As romantic as it may be to envision Emily Dickinson, Harper Lee and other notable hermits secluded away from the world as they wrote their masterpieces, the ease of the internet demands that modern writers — at least those who care to have a career in writing — are also avid patrons of their genre. In an age where a topic can “go viral” and gain mass popularity in a matter of hours, it is not hard to deduce that for many writers, success could depend on a certain amount of exposure.
It is true that readers should not be expected to attend book readings or craft lectures conducted by their favorite authors, and that readers are not indebted to writers for any more than simply reading the book. However, maintaining support for literary endeavors is perhaps something writers owe one another.
For art’s sake:
Reading merely means being exposed to writing apart from your own. It’s not unusual to encounter young writers who are not regular readers. One argument against wide-spread reading for young writers is the possibility that individual aesthetic can be impacted and too closely begin to resemble that of other’s writing. Of course not every author writes for an audience; many write as a means of expression, catharsis or for the pure joy of creation. But when writing for an audience, being well versed is a definite advantage.
If you come across an opportunity to promote a fellow writer, take it! A little positive press can go a long way. Imagine a world where artists celebrate each other! Make the most of having a network of friends who are subject to your recommendations, but be modest and gracious with any announcements for awards or publications of our own. Remember that networking is cyclic, which suggests that reading, responding to, and supporting the efforts of others is as important as promoting your own work. What progresses one, progresses us all.
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be daunting for writers who prefer more traditional methods of self-promotion. Now more than ever social media sites like these can open up a world of networking possibilities. Never before has it been easier to share with millions of people in an instant. If you are new to the realm of social networking, try social sites specifically designed to connect writers such as Writers-Network. The key to capitalizing on social networking is exactly that, be social! While tastefully promoting your own work, be sure to share the literary achievements and milestones of others. Not much for the net? Old-fashioned readings are a great way to connect with other writers. That’s right, you can do a fair amount of networking at readings. Literary readings offer an environment crawling with like-minded patrons of the arts. At some point in your writing career you may have wondered who will buy your book. More than likely, the people you meet at readings are amongst the same audience of people who would be reading and potentially purchasing your book. In addition to networking, readings are the perfect places to witness new trends in writing and recitation. Workshops, conferences and other such venues can be great for obtaining constructive feedback and meeting other writers-in-progress. This is not to say that the workshop method is for every writer, but if you are searching for a sounding board audience for your creative work, besides tortured family and friends, a writer’s workshop can offer a mediated space to share and improve.
The moral of the story here is, engage! Resist the urge to turn long hours spent writing into long hours spent wondering who will read your work. Crawl out of that shell! If literary writing is to advance, then writers must come together, inspiring new ways to engage readers, publishes and each other.
Mel Sherrer is a performance poet and teacher living in San Marcos, Texas. She is the Managing Poetry Editor for South 85 Journal.Read More »
Last January, Converse College’s low residency MFA program welcomed Victoria Cappello. Cappello is a New York agent with The Bent Agency. Founded in 2009, The Bent Agency has represented over 25 New York Times bestsellers. It was started by Jenny Bent, the previous Vice President of Trident Media Group, who wanted clients to benefit from the tailored support only a boutique agency could offer. Cappello spent several years learning under Bent as her personal assistant before building her own client list for the company. Now, she shares some insight into the industry, rejection, and her opinion of the MFA process.
S85: Tell me a little about yourself.
VC: After I graduated college and learned that a literary agent was a job that actually existed, I had a very focused approach. I made a list of all the literary agencies in NYC and cold-called all of them to see if any were hiring interns. Lots said no or just directed me to their websites for when their internships would be starting, after a lot of rejection, I was accepted into an internship. After that, I did one more—at an agency that had previously rejected me—and then I was recommended for an assistant position at my current agency, The Bent Agency. I started working as Jenny Bent’s assistant and after a couple of years could start building my own list.
S85: Why do writers need (or do they need) an agent? What are the benefits and pitfalls?
VC: Aside from the editorial feedback and general publishing advice you get, agents are able to maximize revenue streams for authors. We not only shop the print rights for your work but your audio rights, translation rights, film rights, etc. Even if you’re a self-published author, taking advantage of all the different subsidiary rights is very difficult to do on your own.
S85: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen from writers during the submission process?
VC: The biggest mistake is talking too much of yourself and not enough about the project. The bulk of your query letter should be dedicated to describing the story. When talking about yourself, keep it limited to your relevant experience. I also frequently notice that writers don’t do sufficient research on the agents they’re querying. Before you hit send, make sure the agent you’re reaching out to represents your genre.
S85: What advice do you have for writers regarding their cover letter?
VC: Start with the hook, give a brief synopsis of the story that will leave the reader wanting to know more and to keep your bio short and to only include relevant information. Don’t forget your comp titles—they’re a great way to say a lot about your book without taking up a lot of space. Also, every agent likes their submissions formatted a particular way, all of which is dictated on their website. Follow their submission guidelines.
S85: Who are you currently reading?
VC: I am currently reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The writing is obviously gorgeous but the reason I love it so much is how imaginative the world building is. Atwood created such an absorbing world that fascinated me to no end.
S85: What’s your take on the MFA process?
