Memoir vs. Autobiography: Does It Really Matter?

Happy November! For most of America, the transition from October to November heralds the end of trick-or-treating and pumpkins and the anticipation of Thanksgiving and the bigger winter holidays, whatever your family celebrates. For writers, however, November first means only one thing: the start of NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month! Our staff has covered this venerable tradition in the past, and we’ve got advice for you if you’re participating this year for everything on staying motivated  to the importance in staying connected with like-minded individuals to reviewing your work after the big rush . Here are some links to get you started:

This post is for the portion of our friends out there who swim in the autobiographical end of the writer’s pool or for those who are thinking about testing those waters this November. We are seeing more and more of a trend towards autobiographical submissions. This is becoming a very popular category of the nonfiction section, and why not? It’s easy to see why people might want to draw from their own personal histories to create an epic novel; there’s an endless source of inspiration to draw from. Anyone can do it, from celebrities to political figures to a person with a story to tell. But hold on a second: does anyone remember that moment in time back in 2006 when A Million Little Pieces was first hailed as a masterpiece then ultimately crucified as a work of fraud? Written by James Frey, the book was billed as a memoir, but on January 8, 2006, The Smoking Gun published an article exposing large portions of the book as fictionalized or gross exaggerations. Mr. Frey was interviewed by Larry King to defend his book three days later, but the real media storm happened on January 26 when Mr. Frey made an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He was confronted by her and admitted to fabricating many sections of his memoir, which he had previously stated had been fact-checked by his publisher. This ultimately caused an ensuing controversy in which Mr. Frey’s literary manager dropped him and his publisher broke a two-book, seven figure deal. A legal settlement for readers who felt defrauded was also reached, and people were entitled to a refund of their book. That’s a massive consequence for someone who embellished the truth a bit. So where’s the line? Should writers be expected to remember every conversation they’ve ever had when they are recording memories to the page? Is any creative license allowed, or are we in danger of being sued by some disgruntled cousin who doesn’t remember the family reunion going down the way we do? How can we sort through what is fact and what is reasonable fiction? Luckily, there’s an answer to these questions and more.
Everything on this list falls under the umbrella of non-fiction. If I think of writing as dessert, then autobiography is cake. Memoir, narrative nonfiction, personal essays and roman à clef are all just slices of the same cake. Let’s break it down:

Autobiography: An autobiography can be distinguished from the others on the list as the most factual of the bunch. It is told in a linear fashion and should relay all the major life events of the subject in a chronological order. It concerns itself with the entire scope of a person’s life and all of the events, people, places and subjects that relate to a person’s existence as they move forward through their life, not just a few key years, events, feelings or observations of the narrator.

Memoir: This form gives someone more creative license. It can cover a few short years or a major event. Examples might include how someone survived their time in a concentration camp or how they overcame an addiction. It doesn’t have to be harrowing, but it may just focus on one developmental stage and is more likely to reflect strong feelings. It is generally less factual and more emotional. It is far less encompassing in scope than an autobiography. It is generally less formal and may have a more literary feel.

Narrative non-fiction: Narrative or creative non-fiction is a somewhat new and emerging genre. It draws on real-life scenarios, usually something journalistic, but incorporates elements of fiction to become a readable novel. According to literary critic Barbara Lounsberry, there are four recognizable elements to narrative nonfiction: the topics and events must exist in the real world (not in the mind of the author), there must be exhaustive research, all scenes must be in context, and it should all be presented in a literary style. Some examples of narrative nonfiction are The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee and Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Personal essay: This is exactly what it sounds like: an essay that is personal to you. It is generally just a short memoir. A great example of a classic personal essayist is David Sedaris.

Roman à clef: Roman à clef is from the French, meaning “novel with a key.” It began as a way for people to write an expose of famous social and political figures without the risk of reprieve. It is truth with an overlay of fiction. Names or identifying situations can be changed to avoid persecution, but the general public could still understand and enjoy the jab. This could be done for protection of the author or for satirical purposes. The Marquis de Sade often employed the roman à clef to skewer prominent religious and political figures of his day. Today, the roman à clef is still in use for various reasons, including satire, but it can also be used when you’d like to write a memoir but perhaps you would like a bit more creative license than your own story affords you. This is where certain authors—cough, Mr. Frey, cough—could simply have stated his work was inspired by real events. That little disclaimer would have saved him seven figures plus and a whole lot of embarrassment.

