Traditional Publishing

10 Tips For Applying to Writing Residencies – Thursday March 9, 2023

Like a lot of writers tackling a book project, I’ve applied to a few residencies with mixed success. But it was only this year, when I reviewed applications for a residency that I had previously attended that I really started to see what makes some applications fail and others really succeed. 

Most of the factors that decide a person’s acceptance are settled before they write their application— namely, the quality of the work, its alignment with the mission of the residency, and their personal qualifications as a writer. But a weak application can get a very established writer passed over with little more than a second thought, while a strong one can send an emerging writer to the top of the short list. So what can you do to put your application in contention? 

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Living the writing life means living with failure – Tuesday March 7, 2023

Writing is a hard way to make a living, which is why a whole ecosystem exists to help you feel like you’re succeeding at it. Hashtags like #amwriting provide steady pep talks for people wading through the muck of a first draft. Dubious-seeming ads on Facebook peddle frictionless methods for selling thousands of copies of your book, practically without your even writing it. Perhaps less dubious but certainly more expensive, writing retreats offer chances to workshop your novel with professional guidance beneath the Tuscan sun or some equivalent. You can do it!

Except sometimes — often — most of the time? — you can’t. And when you fail, the ecosystem generally prefers you keep that to yourself. Social media thrives on self-deprecating riffs about rejection, but writers tend to reserve their most despairing fits of self-pity for their diaries. One of my favorite examples of the form is by Bernard Malamud, who, upon learning that his contemporary Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1976, sourly jotted: “Bellow gets Nobel Prize. I win $24.25 in poker.”

To confess failure messes with the narrative that writers have collectively built around success. That narrative fittingly resembles Freytag’s Pyramid, a classic shape for dramatic structure: rising action with some complications along the way, building to a triumphant climax and gently returning back to earth. For a writer, that means long solitary hours toiling away, then collecting rejections, until that magic moment when you can share your Publishers Lunch deal announcement on Twitter. (At which point you might safely joke about those past rejections.)

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Writing is a ‘questionable business’, but what to make of John Hughes, one of the most prolific plagiarists in literary history? – Thursday March 2, 2023

In June of last year, the Guardian revealed that John Hughes’ Miles Franklin-longlisted novel The Dogs contained material lifted from The Unwomanly Face of War, a book by Nobel Prize-winning Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich. When approached about this, Hughes apologised for the transgression, describing the plagiarism as unintentional.

Before long, it was found that The Dogs contained material taken from numerous other texts, including widely read classics The Great Gatsby and All Quiet on the Western Front.

Hughes responded to these further revelations not with an apology, but with a spirited self-defence. He compared himself, rather incongruously, to Jorge Luis Borges’ Pierre Menard – a fictional character who sets out to rewrite Don Quixote line for line (the absurdity of the endeavour being the point) – and Jean Rhys, whose novel Wide Sargasso Sea does not hide the fact that it is a prequel to and reframing of Jane Eyre that exposes the original’s colonialist underpinnings.

Hughes was, he claimed, creating “a kind of literary palimpsest”. He insisted he had “always spoken through the voices of others”.

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The New, Weirdly Racist Guide to Writing Fiction – Tuesday February 28, 2023

Since its 2021 publication, Craft in the Real World has attained immense popularity in the tiny world of graduate creative writing programs. On Twitter, other writers of color gushed about this book to me, saying it “opens your brain” and “decolonizes storytelling.” Its author, Matthew Salesses, was a professor at Oklahoma State when the book was published, but has since taken up a teaching position in one of America’s most prestigious training grounds for fiction professionals, Columbia University’s MFA program in creative writing. Salesses has also become a magnet for controversy: One of his Columbia Aniversity syllabi went viral several weeks ago (to both criticism and applause) because it requires graduate students in his workshop to name the gender and race of their characters upon “first introduction.”

But what does it mean to decolonize storytelling? In practice, a new strain of unease has crept into the discourse within writing workshops. This unease primarily manifests in a verbal tic: A student will give a reading of the story under discussion, and then immediately negate their own critique. For instance, they might say the pacing is too slow, then say: “But I dunno, maybe nothing really needs to happen in a story.” If they say the writing isn’t descriptive, they add: “But some cultures really prioritize telling over showing.” If they think the characters are flat, or even stereotypical, they might state this opinion, then perseverate: “Some audiences prefer their characters to be types, though.”

Seen in one light, this is a positive development. Students are taking into account the author’s intentions and reading the story’s purported flaws in the most generous light. They’re also making at least a gesture at interrogating received wisdom.

But the natural next question is, “What stories do you like where nothing happens? What good stories are mostly told in summary? What are some ways for a flat character to be appealing?”

