If you read last month’s blogs, you know that I was in a really amazing Publishing Class with Diane Zinna and reported on the first half of the class in my February blog. Since my blogs are due to my webmaster on the 15th of each month to give him time to get them posted by the first of the following month, I wasn’t finished with that class at the time of the writing. But I wanted to take a few minutes to follow-up and let you know how it ended up.

Let me start by saying, mark your calendars and put aside $200 or thereabouts for this opportunity next year if you have any interest in publishing your writing. Period. I learned so much. I can’t wait to make time to put it into practice! I take a lot of online classes, attend numerous conferences and workshops (online and in-person), but I’m going on record here to say that, dollar for dollar, this was the best use of $200 that I have spent on a writing endeavor in a very long time, maybe ever! Just hearing from professionals in the field, gaining insight as to what they’re looking for, helping me understand what I can do better, what I can do to perhaps catch an editor’s attention better in my cover letter, etc., was absolutely invaluable! Getting a year of free access to The Sun online was great, too. Having the opportunity to submit one page of writing to my classmates for comments and suggestions on First Page Friday was a fantabulous experience on a fiction piece I’ve been working on in the past month or two, because it let me know what worked (most of it), what might need to change (point of view was a little uncertain regarding one character), and whether the first page gave enough to make the reader want to go on to the second and subsequent pages to finish the story I had presented to them on my first page. The page I presented was from a fiction piece about domestic violence. I don’t often try my hand at fiction, so I really did need the feedback on it. I feel really good about the piece now and have entered it in several contests since February. Hopefully some judges will like it, too. 

I’ll continue with the list of who came to talk to us via our Zoom experience, beginning with February 17. On that day, Dani Hedlund from F(r)iction joined us. The cool thing about this magazine is that they told us that about 40% of the work used in their graphic novels program comes from their “slush piles,” which goes to show that just getting things submitted, having them land somewhere, can sometimes be enough to get you on your way. 

The next day, we heard from Allison K. Williams a social media editor with Brevity. I will tell you straight up that Brevity is one of my dream journals in which to be published. Brevity publishes flash nonfiction – 750 words max (which I’ve yet to master). We had the opportunity in this class, however, to send up to 5 pages double-spaced to her to read ahead of time. I’m not sure how she chose what she chose, but she asked someone to pick a number between 1 and 12 or 1 and 15. They picked 11. It was my piece. And she critiqued the first page live in our class. It was scary and humbling to be the first one, but at the same time, I was sitting there, thinking, “Oh, my gosh! What a coup! I have such a better idea now of what to do with this front section to get it into shape to submit it for potential publication!” This piece was something that won an essay contest last Summer with the Mountain Heritage Lit Festival, so I do feel like it is a strong piece, but I’ve been revising it extensively the past few months with the help and guidance of Denton Loving, Darnell Arnoult, and Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle. It is down to under 1000 words from about 1500 words in its original form. With Allison’s suggestions, I think I can whittle it down further. It will just become a slightly different piece without most of the current front matter. Three other students received feedback in class. She was honest with all of our pieces, only one was acclaimed as “good and great already,” (not mine, lol), but she gave great advice to all of us. (As a side note, she did end up doing a video critique for the others in the class and they received it a little later in the week, I believe.) Her time, as valuable as it is, was showered on us in this class in a truly awesome way!

The next day, we heard from Benjamin Davis and Karina Kupp, the creators of a mind-blowing new submissions database called ChillSubs. They talked with us for the whole hour of class. There’s so much going on there, I can’t begin to explain it al. What I can and will do, however, is tell you to go check it out for yourself. Put up a writer profile. Find places to submit to. Use their browse function. Get to know the format. Watch for updates and more features coming. ChillSubs has been around for about a year and is really starting to grow by leaps and bounds. I think my favorite thing currently on their site is “Rejection Bingo!” They try to make the whole submissions process a learning experience. They try to make it more fun and entertaining. Sit back, relax, and head over to www.ChillSubs.com to see what I’m talking about! And don’t stress the process! 

I had to miss the next day for a doctor’s appointment, but Catherine someone came and talked about loglines. I need to find someone with notes to find out more about that.

On February 23, we talked about query letters for book publication. Three different people came and talked to us about their own experiences. Interesting facts learned that day: it took one of them thirteen years to get her first novel published; she queried it 165 times and received over 60 rejections (many places never even bothered with an official rejection). While discussing querying, we also talked a little about finding agents. This still seems like the missing link to book publication to me. I don’t have a good handle on it at all!

Next we heard from Ann Hudson with Rhino, a poetry journal. At Rhino, at least three editors read each packet. There are fifteen voting editors at any time. She reminded us that “no” doesn’t mean “never.” She suggested being brief in your cover letter and to be sure to look through their website before submitting to them to see if your work will be a good fit. (We heard this time and time again from almost every editor who came to talk to us!)

On February 27, Amy from Eat, Darling, Eat came to speak to us. Her magazine is about mother/daughter relationships. Not just good ones. Complicated ones, too. And grandmother stories. And unconventional stories – even fathers in place of mothers. They like a food connection in there, too, so if you have family food stories, you might want to check out this one and see if it’s for you. Next up, we heard from Michael Tayger from Mason Jar Press, a small press based in Baltimore that has been around for seven years and publishes three to six books annually. Michael explained the pros of working with a smaller press – closer relationship with the business than you’re likely to experience with a big book publisher; in the marketing department, more personalized attention, personalized marketing plan, personal investment – but they don’t send blurbs or galleys to places like Kirkus Review. In other words, there are tradeoffs with anything. 

Our final day, we finished up our last three students’ First Page Friday submissions. I was impressed with the caliber of writing from my fellow students throughout the month. Many have been writing far longer, more seriously/intently, and submitting way more profoundly than I have. Several had taken the course last year and come back to learn more (which I totally plan to do next February). But all were supportive and encouraging, as was Diane. I enjoyed Diane and her instruction so much that I’m currently taking a Grief Writing class with her this week for two hours each day. It’s tough to write about grief. But I know that there have been several things in the past year that I have just tamped down tighter and tighter and not addressed in any written fashion that need to come out of me, so I’m hoping that this helps in some way. Mom will be dead five years next month. I’ve still never really dealt with any of that in writing. All I ever wrote about her death was her obituary. She haunted me for months, for Pete’s sake; that alone deserves to be written about. But I’ve not been able to figure out how to do it. Trying to break through those walls in this class this week. Wish me luck!