These are all just guidelines. Most of them bleed into each other. The important thing to remember is if you have a story to tell that you don’t fret which category you bill it as, but that you get it all down on paper, especially this November! A good editor can help you decide how your memories and your story fit together and what you’d like to call it. Happy writing!

November Events

While I’m sure everyone is excited for Halloween next week, it’s never too early to start planning for all the cool writing events you’ll be attending this November! As it is officially NaNoWriMo, there will be a lot of events this month that revolve around it! Hopefully you can find the perfect event to help you reach your goal! As usual, all of these events are free to attend! Happy writing everyone!

2nd – Tom VanHaaren- “The Road to Ann Arbor” – Ann Arbor

Tom VanHaaren will be at the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor to discuss and sign copies of his book; “The Road to Ann Arbor”! While there isn’t a lot of information on this event, it’s sure to be great! More Info through the link!

https://www.triumphbooks.com/tom-vanhaaren—the-road-to-ann-arbor–event-3443.php

3rd –  ‘5th Annual ‘A Gathering of Writers’ Fall Writing Conference’ – Ionia

This conference is jam packed with a variety of workshops and authors, all willing to teach you new skills! There are 5 workshops overall, each offering different tips and tricks about all aspects of writing! Click the link to see descriptions of the workshops, get more information and register!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/5th-annual-a-gathering-of-writers-fall-writing-conference-tickets-50442754637?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

8th – Lecture: Dr. David Dark – Holland

This lecture will certainty be interesting as Dr. David Dark will be discussing the points of post-apocalyptic novels, and how they challenge our morals. He will also be discussing Emily St. John Mandel’s ‘Station Eleven’ novel in a similar fashion! Click here to register and read more!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lecture-dr-david-dark-author-of-lifes-too-short-to-pretend-tickets-50455115609?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

9th – 10th – NaNoWriMo Write or DIE Library Lock-in – Traverse City

Contrary to the title, you will not die! This is an 18+ event held at the Traverse City Library, and participants will spend the night locked in the library to try to meet their NaNoWriMo goals! An interesting event indeed! Don’t forget to register and check out more information through the link!

NaNoWriMo Write or DIE Library Lock-In

10th – Motown Writers Monthly Meetup – Detroit

This group has been meeting since 2000, and is filled with all sorts of writers! A great opportunity to network with other writers and share opinions! Click the link for more information, and to see there other meetups!

Motown Writers Meetup Group

Detroit, MI
2,934 Writers

Hi everyone. This is a group for everyone in the Detroit Area (and Michigan area) who like to write. Whether it’s a novel, short story, poem, autobiography, or any other gener…

Next Meetup

#MotownWriters Monthly @Meetup

Saturday, Nov 10, 2018, 10:00 AM
4 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

15th – NaNoWriMo Write in – Lansing

This is just one of many of the NaNoWriMo Write ins that are available in Lansing, the link contains the full list,  and other NaNoWriMo events that they will be hosting!

https://nanowrimo.org/regions/usa-michigan-lansing

18th – Detroit Public Library Welcomes Author David Baldacci – Detroit

Usually I try not to have any of the events in the same locations, but this event was too good to pass up! Possibly a once in a lifetime experience, David Baldacci will be at the Detroit Public Library to sign copies of his new book, ‘Long Road to Mercy’! Here’s the link to register!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/detroit-public-library-welcomes-author-david-baldacci-tickets-51486421272?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

26th – Barbara Oakley: Learning How to Learn – Port Huron

While this event isn’t directly linked to writing, Barbara Oakley will address how to handle procrastination, learning new material, and bad memory, all of which can cause you to put off writing! Registration and full description of the topics through the link!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/an-evening-with-author-barbara-oakley-learning-how-to-learn-tickets-51106888078?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

30th –  You Wrote a Novel… Now What? – Ann Arbor

This is a NaNoWriMo wrap up event that will have Brigit Young as a guest speaker! A great way to learn about publishing and celebrate your NaNoWriMo accomplishments! Click the link for more information and other NaNoWriMo events!

https://nanowrimo.org/regions/usa-michigan-ann-arbor

 

I hope you all enjoy these events! Don’t forget to let us know if you go to these events, or others not mentioned, by commenting on this article! We can’t wait to hear from you! Happy November everybody!

