Advice From First Novelists on Getting Published

What’s one of the best ways to get published? The surprising answer from Aimee Bender, author of the short story collection The Girl in the Flammable Shirt (Doubleday):

Stop focusing so intently on being published.

Bender and seven other writers answer “What’s the single most important piece of advice you could offer to aspiring writers to help them get published?” in the January 1999 issue of Writer’s Digest. Bender’s advice:

Work on the writing as a way to express something powerful, and work on developing as a person so that the work gets richer and deeper. Once the piece is done, and you’re proud of it, and have made it into the best it can be, then go ahead and get it out there and send it out repeatedly and be insistent and rigorous and willful. But not until, or you’re playing games with your own willfulness, and forgetting why writing is valuable in the first place.

One professor told me to “write what you like to read” and I thought that was a compelling idea. I’d modify it to say “write what you like to read deepest in your gut,” because I like to read all sorts of things but my favorite stories, the ones that have followed me throughout my life, are metaphorically very rich and bizarre and move me unexpectedly. So that’s what I want to always try and aim for. And again, once I felt I’d written something that felt like mine, like I’d written it and no one else would’ve quite written in the same way, then I felt more motivated to withstand the time it took to get it out there.

Also, the act of writing something that felt exciting to me made me want to write more, which is absolutely crucial. When you’ve tried and tried and tried with one story and it isn’t happening, write another.

Nalo Hopkinson, author of Brown Girl in the Ring (Warner Aspect), answered the question this way:

Have a strategy for getting into print. The strategy that’s working for me is practical (I hope) and multi-pronged:

  1. Learn how to write. Good writing is a craft, and you can learn it.
  2. Write from your passion and your interest. When your writing is personal, your connection with it powers your writing.
  3. Show and submit your work. If you can, workshop it with other writers, because most editors don’t have the time to tell you why your story did or didn’t work for them.
  4. Learn your field. Read in it as much as you can. If the world is bored to tears with vampire stories, you need to know that, so you can make your vampire story fresh and surprising.
  5. Write. Keep writing.
  6. Take it one step at a time. Your first sale to a ‘zine is as much cause for celebration as your first novel sale.

And a final thought from Lisa Lawston, author of A Pair of Red Sneakers (Orchard Books):

Rest assured that the universe does not favor frog over fly, lion over antelope, or Stephen King over you!

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