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Sunday, December 7, 2008

How To Succeed In Writing When Spike Lee Doesn't Call...

In the last few years, I’ve found myself answering this one question countless times:

“So, how do I get published?”

Seriously, without exaggeration, I must have answered this same question for 6 or 7 hungry-starving-struggling-artist-writer-poet-type people just within the last week. In each instance, I’d take time out of a busy day to explain it, in detail. Then, it finally dawned on me that maybe I needed write it all down, save it, and simply go back to the file whenever that question was broached again.

So, without further ado…hereitgo:

** First and foremost: Mad, MAD PROPS to YOU for dreaming, for writing, for seeing a world, for penning and winning and sticking to your goal, and most of all: for finishing what you started! That alone dictates an inner fire and a Real Passion for what you do.

You need to know, everyone’s journey will be different and there are no surefire ways, only some tried and true ones from each writer’s personal experience.

My situation dates back to poetry. While in high school, an English teacher first noticed I had a gift for writing. She submitted a poem of mine to a National student magazine, & BAM! There I was, 17, and a published poet. That part was easy.

But, the following years were anything but easy. And maybe they weren’t supposed to be. Each of us gets tested in various ways. Maybe this is to separate the walkers from the talkers. In college, I had published and polished professors tell me that I had "a Voice," and that I should really "get published."

Cool-cool. How lovely. How flattering! But no one, not a soul would volunteer the needed info on HOW I was to get published, where I should go, or what I had to do to make that happen. Was this some State Secret? Would it have killed them if they’d TOLD me how to go about it? Or if they told me, would they then have to kill me?

So, I kept writing, poetry mostly. But sometimes I’d get inspired by some life event and I’d create plays and songs and rambling monologues. I just kept writing, not knowing if any of it would ever see the light of publication. I was doing it for me. I was doing it to purge, to unleash, and to let my soul sing. And like any muscle, the more you work and exercise it, the stronger and more vital it becomes.

A small turning point came when I picked up an Essence Magazine, read the work contained in their poetry section and thought… hmmm… I can do that. So, dammit! I tried, and a month later received a beige business-size envelope from the Poetry Editor. Inside, I found a terse rejection slip.

*Pipe in the BUZZER SOUND: Annnnnnt!*

Oh damn! It hurt my feelings. For real. But I'd grown accustomed to having my feelings hurt. So I just pressed on. I still wanted to get my work inside the glossy pages of Essence Magazine. Folks asked: why… when it only paid $25.00?

Well, it had a circulation of over a million people. If a percentage of those people read my work, I would become known. Maybe the famous person on the cover would read it, and I too would become mad famous, and hip and cool, if by association.

Ok. Foolish! Major mistake in thinking! HUGE, in fact! No one needs to be writing if their only goal is to become famous. That was stupid. But so was I… well, at the very least, ignorant. Again, I had no one telling me, pointing me, advising or guiding me.

So, I issued this challenge to myself: I will BE in Essence Magazine before the year is done. I went so far as to visualize my words, and more importantly my name in the same print and the same font as the other writers they featured. I stared at that page for the longest time until I could actually SEE it.

And then, I sent them four more poems.

One month later, another long business-sized beige envelope arrived. But this one felt different. It was slightly heavier than that previous one. I took a deep breath and I opened it.

A typewritten letter with my name in the heading was followed by the beautiful word: Congratulations!

I’d made it. My work was to appear in the shiny pages of Essence magazine! THANK YOU ANGELA KINAMORE, Poetry Editor!

I was hyped, yo. I was so mad happy. I was high. Dammit! I’d arrived, yo!

Spike Lee and his sister Joie graced the cover of the issue in which my work appeared. I received two copies and a check for 25 beans.

I was beside myself. I told most everyone I knew. It was my calling card. Even to perfect strangers, it became my M.O. to say: “Have you seen this month’s edition of Essence? Well, I’m in it.”

I was living the dream, bay-bay! For a whole month, I was living, gloating and just-a floating on Cloud Nine. Besides, all that… maybe, just maybe SPIKE would see it, read it, and dammit, maybe we’d be like riffin' and dialoguing, spitting and co-hittin' , and maybe even co-writing screenplays for his joints together.

Hey. I mighta been published, but I remained very much an ignorant Brotha.

Spike never called, yo.

Time passed, and Essence would later accept yet another piece. Coolness! Cha-Ching! Another 25! Now I could finally buy that island in Tahiti!

But in between, it was a very dry season. I mean drrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiier than the Gobi desert in my writing life. No one else was biting.

It was with the help of a WRITERS MARKET, and then POETS MARKET, NOVEL & SHORT STORY MARKET reference books that I found other places actively seeking the kind of work I offered. I submitted to those places, and was lucky & Blessed enough to have a lot of it accepted. BUT even though my work has appeared in over 200 places, I must have submitted to over a THOUSAND more places where it was NOT accepted. The lesson there is to never stop at rejection and to just keep plugging. Let rejection FEED you… NOT fade you!

So, if you want to get your name out there, start out small... make baby steps, like poetry and short stories or excerpts from your novels or works-in-progress, simply because publishers like shorter work, as it saves them time and, yes, money.

HOWEVER, if you get yourself a NOVEL/ SHORT STORY MARKET, you'll save so much time and needless frustration. That book is the Bible for any budding novelist. WHY? Well because it lists thousands of people, places, publications, addresses, editors, when and how to submit, and how NOT to submit, what they’re looking for, when to expect a reply, and what they pay. It also has sections for each kind of writing under the sun: childrens, black, feminist, romance, sci-fi, gay, lesbian, mystery, adventure, technical, erotica, comedy, experimental, etc. So you can find a niche and discover the many places that seek exactly what you have to offer. Feel me?

You can find the books at most public libraries. But your best bet would be to invest the 30 bucks, and purchase the mofo, so you'll have it at your reach. It would truly behoove you to check it out, because it’s also full of valuable ideas, help tips on sharpening your ms.... and making it more salable. There are even agents, resources and contests, oh my!

The story of how I got published is simply one of diligence, hard work, and never giving up. I kept submitting EVERYWHERE. Finally, it paid off.

As I mentioned earlier, everyone's journey is different. But the one thing most people have in common is a love for what they do.

So, if YOU have a need to do it, possess a passion that doesn't die with rejection slips, if you’re not doing it to get rich and famous but have a purpose, something REAL and important to say, and if you possess the Balls and Bravery it takes to SUBMIT your work, you WILL eventually get published. It's your fate.

The rest is finding the RIGHT place, the right fit, & the right hands to place your work into.

So, GET the Writers Market Book, whether for POETRY, SCREENWRITING, or NOVELS & SHORT STORIES. Study those mofos! Find your markets, & then dammit submit your work!

That's it.

Unlike so many other selfish, insecure, spirit-poor writers, I actually WANT to see YOU succeed! If writing and getting published is really your dream, your passion, then by all means, go for it! Talent helps, but determination and *support* provides a Giant push forward.

When one of us wins, we ALL win!

Feel me?

I wish you many Blessings in your endeavors.

Keep Writing! Keep Fighting!