October Events

October is almost here! September’s wrapping up, and everyone is getting ready for Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Oktoberfest and Halloween, but there’s still time for you to get in on some events that are more centered around writing!  As per usual, here are ten free events in Michigan that are sure to spark some writing creativity within you!

Sept. 15th – Oct. 20th – Give and Let Go Exhibition – Lowell

While this is a repeat from the September events, this unique exhibition will be going on until the 20th  of October! Don’t miss this chance to view an amazing exhibition that features Miriam Pederson’s  poems that accompany Ron Pederson’s welded works of art. More information is available through the link!

https://www.lowellartsmi.org/give-and-let-go

1st – Grand Blanc Authors Meetup – Grand Blanc

This is a group for authors in and around Grand Blanc who are trying to make a living in publishing, they will be meeting at the Grand Blanc – McFarlen Library on the first! For more information, and to RSVP, click that link!

Grand Blanc Authors Meetup

Grand Blanc, MI
127 Members

A group for authors who are wanting to make a full time living in publishing.

Next Meetup

Grand Blanc Authors Meetup

Monday, Oct 1, 2018, 6:00 PM
5 Attending

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4th – Author Signing: Heather Havrilesky – Ann Arbor

Heather Havrilesky is the author of four published novels and a number of articles, she will be at the Literati Bookstore to sign copies of her books and chat. This is a great chance to meet her! The link contains more information!

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/234578/heather-havrilesky/#events

6th – Author Event: A Trail of Michigan Authors – Muskegon

This event will feature over 45 authors from all around Michigan! A very unique event put on by Barnes and Nobles, I doubt you’ll have another chance to meet this many authors in one day again! More information is available through the link!

https://allevents.in/michigan/author-event-a-trail-of-michigan-authors/20001123029231

13th – Indie Author Day Celebration – Lansing

To celebrate National Indie Authors day, Capital Area District Libraries will be holding a panel with authors and the people who make publishing a book a reality at their Downtown Lansing Branch. What an awesome way to celebrate this amazing holiday! Check out the link for more information!

http://www.cadl.org/news/2018/08/29/indie-author-day-2/

16th – Meet Author Sarah Miller discussing ‘Caroline’ – Dansville

Sarah Miller is a Dansville native, and will be at the Capital Area District libraries Dansville Branch to discuss one of her books, ‘Caroline’. The link for this one is a bit finicky, so here is a direct quote from their website, along with a link to the Cadl website;

Meet Author Sarah Miller (Adults)

Tuesday October 16, 2018 6:30pm – 7:30pm

Our group meets every month for a lively book discussion. This month we welcome the author of our selection–Sarah Miller. Her historical fiction novel Caroline explores the joys and hardships of the American frontier as seen through the eyes of Caroline “Ma” Ingalls, mother of Little House author Laura Ingalls Wilder.

http://www.cadl.org/

23rd – Grand Rapids Sci-fi Fantasy Book Club – Grand Rapids

This book club loves everything Sci-fi, and welcomes everyone! This month’s  book is ‘The Grace of Kings’ by Ken Liu, and is the first book in ‘The Dandelion Dynasty’ Series. See their Meetup page for more info!

