Give it time

Slow down is not advice any writer wants to hear, because the goal of being published is so alluring. Give it time. Learn how to do it well. Wait until the cake is done before you take it out of the oven. The results will be so much more satisfying.

Nine years ago today I started this blog, coincidentally the same year I met David Sanders at the Kenyon Review Literary Festival. This year, his collection of poetry Compass & Clock was published by Swallow Press, just in time for the celebration of National Poetry Month. If you listen carefully, you can hear my old neighbor and dear friend describe the necessity of patience as he explains his writing process to WOUB Digital’s podcast host Tom Hodson: “It’s a book that I’ve been working on for thirty years or so, and these are the poems that have risen to the top.”

Congratulations, David! Salut.

Encouragement for aspiring authors: foolishness will eliminate most of your competition

Aspiring authors eager for encouragement can be glad of one thing, which I can promise will never change: human nature. Most of their competitors—other writers vying to win readers—will fail to capitalize on the opportunities they’re given. They will consider themselves too talented to be overlooked, too intelligent to take advice, and too exceptional to fail.

Day after day, I receive queries from authors whose books were published, either traditionally or nontraditionally, but then languished without appreciable sales. These writers took or were given their chances and did not make the most of them. Usually, they haven’t recognized or tried to rectify the problems that kept their books from reaching or appealing to readers. When it’s too late, they want someone else to repair the damage.

I don’t often hear from unsuccessful authors who know exactly where they stand. I’m contacted by those who are mystified by book buyers’ disappointing reactions to their work. Oblivious to the reasons, these particular writers remain confident that fairytale success will find them if only they believe in themselves.

No amount of testimony by successful authors whose years of struggle and relentless practice enabled their careers will convince a writer who doesn’t want to face the unpleasant aspects of the business of creative writing. The obstacles include endless revisions and rejections, critical scrutiny, meager pay, and a market robust enough to cater to readers’ every whim rather than every writer’s wallet. Unwavering perfectionism, sincere humility and willingness to learn, and the ability to connect with audiences are rare qualities even in the most talented writers. That’s why there are so few success stories, compared to failed attempts, in book publishing. The coincidence of necessary personal and professional qualities is truly unusual.

Occasionally, good writers do recognize how much effort and time it will cost them to achieve the careers they envision, and the realization paralyzes them. They may believe they can’t handle the pressure or the demands on their time, that the market isn’t fair, or that their aspirations are self-indulgent. I have more sympathy for them than for the failed author who is hobbled by a big ego. The fact remains that authors today have more choices and resources than ever before to enable their success. Along with those choices and opportunities goes the personal responsibility to make the best use of them.

Sounds true, you say, but where should a writer who honestly wants to improve seek reliable, free advice? Here are a few good sources.

Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published by Jane Friedman

Online Critique Groups for Writers

A Flowchart For Diagnosing Self Publishing Problems by Morris Rosenthal

Author Marketing Experts, Inc.

Lion of St. Mark

Lion of St. Mark

Best online explanations of POV

I analyze and evaluate creative writing. Perhaps then, I ought to be able to teach it, except that I believe good creative writing instructors have additional indispensible skills, including the ability and patience to explain a concept six ways from Sunday. I’m not a teacher. Whenever I need to tell a writer to begin thinking about the narrative mode that we call point of view, I recommend several online resources.

First, it’s important to learn the terminology. Then, accept that everyone will misapply the terminology. The concepts don’t change, though, regardless of how they’re labeled.

Start by understanding the elements of narrative mode

Choosing Your Narrative Mode: Storytelling Perspectives and Options
by Glen C. Strathy

Narrative Modes in Fiction: Telling Your Story (Writing Essentials)
by Beth Hill

Then drill down to the specifics of POV

View to a Skill: Understanding Point of View
by Janice Hardy

What Is Point of View?
by Joshua Essoe

The Basics of Point of View for Fiction Writers
by Joseph Bates

The Art and Soul of POV
by Toni McGee Causey

Consider the effects of different points of view

A Study in Third Person Point of View
by Michael Neff

Some Thoughts on Third Person vs First Person Novel Narratives
by Les Edgerton

Using First Person POV
by Genevieve Graham

Another Perspective on POV (omniscient and limited omniscient)
by Martin Brown Publishers, LLC

Use multiple points of view with care

What Is Head Hopping and How Can We Avoid It?
by Marcy Kennedy

Mastering Multiple POV in 6 Steps
by Lisa Walker England

These resources will lead you to many more, including books on the topic, if your concerns about your work’s POV are more specific. My thanks go to all of the generous writers who have shared these pointers.

Aspiring authors who understand and purposefully use the described techniques produce far better work than writers who can’t explain their choices. Intuition* is powerful, but being able to justify intuitive decisions is better.

Don’t ask which POV I prefer or which one is correct, because the answer always will be the POV executed well.

Detroit lit: online, print, and audio

Detroit’s literary community has been enjoying national attention recently. These publications, which feature creative writing, are based in the city and its suburbs. I included the suburban cities, because it seemed there ought to be more literary magazines in the Motor City. What did I miss? In a year or two, will this list be twice as long?

