Friday, November 20, 2009
My last post for Keplers--a little advice for writers.
Last month, at Wordstock, Portland’s marvelous gathering for writers and readers, I taught a class on “The True Business of Writing.” I took about 30 class participants through the thorny parts of my career, trying to show them how—creativity aside—I got to the point now where I have a book. I told them that there were plenty of other places where they could go to discuss craft, and the art of writing. I wanted to talk practicalities, the things that no one really wants to discuss.
I showed them my original query letter.
I had asked my agent for query letters she'd rejected from her slush pile and shared these with my class, asking them to try to point out the predictable errors the rejected had made. (In this I guess I drew upon my experience as an SAT tutor, when I would teach kids to look for "predictable errors." It's not a bad skill to have.)
I let them read my own rejection letters from editors, then asked them what they would do if they were in my shoes.
I showed them my submission stats for a short story that ultimately did pretty well (it generated two readings, one of which had an audience of something like 150 people, and a Pushcart nomination). The stats weren’t pretty: I’d been rejected 29 times before someone took the story. Six of those rejections came from editors who said they wanted the story but didn’t have enough room in their journals, which at the time, rather felt like the people I knew in high school who told me they would love to have taken me to the party with them, except there hadn't been enough room in the car . . .
In other words, I tried to share with these writers all the things that I had learned, and wished I’d known before embarking on a real career.