Monday, November 28, 2011

Pursuit of Publication: The Daily and Weekly Schedules

At this stage of our preparation, we must develop the habits, the deadlines and mode of time management for the work ahead of us. Procrastination is unacceptable. To continually put off this pursuit of publication will result in exactly what is, put off.

In rehash, at this stage, we know our work, we know ourselves, at least in theory. Now, we've delved into an examination of our work habits. We've kept the new material generation in the forefront of our schedule. We've found the “other” hours. Now what?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pursuit of Publication: The Time line

A brief rehash of what we've done during this project: 1) we took an inventory of our body of work. 2) We took stock in ourselves by making a personal statement and defining ourselves as writers. 3) We practiced the task of writing cover letters.

Now, we'll start thinking in terms of the time line. What is it that we want to achieve? Since this is the “Pursuit of Publication” portion, we'll assume that we want to publish. Why the time line? Well, this will quantify our efforts. I think having a time line is a great way to get things done. After all, if we had all the time in the world, eternity, what would be the incentive? The time line is not meant to rush things, it's just meant to help achieve the goal. Publication.

Only you know your work. Only you know what you have, and so only you will know what you can do.

During the inventory exercise, I found that I have approximately 30 short stories ready to send out. This is pretty impressive. With this kind of volume, I will probably not have to submit things simultaneously. This is good, because as an editor, I hate the added stress of a writer who has sent out one story to fifty places. I digress.

Next, what do I logically think I can do? Do I send a story a week? Do I send them all out at one time and hope for the best? What do I think? I prefer a lower intensity over a longer duration. I think it will probably be different for everyone.

So, I'm choosing a lower intensity and a longer duration. What is the duration? A year? That's about one short story submission every two weeks. This seems okay, after all, a two week period will give me ample time to research each publication and take great strides in editing and revising my story. This is the slow and steady wins the race tactic.

Completely arbitrarily, I'm going to pick an end date for this endeavor. My end time is August 31, 2012. Basically, nine months. That puts me at about one short story submission per week beginning in December. Now, I have a confine: I start today, and I end this project at the end of next August. As an aside here, the end date is not exactly arbitrary. I have other obligations in life, we all do. Between now and then, my life (barring any unforeseen circumstances) will remain essentially the same. I do plan to make a life change in August once my student loans are paid in full. The life change may or may not included such an active pursuit of publication and development of new material. Only time can tell. That said, I have my confine, and I urge you to do the same.

Now, we have a time line. We know that the beginning of the process takes preparation, which is what we've been doing these late weeks. Getting prepared, and having the time line established, we now face the task of developing our schedule and work habits.

Here it is:

1-we take our work and prepare it to share with a magazine editor.
2-we research, and I mean thoroughly, our potential magazines.
3-we follow the guidelines, write a cover letter and send out our work.
4-we spend time doing our record keeping.

Now, we know these are the things we need to do, but when do they get done? With family and financial obligations which we all have, we know there is a finite amount of time in the day. I think writers need a certain amount of time alone to get things done. After all, writing is solitary task. If we put all of our effort into life, when is the time for writing? And if we put all of our energy into this pursuit of publication, when do we have the time to generate new material? These are also things to think about.

My suggestion:
Set a work week for yourself. If you work nine to five, then your writing work week may be on Saturdays. Whenever you have the time for writing, this will now have to share your energy with this pursuit of publication. It's my belief that the generation of new material is more important than anything else. Work on your new material when you're still fresh. At the beginning of your session, focus on the new. When you tire a little, and your energy is lowering, this is a good time to do the research, do a little copy editing and letter writing. It takes less energy to read a few good short stories than it does to write them.

For me, I generally get a solid three hours a day, everyday, to write. I'm lucky. I generally plan my whole week on Sunday night when I get my schedule from work. When I consider my new material, I set goals with how much I want to get done. I try to write 5-10 thousand words a week. I write early in the day before I go to work, or before I start to think about the maintenance of life. I write before I check the email, read the paper or leave the house. I know what I want to get done, and I know how long it takes.

