This is the message my pen gave me this morning. Here's a little tale about asking ~
Last week I sent an email blast to people from my MFA program. Some were friends I'd gone through the program with, others new students I didn't know, faculty. My plan had been to send an email to one, maybe two people tops who had published their books and get some advice. But then I thought, cast the net wide. See what happens.
Here's some of it:
Hello MFA friends,
It’s me, Betsy, Cedar Crest MFA Vienna 2015, writing to say hello + also seeking help, support, guidance, ____________ regarding getting my memoir, Please No Life Stories, published.
I’ve sent pieces out, had a couple of stories from the book published, most recently Little Witch, in Paris Lit Up 7. Admittedly, my submission practices are lacking. I go through bursts, then feel lost (and lazy?).
I sent a story to Catapult in NYC, the editor liked it (didn’t publish it) but was “keen to hear more about my memoir." So I sent her the manuscript - she told me it would be best if “my agent” sent it.
I don’t have an agent.
...The writing part comes easily for me, but the “business” of writing continues to throw me. I get easily stymied. Some of you have gotten your books published. How did you do it? Where did you start? I'm casting my net wide to see if any of you wise and wonderful writers will share your experience with publication, or writing in general, or simply to say hello.
With a mix of relief and trepidation, I hit send.
Relief because I need help with the business of writing and honestly, even though there are a million blogs and books about how to do it, it's awfully nice to hear from people you know with some first-hand experience.
Trepidation because who wants to look like they don't already know? But there's so much I don't know about so many things, who's kidding who? Why not ask? I'm happy to help people with any questions they have about all kinds of things. I tell my college students @ the beginning of the semester: Ask. No question is a dumb question... (except maybe if the due date for the assignment is clearly posted on the Assignment Board and you want to know what the due date is)
I don't know
I don't know
I should know really?
Not even five minutes after sending my help email, this arrived.
I don’t know you but I’m so glad you asked the question. I too struggle with the publishing piece, even just sending single pieces. I look forward to the discussion this generates.
Another person wrote: I am interested in hearing what others have done. Thank you for having the humility to cast this net so wide to seek guidance from the group.
Most of us don't like to ask, yet we all have questions, daily. This is true of little kids in second grade, college students, teachers, doctors, gardeners, painters, accountants, crossing guards - everyone. We learn early that it's probably best to keep our head down and fake it until we figure it out, somehow. No one wants to look like they don't know. No one wants to get found out.
From my humbling SOS, I heard back from a lovely crowd. Some emails were long, some short. All wonderful that they took the time to respond to me. Some snippets:
• The story of my own publishing experience is a long and tangled one. • I just emailed out what I had to say, but I know the frustration and it is a long haul. • As far as actually getting the published, I can share my story (if it helps). • If you want help with your query letter, you can send me your letter and your first 20 pages and I can have a look. • While I believe writing is a life and not a career, there is still a job aspect to it. • You already know these things: perseverance is critical, writing keeps you motivated, keep your best work out to publications (can’t win the lottery without a ticket), don’t let rejection discourage you. • They're not paying me, except for royalties, and I'll do all the promotion, but the book will be in the world.
The book will be in the world 🌀
We need to remember that we're not alone. That we don't need to know everything. We can't so let that one go. Everyone deals with joys and frustrations, no matter your life or calling. You don't need to be a writer to get something here. Whatever you're working on, wanting to work on, whatever you desire to create, or do, it's so worth the ask.
Don’t lose heart, Betsy. In the end, it’s all about the writing itself. That’s what we have, and its rewards are not slight! T.S. Eliot: “But perhaps neither gain nor loss. / For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”