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Thread: How Real Publishing Works

  1. #26
    13th Triskaidekaphobe Richard's Avatar
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    Three killer ones:

    You sign away your rights for a period of time, with no compensation for it.

    You're not guaranteed to get any royalties you're owed anyway.

    You and everyone else pays through the nose for books at the end of the process.

  2. #27
    haz a shiny new book cover Christine N.'s Avatar
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    Since I'm with a small press, I'll add a little bit to this board.

    Advance - no, I didn't get one. No, that doesn't bother me, since I know this publisher is both legitimate and new, and wants to sell books. They took me on when I was unkown (I know that sounds like a PA line, but really, a lot of small publishers don't give advances) For me, it really is a foot in the door. My queries for my current work look much more impressive with my newly released book on them

    Oh, and I absolutely know I had to beat out a bunch of other manuscripts to get a contract - this publisher only puts out about a dozen books A YEAR, and they get tons of subs a month.

    Editing - like with the big publishers, my book was assigned to an editor, and when it was my turn (took about three months after the contract was signed to get to the head of the line) David (David Lee Summers, another SoS contributor) and I went back and forth for six-eight weeks on changes. Didn't have to change a ton, but it's not a huge book either, only about 50K words, average for a middle grade book.

    Cover art - and illustrations. You can see the cover if you click on the publishers link in my sig. That part took the longest, about six months, because each of the eight illustrations and the cover are done by hand by an amazing artist, Robert Nagy. And he had to actually read the book to get ideas about what he wanted to draw. He's got his own website here: www.meltingmind.net

    Galleys - my manuscript was formatted (looks so nice!) and the file sent to me to look over. Once that was done and changes made, illustrations added, etc... the file was sent in .pdf form to me, the editor in chief, and my editor for final approval. (by the way, I'm still looking for reviewers, so if anyone wants the .pdf, I'd be glad to send it along.)

    Promotion - here's the big diff between small and big presses, I think. Yes, my publisher is going to do promotion. They have a publicist, nice, nice lady, and she gathers all the stuff for the media kit (yes, a real media kit), but I helped to write it up. She's going to fill out all the paperwork to get my book to the big box bookshop chains, which is a big process - I've seen the paperwork. And she's there to consult with if I need help.

    BUT... I'm doing a lot of promotion myself. Setting up my own launch party, getting my signings, etc... Yes, I have bookmarks, but the art director for the publisher designed them, and I had them printed up at Staples and cut for not a whole lot of money. (I have to say, Jenna's e-book "Book Promotion Ain't for Sissies" has been a big help!)

    My little publisher is going to do everything they can to get the books out there, but without a big name behind them, it's tougher. They want to sell books, and are going to make every effort to do so, unlike PA.

    Differences from PA - my contract is NOT seven years; if, for some reason during the process, either of us had problems, we could terminate the contract; I know my royalties will be spot-on; and I don't have to buy my own books- I CAN, for a nice discount, I need additional copies for promotional purposes or for gifts, but my book's success does NOT depend on it.

    There you go. Not big house publishing, but commerical nonetheless.
    Christine

    Young Adult Fantasy Author

    A CURSE OF ASH AND IRON: Coming Spring 2015 from Curiosity Quills Press

    "The Watchmaker's Ball" (short story), to be included in BEWARE THE LITTLE WHITE RABBIT (anthology), coming April 14 from Leap Books


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  3. #28
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by egem
    PA doesn't claim to be a commercial publisher...
    PA does indeed claim to be a commercial publisher: A "traditional publisher," an "advance and royalty paying publisher" with its books "available in bookstores from sea to shining sea."

  4. #29
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by egem
    It is much different than anything that I've ever written (usually poetry and short fiction) so my question is do you feel that having it professially edited before it goes to an agent is a good idea?
    No, I don't feel this is a good idea.

    Quote Originally Posted by egem
    Many of there listings ask for an agent to submit. Is there another place that is helpful in finding commercial publishers?
    The advice I usually give is to go to your local bookstore. Find books similar to yours. See who published them. Write to those publishers (with an SASE) asking for their current guidelines.

    Then do a two-pronged attack -- query agents while at the same time submitting your manuscript to those publishers that don't require agented manuscripts.

    Just checking here -- you do know the difference between "no unagented" and "no unsolicited," right?

