People Who Write Turns 1!

me at 1, or thereabouts

me at 1, or thereabouts

Today marks the anniversary of my very first People Who Write post! I started this blog two and a half years after my novel Powder Necklace was published because I realized how little I knew about the publishing industry when my book was first released–and how little information or help is shared between aspiring and professional writers. Good luck, for example, getting a writer friend to recommend your work to his or her agent. Additionally, news of fellowships, residencies, and other calls for papers tends to get circulated amongst insiders.

Getting in is so hard, fear and insecurity abound. Couple that with the fact that most writers tend to be introverts, and the industry itself is so notoriously secretive, and the loneliness and ignorance becomes palpable.

I’m definitely no expert. Another reason I started this blog was because I knew it would force me to stay on top of reading industry trades and processing how certain events impact us as writers. But I have learned a few things over the last few years, and I’ve met some people who know a lot more than me. With People Who Write, my goal is to continue to share the information I’ve gleaned and, encourage other people who write to share what they know.

THANKS for reading. Please do spread the word about the blog and post info about fellowships, residencies or contests you know of in the comments section. And, if you’ve got one, we welcome your agent’s contact info too. ūüėČ

Do You Write Detailed Character Sketches Before You Start a Project?

Character Sketch via Writers Write_peoplewhowriteI came across this Basic Character sheet on Writers Write’s Facebook page. I don’t write very detailed sketches of my characters before I start a book — I prefer the characters to reveal themselves to me — but reading this¬†Character sheet, I think it could be a useful tool when you’re midway or done with your project too. ¬†Whether you know the answers to most of these questions before, during, or after, at some point you should know them.

Consider Submitting

prize_logosCheck out these opportunities to get published and engage with writers and scholars below. Literary Mama also has extensive submissions listings and posts new calls for submissions the first Wednesday of every month. Be sure to review our listing of Fellowships and Residencies too.

Project / Outlet: Narrative Magazine
Submission Requirements: See Narrative‘s submission details
Strongly Encouraged: See Narrative‘s submission details
Deadline: Ongoing

Project / Outlet: The Sun Magazine
Submission Requirements: See the Writing Guidelines
Strongly Encouraged: “We publish essays, interviews, fiction, and poetry. We tend to favor personal writing, but we‚Äôre also looking for provocative pieces on political and cultural issues. And we‚Äôre open to just about anything. Surprise us; we often don‚Äôt know what we‚Äôll like until we read it. We pay from $300 to $2,500 for nonfiction, from $300 to $1,500 for fiction, from $100 to $250 for poetry, and from $1,000 to $2,000 for interviews. We also give contributors a complimentary one-year subscription to The Sun. We purchase one-time rights. All other rights revert to the author upon publication.”

Project / Outlet: Chicken Soup for the Soul
Submission Requirements: See the Writing Guidelines
Strongly Encouraged: See Possible Book Topics
Deadline: Ongoing

Project / Outlet: The Life Sentence
Submission Requirements: See the Submission Guidelines
Strongly Encouraged:¬†The Life Sentence is the destination sophisticated crime fiction/noir fans go to for reviews and stimulating criticism. We want the content to be engaging, exciting, and inspire people to share and to participate in what we are doing. We cover crime, mysteries, and noir in all genres, including true crime, thrillers, novels, nonfiction, movies, and television.¬†We prefer pitches to pieces that are already written. Please introduce yourself and include two or three links with your pitch so we can get a feel for your writing.”
Deadline: Ongoing

Project / Outlet: Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Non-Fiction 
Submission Requirements: See the Submission Guidelines
Strongly Encouraged: Extremely brief essays (750 words or less)
Deadline: Ongoing

Project / Outlet: The Northern Virginia Review 
Submission Requirements: See the Submission Guidelines
Strongly Encouraged:¬†“You must be a resident of the Mid-Atlantic region or Virginia or be NOVA faculty, staff or alumni.”
Deadline: Ongoing

