What I Learned from Being a #PitchtoPublication Editor

7991795290_4c48627084_nI’ve been on the writer side of Twitter pitch contests for a while now. As an aspiring author, I follow and enter many of these contests with the same hope as everyone else: to land a literary agent. So I was excited to be offered a chance to participate on the other side of a contest called #PitchtoPublication.

For those who aren’t familiar with #PitchtoPublication, a group of about 25 freelance editors each received up to 100 query submissions from writers with completed manuscripts. We each narrowed all of those entries down to one author who we’d spend a month working with on his or her manuscript before it’s presented to a group of participating agents. So basically, the author receives a free manuscript edit and then gets the opportunity to showcase his or her work in front of interested agents. I was chosen to be one of the freelance editors.

When the submission window opened and the entries poured in, I read them immediately, eager to discover a compelling and engaging story. At first I felt powerful and wise, confident that the decision would be easy. But soon I was humbled by the talent I saw, and the fact that I’d ultimately have to reject almost everyone who was submitting work to me. I had been among the contest hopefuls in the past. In fact, I was a hopeful in this contest as well. I’d gotten permission to participate both as a submitting writer and an editor/mentor.

As I went through entries, I posted some of my responses on Twitter without using names or identifying details. I used a tag called #tenqueries that many agents and editors use when going through their queries. It was helpful for me to practice articulating why I was passing or giving a maybe to certain projects, and writers seemed to find the nuggets of advice within the tweets helpful as well.

It was incredibly difficult narrowing down 100 entries to 10. While about half of them were passed on fairly easily, either because the genre wasn’t one I specified interest in or the writing perhaps needed too much work to be agent-ready, most were solid. But I had to look for more than just solid writing. I wanted something special, something unique, and something that I found personally compelling. It came down to taste as much as talent. That’s how I was able to get my top 10 (although I couldn’t quite narrow it down, so I requested more pages from 11 authors).

When I received the first 50 pages and read the entry of the author I ultimately chose to work with, I knew she was the one. Although I’d had some concerns based on her query, the pages reassured me that the book would be amazing. Her story stuck in my mind despite some other amazing entries. It had the perfect balance of being unique, compelling, engaging, and diverse. There was also enough for me to help her with as an editor, but not so much that it couldn’t be agent-ready in a month. I especially appreciated the issues that the manuscript was addressing, ones that are very important and need more awareness in the world right now.

As a writer, my own work wasn’t selected for #PitchtoPublication. I got a few requests, but none were the perfect fit. For once, I was completely fine with being rejected because I’d seen firsthand how subjective and difficult the decision was. The numbers and odds weren’t in anyone’s favor, and even if my work hit most of the checkmarks, it came down to personal preference as well.

Being an editor for #PitchtoPublication also taught me that having a story that is unique and addresses a larger issue is what will draw an agent in. Having good writing and an interesting story isn’t enough. I got a lot of those submissions, and while many of them could potentially be represented and published, it might be hard for them to get noticed by a busy agent with a thousand other queries in his or her mailbox.

A manuscript needs to be compelling. It must be readable and relatable while also addressing something important that agents and readers will connect with. It doesn’t have to be a big issue, but it has to stand for something. That element was what sealed the deal on my decision, and I imagine many agents are looking for the same thing.

Thank you to everyone who participated in #PitchtoPublication, and a special thank you to Samantha Fountain for putting it all together!

 

(photo credit: Oh Winter, let’s get married via photopin (license))

The Key to Publishing Personal Essays

I’m officially back from my blog hiatus! Thanks so much to all of the guest bloggers who shared their illuminating stories and insights in my absence.

4444061098_6eeaa7dc1a_nHaving some time away has given me the opportunity to think more about my career as a writer. As you might have noticed, I’ve been on an essay publishing kick as of late. Until about a year ago, I didn’t have much to do with essays. I’d written a few here and there, but my primary focus was writing a book-length memoir.

I actually wasn’t sure I’d even be any good at essays. For so long, all of my work had been long-form, and I wasn’t convinced I could say something compelling in the span of a few pages. However, I knew it was important to start getting my work out there, to publish some of my thoughts and ideas in a shorter and more shareable format.