    Yes, there's been a rise in the number of publishers that require agents. The effect of this has been to move the location of the slush pile. From an author's point of view there's little difference.

    Meanwhile, while you're sending the manuscript around, write a new, different, better book.

  5. #30
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by roger
    A message for Sharon (Aruna) - I loved reading the story of your publication. Those sales figures are truly impressive, well done! And to be in the French bestsellers list above Auster and Grisham! Wow. That must have felt good.
    Yes, that was my heyday... but the writing life is a roller coaster, and right now I think I've hit the lowest point But hey, after that it goes up again!
    OUT NOW!
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  6. #31
    5 W's & an H Sassenach's Avatar
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    My questions preceded by ***

    Quote Originally Posted by egem
    Okay, if this is the place for "How real publishing works" then I would like to post some information about literary writing.


    What about the long shot?



    There are literary writers who make a living off their writing. I know my above paragraph on this matter sounds grim, but the long shot is always possible. Take a writer like David Foster Wallace. He went to Brown University for his MFA came out and won the National Book Award. His work sells well, and he is an excellent writer. Sandra Cisneros wrote one well received novel The House on Mango Street and has lived on the royalties for a long time.

    ***Your source for this knowledge of Cisneros' financial situation?


    What about Genre writing?



    This is a different bird. The most famous genre writers many times have little university training in writing. Stephen King, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy weren’t schooled in the traditional sense in creative writing in workshops at universities. They took their special areas of interest and made them into well told and interesting stories. Their fame is based on many different criteria. They are all gifted in the art of story telling. Many of these writers have a background that promotes their knowledge on their subjects. Their imaginations thrill people, and at some point, like all writers, they were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Remember their works are not literary works.

    Their works are based on a subject area outside of literary writing.




    What is literary writing?



    This is not an easy question to answer. My best definition is writing that tends to focus on character and theme while giving insight into some part of human nature. If you read a story or a poem that reflects back at you and symbolizes life and theme through every day objects and landscapes you are probably reading a literary story. For instance Raymond Carver wrote about working class people whose lives were being changed in someway during the story. They are not glamorous to read. The plot twist, if there is one, is subtle. Little suspense is involved, but these characters reflect something in everyone. The situations are painful and quiet. Many people would say the stories are boring to read. Literary writers are many times mesmerized by his works because they capture so much feeling in so few words in such a subtle way. It is literary writing. It is not glamorous. It is not sensational, but it does comment on who we are.

    These paragraphs come from my website. I won't post a link here. I'm not promoting. The site is really just a big list of literary magazines and ezines, and it has few words on writing.

    ***What is your list providing that others [e.g., Poets & Writers] do not?

    Please remember all of this is pointed at literary writing. Most literary authors do not have agents.

    ***Really? Again, your source?


    They do not make a living on their writing. I can give examples if anyone is interested.
    I feel God in this Chili's.
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  7. #32
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Please remember all of this is pointed at literary writing. Most literary authors do not have agents.

    ***Really? Again, your source?
    If by "literary authors" we mean the kids in the MFA programs and their professors -- I entirely believe it. Why would an agent be interested in them? What would an agent be able to do for them?

    If by "literary authors" we mean the writers whose works are shelved under "Fiction and Literature" at Barnes & Noble, I don't believe it.



  8. #33
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JennaGlatzer
    You don't need an agent to submit to most publishers.
    I'd qualify this to say you don't need an agent to submit to most independent publishers.

    For the large houses--Random House, Penguin, etc.--I think it's more complicated. The only genre I can think of where it really is feasible to make unagented submissions is romance, which is a huge and hungry market. Nonfiction editors may also be more open to receiving proposals from unagented authors. In general, however, and especially if you're trying to sell a novel, you either really do need an agent--as many imprints of large houses are closed to unagented submissions--or have a far, far better chance of selling if you're represented.

    In fact, I'll go farther--in my opinion, with the exception of romance, it's a waste of time to submit a novel directly to one of the large publishers, even if the imprint you want to approach says it will read unagented submissions. Unagented submissions receive rock-bottom priority--in other words, there will always be a writer with an agent in front of you, no matter how wonderful your novel is--and the person reading them probably won't be an editor, but an intern or an assistant. Books do get bought out of the slush pile at large publishers, but it's a fairly rare occurrence, and the vast majority of novels that sell to these publishers (including first novels) sell through agents.