Project / Outlet: One Teen Story is seeking short stories about the teen experience for teen readers.
Submission Requirements:¬†Entries¬†in any genre of literary fiction that explores themes relevant to the teen experience (e.g. identity, friendship, family, coming-of-age, etc.). Submissions should be 2,000 and 4,500 words and “strong enough to stand alone (as opposed to excerpts from novels-in-progress).”
Strongly Encouraged: While teen writers are welcome to submit, OTS encourages them to enter their teen contest instead. Gratuitous profanity, sex and drug use are best avoided.
Deadline: Ongoing

Project / Outlet: Parenthetical Literary Magazine is seeking submissions for their July issue.
Submission Requirements: Previously unpublished poetry of any length, or fiction / non-fiction between 1,000 and 2,500 words. “The magazine will feature mainly Canadian contributors, and any non-fiction will be grounded in CanLit, since our goal is to create a community of emerging Canadian writers and publishers…”
Strongly Encouraged: Read up on Paranthetical‘s mission.
Deadline: Ongoing

Project / Outlet: The Babishai@StoryZetu 2016 Twitter Competition
Submission Requirements:
See details here.
Strongly Encouraged: N/A
March 4, 2016

Project / Outlet: Transcendent + Lethe Press
Submission Requirements:
See; Please send all submissions as well as any questions to
Strongly Encouraged:¬†Transcendent¬†is seeking¬†short, speculative fiction published in 2015 that features transgender characters, including but not limited to those who identify as genderqueer, transfeminine, transmasculine, non-binary, two-spirit, FTM, MTF, agender, intersex, bigender, genderfluid, third gender, and others, with a special note that there is no one way to be transgender with regards to medical, social, and personal transition status.¬†Similarly, we acknowledge, affirm, and welcome transgender characters of all ages, races and ethnicities, sexual orientations, physical and mental capabilities, socio-economic statuses, and geographic locations.Speculative fiction will also be interpreted liberally to encompass the full spectrum of the genre, including the fantastical, the strange, the horrific, the weird, and everything in between.¬†The moral of the story: if you think transgender speculative fiction applies to your story, please send it. And if you’re unsure, send it anyway!We welcome and encourage authors of oppressed and/or marginalized identities to submit. Authors need not identify as as transgender.”
March 31, 2016

Project / Outlet: Proximity Magazine, Issue 11
Submission Requirements:¬†“Submissions must be previously unpublished and submitted to¬†Proximity¬†for publication in one of the following categories: long-form (6,000 words maximum), mid-range (2,000 words maximum), flash (500 words maximum), or photo essay/multimedia. Multiple submissions and alternative forms of true stories are welcome and encouraged. See the¬†Proximitywebsite for frequently asked questions:¬†
Strongly Encouraged:¬†“For its 11th issue, Proximity is looking for true stories that explore the theme of¬†REUNION, in¬†personal essays, images, reportage, and multimedia.”
Deadline: April 15, 2016

Project / Outlet: J.J. Pionke + Lethe Press Seeking “Survivor” Submissions¬†
Submission Requirements: Manuscripts of contemporary poetry or fiction.
Strongly Encouraged: “In this SF/F anthology, we‚Äôre looking for stories of everyday trauma survival — from a barmaid on an intergalactic space station who was abandoned by her parents, to a farmer‚Äôs son bullied by his peers, who withstands and resists their abuse. We also welcome stories with a war setting, such as stories about veterans and refugees. The key component for all of these stories is how relatively ordinary characters survive and thrive, given the traumatic experiences they‚Äôve had.¬†Note: we aren‚Äôt necessarily looking for happily ever after. Trauma survival rarely ends in happily ever after, though it can, and hopefully will, end in closure and a coming to terms.¬†We‚Äôre soliciting speculative fiction up to 10,000 words, though we prefer 4000 ‚Äď 8000. Payment is 3 cents / word for print and electronic rights, to be published by Lethe Press. You need not be a trauma survivor yourself to submit. Simultaneous submissions are fine.¬†Send up to 3 submissions as attached files (.doc, .docx, or .rtf format) to¬†¬†with the subject line: SURVIVOR SUB [title]. Questions should also go to JJ Pionke at that address.”
Deadline: May 1, 2016