Grand Rapids Sci-Fi Fantasy Book Club

Grand Rapids, MI
32 Geeks

Do you like to read science fiction and/or fantasy? We are a fun-loving book group that doesn’t get caught up with too many rules or labels. We read everything from Neil Gaima…

Check out this Meetup Group →

24th – Jeffrey Eugenides Author Talk and Book Signing – Detroit

Pages Bookshop and Wayne State University present Jeffrey Eugenides, who will be speaking about his multiple novels and to sign books! To register for this event, and to get more information, check out their Eventbrite page!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/jeffrey-eugenides-author-talk-book-signing-tickets-49955246487?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

27th – Southwest Michigan Writers Conference – Niles

If you’ve been thinking of self-publishing, then this event is perfect for you! This event will feature many authors and professionals that will share their stories, tips and tricks about self-publishing! For more information, and to register, visit the website below!

Southwest Michigan Writers’ Conference

28th – 1st Annual Grand Traverse Festival of Books – Traverse City

Inspired by the Detroit Festival of Books, this is a brand new event that will be happening for the first time ever! Don’t miss your chance to attend this special occasion! Visit their Meetup page for more information and a link to their website!

1st Annual Grand Traverse Festival of Books

Sunday, Oct 28, 2018, 10:00 AM

Grand Traverse Mall
3200 S Airport Rd West Traverse City, mi

3 Members Attending

*This is NOT a BCD event* 1st Annual Grand Traverse Festival of Books! Sunday, October 28,[masked]am-6pm Grand Traverse Mall 3200 South Airport Road West Traverse City, MI Inspired by the DETROIT FESTIVAL OF BOOKS (aka: Detroit Bookfest), the Grand Traverse area now has a Grand Traverse Festival of Books! Celebrating all things Bookish – this even…

Check out this Meetup →

 

If you attend any of these events, make sure you tell us about them by commenting on this article! we’d love to hear all about it!

Have a great October everyone!

 

September Events

Today is the last day of August, and while I’m sure that most of us are sad to bid summer goodbye, the beginning of fall doesn’t mean that the fun has to end! As per usual, here are this months’ picks of 10 free writing events in Michigan! To those fretting that this months’ list will be filled with premature Oktoberfest’s and Halloween events, I assure you that there are none featured this month! And as always, if there are any events this month, or next month, that you’ve either gone to or planning on attending, we’d love if you could comment and tell us all about them!

 1st – Mitchell State Park – They Call it the Mighty Mac – Cadillac

A good research trip for any writer, this event will feature information about the construction of the Mackinaw Bridge, what it means to Michigan, and a multitude of stories associated with the bridge.  The link below will direct you to more information and the location of this awesome event!

https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,,7-350–464822–evt,00.html

8th – Author/Artist David Small Presents: ‘Home After Dark’ – Kalamazoo

David Small will be at “this is a bookstore & Bookbug – An Independant Bookstore for all Ages” for this pre-release event. He will be signing copies of his new book, ‘Home After Dark’. There will be copies available for purchase, but the overall event is free to attend!  Visit this events Eventbrite page for more info!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/authorartist-david-small-presents-home-after-dark-tickets-48165750055

9th – Kerrytown Bookfest – Ann Arbor

The 16th annual Kerrytown Bookfest in Ann Arbor, this event is a celebration of all things books, and will have multiple authors available to answer any and all questions you might have! Visit their Facebook page for more information;

https://www.facebook.com/kerrytownbookfest/

11th – Fiction for Foodies – Niles

The Niles District Library holds Fiction for Foodies every second Tuesday of the month, and what could be better than food and books? This book club features a potluck at every months’ meeting! Click the link to for more information on this book club, and to check out the other book clubs this library features!

Book Clubs

12th – Author Talk: Annie Spence – Grand Blanc

Annie Spence, author of ‘Fahrenheit 451: Love and heartbreak in the Stacks’, will be at the Grand Blanc-McFarlen Library to talk about writing her book, stories that she treasures and a variety of other subjects! There will also be the opportunity to get your copy of her book signed! More information through the link!

https://www.thegdl.org/grand-blanc-mcfarlen-library-events/event/6751-author-talk-annie-spence-grand-blanc-mcfarlen