    - Victoria

  9. #34
    egem
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald

    If by "literary authors" we mean the kids in the MFA programs and their professors -- I entirely believe it. Why would an agent be interested in them? What would an agent be able to do for them?

    If by "literary authors" we mean the writers whose works are shelved under "Fiction and Literature" at Barnes & Noble, I don't believe it.

    James I think here is the problem that came up in the first go round about PA. When I talk about writing and publishing I think literary first. I know this world best. Some of these books by these writers are in the Fiction and Literature sections at your local bookstore but very few. Only those that have won major awards or that have been writing for many years. Jenna thanks for understanding I'm sorry it took so long to get to the point where we could all understand we were all talking about different things.

    James the way you talk about MFAs and professors is odd to me. Please let me know what you think of this ave of publishing and writing. I'm not starting a fight, but I know this controversy is out here, and I would like to here it.

    Here are all my thoughts about PA from the side of literary writing. PA is not upfront with what type of publisher they are. They say "traditional" but that could be just about anything. Many of the writers on this board think commercial and I think literary, but PA does not fall under either of these. It is not hard to see what they have set out to do. It seems to me that they hoped to cash in on a POD. They are not a POD, but they are not a "traditonal" publisher either. I've talked some writers by email that have said they enjoyed their experience with PA. They seemed to know what they were getting into when they started. If someone has a collection of poetry on they desk that will never see the light of day otherwise it a POD or a place like PA not be a bad idea. These writers have you do all the editing and revisions yourself. I have many friends that are literary writers that have turned their books into PDFs. Now a place like PA has to be better than that. Please keep in mind I'm talking about books, literary books, that even if they were published by a literary publisher would make very little money. Seven years or not see the book in print is what these writers were hoping for. They want to be book stores but in truth some types of writing as you elude to James is not very well valued by our society. These books tend to win lots of awards but no one reads them, go figure. Raymond Carver is a great writer, but most people that just cold pick up his book think they've gone to a very dry planet.

    I would rather not fight any more about PA. Whatever is said about what I wrote here is fine, but this is just meant to be a cap on what I said earlier. The bottom line for any writer is to know up front what they are getting into. As PA goes I would say if you think you have any chance at all of getting your book in print and it selling don't go with a publisher like this. If you are very much thinking of going with a POD because you know for a fact that no one is going to buy you book take a look at PA but be very careful, expect nothing more than what you send them to come back to you, and expect no promotion for your work.

    James is there any way that we can talk about MFA vs Commercial publishers and make it worthwhile for this thread? Maybe putting out some of the difference would under the "real publishing title."

  10. #35
    egem
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    Quote Originally Posted by victoriastrauss

    In fact, I'll go farther--in my opinion, with the exception of romance, it's a waste of time to submit a novel directly to one of the large publishers, even if the imprint you want to approach says it will read unagented submissions. Unagented submissions receive rock-bottom priority--in other words, there will always be a writer with an agent in front of you, no matter how wonderful your novel is--and the person reading them probably won't be an editor, but an intern or an assistant. Books do get bought out of the slush pile at large publishers, but it's a fairly rare occurrence, and the vast majority of novels that sell to these publishers (including first novels) sell through agents.

    - Victoria
    Victoria this is more my understanding of publishing on the commercial side as it goes for novels. I will go one step further. I have a friend that use to work at St. Martin's Press. She was one of those assistants. She had several works come to here that she felt were very good but in the 12 months that she worked there she never got to pitch a single one to her boss. They had too much agented fiction to get unagented work in the door. Really in all that time they never looked at one thing that came from here pile good or bad.

  11. #36
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by egem
    Can you become wealthy from writing literary works?
    Quote Originally Posted by egem
    The short answer is it is very unlikely. Most literary writers must keep their university jobs to support themselves even after publishing countless books.
    This is true for all writers. Writing is not a lucrative profession.
    What about Genre writing?
    This is a different bird. The most famous genre writers many times have little university training in writing. Stephen King, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy weren’t schooled in the traditional sense in creative writing in workshops at universities. They took their special areas of interest and made them into well told and interesting stories. Their fame is based on many different criteria. They are all gifted in the art of story telling. Many of these writers have a background that promotes their knowledge on their subjects. Their imaginations thrill people, and at some point, like all writers, they were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Remember their works are not literary works. Their works are based on a subject area outside of literary writing.
    I'm sorry, but this sort of thing really gets my back up--not just because of the sterotypical assumptions about genre writing, but because of the implication that you have to have university training in writing in order to write serious fiction.