Cruel Garters (in Bloomfield Hills)

Fifth Estate (in Ferndale)

The MacGuffin (in Livonia)

Marvels & Tales, Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies

The Periphery

Radio Campfire (creative audio)

Sammiches and Psych Meds

[SIC] Student Arts Journal

The Strand Magazine (in Birmingham)

undr_scr review

Wayne Literary Review

White Cat Publications’ various magazines (in Livonia)

A few more insights

Amy Sacka Photography

Literary Detroit

The Literary Map of Detroit sponsored by the Marygrove College Institute for Detroit Studies and the Department of English and Modern Languages

Detroit Public Library

Detail of the entrance to the Detroit Public Library

What if an aspiring author’s missing quality is drive?

I’m well aware of the ridiculous odds against creative writers making a living from their art. Therefore, I judge prospective clients on their ability to contend with relentless pressure. As an agent, I hope I can help ease the stress, but I can’t compensate for an aspiring author who isn’t driven beyond logic to succeed. By driven, I mean insatiably curious about how to be a better writer, how to connect with readers, how to market written work. I mean highly motivated to learn, create, and compete. I don’t mean inspired by a sense of superiority.

It’s easy to confuse desire with drive, because they can evoke the same emotions in people. The difference is that desire can flourish as pure fantasy, while drive pursues measurable progress.

Aspiring book authors might be surprised to learn how obvious their lack of drive is to those working in the publishing industry. We all tend to see these symptoms as evidence that drive—drive that leads to action—is missing:

  • Expectations of effortless entitlement or instant gratification
  • Perpetual complaining
  • Dishonesty, and its offspring:
    • Obsequiousness
    • Blaming others for one’s own failure to make progress (not to be confused with taking a stand against unfair, systemic discrimination)
  • Lack of technical skills required for editing, messaging, and online networking

Most of us give novice writers the benefit of the doubt, once, because inexperience can look a lot like the absence of drive instead of a simple lack of knowledge. However, when it’s necessary to point out a writer’s professional shortcomings, then we expect a person who is sufficiently driven to follow up by remedying the problems, by taking action.

The funny thing (which creates an opportunity for aspiring authors who are driven) is that almost no writers make effective use of the advice they’re given. In other words, by far the majority of aspiring authors drop out of the running when faced with work they don’t want to do. That’s good news for writers who are on a mission, because it eliminates most of their competition. It’s also bad news for writers who are on a mission, because rivals who put in even more effort and time can gain an advantage over them.

Maybe you have a better word for it. What does an absence of drive look like to you?

shark

(Image courtesy of Jason VanDorsten)

Publications that seek creative writing about the experience of dying

death

Casual conversations often give me ideas for listicles that might be helpful to creative writers who are trying to get their work published.* Along came the topic of dying, and I realized that I didn’t know of many publications specializing in literary works and straightforward personal essays about the end of life.

In poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, deaths are plentiful. Meditations on the end of life are published in all variety of media. Crime fiction, which often revolves around death, has its own imprints. Narrowing down to publications devoted significantly or entirely to the subject of dying, however, was an interesting challenge. The following publications that include creative writing seem to meet the criterion.

I’ll continue to update this list whenever I can. Please leave a comment if you know of a relevant niche publication I haven’t mentioned—or even if you want to link to a favorite book, poem, or short story on the subject of death. Of course, death is a common topic in literature and many wide-ranging publications occasionally include creative writing focused on the end of life. There’s no need to limit submissions to only these listings.

AARP The Magazine

AgeBlog (open to members of the American Society on Aging)

Aging with Dignity Blog

Cemetery Travel

Death

Death Poetic poetry anthology from FunDead Publications

The Gerald T. Perkoff Prize in Poetry given by the editors of the Missouri Review

Nailed

The Order of the Good Death

Someone Must Die

Voices of Compassion

*Any writer who is ready to start submitting work to literary journals will find Ayelet Tsabari’s free guidebook immensely helpful.

What are your burning questions about becoming a book author?

Why are so many aspiring authors reluctant to ask questions about what they want to know? It would be comical—like a hopelessly lost motorist refusing to ask for directions—if it weren’t actually sad. Generous, knowledgeable people are offering assistance online. Almost nothing about the process of creative writing and book publishing hasn’t been revealed somewhere by someone. The information is there for the taking. For free.

I’ve posted just about every piece of advice I could think of on this blog over the years. Much of it addressed questions that were posed to me offline. I enjoy gathering the information so I can share it, but the longer I do this, the fewer unanswered questions remain.

Today, I’ll simply offer an observation for your consideration. I communicate with hundreds of aspiring authors each year, and by far the majority seem to have no clue how many personal qualities they must possess and how many professional skills they need to master in order to become successful enough to make their living as creative writers.

Granted, the necessary skills take lots of time and effort to ace, but the sooner you begin learning, the sooner you’ll acquire the expertise. I shouldn’t feel sorry for those who are going around in circles in order to avoid whatever it is they don’t want to do.

Where to start

In these fairly comprehensive lists, identify the unfamiliar concepts or the skills and strategies that you know you haven’t picked up. Then get busy learning in 2016. No excuses.

Do You Struggle with the Learning Curve? by author Jami Gold

All the Things that Are Wrong with Your Screenplay in One Handy Infographic (handy for novelists as well)

Grammar Girl

The Key Book Publishing Paths in 2016 by Jane Friedman

25 Steps to Getting and Working with a Literary Agent

Over in the blogroll… More Resources for Writers

If you still can’t pinpoint your manuscript’s weaknesses, then you can obtain a professional evaluation. The capacity and willingness to learn are two of the personal qualities you’re going to need to succeed.
learning

Peace on Earth

Hilary and Paul - December 2015

My daughter and her husband – Hunting Island State Park – December 2015