‘Tis the Season to Write: A Teacher’s Tale

December 13, 2017 § 6 Comments

shawnaBy Shawna Kenney

After my first book was published, I visited a writing class as an invited author. Following my visit, the professor asked why I wasn’t an instructor myself. His question sparked my imagination. I was a cubicle jockey in a mind-numbing corporate job by day, a freelance writer in the wee hours, and a touring author on weekends and holidays. Teaching seemed like it would be a better fit for my writing life.

Plus, get paid to talk about stories all day? Yes, please.

I went and earned my MFA in a program with pedagogy classes and a 3-year TA-ship. I took my piece of paper and taught American Literature to Marines at Camp Lejeune, photojournalism to teenagers in a juvenile detention center, English composition to immigrant students in community colleges, developmental writing to women in a Catholic college. As an adjunct, sometimes I taught six classes at three different schools at a time, which left little time or energy for writing. Some of my colleagues taught even more. I was lucky to publish two pieces per year with that schedule. Finally I landed the classes of my dreams—memoir and personal essay, which I’ve taught online and in person now for 10 years, rarely more than one or two at a time, leaving much room for writing productivity. Between semesters I am most active, sending pitches, revising essays, and finishing books. I come back to classes armed with stories from the front—samples of editorial rounds for them to see, links to new work, and shares of disappointing rejection.

Semesters have given rhythm to my writing life. Between reading early drafts of other people’s stories, I scratch down ideas for my own to be pursued over the summer or on holiday break. They simmer in my journal and my brain until the metaphorical school bell rings. Then when the last grade is entered, I clean off my desk, file the handouts away, reorganize my books, bust out a good tea, and sit down to write. By then the words are retching up out of my gut like a looming flu virus, eager to infest the page. Of course sometimes there are also fits and starts, the proverbial “shitty first drafts,” and there’s some searching around in the dark for what it was I wanted to say, exactly. When I get stuck, I take on an editing project or take a walk. Remembering that this is my window for self-care, I get myself to yoga three times a week, schedule a massage, make more time for friends. Sometimes I brush up by taking a writing class (last summer it was sketch comedy). Inevitably, I do get words down on the page, partly because there is a syllabus in the distance calling my name.

Yogi Bhajan says, “If you want to learn about something, read it. If you want to understand something, do it. If you want to master something, teach it.” I don’t know that I have mastered anything, but between semesters, I am indeed protecting my inner life, as Lan Samantha Chang advises in her Lit Hub essay. I am teaching myself that this ebb and flow of giving and receiving words works for me.
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Shawna Kenney is the author of I Was a Teenage Dominatrix, editor of the anthology Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers  and co-author of Live at the Safari Club: A History of Punk in the Nation’s Capital. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Playboy, Ms., and Creative Nonfiction, among others.

In You We Trust

November 28, 2017 § 9 Comments

Picture of Meryl Streep as a fashion magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada

…maybe just stop talking.

We’re settled into our seats, ready to watch Meryl Streep perform in the new musical adaptation of Gone Girl (“Gone!”). We’re leafing through Playbill, counting up Oscar nominations, when suddenly Ms. Streep steps out in front of the curtain to address the audience.

“Hi everyone, I’m really excited you’re here for this show, based on the book about a woman who fakes her own disappearance and sets her husband up for a murder rap. I hope you’ll especially enjoy the scene where I write all the journal entries at the same time with different pens.”

Wait, what?

Or she says, “In rehearsals for this show, I worked on my high E notes with a noted vocal coach at Julliard, maybe you’ve heard of him?”

Um, no.

We’re already here, Meryl. We’re ready to watch. We trust you to deliver. Just let us watch you–don’t tell us the story you’re about to tell us. And if it turns out the show isn’t to our taste, your pre-show explanation won’t fix that.

Reading submissions is a lot like being in that audience. Around the Brevity Podcast house, we’re settling in with pages of Submittable entries for the One-Minute Memoir episode. Each essay is the curtain going up on a show we’ve never seen before, enjoying how much humor, sadness, quirkiness, reflection, action, and adventure can be packed into under 150 words, sometimes many fewer than that. There are pieces totally unique in content, and others with universal situations but new approaches. Every author has something truly, beautifully theirs…and some of them tell us about it in advance.

Cover letters everywhere range from a single sentence of author bio to a full page of credits, context, and background information, and every variation in between. Sometimes, authors get nervous that the editors won’t get it. Or they’re really excited about their time working with a prestigious teacher. Maybe they feel like they don’t have enough publication credits, and explaining the story fills up that space. Or there’s a backstory that’s totally amazing.

