Category Archives: Publishing

Self-Publishing: The (Potential) Rise of a New Literary Middle-Class

Hey, it’s been way too long since I’ve published an actual post here on The Literary Game. I can’t make any promises that I’ll post with any regularity, but let’s give this another shot. Before anything, I want to let you all know that I want to make some changes to this blog. I am not the god of writing. I have my perspective on things, and yes, I’ve been published online a bit and have a degree in Creative Writing, but the authoritative tone of the previous posts is going to be no longer. Instead, I want you to join me on a journey through the literary game. Together.

If you caught the farewell post a while ago, you might remember that I’m working on a new project, Beautiful / Losers Magazine, which you can check out by clicking here. Dario Cannizzaro, co-founder of the magazine and a good friend of mine got me to do a total 180 on what was once gospel truth to me – self-publishing. For my longtime readers, you’re probably aware of how much disdain I had for self-publishing. While it is true that there is a lot of weak, sloppy work out there in the world of self-publishing, there is some incredible stuff as well. Whether it’s easy to find, that depends on your Web savvy.

So, how did I change my perspective? Well, it all started when Dario mentioned to me and Austin Wiggins, the third member of our triumvirate of co-founders, that he had completed a novel titled Dead Men Naked. Dario asked if we would be so kind as to read his manuscript, and offer our thoughts. In short, it was damn good! Now prior to reading Dario’s book, I had been on a mission to get a poetry chapbook published. I know that the Big 5 publishers wouldn’t be interested, for obvious reasons; however, I reached out to a few friends in the “underground poetry” movement who are further along in their careers than I am. I had some leads, and some people who genuinely wanted to help, but it came to nothing.

Now there are many small presses that publish a wide-range of material, but generally, much of it is outside of my stylistic parameters. My poetry and fiction is edgy, with a raw spirit that I guess rubbed off on me from spending the better part of the last twenty years hanging out with crazy punk rockers and other assorted misfits. My work isn’t for the book club or professors at Yale, and many of the small presses cater towards a more elite set than my work, which purposefully tries to be accessible and portray life on the margins. That said, I kind of hit a wall, just like many other writers trying to get a book out.

After speaking to Dario, and hearing that a talented writer like him was going the self-publishing route, and later learning that Austin was planning to do the same, I realized maybe I should reconsider my skepticism of that path. The Big 5 are looking for people with platforms, books that can make a huge amount of money. The small presses, by virtue of their limited resources and reach, can’t provide a significant income and can be quite difficult and time-consuming to get published with, due to sheer volume of submissions, stylistic parameters, entry fees, and limited windows for submissions. For a writer who loves writing and wants to make it their career, self-publishing, with a little bit of luck, talent, and extreme skill in marketing, can lead you to the literary middle class.

There are many talented writers who are broke and struggling to find publishers for their material. Why not take my example, and give self-publishing a second look? Make a name for yourself online organically, and scale from there. You can write and make money at it, maybe not at Stephen King or J.K. Rowling levels, but enough to pay the rent while doing what you love, so give it a try!

Six Reasons Why Duotrope Is A Game Changer For Publishing Short Fiction And Poetry

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As you may know, I offer publishing consultancy services for writers looking to publish their writing.

Here’s a dirty little secret, you can do the job 100% by yourself. Tonight, I am going to expound on why if you write short fiction and/or poetry, you need to subscribe to Duotrope.com. For only $5/month ($50/year), you gain access to a searchable index of over 5,000 literary journals. Without a doubt, Duotrope is the key to finding esteemed literary magazines to publish your short fiction and poetry.

Here are six reasons why any short story writer or poet needs to get on Duotrope:

  1. You can search to find journals that match your writing – Regardless of what genre you write in, you can find journals that will publish your type of writing by searching based on genre, subgenre, style, topic, and audience.
  2. You can search based on acceptance ratio – If you need a confidence boost, you can search by acceptance ratio and find journals with higher acceptance rates.
  3. You can search by average response time – Many literary magazines take at least a month to respond and waiting as long as six months for a decision is not uncommon. If you are looking to quickly rack up publications, you can search based on fastest response time.
  4. You can understand what editors are looking for – For many literary journals featured on Duotrope, there are interviews with editors, allowing you to better understand the rationale behind their selection process and what pet peeves they have about many of the individuals who submit to their publications.
  5. You can get paid – Granted, few literary magazines pay for short stories or poems and those that do rarely offer more than $50, but if money is a factor, you can use Duotrope to find literary journals that offer financial compensation to their contributors.
  6. You can keep track of your submissions – Duotrope is extremely convenient for writers who plan to send out their poetry and short fiction to many publications. Using Duotrope, you can track your submissions. This can come in handy when you need to remember if a poem or short story has been submitted to a publisher already, and if so, if it can be simultaneously submitted.