    Really, the kind of literariness you're describing here is as much a genre--in the sense of a particular type and style of writing--as romance or science fiction or mystery. However, "literary" is also a
    quality of writing, which can occur anywhere, in any genre. As often happens in this sort of discussion, "literary" the quality is being conflated with "literary" the genre, the assumption (tacit or otherwise) being that "literariness" can't exist outside of a certain type of book.
    What is literary writing?
    This is not an easy question to answer. My best definition is writing that tends to focus on character and theme while giving insight into some part of human nature.
    This is what I'm talking about. I wouldn't necessarily agree with this as a definition of literary writing, but that's not important--my point is that what you're describing is a quality or focus that can exist as easily in a mystery or science fiction novel as in a mainstream or literary one.

    - Victoria


  12. #37
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by egem
    James is there any way that we can talk about MFA vs Commercial publishers and make it worthwhile for this thread? Maybe putting out some of the difference would under the "real publishing title."
    Don't confuse the term "commercial publisher" with "publishes commercial-style fiction".

    When we say "commercial publisher", we simply mean a publisher that markets to the book trade--i.e., that engages in the range of activities described by Jenna, aimed at getting books into the hands of readers. So Alfred Knopf and Algonquin, which are considered "literary" publishers, are as much commercial publishers as, say, Doubleday or St. Martins Press.

    - Victoria

  13. #38
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    This going to sound elitist, but what the hey.

    Think of publishing as Coney Island. See all those people running around having fun? Those are the readers.

    The MFAs are all gathered in a circle in the parking lot. Each one is clutching his One Perfect Grain of Sand. They're showing their grains to each other, exclaiming about the color, the lustre, the size, the shape, of each grain.

    They're having fun, they aren't hurting anyone, but from the point of view of the guys playing volleyball, splashing in the surf, or trying to pick up chicks, they're irrelevant.

    Me, I'm a guy with an ice cream stand by the beach.

    ================

    Yes, it's true. As I've said repeatedly, self-publication is traditional for poets. They have markets other than through traditional distribution. From the back of the hall after readings, through direct sales via ads in poetry journals, and so forth.

    Why not PA for them? Because PA's books, all other things being equal, are more expensive than the exact same books produced through any number of other printers or even other vanity presses. Add in the oppressive all-rights-for-seven-years contract and you can see that this is not an avenue worth considering.

    ================

    Do MFA-Literary stories win awards? Of course they do. The first thing that happens when three MFAs get together is they start a Little Magazine, the Name-Of-Nearest-River Review. The second thing that happens is they give each other awards. This is usually subsidized by the Creative Writing Department at their college. They produce their little magazine three times a year. The creative writing departments of all the other colleges with creative writing programs subscribe. It's wonderful -- they need places to print their stories if they want to stay in the MFA program, if they want to go on to be Professors of Creative Writing, if they want tenure, if they want those National Endowment for the Arts grants, if they want to be a Writer in Residence somewhere. It's great that they have their own markets that allow this.

    Sure, those markets usually only pay in copies, and you can't take copies to the supermarket. The real pay for a Little or Literary publication is in prestige -- something you can take to the tenure committee. But if you aren't playing the grants-and-tenure game I don't see any point to dealing with those markets.

    They're outside of commercial publication and have little to do with commercial publication. The only similarity is that they both put black marks on white pages.

  14. #39
    egem
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    Quote Originally Posted by victoriastrauss


    Really, the kind of literariness you're describing here is as much a genre--in the sense of a particular type and style of writing--as romance or science fiction or mystery. However, "literary" is also a
    quality of writing, which can occur anywhere, in any genre. As often happens in this sort of discussion, "literary" the quality is being conflated with "literary" the genre, the assumption (tacit or otherwise) being that "literariness" can't exist outside of a certain type of book.
    This is what I'm talking about. I wouldn't necessarily agree with this as a definition of literary writing, but that's not important--my point is that what you're describing is a quality or focus that can exist as easily in a mystery or science fiction novel as in a mainstream or literary one.

