Jane Friedman’s Guide to Writing Conferences

January 30, 2020 § 2 Comments

Color headshot of a white woman with brown curly hair and glasses, wearing a blue print blouse, against a blurred outdoor backgroundWondering what conference is best for you as a writer, your book and your career? Trying to figure out if pitching agents in person will get more return for your efforts, or hoping to build some speaking credits with your writing-related expertise? The comprehensive guide is here!

Jane Friedman, author of The Business of Being a Writer and publisher of industry newsletter The Hot Sheet, has one of the most valuable websites in the business. With posts on querying, book proposals, writing craft and professional practices, it’s worth your time to browse the archives and keep up with her daily posts, both from Jane herself and a series of guest experts. Now, Jane’s Guide to Getting the Most Out of a Writing Conference gives a terrific overview of just about everything you need to know before choosing, attending, and spending money on a conference.

Key points include:

  • Determining the conference size and focus best for you
  • Connecting with other attendees on social media, even before you arrive
  • Planning your time onsite
  • Why panels are such a crapshoot for sharing expertise, and how moderators and conference organizers can do panels well

…and much more. I especially love Jane’s tips for socializing, even if you’re shy (top tip – carry a paper book, it’s a great conversation starter) and how to follow up socially with writers you want to keep knowing. And of course the number-one thing for presenters to remember: use the microphone. No matter how small the room or how terrific your theatrical training, there’s going to be at least one person with a hearing disability or who becomes a victim of weird acoustics. I’d add, from experience, using the mic means not having to yell everything you say (find those levels!).

Whether you’re packing for AWP or trying to decide if Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference is part of your summer, check this guide first—and enjoy browsing the rest of www.janefriedman.com.


Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Next week she’s presenting at the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in Dubai.

Free Money for Writers

June 12, 2018 § 6 Comments

Clickbait much? Here at Brevity, our Shameless Self-Promotion Department loves this terrific talk on applying for grants, cultivating patrons, and other sources of funding for your projects and your writing life.

Getting financial support isn’t exactly no-cost—grant applications are time-consuming and crowdfunding takes real planning and dedication. But with an understanding of the process and what appeals to public, private and organizational funders, chances are you’re going to be able to drum up some cash for a project that needs more support than you can give it alone.

Jane Friedman, author of The Business of Being a Writer, gives this great (free!) webinar for the Alliance of Independent Authors, about the nitty-gritty of writing grant applications, key steps in setting up crowdfunding campaigns, and other sources for financial support. At 33 minutes, it’s a great listen while you’re getting ready for the day or commuting this morning. If you’re a visual learner, her slides are clear on the major points, too.

Two major takeaways:

…Writing a grant is telling a story. It should have a plot [this is where I am now and where I want to go], a protagonist [me, and since the panelists don’t know me, I have to create a memorable character], stakes [this is why you should care], and a strong theme [this is the significance it will have in the world].

…most successful crowdfunding campaigns are funded 25-33% in the first 24 hours, and by donors who have been cultivated in advance.

Getting financial support isn’t a mystery or reserved for a special few. You can do it, too, with a little planning and a chunk of prep work. Jane lays out how and what to do—and even if you aren’t ready to apply for a grant or start a Patreon, she gives great, specific advice on how to present who you are and what you do to your own community and your professional world.


Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor and a big fan of free money.

That’s Not How Any of This Works

January 16, 2018 § 13 Comments

Vintage black and white photo of man and woman in Victorian dress on penny farthing bicycle with square wheels.

Pedal harder, I think we’re going somewhere!

What do we mean by “literary citizenship”? At Salon, Becky Tuch sums it up nicely:

…most agree that good Literary Citizenship entails buying from local bookstores, attending readings, subscribing to literary magazines, interviewing writers, reviewing books, reading a friend’s manuscript, blurbing books, and so on.

And while Tuch (and I) agree with the spirit of these activities, she questions their hidden purpose. Why must we be literary citizens? Because publishers barely market mid-list and literary authors. Because Amazon has radically changed the bookstore and Wattpad has disrupted the publishing pipeline. But as Tuch points out,

the burden to ameliorate the negative effects of these industry changes falls not upon those responsible for said changes, but upon writers.

We must market. We must build platform. We must generate enough profit that the publisher will ask us to make more money for them. Writers are urged to spend hard cash on publicity and countless hours making deposits into the bank of goodwill so they can withdraw favors when the time comes. Or we can self-publish, working even harder but keeping the profit–if there is any.

Literary citizenship works when it builds community. When it feeds the writer, and contributes to, as Jane Friedman writes,

…an abundance mindset. It’s not about competition, but collaboration. If I’m doing well, that’s going to help you, too, in the long term. We’re not playing a zero-sum game where we hoard resources and attention. There’s plenty to go around.

