Friday, December 26, 2008

The Publication Argument

Over at the BookEnds blog, literary agent Jessica Faust is doing everyone a big fat Christmas favor: she's doing pitch critiques. Her office is closed and her holiday plans have been smashed by the weather related airline delays which is good for aspiring writers. Reading her lengthy blogs is insightful in terms of discovering what works and what doesn't within the tiny part of a query letter called a pitch.

The pitch isn't a tagline, isn't a query and isn't (quite) a summary of the novel. It's ... well, so many literary agents are out there trying to tell you just what it is that I'll let them explain further rather than try and butcher it here.

Anyway, Ms. Faust is randomly selecting pitches that readers have posted in comment to her blog (on the appropriate entry) and giving critiques. Which is fabulous because rarely do agents give anything but form letter rejections to query letters (which include pitches) so now we get to learn by doing and watching and reading, what goes wrong and what looks good and how to make the whole shebang better.

Now, before anyone gets overly excited: she's not requesting partial manuscripts from these pitches; she's just critiquing.

Still, I'm overly excited. God help us all, but I submitted a pitch even though it wasn't one paragraph and I really should have followed the rules. Meh. We'll see. Maybe I'll get to find out what's wrong and how I could make it better. It's a pitch for a comic novel just because writing the pitch for that story seemed easier to me than writing the pitch for something more serious.

But just when I was feeling all warm and Christmas-spirit-y, I go and read the MFAblog's post "MFAs and Publishing."


While that blog seemed incredibly important to me as I researched MFA programs and went about figuring things out, now it just seems like a place where I read other people bitch. This post was asking if MFAs don't focusing enough on getting the young writer's published. The bitching was focused primarily on people saying you shouldn't bother with MFA programs because they don't get you published and then that if you don't want to teach (and the posters were rather against writers teaching) that you should find a job that is not emotionally or creatively draining so that you can spend your free time writing.

As someone who has had many an emotionally and creatively non-draining job, I have to say that those jobs left me in a vegetative state after I left them. My brain was numb and didn't want to do anything other than sit in front of the TV like a veal. I have to find something to engage myself, and for me teaching is a great way to do that: I talk to people about writing -- what could be better?

But once we get past the whining the intriguing part was the contemplation about publication within MFA programs or immediately after MFA programs. WMU emails me dozens of calls for submissions and contest info that I would have never found on my own (and if I had I wouldn't have necessarily trusted it's legitimacy, but I do with the faculty's knowledge of the market), they're also helping me network (they're paying my registration fee for the AWP conference), and if nothing else, they provide me with faculty with industry experience, even if that industry experience is awkwardly conflicted.

What I've learned so far about publishing within my MFA

1. Do you put down on your query letter that you're an MFA candidate? I've been told that's up to the writer. Some editors consider MFA candidates as apprentice writers until they actually finish the degree. Literary agents say that MFAers write some of the worst query letters out there (try harder than you think you have to). So no definitive answer.

2. Should you only submit to markets that allow simultaneous submissions in order to increase your chances? What if there are prestigious markets you want to submit to that are closed to simultaneous submissions? Submit to them simultaneously anyway.

3. Can you get a teaching job without a published novel? Not really. A collection of short stories is okay, but a novel is better. A contract for a novel about to be published works as well. But there needs to be a book not a magazine with your name on it and it needs to be coming soon.

But then talking about publication got banned from my workshop because the instructor said we were too focused on publication and not focused enough on writing. Which leads me to

4. They believe if you write well enough, you will get published.

Of course this is both good writing and perseverance combined.

Highly Recommended