Category Archives: publishing

When a writer’s best isn’t good enough

For the past several decades we’ve been teaching children that doing their best is all we expect of them. What happens when a child who has received and internalized this message grows up with the dream of being a book author and confronts the reality that his or her best isn’t the stuff of a career, or even a brief moment of notoriety?

Well, for one thing, a throng of entrepreneurs pitching services and wares to creative writers are happy to assume the voice of nurturing parents by insisting that persistence and inspiration will make anyone into a successful writer. By defining success as trying one’s best, I suppose they’re equivocally correct.

It also might be argued that boosting a writer’s self-esteem, giving the person hope, or telling the eternal optimists only what they want to hear indeed are valuable services. What writer wants to pay to be told that he or she still has a lot to learn? Or to put it another way, an unscrupulous company will find it much easier to sell an illusion. Evidence that aspiring authors are being misled comes to me in the form of query letters from writers who describe the same unimproved manuscripts year after year.

Over on Jane Friedman’s blog, freelance editor Rebecca Faith Heyman reports honestly that “difficult-to-agent books often have significant problems.” The completed manuscripts may be the results of writers’ best efforts, but that alone doesn’t make them good enough. Fortunately, educational resources, very often free of charge, are available to writers who are capable of recognizing their own shortcomings and willing to work to improve their chances of success. The public library loans excellent reference books, and my blogroll is another place to begin the search.

writer working

How many litmags can you name?

On Delicious, I continue adding to my lengthy list of all types of publications that include creative writing in their pages. The list is a good resource for writers who would like to accumulate publication credits. The last time I counted, it included more than 4,000 sites. Most writers are aware of relatively few of them, just as they’re unmindful of how many creative writers are competing to be published. It seems to me this is the hidden source of immense frustration: an unrealistic or uninformed perspective, easily rectified.

I appreciate the fact that technology has permitted writers to connect directly with readers without first obtaining the approval of literary tastemakers. The big picture (which I should refer to as the market), inclusive of all readers, is far beyond the scope of what interests me personally. Occasionally, I encounter a writer whose work is likely to meet with commercial success, although it isn’t work I would want to endorse. When it comes to selecting writers to represent, my criteria are miles apart from other literary agents.

Naturally then, the literary publications I find appealing will amount to a tiny subset of what’s available. More than ever, there’s something out there for everyone—readers and writers. To each his own.

I’ve blogged about litmags that:

Are among the new breeds

Focus on literary travel writing

Are well established

Get a lot of attention online

Publish the creative writing of physicians

Want stories about mental illness and recovery

Had attractive websites

Take a look, for example, at the five impressive publications pictured.

The hazards of getting what you want as a writer

full-time writerMany writers hope to earn enough by being published so that someday they can give up their day jobs and the wretched “normal” existence that has inspired so much of their material. Never mind that writing full time might tend to insulate creative writers from the rest of the people in the world who aren’t creative writers, which can result in stories whose supposed realism seems to be based on television crime dramas or whose narrative tension is built entirely from a kind of introspection that denies, or is oblivious to, the universality of human experience.

Publishing stories about mental illness and recovery


(Photo courtesy of John Cobb)

A small number of publishers make it their mission to give voice to creative writers who have experienced mental illness. I’ve listed those of which I’m aware, and I’ll update the list with anything else I discover. Feel free to suggest additions by leaving a comment.

The periodicals and online publications should be of interest particularly to memoirists who want to accumulate writing credits before seeking publishers for their book-length manuscripts.


The Awakenings Review

Beautiful Minds

Bridgeross Communications

Chipmunka Publishing Ltd

Doll Hospital

The Examined Life Journal

The Healing Muse

Hospital Drive

Manic Musings Magazine

Melted Wing

The Mirror


Open Minds Quarterly

Penntal Health

Recovering the Self

r.kv.r.y quarterly

Think Piece Publishing


Turtle Way

How will readers ever find your book?

It may well be that you don’t have enough time for a career as a book author, and writing is really just a hobby, a side gig, or a form of therapy for you. No problem. In that case, you don’t need a literary agent, or more correctly, the literary agent doesn’t need you. If you want to make money as an author, on the other hand, then your books must be discoverable. Readers won’t come to you. You’ll need to find ways to get on their radar. You’ll need to become an author whose books are recommended by one reader to another. That’s how books and their authors become bestsellers.

