Writefest: A Festival for Emerging Writers | Houston, TX

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The morning of Writefest began with me frantically scrambling to try and find the right outfit. What do writers wear? My mind immediately went to the Beatniks…

Glasses.

damn you perfect vision!

Cardigans.

It’s Houston. It’s hot.

Witty t-shirt.

I got rid of all my Urban Outfitters shirts long ago…

I’ve been to several academic conferences, but this is the first creative writing conference I’ve ever attended. It’s the first time that I’ve introduced myself to other people as a writer. It’s the first time I’ve had to vocalize my genre and what my novel is about to other people. Was it intimidating? YES! Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Writefest is a small, local writing conference, so the format was fabulous for someone who is new to the local “writing scene.” It consisted of several panels over a few days – many of which were for individuals new to publishing, which was perfect for someone like me! I received a ton of helpful tips that I would like to share with my readers. You will find these particularly helpful if you are new to publishing poetry and short fiction.

The Importance of Joining a Writing Community 

Writefest was created by a local Houston group, Writespace, that offers classes in writing. Throughout the festival, many of the panels and speakers encouraged the attendees to join a writing community. One way to find members of your tribe is to take local writing courses offered by places like Writespace in order to find other authors in your genre or that have similar goals as you who can offer constructive criticism.

After leaving academia, I personally found it difficult to find classes and establish my tribe of writers. Houston has grown tremendously in creating common spaces for writers, but I have also found that a writing group on-line can be incredibly helpful. If you need a group for motivation, Camp NaNoWriMo is an amazing resource. If you want feedback from beta readers, you can find both in-person and on-line groups on MeetUp. I personally have participated in a writing course through All Writers’ Workplace & Workshop the past few months. In our Thursday Night Novel Writing Group, we are able to submit up to 3,750 words for weekly edits from four other writers that serve as our readers, as well as line-by-line edits from an editor that is a published author. Once a week, we meet in a chat room for two hours to discuss the week’s offerings, and then we e-mail our notes to one another once we finish our discussion.

This experience is incredibly motivating, and I have received very valuable feedback from individuals living in four other states (there just so happens to be someone from Austin in my course). I chose All Writers’ Workshop because a friend recommended the course to me based on his experience and the low cost. You absolutely do not have to pay for feedback like this. You could easily establish your own writing groups via social media, but for me, selecting to participate in a course I am paying for has also motivated me to keep writing. Finally, if you have friends who are writers, try to set up meet ups or (like I have) find a cheap house on AirBNB and do a retreat!

An interesting idea that was emphasized by a few different voices at the conference was that the writing community is a Give-And-Take community. Do not establish these groups to use other people and not give back. That being said, don’t always expect to get what you give. Different writers have different priorities. This is also very true when publishing. When you send off your work, you are entering into a community, so it is important to make sure you are creating professional and positive relationships with editors.

Writing groups help keep you accountable. They also help you acculturate and become a part of the profession. It’s important to know that you are always writing for your readers, so what better way to understand the reader’s perspective than to get notes from a few friends? Also, the more you can have your writing read, the better. Use social media to share snippets, or even better, find a local establishment that hosts and open-mic night and get up and read. Amplify your voice and share your creativity with the rest of the world!

How To Find Literary Journals and Publications

Prior to attending this conference, I did not know the best way to search for publications. Often I saw calls-for-submissions on my social media accounts, or I would scroll through Poets & Writers website to try and find publications where I could submit my work. Although Poets & Writers is a fantastic resource (especially the magazine), it can be tedious to search for publications this way. There were several resources mentioned for finding places to publish, but the one most commonly used comes at a cost — $5 per month– Duotrope. Duotrope allows its users to sort by genre, pay, deadlines, etc. which is not a feature that other sites have. If you are a writer of speculative fiction, Submission Grinder is a solid resource. A few others that were mentioned that I personally have not used were RalanPoetry Markets website for poetry, New Pages, and Codex for speculative fiction.

The most widely used tool to actually submit your work is Submittable. This is an on-line system that tracks what you have submitted and where your publication is in the process – Accepted (yey!), Rejected (boo!), or In Progress. There are some literary journals and magazines that do not use Submittable, and instead ask for e-mail submissions, but I would highly recommend registering with Submittable. Under the Discover tab, the website also posts calls for submissions as well, but the information is not quite as extensive or searchable as Duotrope.