Project / Outlet: University Press of Kentucky Contemporary Prose and Poetry Series
Submission Requirements: 
Manuscripts of contemporary poetry or fiction.
Strongly Encouraged: 
“profound attention to language, strong imagination, formal inventiveness, and awareness of one’s literary roots.”
June 1, 2016

Project / Outlet: The Shell Game Anthology of Ready Made Forms
Who’s Eligible: All writers of previously unpublished works between 750 and 8000 words.
Additional Details: See
Deadline: August 1, 2016

Grayson Books Poetry Prize
Who’s Eligible: All writers of poetry
Additional Details: See
Deadline: August 15, 2016

Project / Outlet:Wising Up Press is inviting fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and poetry on the kindness of strangers: When and how have we experienced or demonstrated it? How has the experience changed our worldview?
Who’s Eligible: Writers of all ages and cultures
Additional Details: Complete guidelines: Considering book manuscripts on same theme:
Deadline: September 1, 2016

Project / Outlet: New Rivers Press is seeking poetry submissions for a Bob Dylan-themed anthology Visiting Bob.
Who’s Eligible: All writers of poetry
Additional Details: See Submission Guidelines here:
Deadline: September 15, 2016

Project / Outlet: Cherry Tree
Submission Requirements: Original, unpublished works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.
Strongly Encouraged:¬†“Read examples of some of our favorite pieces of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from the most recent issue of¬†Cherry Tree.”
Deadline: October 15, 2016

Project / Outlet: 2016 AWP Conference & Bookfair
Submission Requirements: See Event Proposal Handbook
Strongly Encouraged: “The AWP conference committee seeks proposals featuring panelists who are diverse in their backgrounds, pursuits, affiliations, and ages. While an institutional affiliation is not required of participants, when appropriate, panels should showcase presenters from a variety of organizations and institutions who are at different stages of their careers. The ideal panel will consist of participants who represent a broad range of perspectives and experiences. The committee also encourages panel participation from graduate students.”
Deadline: The proposal period for submissions for the 2017 conference in Washington, D.C., will open in mid-March 2016.

Project / Outlet: New York Foundation for the Arts Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program
Submission Requirements: Submit a 10-page document that includes samples of your work. Eligible applicants must live within the New York Tri-State metropolitan area, NY, NJ, and CT, (within commuting distance of New York City); have been born outside of the United States or in United States territories i.e. Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands; have been pursuing a career as an artist within the range of 1-10 years in the United States; and NOT be currently enrolled in a graduate or undergraduate degree program.
Strongly Encouraged: N/A
Deadline: Information for the 2016 application to come.

A Worse Scenario than Not Getting Published or Writing a Flop

Writers imprisoned for writing their truth - peoplewhowriteSo much of the writing life involves longing. The longing to be published. The longing to be read. The longing to be acclaimed. The dream. But very rarely do we consider the possibility of a nightmare outcome, when writing your truth becomes a literal occupational hazard.

History is rife with stories of writers imprisoned for challenging the status quo in their work (see Voltaire), but we don’t have to go back as far as the 18th century. Novelist¬†Salman Rushdie, ¬†writer¬†Liu Xiabo, and journalist¬†Rodney Sieh¬†are among the list of contemporary scribes that have been threatened with death or imprisoned for their writing. Sieh was just released from prison on November 8, 2013, thank God.

Last week, PEN International observed the Day of the Imprisoned Writer by highlighting specific ongoing cases. Check out a few stories here and here.

Former Random House Ed-in-Chief Has Written a Publishing Industry Memoir

Daniel Menaker's publishing industry memoir

Daniel Menaker

Daniel Menaker, once the Executive Editor-in-Chief at Random House, has written a memoir that chronicles his personal evolution, much of which happens alongside¬†the publishing industry’s twists and turns over the¬†last four decades. Excerpts from My Mistake: A Memoir in the latest issue of New York Magazine reveal a world of peculiar personalities, fuzzy math, and the excitement that comes with leaving an imprint on the culture.

