Publishing Today: Promoting Your Work and Branding Yourself as a Writer
Pearls of wisdom
Norman: Part of “branding” is professionalism and producing writing that is engaging and clear.
Michelle: Read submission guidelines and follow them completely.
Maxine: Find your persona. How are you going to get your book out into the world? Publicity, branding, social media. You’re on your own. Start thinking about this in the beginning, not the end.
Colette: What are your themes? What is your niche? What is your collection? “Don’t go viral. Go human.” (from Writer Unboxed)
Tom: Have a story that fuels you that you have to put out into the world. Be passionate about it.
Norman: Do you need an agent?
Tom: Yes and no. It is easier to get published than ever before. But to find an audience, you need an agent. An agent is an intermediary that develops relationships with New York publishing houses. An agent is an advocate and a cheerleader.
Norman: An agent keeps the relationship with the editor pristine. It removes the business from the relationship [the writer has with the editor].
Colette: Having an agent to the do the negotiating is a beautiful thing.
Maxine: I couldn’t disagree more. You get a 7% royalty if you’re high up on the food chain. 93% goes the publisher. You pay the agent 15 to 20%. I’m not a big believer in agents. [Publishing right now] is all blown wide open. Getting seen drives an audience.
Michelle: Learn to represent yourself.
Norman: What are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing types today?
Michelle: Literary journals are a good place to start.
Norman: The first things you publish become your calling card. Can you deliver the goods?
Colette: Be professional, even if you get rejected. Editors and agents read other magazines. They will remember you if you’re professional.
Tom: Publish pieces of your book in other publications. Websites need things constantly. Even one article is good for credibility.
Maxine: How do you make a statement about what you’re doing? We all have an essence. People judge you when you walk in a room. Find your point of view. What’s unique about you? That’s your storefront. “I’m the guy who writes about this.” Sculpt your message. Find your platform. Where can people find you and see you? A book can be a one-off or the beginning of an arc. More than one book should have a through-line. Build an audience.
Michelle: Submit to literary journals. Choose editors who will respect you well. Research the editors first.
Colette: Do a lot of research before submitting. They are representing you. Send to people who will “get” you.
Tom: Branding is intimidating, but all of this is part of telling a story. It’s not separate from writing a book.
Norman: Who are you telling your story to? Pitch in the voice of the magazine.
Writing the Memoir
Alison Singh Gee
When do you know when you’re onto a story for a great memoir?
Tom: It just happens to you. It’s usually when something goes wrong. If everything is going along smoothly, you don’t have a memoir.
Samantha: Whatever obsesses you. Whatever you can’t let go of.
How do you remember things?
Tom: Write every day, even if you don’t know what the writing is for. Research, emails, interview other people.
Alison: Brainstorm burning memories. Write from photographs.
Samantha: Memoir is the story your memory tells you. What matters is what you make things mean. Self-exploration and vulnerability. Don’t make shit up.
Amy: Start with “I don’t remember…” Memoir is true. Dialogue is fiction.
Samantha: Writing process – do it every day or the muse will go to someone else’s house. Five to ten minutes a day. Do something. You need some kind of deadline. Read a lot.
Alison: Set small goals. Spring write for 40 minutes. Make a contract with your unconscious.
Amy: Marry the right person.
Tom: Being a journalist, when you sit down to write, you know what the story is going to be. The best writing comes from process. Create a block of marble. Find the sculpture within; find the story within.
Amy: The only way to write is to write. Don’t wait for the muse to show up at the door. Block out six months on a calendar with deadlines. Writing and publishing are different. Don’t worry about vanity. The more intimate about you, the more the story will resonate with other people.
Samantha: Your work transforms you. It heals wounds I didn’t know existed.
Writing the Personal Essay
Daniel M. Jaffe
Daniel: (about what the writing should accomplish) “If you experienced it the way I experienced it, this is the only conclusion you can come to.” [Personal essay] saves therapy bills.
Aaron: Personal essay is easier to publish than fiction.
Nancy: It doesn’t get any easier. Sometimes you have to “kill your babies.” (Read: Delete stuff. Throw stuff out.)
Daniel: Why mask? It’s very liberating.
Aaron: It’s a marketable form. We have a confessional culture. Short, pithy pieces are marketable/publishable. Know who you’re writing for. Have a killer pitch letter. Know your publication.
Nancy: The value of knowing editors: meet editors at events. Have face-time. Ask them what they’re looking for.
Aaron: Have mentors. Ask for help.
Daniel: It is harder to publish them now than 10 years ago. Read, read, read. Does your sensibility fit the publication? Can I read it as though I’m not the writer? Do I buy it? Get past self-indulgence.
Nancy: Sometimes being self-effacing can do a lot.
Aaron: If anything in the essay makes me feel good about myself, I should cut it.
Nancy: You surprise yourself constantly. You don’t know where you’re going.
Truth and Imagination
Daniel M. Jaffe
Les Plesko (RIP, Mr. Plesko)
Leon: How do you tell the truth?
Daniel: The tension in the work is between factual accuracy and insight. [It’s about] reshaping events that actually happened to achieve insight (shortening/lengthening experience).
Les: Start with a mood and a character.
Leon: Fiction makes too much sense. Reality doesn’t make sense. Find the unifying principle that holds it together. How we organize the truth is what readers are looking for. When you make a choice, choose a direction, you’re eliminating certain things. The truth is malleable. Continue to surprise.
Daniel: [It’s about] human psychological truths.
Leon: The specifics resonate. I don’t know anything about the truth, and that’s the truth.