September 7, 2020 § 2 Comments
By Josh Sippie
Writing conferences can be kind of daunting. I spent about half a decade going to various conferences across the Eastern seaboard as an eager attendee, relishing my 2.5 minutes of facetime with editors and agents, and awkwardly trying to start conversations with writers because we had one thing for sure in common—we were both writers. Whether it was a conference for book-length projects or just slinging essays about tattoos or poor choices made as a teenager, I felt like my success as a writer would be won or lost in the hallowed halls of a generic hotel-turned-conference-space.
But it got to the point when I started to feel like they just weren’t doing it anymore. Those 2.5 minutes didn’t amount to success, and it seemed like they were all blending together into the same experiences. Fortunately, I found myself eventually in a position to make a difference. As the Director of Conferences and Contests at Gotham Writers, I wanted to make a conference that could make a difference. Only I wasn’t exactly sure how, only that I knew what I wanted from a conference, and assumed others would want the same.
So I reached out to the people that attract writers to conferences—agents and editors. And I asked them what they would want to see from a conference. My logic was if we could make the “talent” happy, we could make the attendees happy as well. After all, you can only see so many panels before they start to repeat. I know I’m not alone when I say that I attended conferences with the hopes of making a connection to further my writing endeavors.
Their response surprised me—they hated conferences. Many saw them as a “rite of passage” for newer agents and editors, to get their feet wet in the industry. They highlighted any number of things that writing conferences did that drove them crazy and begging for the end of the day. So I asked them what would make that different, what would get them excited about a conference.
That got a better response. They didn’t want quick pitches, they wanted to educate. They wanted quality projects. They also wanted a decent lunch break.
Thus, the Gotham Writers Conference was born. A conference for book-length projects of nonfiction and fiction alike. Rather than speed dating 10 agents hoping to strike gold, we’re giving writers the chance to make a genuine connection. And, in turn, that allows us to line up some of the best agents in the business. We divide writers into “pitching roundtables” where they spend four hours with up to eight other writers in their genre, as well as two top agents in that genre. In that four hours, everyone will go over their first few pages and query letter or nonfiction book proposal. If it sparks a connection—great. We had writers land their agent in our first ever conference last year. But the goal here is to put writers in a better place after the conference so that they are better equipped to find an agent on their own.
With the individualized attention, writers leave their table knowing how to move themselves forward with their writing career, because there isn’t always going to be a conference there… as we are unfortunately learning in the times of COVID.
Josh Sippie is the Director of Conferences and Contests at Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City, where he also teaches. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Writer Magazine, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Hobart, and more. When not writing, he can be found wondering why he isn’t writing. Twitter @sippenator101, more at joshsippie.com.
July 22, 2020 § 9 Comments
By Vicki Lindner
In December of last year, I finished my ‘60s memoir, Baby, It’s You. (I won’t admit how long “finishing” took.) Then I placed the 300-page manuscript in a black plastic box and buried it in my walnut cabinet. Here, I thought, Baby could rest like a tulip bulb waiting to bloom —for three months.
When Alan, a writer friend, asked how “Baby” was going, (hesitantly, as if inquiring how many millimetres a melting glacier has shrunk), I said, “It’s done.”
“Wow,” Alan said, “Congratulations! Are you sending it out?” And I confessed I wasn’t, not yet. I’d come to understand that I sent my stuff to likely prospects all too soon, and only after rejections popped into my inbox, realized that the manuscript needed work—from cutting and shaping to re-imagining. And if that was true of an essay or short story it would likely be truer for the monster snoozing in the black box. Despite compulsive revisions, I told Alan, “Baby” was too vast for my limited literary vision to take in just yet.
Alan said that failure to “see” new work applied to his process too. As it does, I think, to many writers. We finish, so full of hubris, trepidation, even boredom, in such a hurry to “succeed” or to “win” that we gulp down encouraging feedback from other writers and forget the endurance that writing, the toughest extreme sport, demands. “Patient sustained labor,” Vivian Gornick called it.