I started out with a few submissions to sites like HelloGiggles and RoleReboot. I was surprised when those sites began accepting my work, and slowly reached out to other publications. As of now, I’ve been published on a variety of sites, most recently having an article in the LA Times and becoming a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post.

Aside from writing effective essays, I’ve learned that there are actually two keys to publishing personal essays: RESEARCH and PERSISTENCE.

When I first ventured into essay publication, I wrote pieces up front and then browsed around to find publications and editors that might be a good fit. One of the best ways to find appropriate publications was seeing where my writer friends were getting their work published. I also paid attention to where the shared essays and articles I resonated with on Facebook were being published.

I’m now at the point, especially with publications that I’m already a contributor for, where I’ll just send a paragraph or two to pitch an idea and see if it’s worth writing. But I always keep an eye out for new publications to submit to, and sometimes I still write pieces up front because they’re topics or ideas that I’m passionate about and want to publish somewhere no matter what.

Having a strategy and tracking submissions makes the whole process move much more smoothly. And making sure that your work is the right fit for the publication you’re submitting to will save you a lot of time and heartache. Be aware of guidelines and their previous publications.

Now, let’s talk about persistence. One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll get as a writer is to be persistent. It’s so easy to feel discouraged after a string of rejections and non-responses. I’ve been tempted to stop trying many times, especially when a particular publication isn’t responding positively to my work (or responding at all, which was formerly the case with HuffPo).

But the bigger name publications didn’t just happen overnight. While the LA Times accepted the first submission I sent them, it took six submissions to The Huffington Post over the course of six months before one was finally approved.

Sometimes I told myself that I’m a bad writer or my work doesn’t deserve to be published. But the real problem was that I wasn’t sending the right piece to the right place at the right time. Instead of allowing myself to give up, I continued trying. I kept close track of each submission I sent, where I sent it, and when I sent it. If I didn’t hear back within a month, I sent it somewhere else. I tried different topics and different sections/editors until something finally clicked.

Above all, don’t let the waiting get to you, and don’t give up. Keep reading, keep writing, and keep submitting. Slowly but surely things will fall into place.

And, if you happen to be female, there’s a wonderful group called Women Who Submit that provides virtual and physical spaces for women to support one another while they submit their writing. I recently attended a meeting in Los Angeles and spent a lovely afternoon with a group of writers who all had the same goal as me: to get their work out in the world. We cheered for each other as we sent submissions and have continued supporting one another through email since the meeting, sending updates and virtual cheers. Be sure to check it out.

 

(photo credit: via photopin (license))

Nightmares in the Realm of Dreams

By Pj Kneisel

168402_499644469404_4804095_nThe gross, the disgusting, the horrific. Why would anyone care to dwell and create in these abject realms? The world we live in is obsessed with beauty and perfection. We struggle and strive to attain an almost transcendent impossibility, and that is what’s admired in artistic expression.

Yet for those who create art, the dirty side of things can be just as alluring and difficult to capture. As an artist who considers those murky waters his domain, I can attest to both their draw and their own kind of beauty.

To capture the perfect flabby back or hairy crotch (replete with scabies and pustules) is one that requires the artistic execution of finite details and an intricate understanding of the numerous bumps and uglies the human body can be plagued with. Illustrating a death scene, complete with the blood spattered and pooled, necessitates a comprehension of fluid dynamics and abstract patterning.

946214_10151439519479405_1978277136_nThese are just a few examples of the complexities hidden in the world of the abject. To be repulsed by a work of art is to be affected by it; the fact that someone could put ink to paper and elicit such strong emotions is nothing short of incredible. It’s more than seeing a curse word scrawled on a bathroom stall; it’s more than a man whipping out his dick on the bus; it’s a creative exercise and performance that expounds upon an area most people would shudder to even think about for more than a few seconds.

It inhabits that place in order to communicate something. There are serious problems in this world, in the hearts and minds of humanity, and in ourselves. We love to hush these away, or do the exact opposite and create a big to-do before forgetting about it all over again.

10940621_10152724460774405_822493310221433228_nLife is too short to dwell, but some of us must dwell. For we act as a mirror, a conscience of sorts, for society, culture, and ourselves. We need to see everything for what it is. Often people decry violent and sexual media for being vapid and dangerous, yet at the same time, millions consume it. Art is not creating the violence, nor promoting it; it is both reflecting it and creating something new with that reflection.