To these questions, you’ll normally receive embarrassed silence. They have no idea. If asked to name an authority for their opinions, these students will often point to Craft in the Real World, which claims that Western notions of craft—the West’s ideas about what makes for a good story—are often inapplicable to nonwhite writers and people writing from non-Western traditions. For instance, Salesses’ book insists repeatedly that a writer who hews to Western notions of craft will likely consider Chinese stories to be boring or think that African characters are flat. As Salesses repeatedly says, some stories simply aren’t meant for white people.

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Roald Dahl once said he would set an ‘enormous crocodile’ on publishers if they changed his work – Monday February 27, 2023

Roald Dahl's comments from 40 years ago about "setting an enormous crocodile" on his publishers if they changed his work have shed light on what the late author would have thought of attempts to censor him.

Dahl was recorded specifically saying that he would be outraged by the idea of censorship after his death, and joked that he would send the title character from his book The Enormous Crocodile to deal with his publishers.

The Daily Telegraph had reported that recent versions of children's favourites by Dahl, who died in 1990, had been changed by publisher Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Random House, to remove descriptions of characters as "fat" and "ugly" in books including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.

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ChatGPT showed me just how far it is from writing a blockbuster – Sunday February 26, 2023

10,000 hours. That’s how long, at least according to author Malcolm Gladwell, it’s supposed to take to master a craft. Or, if you’re an AI a matter of months, weeks, or days.

When I read that ChatGPT is now such an adept writer it’s already authored hundreds of books on Amazon’s self-publishing service, I experienced a mini freakout. To be clear, OpenAI’s groundbreaking chatbot is not publishing these tomes on its own. People are working with ChatGPT to develop themes, stories, and chapters for their books.

My immediate reaction was, “I’m doomed.” But as the icy chill of that cold reality receded, I considered something else. Anyone can write and publish a book, and most of them won’t be very good.

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Thrillers, Yes—Join the Genre

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach – Sunday February 26, 2023

5 Ideas for Finally Making BIG Money

Don’t say I told you this, but Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide is listed by Amazon as one of its big sellers already this year. It’s also a thriller. The book is from Simon and Schuster.

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3 Common Writing Mistakes New Sci-Fi/Fantasy Authors Make – Friday February 17, 2023

Ioften get two responses when I tell people that I write books. The first is, "Oh, I don't think I could ever do that!" The second is just the opposite. "You know, I had an idea for a book myself."

The truth lies somewhere in between those two thoughts. It's certainly not impossible to write a book, but it takes more than a single good idea. You can write a great scene in a day, but a novel is often a labor of deliberate love. It takes time, planning, and revisions.

As a writer and an editor, I have seen many first-time authors (myself especially) struggle with the same few problems. This article highlights one issue I often see at the beginning, middle, and end of new authors' works—and how you can fix them.

If you are writing your first book, these tips can improve your manuscript and help you actually finish.

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Want to be a writer? This bleak but buoyant guide says to get used to rejection – Wednesday February 15, 2023

"No whining."

That's one of Stephen Marche's refrains throughout his provocative essay called On Writing and Failure. As a writer himself, Marche would never deny that writing is hard work: He well knows that writing for a living is fatiguing to the brain and tough on the ego and that the financial payoff is overwhelmingly dismal. But, by repeatedly saying, "No whining," Marche is telling aspiring writers, in particular, to "get used to it."

His aim in this little book is to talk about "what it takes to live as a writer, in air clear from the fumes of pompous incense." And what it takes, in Marche's view, is to have no illusions about the certainty of failure. Even beyond talent or luck, Marche argues, the one thing a writer needs to get used to is failing, again and again.

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AI is better at writing poems than you’d expect. But that’s fine. – Tuesday February 14, 2023

In 1950, computer scientist Alan Turing famously proposed what we now call the Turing test of artificial intelligence, which says that a machine might be “thinking” if it can pass as human in a typewritten chat. Even if you’re familiar with this story, you might not know that Turing imagined starting his test with a literary request: “Please write me a sonnet on the subject of the Forth Bridge.” He predicted an evasive but very human response from some future computer: “Count me out on this one. I never could write poetry.” That’s just what my dad would say.

Last week, I sent the same request to ChatGPT, the latest artificial-intelligence chatbot from OpenAI. “Upon the Firth of Forth, a bridge doth stand,” it began. In less than a minute, the program had created in full a rhyming Shakespearean sonnet. With the exception of offensive or controversial topics that its content filters block, ChatGPT will compose original verse on any theme: lost love, lost socks, jobs lost to automation. Tools like ChatGPT seem poised to change the world of poetry — and so much else — but poets also have a lot to teach us about artificial intelligence. If algorithms are getting good at writing poetry, it’s partially because poetry was always an algorithmic business.

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