Written by Pauletta Hansel, Writer-in-Residence, Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library
Our 2022 Writer-in-Residence, Pauletta Hansel, is a poet, memoirist, teacher, and editor. Attend her upcoming workshops and writers' office hours. And, listen to her as host of CHPL's "Inside the Writer's Head" podcast.
The number one question during my Office Hours for the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library is without a doubt, “How do I publish my work?”
I am reminded of the joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!” And there is truth in that old chestnut; the best way to bring your work to a wider audience is to keep writing and revising in order to create your best work. But I know a lot of writers and a fair number of editors, and decided that between all of us we could come up with a better answer than that.
I asked 12 fellow writers these four questions:
- Why do you want to publish your work?
- What have you done that has helped you meet your publishing goals?
- What is most frustrating?
- What advice do you have to someone just starting out?
This post brings you a selection of their collective wisdom.
“Of course, we all dream of reaching as many readers as we can with our words—but I think it's always healthier and more productive to focus on why we want to write versus why we want to publish. Because here's the real secret: That kind of passion and drive is what will produce the most publishable work.”
“[Publishing] just seems like the natural order in the creative process to me: make something, put it into the world. Musicians perform recitals, compose, record. Visual artists exhibit, install. Dancers dance, choreograph. Writers read aloud, script, publish. I guess it falls into that “have to dance” adage many artists feel. As George Balanchine famously said, ‘I don’t want dancers who want to dance, I want dancers who have to dance.’”
“[Many marginalized writers] have turned to spoken word performance as a way of 'publishing' our work. In the spirit of oral tradition, we travel to tell our stories to eager listeners nationwide. We speak about current conditions and advocate for issues that are near and dear to our heart. We share our childhood to adulthood stories preserving those stories not in print, but in the minds of each attendee.”
Sherry Cook Stanforth
“My wish for all writers—especially those who are new to the publishing scene – Surround yourself with literary friends. Commit to craft study through reading, unapologetic writing, and listening carefully to language. Join initiatives and collaborations that emphasize the power of writing in culture—workshops, retreats, public readings, open mics, feedback groups.”
“I have always sought to publish my work because there were rarely stories, poems, narratives that reflected my unique experiences as a Black queer person in the world. It’s been a privilege and great responsibility to extend that body of work amid the Black homophobia and even racism and implicit bias in the LGBTQ+ community that suggest my story and our stories do not have audiences who buy books.”
Rae Hoffman Jager
“A lot of the themes I work with are vulnerable things most people experience—car accidents, cancer, losing your child for a moment in a crowded grocery store, celebrating milestones, grief. If I were to merely write those poems and let them live in my laptop then they wouldn't hold someone in the way they need to be held.”
“[As a reporter, the point] is to share what I've learned with an audience. Establishing good relationships with editors has helped me meet my goal of having my work published. This has meant delivering what I've said I would when I've said I would. Being responsive and open to feedback on the work has also been important.”
“The words associated with [publishing] – “submission,” “rejection,” and “acceptance,” are ones one might address with a therapist! The rejections most always sting - even though I realize that not all are because of the quality of my work but due to the large number of poems good journals have to consider.”
“If you are just getting started, keep at it. Make a habit of researching and submitting work just like you make a habit of writing. Publishing is a business for the publishers, and if you are serious about getting your work out there, you should make it something of a business, at least by being persistent in your approach.”
Annette Januzzi Wick
“One of my pandemic goals was to publish my work for a wider audience. This process exposed me—and my writing—to a critical base of editors, including an Italian editor, all who pushed me to delve further into my work, and into my craft. This is important. Not only was I paid for my work, but the editorial advice made my work infinitely more readable.”
“The more exposure I had to poetry, the more I fell in love with the art. I wanted to capture the magic I experienced when I read a successful poem. I wanted to write successful poems. The more I wrote, the more aware I became of how long I had lived in silence. I realized that I wanted to be heard. After so many years of invisibility, I wanted to leave something of myself behind.”
“The first thing, and really the main thing, was to learn the craft of writing. None of it means a thing if you haven’t learned to do the job. For me, that meant a lot of hours and lots of wasted paper, working to get it right. After that, and I hate to say it, but successful publishing means knowing the system, having clear goals and researching the means to reach those goals.”
What Do Editors Want, Anyway!?
Two regional editors, Robert Murphy of Dos Madres Press and Sherry Cook Stanforth of the journal, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel both fine writers themselves, put on their editor caps to advise us on the other end of the equation.
I offer two quotes to whet your appetite:
Sherry Cook Stanforth
In a world of wishes, I would seize upon this -- may writers in all genres release themselves from the desire—the burden—of telling "universal" stories in hopes of touching more readers' lives.
It's hard not to become discouraged if one is constantly being turned down – don't give up. And don't give in to the temptation of being other than YOURSELF.
So, what is the path toward your own version of “Carnegie Hall?” I encourage you to begin with the question these writers did and explore your own motivations in order to set your most meaningful goals.
Would you like to talk through this and other aspects of your writing? Drop in virtually at my final Writer-in-Residence Office Hours on Saturday, December 3, 2022 at 11 a.m.