These things don’t suck, but they’re not helping your submission. I don’t actively read the cover letter until I’ve read the essay–though I end up seeing some of what Submittable displays before clicking through to the submitted piece. Most editors want to come to your words as readers do: a fresh impression on the page. They don’t get to sit down and explain to subscribers what they meant when they picked that piece, why they think it’s great. As authors, we rarely get to discuss why or how we came to write something unless we’re talking about it with our friends or being interviewed. But that’s bonus material for the true fans, not a base to start from with first-time readers. Don’t give away the game.

For example, when submitting your terrific flash essay about knitting with a women’s circle in Guangzhou:

This essay focuses on the time I gave birth in China surrounded by my knitting class.

I wanted to tell the stories of the amazing grandmothers I met while doing handicrafts in China. They all had children who had emigrated, and I saw how conflicted they felt.

Nope.

For the purposes of submission, one sentence maximum about the circumstances directly affecting the writing (not the story).

I wrote this during my missionary work in China.

I’m a professional knitting teacher.

Will detailing parts of your story get you rejected out of hand? Not by us. In the long run, this isn’t a huge issue. For most journals, it doesn’t really matter what you write in that space–at this point in the process, they’re interested in the story and the writing. Explaining neither fixes nor destroys a submission. So don’t sweat it if you’ve fallen into this category before. Just stop doing it.

Reading your story is more powerful than reading about your story. Let us be surprised and delighted and astounded–the way we want our audience to be when they get to read your work.

 

Edited to add: Aerogramme offers some more terrific cover letter advice from Tahoma Review Prose Editor Yi Shun Lai.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Her travel-adventure-writing newsletter can show up twice monthly in your inbox, if that’s not telling too much.

Rejections and the Art of Not Taking it all So Personally

November 8, 2017 § 28 Comments

Peter G 003by Peter Gajdics

I don’t like to tell anyone that my recently published book, The Inheritance of Shame: A Memoir,  was rejected by over 400 agents and publishers. While working on the Acknowledgements page, in the months leading up to publication, I did ask my publisher if I could include a line thanking “the 350+ literary agents and 50+ publishers who said ‘no,’” since they “taught me to persevere.” My publisher cautioned me against adding such a line, since (as she wrote back), “normal folks don’t really understand that great stuff gets rejected for any number of reasons all the time, and that all writers have experienced rejection. They may wonder, ‘What is wrong with this guy? With his story? And they might start looking skeptically at the book or at you. I understand what you are saying here—but I think it might be revealing too much.”

I took my publisher’s point and removed the line from the Acknowledgements. But it never stopped me from feeling thankful to the hundreds of agents and publishers who all said “no.” Oh sure: with each early rejection over the years I did feel devastated. One quite menacing rejection, in which the (esteemed) editor emailed that “books like yours don’t get published anymore,” left me feeling sucker punched, as if my life itself was now obsolete. I read the rejection on my iPhone while walking home from my day job, and by the time I arrived back to my apartment I was sobbing. Why do I keep doing this to myself? I thought afterward. Why do I keep submitting this book, year in and year out, even after so many rejections? I must be crazy.

Such internal dialogues typically continued after each harsh rejection, followed by weeks of numbed confusion, then I was off to the races again: researching more agents; locating other independent presses that accepted unagented submissions; polishing my query letter; tracking all outgoing and incoming correspondence on my spreadsheet; continuing to edit the manuscript; even (sometimes against my better judgment) praying to a God I didn’t know existed anymore. Thoughts that I could not quite imagine my book never finding a home were often interrupted by the paranoia that I had all along just deluded myself—my book was completely unworthy; I was not a good enough person, certainly not a talented enough writer, to ever get published. With each passing “rejection”—or worse: long stretches of silence and then never even hearing back from particular agents or publishers—the cycle continued: internal homicidal dialogues questioning not only the book’s quality but my existence as a viable human being.

My family never wanted me to publish my memoir. At one point, amidst my querying, my older brother threatened to sue me “on behalf of the family” if I continued with the book. No one in my family had ever read my manuscript, but they did seem to know that I’d been writing “something” about having felt estranged from the family as a young (gay) man, my six years in (conversion) “therapy,” during which time my former psychiatrist had tried to “cure” me, the medical malpractice suit I’d later filed against the doctor for treating my homosexuality as a disease—even (or maybe especially), the fact that I’d included aspects about our parents’ traumatic histories in Europe, post World War II. I knew they knew that I’d been writing “something” about all of this—but we did not discuss it. My family’s silences had always been palpable: a white elephant in the room of our shared history.

