W3 Wise Words on Writing

W3 is a monthly newsletter for writers on a variety of topics from technique to the psychology of writing. It appears by the 15th of each month. More information is available from www.wisewordsonwriting.com

Monday, May 09, 2005

No 10 Chicken/Egg--Writing/Marketing


When we write do we think of where we can sell our work then write it or do we write and then hope we can find a market? The answer can be yes and no to both methods.

It depends on us and the type of writing we do and why.

Poetry: The beautiful poems that have touched me are usually written because the poet had to write them, not that they have found a market and then wrote the poem. Of course, this isn't the case 100%. A poet laureate is asked to create poetry on demand, but we have no poet laureate subscribers (yet). Most literary magazines print poetry and it's a matter of researching the various literary guides, the web or looking at the classifieds in Poets & Writers www.pw.org from the U.S. or Writers News from the UK www.writersnews.co.uk. Other sources are THE POET’S MARKETPLACE, THE DEFINITIVE SOURCEBOOK ON WHERE TO GET YOUR POEMS PUBLISHED; LITERATURE AND THE MARKETPLANCE, ROMANTIC WRITERS AND THEIR AUDIENCES IN GREAT BRITAIN AND THE UNITED STATES.

www.writersweekly.com is a free weekly newsletter giving markets. Benn's www.gospelcom.net/guide/benns.html is used by advertising agencies in helping them set their media budgets but also can help writers find markets. It is costly. Some good libraries may have it. If you have an area of expertise besides writing, it is worth it to get the schedule of a magazine in that field and think of articles that will make the editor want to assign the topic to you.

Fiction: This is the hardest to advise on whether someone should write for the market or write what they feel. Robin Cook's first novel was not a great success. He studied the market and developed the formula for the medical thriller based on criteria for other thriller categories.

On the other hand Frank McCourt wrote ANGELA’S ASHES from the heart. He had tried writing it, but at one point put it aside and then went back to it. When he finally published it memoir was at a peak. I know that's not fiction, but sometimes after we write our work, we hit the "in" form. However, if we try to follow fads, we might spend two years writing a book, only to find the genre has gone out of fashion or changed.

Some of the Asian writers are complaining that they are trapped within their genre of cross-cultural Asian-American writing. As a reader, I would have been really sorry if Amy Tan hadn't written THE BONESETTER’S DAUGHTER but at the same time, how much more would I love another type of novel from her? Probably a lot.

Short stories represent a much less heavy investment than novels in time and energy although some writers spend months getting a short story just right. Canadian writer Isabel Huggan author of THE ELIZABETH STORIES told about being uncomfortable with one of her stories for months and fiddled with it and fiddled with it, until she discovered what was wrong was the music she mentioned. And although there are not a lot of paying markets as there were in the days of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, there are a respectable number of literary magazines, often sponsored by universities where a writer can submit. Again there are a number of directories, plus the web to research potential markets.

However for creative writing the best work is that which passionately engages the author. If we don't care why should any of our readers?

My personal feeling is to divide commercial and creative writing. My news articles are agreed upon in advance. I am lucky enough to have established a good relationship within the credit union industry that provides me with a fairly steady source of work, which I find interesting and enjoyable.

My creative work, however, is based on what my heart wants to write - subjects that I want to examine. The results may or may not be commercial, but I have found that if I do my really best to tell the story, a good amount of my work will find a home. They may be rejected many times, but eventually, someone will see the same thing I saw when I wrote them.

Rejection is a big part of any marketing attempt. Any number of writers says they always circulate more than one submission. Then when a rejection comes in they don't feel that everything is lost. Another says that they always have all their work in circulation, and another package of that same work ready to go when a rejection comes in.

Writers new to marketing often ask about double submissions. There are three schools of thought.

1. No. Editors don't want to go to the work of reading a work that another person might be accepting.

2. Yes. Some magazines/publishers can take years to respond. Some never do. A salesman would never make only one sales call for a product if he wanted to be successful. Get the work out to as many potential buyers as possible.

3. Maybe. Send the work to as many potential markets as you want, but keep track of where you have sent it so you can withdraw it if someone offers to take it. The other is to give a source three months and if you've heard nothing, send it elsewhere. Follow-up letters are seldom successful

One writer friend reports that she devotes one Sunday a month to marketing.

The person who requested this topic stated that making a decision was difficult. Whether on the web or in directory, most magazines give some guidelines. If they say we don't accept science fiction, don't send them a science fiction piece.

