Podcast: The Right First Steps to Getting Published

William Notte, featured speaker at the BWW 2015 auction

William Notte, featured speaker at the BWW 2015 auction

In this podcast, we hear from William Notte. Notte spent seven years as the acquisitions editor for a publishing house. During this time he reviewed (and rejected) thousands of book proposals. His presentation will walk you through the process of pitching your book (fiction or nonfiction) and point out common mistakes even experienced writers make that could lead to a book’s rejection. You’ll learn why you shouldn’t get too excited about your idea for your book’s cover, what words you should avoid in your pitch letter, and how self-publishing primes you for traditional publishing.

Enjoy, and remember, you can subscribe to the BWW podcast with iTunes. Just search for “Burlington Writers Workshop” and you’ll see that familiar old green logo.

The World Needs Carnival Barkers, Too

At the risk of giving too much attention to a certain Huffington Post article, I really must comment on a few ideas its author shares.

The premise of the article is that you must not, under any circumstances, publish several books in a single year—that you must take your time and publish less frequently, because that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you create art.

It’s directed at self-published authors, who are allegedly being told that publishing often (up to four times a year) is a good idea.

Frankly, I don’t know if publishing so often is a good idea for you. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. It’s not a good idea for me personally because I simply don’t feel comfortable writing that quickly. It ain’t my style. (Also, I have a full-time job.) But depending on your goals and your abilities as a writer, it could be a perfect approach for you. I don’t know you, my dear writer friend, so I won’t presume to know what’s good for you.

That’s why I object to the author’s blanket prohibition on publishing often as a legitimate career path. She writes:

“No matter what experts tell you, no matter what trends, conventional wisdom, social media chatter or your friends in the Facebook writers group insist upon, do NOT write four books a year. I mean it. Don’t.”

I don’t dispute that writing quickly could result in crappy prose or poetry, as the author maintains. In fact, I agree that writing too quickly is likely (though not guaranteed) to make your writing suck.

But I object to the author’s assumption that self-published authors don’t care about quality. Every single self-published author I’ve met—even the ones who choose to publish multiple titles in a year—has cared deeply about quality. The author of the article assumes that the self-published author prioritizes quantity over quality because quantity is mentioned first in Bowker’s advice to them. Based on my knowledge of self-published authors, I can only assume that quantity is mentioned first because the need to write high-quality stuff is such an obvious given that it need not be mentioned.

(For what it’s worth, Bowker sells ISBNs, so they have an incentive to tell self-published writers to publish often. It’s unclear to me how prevalent the “publish often” approach truly is, and the article does not shed light on it any meaningful, data-driven way.)

So to the author of this article, I say: Perhaps tending to your own garden would be the best approach.

Here’s why:

If you throw out edicts like, “Don’t publish four times a year,” you’re telling those writers who want to publish frequently that their approach is wrong, and there is no possible way you could know that it’s wrong if you don’t know what a given writer wants to achieve.

In your “clarification,” you write that your article isn’t a suggestion that there’s just “one way” to do things. You may believe that there are many ways to be a writer, but you are saying pretty clearly that this particular way is wrong. And that’s where you’re wrong.

Maybe it’s because I’m now living in the “Live Free or Die” state, but I feel like writers should be left to write and publish or not publish as they please, without unwarranted criticism from other members of the writing community. Such criticism creates an atmosphere of self-doubt, and self-doubt can crush a writer’s productivity. The article is the opposite of supportive, and writers need support from their peers to thrive, even if that support comes by creating an atmosphere that welcomes all comers.

So if you disapprove of someone publishing four times annually, here’s what you can and should do about it:

Nothing.

Nothing—because it doesn’t affect you if someone puts four lousy books on Amazon in a given year or over the course of a decade. Maybe those prolific and hasty folks will further damage the bad reputation that self-published books have. But maybe not. I believe discerning readers will know the difference between well- and poorly-written books and ignore the word on the street about self-publishing as a practice.