Rejections from agents and publishers were one thing, but threats from my family eventually all helped sharpen my reasons for continuing with the memoir, from polishing the manuscript, to pitching it to industry folks. At some point along the way, between the tears and bouts of depression, I stopped viewing this influx of information about my book as a direct reflection of my value as a human being and writer, and considered it as helpful advice. Writing a memoir—writing this memoirhas been a journey that changed me from the inside out. I’d always believed in my story, that there was value in sharing it with the world in order to help prevent similar events from recurring again in the future, particularly for young LGBT people, but if enough agents or publishers told me the same thing about one section of the book, then that was helpful advice I needed to address substantively. Maybe I also needed to actually “throw the baby out with the bathwater”—consider the source, and “move on”; not take it all so personally. If my family’s fear was so great as to threaten me with a lawsuit, then that was advice that I needed to use in order to question my personal motives for actually writing the book, as well as my level of healing.

Some very famous memoirists have suggested that writers should always provide their memoir manuscripts to their families before publication, perhaps to ask for “permission.” Unfortunately, after years of scrutiny, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t think this is always possible, or plausible, even advisable: in some cases, such as for those writing about trauma, especially a history of familial trauma, I think it could even add to the trauma. What this means for the writer is that they are often faced with confronting very difficult questions themselves. Friends can help, but even they can never replace our own conscience. Questions of ethical and moral responsibility, like when is it appropriate to include aspects of someone else’s life without their actual content or knowledge, become crucial. Just because someone says they don’t want you to include aspects from their life in a book you’re writing about your own doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still do it—but “how” to do it, and “why” it should still be done, may need to be addressed.

I struggled with all of this while working on my book. The payoff, I would like to believe, helped me create a more universal product, because the process itself forced me to grow and become not only a better writer, but more objective and thoughtful in my approach. Industry rejections, I now understand, were never a reflection of my value as a person, but they certainly have been useful in the execution of a final manuscript—or at least they were once I used them to my advantage, and stopped taking them all so personally.
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Peter Gajdics’ essays, short memoir and poetry have been published in The Advocate, New York Tyrant, The Gay and Lesbian Review / Worldwide, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Opium, where he won their 500-word memoir contest. He is a recipient of writers’ grants from Canada Council for the Arts, a fellowship from The Summer Literary Seminars, and an alumni of Lambda Literary Foundation’s “Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices.” Peter’s first book, The Inheritance of Shame: A Memoir, was published by Brown Paper Press on May 16, 2017. Peter lives in Vancouver, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @HungarianWriter.

On Beat

November 2, 2017 § 2 Comments

A guest post by Hillary Moses Mohaupt

Not long ago I was working on a piece I was pretty sure was about the woman who founded forensic science. My editor, however, pointed out it was also about the struggles of women past a certain age, who are pegged only as grandmothers, lacking usefulness. Her comment made me realize: I usually write about the experiences of women whom society sees as past their prime. This shouldn’t have been a revelation: I write a monthly magazine column about intergenerational dialogue and have a degree in women’s history. Yet the new awareness of my specific focus has already helped me prioritize projects and pitch pieces to new outlets.

While much has been said about how writers must ‘build platform,’ in the sense of becoming a marketable expert on their book’s subject, this thematic focus seems more like a beat—that is, developing authority while writing on a number of related topics. So how do you create your beat? How can you nurture it?

Bustle writer Tabitha Blankenbiller says her beat

is fashion and style, which like any good subjects, parlay into a myriad of other themes: pop culture, body image, class issues, aging, feminism…[but] I find that when I put out fashion-related writing, it tends to be some of the better-received work. It feels like it ‘has legs.’

When she founded Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Athena Dixon embraced her editorial beat to “further diversify our current writing community by calling attention to the glaring diversity issues and offering at least one safe space for writers to submit and be read.”

Maisha Johnson has worked as a domestic violence survivors’ advocate and holds an MFA in poetry. She writes primarily about abuse and healing, race and racism, and intersectional feminism, as well as everyday ways we come across these topics, like pop culture, creativity, and identity. Articulating these intersections helps her deepen the lens and purpose of her work, and define who she is as a writer.

A writer’s beat ties into their social media presence, but isn’t just a marketing construct. Maisha says it can be equally important to unplug.