VC: I think it’s an extremely helpful process for developing writers and certainly helps produce a higher class of literature. Not only is it immeasurably helpful to be able to study under accomplished authors for whom you want to emulate, but the community it fosters of peers who you can share your work with and get feedback on, I think, is beneficial.
S85: Many people shy away from the art of short stories because they don’t sell as well. Do you believe this?
VC: They are a difficult sell but there is certainly a market for them. I think the most important part in making a short story collection marketable is making sure it’s cohesive. A collection shouldn’t be just the last ten stories you’ve written but should be thematically linked. I do represent authors who have written short stories and are working on short story collections. I also recommend getting as many short stories in the collection published by literary journals. There are a lot of awards for short stories by new writers that agents keep their eye on and anthologies for the best short stories that are sent to literary agencies.
S85: What’s your advice to writers on handling rejection?
VC: To remember that everyone gets rejected in this business. Authors are rejected by agents, yes but agents are also rejected by authors who have more than one offer of representation. Agents also face rejection with you when they submit your manuscript on your behalf. And then editors are also rejected when authors go with another publisher for their work. This business is frighteningly subjective so rejection is just part of the game.
About the Agent
Victoria Cappello was born and raised in Queens, NY, and graduated from the City University of New York, Queens College. Before joining The Bent Agency, she completed internships at Serendipity Literary and Carol Mann Agency. She now lives on Long Island. She is looking for both commercial and literary fiction as well as young adult titles. Her favorite genres are historical fiction, suspense, mysteries, upmarket women’s fiction, and romance.
About the Interviewer
Katie Sherman is a freelance journalist in Charlotte, NC. She is currently pursing an MFA degree at Converse College. She has an affinity for Southern Gothic literature, cider beer, Chicago, and morning snuggles with her girls — Ella and Addie.Read More »
Converse Low Residency MFA Founder, Rick Mulkey, is taking a well-deserved sabbatical this fall semester. While Mulkey had intended to step down, the college negotiated an agreement that ensured he would maintain his position for a few years longer with the assistance of a half-time associate director to help with the administrative workload. The position will help with planning and recruitment efforts, and the associate director will assist students and faculty during the residency sessions. Recently, it was announced that Sarah Gray was hired as the Converse College Low Residency MFA program’s Associate Director.
Gray is a graduate of the MFA fiction program. In fact, she was part of the program’s very first cohort of MFA students. For a number of years, she successfully directed the Converse College Young Writers Summer Workshop for high school students. In addition, she was the founding editor-in-chief of the MFA program’s South 85 Journal, and she has taught writing, literature and creative writing courses for the Converse College English Department for several years.
Sarah will focus on a number of tasks for the program. She’ll take a lead with social media platforms, with new recruiting strategies, with alumni outreach, and with aspects of residency planning, to name only a few. While Mulkey is on sabbatical this summer and fall, Sarah will direct the summer residency session. MFA faculty member Denise Duhamel has also agreed to act as a co-director during the Summer residency session, and she will assist Sarah.
The Converse College Low Residency MFA Program was started by Mulkey and fellow founder/mentor, Susan Tekulve. They two wanted to create a supportive and creative environment for MFA students looking to improve their skills as artists. Mulkey hopes that in coming years, the program will maintain its original purpose while the student population grows.
“We’re a small, selective program, and I would hate to see our low residency MFA program become like so many with such large numbers of participants that faculty and students don’t really know one another. I think there is something special about a smaller low residency MFA. It provides the intellectual and creative atmosphere of much larger programs, but has the intimate mentoring and support of the best small residential programs,” Mulkey said. “Still, I’d like to see us grow by about a third in all genres. I think that will allow us to continue to have the same kind of selective program we have now, but will allow for even more mentoring opportunities and scholarship opportunities for our students. I’m hopeful the new associate director position will help with this enrollment growth. In addition, I’m hopeful that our alumni, who continue to find writing success, will recommend and send prospective Converse MFA students our way.”
Katie Sherman is a freelance journalist in Charlotte, NC. She is currently pursing an MFA degree at Converse College. She has an affinity for Southern Gothic literature, cider beer, Chicago, and morning snuggles with her girls — Ella and Addie.
South 85 Journal‘s reading period is almost over! Don’t miss out! Submit poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and visual art for our Spring / Summer 2017 issue by April 30, 2017. No fee for submissions.
We look forward to hearing from you.
And if you haven’t read our last issue, check it out: http://south85journal.Read More »
Jessica (Tyner) Mehta
The dead don’t go, they burrow
into our bones, worm hungry
to the marrow. I still feel
my father blinking
through my solar plexus, asking
what went wrong. The girl
I left behind to hang
herself, her burst of freckles
spreads malignant across
my caving collarbones. The dead
don’t leave, they decay slow
and organic, looking for a home
that smells something familiar.
* This poem originally appeared in the Fall / Winter 2016 issue of South 85 Journal. Check out Monday’s blog post, “Word Play: An Interview with Poet and Author Jessica Mehta.”
Jessica (Tyner) Mehta (Jey Tehya) is a Cherokee poet and novelist. She’s the author of four collections of poetry including Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo as well as the novel The Wrong Kind of Indian. Jessica is the owner of a multi-award winning writing services business, MehtaFor, and is the founder of the Get it Ohm! karmic yoga movement. Visit Jessica’s author site at www.jessicatynermehta.com.Read More »