On The Bookshelf at New Hampshire Public Radio, I give self-published books and traditionally published books equal consideration. I can see through the nonsense. The quantity of books in the marketplace doesn’t make my job harder, nor does it diminish me as a writer. So it’s not for me, or anyone, to say how often self-published authors should release new work.

The truth is that not many years ago some people at elite institutions and in the publishing world issued similar commands about self-publishing in general. They argued that self-published authors wouldn’t have access to the same editorial guidance, savvy marketing professionals, or design specialists who know how to make a book a thing of beauty. And they were wrong—both in their assessment of the self-publishing world and their decision to issue “advice” when they had no authority to do so.

There are lots of different kinds of writers out there. There are writers like Donna Tartt and Anthony Doerr who each take about a decade to write their novels. There are writers like Stephen King who write at least one each year. And there are some who pump them out every three months. It’s how they work. And there’s not a damned thing wrong with that.

The author of the article writes: “You are a professional author working [on] your book your way. Be an artist, don’t be a carnival barker. Be a wordsmith, not a bean-counter. Be patient, not hysterical. Transact wisely, but don’t lose your soul in the process.” (Italics original, but I added the “on” because, well, it seems like someone was writing/editing too quickly.)

I really don’t understand what “your way” means in this context. After all, the article is slamming the very people who make it their way to write and publish often. “Your way” must mean the slower pace the author herself prefers, though I hesitate to say for sure what it means. But I digress.

Carnival Barker at the Vermont State Fair, 1941

Carnival Barker at the Vermont State Fair, 1941

In my view, it takes all kinds of writers to serve the diverse reading public. Some readers like the work of the so-called “artists.” Others like the work of “carnival barkers.” Some like both. In fact, lots of readers devour the carnival barker books while waiting for the artists to get around to publishing their latest opus. One could argue that carnival barkers keep readers in the habit of reading while they wait for their favorite “artist” to produce something new.

So carnival barkers should keep barking at their own pace, and ignore the call from artist-types to slow down. Such calls are reminiscent of that especially wonderful kind of vegetarian—the kind that has chosen not to eat meat and tells everyone else at the dinner table that they too should go veg. What’s more annoying than that?

So hurry hurry hurry, step right up, ladies and gents, because there’s something fun underneath that circus tent, and fortunately for you, there are lots and lots of tents.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of April 14, 2014

The book launch party was fantastic! Thanks to everyone who helped make it a success. We sold 58 books (a lot of 2014 editions, a few 2013), celebrated those who submitted work, and had a great time. If you missed the event but would like to purchase a book, we’ll have them at meetings in the BWW Writing Center going forward, and you can also order books online.

Here are the opportunities and announcements for this week. Continue reading

Seven Days Reviews “Best of 2014”

SevenDaysBookReviewSeven Days has given The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2014 a favorable review. Margot Harrison, who has written about the BWW before, has mentioned several of the folks published in this new collection. For example, of Hillary Read’s story “Soon,” she writes: “It’s the sort of tale that in the wrong hands can easily turn maudlin, but Read makes it alternately transcendent and quietly devastating.” Continue reading

Meet the Editors

Here are the editors of The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2014.

MartinBockMartin Bock will select the essays. Martin’s been a member of the workshop since 2011 and has attended more workshops than any other member (88—former record holder and poetry editor Erika Nichols is currently at 71). He writes poetry, fiction, and essays and also is a sculptor of custom-made shamanic tools. He and his wife Melly provide acupuncture, yoga massage, quigong, breath and body-oriented therapies to people with cancer or terminal diagnoses. You can hear him read his work in this podcast. His work was featured in (and on the cover of) The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2013.

