Falling In Love With Literature
I don’t recall my exact age nor the specific book, but I do remember the moment when I fell in love with literature. It was sometime near the middle or later part of elementary school, and I distinctly recall my awed appreciation of the author’s ability to relate a story so that it easily played out before my mind’s eye. Being quite the magic enthusiast at this time as well—I still have my recorded David Copperfield specials on VHS—the apparent comparison did not escape me. That is, what skilled writers could accomplish appeared no less a miracle than the feats performed by artists like Copperfield. Realizing, of course, that magic tricks were not the result of actual sorcery but were instead carefully and cleverly constructed illusions caused me serious inspiration. If becoming a magician meant practice, dedication, and a bit of talent rather than access to a rare tome or entry to an exclusive, secretive cabal, then becoming a writer was also within the realm of possibility. While I am still early in my pursuit of literary success and am an appreciable distance away from what I’d consider a capital-W Writer, I have been fortunate to have enjoyed some definite wins—positive feedback from writers I admire, being featured by some discerning publications, and the release of my first collection, Boarded Windows, Dead Leaves. Therefore, for those of you who also dream of becoming capital-W Writers and might benefit from the advice of someone, perhaps, a little further along the path of realizing this dream, allow me to share some of what I’ve learned so far.
It is a wonderful time to be a writer. Readily available technology has empowered writers who would have more greatly struggled or simply failed to gain much traction if they lived during an earlier age. One type of resource that has been foundational in my own success is the type of site you’re reading this guest post on right now. Sites such as The Horror Tree, Duotrope, and The Submissions Grinder, which advertise submission calls and allow writers to easily seek out those markets most appropriate for and, therefore, most likely receptive to their work are tools whose worth cannot be understated; I can say unequivocally that I would not have enjoyed the same measure of success without the benefit of these resources. The unique features and focus of the sites named makes each worth looking into. Being a horror writer, I personally find The Horror Tree to be of special value; although, I do make use of all three resources. It’s also worth noting that of these sites, only Duotrope requires a subscription fee.
Speaking of markets, once you start submitting your work, you will likely notice one piece of advice time and time again, and while seemingly obvious, the tendency for editors to include this instruction in their guidelines suggests that far too many of us are ignoring it; therefore, I believe it’s useful to repeat what is otherwise commonsensical advice. Namely, when putting together a submission, one really ought to pay close attention to the market guidelines. Does the market require a specific file type? Does the market ask that the author not include her name on her work? Does the market have a specific font preference? Taking the time to consider and adhere to these guidelines significantly increases the odds of one’s work being accepted. No one wants to work with someone who cannot be bothered to tend to the easy stuff.
While following guidelines is an easy way to improve one’s odds of acceptance, regardless of how scrupulous one is about such details, he is still going to face rejection. This is actually a good thing. Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have been delivered in the form of a rejection letter. Granted, there’s not much to take from a terse “We’ve decided to not accept your work at this time”—other than one’s work needs more work—but as one is sure to discover, there are invaluable editors out there who, despite their busy lives, somehow find the time to provide constructive criticism, too. (This is not at all a knock against those who don’t; editors have plenty of responsibilities already and are not obligated to provide feedback, so it’s best to just appreciate when they can and do.) It’s not always easy to take such criticism nor does one always have to accept it, but I can tell you from personal experience, editors tend to know of what they speak and want only to provide that feedback a writer is most in need of receiving. Submitting to one or two markets, revising according to the feedback given, and then submitting again to another one or two markets until a publication accepts one’s work is the best approach to getting published that I’m aware of.
One more tip I’ll provide is to network. Writers are largely an introverted bunch, so networking does not quite come naturally for many of us, but it is of utmost importance if one hopes to be as successful as she can possibly be. As already mentioned, now is a fantastic time to be a writer due to the myriad ways technology empowers the writer, and social media has not only enabled broader socialization—a great boon for social butterflies, for sure—it has also made socialization, or at least its online form, easier for those of us who are not exactly loquacious. Despite their relative youth (It was only 2019 when I began writing for publication in earnest.), I highly value the writer friendships I’ve made. And even though I’ve only communicated online with the overwhelming majority of these friends, I place considerable weight in what they have to say. They’ve proven themselves invaluable sources of information; from tips on submission calls to honest feedback, such friends have appreciably bettered both my writing and writing career. And they’ve been pretty great company, too.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to share these thoughts, and I hope the sincerity of my voice comes through. If one genuinely desires success as a writer, dedicates himself to improving his craft, and follows the advice I’ve proffered, I’ve little doubt he will achieve his aim.
Michael Jess Alexander
Michael Jess Alexander teaches high school English in Newcastle, Wyoming. His work can be found in SERIAL Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, The J.J. Outré Review, Dark Fire Fiction, and Jitter Press, among others. His first collection, Boarded Windows, Dead Leaves, is being published by Spooky House Press. He is a lifelong fan of all things spooky – a passion his very sweet wife tolerates and his equally sweet daughters encourage. He can be found online here.