Saturday, February 18, 2017

Demystifying The Business Side of Writing and Publishing - AWP Panel

I had a wonderful time at the annual AWP conference and book fair - this year in Washington, D.C.  It was my first AWP conference, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  I went to some insightful panels and spent a good chunk of time in the book fair learning about new publications, programs, and yes, I certainly did buy some books.  I attended a reception hosted by a consortium of journals, and just generally had too much wine ...

So here is the first in a series of posts where I talk about some of the neat stuff that happened at the conference.  Now, as you know from my previous post on Panels at Cons I am not a big fan of panels in general.  However, most of the panels I attended at AWP were well moderated, and were able to keep my interest for at least half the scheduled time, if not more.  That's pretty good from my point of view.  (Still, check out the previous post, since I'd love to be able to do something other than listen to another panel.)

The first panel I attended, bright and early on Thursday morning, was the panel "Demystifying the Business Side of Writing and Publishing."  The panel members as listed in the guide are: Whitney Davis, Tarfia Faizullah, Paula Munier, Joshua Shenk, and Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum.  Although when I came in they were mentioning something about the panelists, and so there might have been a swap of some kind.  The room was completely packed, with people standing along the walls and three deep in the back.   I was completely blocked and could not see the panel table.  It was great to be in a well attended and high energy session, but it also would have been nice to be able to see who was speaking ...

I've attended a lot of panels and workshops with this subject, so I didn't expect too much info I had not heard already.  However, repetition of some good ideas never hurts.  Here is my distillation of some of the main ideas that were presented.

Demystifying the Business Side of Writing and Publishing

Submitting to Book Contests and Publications:
  • Read.  Especially those books that have won the contest in question or that have been published where you'd like to be published.
  • Best first.  Front load your best stories and poems in your submission.  This is more important than having an emotional 'arc' for example.  
  • Vision.  The writer has to have a clear sense of what their aesthetic vision is for the work - so be able to summarize your work in a distinct way.  What is the lineage?  Who or what is this work like?  And then what makes it unique/different?
  • Take your time.  Applications are conversations, don't just dash them off.  Imagine you are speaking through your application/submission - create a good impression of yourself and your book.
  • No mistakes.  No typos, no weak stories or poems.  Don't give judges or editors any reason to object to your work.
  • Be strategic.  Do not send the work to everyone under the sun, instead target those that appear to be the best match.  Some people say "send everywhere" but that is not a good use of anyone's time and energy.
  • "Network like hell." 
  • Remember that you are your brand. 
  • Put your picture on your business card so that people can put a face to a name.  
  • If you are working in a solitary environment, then write emails and make calls.  Stay as connected as possible.  You are a colleague to other writers even if you don't see them in person every day.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Look for people who will be generous.
  • Put a limit on requests for time so people know what they are committing to - like "I want just 30 minutes over coffee" or "I need a quick 10 minutes for a phone call about X."
 Rejection and Tough Times:
  • Embrace rejection.  Track rejections and see them as stepping stones to eventual acceptance. 
  • Those who have success have a high capacity for humiliation.  
  • Learn to live with your internal critic.  Learn when to listen and when to ignore that voice.
  • "Remember the writers on Facebook all look successful and are all at home crying."  
  • Be honest, don't try to portray yourself as a perfect human being.
  • Don't be "precious" with your work, you can't be insulted when people ask for changes.
General Career Advice:
  • Read copiously, read for your career. 
  • Write about what you are passionate about.  
  • Read the acknowledgements in books you love.  Who edited it, who represented it, who helped?  Learn where the writers you admire fit in.
  • Look around and see what hasn't been done lately, think out of the box whenever possible.  
  • Find a good editor.
  • Look for awards, fellowships and residencies.     And don't miss your local resources for publishing and other opportunities - town, city, county, state ...
  • Think strategically about your day job.  Be in environments that are creative and meaningful to you. "Adjuncting is atrocious, awful, and should be illegal."
  • Keep learning and keep growing.