7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Erika Dreifus

 

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Erika Dreifus, author of QUIET AMERICANS) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

 

 Erika is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Deb won.) 
      


Erika Dreifus is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories
(Last Light Studio, Jan. 2011), largely by the
experiences of her paternal grandparents,
German Jews who immigrated to
the United States in the
late 1930s.
Erika is donating portions of the proceeds
from sales to The Blue Card, which
supports US-based survivors of Nazi persecution.
See Erika’s website here and her Twitter here.


1. You should stock up on Forever stamps. Yes, it’s true that more and more literary journals are taking submissions via e-mail and through online submissions managers. But for those who still request manuscripts via “snail mail,” SASEs are still required. And given how much time can elapse between your submitting a story (or essay or batch of poems) and a journal returning a response, it’s entirely possible that postal rates will increase in the interim. Stay safe. Use Forever stamps!

2. By itself, a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree itself is unlikely to net you a full-time, tenure-track teaching job in creative writing in a college or university. In most cases, you’ll still need at least one published (preferably, traditionally-published, and critically-admired) book.

3. Your MFA thesis will not be your first published book—at least, not without some major revisions.

4. Not every story of yours that gets published will necessarily end up in your first collection. And that’s OK.

5. Agents do not universally welcome short-story collections—especially if you don’t have at least a partially-completed novel to submit to them as well.

6. The above notwithstanding, agents can make major contributions even if they don’t take you on as a client. My own first collection, Quiet Americans, owes a great deal of whatever strengths it may possess to the especially generous editorial suggestions of agents Eric Simonoff and Julie Barer.

7. You don’t need official permission to quote a line from a Nobel lecture as an epigraph to your book. But you will be charged a per word rate exponentially beyond anything you’ve ever earned when you seek permission to quote from a Nobel laureate’s published fiction.

 

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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

 

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28 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Erika Dreifus

  1. Adrienne Ross

    Thanks for all you give to writers, Erika: the Practicing Writer, My Machberet and now this great list. Okay, I loved #1 most of all (I’d never have thought of it), but the others were good to think about as I prepare a non-fiction manuscript for agents, publishers, the world…

  2. Mihku Paul

    More excellent, practical advice for newer writers. I would like to add, as a recent MFA grad, that
    it might be wise to use one’s time as an MFA student to generate plenty of new projects. I chose not to put all my eggs in one basket. And though at graduation I felt a bit doubtful when my fellow students talked excitedly about their "finished novel," I am glad that I put my own novel on the back burner. I used my thesis requirement to produce a collection of short fiction and practice structuring a story. I also began new projects. Now that I’ve graduated, my skills are more on a par with my aspirations, and I feel ready to return to the novel. And I have plenty of other projects cooking to keep me busy. I’m not suffering the post graduation blues or the "I only have this one novel and nobody seems interested" blues. I totally agree with you Erika. A short story collection may not get
    you an agent right away, but you can build publication credits by submitting them while you finish a novel. I’ve only spoken with one or two agents, and they definitely perked up when I told them "I also have a novel-in-progress."

  3. Elizabeth

    Great advice! I’m a novice writer whose short stories are yet to be splashed onto the page. These tips will definitely be of help in my future endeavors in writing. Thanks!

  4. Heather Schick

    Erika,
    I have had a deep-seeded interest in survivor stories of Nazi era (for lack of a better word) since my older sister read the Diary of Anne Frank in school. I was very young then, but the stories I’ve read, heard, and researched have stuck with me throughout my life. I sincerely look forward to reading Quiet Americans. Thank you for carrying the responsibility of getting these stories to print. I am so thankful for writers like you who bring these stories to life and allow us all to learn from them. Bravo Erika!

  5. Ricky Irvine

    I just read Blake Morrison’s 2005 article, Black day for the blue pencil, about the importance of editors. I was glad to see it reiterated in your #6!

  6. R.Z. Romero

    Great insights. I thought #1 was a great example of real-life humor. I am also thankful for the reiteration of my thoughts on short stories. Thank you so much for sharing your ideas.

  7. Jane Churchon

    My partner has two Facebook profiles and I often wish I’d done the same. Blending my "real" life with my "writerly" life is sometimes a little cloak-and-dagger-like. It would have been smart to set it up that way from the very beginning. Now people who read my work have to also read about my dog, my children and my whines.

  8. Renee

    I also especially like #7!
    I’m just starting out as a writer, so I appreciate your perspective on what to expect from our published and unpublished writing.

  9. Deb

    Nicely written, Erika! Loved #7 especially. No need to choose me as the winner; I’ve already read my copy of Quiet Americans and bought eight other copies for deserving friends.

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