Welcome to the MC Newsletter’s maiden voyage. Its goal is to provide information, advice and resources helpful to short story writers and novelists, non-fiction writers of all lengths (articles, columns and books), screenwriters, and poets. If there’s a kind of writing not covered by these categories that you’d like to see covered at least occasionally here, don't hesitate to let us know. If the newsletter isn't reaching your mailbox in artful, coherent shape, let us know that, too. We work on Macs, and PCs and their mail programs can do strange things to Mac missives.
Because of the countless books (many but not all published by Writer’s Digest Books--www.writersdigest.com/Books) and magazines (Writer's Digest, The Writer, Poets & Writers, Script, and so many others) that cover basic, introductory-level information and advice on the worlds of publishing and Hollywood, this newsletter will aim for an above-the-“basic” focus--that is, on information, advice and resources either not mentioned, not explained very well in these publications for whatever reason, or buried in them but worth spotlighting, clarifying, elaborating on or even arguing with.
*If you’re a poet and don’t yet know about the Internet-resource miracle called www.duotrope.com, get to it. Duotrope is the best thing to happen to poets and short story writers since free banking--and it’s a lot more helpful. (It’s free, but needs your support. Donate what you can when you can.)
*See the rant below--under “Short Story Writers”--about print-magazine snobbery and the welcome rise of online magazines. Poets of generations before the Millennials (Gen Y) can be snobby about print venues, too, and there’s no reason to be.
SHORT STORY WRITERS:
*If you’re a short story writer and don’t yet know about www.duotrope.com, do the same: get to it. It’s a godsend and will save you months if not years of researching, misdirected submissions and wasted response-time waits. (Again, it’s free, but donate what you can when you can.)
*If you’re a short story writer specializing in or occasionally writing science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, literary fantasy and what’s called “slipstream,” check out www.ralan.com, the duotrope of the f&sf&h&mr&etc. field. (Ralan is free, too, and also needs your dollar support as well. If either of these sites disappeared, thousands of new and more established writers would be out in the rain weeping.)
*Don’t be an old-fashioned snob. Yes, it’s nice to see your short story in a fancy literary quarterly, a decent “little magazine” or a glossy newsstand magazine (of which there are fewer and fewer--which means the remaining ones are getting more and more competitive); but we’re living increasingly, as print magazines’ problems worsen, in the era of online magazines. Online magazines are increasingly a serious venue for short fiction and poetry and have been for some years now. Why are online magazines a good thing? (l) More and more online magazines of reputations equal to the prestigious literary quarterlies are appearing. (2) With online magazines you don’t have postage and stationery to pay for. (3) You get your material to the editors faster. (4) You hear back from them faster on a whole. (5) Your short story often reaches more readers and certainly more vocal and responsive readers. (6) Your story is archived at the magazine, there for visitors/readers to read when/if they’re interested. At online magazines people--readers of the online magazines--often respond online to your story. Talk to the pros--those who appear in prestigious literary magazines but aren’t yet national names--and what you’ll often hear is that the “product” looks great, but the world is awfully “silent” after the story or poem’s appearance. If the response of readers matters to you, online magazines can and will deliver better. An increasing number of major print literary quarterlies have also added online editions with separate content; so your chances of breaking in there have suddenly improved dramatically. Check Opium, The Barcelona Review, Blackbird and McSweeney’s for prestigious publications with an online presence.
*If you write flash fiction/sudden fiction/micro-fiction/short-shorts, online magazines--because there are so many open to this length of fiction--are also a better market. (Very short fiction is always a good idea for new short story writers because you can write many and write varied and hear from more magazines for the same investment of time. Invest your time in a 12k-word short story and watch what happens…or doesn’t…in the world of magazines. Novels can be lonely work; short stories, especially very short stories, can make for a very social life.)