I guarantee that if you utilize Duotrope, it will be a lot easier to find journals to publish your short fiction or poetry.

Of course, even using Duotrope, finding places to publish does require some time and effort. You can click here for more information about my publishing consultancy services if you would prefer to kick your feet up and relax.

How To Make Money From Self-Publishing Your Own Writing

Many new authors choose to self-publish their writing. Oftentimes, this comes about for two reasons:

  1. A lack of confidence in their own writing’s ability to be published.
  2. A lack of knowledge of how to get their writing published.

However, some writers prefer to self-publish in order to get rid of the middleman. I understand that sentiment; however, I caution against publishing with a vanity press or through Amazon or Smashwords unless a writer is willing to put the money, time, and extreme effort into making the endeavor worth their while, or alternatively, if they have ties to individuals of influence/a large platform.

The reality is that for most writers who self-publish, no one will read your writing, and you will make virtually no money from your self-published book. Without the reputation and marketing that comes with a publishing house, amidst a sea of self-published material, your work will languish in complete obscurity. It sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.

For this reason, I urge many writers to have their writing edited to a publishable standard and then partner with a skilled published consultant. Without those two things, many talented writers will simply never get their start, unless they are willing to devote countless hours doing the job themselves, which often will still produce futile results.

Even with all the challenges for most individuals, I absolutely advocate self-publishing in two, and only two, specific circumstances:

  1. You have a large platform. You may never have published even a single poem or short story in your life, but if you have achieved a great deal in some other sphere of influence, and people recognize your name, should you choose to self-publish your writing, with a little bit of marketing, you can still have self-publishing reap results, often more than should you choose to publish via the traditional route.
  2. You have “true believers” who have large platforms. Do you have family, friends, coworkers, business partners, spouses, or others in your life who think your writing is stellar? Do they have large networks? Are they willing to spread the word and help you out? If so, you should consider self-publishing.

While writing anything to completion in and of itself is an accomplishment, for many writers that isn’t enough. All writers want their work to be read. Additionally, writing a novel or other long work is a serious time consideration. Time is money, and most anyone would love a return on the investment of their time. While, of course, writing isn’t and shouldn’t be about the money, I firmly believe that artists ought to be paid for their efforts. There’s nothing ugly about that all, and I imagine none but the most misguided or masochistic would disagree.

In short, while self-publishing is normally a terrible idea, if people know who you are or if you have even one powerful contact in your corner, then consider giving it a shot. If not, and you would like to take a more traditional route, I am available to move your writing career forward as a publishing consultant.

In success,
Alfonso

 

 

Five Major Turn-Offs That Publishers Hate

I like to break down the writing process into three simple parts:

Step 1 – Writing

Step 2 – Editing

Step 3 – Publishing

The first two steps are rather straightforward; however, the third step is often cause for consternation amongst many writers. While getting your writing published can be a difficult challenge if you do not put the work in (or hire a publishing consultant), you can dramatically improve your chances of publication by simply avoiding these five common mistakes:

#1 – Make sure that your manuscript is edited. I fully understand the impulse to take the initiative and just go for publication after completing a manuscript. For me, this hasty approach has never led to actually getting published. Even though I help other writers as an editor, I fully acknowledge that I, like every writer, can be quite myopic about my own material. It’s my baby, and it’s perfect – except it’s not. My friend Rairigh Drum edits my fiction, and my girlfriend Lauren Rubin and writing partner Zubair Simonson edit my screenplays. I trust them fully to take the quality writing that I produce, and shape it into something excellent. I could not do it without them, and most likely, neither can you. Having a qualified editor that you can trust pore over your manuscript is critical to catching both the simple errors in spelling, grammar, and syntax that can make a publisher reject your manuscript, and also to catching the larger errors, like plot holes, weak description, or vague characterization that can also doom your writing.