Art, in its purest sense, is much like the realm of dreams: and we occasionally have nightmares.

– – –

Pj Kneisel’s art work is about the contradictions between the macabre and the comic, and thus serves to exhibit the eternal dichotomy of both abhorrence and enjoyment of the human condition. He lives in Los Angeles and is a co-founder of Aorta VI and The Baby Suns art collectives. You can visit his website at pjkneisel.com and follow him on Twitter @hobbesdream.

Beyond the Limits of Here and Now

By Arielle Silver

14229666915_bdeaf2dc9f_nMemories. It’s so easy to lose them in the tangle of time. But how do we write without them? Even fiction writers rely on the truth of experience for their stories. The weight of a body, the shame of slight—how could we ever write about these experiences, either our own or our characters’, without remembering those moments ourselves?

A common story: a man, a stranger, recently reached out to me on Facebook. I didn’t recognize his face or the abbreviated nickname, but our list of mutual childhood friends was extensive. I tried to crack the mystery of this grown man whose features triggered no memory. Someone had tagged him in a middle school picture, the composite type with the principal and homeroom teacher stacked among individual portraits of the students. The photos were each enveloped in a thick white border, every face hemmed in and separated from the others as if this group of twenty humans, these kids who saw each other every morning, were complete strangers.

I recognized only a few of the students. A boy, bottom row, became high school valedictorian. One above later enlisted in the military and then built his family in the Philippines. Below, a girl who someone has told me walked through the fire of heroin and somehow emerged unscathed. Another girl, center, moved into town and then away in a quicker succession than my own family.

The man, the stranger, is there in the composite photo. In boy-form, he has a sweet face that I almost remembered. A day and night later, I finally made the connection. I recalled the old unabbreviated name of that rambunctious kid whose day-old beard now shadows the Facebook profile. I believe we had first met in summer camp, and then, later, were in Hebrew School together. We must have been eight or nine when we met. Look at us now, jobs, kids, ex-spouses. We’re all growed up.

As I find moments of recollection in my hazy memories of him—a boy who could barely stay seated, who broke ranks in our single-file lines, who was rowdy but friendly, and mischievous as a trickster—I find memories of me. Little blinks of details among wide swaths of mood.

There’s the nail polish I painted on at the bus stop and removed as soon as I got home from school. It was brown, the one color I thought my mother wouldn’t notice missing among her bottles of fuscias and reds. I’d have rathered pink, but thieves can’t be choosy, and even brown was still polish, a thing I wasn’t permitted but so desperately wanted. There’s the milk shake I purchased nearly every day from the middle school cafeteria. I was afraid it would make me fat, make me fat being the phrase I learned from countless sources, and seemed to be everyone’s worst fear. I didn’t develop the discipline for starvation until high school, and in eighth grade they had vanilla and chocolate on alternating days, colored green for St. Patrick’s Day and orange for Halloween. I sipped them till my throat froze and the guilt, or was it shame, slinked off for another day.

There was the nose-wrinkling frog dissection in biology that was, for me in middle school, ever-so-slightly more fascinating than disgusting; the show tunes medley we played for the band concert in cents-off accidental harmony; the drowsy speeches during the eighth grade graduation ceremony, only memorable because someone called my name to come to the stage for an award, and the boy sitting beside me elbowed me awake.

ariellesilver - picIn these days since reconnecting with my old classmate, I find myself looking at my own photos, and wondering about memories. Where do those of my younger self reside? How do they influence me now? Do I take pink polish, or do I still steal off with my second choice, just a hint of what I truly desire? Do I still battle conflicts between shake-like desires and disordered popular opinion? Do I hear the middle school clarinet pitches in the squeal of the Amtrak brakes? Do I ever catch a hint of that particular formaldehyde-laced biology classroom?

Half of writing is remembering. Our memories tie us to our senses and feelings, to the very essence of being human. The internal drumbeat of emotional experience. The waft of sensory input. Somehow, the two dimensions of a word on a page expands this physical life beyond the limits of here and now.

A stranger who reached out on Facebook connected my adult self to the child I used to be, but writing brought me to my mother’s nail polish shelf, the middle school cafeteria, the cacophony of trumpets and clarinets. Sometimes it feels like the present and the past are cents-off accidental harmony. Information from the past combined with writing in the present helps to reveal through-melodies. Memory is the touchstone for a full human moment on the page.

