Traditional Publishing

Margaret Atwood and Mona Awad on Writing Outside the Lines – Saturday April 22, 2023

Margaret Atwood: I’ve been an admirer of Mona’s novel “Bunny” (2019) for some time. It’s a form of Gothic satire, and she sets it at a writing school. It’s very funny, kind of horrifying and quite far outside the lines. You think, “She’s not going to go there … yes, she is.”

Ideas about writers were so thin on the ground when I decided to be one. I was talking to somebody else about this recently and said, “People like you and me went into it out of ignorance.” And she said, “Had I only known, I never would have!” It was kind of like walking across Niagara Falls blindfolded without knowing it. And then people would say, as they did in my presence, “Well, of course women can’t write.” This was the mid-60s. Luckily, I was in Canada, and Canadian writers were so bottom of the heap they were willing to become friends with anybody, even if they were female. So writers of my generation in Canada were making it up as we went. We made up small publishing companies. We made up little magazines. We made up writers’ organizations. Because few of those things existed. Creativity moves in to fill a vacuum.

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What the death of a literary magazine says about our cultural decay – Tuesday April 18, 2023

hristian Lorentzen, the former book critic for New York Magazine, is a longtime contributor to Bookforum, the London Review of Books and Harper’s Magazine.

I was the boy who loved magazines. At home, my parents would confiscate the copies of MadRay Gun and Spin that came in the mail, forbidding me from so much as looking at them until I finished my homework. My appetite for glossy pictures, for clever cartoons, for punning prose — for all the intelligence I couldn’t find in my small town or on television — had to be suppressed, lest I fail out of school. (So thought my mother.) Even now, the arrival of the latest issue of the Baffler or New Left Review feels like an event: a new vision of the world as seen by many minds, wedged between two covers.

But the American magazine is in a state of decay. Now known mostly as brands, once sumptuous print publications exist primarily as websites or YouTube channels, hosts for generic scribblings, the ever-ubiquitous “take.” Meanwhile, a thousand Substacks bloom, some of them very good, with writers in the emancipated state of being paid directly by their readers. Yet even in this atomized, editorless landscape, perverse incentives apply. Are you thirsty for another post about cancel culture or wokeness? Me neither. Yet culture war still largely rules the day.

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AI is no Shakespeare. Why ChatGPT, other tools are unlikely to take your writing job – Sunday April 16, 2023

“Shakespeare’s not such a great writer,” a fellow student said during an English class years ago. “His stuff is lazy! There’s one cliché after another.”

Certainly, the then-teen could be forgiven for thinking that the playwright William Shakespeare phoned it in, so to speak. His plays are peppered with phrases that are now clichés. “My own flesh and blood,” “cruel to be kind” and “method to my madness” are a few from “Hamlet” alone.

But those tidbits weren’t clichés before Shakespeare. They didn’t exist until everyone saw that his phrasing was so imaginative and poignant they couldn’t resist adopting them.

The distinction between turning a phrase and borrowing one is critical to gauging where generative AI is heading, and what threats and opportunities it may present for the future of human composition.

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3 Simple Tips on Writing the First 5 Pages of Your Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novel – Thursday April 13, 2023

If you’re a first-time author, the first five pages of your novel can make or break your publishing chances.

If you’ve decided to write a science fiction or fantasy novel, then I can really only offer you two words: good luck. The publishing landscape is not for the faint of heart, especially to new writers seeking to break into the industry. If you want to publish a book one day, you have to prepare yourself for rejection. Not everyone is going to fall in love with your story on the first draft–some may not get it on the final draft. 

Don’t believe me? Check out this excerpt from an Amazon review: “Everything from its banal and totally meaningless plot to its incredibly idiotic and unimaginative characters miserably fail in masking one of the worst books of all time.”

The book in question was The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien. 

More than 60 years of genre-defining acclaim and a billion-dollar, Oscar-winning film franchise couldn’t convince one reader that Tolkien knew what he was doing. 

How, then, are you supposed to prove your literary worth with just five pages? Because that’s all you get when pitching your book to agents: a five-page writing sample and an introductory query letter. 

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Children's author Paul Jennings reflects on childhood, success and his writing process – Sunday April 9, 2023

A 13-word letter from a child was probably the most profound piece of writing ever to land in Paul Jennings' lap. 

"All he said was: 'Dear Paul Jennings, how come you know what it's like to be me?'," the author says.

"Good grief, you know. That little boy could see himself in my story, which is exactly what I want."

Close to four decades and nine million book sales have transpired since Jennings began his career as a children's writer.