That was one truth, but I faced another, more psychological: I’d been nurturing “Baby” so long that to throw the infant to sharp-toothed critics in cold publishing waters seemed like diving naked into the Arctic Ocean myself. And I admit, writing the memoir had transported me back to the ‘60s, a transformative era, more rewarding than the current one, enmeshed as it is in this global pandemic.
So I called Melissa, a wise Montana poet and essayist. She, too, asked about my memoir. I explained that “Baby” was hibernating like a Grizzly in winter. Melissa loves bears, but she didn’t exclaim, as Alan did, “Good idea.” Then I raised a painful topic—the time I refused to resubmit my short story collection to a contest, in which it had been a finalist, after the judge strongly suggested I should, assuring me that the book didn’t need more and better stories as I insisted. (No, I didn’t rush to the psychoanalyst Junot Diaz recommends for all writers.) And now, after years of kicking myself for not exploring my fear of rejection, I asked Melissa, “Am I doing what I did with the contest by putting my memoir down for a long winter’s nap?”
“YES,” she answered without missing a beat.
But though I did self-destruct by not resubmitting the story collection, I still thought I should give my memoir time to ferment. Nobody was clamoring to publish it in a pandemic. And it focused on a subject that could benefit from additional thought—a taboo relationship, which helped the teenaged girl I was in the memoir to jettison the ‘50s stifling script. Plus an agent had told me what I already knew: My first chapter sucked.
After revision I’d called that chapter “good,” but needed time and space to be sure. Another question: Had I figured out what my father—a munitions expert who’d conceptualized weapons systems for the Vietnam War—was doing in this work? After three months of thinking instead of pretending to think by re-writing compulsively, I knew.
But back to “Baby”, germinating in the cabinet. While waiting for the proverbial tulip to bloom, I wrote shorter works, a new short story, an essay, and my morning prompts — “comments” to The New York Times. And I kept reading relevant books and stuffing notes in the black box.
Then came the early spring day I’d vowed to awaken “Baby” from torpor. I duly extracted the closeted box, and forbidding myself swings between depression and elation, pencil-edited the manuscript. I’d been right to wait. How had the best chapters turned into the worst ones? With refreshed vision I saw countless passages that would shine after tightening, or in some cases, loosening; I empowered verbs and batted away pesky commas. Most important, I judiciously developed essential ideas and remodeled misshapen sentences. Then I began typing my handwritten edits into the computer, seeing more opportunities for betterment. (But when I caught myself changing new words back to the old ones I knew it was time to stop.) The governor’s stay-at-home orders, I guiltily admit, proved a gift, though some days I stared into space, immobilized by anxious inertia. Ultimately my apartment lockdown revealed that I needed to let go of the past as who could say how long my present would last.
Now I’m about to mail the manuscript to a few friends who’ve agreed to read it. Then I will write a query, the hardest part.
And when “Shelter-at-Home” turned to “Safer-at-Home,” I visited Tess, my new Jungian shrink.
Vicki Lindner writes memoir, personal essays, and short fiction in Denver, Colorado, where she also teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Her essays have been published by Gastronomica, American Literary Review, In Short: An Anthology of Brief Nonfiction, Seneca Review, Shadowboxmagazine.org, New Writing, Western Humanities Review, and others She has won two Wyoming Fellowships for Creative Nonfiction, a National Endowment for the Arts for fiction, and two New York State fellowships, also for fiction.
July 2, 2020 § 26 Comments
By Erica Goss
My favorite rejections start with “Dear Erica” and end with “sincerely.”
They explain that regretfully, unfortunately, after close review, even though it was lovely, even though it sparked interest, even though they were impressed, even though they enjoyed reading it, even though there was much to admire, even though it stood out from the rest, even though they appreciated the opportunity to read it, my work does not fit their needs.
They often seem disappointed. After all, they read my work with care, with pleasure, with interest, with gratitude, and with the closest attention. I almost feel sorry for them. I certainly feel sorry for myself.
Once in a while, the rejection comes with the explanation that they received so much high quality work it made their selection process extremely difficult. This is hard. I understand. I assume, of course, that my submission was part of the high quality work they refer to.