    - Victoria

    Victoria,

    I wanted to get to this right away. I did not mean in any way that genre writing has anything to do with quality. Literary writing is a genre. I wrote the article for my website, and I needed some way to talk about one genre and excluding the rest because the article was pointed at literary writing. Every genre has quality in it. There are bad poets and great romance writers. I do not believe in being a snob between genres. The only distinction I make between people in general is write or don't write. I am a snob a little when it comes to this, I tend to think that writers are better.

  15. #40
    egem
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    This going to sound elitist, but what the hey.

    Think of publishing as Coney Island. See all those people running around having fun? Those are the readers.

    The MFAs are all gathered in a circle in the parking lot. Each one is clutching his One Perfect Grain of Sand. They're showing their grains to each other, exclaiming about the color, the lustre, the size, the shape, of each grain.

    They're having fun, they aren't hurting anyone, but from the point of view of the guys playing volleyball, splashing in the surf, or trying to pick up chicks, they're irrelevant.

    Me, I'm a guy with an ice cream stand by the beach.

    Do MFA-Literary stories win awards? Of course they do. The first thing that happens when three MFAs get together is they start a Little Magazine, the Name-Of-Nearest-River Review. The second thing that happens is they give each other awards. This is usually subsidized by the Creative Writing Department at their college. They produce their little magazine three times a year. The creative writing departments of all the other colleges with creative writing programs subscribe. It's wonderful -- they need places to print their stories if they want to stay in the MFA program, if they want to go on to be Professors of Creative Writing, if they want tenure, if they want those National Endowment for the Arts grants, if they want to be a Writer in Residence somewhere. It's great that they have their own markets that allow this.

    Sure, those markets usually only pay in copies, and you can't take copies to the supermarket. The real pay for a Little or Literary publication is in prestige -- something you can take to the tenure committee. But if you aren't playing the grants-and-tenure game I don't see any point to dealing with those markets.

    They're outside of commercial publication and have little to do with commercial publication. The only similarity is that they both put black marks on white pages.
    James I have to say while I was reading this I was lol. It is very funny and all very true. Many MFAs and professors do like this, but it is true. They promote each other. Also most professors and MFAs know this to be true. Some don't want to admit it, but it is how "little" publishing works. As a card carring member this section of publishing I'm never supposed to admit that sometimes I enjoy playing going into the park riding a ride and even eating a little ice cream from time to time.

    I believe there is a lot more similarity between the two than what you point to however, and this is what I was hoping would come up. I think these worlds impact each other. I have written several literary scifi stories that go nowhere. I think they are very fun and funny but it's the sort of thing no one else laughs at. I have been influenced by books outside of the literary genre of course. Do you read any books that could be considered literary?

  16. #41
    Apex Predator Jaws's Avatar
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    Just a couple of random comments based on things in this thread—more in the way of clarification (in my sorta pedantic lawyerly way):
    • Neither "commercial publisher" nor "traditional publisher" has much legal meaning. "Commercial publisher" is closer, implying (to a lawyer) that the publisher works primarily, or exclusively, in the stream of commerce. This may include nonprofits, such as the Harvard University Press. It definitely excludes vanity presses like PA, Dorrance, etc. "Traditional publisher"? Well, depending upon how "traditional" one wants to get, how about a copyright pirate (Harper Bros. c. 1895)? Or a censor for the Crown (any of the Company of Stationers)?
    • Jenna's helpful list neglected one critically important component of the publishing process that extends from early developmental editing (or just after acquisition if there won't be any developmental editing) to shortly before publication: design, packaging, and production. This is the part most mysterious to authors, because there is little opportunity to see it happen. This includes cover design, book design, layout (which, contrary to what some vanity presses claim, is much more than a matter of a template in Word), printer selection, inspection of the print run, cataloging, and shipping the books to stores and distributors (and the occasional direct sale).
      I used to be a acquisitions editor (who did substantial developmental work, too), and there is a lot more to squeezing a manuscript into a book than one might guess.
    • Some facts and figures on writing income might scare some people, but here goes. For tax year 2002—the most-recent year for which these figures are available—more professional athletes in the four major team sports, including minor leagues, showed income above the poverty line for a family of four than filed Schedule C as freelance writers of book-length works showing income above the poverty line for a family of four. In the current environment, most authors have "day jobs" for their regular income… not to mention health insurance.
    CEP
    blawg: Scrivener's Error (includes links to main site)
    Any legal comments in this message are general commentary only, and not legal advice
    for your specific situation. You should not rely on such comments — or any other published
    comments, by me or anyone else — as anything other than general guidance.
    Unfortunately, no scam agents, vanity publishers, or other similar carrion-eaters were bent,
    folded, spindled, or mutilated in creating this post (not for want of motivation).
    Of course it's "fine print" — it's small and red.