Keeping in mind that the new material is important, when is it appropriate to start other tasks? I don't know. But I know there are “other” hours in the day. How about the late night hours when I get off work and go to the bar? I don't want to write that late at night because I'm tired, but I can certainly read at that hour. This is an example of the “other” hours. Should I read a magazine before bed rather than drinking beer, I haven't sacrificed my precious writing hours. And I know that we all have these “other” hours.

At the beginning of the week plan for everything including time for research, letter writing and submissions.

Your task this week:
1-Pick a time line
2-Draw up a proposed weekly schedule for yourself
3-Find those “other” hours when you could be doing your research
4-Write down your goals

Good luck.
Next time: The daily and weekly schedules.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pursuit of Publication: The Prerequisites

After spending a couple of weeks with our volume of work, we've come to understand our writing. Hopefully, spending time with the short stories, novels, poems, or whatever was time well spent. In all likelihood, reading and rereading brought some ideas of vision and revision. Just having this understanding of our work is not enough. We now need to find and refine ourselves as writers, authors, poets, whatever.

Now, we'll answer these five items:
-A personal statement
-A list of three writers who our work resembles our own or writers we aspire to write like
-A list of our three favorite writers and three of our favorite novels (or poems, short stories)
-Briefly describe our course of study and any professional accolades, if applicable
-A list of former publications.

Here's mine:

Personal Statement: I am a professional writer striving for continual improvement in my work by use of all educational opportunities as both participant and instructor, and persistent pursuit of publications. I believe in the independent press, small or large, as the best representation of modern literature in America and the ideal place for my work.

List of three writers who I share themes, style or feel: The short stories of William Kotzwinkle, Paul Bowles and Etgar Keret.

My three favorite writers: Haruki Murakami, John Steinbeck and Aimee Bender. Three favorite novels: My Antonia, The Virgin Suicides and The Street of Crocodiles.

Course of study and professional accolades: MFA of Goddard College. Fiction editor of Umbrella Factory Magazine.

Formerly published in: Metrosphere, Sherbert Magazine, Bananafish Magazine, Curbside Splendor and Sophia Ballou.

Using this information we've found out about ourselves, we'll start to craft a few cover letters. These cover letters are meant as templates only. Each submission means an editor, a set of expectations as well as the submission guidelines. Each magazine, or editor we solicit deserves our best work and our best research.

These are the two letters we'll write for this exercise: 1) formal and professional. And 2) Simple and professional.
A few don'ts:
1 Never write a confession! “This is my first time submitting.”
2 Do not write a sales pitch. “This story is the best for your magazine because a, b, c.”
3 Do not write the personal. “I am x years old and neighbor said xyz and and and.”

Much like the process of the inventory, this letter process should help out with the knowing who you are as a writer and what you hope to achieve.
The professional formal letter:

In this letter, use the aspects of the list above that highlight your academic and professional experience. For instance for me, I might included my MFA, my appointment at Umbrella Factory Magazine and a few of my former publications. I may even include some of my personal statement.

Dear Editor,

Please consider my short story for publication in up coming issues of your magazine. “My Story” is (insert the pitch and synopsis). I'm a (insert your accolades here). Your magazine appeals to me because (insert your statement). I can be reached at:

As an example a letter I wrote to Curbside Splendor:

Dear Editor,

Please consider my short story “Ocean into Cotton Candy” for an up coming issue of Curbside Splendor. “Ocean into Cotton Candy” is about Wilhelm, a traveler, who wanders into a hotel bar in Tucson, Arizona and orders a glass of straight gin to the bartender's dismay.
I'm a graduate of the MFA program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. I currently work as the fiction editor at Umbrella Factory Magazine. My short stories have appeared in Sherbert Magazine, Bananafish Magazine and Sophia Ballou. Curbside Splendor appeals to me because I believe in the independent press, small or large, as the best representation of modern literature in America and the ideal place for my work.
I can be reached via email at
Thank you for your time and consideration.


A model for a less formal letter, and this may appeal to you if you don't have much experience in publications, may goes as follows. Include your story's pitch and synopsis, some writers you admire and your personal statement.