– – –

Arielle Silver daylights in the music industry, moonlights as a yoga teacher, and sunrises as a candidate for her MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Literary Translation at Antioch University Los Angeles. She serves on the editorial team at Lunch Ticket, her songs have been licensed internationally, and her essays have appeared in Moment and RoleReboot. She’s on Twitt/Insta/Face and at www.ariellesilver.com.

 

(photo credit: Brain Anatomy Hoop Art via photopin (license))

Writing the World, Sight Unseen

By Kerry Kijewski

I am admitting my mistake here and now. I did what I swore I’d never do. I was thoughtless and careless enough to have a drink next to my precious laptop. Yes, I swore I would never do that because my laptop is how I reach out, express myself, and how I’m given a voice.

KerryNowI knew the truth, deep down, but as long as I didn’t ask the computer repair shop the final fate of my Macbook, I could live in the hope that all was not lost. I was given the verdict. The key to my self-expression was gone. It was no one else’s fault but my own.

My blog has been the only place I have to speak up on everything I felt I needed to say. I could also surf the Internet, and anything I ever needed to know I could learn at the push of a few single key strokes.

It felt like I had lost a limb. Okay, so those who have literally lost an arm or a leg might not agree, but living without sight, a laptop gave me back a lot of what I was missing for so long. I couldn’t simply pick up a pen and paper, like people have done long before the invention of the modern technology we’ve all come to depend on. I had no real way to release all the thoughts and the feelings I had inside. Immediately I missed writing my blog, something I had been doing regularly, at least once or twice a week, for the last year or more.

I found myself taking out my old, heavy-duty Perkins Brailler, my own version of a pen and pad of paper. As I returned to this relic of days gone by, to write the rough draft of this guest post, I thought long and hard about what it meant to be without the tool I had come to rely on so, so much. It is a miracle that I have these options for expressing myself. Without them, I don’t know where I would be or what I’d do. Still, it’s a reminder of the ways I compensate for being a writer who doesn’t have sight.

Kerry6yearsI used to see colour, bright and distinctive: blues, greens, red, and yellow. I saw the faces of my friends and family and the large print on the page. Over the years, as I began to switch from loving to draw to loving to write, I slowly lost this acuity. Now I am left to imagine, in as much detail as possible, all that I no longer see like everyone else. I think back to what those details looked like, and I try and I try to incorporate that into my writing.

Always though, at the back of my mind and sometimes at the front of it, I worry that my writing will be lacking something important, something that any readers of mine will immediately notice, that they won’t be able to live without. I fear I won’t be able to provide a well-rounded sensory experience. I can try my hardest to include details of a character’s physical features or the expression in someone’s eyes or a smile on his or her lips. I can imagine how that might look, and I can give it my best, but still not do those things justice.

I fear it will be automatically obvious, as someone is reading, that I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. A fraud, that’s the word for it. I am an impostor, someone who thinks they can fool any unsuspecting reader, as if I know what I’m describing, when really I am grasping at distant recollections of what I used to know. I try to focus on what I can contribute. I know how to write about emotions and feelings. Is that enough to build a story on? How can I give my reading audience a full experience, worth their time and attention?

I can write about the tone of someone’s voice or the way it feels when a loved one reaches out with a comforting hand – I can write about how a summer breeze tickles the cheek; or how the spring air smells after it rains; or how fresh strawberries taste on the tongue.

Are these things enough? Is it worth my time and energy, describing a look or an expression, when these no longer come naturally to my own colourless, dim and faded memory? These things are ghostly imprints of what was once there.

The timing of spilling that sticky liquid all over my precious laptop seemed horrible and yet, it forced me to face not being able to say what I wanted to say, when I wanted to say it. It also made me think more about the ways I adapt to my situation and how I manage to say all that I wish to say anyway.

– – –

Kerry is a lover of books and of the written word. She was born blind, but writing helps her to see life just a little more clearly. She writes fiction, memoir, movie and music reviews, interviews with interesting people, and travel articles on her blog, Her Headache. To Kerry, life is often one giant headache, both painful and beautiful. She has a Certificate of Creative Writing and lives in Ontario, Canada, with her literary-themed dog and cat: Dobby and Lumos.