There is often a fee for rejection. This is also called a reading fee.
After I receive my rejection I’m frequently asked to buy something else. I’m invited to make a donation, buy a subscription, enter a contest, contribute to a tip jar, and recommend that others do as well.
Of course, due to the volume of submissions, they cannot respond personally.
It makes me happy when I’m asked to submit again, even if it requires another reading fee.
I keep track of my rejections. No rejection is ever forgotten. It lives forever as an entry in my spreadsheet.
I don’t like to see the word “rejected” in my spreadsheet. I prefer “declined.” It’s easier to see “declined” over and over, page after page, year after year.
I look back at my spreadsheet. I calculate my acceptance rate. From my figures, it seems I have mastered this rejection thing.
When I’m bored, I’ll see if the rejection email from a particular journal has changed. Some journals have sent me the same rejection email, word for word, for years.
There’s a thing called a “tiered” rejection. From a menu of rejection emails, the journal chooses one based on how much they liked your submission. From the rejection emails I have received, I can see that I’ve gotten rejections that range from terse to encouraging and back to terse again, from the same journals. This is true of journals that have accepted my work, as well as the ones that have rejected me over and over.
I try not to send my work to a journal that stipulates, in words similar to these, “If we haven’t responded in x number of months, consider yourself unchosen.” I want an actual, emailed rejection to seal the deal.
However, for reasons that aren’t always clear, those rejections might not come. Fairly often, the journal goes under and fails to inform the writers. When that happens, it’s hard to know what to put in my spreadsheet. “Never heard back?” “Ghosted?” “Crickets?”
I’m never sure if I should consider my work rejected if I haven’t heard back in a year. You’d be surprised how often a year goes by before you hear from a journal.
Sometimes, like curses or wise men, rejections come in threes, on the same day, in the same hour. Sometimes, this is how the day starts.
Rejections have a special look to them. The subject line almost always starts with “RE: Your Submission to our literary journal.”
I’m an editor as well as a submitter, and much of the above applies to me when I receive submissions of other people’s writing. If I have to decline a submission, I try to inform the writer as soon as possible, and in as kind a tone as possible. If I liked their work, I invite them to submit again.
Every time I send a rejection, I remember how it feels to get those emails that start with “RE: Your Submission to our literary journal.”
My rejection might be that writer’s third in one day.
Some days are like that.
Erica Goss is a poet and freelance writer. She served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA from 2013-2016. Her essays, reviews and poems appear widely, including in Lake Effect, Atticus Review, Contrary, Convergence, Spillway, Cider Press Review, Eclectica, The Tishman Review, Tinderbox, The Red Wheelbarrow, and Main Street Rag, among others. She is the founder of Girls’ Voices Matter, an arts education program for teen girls.
June 25, 2020 § 11 Comments
Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore will be offering a one-hour webinar next week, titled The Power of Story: Finding the River of Meaning in Your Memoir or Essay, as part of Creative Nonfiction‘s virtual education program.
The online webinar will examine the craft elements that can transform a memoir or essay from a mere collection of scenes or observations into something powerful, and how writers can create a dynamic, compelling whole greater than the sum of its many parts. The goal, as Langston Hughes writes, is to tell a story that is “older than the flow of human blood in human veins.”
- FIND the power of story and discover how locating your “Invisible Magnetic River” will insure that readers stay engaged and curious from beginning to end.
- LEARN how story can help to solve many of the frustrations and obstacles that can interfere with both writing and revision.
- DISTINGUISH between a chain of events and a compelling story that contains a dynamic emotional flow.
- UNDERSTAND that the surest way to make your book or essay one that readers want to read–and, in that way, one that editors want to publish–is to tell a damn good story.
Writers at any level, at the beginning of a project or in the revision process, are welcome.
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
2 pm – 3:15 pm EDT
Advance registration required. REGISTER HERE.