A particularly insightful passage reads:

Now I have been¬†senior literary editor at Random House for six months. I remain in many ways ignorant of the realities of book publishing. But it begins to dawn on me that if a company publishes a hundred original hardcover books a year, it publishes about two per week, on average. And given the limitations on budgets, personnel, and time, many of those books will receive a kind of ‚Äúbasic‚ÄĚ publication. Every list‚ÄĒspring, summer, and fall‚ÄĒhas its lead titles. Then there are three or four hopefuls trailing along just behind the books that the publisher is investing most heavily in. Then comes a field of also-rans, hoping for the surge of energy provided by an ecstatic front-page review in¬†The New York Times Book Review¬†or by being selected for Oprah‚Äôs Book Club. Approximately four out of every five books published lose money. Or five out of six, or six out of seven. Estimates vary, depending on how gloomy the CFO is the day you ask him and what kinds of shell games are being played in Accounting.

I am trying to acquire two novels, one completed and the second under way, by a British writer. Ann Godoff likes the finished book, or takes my word for it that it‚Äôs good, or she is in a good mood, and has authorized me to offer $100,000 for each book. On the phone to the agent in England, I say, with no guile, ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre offering a hundred thousand dollars for both books.‚ÄĚ He says, with acceptance detectable in his voice, ‚ÄúYou mean $50,000 for each?‚ÄĚ

I hesitate, but not too long. ‚ÄúYes.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúDone and done.‚ÄĚ

Daniel Menaker's My Mistake: A Memoir

5-Time Author Aliya S. King Hosts a Q&A for Writers Every Wednesday

Author Aliya S. King hosts a live Q&A for writers every Wednesday on Spreecast_peoplewhowriteMark your calendar.¬†Aliya S. King¬†offers writing tips on her blog and answers writers’ questions live via her weekly video chat on Spreecast. A former editor at Billboard Magazine and The Source, King’s byline has appeared in a bevy of publications ranging from Black Enterprise to Teen People. ¬†She’s also written or helped write five books including singer Faith Evans’ New York Times bestselling memoir Keep The Faith. Make sure to check in one Wednesday soon. She’s got a lot of wisdom to share on everything from getting started on a project to getting it published in a magazine or book.

Rest in Peace, Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature, was 94 when she died - peoplewhowrite

Doris Lessing won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. She was 94 when she died Sunday November 17, 2013.

“And when a book’s pattern and the shape of its inner life is as plain to the reader as it is to the author–then perhaps it is time to throw the book aside, as having had its day, and start again on something new.” — from The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Jhumpa Lahiri's Agent Moderated a Panel with the Editors of "Seabiscuit," "Gone Girl" & "Bossypants"

Molly Stern, Eric Simonoff, Jonathan Karp and Reagan Arthur on The Future of Publishing - peoplewhowrite

from top left: Molly Stern, Eric Simonoff, Jonathan Karp and Reagan Arthur

I don’t need to tell you it was good.

Yesterday,¬†Lahiri’s agent Eric Simonoff joined Jonathan Karp, president of Simon & Schuster and the acquiring editor of¬†Seabiscuit, ¬†Molly Stern, publisher of Crown Publishing and Broadway Books and the acquiring editor of Gillian Flynn’s¬†Gone Girl; and Reagan Arthur, publisher of Little, Brown & Company and editor of Tina Fey’s¬†Bossypants¬†at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center to talk publishing; and they¬†dropped many gems. A few that I collected:

Almost No Market Research Goes into Creating a Book Cover–Unless You’re Tina Fey.
Publishers only do market testing for books they’ve “invested a lot in.” In the case of Tina Fey’s Bossypants, two cover comps were in contention for the final book. One had the title written as a mustache over a very pretty picture of Fey. The other was, of course, the one with the hairy man arms. Fey liked the latter because she said her fans don’t like to see her looking pretty; they prefer her when she’s quirky looking. The publisher tested the covers at a few malls around the country, and you already know which one won.