paulhobdayPaul Hobday will select the fiction. Paul specializes in short fiction and has edited The Queen City Review at Burlington College. He’s also one of the five who served on the BWW’s StoryhackVT team. A native of Addison County, Paul now lives in Burlington. About his editorial approach, Paul says: “I find it is important to look both at how the work is presented to its audience and at what the writing is attempting to achieve. By keeping these two elements in mind, the refinement process can make a piece of writing truly shine.”

amandavellaAmanda Vella will select the poetry. Amanda grew up in the Upper Valley. She received her BFA in studio art from Ithaca College and is working on a Masters in Art Education. She teaches art in Fairfield, Vermont. In addition to poetry, she’s also working on short fiction and songs. Since last summer, Amanda has been leading Monday workshops, which has enabled the BWW to reliably provide two workshops each week and, according to Amanda, the experience has solidified her “belief in community discussion and reflection as a means to improve and inform the creative process.”

The editors and I will meet on December 15th to discuss which of the 161 pieces we received will find a place in the next anthology. I do not envy them. The submissions are very good and competition will be fierce. Best of luck to all who submitted work!

Publishing Your Work: Debrief and Podcast

From Left to Right: Peter Biello, Jon Clinch, Dede Cummings, Jessica Swift Eldridge, and Jan Elizabeth Watson.

From Left to Right: Peter Biello, Jon Clinch, Dede Cummings, Jessica Swift Eldridge, and Jan Elizabeth Watson.

Last Saturday’s panel discussion on publishing was a huge success. Authors Jon Clinch and Jan Elizabeth Watson, agent and publisher Dede Cummings, and editor Jessica Swift Eldridge gave fantastic advice to writers.

“I’ve attended others like this through my MFA program and at the AWP conference, but the one on Saturday was by far the best,” said Annemarie Lavalette, who studies at Goddard.

“Excellent choice of panelists,” said Cardy Raper. “I found my head nodding at much of which they had to say.”

In the podcast, you’ll hear every word that caused such head-nodding. Each panelist shared the story of her/his journey to publication, or the stories of some clients. You’ll also hear some helpful nuggets of information on finding, keeping, and firing agents; what not to say when querying publishers; and why you absolutely must keep trying to get your work out there.

Here’s the podcast for your listening pleasure.

You may also want to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Just open iTunes and search for “Burlington Writers Workshop.”

We had more questions than we could answer in a reasonable amount of time. Fortunately the panelists agreed to respond to all your questions, so I’ll send them questions soon and post their responses when they’re all available.

Thanks to VPR for providing space for this and Hotel Vermont for providing some rooms for folks traveling from far away.

We’re also taking suggestions on what our next panel discussion should cover. What’s your idea? Send it to us here.

Announcing New Digital Storytelling Workshops

StoryhackBWW

Digital storytelling is becoming a thing. Did you know that? I didn’t. Then StoryhackVT came to town and showed me what an amazing thing it is. It’s hard to describe but easy to recognize, and certainly worth exploring, especially since writers today need some sort of digital presence.

The Burlington Writers Workshop will partner with the smart and capable folks behind StoryhackVT to offer digital storytelling workshops. It’s an effort to broaden our digital skills, generate story ideas that would work for digital media, and keep the fires burning until StoryhackVT 2014.

We’ve scheduled our first digital storytelling workshop for Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 at 6:30 at Young Writers Project Headquarters at 12 North Street in Burlington. At this first session, we’ll take a look at digital stories, and brainstorm ideas on specific tales we’d like to tell.

For the less-tech-inclined, we’ll have tech-savvy Vermonters on hand to help you design your story and connect you with resources for learning more – don’t let the technology learning curve hold you back from exploring all the ways you can design a story.

This will be the first of several workshops. We hope to inspire you to create a digitally compelling tale, which we can “workshop” at special digital storytelling workshops later on.

Thoughts? Questions? Let me know. Or just sign up here.

We Have A Font!

Janson FontThe people have spoken, and the choice is clear: you want Janson.

With 14 votes, Janson beat Linux Libertine (12 votes) and High Tower (8 votes). Janson has a nice literary look to it. It’s more elegant than Times New Roman yet just as readable.