15th – Oct. 20th – Give and Let go Exhibition – Lowell

Ron and Miriam Pederson present their exhibition, ‘Give and Let go’,  a combination of art and poetry. Miriam writes poetry to go with Ron’s welded and painted sculptors! An interesting way to gather ideas about writing your own poetry! This exhibition will be available for viewing starting September 15th, and the last day to view the gallery will be October 20th. Visit the link for more information!

https://www.lowellartsmi.org/give-and-let-go

18th – Lansing Young Adult (At Heart) Book Club – Lansing

A brand new book club for those who enjoy reading Young Adult books, this club is having it’s first meeting to decide what books to read while enjoying some good food! Meet great people who enjoy reading the same genre as you! More information on their meetup page;

Lansing Young Adult (at heart) Book Club

Lansing, MI
28 Readers

If you’ve ever found yourself browsing the “Teen” section of your local bookstore, love food and discussion, then this is the group for you! We will have meetings each month d…

Next Meetup

Punk Taco & Brainstorming!

Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018, 6:30 PM
7 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

 

22nd – Mary Schmidt: Author Meet & Greet – Holland

Mary Schmidt will be available to talk and sign copies of her book; ‘Uncharted Waters: Romance, Adventure, and Advocacy on the Great Lakes’.  There will be lots of discussion about the Great Lakes, and other topics featured in the book! View the link for more information!

https://stores.barnesandnoble.com/event/9780061958736-0

24th – Self-Publishing 101 with Lisa Howard – Southfield

If you’ve been thinking about publishing your writing, this event is perfect for you! Not only does Lisa Howard have experience with self-publishing, but traditional publishing as well! Here’s the link for more information!

Self-Publishing 101, with Lisa Howard

 

 

 

 

 

 

28th – 30th – Festival of the Book – Harbor Springs

I highly recommend going straight to the website for information on this event! There is a huge selection of festivities available from all genres, along with a variety of authors that will be attending!

https://www.hsfotb.org/

As always, if you attend any of these events, please comment and tell us about them! Have a great September everyone!

 

 

 

 

The Big Book Proposal Post (part 2) by Catherine Foster

Welcome to the second edition of the Book Proposal post. In the previous post, we defined a book proposal and clarified the differences between a proposal and a summary of your book. In this post, we’ll begin to detail some of the sections you may want to include in a thorough proposal. Let’s get started!

Information

            This belongs at the top of the document and contains your identifying information, such as name, address, phone number and e-mail address.

Proposed Title

            This is self-explanatory. You need to provide a title here, and this is the title you will use throughout the rest of the document when you refer to your manuscript. Don’t worry, however, if you haven’t quite settled on a name for your story yet. This is not a legal document and it doesn’t bind you to a commitment to name your book. It is exactly what it says it is: a proposed title. You can change it later at any time. The purpose here is to show your investor that you have a vision and an understanding of your finished product.

Author

            You only need to put your name (or pseudonym) in here.

Once Sentence Description

            While this might seem self-explanatory, it can be tricky. It is often difficult for authors to boil down their novels to a single thesis, and sometimes the sentence that they might choose is not the idea that is most advantageous to them in terms of marketing. Think carefully when you construct this sentence: it is, in essence your “elevator speech” for your book: it is your one chance to distill the idea for what you’ve written into one, single clear and cohesive sentence. You are trying to aim for clarity and totality. It is a bit of a tall order, so you need to take some care to craft this part. Try to stay general and less focused on details or plot here. It can be done, but it will take some careful thought.

Category

            This is simply the category under which you might label your book, such as: science fiction, psychology, romance, etc.

Audience

            In this section, it is necessary to identify an audience for your book. This is where it is pivotal to  focus on who you are specifically targeting and avoid general statements about readership. This section is where you will begin to implement evidence of need to your investor. It is of dire consequence that you are able to demonstrate who this book is for and why they need this book. In this section, a savvy author would begin to provide a clear portrait of exactly who will be purchasing this book. Do not think that terming groups as “book buyers” and “readers” will suffice as an identifier. Including statistics that are meaningless or irrelevant would also be a mistake—make sure to include hard facts in this section, but make them consistent to your book or topic:

People who read [your genre] account for 30% of book sales last year.

Recent polls of [your genre] indicate that people want more books in this genre.