Because I work around issues like racism, trauma, and abuse, I know being constantly plugged in is going to take a toll. But also [I can’t be] totally absent from trending conversations. So I’ll use a social media tool like Hootsuite, and schedule articles I see trending from other writers. I’ll also add older [or evergreen] articles of my own that relate to the current topic. I don’t have to be on the cutting edge of every conversation in order to maintain a digital presence.

Your beat also needn’t be constantly “on.” Tabitha, whose book Eats of Eden comes out March 2018, says her beat requires

less hoop-jumping and more mountain-scaling. I am a slower writer than many freelancers I’ve known, who are churning out essays and stories along with news cycles… I can’t keep up with that pace, so when I’m writing standalones, I have the luxury of bowing to what’s really screaming at me. It may not be the hottest trending topic, but every so often you have good timing and what you’ve been obsessed about is in sync with the rest of the world.

Relevance can be serendipitous, Tabitha says.

Sometimes the fire comes totally from left field…[for example], a little essay I wrote for a now-defunct food site about my tendency to steal things like condiments, pint glasses, and steak knives from restaurants stirred up this big viral trollstorm.

For Athena, managing a beat is all about making choices: “I made a conscious decision to include all black women on my editorial board and to champion voices I believe may not be given a fair and equal chance to be published.”

How do you decide what to focus on? Maybe you already see a common thread in your work. You might make decisions based on pragmatic goals for publication in particular venues, or by paying close attention to what makes your writing flow and what works best for you and your work specifically. I jump at any opportunity even remotely related to aging, because juggling multiple projects keeps me on deadline. Maisha keeps a list of potential articles, prioritized by what she’s most passionate about.

Tabitha says, “Don’t discount what you love. Passion and joy are your greatest allies, no matter what sparks them within you.”

“Don’t be afraid to begin with what you know best, no matter how unique or particular,” Maisha says. “If you’re the only person who can write the story, that story might really need to be told.”

Athena Dixon agrees. “Be confident in what you know and share it widely. You have no idea what kinds of opportunities you may be unlocking.”

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Hillary Moses Mohaupt serves as Social Media Editor for Hippocampus. She holds an MFA from Pacific University in Oregon, and her work has appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle and Distillations. In her fiction and essays she frequently writes about the presence of the past, intergenerational relationships, and lying. Follow her on Twitter @_greyseasky_.

I’ve Flipped

October 30, 2017 § 48 Comments

fullsizeoutput_7dbBy Amy Collini

A month ago, I did something drastic: I replaced my iPhone with a flip phone.

The woman at the Verizon store thought I was crazy. Her eyes went wide as she gasped, “Why?” as if I’d told her I was leaving my newborn there in the store. I answered with the truth: my phone was running my life. I couldn’t concentrate, I was texting all day and ignoring my kids, I was checking my email two dozen times before noon. The final straw came that very morning, when I put an app on my phone to track my usage. By 11:00 a.m., when I’d only been awake for four hours, I’d already logged a full hour of phone time doing nothing but texting friends and checking email repeatedly. If you had asked me to guess how long I’d spent on the phone, I would have said fifteen minutes.

I didn’t even engage in some of the behaviors I viewed as the worst. I didn’t sleep with my phone, I didn’t play games, I didn’t do social media on my phone. I most definitely wasn’t like the guy my husband and I call Phone Man, who watches videos while he walks his terriers and never looks up. I refused to be the mom at the the pumpkin patch or the playground zoned out in front of a screen. But the reality was that I used it constantly when I was at home (ignoring my kids in private rather than in public), and it was destroying my concentration and my productivity.

Being a writer means I happily steep myself in words all day, but I realized I was gorging on language in a variety of ways; the problem wasn’t limited to my phone. I was listening to NPR on the kitchen radio while I cooked and I was flipping through the New York Times on Sunday mornings at the table. Of course I listened to music in the car and I was reading thirty or forty picture books a week to my sons. I was making my way through the New Yorker and piles of literary journals all week long … and that was in addition to my daily consumption of novels, memoirs and how-to books on everything from toddler behavior to xeriscaping.  And it’s not as if any of this was new. When I was a kid, my word-gorging got me in trouble. When my mother announced it was time to clean up, my eyeballs were drawn to the heap of magazines, coupons and advertisements slaloming off the coffee table. I read whatever I found in my hand. My mother, who otherwise encouraged my reading habit, lost her temper. “Get away from the newspaper, Amy!” she’d yell, and I’d scurry off.

