Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Advice for Self-Publishers

An interesting discussion about self-publishing, from Poets & Writer’s magazine:

Coming from a self-published author’s point of view, there’s the terrifying BookScan that traditionally published authors must contend with. To be blunt, if you’re not selling the way a publishing house wants you to, you’re out. Even great writers are under the gun. It’s all about profit-and-loss margins. As I discuss in my self-publishing guide, if you want to be a successful self-published or traditionally published author in today’s market, your mind-set should be: “It’s all about the money, honey.” You have to be the businessperson and the author. Your job is to write a great book and sell it. And if you’re a self-published author, it’s heightened big-time.

You’ll have to buy the magazine (Nov/Dec 2013) to get the better (IMHO) article about various options for self-publishers.  Of course, if you’re thinking about self-publishing, go get your hands on this whole issue, which is devoted to the industry:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Writing Stories, Writing Novels: What's the Diff?

Well, a lot actually—and it’s not just “more pages.”  Find out more at my upcoming talk/discussion/Q&A in Leesburg, Virginia, on November 1.  Here are the details:

Making the 300-Page Leap

While there are obvious similarities inherent to all good writing—lively characters doing interesting things, as told through vivid language—both in the process and the finished product, novels and short stories have fundamental differences.  Learn more about how to make this 300-page leap in your own work!

Friday, November 1, 2013
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Leesburg Town Hall
(Lower Level Meeting Room)
25 West Market Street
Leesburg, VA 20176
$6 ($4 for Writer's Center members and residents of Leesburg)
More info: 301-654-8664 or

Monday, October 14, 2013

Five Essentials of Good Writing

I’ll be away from blogging for the next week, but in the mean time, here’s a great piece by Lee Martin’s blog “The Least You Need to Know” about five essentials of good writing, applicable to fiction and non-fiction writers:

A teacher of mine used to say that a good short story led to a moment of surprise, which he defined as “more truth than we think we have a right to know.” The same holds true for a good piece of nonfiction. As we read, we participate in the writer’s attempt to find what he or she didn’t know when first coming to the page. Narrative is the art of constructing visual images, scenes if you will, that make a dream world for the readers and that require those readers’ participation in the intellectual and emotional life of the story. A good story, then, dramatizes, explores, illuminates. Characters move through time and space, and are profoundly changed because of the journey. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Advice for MFA Applicants

Are you thinking about applying to an MFA program?  I’ve recently come across some good links offering smart advice for applicants, so read on:

Brian Evenson Gives Advice for Future MFA Applicants (Thank you, Matt, for this link.)

4. Be honest, but “we’re dating and getting serious” honest rather than either “First date honest” or “Now that you’ve proposed, here’s all the stuff you need to know about me (like the fact that I killed my first wife)” honest. You can and should talk about your struggles and successes and trials and etc., but in moderation.

1) What are MFA programs looking for in a portfolio? What should I submit?Submit your best work. That being said, if you want to be safe, you can choose to believe this nugget of truth: admission committees are looking for a sense of completion in an applicant’s portfolio. When I was a kid learning jazz  piano for the first time, my tutor insisted that I play song straight with careful attention to each and every note’s value. She reasoned that, once I could prove myself as capable of playing the song as-is, I could jazz it up to my heart’s content. It’s the same idea here. While it might be really awesome to submit your 2nd person stream of consciousness vignette novella written from the perspective of a pack of zombie wolfhounds, it also might be a good idea to just write two conventional 10-15 page short story. Poets, do the opposite; write your poetry in a 2nd person stream of consciousness discordant vignettes written from the perspective of a pack of zombie wolfhounds.

And, well, my own (always excellent!) advice:  Do Writers Need an MFA?

While many graduate programs have “famous” writers you revere and admire on the faculty, being a “famous” writer doesn’t automatically make one a good teacher. So when you’re considering plunking down the $$ to go to a graduate program, do your homework and check out the faculty.

And remember, we always welcome your application at the Converse low-res MFA where I teach. Details here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Milestone: Redux Publishes 100th Piece!

Now entering its third year, Redux, the online magazine I founded/edit, has just published its 100th writer!  That translates to more than 100 stories, essays, and poems that have been previously published in literary journals that are now available on the internet, finding a new audience online…so important in these “end of paper” times we live in.

Of course I love everything selected for Redux, whether it was chosen by me personally or by one of our fine advisory editors*, but I did save an extra-amazing essay to appear as lucky number one hundred:  “Your Hand Is My Hand” by Catherine Chung, which was first published in The Journal in 2007.  It is, the author noted on Facebook when sharing the link, “the first piece I ever published, and the one closest to my heart.”

It’s a gorgeous essay, about love and cancer and hope and vulnerability and family; you may need a box of tissues nearby as you read: 

About a month ago I had a tumor excised from my left breast.  The tumor was 3.3 cm in diameter, roughly the size of a ping pong ball, and was located under my left nipple. When it first appeared a year and a half ago, I told it, “You can stay so long as you respect the balance.” But in its last months it had spurned the balance and grown, rising to the surface so that it was visible: an alien marking out its territory. It started to develop what felt like appendages. It began to pull my nipple back into my breast, so that the skin around it puckered and collapsed.

*Special thanks to our hard-working and super-smart advisory editors: Deborah Ager, Marlin Barton, Joseph M. Schuster, and Steve Ello.  I couldn’t do it without you!

And there are still a few more days left in our open reading period, if you’d like to send in a previously published story/essay/poem for consideration.  Here are the submission guidelines.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Link Corral: Breaking Bad, Indie Publishers, First Book Writer-in-Residence Opportunity in NYC

I’m still mourning the end of Breaking Bad.  Here’s a comprehensive and amusing video “In Memoriam” of all the characters who were killed during the series. (Thanks to Sarah for the link.)

Here’s a wonderful (but not comprehensive) list of indie publishers putting out strong work, worthy of our support.  These are also good markets for your own writing…there’s definitely more to life than New York publishing! (Thanks for the link, Charlotte.)

Here’s a specialized but amazing opportunity for a writer with a first book contract to get 3 free weeks in New York City to work on that book, courtesy of the Standard Hotel and The Paris Review.  Applications due November 1.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.