[Your genre] has the fastest-growing number of readers in the young-adult demographic.

Readers Say

            This is a nice place to include reviews and blurbs from friends, family or beta readers, if you have any. If you are an author with a larger following, you may also include anything of note that includes statements about you and your website or blog or possibly other books and articles. This is your time to promote yourself and your writing through the words of your fans! A few statements are sufficient—between thee to five individual testimonies are enough. Make sure each statement is a few sentences long at most.

Purpose and Need

            This is another important section. It can be a paragraph or two, and it should illustrate exactly what it asks in the header: the purpose and need it brings. What are the bigger questions it addresses or answers? Why do people want to read this? What it is style in which it is written: conversational, humorous, serious, academic? This is the time to discuss the current climate, how your book fits into that, why it is timely and what it has to offer. While this section need not be overly lengthy, it should offer some thoughtful insight on why it is necessary and highlight that evidence of need that will make it ever-more-difficult for your agent to turn down your proposal.

Unique Angles

            While similar in some ways to “purpose and need”, this section can be skipped for some shorter novels or some genres that do not lend themselves to exhaustive categorization. If you have a firm grasp on the concept and you feel you have something to add, however, or if the subject is applicable to it, this is a chance to shine. A nice choice for this section might be the bullet-point format.  You may choose several points to highlight in a list. This will break up the tedium and allow the agent to see some items of interest that stand out about your writing. A list of between five and eight items is acceptable here, and you can include anything that you deem noteworthy about your book or writing style.

Current Interest

            As with the previous sections, this may seem like more of the same. This difference between this section and the “purpose and need” one is that you are defining the current climate and why the time is not just right but perfect for your particular book to be released. There may be many books out there on your topic, but sometimes current events, political or religious developments can change the landscape for authors. This can and should be used to your advantage. Every time you submit your proposal you should update this section. It may not need to be rewritten at all, but you should have this section in mind and keep it fresh.

            We’re about halfway through! In my next post we’ll wrap up how to write a successful book proposal with the final eleven headers. Thank you for sticking with me, and as always, if you have any questions about this topic or any other writing questions, please address them to me at catherine@theletterworks.com. Thank you, and happy writing!

 

Advice From My Publisher: Being a Better Writer by Amanda Wayne

Being a writer is easy. You just sit down and write. Being a good writer is much harder. For a time, I worked at The Indiana Review, and I was always eavesdropping on the editors, trying to find that one little nugget of truth that made a “yes” piece. Was it something about the language? The characters? The plot? What was missing from my work that would take it from mediocre to good? So, I asked one of the editors, Tessa Yang, what she sought. She replied, “Freshness and risk will capture my attention. I’m looking for something that dares in the first few pages. It needs to have difficult and new language, character, or concept. At the same time, what keeps me reading to the end—and what ultimately convinces me to vote for a piece—is earnestness and vulnerability. I’ve become less and less interested in emotional withholding. If you’re brave enough to reach for honesty and feeling, no matter concerns about sentimentality or mawkishness, I’ll want to take the plunge with you.”

Freshness? Risk? I tried to square this idea with “write what you know.” It’s that adage that every author knows. What I knew was everyone else’s work. I had decades of reading other people’s words. Everything I wrote read like my favorite authors. When I finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I wrote a short story about a man trying to find his son in a post-apocalyptic world. It wasn’t half bad, but there was nothing new in it. During my Stephen King phase, I wrote macabre pieces about the baser side of mankind. They were mediocre at best. My poems had bits of Frost and Dickinson, slapped together with a touch of Whitman and a dash of Poe. It was only later that I found a place where my work was my own. Somewhere along the way, I found a voice that was only mine. Sure, it echoes with reverberations of the millions of words I have read. It stands on the shoulders of the authors whose work I relished. That doesn’t make it less mine.  Writing what you know doesn’t have to be boring. It just starts emotionally, physically, or aesthetically in a place you are familiar.