I enjoy the abundance mindset, and I feel good helping others. Not just virtuous, or morally superior, but genuinely good.

I didn’t always feel that way. You know that sharp sting of envy when a writer you know gets a prize or a publication, and a little part of your heart yells, “Hey! That should have been mine!”? I get that too. But after deliberately practicing feeling positive about other people’s success, the sting is shorter. An unsung benefit of literary citizenship is when envy is drowned by pride:

I helped with that draft.

I told her about that residency.

I encouraged him to submit that essay.

So when I found in my inbox [subjects changed to protect the ignorant]: “I finished my history of barrel-making and a book of lyric poetry about mysticism. Do you know any agents or publishers I could send them to?” my reaction surprised me.

Um, no.

I remonstrated: Come on, Allison, this is a perfectly nice person you met at a party. You’ve passed on recommendations to lots of other writers you barely know. Why not this one?

Because that’s not how any of this works.

  1. Do your own damn homework. Basic googling brings up lists of agents. Manuscript Wishlist gets even more specific. Ask writer friends about particular matches. It’s the difference between “I’m naked, tell me what clothes I can buy” and “Red shirt or green blouse with these pants?”
  2. Seriously, do the homework. Two different genres, two different subjects–pick one for now. When you’re famous and well-published, then bring out your wildly different book. Agents want debut authors focused on one topic or genre.
  3. I’ve never read this person’s work. Useful recommendations come from knowing your work and the craft level you’ve reached. Classes, workshops and conferences are great places to get professionals to read your work, and you can buy that benefit with tuition. Local writing groups (try Meetup) get you fellow readers for free.
  4. Be part of the community you want favors from. This author has never read my work (that I know of), bought my book, retweeted something I linked, written a review of the Brevity Podcast or even commented on a personal Facebook status. I do not feel connected in a favor-asking way. 4/5 of those ways to connect are free of charge.
  5. Know how big the ask is. Personally recommending an agent or a publisher is a fairly big deal. If you don’t have a close connection, join a Facebook group for authors in your genre, spend some time being helpful in the group, then ask for recommendations in a post. Plenty of people will weigh in with information also benefiting the whole group. On a personal level, my friend of twenty years recommended me to his agent…after reading my whole manuscript and concluding he wouldn’t be embarrassed. If a teacher mentions they’ll connect you with their agent, take an honest look at whether the agent is a good match, then send your best draft, hopefully making your teacher look like a gifted talent-spotter.

(My most-recommended source for a good grounding in basic publishing info and etiquette is literary agent Janet Reid’s blog. Start with the links halfway down on the right headed Rules For Writers.)

It’s not fair that writers are obliged to labor considerably more than they used to to generate sales, or that “self-publicist” is practically a full-time job. But it’s reality. So learn how it works, do it slow, and do it right.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor, and not usually this cranky.


Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century

April 11, 2016 § 5 Comments

zz lit pubMilkweed Editions has just released Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century, a new anthology edited by Travis Kurowski, Wayne Miller, and Kevin Prufer. The book features a range of essays from writers, editors, digital innovators, and others in the field, including the likes of Sven Birkerts, Jessa Crispin, Richard Nash, and Jane Friedman, reflecting on the current situation of literary publishing, including the rapidly-changing digital landscape, the need for a greater diversity of voices and gatekeepers, community- and audience-building, and the overall health of literature. To mark the book’s launch this month, Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore talks with Kevin Prufer about his views on where independent literary publishing stands in the current era.

MOORE: You and your co-editors do an excellent job of discussing how literary publishing has evolved from the dawn of the 21st century to the current moment, a sixteen-year span that saw incredible change, in book publishing and e-book formats, in AWP (and AWP bookfair) attendance, and in how literary magazines reach out to readers. Has the task of a writer transformed in any way, or is the writer’s mission essentially the same despite the new packaging.

Kevin Profer

Kevin Prufer

PRUFER: Well, I think the literary writer’s mission to think complexly about the world, to speak the truth, to write well about important things, to create works of social, aesthetic, and literary value–all that is unchanged. But the form that literature takes is certainly evolving dramatically even as I write, in ways we can’t know yet.

Whenever there have been major changes in the way literary work is disseminated — the evolution of writing, the invention of the printing press, the creation of even more inexpensive means of mass text reproduction, the emergence of the penny dreadful, the broadside, the paperback book, among many many examples—what we call literature changes, molding itself to new forms of production and consumption. I think it’s hard to argue against the fact that we’re living at a time of major changes to the way we reproduce, sell, and receive literary texts, involving not just the speed and convenience of e-readers, etc., but also new, more fluid ways in which literary work might perform and evolve on the screen and among mass audiences. Sure, the writer’s mission remains the same—but what literary writers produce will inevitable be profoundly influenced by these recent developments in literary publishing. That’s always been the case.

