AWP 2012 – Prettying Up the Baby: Publishing CNF in a Challenging Market

March 1, 2012 § 1 Comment


By Allison Schuette

R 12:00-1:15  Prettying Up the Baby: Publishing CNF in a Challenging Market

Ava Chin, Dawn Raffel, Marion Winik

I’m sitting here at the Corner Bakery not far from the Palmer House, trying to refuel for the second half of the day.  On my left, a woman is negotiating with someone about adoption (going that way, with the whole enchilada, would be too expensive); on my right, another woman eats salad while reading the news.  (She looks like another AWP attender, at least of one sort: sensible shoes, loose scarf, soft turtleneck, ah, yes, and the ubiquitous lanyard.)  I’m eating my own salad: spinach with oranges, grapes, strawberries and goat cheese.  I tried to order this salad as a combo, you know, like they serve at Panera.  No deal.  You want the half sandwich, you’re stuck with just greens.  And I’m a sucker for goat cheese, so I went with the salad.  But now I wish I’d just gone with the Panini.  The salad doesn’t live up to its name.

That’s almost how I feel about Prettying Up the Baby.  What I expected: a panel on how you take your CNF manuscript and tweak its cheeks into a ruddy complexion that publishers will coo over.  If not that, then a panel on how you think commercially without selling your soul.  Instead I got a panel on how the field of freelance writing has changed.

I blame myself.  I didn’t read the description in the big AWP book, only the title from the easier-to-manage planner.  Maybe I should have spent a little more time with the menu at Corner Bakery as well.  That doesn’t mean, however, I left totally unsatisfied.  Here are a few morsels.

  • ·      The market today presents far more opportunities for writers (good news!), but at less pay (bad news).  In addition, the stuff you love to write doesn’t earn the kind of money that service pieces do (advice columns were mentioned twice).  Winik recommends asking for more than you think you should ask for; editors won’t hang up on you.
  • ·      The opportunities of the Internet have had a positive impact even on print.  Readers expect personalities online and this has transferred to the page; magazines don’t edit down to the house’s voice.  You get to keep a bit more control over your work.
  • ·      Online presence is absolutely necessary now.  Publishers and editors will ask how many friends and followers you have.  You need an online brand to push and promote your materials—use Twitter, Facebook, a blog.
  • ·      All the writers affirmed that you should write what you love and persevere in it.  This commitment will lay the path for where you need to be, and it will keep your soul alive.

And now I think I’ll go order a cookie.

 —
Allison Schuette teaches at Valparaiso University.

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