  17. #42
    figuring it all out
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    Quote Originally Posted by egem
    Okay, if this is the place for "How real publishing works" then I would like to post some information about literary writing. It is a much different bird than genre writing, and I think this might help some writers that read this board. I read what Jenna wrote, and it is very good. Much of it does not apply to Literary or "Little" writing as Writer's Market likes to call it. I know I'm going to get a lot more attacks here, but this is the truth as I see it. Again it is for "little or literary" writing (the stuff that wins all the awards like those artsy films eveyone hates) and not Scifi or other more publishable works. I am not downing Scifi or other genre writing in anyway.

    Can you become wealthy from writing literary works?



    The short answer is it is very unlikely. Most literary writers must keep their university jobs to support themselves even after publishing countless books. Novel writers have a better chance of making a living at their writing than poets or short fiction writers. Poets generally find it very difficult to sustain themselves on writing poetry. Most of the time even our most famous poets like Billy Collins or Stephen Dunn still keep their day jobs. Genre writing can bring in more money, but it is still fiercely competitive. If you are looking to make a lot of money in writing go elsewhere. Literary writing especially poetry is about your worst bet. Do it because you love it.


    True, sort of. Billy Collins teaches not because he needs the money (he absolutely does not) bet because he loves teaching.


    Can you become famous?



    It depends on how you define fame. Will the best literary writer in the country get a spot on the Tonight Show? No. Are they famous among literary circles? Absolutely. Among other writers well published authors are famous. They are asked and paid to speak and teach at universities. Other literary writers respect and look to them for inspiration. So fame is very possible in a sense.


    What are we hoping for?



    In the literary circles the point is to place your work in the best possible publications. If you look at the compiled list on our Every Lit Mag page you’ll see that there are thousands of magazines and lit zines out there publishing people’s work. Some of these magazines have powerful influences in the writing world. This means that one publication in a magazine like Tin House, Glimmer Train, Poetry, or even a university publication like the Mid-American Review can bring a writer a book deal. Yes. It is that quick. Many writers will publish hundreds of times in smaller lesser known journals and webzines and never be able to land a book deal, but one publication in a very reputable publication can bring your collection of poetry or short stories to print.

    What most well informed writers try to do is place their writing in the best possible magazines. This gives them credibility when they submit their book manuscript for publication. You might be contacted by an agent or even a small publishing press after ending up in a publication like Mississippi Review, but you might have hundreds of publications in smaller lesser know zines and magazines and still not get noticed. Many writers end up getting NEA grants or being asked to teach as a visiting professor at a university after publishing a well received book manuscript. Prizes and recognition awards work the same way. If one of your poems is chosen for publication in The Best American Poetry or a story is published in Best American Short Stories you can expect a fellowship at a university and a publication. This still doesn’t mean you can live off your writing, but you can make a living in a field that will promote your writing. That seems to be the goal of many literary writers.



    Remember many literary writers are university professors or university graduate students. The motto of the university profession is publish or parish. So many professors have to place their work to get tenure and other perks from the university. They also gain speaking engagements that can pay a decent amount of money. Some famous professors add a great deal to their yearly income by going from university to university and reading their work. Some only gain a modest reward. The more well-known and well published they are the more money they can make from speaking.
    Again, sort of correct, but you're really giving a false impression of how this works. A publication in the Mid-American Review is not going to earn you a publication of your short story collection. Trust me. Perhaps a number of publications in solid journals, plus a Pushcart or two, will earn you the attentions of an agent, but that's about it, especially if you don't have a novel ready to go. Nor does a Best American nod automatically earn you any kind of feloowship; you still have to compete with hundreds of others who have similar credentials.

    What about the long shot?