About the instructor: Dinty W. Moore is author of the memoir Between Panic & Desire and the writing guides The Story Cure and Crafting the Personal Essay, among many other books. He has published essays and stories in the Georgia Review, Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, the Southern Review, and elsewhere. He is founding editor of Brevity, the journal of flash nonfiction, and teaches master classes and workshops across the United States as well as in Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, and Mexico.
June 3, 2020 § Leave a comment
Christopher Madden, David Lëgere, and Colin Hosten are editors at Woodhall Press, publisher of Flash Nonfiction Funny, Flash Nonfiction Food, and the forthcoming Fast Funny Women. The three of them had a socially distanced discussion on our current public health crisis and the importance of storytelling as a way of documenting individual experiences. Below is a truncated transcript of their conversation:
Christopher Madden: We’ve published two collections of flash nonfiction, with a third on the way. Is this perhaps the right format for pandemic-related storytelling?
Colin Hosten: The context seems very different, thematically. We’ve tackled humor and food. How would we navigate the ongoing tragedy of this crisis?
David Lëgere: The theme is different, but I don’t think that changes our goal as a publisher—to connect readers and writers through vital storytelling.
CM: Flash nonfiction, specifically, may be very well suited for people on the front line of this pandemic, as opposed to longer form essays.
DL: Exactly—it allows us to capture as many voices as possible in one compendium.
CH: And what kinds of voices would we be seeking? You mention people on the front lines…
CM: Basically anyone facing this crisis head-on. Nurses and other medical professionals. ER staff. Essential workers making sure trash is still picked up. Delivery workers, first responders….
CM: Sure—the idea is to preserve and amplify these essential voices and stories from anyone caught on the front lines of this.
CH: I think it’s a fantastic idea. And it may be a way to highlight some of the things that these diverse voices might have in common.
DL: What should we use as a working title?
CH: We already have a paradigm going with Flash Nonfiction Funny and Flash Nonfiction Food. Maybe something like Flash Nonfiction Frontline?
CM: Is that too general? Should we make it clearer that we mean the front lines of this pandemic?
DL: I mean, this is basically the main thing occupying the public consciousness for the foreseeable future—let’s just be direct: Flash Nonfiction COVID-19.
CH: Well, that certainly is direct.
CM: It’s more to-the-point,
CH: We’ll need to get a call for submissions out, sooner rather than later.
DL: Are people even able to do much writing through all this stress and trauma?
CM: Maybe part of the point of this is to encourage those on the front lines to use writing as a tool for reflection, for negotiating the trauma.
CH: And, again, the flash form allows people to dive right in and back out again in just 750 words. To Chris’s point, flash nonfiction may be the appropriate vehicle for something like this.
DL: So what’s the best way to get the word out, besides all the usual suspects?
CH: Brevity publishes some of the best flash nonfiction being written these days. We should reach out to them and see if they’d be willing to share with their readers.
DL: Good idea!
CM: I sure hope we get lots of strong submissions.
DL: I’ll be checking firstname.lastname@example.org every day!
CH: And let’s make sure folks know they can go to https://www.woodhallpress.com/post/call-for-submissions for more information.
CM: And share it with their friends on the front lines!
May 22, 2020 § 4 Comments
By Megan Vered and Jennifer Lang
Part One: Creating Community by Megan Vered
I open the link to our scheduled Monday evening meeting and, one by one, mini faces appear in virtual boxes. How happy I am to see the women from my weekly writer’s group! We’ve been meeting in my home for the past two years and during that time have written about everything from first kisses to heart heavy losses. Within five minutes of being online together I sense the disconnect. We are an intimate ensemble that, under normal circumstances, huddles around my dining room table drinking ginger tea and eating lovingly assembled snacks, while listening to the sound of each other’s fingers on the keyboards. I look at their strained faces in the gallery view and it occurs to me—traditional prompt writing may only contribute to the feeling of isolation we are all experiencing. I wonder how I might add a personal touch to our now depersonalized gatherings, and it comes to me. “Let’s change things up this week. How about, rather than writing separately, we work together on a collective document based on the same prompt?” I feel their bodies relax. They are all on board.
