Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Michelle Hu and Coryna Ogunseitan. Enjoy!–HT
Today at the Summer Workshop, writers powered through their fourth day, packed with morning workshops taught by Will Allison and Patrick Ryan, Hannah Tinti’s lecture on getting “Out of the Slushpile” and attending Anna Solomon’s launch of her newest book, Leaving Lucy Pear at Brooklyn’s own Community Bookstore.
Although “Out of the Slush Pile” suggests a more pragmatic lesson than an inspiring one, Hannah continued the pattern of lectures this week by reminding us all that writing is hard loving and loving hard. She asked the audience to try as best as they can to separate the writing process from the publication process. The room filled with a gentle silence as they were told that “not being published doesn’t mean you’re not a writer.” Writing is about the heartbeat, about authenticity. Publication is a business hat, one you wear when the sun gets too hot.
Hannah then began her talk, quickly breaking up the process into three digestible parts: preparing your work, compiling a list of places to send, and hearing back.
PREPARATION: The formalities of hard and digital submissions were laid out in specific details from fonts (Patrick’s favorite is Garamond) to email follow ups. A specific pet peeve, one shared by many editors, is page numbering (always number the pages).
SENDING (short stories to magazine): Hannah sited Best American Short Stories, The O’ Henry Prize Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthologies as great ways of finding which publications are gaining attention. In general when submitting, one should consider the magazine’s reputation and circulation. It’s also nice to be paid.
SENDING (manuscripts to agents): When looking to query literary agents, Hannah cautioned writers to do their research. As explained at the Agents Panel on Tuesday night, the writer/ agent relationship is a more delicate one determined by compatibility between persons and ideas. Agents’ qualifications are not determined by who they are but the people they know and the books they represent. It is important to be more selective in how many you submit to at once (preferably less than 5), and the specificity of your address to them, noting any familiarity with their work or other points of connection.
HEARING BACK: After breaking down submissions and providing tips for cover letters, Hannah talked to the group about acceptance and rejection. Through example letters, writers reviewed the different tiers of rejection and learned their varying significance. A rejection is not a hard No. The coded hints (the inclusion of their name, a story title, or a personal note) help writers better understand the spectrum between yes and no. “The editors are having a conversation with you,” Hannah said. By being able to decipher their cues, writers can begin to talk back.
Later on in the evening, writers reconvened a few blocks away, at the Community Bookstore for Anna Solomon’s launch of her new novel, Leaving Lucy Pear. The bookstore’s cat purred and listened intently as Anna began reading from the opening chapter, describing a young woman, Bea, leaving her baby in a pear field, then watching behind a stone wall as another woman, Emma, picked up the baby and adopted her as her own. During the Q & A, moderated by Hannah, Anna not only talked about her revision and writing process, but talked candidly about her ideas of motherhood, growing up Jewish, and her hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts.
During the event, as we listened to and celebrated with Anna Solomon, understanding all the labor and the love she put into creating Leaving Lucy Pear, we were reminded of what Hannah said about acceptances in her afternoon lecture. “When one comes your way, stop and celebrate.” Acceptances are rare, and sometimes, their importance isn’t easily understood by family or friends. “So take a moment,” Hannah said, “and feel exactly what you feel. Raise a glass with some fellow writers. They are the ones who will truly understand how hard you worked to make this happen.”