    There are literary writers who make a living off their writing. I know my above paragraph on this matter sounds grim, but the long shot is always possible. Take a writer like David Foster Wallace. He went to Brown University for his MFA came out and won the National Book Award.
    I don't know where you got this information, but it is entirely false. Foster Wallace received his MFA from Arizona, and he has never won a National Book Award.

    Generally to be a well received literary writer you must have an MFA backing you, but this is not always the case.


    I'm not sure where you're getting this information.


    What about Genre writing?



    This is a different bird. The most famous genre writers many times have little university training in writing. Stephen King, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy weren’t schooled in the traditional sense in creative writing in workshops at universities. They took their special areas of interest and made them into well told and interesting stories. Their fame is based on many different criteria. They are all gifted in the art of story telling. Many of these writers have a background that promotes their knowledge on their subjects. Their imaginations thrill people, and at some point, like all writers, they were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Remember their works are not literary works. Their works are based on a subject area outside of literary writing.
    Plenty of genre works demonstrate literary writing. As somebody else pointed out, literary writing and literary fiction as a genre are two different things.

    Most literary authors do not have agents. They do not make a living on their writing. I can give examples if anyone is interested.
    This is extremely untrue. Most literary writers -- if they have a book, that is -- most certainly do have authors. In fact, of the dozens and dozens I know, there is only one who doesn't have an agent. It is true, though, that many writers of literary fiction teach to supplement their income.

    There are a lot of misconceptions about MFA programs, literary fiction, and the like, and your post isn't really doing much to clear them up.

  18. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by James D. Macdonald
    This going to sound elitist, but what the hey.

    Think of publishing as Coney Island. See all those people running around having fun? Those are the readers.

    The MFAs are all gathered in a circle in the parking lot. Each one is clutching his One Perfect Grain of Sand. They're showing their grains to each other, exclaiming about the color, the lustre, the size, the shape, of each grain.

    They're having fun, they aren't hurting anyone, but from the point of view of the guys playing volleyball, splashing in the surf, or trying to pick up chicks, they're irrelevant.

    Me, I'm a guy with an ice cream stand by the beach.
    You're right, it did sound elitist. Irrelevant to you or no, go to the Barnes and Noble and check out the newest non-genre fiction being published. A larger and larger percentage are written by MFA's. Brief research into the fifty largest advances to first-time novelists published last year might reveal some interesting statistics about the relevance of MFA's in publishing.

    At any rate, you're correct, people writing literary fiction are interested in other things than you are. But this does not make them irrelevant. Jonathan Franzen is not irrelevant. Neither is Michael Cunningham or Don DeLillo or Kazuo Ishiguro or JM Coetzee or Nadine Gordimer or Thoma Pynchon or hundreds of other authors who use their fiction to affect political and social change (and make lots and lots of money to boot).

    ================

    Do MFA-Literary stories win awards? Of course they do. The first thing that happens when three MFAs get together is they start a Little Magazine, the Name-Of-Nearest-River Review. The second thing that happens is they give each other awards. This is usually subsidized by the Creative Writing Department at their college. They produce their little magazine three times a year. The creative writing departments of all the other colleges with creative writing programs subscribe. It's wonderful -- they need places to print their stories if they want to stay in the MFA program, if they want to go on to be Professors of Creative Writing, if they want tenure, if they want those National Endowment for the Arts grants, if they want to be a Writer in Residence somewhere. It's great that they have their own markets that allow this.
    I truly don't understand the vitriol against MFA programs or their writers. There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of them, but to bash the motivations of the writers -- many of whom believe literature is an art that can and should be used in other ways than popcorn entertainment -- is not very fair and does a great disservice to those who are doing the bashing. Certainly there are some writers who go to MFA programs just to get into some kind of teaching career, and certainly the field can be incestuous, but this doesn't mean all programs are like this, or all writers who enter these programs are so vain and shallow.
    Last edited by Greer; 10-16-2005 at 05:30 PM.

  19. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by Greer

    At any rate, you're correct, people writing literary fiction are interested in other things than you are. But this does not make them irrelevant. Jonathan Franzen is not irrelevant. Neither is Michael Cunningham or Don DeLillo or Kazuo Ishiguro or JM Coetzee or Nadine Gordimer or Thoma Pynchon or hundreds of other authors who use their fiction to affect political and social change (and make lots and lots of money to boot).
    Well, if they're making lots of money and getting wide readership, aren't they probably mainstream literature rather than literary (using the earlier definitions)?