Finally, another great way to research where to publish is to be a reader of literary magazines and journals. You can also consider looking where your favorite authors have been published in the past to find magazines you might enjoy. If you read an anthology and like a short story or poem in it, look in the acknowledgments section to see where it originally appeared.

What To Consider Before Submitting

Something you must consider before sending out work is the type of writer you are trying to become. Are you submitting your work for payment, prestige or reach? Once you have an answer to this question, proceed according to your goals.

One of the presenters (whose publication goal is a combination of reach and payment), said her target is to publish each short story she writes in four formats – online, in print, podcast, and translated. I had never considered submitting my work for podcasts or to foreign markets. She explained that it is important to look at your rights in contracts in order to be able to publish your work in various formats.

When deciding where to submit your work first, it is a good idea to start with fast rejection/acceptance publication before submitting to ones that take a long time to respond. Duotrope can help you find this information.

Many publications allow for simultaneous submissions, but once your work is accepted for publication, you need to contact all of the others and let them know – check out how to track this in the last section of this article.

Also, I would not pay a fee to submit your work unless it is to a prestigious publication or to enter a contest. It is more common to pay a fee for literary fiction than it is for speculative fiction publications. If your publication goal is related to payment, traditional paid publishing contracts award about six cents per word. Make sure you always read the guidelines before submitting. If you are interested in publishing the story elsewhere or in another format, make sure you look at your reprint rights within the contract you receive. This information is often posted on their website as well. Most reputable publications give your rights back in about six months. Remember often reprints pay less, and royalties only pay is sometimes never awarded.

Cover Letters

Some of the most helpful advice I received at WriteFest was about formatting a Cover Letter. The most common advice was to be sure to follow the publications guidelines when submitting. If you have never read the magazine, be sure to look at their free sample on-line to make sure your work fits their aesthetic.

The essentials of cover letters it that they are 2-5 sentences (unless a publication specifies otherwise). The panelists said it might be helpful to mention that you are an emerging writer. This lets them know they are one of the firsts to publish you, and they feel more inclined to ask you to make edits, rather than rejecting your story outright.

To show that you are familiar with the journal, writing your cover letter to the editor serves this purpose. It is also good to have one sentence telling the magazine why you want to publish with them specifically. You can mention a story you read and enjoyed from the magazine or align your style to their aesthetic.

If you are submitting the piece multiple places, it might be good to note in your email. Also, if the piece has been published before or appeared on your blog, it would be good to share that information in your cover letter as well.

Do not give a synopsis of your story. The story should speak for itself.

Do not use google docs or weird links to submit your story – do whatever is specified in the guidelines. Do not use font that is hard to read. Typically, literary magazines and journals use a standard manuscript format (SMF). The SHUNN manuscript format is the typically what is expected by publications.

Track Your Submissions!

One of the most important steps that you can take as a writer submitting work is to create a method for tracking your submissions. Some people like to keep a handwritten journal or list, while others like to use their computers. Many of the presenters at Writefest highlighted the importance of knowing when and where you send your work.

I highly recommend using Excel to build a spreadsheet for tracking purposes. You can create columns for your title, genre, word count, acceptance/rejection, and the magazines where you submit your work. I like to put the date I submitted the work (and sometimes the date it is accepted or rejected). I use different colors to label the information. I color mine green when they are accepted, and red when they are rejected. Below is an example:

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I use one spreadsheet with multiple tabs to track all of my publication information.  Each tab is divided by genre (poetry, speculative fiction short story, literary short story) and then a different tab totaling the pay I receive from any of my publications. This is incredibly helpful if you submit a work to multiple places, and it is accepted somewhere because as a courtesy, you need to contact the other magazines you submitted to and pull the piece.

If you are interested in seeing what rejection letters typically look like, check out WikiReject. 

 

Sorry to leave on the note of rejection, but remember, it’s a part of the process! I hope this information finds all of you well and proves to be helpful. Keep Writing & always remember to Write. Every. Damn. Day.

 

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