like Knopf or Vintage or HarperCollins won't even give you the time of day without an agent. Even Soft Skull probably will only read you if you're repped.

    Legit publishing houses that might be interested in you despite your agent-less decrepitude?

    Impetus Press releases ambitious fiction ("seriously hip," they call themselves. blargh. Get over it). BUT, they're going through a transitional period right now. As in: moving to LA.

    FC2 is great: they have Joy Williams and Brian Evenson. And you might want to query Kelly Link's Small Beer Press. Follow the guidelines.

    Re: copyright, most magazines request first publishing rights. After it's published, the rights revert back to you. Anthologies, movies, action figures. You name it.

    Finally: Not a lot of (retch retch) "chedda" in this. Most people who write fiction supplement by writing for, say, the NY Times Book Review (like Walter Kirn) or Vanity Fair (AM Holmes) or they teach at the collegiate level (everyone else).

    Oh, regarding short stories? First-time unknown writers rarely get short story deals unless they've published extensively in periodicals (at which point they're more known than unknown). Agents will often want a novel along with it.

    Publisher: "Your boy is working on something longer too, right?"
    Agent: "Oh yeah, it's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant."
    (aside to author)
    "Hurry the fuck up and write a novel, or we're all out the window."
    Author: "Shit shit shit."
    • CommentAuthorbuzzorhowl
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2008
    @twicetold William Faulkner spent his life trying to get published by the New Yorker and they never published him. I personally don't think that an aspiring writer should sit around thinking that if they can't get a story in The New Yorker or The Atlantic, that they're best off putting it in a drawer. Sure, get published in A-list markets if you CAN, but if you CAN'T, get published somewhere less prestigious. Everything's a potential step.
    • CommentAuthorWakefield
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2008 edited
    Right, and many authors only got into the name magazines AFTER they'd published their novel.

    But if you're trying to get published in lit mags in order to get an agent, you have to be selective. Blanketing aimlessly probably won't work.

    That being said, there are a multitude of other paths and this is by no means the only way. At the end of the day, the best way is simply to write a solid novel and send it out to agents. Literary journals (and not just the NYer or Atlantic) are great for building up a potential readerbase.

    btw, here's a useful database of agents and publishers.
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2008 edited
    the advice of my old writing mentor, Richard Bausch (paraphrased from memory):

    On Agents. "Write your first novel, shop it around, get somebody interested in publishing it. Getting short stories published beforehand will help with this. Agents will then come to YOU instead of the other way around, and you're much more likely to get a good deal."

    On Publishing Short Stories. "Don't start with the small stuff. On the contrary, make a list of all the appropriate markets you can find, in order from the most prestigious and high-paying one (usually the New Yorker) on top, down to the least amount of money/prestige you're willing to accept. Start at the top and work your way down the list. If you get to the bottom without somebody taking the story, use whatever constructive criticism you've garnered, revise the story, and start at the top of the list again. Obviously, all during this time, you should be writing more stories."

    [edited to add] On Writing Contests. "If you can win, place or get an honorable mention in any reputable contest (Poets & Writers Magazine is a good source), do it. Very often, placement in a contest will get an editor's attention when mentioned in a cover letter. Attention is what you want."
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2008
    Also, when looking for publications, contests, and agents, it's a good idea to peruse Preditors & Editors or Writer Beware.
    • CommentAuthorWiseEyes
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2008
    So what am I supposed to do when the only feedback I receive is "not quite what we're looking for"? Does this mean I'm sunk, or I need to try different publications? I haven't been at this too long, so constructive criticism is still limited.
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2008
    Try different publications as well, and write a lot.

    It's also a good suggestion to pick up a copy or two of whatever publication you're looking submitting to so that you have an idea of what kind of work they've purchased in the past.
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2008
    Sounds like a typical form rejection. In my experience, the hierarchy of responses it goes: form rejection, rejection with comments, detailed feedback, rewrite request, and acceptance. Some places only do form rejection and acceptance, so you never know how well you're doing until you make the sale.

    Don't read into "not quite what we're looking for" too much. A form rejection could mean anything from "you sent us space opera when we only publish magic realism" to "we would publish this but I just bought a similar story from Michael Chabon." Send it to its next market and work on something else while you wait.

    • CommentAuthorWiseEyes
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2008
    Another question, y'all keep pushing novels, and I really appreciate all the advice, but novels have been a very unsuccessful venture for me thus far. Any advice on getting a story to break 20 pages? 10 pages even? The longest I have written is a comic book and those don't work on the same scale... It seems regular prose just keeps ending itself before it turns into a novel.
  2.  (3364.19)
    Or you could go the route a few people have gone, which is to write a blog and get published off the back of that - if nothing else a blog will give you practice in writing and even writing 'x' amount per day.

    Doubles as a portfolio as well.

    While you do have copyright on anything on your blog, it can be a bit hard to protect it given the ease of copying and the expense of lawyers. So bear that in mind.
    • CommentAuthorWakefield
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2008 edited
    Any advice on getting a story to break 20 pages? 10 pages even?

    Economical word choice? I dunno. Don't worry about the length. If you have a 40 or 50 pp story, that might be prohibitive to some journals, but if it's balls out awesome, they might take it. Depends on their mood I suppose. It's pretty subjective, as you know.

    Other option: a novel in short stories. Mysterious Skin was a bunch of short stories, but the author linked them into a novel. It worked.

    Re: rejections, it varies from place to place. NYer has a four-tier rejection hierarchy. I think Paris Review has two. Well, it really depends. Sometimes you get an overzealous intern scribbling shit on a form rejection letter when they shouldn't ("Hey, really liked your work! LOL!"). If the editors personally reject you, that's GREAT. Generally they'll ask to see more work. If that's the case, don't feel pressured to send a story immediately (sending a half-assed story because you got excited might make you fall out of favor). Be patient and in a few months say, send them a new story with a cover letter that mentions the effusive praise and encouragement you'd previously received. They'll definitely read you more carefully.

    God. It depresses me how much I know about rejection.