NOVELISTS AND NON-FICTION BOOK WRITERS:
*Increasingly agents are selecting the novels they want to represent from their own clients’ referrals and from face-to-face contact at writers conferences. (The era of the cold-call query letter has been fading for some time, and it’s gotten even ghostlier over the past year or two.) In response to this, writer’s conferences have a writerly equivalent of “speed-dating,” that social phenomenon at which you talk to a prospective date for three minutes and move on to the next prospect. At writer’s conferences, of course, you’re not after a date (usually); you’re after an agent’s or editor’s interest. The market for novels and non-fiction books is tighter than ever--especially in a recession--but writers keep writing (as they should) and they do keep publishing, even if it takes longer to find a venue. Even if you feel pathologically shy, if you want to find a home for your novel or non-fiction book, you need to try writer’s conferences. The simple act of getting ready to pitch your book in “speed-pitching” sessions or somewhat longer sessions will make you see your book more clearly--toward revision if it needs it (which it probably does--most books goes through 4 to 8 drafts before they’re published--and many of those drafts depend on the input of others…and not family and friends) and toward further pitching in query-letter and future writer’s-conference pitch-session forms. There’s usually an extra fee for the opportunity to pitch your book to editors and agents, but it’s worth it. Be sure to bring to any conference a dynamite query letter and sample chapters (if you have them in shape). You don’t want to foist these on agents and editors (if you’ve sold them with your pitch, they'll prefer to have you send sample chapters or an entire book ms. to them when they’re back in office), but you never know whom you’ll meet unofficially: a writer of kindred spirit who’s already published a book in your field and would like to help you with an agent or publisher referral; an small-press editor not officially on the pitch-session staff who happens to share an interest in what you write; on and on. Go to conferences to be surprised and to make your own magic in whatever ways you can.
*Because the publishing world has to pass on so many good and publishable novels and non-fiction books these days, there’s no stigma, as there once was, to self-publishing…if you make sure your text (your writing) is publishable or better yet better than merely publishable and the book design (cover art, front and back jacket design, front and back copy) looks as good as what an NY publisher would produce. (See Jamie Cortz’s When God Spoke To The Fisherman, iUniverse, for a good example of this). In other words, there’s only a stigma if someone picks your book up and sees an amateurish graphic design look to it, reads page one and finds not only typos but less-than-publishable writing. People--reviewers in all media, readers in general, professionals you’ve made contact with who might like to help you but need you to give them good “product you--love to find great self-published books. So give them what they want. (Another reason to self-publish if you self-publish well is that the process of trying to find an agent or publisher with a book that’s good but “marginally” marketable may take you a couple of years before you’ve done enough with the process even to give up on it. At the same time, one way to make your book better--and more publishable however it ends up being published--is indeed to go through the experience of pitching it to agents and publishers, composing a dynamite query letter, and getting responses to your query, sample chapters and, ideally, a large chunk of the ms. or the entire ms. In other words, it’s never a bad idea to go through this pitching-and-learning process before you self-publish; if you go through this process, your book--and you--will definitely be better for it.)
*Because of the sheer number of good and publishable books (ones for whom there are indeed paying audiences even if these audiences aren’t large enough or reachable enough for major publishers to factor into their book-purchase decisions) that are passed on by major publishers, small publishers have their pick of good books these days and have become very competitive, too. They, too, must consider carefully what books they invest their capital in. Because they must be cautious, too, an additional category of publishing has raised its head: “author partnerships.” Self-publishing through a POD (print on demand) self-publisher or copies-in-the-garage printer/self-publisher is actually publishing through a printer who offers other services. That publisher is not a small press in the usual sense of the word, i.e., a real publisher with a reputation as a publisher but one who just happens to be small. Some small presses--real publishers with good reputations and niche interests--are willing to take on books they admire and feel there is an audience for if the author will share some of the financial risk. These arrangements are called “author partnerships.” Thirty years ago they were called “partial subsidy,” which doesn’t sound as nice. “Author partnerships,” because you’re getting a legitimate publisher, the services (and image and clout and connections and respect from the world) of that publisher, and probably a much better-looking book product than you’d get through any self-publisher, are much more expensive than POD self-publishing; but well worth it if you have the money to spend and choose the right small publisher. Some of the real book success stories these days are coming from “author partnership” arrangements. (See Stephens Press, some of whose award-winning books have been published this way, for a perfect example: www.stephenspress.com.) Others are coming from the right books published digitally (e-books) and promoted through promotional "platforms" of one kind or another--which is an entirely different matter. Bottom line: You can't market what by craft excellence people don't want to read. Readers are smart and experienced; they'll know when you're trying to con them with social-media hype--which many new writers traffic in when they should be spending their time up front on the quality of their "book product."
*Whether it’s so you can compose a persuasive query letter or non-fiction book proposal or promote your own book once it’s published, get to know the trade magazine of the publishing world, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. Read at least a dozen, if not two, issues. An annual subscription is about $200, but libraries often carry the magazine. www.publishersweekly.com
*If it's still available (rumor has it that it may be disappearing--which is too bad), sign up for the free Guide to Literary Agents newsletter at www.guidetoliteraryagents.com. Most helpful are the lists of writer’s conferences and the profiles and Q&As with new agents (who are always your best shot in landing an agent).
