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And Good Old Boys Were Drinking Whiskey and Rye

 

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Question (thank you Mike): Platforms, credentials, social media presence, published articles and stories; is it at all possible for someone to come in cold, with nothing but a magnificent story and a so-so query letter and find a way out there in the world of letters? I mean, if a thunderbolt split the sky and rattled the windows, a lone ray of light shining down on an anonymous pile of pages, would that manuscript stand a chance?
Or have I just not been paying attention?

 

 

It’s not that you haven’t been paying attention, and I hear all the frustration behind the question. That said, there is no thunderbolt. If you have a magnificent story, send it out and keep sending it out. There are no rattled windows or lone rays. It’s just you, the lone writer, sending your work out over and over and over. Writing more, getting an MFA or taking classes if you keep hitting a wall. Getting your writing workshopped. Maybe going to writers conferences and networking with editors, other writers, agent. You don’t have to have a million twitter followers or an MFA from Iowa, but you have to build your name/profile in the literary world. Yes, it’s an imperative.

WHat say you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 Responses

  1. Above all, I sing the praises of that thunderclap and ray of light for the simple gift of illumination. What I do with the knowledge is up to me and I thank you for your answer.

    • I’m going to reply directly to you Mike D. for what it’s worth because…”is it at all possible for someone to come in cold, with nothing but a magnificent story and a so-so query letter and find a way out there in the world of letters? I mean, if a thunderbolt split the sky and rattled the windows, a lone ray of light shining down on an anonymous pile of pages, would that manuscript stand a chance?”

      Yes. I can’t say my story was “magnificent,” or even “wonderful,” or likely “great,” and still, I had nothing but “it” and some luck. Make that a LOT of luck. I found an agent, and then a publisher. And it took years. But I had no credentials, no MFA, nada. I don’t even think I had any “name/profile” Betsy mentions in the lit world either. Except on blogs.

      Take hope from that, if you can.

  2. Have you ever taken a chance on someone who is a complete unknown? No social media presence, no published works, no MFA? Zero literary profile? Just a great story? Is there hope? Is this just another dream?

  3. And if you did take a chance did it work out?

  4. I say this post oddly coincides with the questions posed at last weekend’s writers’ retreat. Surely, surviving the rejection phase is worse than reliving the teen years. So very tired of the words regrettably, not and unfortunately; so grateful for a Day Job.

    • Here. Here. A decent paying day job allows you the freedom to manage your writing & submissions on your own, especially as the traditional literary world is falling apart.

  5. I’m sorry. What were you saying?

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  6. The way I look at publication is that very few of us have what it takes to write an entire book the first time we put pen to page. Published stories, poems, and essays show that you have practiced and polished your writing in the short form and have some writing experience going into a book. It may also signal that you’re willing to have your mad work of genius edited. Publishing is a collaborative process.

    • This is good to hear. Thanks, independentclause.

      • Also, you don’t need a platform, an MFA, or a presence for small publications. And every publication counts. When I first started sending work out, I did not include a bio because I had no publications, and I got published anyway. And then I had publications to put in a bio. Huzzah!

  7. I say it’s a hard world in which thunderbolts don’t part the sky (though the image is striking) and talent doesn’t out and LUCK defers to capricious fate and only a slim line of light seeps occasionally through closed doors, and lastly, it’s just as fucking hard to establish a platform as it is to publish a book. That doesn’t mean I’d give up because in the end one must honor one’s passion, or what does anything mean?

  8. “…image is striking.” Ha! Thanks, Diane. And I have no intention of giving up.

  9. If you want to join the Masonic Temple, you need a sponsor—someone who’ll speak on your behalf, who’s willing to risk a little of their reputation to say “Yeah, he’s one of us.” Also true in higher education faculty life, and likely true in any restricted-entry profession.

    A thought, however, about this generic called MFA. As I’m doing my research for the current project, I’m discovering just how powerful the reputation of certain schools can be as a door opener. There are 117 doctoral programs in economics in the US, for example, but over half of the faculty in strong programs came from just eight of them; a quarter came from just two! This is a general pattern across disciplines, so I have to believe that it likely holds in creative writing as well. Iowa, Cornell, sure. But an MFA from Southeastern Central North Dakota A&M State isn’t likely to be either strongly recognized or well networked.

    Poets and Writers used to publish an annual ranking of MFA programs; the most recent on their website is 2012, so it’s probably still in the ballpark, and the methods themselves make for interesting consideration. If a school hasn’t made the top 20 on that list, I’d be dubious. Maybe good faculty, certainly permission to focus monomaniacally, but the reputation points just aren’t there.

  10. On the subject of MFA programs: I recommend taking your forty thousand dollars and heading to Vegas. Chances are you’ll have better luck and more fun. Wish that’s what I had done. Perhaps I should stop here and go have a shot of whiskey and a couple of Vicodin. I’m not usually this cynical.

  11. Do the best work you can and send it out. Never stop writing, never stop reading, never stop learning, never stop living, and never give up.

    Everything else is just so much stuff.

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