#2 – Not conducting yourself as a professional. I’ve mentioned my story before about how I sent an expletive-laced letter to Brian Fugett, publisher of Zygote in My Coffee, and still had my poem accepted by his publication. I highly recommend that you do not do the same! For 99.9% of publications, you would want to approach your query letter the same way you would write a cover letter for a position in the workforce. When you interact with publishers or others in the field, engage with them in the same way you would conduct yourself during an interview. Put simply: cut out the horseshit in your communications.

#3 – Delusions of grandeur. You very well might be the best unpublished writer around; however, let the critics say it. Tooting your own horn will turn off publishers, and make you look like a giant ass in the process.

#4 – Sending good material to a publication outside of your niche. Most every publisher, aside from the Big 5, cater to a specific niche. If your writing is excellent, but it does not fit the form, style, or genre of the publishing house, it will be rejected. Just because a piece of writing may be good, it doesn’t mean that every publisher would be interested in it.

#5 – Not following directions. Most all reputable publishing houses list clear rules on the submission process. If you disregard them, even if you do everything else right, it will likely lead to a rejection.

By avoiding these five common traps, your success rate in terms of getting published will improve. If you need any further help in publishing consultancy, I am available to help you.

In success,
Alfonso

 

 

 

 

 

When A Publisher’s ‘No’ Should Be Understood As ‘Not Now’

When you submit a manuscript to a publisher, there are four common outcomes:

  1. Acceptance
  2. No response – Unfortunately, some publishers who decide to pass on manuscripts will never inform you that they have done so. A good rule of thumb that I use is that if I have not heard from a publication one month after the latest period of time in which they normally respond, I assume they have rejected the piece and disregard any simultaneous submissions restrictions.
  3. Form rejection – A polite way of informing you that your submission was not close to meeting the journal’s standards conveyed through a form cover letter. This is sent to most writers whose works are rejected by a publisher.
  4. Personal rejection – This is a personalized rejection from a publisher, often telling you what was good about your writing, but listing the reason/s why it was not chosen for publication.

If you receive a personal rejection, it is, counterintuitive as it may seem, a good sign. Publishers receive countless manuscripts, and the amount of time it would require to personally respond to all applicants would preclude the business of the publication from ever getting done. When a publisher takes time out of their busy schedule to send a personal rejection, it means that they view your writing as solid enough to comment on. They like your writing, but feel that something about it misses the mark.

Jack T. Marlowe was the publisher of Gutter Eloquence Magazine. Aside from my friend Russell’s journal O Sweet Flowery Roses, Gutter Eloquence was the first journal where I submitted my poetry. Mr. Marlowe commented that he liked the grit of my writing, but that it needed a bit of polishing. I started my literary career with 24 rejections in a row, yet his was the only one that was a personal rejection. Not coincidentally, his was the only journal that was an appropriate fit for my writing.

After I landed my first poetry publication in Michelle McDannold’s Citizens for Decent Literature, I decided to submit to Gutter Eloquence Magazine again. This time, having spent the extra effort in shaping my poetry up and choosing the most appropriate fit for the magazine, I had my poem accepted.

The takeaway is this, when you submit your writing to a publisher and receive a personal rejection, you should know the following:

  1. Your writing is perceived to be of excellent quality by the publisher.
  2. There is a specific issue with your writing that led the publisher to passing on it, but that the work as a whole is strong.
  3. You should consider submitting a different manuscript to this publication at a later date.
  4. You should not submit the same manuscript with revised changes there, unless the publisher specifically asks you to do so. 
  5. You should find other journals or publishers that are stylistic fits for this manuscript, and after considering the revisions the publisher suggested, submit your writing again to a new publication.
  6. You should never argue the rejection with the publisher.

So, in short, while any rejection for a writer hurts, a personal rejection is actually a good thing. It means you are quite close to the mark, and with a few tweaks, you can easily publish your writing in that publication, or in a variety of others.

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno

p.s. If you want to make the arduous task of publishing your writing easier, consider hiring me as your publishing consultant and/or editor.

Breaking One of the Sacred Cows of Publishing Etiquette

One of the most important messages that I attempt to convey through the material on The Literary Game is that if you want to be a successful writer, one whose work is published in well-respected literary journals or independent publishers, it is critical to conduct yourself like a professional. It is essential to address publishers respectfully, and on the terms laid out by their submissions guidelines. This is an excellent rule to follow, but like all rules, there are times when this one must be broken. 