It’s Incredibly Important to Have a “Tribe” Behind You.
Whether it’s reviewers, influential authors, bookstores or Facebook fans, it’s important for emerging writers to have a base of support. One panelist cited The Help, explaining that independent bookstore owners really got behind the book in its earliest days.

It will be “Devastating” for the Publishing Industry if Barnes and Noble Goes Away.
The panelists admitted that Amazon’s focus on the customer–from discount pricing to the convenience of delivery and expediency of the Kindle–is an incredibly difficult thing to compete with, but also admitted their current business model can’t withstand the eradication of the chain bookstores. “When chain stores go away, I think impulse buys go away,” one of them noted, while another believed strongly that publishers need to rethink their pricing strategies. “Our entire business is built on pricing inflation,” Stern said. She said decisions needed to be made to ensure consumers get the very best price without causing the industry to lose its shirt in the process.

A Book Doesn’t Have to Have Staying Power to be Acquired.
Books are acquired for a multitude of reasons, one of the panelists explained, and it’s expected that “at best, 25% of the books carry the 75%” that get published.

Advance Copies Are Your Friend.
The best thing you can do before a book is published is get people reading it. By “people” they meant the sales teams that will go on to sell the book to book retailers, librarians, etc. That’s how Gone Girl built. They pre-sold 42,000 copies of Flynn’s book before the first sale.

Publishers are Re-Thinking the Life Cycle of a Book.
Instead of thinking of a book’s life as existing within the first few months of release, then moving on from it depending on its success or failure, Stern said the current market has urged her to “retrain” herself to think of a book’s life as constant. “It’s one book with many moments.”

Fiction E-Books Sell Better than Non-Fiction E-Books.
No known reason why, but the panelists conjectured that it could be due to the demographic and psychographic of the fiction versus non-fiction reader. For example, the non-fiction reader is more likely to be doing research or trying to learn something specific from the book and, as such, might not need to carry the book around the way an avid reader totes their read along for the commute to and from work. The same is true for hardcover in many cases. Gone Girl sells two e-books for every hardcover.

The Second Book is the Most Dangerous for a Writer.
Citing Zadie Smith’s critically panned¬†The Autograph Man and Maria Semple’s Women’s Prize nominee Where’d You Bernadette? as examples of two extremes, Molly Stern and Reagan Arthur noted the exquisite challenge of following a successful or impressive debut, or establishing yourself as worthy of the ink used to write your deal if the first one flopped.

Seabiscuit was Almost Called Four Good Legs
As in the “four good legs” between the jockey and the horse. They also played around with Dark Horse, even printing advance copies with that title. Market testing, mercifully, led them to go with Seabiscuit.

If the Acquiring Editor Believes in You Enough & Has the Power to Persuade His/Her Colleagues, It (Almost) Doesn’t Matter How Much Your Previous Books Sold
Each of the publishers groaned at the hard work of convincing fellow editors and higher-ups about the viability of a book–especially if the author’s sales track record isn’t stellar. But they all shared stories of battles won. I got the impression if they feel a battle is worth fighting, they almost always win.

Seven Journalism Fellowships You Should Know About

AAJW_Association of African Journalists & Writers_peoplewhowriteFollow¬†(AAJW)-Association of African Journalists & Writers¬†on Facebook. It’s an amazing resource for news on writing fellowships and scholarships. Today they’ve posted a listing of seven journalism fellowships with prizes up to $70,000. Take a look,¬†and if you win, let us know!

"Selfie," The Word of 2013, Was First Used in 2002

"Selfie" is the word of 2013 - peoplewhowrite

unit= freq./billion words

Basing its decision on the frequency of its usage, the Oxford Dictionaries has announced “selfie” as the word of 2013. But interestingly, they trace the word’s first known usage to 2002 via an online forum in Australia:

2002 ABC Online (forum posting) 13 Sept.
‚ÄúUm, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.‚ÄĚ

Selfie infographic by Oxford Dictionaries - peoplewhowrite