Over at The Gods are Bored, there’s a guest post from Margot Berwin talking about her debut novel. It sounds really interesting. But we are not talking about books! No, we are talking about publishing. Ha ha ha.
Anyway, she has some suggestions about how to get published:
1. Get published in smaller venues first. I went right for the big novel but I might have gotten published sooner if I’d had some smaller pieces out there. Getting published in journals or magazines, literary or otherwise, online or off, lets editors and agents know that you have an audience and that someone else believed in you enough to publish you. They love this.
2. I really hate this one but it works. If at all possible, get an MFA. While it’s true that no one can teach you to write, editors use this degree as a weeding out process. They’ll say they don’t, but they do. They get so many manuscripts; they have to separate them out in some way, and having an agent plus an MFA and a few published short stories, really helps. On another note, people in MFA programs become very close. They share information. Three people in my class of twelve have the same agent and two are being published at Random House. It’s a place for serious networking that actually works.
3. Go to readings. Read your work at readings. Network at readings. Being on the shy side, I never read out-loud. I was the only person in my class who skipped the reading portion of the MFA graduation. When I finally got published and Random House called me to tell me they were sending me on an 18-city book tour, I acted excited and then immediately got a prescription for beta-blockers. It was terrifying and I wish I’d practiced all along. And besides, I met my agent at a reading for Amy Hempel and he’s since signed two of my MFA classmates.
I want to walk a tricky rope here because I want to say that I believe that what Berwin is saying is true. I also want to say that, if it is true, it’s really depressing. About the only thing available to all writers, regardless of local, is the first one. You can, indeed, submit your writing places.
But getting an MFA? In this economy? With book publishing being where it is? That’s a lot of debt to acquire without a guarantee of a job or a book contract (even if it does make a book contract much more likely). And what about people who can’t just pick up their lives and move to a place that offers MFAs? How do they get access to networks and such?
Or going to readings? What if you don’t live in a place that has book readings?
I mean, in some ways, a good chunk of her advice can be summed up in “live in New York City.” Which, again, is fine and is probably true.
But it makes me wonder, as publishing shakes out how it will, will it become more regionalized? I mean, it’s funny, if you think about it. If you or I write a book about Nashville, that’s considered regional and not having a very big market, of interest to people only in Nashville and the surrounding areas. But if someone writes a book set in New York City, it is 75% of the time not considered a regional book (though it is interesting to think about the lines that demarcate a “regional” NYC book from one that isn’t. Outside the scope of my point, but I’m trying hard to not get distracted by it.), but a book that has wide appeal.
It makes sense. No one lives in a place and constantly thinks “oh, how quaint and unique!” Even if you do think those things at first, eventually, it just becomes the place you live. And the experiences you have there start to feel like universal experiences. So, of course, you think about books about the place you live as being kind of universal.
I think these things are understandable. But as we break down into a more boutique world, I wonder if we’ll see the rise of more regional publishing.
I don’t know. Just something I wonder about. If folks perceive that their stories about places other than NYC are going to be at a disadvantage with NYC publishers, will they look for other options? Will they make other options?
I don’t know. But I’m watching.