Sunday, January 6, 2008

Getting Linked for Literature

When I decided to jump the track of my journalism career and veer into the uncertain world of freelance writing, I was blessed to have an arsenal stocked with weapons and talismans that made life on the outside a little less shadowy.

Foremost, my wonderful wife, who is also a writer, understands me and my passion and supports what I do. I cannot stress enough how important this is.

Second, my "chops" were in pretty good order, since as a newspaper reporter, and a prolific one at that, I wrote every day. When I wasn't writing, I was interviewing, or laying the groundwork for writing. And when I wasn't doing either, I was dreaming about doing both. I had a nice foundation of six years eating, breathing and sleeping writing.

Along with the chops came discipline. I knew the only way to get a story out was to get it out on the page.

Fourth -- and I didn't mean when I started this blog for it to be so ordered -- I had a soft place to land when I left the Naperville Sun. I was already well into a book project, and I had made up my mind to apply to MFA programs in order to find myself a new community of writers and contacts (very important) and continue honing my craft. I also want to teach. Now, I hadn't been accepted to Columbia when I handed in my resignation, but I had made up my mind that no matter what, I was going to go for it, I would write my way through whatever came up. OK.

The good news for me is that it's work out so far. Oh, I still lie awake some nights gnashing my teeth over money, fretting over the impracticality of leaving a career where I was solidly contributing and getting immediate gratification for an industry where progress is solitary and slow. But that conviction remains: I will write my way through whatever comes up. And now that I'm nestled into my fourth semester of grad school, with my nonfiction book just out, and a few freelance credits to my name, I'm looking forward to what's next. And taking stock of what I know -- and can share.

This is all a lengthy preamble to spotlighting a few of the reasons I'm blogging in earnest this year. The literary reasons, anyway. At school, I have ample opportunity to swap contacts, share publishing stories (many of which, inevitably, are about rejection), get turned on to tips and secrets, compare notes on process and find that crucial audience of peers that can help lead you to breakthroughs in your craft. As I pointed out above, I was well on the way to finding these thigs for myself months before my first semester in the MFA program. I knew I couldn't thrive without them. Much of writing is lonely, but you can't hope to succeed at it without the (at times painfully) public side: submitting your work, querying agents and publishers, contacting the media (from the other side now, for me), interacting with readers, networking, reading your work aloud in public (for some of us, A THRILL; for others, an invitation to their own beheading).

Early on, though I made it my mission to write every day, no excuses, when the writing wound down I also made sure to put in some productive time researching the business. I buried my nose and affixed a forest of Post-Its to market guides like Writer's Market and Jeff Herman's Guide to Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, and agent tomes like Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees. I eyeballed the fine print at the front of story collections, noting the journals where my favorite authors were published, as well as where Best Of... compilations found their stories. I also did a great deal of research online, fattening my Favorites menu with book publishers, agents, journals to submit to, web sites of writers I love, useful blogs, places for industry news and legal advice -- anything relevant, I socked away.

Getting this blog up and running, partly due to my publisher's beginning blogs on the book biz from a publisher's perspective and insider tips on book marketing, reminded me that all the links populating my own, personal bandwidth could also benefit YOU. At school, we get our fill of this stuff, and thankfully. But even my classmates have connections and insights that I don't have; any chance we get, we mine each other. Well, now a lot of the stuff I have, I've laid out here, like a Thanksgiving spread you're welcome to belly up to: dig on in!

This morning, I expanded my "For Writers" list into four categories: agents, industry news & advice, other writers, and submitting. This is by no means an original or comprehensive set up. Many of these links will lead you to sites and blogs that have a wealth of other information, and that's by design. This collection represents a chunk of what I have and use at the moment -- and a lot of my loosely-organized system depends on my "site hopping", following one fruitful contact to get me to the next, and the next, and so on.

So, about the lists:

The Agents category mostly contains sites where agents blog. These are the ones I've been reading for a year or more now. They're windows into the publishing world. Agents blog about query letters, and manuscript reading, and sales, and the way they do their business. Very useful to know for writers attempting to break in. And at the top of the list is a useful place to start -- or even finish -- your search for representation. Who knows how long AgentQuery will be free? Check it out!

The news and advice list is pretty self-explanatory and could have been twice as long. Of particular use to me are the legal advice sites: I've linked right to the pages I draw stuff from. For Chicago writers in a pinch or a jam, Lawyers for the Creative Arts offers pro bono services.

The Other Writers list could also be longer, obviously. These are a few of my faves, many of whom, like T.C. Boyle and John McNally and Jim Butcher and Marcus Sakey, blog about the biz and share their own tales of publishing and offer insights into process. I may in the future link to some of my colleagues here -- up-and-coming writers you should put on your radar screen.

Lastly, because it's so long (and hardly complete), is a list of journals you might want to submit to, or indexes of the same. Some I've tried knocking at, others I'll get to, others are the dreams we should all keep dreaming. As with any, make sure you familiarize yourself with what they publish before sending your stuff on over. The clot of query letters is thick enough with uninformed writers gumming up the works. There's also a link in this section to The Unsung Critic, who champions the cause of beginning writers (particularly screenwriters): he (or she) reads manuscripts and writes a review on the site. If that's your bag, baby, crinkle it.

Feel free to drop me a comment or a line with your experience following these links or surfing the waters of rejection/acceptance. And in all cases, GOOD LUCK!

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