Although I hate the idea of labeling any writer’s work, much less my own, for those who are inclined to put everything into neat boxes, it can be said that my poetry and fiction is “alt lit.” Much of my writing draws from the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle, having grown up associating with some wild friends. Naturally, writers write what they know, and I am no exception.

The alternative literature community has its own values, ones that offer many parallels to the punk community. There is an emphasis on DIY (do it yourself), challenging expectations, some shock tactics, and a “hardcore” approach. Whereas the traditional literary world can be seen as fairly conservative in its manner, these alternative writers who are building their own literary magazines operate as a sort of counterculture.

I do not recommend doing this, especially if you are not writing material with similar themes, but I am compelled to share the story of how I approached Brian Fugett, publisher of Zygote in My Coffee, one of the leading journals of poetry in this milieu. I wanted Brian to publish a poem of mine, “You Fuck Like You’re on Antidepressants,” but I had never previously communicated with him before. In a stroke of boldness, I sent him a rather untraditional cover letter, essentially cursing him out and not so subtly telling him that he would be a fool not to publish my poem. When he responded with his decision, the first part of his email was him returning the favor and cursing me out, and the second was him accepting the poem for publication. I knew that Brian, and his journal Zygote in My Coffee, did not want to associate with unprovocative writers, and so, I chose not only to submit a poem that was an appropriate fit, but a cover letter, as well.

So, what is the takeaway from this anecdote? While there are rules that should be followed to increase your chance of success in anything, including publishing your writing, sometimes breaking those rules can lead to amazing results. 

Cheers,
Alfonso

How To Find Appropriate Publishers For Your Writing

The whole process of becoming a successful writer, at its essence, can be boiled down to three simple steps:

1. Write the manuscript of your novel (or short story, poem, etc.).

2. Have your work edited to a publishable standard.

3. Find an appropriate publisher and submit your writing.

Regarding step 3, one of the most common errors new writers make is submitting their writing to publishers who have no interest in the style, genre, or content of their work. There are few publishers who do not have VERY specific parameters of what publish. If your writing falls outside of those parameters, the chance that your submission will be accepted by that publisher is close to 0%, no matter how good your writing might be.

First, let’s backtrack for a second. If you have amassed a body of writing that’s been edited and is ready for publication, but have no idea how to get published, it is critical that you become familiar with these two resources:

Duotrope.com – Duotrope is a subscription-based (only $5/month) catalog of most every high-quality literary journal, contest, and many publishers. Duotrope is highly recommended for any writer looking to find a home for their short fiction or poetry. For contests, I personally prefer using Poets & Writers (pw.org). For manuscripts of novels or nonfiction, the Writer’s Market is a far better resource.

Using Duotrope, you can search over 5,000 literary journals by a variety of limiters, allowing you to find journals that are a match for your genre, form, etc. Once you find a match using Duotrope, it is essential that you carefully read through at least one full issue of the magazine (or at least ten pieces of fiction or poetry for those that are not issue-based). Does your work convey similar themes? Is your writing style similar to that of the writers they publish? How does the content of your writing compare to the content of the authors published in the magazine? If you perform your due diligence and truly study the publication, then you will be aware of whether or not your writing is a match for the publication. If it is not, do not bother wasting your (not to mention the publisher’s) time by submitting your writing, as it will not be accepted.

I have not found a single public library in the United States that does not have a copy of the Writer’s Market in their reference section, and many have older editions available to check out. The Writer’s Market is an invaluable resource for anyone who has written a novel (or a long work of non-fiction). This book has an index of publishers that you can browse through, with quick descriptions about the publishers. Using the Writer’s Market, you can quickly identify potential homes for your fiction amongst a variety of independent publishers. Once you notice a potential match, I recommend that you visit the publisher’s website and read some of the blurbs of the books they’ve put out. Again, are they similar to your manuscript in genre, style, and content? If so, you should submit your manuscript and see what happens. If not, do not waste your time, as you will not have your manuscript accepted.

Of course, there is also the self-publishing route, which has its own advantages and drawbacks, but that is a topic for another post.

In short, the key to getting your writing published is to ensure that your writing is a direct match for what the publisher puts out. If your writing fits a publisher’s niche, you have a good chance of getting your work accepted.

In success,
Alfonso

p.s. I strive to present all the tools necessary for writers to dramatically improve their craft and chances of publishing through my blog posts, free Q&A service, and free fiction writing 101 course. However, if you require more personal attention, please consider my editing and/or publishing consultancy services.