query letter

Exciting News!

Do you ever have one of those months where everything finally comes together? I hope you do, because it feels fantastic. After a lot of hard work, I have some great news to share:

  1. I have a new website for my Writers Work conference series, and I’ve added a writer’s retreat feature! I used the logo you guys chose. Check it out and let me know what you think.
  2. I sent out my first query letter for my novel!
  3. I submitted a short story to The New Yorker and The Missouri Review.
  4. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…discounted tickets are now available for the next Writers Work Conference 9/20/14 in Times Sq. NY! Have lunch with an agent, hear about authors’ experiences of getting published, meet approachable editors and publishers who want to share the inside scoop with you, and connect with other writers. It’s going to be an amazing day
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Ahhh the joy of getting sh*t done!

Why I Will Never Self-Publish

Five years ago I finished my first novel and sent it out to agents. I had no doubt in my mind they would read the first ten pages and proclaim it the most original and inspiring work that had ever crossed their desk, and fight to get me published immediately.

Only one of the fifteen agents I queried bothered to write back, and the letter basically said keep trying.  When I told people about this flat-out rejection they inevitably suggested I self-publish.  They had heard stories of writers skipping past the publishing house and taking their words directly to the people, making millions in the process. But like anything that’s newsworthy, those writers’ successes only stood out because they were so rare.

After I licked the wounds of rejection, I decided I needed to improve my craft. It wasn’t enough to be creative; I needed to understand story arch, character development, POV, setting, voice, and a whole bunch of other writing elements I overlooked.

In the last five years I have taken writing classes to learn how to convey my thoughts, I started this blog to get in the habit of writing regularly, I created two writer’s groups which have forged friendships I will cherish forever, and I’ve added about 50 books on writing to my bookshelves. Not to mention, I write every single day. In other words, I have become a writer.  I don’t think any of that would have happened if I took the shortcut of self-publishing.

The truth is my first novel wasn’t that good. Yes, the ideas were good, but I didn’t know how to write at the time. If I had self-published, I would have spent every dollar I had putting out a mediocre piece of writing. I would have sold myself short, not believing that I was capable of growth.

Publishers and agents know what they are doing. Their jobs rely on finding fresh talent.  It’s one thing to hear from a publisher that your work is fantastic but they don’t see a market for it at the time – in that case, I would certainly suggest self-publishing. But if publishers don’t take your work seriously it might be because they can tell you haven’t taken it seriously.

I want to get published. For me the thrill of getting published is not the idea of having a book out in the world, but the acknowledgment that my work is worth the investment. I want a team of people, whose lives revolve around literature, to read my work and deem it good enough to stake their professional opinion on it. Now I know this sounds like it contradicts what I’ve written before about not judging your success on other’s perception of you, but there is a fine difference: my self-worth does not rely on getting published. I believe that publishing will:

  1. Bring me one step closer to financially supporting myself with my creativity.
  2. Help me gain access to more writing opportunities such artist’s residencies and writing grants.
  3. Make me feel less crazy for pursuing this crazy dream.

I do not believe that publishing will:

  1. Bring me ever-lasting self-assurance and pride.
  2. Make me an instant millionaire.
  3. Help me feel successful.

So, yes, I hope to be published one day, but, no, I won’t self-publish. Now that I’ve said this, I will probably end up contradicting myself and become one of those self-publishing success stories, and I’ll be forced to address this blog post in every future interview. Oh well, I think I can live with that.

Spain Travel Narrative

I’m leaving for Spain today! I’ve always wanted to go, so now I’m doin’ it. For a whole month! First I’ll be taking a two week Spanish course in Salamanca at Don Quijote language school. I’ll be living with a host family, which I’ve never done before, and honestly that scares me. Hopefully we’ll get along. Afterward my boyfriend, Mike, will be meeting me in Madrid. We’ll take the train to San Sebastian, then Barcelona, Granada, and Cordoba. Muy Bien.

from About Spain Travel blog

OK, here’s where the challenge comes in. Traveling is one of the things that supports my HeSo. And I’m supposed to be finding ways to get paid to do what I love. The obvious answer is travel narrative. So how do I become the next Bill Bryson, or Elizabeth Gilbert? The truth is I’ve been to some pretty crazy places, and experienced amazing wonders. I took a plane ride around Mt. Everest, I swam in a bio-luminescent bay in Vieques where the water glows neon green when you touch it, I had Shabbot dinner with an 11 person family in Vienna who I met only an hour before. I’ve been to Nicaragua 10 times. My family bribed a guard to get into Catherine the Great’s Palace in Russia. So how the heck do I get paid to tell these stories?

A picture I took at 30,000 ft in the air

Well let’s be realistic. Publishers are not going to be knocking down my door to give me a book deal when I come back from Spain. So what are the baby steps?

I visited a great site called The Travel Writer’s Life. In an article titled, Go Magazine Editor Orion Ray-Jones on the Kinds of Travel Articles that Glue and Editor to the Page, Christina Merchant interviews the editor, Orion Ray-Jones. Here’s what he says about how to get published:

Be original. Bring me topics that will surprise and intrigue me, and develop innovative ways to present them, both in terms of how you report the story and how you structure the language. That first-person travelogue of syrupy, adjective-laden writing about a Tuscan wine tour is too painful to bear. I know there’s wine in Italy, and unless you’re famous, I’m not interested in your diary about tasting it. Surprise me! There are so many bad clichés in travel; avoid them.

An article by Bonnie Caton said that the best way to get published is to write something unique about a small town. In other words, editors are overwhelmed with stories about wine tasting in Tuscany, finding love in Paris, and art in Barcelona, but they don’t get many interesting stories about the Socrates Sculpture garden in Astoria. That’s good to know, but it’s not going to help me right before my trip to Spain.

That got me thinking. Can I write a local story about traveling? I started looking up the American sister cities for the cities I’m visiting in Spain. It turns out Madrid and NYC are sister cities. And so my goal is to write and sell a story about similarities and differences between NYC and Madrid.

Roy Stevenson, gives these steps in his article, How Long Does it Take to Sell your First Travel Story:

1. Collect every bit of information you get, and take a ridiculous amount of photos. You might think you’ll remember everything, but you won’t. Editors love when you supply your own pictures. Make sure you take many different angles. You might take only close ups, but the editor might want the look of wide open vistas.

2. Create a long list of all the travel journals, magazines and websites that you would like to sell to, and send the query letter to all of them. Yes, all of them.

3. Be fearless. The only way to get published is to keep putting yourself out there. No one is going to read stories off of your laptop. Or at least they’re not going to pay you to do so.

So this is going to be my first attempt at making some HeSo money. Wish me luck!