Two years ago, after publishing an essay in a well-respected literary magazine, I was contacted by three agents who asked to see my novel manuscript. One wanted it, and I spent ten months revising per her instructions; she took it to publishers last summer. She worked hard on my behalf, but in the end, she told me in November that the book hadn’t sold; nineteen publishers passed, even as many had offered praise for my writing. The disappointment of No Novel—after 5 ½ years of work—left me in a terrible funk.

As the months passed, it became easier to fall under the seductive spell of words in their many guises and to avoid finishing my second novel manuscript, which my agent was waiting for. I sat in the library, staring at the shelves of New Fiction, then grabbed my phone to see if the babysitter had texted. From there I checked my email. And then I checked the Times website to see what fresh hell Trump was up to that hour, followed by the funny parenting tweets my sister sent. I put the phone down, stared at the page, then grabbed it again two minutes later and repeated the whole cycle. Writing time would end and I hadn’t written a word.

An entire summer disappeared this way.

*

I thought I’d miss my smartphone. I don’t, not even a little. The first 24 hours were unnerving, but after that, it was as if I’d never had one. I told my friends no more texting, only phone calls or emails. I cut way back on NPR and I keep the radio off in the car. I need fewer words in my life if I’m going to be able to write. (I did not give up the Times or the New Yorker. Because hey, not going there).

I had to come to grips with the fact that I was avoiding finishing my second novel for fear of suffering another round of en masse rejection. But there are no guarantees, and what am I going to do, quit writing altogether?

I think not.

My ability to focus has returned, and with it, I’m nearing completion on the second novel. The second draft is at 72,000 words right now; I’m probably 10K from the finish line. I think I can finish it in a month, maybe less.

You can call me if you want to talk about it.

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Amy Collini’s work has appeared in Slice, Southern Indiana Review, Baltimore Review, Indiana Review, Redivider, Tahoma Literary Reviewand elsewhere. She’s currently at work on a novel about an accidental suffragist, set in 1913. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and two young sons, and everyone is happier that they don’t have to compete with a screen for her attention any more.

Rejection Is Not Feedback

October 26, 2017 § 57 Comments

For when you need a 1300-calorie dessert with a view

I need a sweater. So I go to the mall. (The mall is a temple of consumerism with an indoor ski slope overlooked by The Cheesecake Factory, because I live in Dubai.)

The first store specializes in argyle sweaters. Argyle is just not my thing. Do I:

A) Assume this brand is garbage and everything they will ever make is argyle.

B) Say “no thank you,” and head for another store, dismissing argyle from my mind because it’s not that big a deal, I’m shopping all day anyway and hey, someone else is going to love diamond plaids.

In the second store, I see a terrific red sweater. It’s got sleeves of exactly the right length and those cool little thumbholes so you can pull the wristbands over your hands, and it’s super soft. Then I look at the tag, and it’s 30% wool, which I am allergic to and makes me itch. Do I:

A) Laugh heartily at the incompetence and stupidity of anyone who would dare make a sweater with wool in it, exiting the store in the grip of near-hysteria?

B) Sigh, because it was otherwise just perfect, and remember the store because they will probably have something else I like another time, maybe a dress or a coat that is totally perfect instead of mostly perfect.

In the third store, I lay eyes on a gorgeous blue sweater. Sleeves, check. Thumbholes, check. No wool, check. In fact, it’s glorious!

But.

My husband already bought me a blue sweater yesterday. I like that one too, and it came from a no-returns store (also a thing in Dubai), and today I really want a red one. Do I:

A) Think whoever made this sweater sucks, and they should never make another garment.

B) Sigh sadly because I already have a blue sweater, and resume the hunt for a red one.

You get where we’re going, right?

Rejection is not feedback.

Rejection is not feedback.

No really. Rejection. Is not. Feedback.

As writers submitting our work, we often get mad at ourselves and the process when our work is rejected. It’s easy to feel they thought my work was terrible, or I’m a bad writer, or I’ll never be any good.

None of those things can be determined from any single rejection.

The process of reading work for publication is not the process of reading to give feedback. When journal editors read, yes, they are evaluating the overall quality of the work. But they’re also asking, Does this fit our mission? Do I personally like it? Did we already accept something similar last week? They are assessing where the work fits in the overall structure of the magazine and its mission. A piece that isn’t the right fit must be let go, regardless of how good it is.

