Opinion Piece: Publishing, Life After the MA Dissertation

InterviewsWords, Pauses Noises’ Amber Koski offers an Op-Ed piece today about the world of publishing and how daunting it may seem for a new writer, fresh from their dissertation hand-in.

Many of our full-time MAs are nearing the end of their brisk year of study. Those preparing to print and bind their dissertations are also considering future publication opportunities. The world of writing has been transforming for the past few years and with those transformations come numerous avenues in branding your work and your identity as an author and the publication path that lay ahead. So what do we do as 2013 writers stepping out into the market we hope to become a part of? 

The 2013 London Book Fair paneled dozens of talks about publishing, and most of those discussions centered on e-publishing options. According to Publishing Trends 2012, ‘63% of publishers are digital in 2012.’ Jo Linsdell goes on to say, ‘Many authors are now published first in e-format before moving to print versions of their work.’ The benefits of publishing in e-format range from production costs being lower to audience accessibility.  ‘The number of authors publishing solely in print is becoming significantly less,’ according to Linsdell.  But, if you’re a bit old-fashioned (so they now say) and, like me, you truly enjoy the feel of a physical book then this upsurge in e-books and publishing may disgruntle, even dishearten you as an up-and-coming author. You and I are not alone in our love for the tactile. Joyce Carol Oats tweeted 06.08.13 saying, ‘Perhaps it’s a superficial aesthetic but online everything looks, feels, behaves, “seems” like everything else. Print culture more diverse. Beauty of book design, covers & interior matter; fonts, texture of paper, ornamentation. Weight of a book in hand & pages to be “turned.”’

Nothing can replace the look of a bookshelf, the chance to borrow a book from a friend, to see their annotations and feel you know them a bit better now that you know their favourite lines. I admit, e-books are excellent for holiday travel. The slender e-book format is also great for students buying/ lugging around books they may not really want to read, and once they’ve finished the module they don’t have to bother with that trip to Oxfam to chuck the unwanted novels. My undergraduate mentor just published his first e-book. As a veteran scholar and author of a (let’s call it) wise-age his digital publishing choice surprised me.  He simply said something like, print is on its way out. I remember the shudder this quote stirred in my body. But fret not my book loving, dedicated dusting friends. The Content Wrangler estimates: ‘85% of publishers want to produce Ebooks and print.’ While ‘only 10% want to produce Ebooks instead of print books.’ [Emphasis mine.] But technological changes don’t start and stop with e-books and e-publishing.

This blog is the very product of the changing world of writing. Countless literary magazines have literally sprung up overnight thanks to the Internet and supportive universities with dedicated, often voluntary editorial teams. As new writers we have thousands, hundreds of thousands – maybe, international publication opportunities. In the last month I have found 40 literary magazines via Twitter alone where I can submit my work. Only a few of those magazine and competitions charge a small fee ($3 is the general fee for the US publications I have found).  We worked hard all year, writing dozens of short stories, poems, maybe a few dramas, chapter after chapter for a novel we’ve been hoping to wrap up and put out, and these online publications are there for us to share our work, to make our first step as authors, to vamp our CVs. You never know where you will first breakout as an author. If you think I am being romantic and far too optimistic check out these famous authors who struggled for recognition for many years.

While self-publishing was once looked down upon, many agents and publishers acknowledge an author who has self-published. The self-published author is likely to know a bit about the market, maybe even self-edited and knows how to plug the book via a personal blog. A personal writing blog is key for all new writers today. The blog is a place where you can present yourself, your in-progress and published work, and let your readers and possible scouts get to know more about who you are as a person. I write a great deal about the American south and gender and identity and I have been contacted twice in the last week via twitter by a literary magazine and about possible interest in working for a publishing company in London. Social networks will work in your favour if you treat them as professional spaces, not necessarily formal, but top representations of you and your work. When sending out cover letters along with submissions include your WordPress or Blogspot account. If you’re lucky, and if the editorial team has time they may just visit your site and find a piece of work they prefer to the one you submitted. Recently Synesthesia Magazine faovourtied some of my experimental Black-out poetry which prompted me to get in touch and submit. There are ample opportunities and in this competitive market (world, rather) try to spread your name (your brand) to the furthest reaches of the internet. Then, once you are noticed, you have an agent/ publisher you can use your online following, that virtual trail to encourage your earlier audience to engage in your newest successes.

A quick checklist of the motherly sort:

  • Promote yourself on a personal blog (if you don’t have one, get one).
  • Submit- constantly. It’s like fishing, be patient.
  • Know your options. If traditional publishing routes aren’t working out for you now try self-publish or e-publish. Make the move yourself. Get yourself out there. (Unless you have the money to hire an agent, then by all means.)

Amber has been busy this year! Check out her interview in USA Today about her experience as an MA student abroad. That’s all for this week, but tune in again next week for more work from out MA’s on Words, Pauses, Noises.

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