Traditional Publishing

Jaime Green on Writing with Research – Saturday April 29, 2023

I realized early on that what I loved about writing nonfiction was the finding. Digging some marvel out of a dusty corner and giving it a good wipe-down, holding it up so the reader can see how it catches the light. Look at that!

The item is always in the light, not me. The thrill of the jackpot in research entranced me, as did the satisfaction of setting the artifact in the perfect frame of an essay. Instead of puzzle pieces with only one solution, the research was mosaic tiles, making a different picture if you placed them this way or that. I thought, for a while, that was my art.

But it’s a choice, of course, how visible a writer makes their research. Not the information found, but the act of finding. And not the credit and citation—that’s not a flexible requirement—but whether the sourcing lives in your prose instead of just the back of the book. You do get to decide.

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I'm a poet. And I celebrate the days I write nothing – Friday April 28, 2023

During the 30 days of April, poetry, normally not-in-the-limelight, earns a hashtag: it’s #NationalPoetryMonth. It's as though Emily Dickinson has won a Publisher's Clearinghouse prize. There's a major uptick in poems studied, written, performed, and published as poetry becomes the focus of national educational organizations and local community arts counsels, heralded by U.S. Presidents and English language arts teachers alike.

I've been writing and publishing poetry since I was 15. It's usually a quiet gig. Come April, though, my day planner is flooded with readings, public appearances, online events, interviews and contests to establish or judge — and I'm only a state poet laureate. I can't imagine what U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limon's calendar looks like for those four weeks. All this fanfare for a genre that won't be touched by most literary agents.

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Without freedom of publishing, culture withers – Friday April 28, 2023

In a world of ideological polarisation, books are in a hazardous position. On the Left, we have those who want to rewrite history, to vandalise our cultural heritage – as illustrated by Penguin Random House’s assault on the works of Roald Dahl, disclosed by The Telegraph in February – and to introduce a literary landscape where the experience of the individual is favoured over the unfettered imagination.

Yet while such small-mindedness is prevalent on both sides of the Atlantic, America is also seeing a rise in censorship and book banning from the Right – which, fortunately, is yet to make it to British shores. The New York Times reported that according to the American Library Association, attempted bans have seen an alarming rise, with 2,571 titles under fire in 2022, compared with a mere 223 in 2020. Many of these books are estimable, but seem to fall victim to their thematic content, which doesn’t always sit well with middle America. Third on the list, for instance, was Toni Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye (first published in 1970), which not only features a racially abused black child who yearns to have blue eyes, but also contains a hefty amount of sex and violence.

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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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