Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Publishing: Presentation Samples


Plot, Polish, Publish (P)

Lexa Hillyer

Find the beauty in the business and make novel-writing your career.

Learn a little more about the nitty-gritty of actually getting your novel onto the page and then eventually onto bookshelves everywhere. This talk will offer no-nonsense pointers about how to strengthen your plotting skills and help you conceive of projects that are marketable and salable while still meaningful to you as a writer. We will also talk about some of the tricks that take a submission to the next level and make it seem publishable in the eyes of an agent and an editor. We’ll discuss a little bit about the industry at large—what agents and editors are thinking about and looking for—and we’ll end with some thoughts about what it means to sign a contract and actually put your work out into the world. We will be breezing through a lot of concrete tips and real-life advice, in the hope of giving students a businesslike perspective on what has likely heretofore been a purely creative process.

Required reading:

On Writing, by Stephen King

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Suggested assignment:

Read any current or recent bestselling novel and write out a list of “techniques” the writer employs in order to keep the reader turning pages and invested in the story. Example (and this is by no means comprehensive):

 The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

 · Short chapters with cliffhanger endings

· Dividing up the action and revelations across multiple characters’ Points of View

· Flashbacks that add texture without going on for too long

· Accessible Intellectualism: introducing ideas that are extremely interesting and have profound implications, but which are also easy to understand--and can be stated clearly and simply, like "the secret role of the feminine in Christian art"

· Carefully distributed clues that beg decoding. Note: clues that LEAD to other clues, rather than simply an avalanche of cryptic messages or events.

· A relatable main character who is only meant to be slightly smarter or more informed than the average reader

· Vividly evoked, familiar and famous settings--and creating contrast between the setting and the action (for instance: murder in a museum).

· Violence/death early in the book that sets the ball rolling

· Lots of chase scenes! The characters are on the move, which keeps the reader's attention.

To Be Published or To Publish:  The 21st Century Question (P)

Wendy Strothman

The realities of today’s publishing marketplace are both harsh and endlessly exciting.  More opportunities are opening as the barriers to traditional publishing are rising.  Writers must keep many factors in mind as they think about taking their “slime-covered little things” (Philip Roth) out into the world.   If you are interested in “traditional” publishing and want to attract the attention of an agent and editor, each aspect of your query and proposal  should “be an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us” as Kafka famously said.  What are agents and editors looking for today?  What will keep them reading beyond the first sentence?  What do you need to do to prepare yourself for undertaking a non-fiction book proposal or submitting a memoir or novel to strangers?   When should you consider self-publishing or epublishing as an alternative?

Students are welcome to submit one-page queries prior to the presentation as the basis for discussion.

Please be prepared to describe books that have grabbed you by the throat and to explain what made them work.

Suggested Reading:

Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato, Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction – and Get It Published

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life  

Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer

Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Donald Hall, Life Work

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Any well-written, well-reviewed nonfiction book. Read successful titles and try to understand their architecture, the decisions the author made, the narrative tone, the way the story and characters are developed. Successful writers read widely.

Setting Sail For Foreign Lands (P)

David Durham

So you’re in print in the USA. Congratulations! That may well be enough, but there is a great big world out there. Shouldn't your stories and characters make their way around the globe? Foreign rights sales may be far from your mind as you craft your fiction, but foreign sales can make up a significant amount of a writer's income. This presentation will discuss just what foreign rights are, how they're handled, what to watch out for and how best to market your work in languages you don't… ah… even speak.

Required Reading:

Red Room: The Book Deal: Territorial Rights:

Charlie’s Diary: CMAP #4: Territories, Translations, and Foreign Rights: This is from the blog of the science fiction writer Charles Stross. You might want to scroll down through the numerous comments as well. Lots of questions are asked and answered in them.

Genreality: Foreign Rights (Otherwise Know as Selling Your Book More Than Once): A post by horror writer Joe Nassise.

Upstart Crow Literary: Subsidiary Rights and Why We Keep Them: This one gives an agency’s perspective on the topic.

Foreign Publishing Deals (Ivan Hoffman, B.A., J.D.):

The End is Only the Beginning: How a Finished Manuscript Becomes a Published Book (P)

David Durham, Nancy Holder, Michael Kimball and Suzanne Strempek Shea 

What happens to a completed manuscript on the way to becoming a published book? This panel will take you every step of the way.  David Anthony Durham will address the process of acquiring and working with an agent; Nancy Holder will discuss how to work with your agent and editor once a book is under contract; and Suzanne Strempek Shea will give advice on publicizing and marketing your book. Please bring your questions, since there will be lots of time for audience discussion.

Suggested Reading:

Judith Appelbaum, How to Get Happily Published 

Richard Curtis, How to be Your Own Literary Agent 

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages

Elizabeth Lyon, The Sell Your Novel Toolkit

Pat Walsh, 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why it Just Might

Written Response:

Please pick one of the above titles to read, and then write a paragraph that lists at least three things you can do to further your goal towards becoming a published author.

A Decent Proposal: Pitching Your Nonfiction Project (C, P)

Suzanne Strempek Shea

Nonfiction books can be sold on the strength of a proposal alone. Wherever you are in your project - from the earliest idea to completing the final revision - it's wise to also be working the best proposal you can create. We'll look at the components of a traditional nonfiction book proposal, which is a lengthier and more-involved creature than the brief query letter, and is often the next thing an agent or publisher asks for after you send that brief query. We'll go over queries a bit but the focus will be on the proposal, including how to research info for each part of the proposal, how to mine your life for helpful facts to mention, and the factors can make or break this all-important document, often key to getting an agent, or to helping your existing agent nab the best deal from a publisher.

Handouts in hard copy and/or online will include sample proposals and a book list.

Required Reading:

Elizabeth Lyons, Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write (revised edition)