The other half of the advice concerned emotional vulnerability. That process of letting your characters show your own emotion. This is even harder. Modern society doesn’t have much place for emotional vulnerability. We love it in our romantic comedies. We love that moment when the plucky but underappreciated woman convinces the emotionally absent male lead to open his heart to a chance at love. We like to see a hint of it in politicians because it makes them seem like real people. We wait for that moment when they swear, or slip up, or stumble. In everyday life, though, no one wants to see the innermost emotions of your local barista, the man walking his dog, or the neighbor you barely know. However, it is important to your character because without seeing their emotional vulnerability, the reader cannot grasp why they behave the way they do. A story needs this in order to engage the reader. Each piece of emotion lays bare a piece of the author’s soul. Not every character is like me or does what I would do, but each character is a part of me. To send those little pieces out into the world, to allow someone else to see them, is to put those vulnerable Horcruxes of my soul in danger of discovery and critique.  It was my own vulnerability that is needed, my own willingness to be open and available.

In short, what I learned was that the easiest way to get an answer is to ask the question. And being a better writer is hard. It takes writing more, reading more, and editing more. It requires that I be willing to part with pieces of my soul and be vulnerable. It is this last piece that I have struggled to overcome. I have the language, the vocabulary, even the imagination. Letting a stranger, let alone a multitude of them, into the private recesses of your being is what a writer does. Anything short of that isn’t worth my time or my reader’s time. Good writing begins with emotion and is propelled by prose and plot. Whether we like or dislike a character is immaterial; we must believe in their humanity in order to care what happens to them. A writer puts a piece of her own humanity into her characters, breathing life in where before there only existed form. Becoming a better writer is a lifelong journey, not a destination. At no point does the learning and editing stop. I can try every day to improve my craft and so, too, can you. It requires taking risks and creating emotional vulnerability. Both of those are tasks which even seasoned and published authors struggle to accomplish. By writing every day and actively seeking to better ourselves as artists, we become better each day.

THE AXE: How Do I Make the Cut With Literary Journal Submissions? by Josh Smith

One of the best ways for writers to establish themselves in the literary world is to have their work appear in journals, but where to begin? Catherine’s post on cover letters is packed with insight, so you’ll definitely want to give that a read! I’ll be expanding on a few of the other points she made and discussing additional elements that journal editors focus on when it comes down to making the big decision to accept or reject.

While there are thousands upon thousands of literary magazines out there, I am specifically addressing how we swing the axe at the journal I edit for, Loud Zoo. I know, I know, it’s not the New Yorker, and of course a feature in our little magazine isn’t a springboard onto the Best Sellers list, but it’s the venue I can speak for with regards to its inner workings, and much of this information can be recontextualized and applied to other publications.

Edit! Edit! Edit!!! While this seems obvious, we see a lot of work that is simply not ready for a public forum. Even experimental works that subvert the rules and are meant to read looser and more conversationally need to be edited as much as any other story or they will feel half-cooked, and the experiment will surely fail. In addition to working out the grammatical, punctuational, and other technical problems, editing also helps you fully develop the characters involved and the story you are trying to tell. Do you have someone whom you can trust to give honest feedback on your works in progress? Those people are invaluable. We used to go all in and give complete content edits to submissions we felt were lacking but were worth the effort, but these days we don’t have the time.

Read the guidelines. No, really. So many pieces we reject simply don’t fit the requirements of the submission call or the scope of the magazine. As Catherine noted in her post, we know most people don’t have the time to read every issue of every magazine, but we try to make our intentions with this journal as clear as possible on the website. Loud Zoo strives for social change, and while every piece we accept isn’t necessarily a cobblestone on the road to revolution, we don’t have much interest in purely escapist works. Nothing against escapism, but there are plenty of other outlets for it.

Don’t be a bigot. While I didn’t intend to discuss morality when I sat down to write this, bias tends to show up on the page whether we realize it or not, and a piece with potential can make us want to catapult our computers into the abyss at the turn of a phrase. This is not about censoring people with opposing views (what kind of ideology is ignorance, anyway?), it’s recognizing that as a writer, your words have meaning, and in this day and age that comes with the responsibility to have a basic understanding of and respect for your fellow humans. We are open to sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic, Islamophobic, bigoted, etc… characters and situations, with the caveat that you utilize them as opportunities to enlighten, rather than simply glorify or stereotype. There are always writers who think that shock is their key to the kingdom, but it is a transparent device unless it brings to light information that profoundly affects both your characters and your readers.