Dear Editor,

Please consider my short story “Ocean into Cotton Candy” for an up coming issue of Curbside Splendor. “Ocean into Cotton Candy” is about Wilhelm, a traveler who wanders into a hotel bar in Tucson, Arizona and orders a glass of straight gin to the bartender's dismay. I admire the short stories of William Kotzwinkle, Aimee Bender and J.D. Salinger. My favorite novelist is Haruki Murakami because he's able to fold the supernatural into the neighborhoods and streets of modern Tokyo. Curbside Splendor appeals to me because I believe in the independent press, small or large, as the best representation of modern literature in America and the ideal place for my work.
I can be reach via email at
Thank you for your time and consideration.


In both situations I've kept the letter professional, respectful and short. I know from my experience at Umbrella Factory Magazine a cover letter may be the deciding factor for a short story's publication. I have read cover letters that were so poorly written, condescending or obnoxious that I never read the submission.

Your task:

-Write out the list of five things.
-Using the sentence you wrote for your short stories during the Inventory exercise write a few pitch and synopsis statements.
-Write two cover letters for each and address them to a generic editor.

Next time: The timeline.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jack Kerouac and Edwin Arlington Robinson

The days are noticeably shorter.  Very much so, too.  It's November after all and I'm closer to the north pole than I am to the equator.  This is the nature of autumn, and it's certainly what's in store for winter.  As I walk down SW Morrison St past the Jeld Wen Field and over SW 19th Ave to the Max Station, I walk under the Honey Locus trees.  I love these trees because they remind me of Denver, a place I greatly miss.  Even now, marching into the second week of November on Veterans Day, these trees still hold onto a few of their leaves.  I walk under them and think about other things.
I've moved into Jack Kerouac's On the Road. The only two things I have to say about it: 1, Jack missed Denver too. And 2, "He said we were a band of Arabs coming in to blow up New York," (p. 112).  Strange.  Do you think Kerouac was prophetic, or did people always think there would be a band of Arabs with the idea of blowing up New York?  Weird thought, I know.
Then we come to Richard Cory.  I drink booze.  This is no secret.  I often think of drinking less, but then I realize how terrible life would be without it.  I still like the bar.  Although I have very little in common with my barmates, they are still important to me.  So, there we were, in the Commodore and listening to Simon and Garfunkel's "Richard Cory."  I asked Bobby, "Who is this Richard Cory?"  He said, "Mr. Sickwater, if anyone should know it, it should be you."  And indeed it should be.  The Simon and Garfunkel tune is macabre, yes.  But so is the 1897 poem of the same name by Edwin Arlington Robinson.  I'm shocked and amazed that I had never heard of this Edwin Arlington Robinson before yesterday.  Did you know he won three Pulizer Prizes?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pursuit of Publication: The Inventory Wrap-up

As writers of fiction, I feel we enjoy so many more freedoms than we know. For instance, whether it is the short story or the novel, we can write pretty much untethered. As long as we write for a reader, and I mean within the confines of structure, we can truly write whatever we want. We can pose in one genre or another. We can wander over the lines too. Imagine a horror story with a sci-fi bent set in the old west and make the whole thing a romance, and further still make it realism. I don't know exactly how it works, but it can, it just need writing.

Last week we discussed the prospect of leaving our desks, offices or junk heaps. I mentioned that I have been quietly writing for years with no real pursuit of publication. I also hinted that there must be dozens, or hundreds, or thousands out there like me who want to send out their words. There are others who want to enjoy the ego of publication and revel in the idea of readership.

The last task I set up for all of you, myself especially, was to take some stock and write out an inventory. I suggest an inventory of everything you've ever written, ever, and then move on from there.
With each piece we were to write this:
1-title of the piece
2-the location of it
3-the word and page count
4-what type of piece it is: short story, novel, poetry
5-a description of it in one or two sentences

Using me as an example here, this is what I came up with for this exercise:
9 novels
21 chapter books of poetry, flash fiction and memoir
60 short stories

For sake of our investigation here, I choose to leave the novels and chapter books aside for the time being. Both of these forms have their own set of circumstances involved in their publication.
That leaves us with the short story. I know for myself that all (or almost all) of these 60 short stories I wrote since leaving Goddard College in January of 2009. This means that they're all new, or at the most three years old.
The other given I know being an editor of Umbrella Factory Magazine, short stories are a quick “sale” or exchange. There are many, many, many magazines who read, run and represent the short story. I also believe the short story is a good way to get started. This is a good way to learn about letter writing, research and a way to build the CV.