Janson’s also tighter than Book Antiqua, the font we used last year. I went back to the Adobe InDesign document from the 2013 anthology and applied Janson to all the stories, essays, and poems. This small change alone yielded eight black pages.

This font, with the addition of 16 extra pages, will allow the editors to select more deserving pieces of literature you’ve created in 2013. It’ll also allow us to accept more long pieces, which are often hard to publish because they require so much real estate in literary journals.

More space does not mean it’ll be easier to place a story or poem in the next book. The growth of the Burlington Writers Workshop means more people are eligible to submit. I’ve already received several submissions, so competition will be fierce, and we won’t publish things just to fill space. We could, for example:

  • Include longer author biographies and possibly include photos (not my preference, but certainly possible).
  • Ask authors to write something about what inspired them (as authors in the Best American series do).
  • Save more space for a long introduction.
  • Bring the book back down to 128 pages.

I doubt we’ll have to scale back down from 144, since we’re also adding photography/artwork. We will have to turn away good pieces of art. I’m looking forward to seeing what you will submit and which pieces the editors will choose.

The deadline for submissions is December 1, 2013. Send your work to: submissions@burlingtonwritersworkshop.com

Erika Nichols on Poetry, Prose, and Editing the Anthology

EN-launch-2Erika Nichols of Burlington has written and studied poetry for many years. Whenever a poem comes up for discussion in our workshops, she has something intelligent and helpful to say about it.

She’s also attended more meetings than any other workshop member (68), so it’s fitting that she is the first guest of what I hope will be a series of BWW podcasts featuring interviews with BWW members.

Erika writes both poetry and prose. “What I love about poetry is I think that you can really focus on the language,” Erika says. “That you don’t necessarily need to develop characters and develop an entire story. You can really just sit with a beautiful image.”

What about prose? Erika says that with prose you can “really expand upon one particular moment or image or scene and really develop that into more.”

A member of the BWW since 2011, Erika says she could never have anticipated what the workshop experience has done for her. “It’s really helped me develop my work and get it to where it is now.”

We also spoke about how she went about editing the poetry submissions for The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2013. She gives some insight from an editor’s perspective, which I think you’ll find very encouraging, especially if you’ve been throwing your work out into the world.

Think you’d make a good interview subject? Don’t be shy. Contact me!

Seven Days: “The BWW Has Ballooned, and Published”

Lizzy Fox, performing her poetry on July 10, 2013.

Lizzy Fox, performing her poetry on July 10, 2013.

Seven Days has published a wonderful article about what The Burlington Writers Workshop has been doing. On the night of the interview, reporter Margot Harrison had originally planned to leave before 8 o’clock, but ended up staying beyond that time. If I had to guess why she decided to stay late, I’d say it’s because you’re all so awesome. Who wouldn’t want to stay late and chat with you?

To prepare for the buzz that this article will likely create, I’m launching some new meetings, which you can join for free at meetup.com. I want to make sure that if you want to attend a meeting, you can.

To that end, if you have suggestions on how I should go about scheduling meetings, please let me know: peter@burlingtonwritersworkshop.com. In fact, suggestions on ANYTHING are welcome! This is your workshop, so help me make it work better for you.

I’ve also got an idea for a three-part book-length workshop for folks who have finished manuscripts ready for review. This will probably be in October or November. More on that later.

And finally, one quick update on last night’s reading at the Essex Library. Success! I’ll post the audio and photos in the next few days. Stay tuned, and thank you for your continued dedication to reviewing each other’s work.

For July, It’s 99 Cents!

bww2013coversmallThe whole point of publishing The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2013 is to launch BWW stories, essays, and poems into the world.

To that end, I’ve made it even more accessible by lowering the price of the Amazon ebook to $0.99!