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    Those definitions are highly problematic; literary fiction doesn't have anything to do with sales or readership and anybody who tries to define it as such is confused about what it is.

  21. #46
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Greer
    Those definitions are highly problematic; literary fiction doesn't have anything to do with sales or readership and anybody who tries to define it as such is confused about what it is.
    I agree with you; I also have a problem with the "eithor-or" definition of commercial vs literary fiction used here. I'm a reader as well as a writer, and the one thing that bores me to tears is the Perfect Grain of Sand kind of writing Jim alluded to; but neither can I read candy-floss. I love books that are well written, have a wonderful story, lively characters, and live on in me long after the last page is turned. There's no reason on earth why literary fiction should not be satisfying on several levels, so that millions of people read it and are nourished by it. In fact, by my own definition, that's what literary fiction SHOULD be: well-written and wise, and filled with universal truths that ring in a reader's heart. There's a certain kind of fiction I would call academic fiction which in truth is only for the acadmecis.
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    Quote Originally Posted by aruna
    I agree with you; I also have a problem with the "eithor-or" definition of commercial vs literary fiction used here. I'm a reader as well as a writer, and the one thing that bores me to tears is the Perfect Grain of Sand kind of writing Jim alluded to; but neither can I read candy-floss. I love books that are well written, have a wonderful story, lively characters, and live on in me long after the last page is turned. There's no reason on earth why literary fiction should not be satisfying on several levels, so that millions of people read it and are nourished by it. In fact, by my own definition, that's what literary fiction SHOULD be: well-written and wise, and filled with universal truths that ring in a reader's heart. There's a certain kind of fiction I would call academic fiction which in truth is only for the acadmecis.
    yes, i don't understand why everybody thinks literary fiction is grain-of-sand fiction. i like aruna's term "academic fiction," which is more grain-of-sand in my opinion.

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    I like that term, too. There certainly are a number of authors who are writing for the academic community -- but again, to go back to what James was saying, are they irrelevant? Many of the major shifts in story-telling over the past hundred years have been first developed by authors who,if they were writing now, might be labeled as such. I just feel like "irrelevant" is such a dismissive, disrespectful word; I would hope that as writers we wouldn't use it to describe ANYBODY trying to create art, even if our personal predilections are dissimilar to theirs.

  24. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by victoriastrauss

    For the large houses--Random House, Penguin, etc.--I think it's more complicated. The only genre I can think of where it really is feasible to make unagented submissions is romance, which is a huge and hungry market.

    In fact, I'll go farther--in my opinion, with the exception of romance, it's a waste of time to submit a novel directly to one of the large publishers, even if the imprint you want to approach says it will read unagented submissions. Unagented submissions receive rock-bottom priority--in other words, there will always be a writer with an agent in front of you, no matter how wonderful your novel is--and the person reading them probably won't be an editor, but an intern or an assistant. Books do get bought out of the slush pile at large publishers, but it's a fairly rare occurrence, and the vast majority of novels that sell to these publishers (including first novels) sell through agents.

    - Victoria
    Victoria, even in romance, this is changing. More and more of the romance publishers are going to the policy of not accepting any unagented submissions. H/S is one that still takes unagented submissions, and they do have a huge need for books. Although their Mira imprint won't take unagented submissions, either. So a writer really needs to do his/her homework before sending stuff out.

    As Jim points out, this moves the location of the slush pile, and it gives the editors the assurance that the stuff they're receiving has already been weeded out.

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    There's a huge difference between good MFA programs and the kind churning out degree after degree. A few—and I mean less than a dozen—MFA programs churn out the vast majority of "prominent" authors with MFAs; several other programs have one or two alums who "make it" as authors, for some value of "make it"; the vast majority of the MFA programs out there do nothing more than give more practice writing with no guidance from commercially published authors or editors.

    Take a careful look at the ads in Poets & Writers some time, and try to figure out the proportion of those MFA programs from universities and colleges recognizable to someone sitting behind an editorial desk east of the Hudson. That's about the proportion that might help move a manuscript higher in the slush pile—but an MFA won't, by itself, get one out of the slush pile. Not even an MFA from Iowa (which is the MFA counterpart to Harvard Law School, including partly living on its long-past reputation).
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