The Words in 3D Conference held in Edmonton, AB this past weekend (May 24-6, 2013) found itself with a sold-out, diverse audience of, from what I could gather, people who fancied themselves to be a writer of some sort. There were bloggers and journalists and freelancers and editors and communications assistants and those affectionately carting around their completed 100,000-word manuscript about a completely fictional character whose resemblance to their own life was completely coincidental. Nonetheless, everyone was there because they loved to write and wanted to learn how to do more of it, and do more of it well.
In short: the conference was fantastic. The presenters were knowledgeable, engaging, and relevant; they knew what they were talking about and conveyed it in an accessible way. When the conference ended, people left with applicable information they could use to work towards furthering their role as a writer, in whatever way they wanted to.
You can read more about the conference, its fantastic organizers, and each panel topic (covering writing for magazines and books) on the Words in 3D website. If you are interested in writing professionally at all, I highly recommended doing a Google search on each of the presenters to see how they may be relevant to your writing career. You’ll find editors of magazines you can pitch to, writers of resource books, and literary agents among the talents offered at this conference. Because each time slot had three or four concurrent sessions, I was only able to attend a total of four sessions and the two keynote speeches. I learned a lot from these presentations — enough for me to generate 15 pages of handwritten notes. Here are some of the most important things I learned that, I hope, can help writers like myself who are starting out in their careers:
There is a Future of Publishing
I enjoyed the optimism expressed by all of the speakers — they did not regale that print is dead or that the publishing industry is dying. They identified the challenges presented to traditional mediums, but then proposed solutions about how writers can adapt to changing practices in the digital age.
In her Saturday keynote address, Rosemary Shipton admitted that the publishing industry is in a very vulnerable and uncertain state in the digital age, but impressed that publishing has always been a precarious profession for publishers and writers. Shipton spoke to some of the new tools, resources, and devices that have been made available for writers in the digital age — crowd sourcing, Kindle Singles and “e-shorts”, and self publishing among the selections. She didn’t, however, think that writers will be hindered by the options available to them in the digital age. Her challenge to writers is this:
“Create a bold, new literary form that was not possible with print. Digital texts and e-readers merely present words on a screen instead of on paper. Incorporate elements like video, audio, animation, user engagement, and non-linear storylines into the narrative.”
Her challenge immediately made me think of projects like the early collaborative writing projects produced by Neil Gaiman and Meg Cabot via Twitter, and the Live Hypernarrative project designed by Dr. Brian Greenspan et al. of Carleton University. These projects are certainly just a few of the pioneers in the hypermedia field Shipton is promoting. What will be next? How can emerging writers utilize digital technologies in productive ways?
Start Small, Think Big
Don’t expect the first piece you ever write to be the feature story in The New Yorker, or to have your first manuscript bought by a publishing company and turned into a best-seller. Take on any writing experience you can, whether it’s for community newsletters or school newspapers or local magazines. “Writing as a profession is like climbing a ladder,” Marcello DiCintio suggests, “and you don’t get to write for a top publication by just ‘wanting’ to do it. You get there by starting at the bottom and climbing all the rungs.”
All the speakers impressed that there was no writing project too small, and that one needs to work to build a portfolio of writing before getting to write feature pieces or for big-name publications. Plus, it’s important to develop a good relationship with editors and publishers. If you do a great job writing smaller pieces, they’ll see your writing develop and remember you when they have other assignments.
“Being rejected is not a human rights violation”
Marcello DiCintio proclaimed that too many writers take it personally when their story idea is rejected. Editors reject stories for numerous reasons, and most of them are technicalities. The most common reason for rejection? The story idea is just not a fit for the magazine or the magazine recently published a similar story — which is why it is important to familiarize yourself with the magazine you are pitching to. DiCintio explained: “The Walrus only accepts stories with Canadian content. Of course it’s going to reject a story on women’s oppression in Kazakhstan. So would Guns and Ammo.”
Furthermore, writers should never respond to a rejection letter by accusing or otherwise badmouthing the editor. Besides ensuring you’ll never get work with that publication, you’re not trying to identify the problem. Instead, review your own proposal: was it actually a fit for the magazine? Was it full of cliches? Was it actually a good idea?
Practice makes perfect, and sending out pitches for ideas is the best way to practice until you find the right magazine for your pitch, or the right pitch for your ideal magazine. “One idea does not make you a writer. Thousands of ideas make you a writer,” Curtis Gillespie advised. Writers should continuously be thinking of ideas, and about how to make a story the best fit for a magazine. Don’t be afraid to propose different ideas to the same magazine until you find one that’s a fit. (The same, it should be said, goes for books and publishing companies — it’s all about finding a good fit.)
To Get Published, You Have to Have a Threesome
In her keynote address, Nancy Flight relayed to the audience that you need an attractive piece of writing to seduce your reader. Her clever, innuendo-laden talk certainly had me convinced that trying to land a book deal with a publisher (or having an article accepted by a magazine) is not any different from trying to get a date:
- The writer must make the publisher fall in love at first sight with their irresistible, attractive pitch for a book or article. The writer must convince the publisher that they are the one and that their experiences and credentials make them the best person to write this story.
- The writer, after indicating his or her interest, must act nonchalant and cool —much more attractive to potential partners than needy and pushy. (That is: publishers are BUSY. They will not get back to you tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that. Stop calling; your impatience isn’t very becoming. If they’re in to you, they will call back. If it’s been a couple of months, however, you may follow up.)
- If the publisher is equally interested in entering in to a relationship with the writer, it is now their turn to seduce the writer with gifts like a monetary advance, royalties, and bonuses. If the writer accepts the offer, the publisher-writer relationship becomes official. Serious business.
- The writer, however, is really agreeing to be part of a threesome — a relationship already exists between the publisher and their editor. However, it’s one that exists merely out of convenience and the publisher has real feelings for the writer. Thus, things can get tense! The writer may not agree with everything the editor suggests. The publisher may not agree with how the writer wants to promote their work. However…
- …if, as with a romantic relationship, each party demonstrates a willingness to compromise, flexibility, diplomacy, and communication, the writer-editor-publisher relationship can thrive.
Image courtesy of Get Publishing.