Dear male writers, women are people! Women are not just scenery or props for your male characters to do things for/at/with/to. It’s asinine that there is even cause to mention this and the previous point in 2017, but here we are. We reject so much work with hollow female characters that are described in immaculate physical detail, but have absolutely no depth or agency. Can you write fictional women who are not realistic? Of course! But unless you are working a complex or satirical angle that allows readers to gain something from the situation, you’re simply perpetuating inaccurate and harmful representations that our magazine will not partake in.

Satire isn’t for everyone. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult to write, and even more difficult to write properly. We love well-done satirical works, but we don’t see many of them at all. If you are heading down this road, make sure you have a clear intention from the start, and that the final effect of the piece reflects that goal.

We see your clichés, and we’re not interested. So many stories rely on overused themes, arcs, and tropes, and while it is possible, it’s not likely to work something fantastic out of those molds. Nine times out of ten, the work comes off as contrived. If you’re only writing a certain genre or subject because you think it’s more likely to sell, truth is, it’s more likely to suck. That said, tropes are fun to subvert, and you can get fantastic results by taking something familiar and jettisoning it off into the unexpected. Whatever path you choose, be true to yourself and have faith in your readers. Seriously, readers are THE BEST. Take them by the hand, and they’ll follow you through the wilds!

Send notifications if your work is accepted elsewhere. Like most journals, we don’t publish reprints (again, read the guidelines!), and Googling every piece that comes through wastes time we could be giving to other submissions. We have sent an astronomical number of rejections based simply on the fact that the writer did not send a notification that their piece was accepted elsewhere. Confused about what constitutes a previous publication? It varies from journal to journal, but any time a work is made available to the public, that is a publication. See, it’s right there in the word! That means blogs, message boards, and even Facebook posts count as publications by our standards. If you shared something on a blog or on social media and want to try getting it published elsewhere, I highly recommend deleting it before you submit. We recently rejected a piece because it had already been published in four—YES, FOUR—other magazines! Next time you wonder why it takes so long for an editor to respond to your submission, remember these folks. Also, sometimes when you send us one of these wonderful acceptance notes, in addition to our eternal gratitude, we’ll be so bummed that we missed out on your piece that we’ll ask you for another!
Additionally, don’t revise a previously published work, change the title, and try to pass it off as new. This makes us think you should have spent more time editing in the first place, and it isn’t a loophole to bypass the previous publication guideline. There are several journals that actively publish reprints, so all is not lost if you have a story out there that didn’t get a fair shake.

I’ve given plenty of examples of how NOT to get published, but by now you’re probably wondering if there are more proactive ways to improve your odds. Honestly, this is the hardest part about trying to explain our magazine: what we are looking for and what we hope to achieve. We didn’t start this thing so we could run with the pack, so if there’s a piece you don’t think would fly in a more traditional litmag, it might fit with us. We are not interested in sequestering genre fiction from literary fiction. For us, it doesn’t matter if your work has space ships, dragons, and ghosts, as long as the result is a moving tale that gives us insight on something we didn’t realize we were missing out on. This is not the case with many other journals, so always be aware of each market’s specific restrictions. We’re primarily reaching for that spark that makes readers really connect with your words. Start with a concept that stirs you, keeps you up at night, and write it from the heart. If there are social or political connotations, explore them. Give us a tangible emotional impact, package it with deep truths, new ideas, and uncommon perspectives, edit it, then edit it again, and then maybe a couple more times, and you’re likely to wind up with something many editors can enjoy.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure there are outlets who are seeking the exact things we want nothing to do with, so again—choose your submission destinations wisely. Like so much in life, advice like this is not absolute. Find what works for you and build from there, but never stop improving your craft, never stop growing (both as a writer and as a person), and always persist!