I’ll boost the price again at the end of July, so take advantage of this deal now. In addition to acquiring these powerful pieces of locally-made literature, you’ll also help us produce next year’s edition. All proceeds are put back into The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2014.

Don’t have a Kindle? Fear not! You can download the Kindle app to your desktop computer, iPhone, or Android.

Check it out here. And thanks!

Martin Bock Made Me Cry

Martin Bock reading his poem, "braid"

Martin Bock reading his poem, “braid”

Martin Bock made me cry. Here’s how it happened:

The Burlington Writers Workshop took our Best of anthology on tour last week with a stop at the Joslin Memorial Library in Waitsfield. This was thanks to workshop member Al Uris, who lives and practices law across the street from the library.

Four workshop members who are featured in the book shared some of their work. All of the readings were stellar. Al started us off with his story, “Sand in the Shoes.” Shelagh Shapiro followed with an excerpt of her novel. Angela Palm finished the readings with an essay, “Projection,” which is not in the book but did receive BWW feedback last year.

But before Angela came Martin Bock, who read excerpts of “It’s Not So Easy,” an essay about his grandson, Ringo, and the difficult, existential questions grandsons sometimes ask (“How can I not die?”). But the essay didn’t make me cry. The poems Martin read for and about his wife, Melly, moved me. “braid” (no capital letter on the ‘b’) is a poem featured in the book, and you can hear Martin’s reading of it at 28:00 into the audio file. I can’t describe it to you. You’ll have to listen, and I dare you to keep your eyes dry.

Then, Martin threw in his adaptation of the James Henry Leigh Hunt poem, “Jenny Kissed Me,” substituting Melly’s name for Jenny. (37:40 in the audio file.) His voice—and the energy of the room—gave this poem so much life. Of course, such a bold and public declaration of love for one’s wife is rare and worthy of admiration and, for me at least, envy. Who doesn’t want to feel love that deeply? And who doesn’t want to express it in such an artful way?

I point out Martin’s piece only because it forced such an emotional response in me, but I must stress that I was awestruck by all the pieces I heard. Perhaps that’s because it was the first time I’d heard them. I’d read Al’s “Sand in the Shoes” many times, but I’d never heard Al’s voice read it aloud—and Al’s voice seemed perfectly suited for this kind of story. Angela Palm’s “Projection” was something we’d read at home before discussing it, but when I heard her read it, the humor inside this serious piece was more striking and apparent.

We’ve got another reading at the Essex Free Library on July 16th at 6:30, so please do join us for that one. And bring a tissue box, just in case.

“Best of BWW 2013” Giveaway On Goodreads

I’m a big fan of Goodreads, the social networking website for readers. It allows me to create an ambitious reading list that I’ll never, ever finish, but at least that list exists, so that when I get spare cash, I can find that book I thought was so cool three months ago and buy it.

bww2013coversmall

Click on the book and enter to win!

The site has many features. Among those features is the giveaway. I’ve added three copies of The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2013 to the Goodreads giveaway page, and I hope you’ll enter the contest and add it to your “to-read” list. The deadline is later this month. It’s open to people all across the country, but I hope some lucky Vermonters win!  (Goodreads chooses the winners.)

And true to the whole BWW mission, I hope you’ll provide feedback on the book. I’ve been unable to pick my favorite story/essay/poem, but maybe you could list yours!

Digging Deeper Into The BWW

Photo06060834I sat down with Elsie Lynn at The Essex Reporter a few weeks ago to talk about the Burlington Writers Workshop. This conversation was longer than the one I had with Molly Smith at WCAX, and we had a chance to talk about workshop ethics, the fear of sharing too much, and my own penchant for fictional characters who screw up their lives.

I’m finding it hard to answer the question: “How would you describe the book?” These pieces are so different that I’d have to laundry list and summarize each one, and of course that’s not possible in an interview in any medium. I’m thrilled that nobody has asked me to pick a favorite piece–I’m not sure I could!

Anyway, here’s the interview. Enjoy!