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The Laws Have Changed: Publish or Perish

The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) monitors both the number and type of books published per country per year. In 2005, the US shelved 172,000 new books. We only came in second to the UK, which printed a total of 206,000.

With numbers like that it's no surprise to anyone -- especially struggling writers -- that landing a book deal, or even just scoring an agent, has gotten harder than debuting a number one pop single without ever having released a record. It helps if you're as cute as Lily Allen. But most unpublished fiction writers we know (ourselves included) are perpetually exhaustinated, malnourished, and pasty. We avoid contact with fresh air and sunshine and other humans in favor of the warm glow MS Word v. 6.0 emits on our laptop. Just livin life, ya'll.

Since we're always staring at a computer screen, we were thrilled to learn via handy press release that the relationship of writers to publishers is being TRANSFORMED by a little thang called electronic mail. The release, courtesy Publishersandagents.net:

"At one time, a new book author had to go through an agent to sell a book to a major publisher. But now with e-mails and a compelling query, writers with a good story have been able to break through and achieve major deals...It's an approach that has been changing the relationship between writers and publishers, connecting them directly or helping writers find agents to close the deal with already interested publishers."

That was a convulted way of saying that P&A.net is one of many companies that sends out mass email pitch queries to agents and publishers for a subscription fee. They also offer special tools and tricks to beefing up your query letter and getting your manuscript read and reviewed, rather than tossed in to the slush pile or trashed as spam. Well, we used to work in publishing, and the other assistant in our office would sometimes forward us horrible pitch letters that we would giggle over during our five second lunch break. So it's true that a smart query can make a difference in getting treated like a professional -- even if your actual manuscript is terrible. There are horrible books being published every day. We know. We read them in airports and buy them at the supermarket for kitch value.

If you head over to P&A.net's extremely meta website that looks like something out of AOL's Hometown Member pages circa 1997 (who needs spell-checker when you've got 15 pt Tahoma fonts?), you can read testimonials from over 150 clients who claim to have either found a publisher or gained an agent from this service.

NANOWRIMO is four months away, and like we do every year, we torture ourselves into thinking we're actually going to give it a shot come November 1st. Realistically speaking we'll probably just wind up trying to send out a short story or two so that we can collect the rejection letters in a shoebox to show our grandchildren when we want to prove we were once exciting and creative in our youth. Bottom line, though, is we want to be published. We're also poor as hell and can't afford P&A's subscription-only magic. Plus, we like masochistic, large projects that consume vast quantities of our time. So we've decided to compile a list of free resources that'll have you on your merry way to proofing galleys at the local coffee shop. Those trustafarians scribbling in their painstakingly decorated journal-notebooks are so gonna wish they were you. Oh, and leave a comment if you think we're missing something important, because there's a shitton out there and we're still new at this, too. 

1. Poets & Writer's Magazine: Links to 429 literary magazines where you can send poems and short stories, as well as 156 small presses that are likelier to entertain unsolicited pitches from unknown or unpublished authors.
2. The Council of Literary Magazines and Small Presses (CLMP).
3. New Pages' handy Guide to Literary Magazines. Read as many as you can, and send your work to those that share the aesthetic of your voice, your subject, and your style. They're all looking for something different, which means you should tailor your submissions to the magazines that want exactly what you've already done.
4. Better yet, New Pages' Guide to Online Literary Magazines. Start here and work your way up to print -- online lit mags are well-respected and just as widely read (if not more so -- free content?!) as print mags. And many of them submit to Best Of collections -- which means, if an online mag prints your work, you're in the running.
5. Grub Street: More links to literary and press guides, as well as info on New England writer's residences, local mags calling for submissions, and upcoming contests. The fall class schedule at Grub St. should be up in a few weeks here.
6. Good god, we heart Ploughshares, Emerson College's esteemed literary journal. They're tough to crack, but if you're a local, you've got to send here. They might even get back to you with a personalized rejection letter (seriously, that's cool). Or, they could accept your work, which would give you enormous bragging rights forever and ever and ever.
7. And holy shit we're totally obsessed with Zoetrope: All-Story, too. Reach for your dreams!
8. Keeping up with Publisher's Weekly, the industry's trade magazine standard for news and pre-pub reviews, is a great way to find out more about current literary trends in case you're sitting on something you can tailor to the demands. It's not necessarily worth the subscription fee, but the Web Exclusives still allows you to access most reviews, as well as the PWJobZone. Working in the industry can only help you learn the ins and outs of how to get published.
9. So You Wanna: Publish a Book, Publish a Short Story, Publish a Poem: Obvious yet simple. Step-by-step instructions to doing each of these things.
10. Subscribe to Publisher's Lunch (run by Publisher's Marketplace), a daily e-mail newsletter that publishes deal news, trends, job opportunities, and industry coups: PublishersLunch-subscribe@topica.com
11. Atlantic Monthly's comprehensive list of Boston publishers and media is a good resource for local publishers to pitch to, not to mention internship opportunities if you're still in school.
12. Neil Gaiman runs a much beloved author blog, and he has some wise suggestions and a bevy of links on this post, which answered a reader's query last January.
13. MediaBistro: Excellent, heavily updated content on everything that has anything to do with publishing -- media, books, the works. And you don't need to be an AvantGuild member to learn.
14. Don't count on Craig's List: $850 for a short story? Is this f'reals?
15. Start a blog, get a book deal. We'll be waiting for that phone call.

 

 

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