Most important send your work out. As a new writer, a publisher will not knock on your door and say, "I heard you were writing a short story (novel, play, song or poem), please give it to me." Once your piece is the best you think it can be, after it is free of typos, after it is on clean paper and double-spaced with proper margins, you need to be aggressive. Get it into the email or snail-mail - over and over until someone says yes. If it is really your best work well written, sooner or later someone will see the merit. While you are waiting get back to your writing. Once it slips into the mailbox or cyberspace, there is nothing more you can do. It's like sending your child off to university. If you have been a good parent, it will succeed in the world.


"From somewhere in my memory, either amateur hour TV or the boardwalk in Venice, I remember a sideshow act called plate spinning. The object of this entertainment endeavor is to rotate plates balanced on thin wooden dowels. The practitioner gets several pieces of supposedly good china spinning at once and then must quickly move from dowel to dowel, keeping everything spinning and aloft. Particular attention is paid to the plate in the middle of the formation. By virtue of its position, it is the most important of plates. If it goes down, it invariably takes several other plates with it and you have broken china all over the ground and an empty tip bucket.

In my mind I often liken writing a book to spinning plates. There are many, many different things you have to keep up and panning at all times…" (Michael Connelly from WRITING MYSTERIES edited by Sue Grafton. He was talking about plot elements in mystery, but it also applies to what we writers must do to keep our balance between creativity, commercialism and marketing.)

Here's how Maxine Hong Kingston juggles her work.

"I have almost finished my longbook. Let my life as Poet begin. I want the life of a the Poet. I have labored for over twelve years, one thousand pages of prose. Now I want the easiness of poetry. The brevity of the poem. Poets are always happy. I want to be always happy. No plotting and more plots. For the longbook (about the long wars in Vietnam and in the Middle East) I sacrificed time with my child, grown and gone, and my husband and family and friends, who should have been loved more. The long book has got to be done soon, and I'll be free to live. I won't be a workhorse any more; I'll be a skylark. (From TO BE A POET to be published by Harvard University Press this month. The excerpt appeared in the Women's Review of Books in July 2002.)


1. Set aside one day a month to research markets and after you purchase the relevant directories or find them in libraries, web, and magazines.

2. Have a list of what you've written (or want to write) and compare that to the sources.

3. Develop a database to track what you are doing. This can be done on file cards, databases or on spreadsheets.


If anyone wants to share comments , ideas, information about special conferences, retreats, etc. please let me know. We had a great number of letters this month in response to the silence newsletter as well as the letter that inspired this month's topic.

1. Inactivity has forced me to spend time looking for help with my writing from sources other than real live people. I discover that, whereas for academic work, I would have no difficulty, I'm having trouble - not to say that I seem to be paralysed - when faced with doing a market study on the web. I have found a couple of interesting e-zines, but seem unable to analyse what I'm looking at in such a way as to determine whether : what I write will interest the editor, or whether (how) I might adapt my idea so that it is likely to interest him/her.

Apart from word count, and general style (more or less narrative, more or less dialogue ...), I don't really know what sorts of things I should focus on. At the moment, I'm not bothered about being paid. Just getting something into print would be nice. So, I was wondering whether you have thought of giving help with this sort of thing in Wise Words on Writing? If you can help, that would be great. Thanks. And if you can't, thanks anyway for taking the time to read this.

2. . I am rather old, but at this point my ambition for writing is to get to know myself better and to put my history of a feeling life into a concrete form so that I can examine it.

My "real" life with my family, husband, work, chores, travels, and household moves keeps me from writing more.

I write a little and still have hope to write more. But when is a question that can't be answered yet. Thanks again for the newsletter about this problem!

3. Thank you for the inspiring message and technique. This is just what I needed. Your writing reminded me I'm not alone and to keep the focus where it belongs.

4. Thanks for this great message. I have on many occasions gone to cafes where I thought I'd be able to sit quietly and write. But the silence, and concentration, are shattered by the constant din of tinny music, and by the sense that they want the chairs revolving with new customers. So, one continually looks for a quiet place, particularly when you want to get out of the apartment for a while. It would be so great to find writing cafes, where there is a bit of silence, but not solitude. It is also good to know that the classic writers went through self-doubt. This is very helpful, and comforting.

5. I sat in my peaceful kitchen at 6:30 am last week - by 7:45 am the dog had ripped the curtains, the washing machine had flooded (twice), and the cat had brought in a huge frog. I remember thinking 'I bet Jane Austin didn't have to deal with this!' On the other hand, it's something to write about...I look forward to your letters each month, especially as we are starting a new evening writers' group in October. I wonder if you could incorporate any tips about writing ghost stories for our winter gatherings? (By the way, I rescued Froggy)


Post a Comment

<< Home