Let’s say your book was published in 2013. More than 300,000 new titles were traditionally published in the U.S. in 2013. In the same year in the U.S., more than 1,000,000 new titles were non-traditionally published, a figure that includes self-published books. How many of those books did you read? How many can you name? How many of the authors can you name? How would a stranger have ever found your book among the 1,300,000?

browsing books

( Manning)

When you’re browsing in a bookstore, how many books do you leaf through before selecting one to buy? What attracts you? What makes you put a book down and choose another? Do you typically search for new titles from authors who are known to you? Do you like to read what your friends are reading? Your book is evaluated in the same ways.

If your book’s page on Amazon lacks a compelling description and any customer reviews, and the Amazon customer who happens to come across it has never heard of you, and you have no online presence to give the prospective buyer any information, then why would you expect the person to pay for your book instead of the latest from Clive Cussler or one of the titles longlisted for the Man Booker or the novel everyone at the hair salon is discussing?

If you know anything about online booksellers and social media, then you know it requires effort to capitalize on the exposure they can offer books and authors. It takes time and technical ability to maintain multiple online profiles and learn to write compelling sales copy. Working at it every day for three years might get you up to speed, provided you already possess some basic social skills. There are no shortcuts. Thousands of writers are there ahead of you.

Don’t know where to start with self-promotion? You can join the crowd of writers who remained clueless. You’ll know them. They’re the ones you’ve never heard of.

Everything you want and need to know about book marketing and self-promotion has been debated at length online, where you can find vast amounts of information on author platforms. Start with Jane Friedman’s excellent blog. I’ve gathered links to “Publicity tips for book authors.” Good advice comes from Joel Friedlander, Joanna Penn, and Penny Sansevieri. Self-published authors are generous with recommendations. Don’t assume that marketing strategies for traditionally published authors should differ from strategies for self-published authors. The main addition is the need to coordinate marketing and publicity efforts with a publisher or publicist, if there is one.

Learning about the business of selling books is doable if you want a career as an author and are willing to work hard for it. No one will mind if you prefer to remain a hobbyist. Just don’t make the mistake of asking me or a book publisher to donate time and money to support your hobby.

There’s no magic. Succeeding as a book author is hard work.

My work isn’t easy. The work my clients do isn’t easy. I’ve had clients who didn’t want being a successful book author to be challenging work. They aren’t my clients anymore.

For some writers who are consumed with the idea of getting a literary agent and having a book published, their obsession feels an awful lot like work. The dream occupies their time and exhausts their patience, yet it doesn’t result in progress. It’s especially easy for them to find and commiserate with other writers who don’t make particularly good role models. It’s harder to find a way out of the rut.

The level of difficulty and the amount of work involved are the reasons there are relatively few successful authors. Not many writers possess the necessary creative talent along with a willingness to develop crucial skills and the time to devote to the job of collaborating, improving, and adapting.

There’s no magic, no secret, no shortcut. It’s purely hard work.

don't just stand there

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Sheldon)

Who publishes military memoir?

This is the first time I’ve assembled a list of periodicals and small presses that publish the memoirs of military personnel. The question arises occasionally. I’ll continue to add to the list when I can. Please leave a comment if you know of a specialized publisher I’ve overlooked. Keep in mind that many other publishing houses bring out military memoirs occasionally without specializing in them.


Alternative Book Press

Blue Nostalgia: A Journal of Post-Traumatic Growth

Elva Resa Publishing LLC

Fonthill Media Limited

Hellgate Press

The History Press

The Journal of Military Experience (JME)

Maverick House

Military Officer

MilSpeak Books

Naval Institute Press

Osprey Publishing, a division of Bloomsbury Publishing

Parameters: The U.S. Army War College Quarterly

Pen & Sword Books Limited

Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press

Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors

Task & Purpose

Tattered Flag Press

Texas State Historical Association Press 

University Press of Kansas

Vallentine Mitchell & Co., Limited

Vandamere Press

War, Literature & the Arts

Warriors Publishing Group

Also of interest:

4th Division Press, a children’s book imprint of E.L. Kurdyla Publishing LLC

The Blue Falcon: A Journal of Military Fiction

Blue Streak: A Journal of Military Poetry

Military Writers Society of America

World Literature Today,War Narratives” by Joanne Leedom-Ackerman

This is dedicated to the one…

I’m dedicating this music video to the lovely and poised young woman who introduced herself to me at a writers’ conference. I fear I broke her heart when I told her that Author Solutions, Inc., is sometimes referred to as a vanity press. If I’m lucky, she’ll remember me in the same favorable light as the older woman in this video.

Enjoy “Oopsie Daisy.” It’s cute.