Our job as writers is to display our work to its best advantage, with skilled craft and professional format on the page. To enlist friends and fellow writers and teachers and mentors to give us constructive criticism, and to incorporate the notes that help us write the best essay or story or book we can. To do many drafts until we truly feel a piece is ready to send out. And that’s where our control stops. We can’t make the customer want our particular sweater–we can only be ready with an excellent sweater when they walk in, or a rack of sweaters we’ve prepared to appeal to a selection of shoppers. We must focus on knowing our buyers, reading their journals, finding out about their taste and style and mission and what else they recently bought–not agonizing about why one person didn’t want one thing.

Rejection is market research.

One rejection tells us one specific thing: this journal couldn’t use this piece at this time. None of those variables is a judgment on the quality of our work. Once we have ten or twenty or fifty rejections, that’s enough information to start reassessing. Is the piece really ready? Have I gotten any personal comments in my rejections? Have I gotten an outside opinion from a reader I trust? We don’t get better from nursing hurt feelings. Considering the answers to those questions helps us improve.

Rejection will always sting at least a little. For me, it hurts less when I have more submissions out, and when I remember that rejection is part of the job, that a 10% acceptance rate is excellent for a full-time professional writer and more than that is gravy.

Every “no thank you” is proof we’re doing the work, and getting our work out there. Any single “no thank you” is the equivalent of a single shopper not buying a single sweater–one failed transaction says nothing about that particular piece.

Besides, it’s Dubai. No matter how amazing it looks and feels, nobody needs a freaking sweater. Anybody got a nice cotton tunic?

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Join her bimonthly travel&writing newsletter at TinyLetter.

How to Sell a Memoir: Instructions for Women of a ‘Certain’ Age

October 23, 2017 § 24 Comments

Author Photoby Margarita Gokun Silver

I don’t have to be the one to tell you that you are invisible. You know it yourself. Store clerks pay no attention to you, doctors ignore your symptoms, and your children never call as often as they should. But that invisibility cloak will seem like a common cold in comparison to the arthritis when you start looking for an agent – or a publisher – for your memoir. Unless you are a celebrity or a certain former Presidential candidate, you’ll be overlooked, laughed at, and rejected. Since I know first hand what it’s like to be dismissed by agents and snubbed by what they always refer to as “market”, I’m here to give you a few pointers you can use when looking for your own representation.

  1. For Pete’s sake, don’t write about your life. No one cares. Even if you survived the insides of a volcano, traversed the Sahara dessert on foot without any water, or climbed Mount Everest in one day – no one will give a damn. Instead, go the library or a bookstore and look for memoirs written by men. Then Google their sales figures and write the same thing. Because if a men’s memoir made a lot of money, you may stand at least a chance to be considered.
  1. If your name dates you to a decade when your potential agent’s parents (or grandparents) were born, change it. Go for something more current, something that says 21stcentury. Google all the wave-making millennials and borrow one of their names. If that doesn’t work – take a name that sounds like a man’s name. This, at least, should get you in the door.
  1. Do something ridiculous. Dress as if you are thirty (scandalous!), eat dinner at 8pm instead of at your usual, early-bird time, or date a few men or women who could be your grandchildren. Document all that on Instagram and Snapchat (forget Facebook – that’s for grannies). When you accumulate a platform – a fancy term for voyeurs – of five or six digits, send your memoir to an agent.
  1. Go work for the Trump administration. I know, I know. But art requires sacrifice, right? Hold your nose and ride the scandals until your name is out there. Then ride it some more. With luck, you can maybe help Mueller and sell your memoir in one swoop.
  1. If all else fails, do what Trump himself did. Attach yourself to Putin. Insist that he was your real father – considering all the plastic surgery the guy’s had he could’ve easily fathered the Beatles. Or claim he was your lover when you, as a young’un, climbed the Berlin Wall and got arrested by dashing Vladimir on the other side. The wild, Communist-inspired sex you had that day became the experience you never forgot and the little Vladimir, oops Johnathan, you had given birth to nine months later looks exactly like his Daddy (minus the botox). If Putin’s name retails you at least a quarter of the number of newspapers it now sells, you’ll have a bestseller on your hands.

One of these should work. Trust me, I know. I haven’t tried any of them and I’m having the hardest time selling my memoir.

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Margarita Gokun Silver is a writer living in Madrid, Spain. Her essays on the topic of her memoir have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, and O: The Oprah Magazine, among others. She hopes that her agent is there, somewhere (and maybe even a reader of this blog).

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