Wednesday, March 7, 2012

You mean, you don't want to pick my brain?

"I am going to be an author when I grow up," my student proudly declared during lunch yesterday.

"Really?" I responded with enthusiasm. "That's great!"

"Yes," he replied to me, and to his friends he said, "I hear the publishers and editors are totally evil, though."

"No," I piped in, "they are just people trying to find work they think they can sell. I've met some very kind editors and sometimes they reject your work and sometimes they don't, but they are usually pretty helpful."

Which is when I pulled out my copy of my recently published one page Guideposts article that came out this month. I showed it to him and explained that I was an author, too. He looked at it and handed it back to me without reading it.

I said, "Magazines are great ways to break into getting published. They will often take your short stories and things like that and sometimes they'll pay you. Guideposts paid me $150 for this article."

"Oh," he responded, "I don't want to write anything short. I spend so much time developing my characters, see?"

He then went on to brag to his friends about the 2 chapters of the book he's written and continue talking about what he had heard about the evils of the publishing industry.

I realized that he wasn't even remotely interested in anything I had to say, which shouldn't have surprised me, but was irritating.

I have spent the past 5 years working on becoming a writer. I know there are others who have worked harder and been more successful than I have, but I am fairly proud of what I have accomplished. I have taken online workshops to improve my writing, I've written 1 1/2 children's chapter books which are not publishable yet, but are a step in the right direction. I have had 10 newspaper articles published in our local paper, 5-10 poems published in various literary journals, won a poetry award in a local contest and most recently, my article was published in Guideposts. All told, I've probably made over $500 on my writing in the past 5 years.

It's a start and I know where I'm going to go from here. First chance I get, I'm going to some writing workshops for children's literature. Workshops are definitely worth the cost, in my experience, plus the contacts you make are really valuable.

The little I've learned about publishing has been mainly through trial and error, dumb luck, internet and book research, and trying desperately to pick the brains of anyone I know who might know something about being published.

I am by no means an expert on this yet, but I am getting there, and I am proud of what I have learned.

So for this kid to not be interested in what I had to say was unbelievable to me. I thought, "Kid, pick my brain- I will give you 5 years worth of publishing information
right now. I can tell you exactly how to get started." But no, he was more interested in pontificating about how incredible he was and in perpetuating myths about publishing that were based on apparently nothing but hearsay.

So here is the advice I would have given him, if he had been listening.

1. Submit to magazines and small literary journals. You can find them on There are other places as well.

2. Go to writing workshops and take online workshops. They are completely worth it.

3. Read a wide variety of stuff. If all you read is bad fan fiction you find on the internet, you may be missing out on some mental development.

4. Submit, submit, submit. When you get rejected and they actually tell you why, be willing to take their advice. Then submit again.

5. Try local markets. Write for your local paper. Submit to local contests.

6. Start a blog. It gives you great experience, connects you with other people with similar interests, and gives you a chance to see how people respond to your work.

7. Write. A. Lot.

I know there are other ways out there to work on writing, but these have been the most helpful to me.

I want to pick your brain, too. What have you learned in your publishing journey? What do you think an aspiring writer should be doing to develop his or her craft? Please tell me, because unlike my high school student, I really do want to know what your experience has taught you.


  1. Well, he's a teenager, so he already knows everything. Lucky for him, huh? ;D

  2. Oh, and as far as publishing stories, I wish I had some to tell. I think my proudest moments were a few rare rejection slips that weren't form letters. Pretty sad, I guess. Part of the problem is that I haven't pursued publication as much as I should. It seems so tedious at times.

  3. Bryan, you're right. He DOES know everything already. How could I have forgotten? Part of the reason I started this blog was to deal with the growing pile of rejection letters and actually get some positive feedback from people. It has helped quite a bit.

  4. I like your idea about writers starting their own blog. I know a high school student who seems quite serious about her writing. I think I will suggest it to her. I'm always supportive of the idea of ANYONE staying creative in their life.

  5. Do you know anything about poetry scams? And the correct protocol to get you work copyrighted? I met a man once and through small talk he mentioned he published a book. It didn't really sell but the accomplishment alone is something to be proud of. In no means am I cocky about my poetry and short stories but I do cherish and sometimes marvel at what I have written after spilling the contents of my heavy heart. I wouldn't want someone to steal my work online and pen it as their own. I am 24 years old and have been writing for as long as I could hold a pencil in my hand. I've written my entire life and do so often, at least once to three times a week. This post is great, I must research what is available to me in my area and what recourses I can find online. Unfortunately, I am not friends with any writers, let alone someone who has published their work. Any other advice or comments on this would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!!

  6. Dear Anonymous,
    the best advice I have for publishing your poetry through legitimate sources is to use It's completely free and it is a database of legitimate poetry magazines where you can submit your work.

    I would encourage you to start a writing blog. I can't guarantee that no one would cut and paste your work, but it's never been a problem for me, and if it ever became an issue, I would have my blog's records to prove that I published the work first. Plus, I don't know of anyone who is running around, trying to steal other poet's work.

    As far as copyrighting your work, I have heard that if you mail a copy to yourself in a sealed envelope through the post-office and then file it away when it arrives, the post-marked letter would be sufficient evidence of your prior claim to the material. Of course, that's hearsay. You might want to research that yourself.

    Best of luck in your writing pursuits!