It takes us a few weeks to polish the process that now looks like this: at the end of each two-hour session, I give a prompt. Person #1 responds and emails her response to Person #2. Person #2 responds to a theme or a phrase in Person #1’s writing and emails her response to Person #3. This continues until the final person has responded. I am cced on each version and collate a master document. Each week, we take turns being Person #1.
My spontaneous tag-you’re-it relay offers no road map, so we’ve had some false starts. Person #1 held up the flow by sitting on the prompt for too long. Person #3 forwarded to the wrong person. I reassure the group—we are not seeking perfection but safety.
The following Monday, I email everyone the assembled document. We do a read through without comments, each writer reading her own words out loud. We then do a second more critical read through. Each reader tells us what it was about the previous writer’s piece that motivated her. And then begins the fun: noticing, questioning, encouraging, word-shifting, deepening, reframing. Working on one document as a group in real time has brought us even closer and is improving everybody’s grasp of first person writing.
In the past month we’ve explored the topic of reckoning during these unprecedented times, how our experience of home has shifted, and this week we are writing desperation humor based on being cooped up. What has changed for them? They have shifted from being solitary writers to becoming a writer’s collective. What has changed for me? I have a new identity in the group as fellow writer who receives feedback on her work, just like the rest of them. And, in the process, I’ve become a bad ass pandemic prompt queen.
Part Two: Crossing Boundaries by Jennifer Lang
I beamed at the two dozen plus people popping up in tic-tac-toe boxes across my screen. A handful of my writing students in Israel. A couple of handfuls of my writing friends from my greater grad school community in the U.S. And a handful of writers from my friend Megan’s classes and community in my native northern California.
When I first approached her with my idea to co-lead a free workshop, on Zoom, she immediately accepted. The idea was we invite students and fellow writers, as well as our mates from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Despite the 7,422 miles and 10-hour time difference between us, Megan and I volleyed WhatsApps and emails, both of us brimming with ideas, until finalizing the details. She came up with Stepping Through to the Other Side: A Virtual Writing Workshop; I scheduled the session and created the event; we blasted it on Facebook. That first meeting, late March, after group introductions, Megan and I each offered a prompt and women from across the globe wrote together in silence. At the 10-minutes left ZOOM warning, I messaged her, and we decided to forgo reading, wrap up, and gauge future interest: thumbs up, nods, un-muted yesses.
Ever since Megan and I started teaching in our opposite corners of the world after graduation, we have often shared prompts, methodologies and resources. In this new, unmapped territory, where I wanted to write but couldn’t focus and wondered why anyone would care about my memoir in progress, Megan was my perfect partner. At our second session, we listened to those who volunteered to read for three minutes and ended with a prompt for the next meeting. And so on and so on. Every Wednesday, we alternate leading the session and offer a mutually-agreed-upon prompt at the end to work on for the following week. As the weeks pass and we get to know and trust each other more, our stories are becoming more vulnerable and intimate as we tackle subjects like isolation, loss, rediscovered joys, simple pleasures. We see each other wiping eyes during readings. We clap. We send messages in the chat box with words of encouragement or calls for submissions.
A month in, Megan and I have named our group Writers Near & Far. We’re fluid with faces coming and going and no limits on numbers. The only rule is to keep your heart open, to feel safe in the space. During these uncertain times, as we hunker down and turn inward in a way that even feels intense for a memoir writer, maybe listening to each other read and creating connection is just what we need.
Megan Vered is an essayist whose first-person writing focuses on family, friendship, faith, and the fantasia of her youth. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the San Francisco Chronicle, Silk Road Review, and the Coachella Review, among others. Megan holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her husband and West Highland White Terrier in Marin County, California, where she serves on the board of Heyday Books and leads writing workshops.
Born and bred in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jennifer Lang lives and writes in Tel Aviv. Her essays have appeared in Baltimore Review, Under the Sun, Ascent, the Brevity blog, and 1966: A Journal of Creative Nonfiction, among other venues. A Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays nominee, Lang earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and serves as an Assistant Editor for Brevity. Find her at israelwriterstudio.com and follow her @JenLangWrites.