MOORE: How do these changes influence the advice you would give a writer just starting to engage the world of literary publishing?

PRUFER: I’m not sure what advice I’d give a literary writer starting out. I think I have none for her writing, except that she write as well as she can. After the writing is finished, though, I think it pays to be very aware of the complexities of literary ownership in a world where anything one writes can be reproduced infinitely and nearly without cost, to understand the implications of how new literary production models ought to be considered in, say, book contracts; and to understand that publishing a book in paper is rewarding and exciting, but is certainly not the only (or even primary) way that readers encounter the work of writers these days. There are all kinds of ways of finding an audience, and all kinds of pitfalls in those ways.

MOORE: Has your view of online publication versus traditional print publication changed, for your own poems and the poems your students write?

PRUFER: Yes, by necessity. I still love paper and always will. Like every writer my age (or older), my first encounters with literature were in actual books, often read with a flashlight under the covers when I should have been sleeping. And I still get a thrill out of seeing my work in bookstores.

But I also suspect that at least as many people encounter my work on the screen as do on the page – and I’m not at all sophisticated about on-line self-promotion, social media, etc. That’s just the way it is – someone types up a poem and posts it somewhere (or links to it, or whatever), and suddenly many more people have seen it (though perhaps not really read it) than would have if it remained in the pages of a small print literary journal.

And of course, on-line publishing has its frustrations – the certainty that typing errors get replicated; the fact of the glaring screen, the impossibility of formatting long poetic lines on narrow iPads; the weirdness of watching my students read poems on their iPhones.

But here’s where I truly feel – and am deeply ambivalent about – the influence of on-line publishing (and I mean publishing in its broadest definition – a Facebook post, a blog entry, an on-line lit mag appearance all might be said to constitute kinds of publishing): I was discussing the work of a younger poet in a class of PhD students here at the University of Houston when one of the students said, “Well, I really like her work, but it feels very 2005 to me.” This was in, I think, 2012. “What on earth does that mean?” I asked her. “Well,” she said, “it feels like what everyone was writing that year. It feels dated.” This led to a discussion about on-line publishing and the take-away for me was that younger readers are encountering literature in ways that I never did. They are sometimes experiencing it almost simultaneously with its composition. A poet composes a poem one day, it appears on-line a week later, and it’s generated a thousand hits within another week, before perhaps sinking into the ether. The large conversation of literature, which seemed to move much more slowly when I was a student, has sped up today. Issues, sensibilities, styles, literary fashions emerge quickly, are noticed simultaneously, and vanish.

For now, this is just an observation. I’m not sure how I feel about it, except I am sure my students encounter contemporary literature in a way that is vastly different from how I encountered it in 1993, when I’d have been very hard pressed to say how a poem from 1986 was different from what I was reading that week.

MOORE: Now that you’ve completed work on the anthology, and given the discussions that ensued with the various contributors and co-editors Travis Kurowski and Wayne Miller, are you optimistic about the future, or troubled about where independent press books and small literary magazines may be headed?

PRUFER:  I’m cautiously optimistic, I suppose.  Before I began work on this project, I’d devoted much of my career (outside of my own writing) to old-fashioned publishing.  That is, I edited a stubbornly old-school print litmag called Pleiades and ran a press called Pleiades Press.  So I came to the project with a lot of knowledge about how books get printed, distributed, edited, etc. – but more limited awareness of what was happening over in that other, more up-to-date country of ebooks, ecommerce, interactive literature, etc.

And, as with every book I’ve co-edited, I hoped mostly to learn from contributors, to come out better informed.   All the voices in the clamor of Literary Publishing in the 21st Century aren’t entirely optimistic, though many are.  Many others are deeply troubled by the increasingly corporatized (and engulfing) large commercial publishing houses and the changing roles of readers, editors, agents, sellers.  I get their concern that much has been upended, that the future looks uncertain.  At the same time, the forces at work here seem so vast that enormous change is entirely inevitable, and always has been. I am left with the conclusion that literature itself is an intensely malleable thing, that it evolves and even flourishes in moments of great change and upheaval, and that it will always find ways—new ways, certainly—to reach readers eager to encounter it in all its renewing forms.


Kevin Prufer is an author and editor, with books including In a Beautiful Country (2011), a finalist for the Rilke Prize and listed as a 2011 Notable Book by the Academy of American Poets, and National Anthem (2008), named best poetry book of the year by the Virginia Quarterly Review. Prufer’s many honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lannan Foundation. He is a professor in the English Department at the University of Houston.

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