Sunday, August 22, 2010

Brief Hiatus: The End of an Era

I’m going to take a brief hiatus from blogging—just maybe two or three weeks. I’m finishing up revisions on my book, finishing up the quarter for my summer class, and formulating plans to really market the book. In the midst of it all, I’m looking into and getting started on the application process for grad school programs—that’s right, my thoughts have turned once again to going back to school, but this time, maybe, for something a little different—but surely I’ll talk about that later. In the meantime, I need to take a very short break from blogging while I put together a new, even better, blog . . . and a website to go with it.

See, I decided a few years ago that whenever I got my first book published, I would create an author’s website. I believe that authors should have websites—I hate it when I read something amazing by someone I’ve never heard of and then go to look the writer up and can’t find any information about him or her online. But I also figured it would probably be unnecessary to worry about it until I actually got a book out there.

Well, the time has come.

So I’m working on putting together my website, and I decided that I should, first of all, condense and combine my current two blogs (I mean, really, do I need two blogs if both of them are just me talking about writing?). I also decided that, rather than having a blog that is primarily me being a spokesperson for MFA/MFYou, I would just create a sort of multi-purpose blog. It’ll be my author’s blog as well as my MFA/MFYou blog (which is really what this blog has been for some time now . . . I’m basically just making it official). I’ll post about my goals and what projects I’m currently working on; I’ll talk about writing issues; I’ll talk about the journal.

I’ll make an update on the old blog when the new blog is up and running. In the meantime, happy reading and happy writing. We shall meet again very, very soon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Submissions, Submissions

I’ve been wanting to talk about some interesting trends that I’ve noticed about the submissions we receive at MFA/MFYou. Like I’ve said before, from a purely quality perspective, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between the work submitted from writers who have some sort of formal training verses those who haven’t. I still stand firmly by my belief that a large percentage of writers who are actually revising and submitting are sending out stuff that is of publishable quality.

What I have noticed, though, is that we get far, far, far more submissions from non-MFA writers than from MFA’s. This was actually kind of surprising to me at first. As someone who has been through an MFA program, where you’re constantly being asked whether you’re submitting, I suppose I just assumed that writers who have gone through these programs are submitting more—or at least as much­­—as writers who haven’t.

But then I remembered that a lot of MFA’s have a negative view of online journals. Some even have a negative view of non-paying journals (which just seems ignorant to me, since many good journals are non-paying or only pay a small honorarium; your payment is that your work is getting out there). I suspect that the reason for this marked difference in submission numbers has something to do with many MFA writers not wanting to publish online. I’ve talked before about why I think online journals are an important component to any writer’s career, so I won’t get into that here.

What I will say is that the result of these off-balance submission amounts is that we do end up receiving more good stuff from MFYou’s than from MFA’s. What? But she just said . . . I know. I know. For every issue the “seriously considering” pile from MFYou’s is stacked higher than the one from MFA’s, but the ratio (good to not-so-good) is about the same for each group.

I’ve also noticed that we get significantly more poetry submissions than fiction submissions, and I’m not even talking about the fact that each individual poetry submission includes up to three poems. Again, I wonder if our status as a small, online journal affects these submission rates, but it’s interesting to think that perhaps there is way more poetry getting sent around than fiction. I heard, for example, about a poetry book contest that had roughly nine-hundred entrants; compare that with the average four or five-hundred manuscripts that get submitted to the typical fiction book contest.

If journals receive fewer fiction submissions than poetry, I wonder if this has anything to do with the possibility that a lot of fiction writers are more concerned with writing novels than short stories. Or is it perhaps because poems are so much shorter—does it take less time to revise a ten line poem than it does to revise a twenty page prose piece? Or could it be that there are simply more poets out there than fiction writers? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting and unexpected submission trend, and something that might help poets feel a little better about rejections, as it likely follows that it’s probably easier to get a prose piece published than a poem (though I should add that it’s hard to get prose published, too).

So, just some interesting things that I’ve noticed about our submission rates. It’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions since there are so many variables with these sorts of things, but I thought it would be interesting to pause and take a look at our submissions rates and what they might mean.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Always Room to Grow

Something that I’ve always guessed was true and now I can say from experience definitely is, is that the process of working with an editor to publish a book is extremely similar to the process of working with a thesis committee to get an MFA thesis ready to defend. When I was working on my thesis, I would have the head of my committee read a draft (or sometimes just an individual section) of my thesis; then we would meet and discuss her feedback; then I would go home again and bang out another draft, and the process would begin anew.

A basic unspoken rule at the heart of our meetings was that, as the writer of the piece, final say would always be up to me. Her suggestions were just suggestions and were meant to help me see things that I might not be able to see on my own. Her feedback was also meant to help me improve overall as a writer. The process was a lot of work, and I loved every second of it. And I definitely came out of it all a much better writer.

This is almost exactly what it’s like working with an actual editor to get a book ready for publication (with the exception, in my case, that my editor and I don’t live in the same state and so can’t meet in person to discuss feedback—instead, everything is done through email). To start with, my editor and I each read through the manuscript separately, paying attention to the fact that this would soon be a book, which we would be trying to market to an actual readership.

Then, we began an ongoing back and forth through email, during which she gives me feedback that I’m allowed to take or leave, and I ask her questions and bounce ideas off of her. Every day when I sit down to work on the book, I keep her feedback in mind as I work through new drafts of these stories. It’s been extremely fruitful so far, and I’m watching the book transform into something much tighter and more polished than it was when I entered it into the contest a couple of months ago.

But perhaps even more exciting than that: her feedback is helping me to become a better writer. I have this proclivity towards what she calls “prose hesitation,” (I love that term; it describes the problem perfectly), and she’s helping me to see that when I recognize and cut those hesitations, the prose shines through much stronger and brighter. This new knowledge will help me not only tighten the stories in this book, but it’s something that I can take with me to future writing projects.

Exactly like with my MFA thesis, I’m gaining more from this experience than just a ready to be published book. It’s a reassuring reminder that the learning process is not over when you start publishing books—that you continue learning and growing with every new piece that you write, every new editor that you work with. And whatever you’re working on right now always has the potential to be the best thing you’ve ever written.