Of my 60 short stories the breakdown is this:
31 are ready for publication and it's time for them to go.
14 others are okay. I'm not embarrassed by them, but they are not my best work. I say this objectively. It's sad in a way because I have some strong emotions connected with a few of these stories. Despite my feelings, these pieces will not be as well received as the former 31.
9 of these pieces have no business leaving my desk. We'll forget about these 9 outright. If I don't forget about them, I should.
6 stories, to my delight have already been run or published. This, of course, was a pleasant surprise because it means that ten percent of my workable material has already been published. Nice.

I mentioned a few ways you might like to list or inventory your work. I used a spreadsheet. I also used note cards. I found in this portion of the exercise that the spreadsheet was a nice way to look at the whole of the project. With the note cards, I used one card per story. This was an ideal way for me to focus on a single story. Plus, I wrote my description sentence on the card. When the time comes, I'll put the date of the latest revision on the card, where I sent it and what became of it.

Needless to say, I feel well organized.

I hope your inventory process has gone well. Take more time doing this. This will make you familiar with your work, your body of work and get you ready for the next step.

Next time: the prerequisites. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pursuit of Publication: Part one, the Inventory

We've spent a great deal of time over these last several months talking about reading and writing. We talked about the writing of the short story, the writing of the screenplay and the writing of the novel. I have spent countless hours ranting and raving about the life of the writer. I have urged all of you, not to mention myself, to simply go out there and write. And there it is. Just go out there and write. Now what? Good question.

I suppose for the most part, I can describe myself simply enough. I have lived in some of the world's greatest towns, and I have been living life all the while. I have been blessed, but that might be another story for another time. That said, I have been in this writer's process for nearly thirty years; twenty years of it fairly seriously. For the last three years I've been fanatical about writing, and this was on the heels of a few good years on the academic path. Perhaps this is the place to start.

We've talked about grad school before. It may or may not be for you. I don't think grad school manufactures writers. Rather, I think a writer in grad school learns how to work, and that's a pretty difficult task. As for me, I think the best part about grad school was simply the time it took for me to figure it all out. Yes, I enjoyed my advisers and my peers. I also enjoyed many of the working writers and professionals I got to meet.

I'm fairly certain I've mentioned Betsy Lerner before. She came to Goddard College on hot July day and addressed a room full of students on the ways of the literary agent. She came prepared with useful handouts, witty anecdotes and good advice. But there was one thing she said that I have taken with me and considered every moment of everyday since that afternoon in July.

The workshop discussion was that of fiction manuscripts. Novels and writers and agents and it was a interesting topic for me. After all, here I was in grad school with ample time to write. Betsy Lerner suggested that each of us turn our process up a little. Turn it up. Rather than having one manuscript ready for publication, her suggestion was to have five.

Well, time moves on. So, where does that leave us?

If you've been following me during the last year and a half, I would think you know where I am right now. Yes, so much of what I have here is reading, writing and the teaching of writing. But how much do we know about the pursuit of publication?

At this stage, I am going to assume that everyone out there is in the same place I am. Yes, so much of writing is the act of writing, but a larger, and I daresay more time consuming, is the work of getting the thing published.

I've asked myself over the last several months, how do I begin this daunting task? Where do I start? If you're anything like me, you'll be asking this question too.

First thing first. This week, take a complete inventory of everything you have written no matter what shape it's in. We're going to centralize out effort on this inventory. When I consider that I've had eight computers in the last fifteen years, I have written in composition notebooks and I have papers all over the place, this first step will take a vast amount of time. Yet, it is important, if we have only a dozen short stories, we may not be ready to pursue a serious amount of time seeking publication. However, if you are like me, we'll have ample to work with, form and send away.

The list of information needed for each piece:
1 the title
2 its location
3 word and page count
4 what type of piece is it (play, short story, novel, poetry)
5 one or two sentences describing the piece

Let's look at the inventory aspects: what were doing is locating something, reading it, analyzing it and defining it. This will be helpful very soon as we start writing letters and sending our work out.

You can use an excel spreadsheet, an index card or simply a list on a lined piece of notebook paper. Just formalize the system.

As always, good luck and happy inventory.