*Remember, agents are “narrower” than the publishing field, i.e., they cannot afford to take on a book that isn’t in their eyes an easy sell for a decent advance to one of the 20-30 publishers they have the closest relations to. This was true before, and it’s even truer now. This means that agents cannot afford to know all of the smaller publishers, where so many good books find homes, and that they cannot afford to take on a book that, though a little risky and not a slam-dunk, may very well end up at a major publisher. This means, too, that you’re often looking for an agent who will fall in love with your book against her/his better judgment and push and keep pushing out of love until a home is found; and at the same time, there may be a small publisher somewhere right for your book that your agent doesn’t know about. Agents can’t afford to know all of the smaller publishers (for the reasons just cited); and this is why writers often find publishers for their books on their own when they can’t land an agent or the agent they do land can’t find a major publisher for them. Look for that agent who will fall in love with your book, sure, but also do your own research.
*Despite what you may have read or heard, you do not need a full book proposal (the kind that Michael Larsen established as a standard) if you’re approaching publishers with a novel or a memoir; but you do with any other kind of non-fiction. Though you won’t find it described anywhere, you can also sometimes--especially with small publishers--get away with what we can call a “query-proposal” instead of a full book proposal. A “query proposal” is a longer query letter and one that touches on each of a full proposal’s sections.
*At the moment--and it's going to hold for a number of reasons--young-adult fiction is selling very well; fantasy is also selling well (and the more “genre," as in urban fantasy and high fantasy, that fantasy is, the better; “literary fantasy” is not selling well), and so YA novels with fantasy elements are selling well (see Alethea Eason’s charming Hungry, HarperCollins, for a perfect example); thrillers and mysteries must truly stand out to capture the attention of agents and publishers (so look for your models not to the newest novels of bestselling writers, but to the debut novels of new thriller and mystery writers); romance novels continue to sell better than most genres; and the toughest novel to sell is one that is in any way “literary” or “quiet” (and any novel that combines those two terms will have an especially hard time). Current reading tastes in all kinds of novels want edginess, drama, surprise, color, pace; even YA readers do. While the state of respective genres sales-wise is always changing, a bias against “quiet” will remain.
*Just as the youtube “book trailer” is making difference for many book writers (see the fine self-produced trailer for John Leary’s supernatural thriller Angel Hunter at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDGqU5kwEJo and my son's film-styled trailer for the re-release of my novel Dream Baby, which went viral on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0w7KoYP3y0), so the short film is a making a difference (and was even before the recession hit) for screenwriters. The short film has always been a career step for filmmakers, but things are changing for both new filmmakers and screenwriters. The traditional “short film” was either a student film and/or an art indie film. These days, however, the short film that’s helping screenwriters and filmmakers capture the attention of the big boys (and girls) can be just as commercial or broad-audience-reaching as the typical Hollywood feature film (see Richard F. Spencer’s excellent written&directed-by standalone short The Perfect Crime on youtube-- www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBuEe0vM8zY --and D.A. Metrov's fine long trailer for his feature script and film, The Flute Player, at www.thefluteplayer.biz). The short film can be a promotional “teaser” for a feature film script a writer has written and/or a film he'd like to direct. In other words, those screenwriters who have a little money or the contacts (friends and colleagues of professional skill, talent and resources) can make a short film that’s a promotional instrument for the feature films they’ve written and want Hollywood to pay attention to. Why would Hollywood want to see a short film (and the shorter the better (even 3-5 minutes) in many situations)? Because Hollywood knows that if you can bring off something of quality at that length and that little money, you and your stories can make cost-effective miracles; and they can hitch a ride. That’s the subliminal if not conscious psychology of it. But the big picture is this: Hollywood and corporations--everyone in fact--is looking to briefer media material because of the New Media (the Internet, cell phones, etc.). That’s what Hollywood strikes--actual or threatened--tend to be about. Besides, as with short stories over novels, it’s fun and satisfying and can get your career moving to make a short, good film and get it out into the world. Film festivals--the main venue for exposure for short films in the past--are no longer the only or even the best venue. The world of the New Media is your oyster.
*Even if you’re not interested in a job as a film extra, a free workshop on short-film marketing or an equally free Q&A talk with a famous film director, sign up at www.infolist.com for their job, workshop, lecture and other mailings. An inside look at an industry is always helpful.
That’s it for this issue. We invite suggestions for future issues: Questions you’d like to have answered because you think others would probably like to have the answers, too; craft or marketplace myths you’d like to have debunked; guerilla tactics for the publishing world that no book mentions (because it’s dangerous for any author to mention them); general topics and themes; and any other content you’d like to see. We’d like this newsletter to be a conversation between McAllister Coaching and all of you.