Friday, September 9, 2011

Q&A with The Lit Coach

Happy Friday, Writers!

Because this is kind of an oddball month with no virtue focus, but an awesome post on high concept fiction by author Darynda Jones this Monday (The Charley Davidson series) and an exciting announcement later in the month, there will be few Flashback Fridays. So today, I'm doing a quick Q&A culled from some questions a writer had sent me recently. Which brings me to my latest announcement!

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may have seen my shout outs to LitReactor. LitReactor is a new literary website launching October 1st, brought to you by the cool folks who created Chuck Palahniuk's The Cult. I'll be writing a bi-monthly Q&A column for LitReactor (among other things which I'll announce later this month) and I'll be sharing a lot more about what LitReactor aims to do soon. This month, you'll have an opportunity to hear from some of the amazing crew and instructors who are behind the curtain there. In short, I am beyond thrilled that literary writers (and not just Chuck Palahniuk fans) will have a place that's designed for their needs and their aesthetic with plenty of opportunities to learn craft from some of the best literary authors and pros out there. Check out LitReactor on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for their newsletter and you'll receive a lovely welcome note from our Educational Director, Mark Vanderpool (who happens to be one of the smartest people I know), along with some exceptional writing advice created especially for LitReactor from Chuck Palahniuk, Neil Gaiman, Bret Easton Ellis, Holiday Reinhorn, Amy Hempel and more.  

Ok, on with the Q&A!

Q: How does the emerging mainstream novelist get noticed until he or she gets published (if you know what I mean)? Attempting the short story would be sending one down the wrong alley, I would think, as they are two quite different forms and the market for the short story seems to be evaporating anyway. Anon

A: The only way you're going to get notice is by getting involved in a literary/writing community (your choice) and finding appropriate venues to pitch your work. It's all about building your author platform and your expertise right now - all of which take time.

I don't think short stories are going anywhere. Yes, they're hard to sell, but they've always been hard to sell - they have literary leanings and many traditional publishers would rather publish something from a writer who enjoys, or could enjoy, a far reach, a big fat market (and there's nothing wrong with that). I adore short stories as much as I enjoy a quick page turner and don't feel the shorts are going anywhere. When is the last time you heard of a major literary journal going under? In fact, I've just been made aware of a refreshing new LA based lit journal, SLAKE, that popped up in 2010 to counterbalance all this "quick" reading we're doing. Anyway...I digress. 

That said, short stories aren't every writer's medium or market, so don't feel you have to write and submit short stories just to get your work out there and read. Many mainstream novelists write newspaper, magazine and e-zine articles and columns; blog contributions are another opportunity for you. Think about what's timely about your novel - are there any major themes in your novel that reflect what's going on in the news? Maybe your novel is about a sticky family issue - what's at the heart of that issue? Does it echo what's going on in our world? There's your article! Now, learn how to pitch to the appropriate news editor and you're in business. 

Or you could write an essay or personal narrative, find the appropriate market for your piece and pitch that. Maybe your blog is your creative outlet outside your novel and you begin to build your readership that way. 

There are many opportunities for you to get your work shown. With a little creativity, focus and of course some time investment, you'll be heard.

For more about platform and experience, check out this article I wrote for Pitch University.

Good luck!

Q: I have just read about an "excerpt contest." I am not sure what that is and where one can find more information. Do you have any specific recommendations for submitting while you are writing your novel? Is it wise to send out excerpts when one is still bumping around in the dark? Anon

A: Excerpt or manuscript contests are usually largely supported by genre or literary writing organizations, literary journals, specialty or trade journals and magazines. The judging panel, usually comprised of like-market literary and publishing professionals, will read and judge the incoming submissions, choose a winning submission and usually a runner-up. The winners are awarded a prize of some kind - sometimes cash, sometimes serious consideration from an agent and/or an editor at a large publisher, among other things. And of course, if it's a major contest, the acclaim is prize enough.

I'm sure there's opportunity online for this, but I'm less sure about the who/what/when/where/why with this avenue - my advice there would be to stick with the big, reputable names who also have a legacy in print. 

As far as timing goes, if you feel you have an excerpt from your novel in progress that's as polished as it can be, send it in, but I would rather you wait until you have the manuscript finished and fully edited - you never know how it'll change in the editing process. Sometimes the prize for these contests is literary representation and/or a review from some Big 6 publishers. It's best to put your most polished foot forward with a finished piece of work. 

Good luck!

Thanks for your questions.


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