Networking & Research: The Secret of the Schmooze
by Alex Schumacher
Welcome back to another week of Bread Crumbs from the Void, your ski lift to the top of a slope of fire and brimstone. If you took last week’s pummeling and decided to return then you are more masochistic than I gave you credit for. Kudos. You will need that sort of tenacity if you wish to brave the murky waters of publishing.
This week’s title was nicked from a workshop I conducted a few years ago at the Alternative Press Expo (or APE) in San Francisco discussing how to network at conventions. Using that model I will be expounding upon the art of using the ‘net to target, stalk and weasel your way into the hearts and pants of editors and publishers. Put on your floaties and dive into the deep end with me.
If you are not getting published, or not getting published as often as you would like, there is only one question to answer: why not? Why is it that the hacks and the faux-academics can garner oodles of attention, but your missives dripping with gravitas and pathos have yet to receive the attention you believe they so willingly deserve?
The first answer quite frankly could be laziness. You may not be submitting enough and need to peel your ass from the couch and get busy. The second could be perfectionism. While procrastination can be creativity’s worst enemy, being a perfectionist is just as damning. Your piece will never be perfect. It should not be. Perfection is not honest or real in any way, so it has no place in writing. I am not saying you should not revise. You should indeed revise. A lot. Once your work has been trimmed for fatty excess and rhythmically paced it is time to shit or get off the pot.
The third answer as to why your work may be missing the mark is you are not targeting the right audience. A tear-jerking romance story has no place in a horror anthology. A gritty minimalist piece will find nothing but derision and judgment from an artsy-fartsy publication looking for the next Jonathan Franzen*. Whether you are into erotica, magic-realism, speculative, dystopian, sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, queer, noir, or whatever else gets you wet, there is a journal or magazine that is suited to your special needs.
The trick is finding the fuckers and getting their attention. Here are some suggestions on how you can go about the art of online sleuthing.
This should go without saying in our ever-increasing digital world, but an online presence is a necessity these days. In a society that becomes more and more dependent on technology every day it has become abundantly clear that if you cannot be found on the interwebs then you do not exist. Period.
First and foremost, you will need a personal site to pimp your wares and showcase some of your work. Fret not, starving artists, you no longer have to resort to selling a kidney or turning tricks to secure yourself some prime internet real estate. There are a plethora of free hosts to accommodate your homeless words. I have found WordPress to be particularly user friendly, but there are many others to choose from such as Blogger and Tumblr. If a tech-tard like me can create a decent website, so can you.
As far as content on your site is concerned, at the bare minimum I would suggest a Home page with a brief introduction, an About page with a brief bio/background, a Contact page which is self-explanatory, and a page exhibiting some of your work. If you do not have any published credits as of yet, that is completely fine. Post a few pieces which you believe best represent your CURRENT work. Posting an angsty poem from when you were fourteen that your friends found to be “totally transcendent” will do you no good.
Feel free to peruse my site for inspiration on what you might like to try or what you would like to avoid: https://alexschumacherwriter.com. Now you are ready to send up the flare for others to discover you.
Repeat after me: social media is not the devil. Not when used effectively anyway. Sure, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. are teeming with nauseating and insignificant pictures of meals, pets, and selfies, but they are simultaneously a worthwhile route to mass market yourself. Join writers groups. Find likeminded individuals who may be willing to give you feedback or talk shop. I have found countless journals and magazines simply by taking the time to comb through unfathomable numbers of Twitter feeds.
When you have a website in place and a list of publications to which you would like to submit, your next step is the research phase.
RESEARCH ǀ noun ǀ re·search ǀ \ri-ˈsərch, ˈrē-ˌ\
Full Definition: investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws
This is how good ole’ Merriam-Webster defines research. Your research will consist of the comprehensive investigation into the practices and needs of particular publishing entities. If this sounds dull, I do not blame you. It is as mind-numbingly painful as watching grass grow.
In a perfect world every editor would accept all styles and genres of writing, regardless of whether you earned your MFA or spent fifteen years living on the street. Life is just not that kind though, and unlike math or science art is completely subjective. Editors have every right to request and/or expect a specific spectrum and quality of work. A glimpse of their tastes can be located in most submission guidelines, but this should by no means serve as your benchmark on whether or not to submit.
You must read sample stories to obtain a sense of what editors are actually seeking to print.
I have found editors who claimed to be interested in edgy or transgressive material who then curl up in the fetal position, pissing themselves and sucking their thumbs if I send them a piece that is too real. What editors claim to want and what they are actually seeking can be two completely different things. This is why it is essential to take the time to read pieces they have published.
We are lucky enough to live in an era where we do not even have to put on pants to accomplish such arduous tasks. Pop in a microwave burrito, pour yourself a tall one, and log on to cyberspace. Keep in mind this is not speed dating. You will need to set aside a few hours if you wish to thoroughly discern if you have made a love connection. If you put in the time only to realize there is no spark, do not despair. There are countless fish in the literary publication sea.
To reel in those fish, it is ok to become an amateur stalker of sorts. Of course, I am not talking about tactics you used on your high school crush. So when I say “of sorts”, I mean you can friend editors and like pages on Facebook. You cannot send prospective publishing allies bizarre tokens of affection such as locks of your own hair. You can follow publications and editors on Twitter or Instagram. You cannot show up on their doorstep unexpectedly after procuring their address from a sketchy site.
The non-psycho tactics discussed can provide valuable insight into certain preferences or tastes. In this game, the more information you can gather the better. Keep in mind this is a marathon, kids. Not a sprint. Pace yourself and do not blow your load too early.
Do not try to rush a piece before you have given it time to incubate and grow. Do not submit simply because a journal appears to be prestigious or venerable. Do not submit to a magazine simply because they offer payment for accepted pieces. In all honesty, unless you are already a known entity or wash your narratives in layers upon layers of metaphor you will most likely receive a rejection from such publications.
Fuck them. You do not need them.
Create what you want to create, not what you think people want you to create. Do this because you love it, not because you are looking for validation from an audience or an editor. If you are looking to get rich or have a stable income you are better off becoming an accountant. Money should never be your driving factor. There are too many E.L. James types as it is. The only focus you should have is creating work that explodes directly from your gut and soul.
Next time I will be going over the ins and outs of how to deal and — as infuriating as it can be — learn from rejections. Until then keep scribbling, you freaks.
*Jonathan Franzen makes me dry heave.