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Ray Bradbury On Writing and Writers – Friday April 7, 2023

The following radio interview with Ray Bradbury was recorded over 50 years ago when I was quite young and terribly naive, it was to promote the release of the movie Something Wicked This Way Comes. What Ray Bradbury spent much of the time talking about was how many in society tried to tell us what we should and shouldn’t read, think and what can and cannot be imagined. It was, I think, a counseling session as much as an interview, encouraging myself and others to follow their heart and go their own way. Revisiting this interview has helped me recover my stalled creative momentum and I hope it will serve that purpose for others who read this.

Ray gave me the best advice about writing. Write! Who cares what’s published or heard tell the stories you want to tell. In his book Zen In The Art of Writing he talks about writing as a panacea for those living in troubled times.  “While our art cannot, as we wish it could save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.”  

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5 Key Tips for Writing About the Neurodivergent Without Stereotyping – Friday April 7, 2023

A neurodivergent psychotherapist (and author) offers up guidance on creating your ND characters

If I were a comic book heroine-or villain-the following would be my origin story:

When I was seven years old, my teachers called my mother in for a conference, informing her they didn’t think I was going to cut it at their fine academic institution. It was a small, Hebrew day school, with only twelve kids in my graduating class. Half the day we focused on our secular studies and the other half praying, studying Talmud, and learning how to read and write Hebrew. Think of it as the Jewish equivalent to Catholic school-equal amounts of guilt, but no penguins with corporal punish kinks. I would sit in class and stare off into seeming nothingness: eyes glazed with my mouth hanging slack, because Florida is a swamp I’m still allergic to and I had breathing issues. I would put two dots for eyes on my fingertips and pretend they were people under my desk. 

My mother took me in for psychoeducational testing which lasts hours—at least I think it did. I have time blindness, which means without a clock in my face, I have no concept of time. At the end, a lady gave me blank paper and crayons, saying I could color anything I wanted. And I remember thinking, ‘whatever I draw, she’s going to think that’s how I feel about myself.’ So I drew what was expected of me: a little girl smiling under a brilliant sky of blue, surrounded by flowers and endless possibilities. When she came collecting, I saw her eyes scan my creation, the smallest hint of a smile curling the corner of her mouth. I had passed—both the test and my first-time masking as normal.

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How to Query Your Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novel and Get Repped by a Literary Agent – Friday April 7, 2023

A literary agent can help you sell your book to a major publishing house. These tips can help you sell yourself to agents.

You’ve written a novel! First, take a moment and congratulate yourself for making it to the end. After you’ve edited, revised, and gotten critical feedback from critique partners and beta readers, you might be thinking: What’s next? For anyone considering a career in traditional publishing, the next step is querying.

Querying is the process of finding an agent to represent you. To have your manuscript considered by any of the Big 5 publishing houses, you typically need a literary agent. The querying process typically requires three parts: a letter to the agent, a one- or two-page synopsis of the plot, and a short writing sample — typically the first five to 15 pages of your novel, depending on the agent. This guide will break down each of the three components of your query, plus resources you can use to identify the right contacts and attract the attention of a literary agent.

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How a Tiny Literary Magazine Became a Springboard for Great Irish Writing – Wednesday April 5, 2023

The Stinging Fly has helped launch several of Ireland’s most promising writers. How has a publication with 1,000 subscribers carved a niche in the Irish canon?

Before Sally Rooney was the author of best-selling books, and well before those books became buzzy television series, she was an undergraduate student at Trinity College Dublin with a growing pile of unpublished poems and no contacts in the writing world. Her first break came in 2010, when The Stinging Fly, a small Irish literary magazine, agreed to publish her work.

For Colin Barrett that career turning point arrived in 2009, with the publication of his short story “Let’s Go Kill Ourselves” in The Stinging Fly. Four years later, Barrett’s debut collection, “Young Skins,” was released via the magazine’s adjacent press to international acclaim. Barrett went on to win the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

The Stinging Fly has been something of a revelation in Irish literature. Founded in Dublin in 1997 by Declan Meade and Aoife Kavanagh as a receptacle for “all this great writing floating around,” as Meade said, it earned government support and has reached its 25th year as a launching pad for some of the country’s most promising, and in time, some of its best known, poets and novelists. As such, it has also become prime poaching ground for editors in other countries hungry for Irish talent.

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How to Pitch to a Literary Agent – Wednesday April 5, 2023

In the latest “Craftwork” episode, a deep-dive conversation about literary agents with Carly Watters, herself a longtime literary agent and the co-host of the popular writing podcast The Shit No One Tells You About Writing. Carly is “very online” with a keen understanding of the digital landscape and the challenges faced by contemporary authors. In this episode, we discuss what you need to know about pitching a literary agent, what agents are looking for in writers—and more.

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