One conference qualifier: how many writers will pitch, attend and contend?

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Up on the mailing list for the Writer’s League of Texas, a debate broke out over the price for the WLT Agents Conference here in Austin. One member and former director said WLT wasn’t priced to meet the economy’s downturn. Another former director disputed the additional message — that a $79 two-day conference in Denton, Texas next month was a better value and more affordable.

The WLT Agents conference was as inexpensive as $319 — so long as you paid for it seven months in advance (Nov. ’11) and you’re a member. One thing that would help: earlier commitments from attending agents, so you might see if there’s someone you want to pitch to before you register so early. (I know, people in hell want sno-cones, too.)

If you’re being thrifty, yes, the WLT Agents meeting is not $79. But that Denton conference looks like a different kind of meeting than the Agents conference, so I don’t believe these are really in competition. I’m not sure how a $79 conference could be the same kind of investment as $319 worth of speakers and agents. You could do both, really.

Budgeting for conferences can be tricky. There are good price points outside of the Agents conference. After attending WLT’s Agents meet one year, and then volunteering at another, I went to the San Francisco Writers Conference last February. Fine meeting, but priced right at the Agents. (Agent Laurie McLean was at both.) SFWC has a very deep list of speakers to go along with the agents attending. It’s a real publishing town there, a step beyond a writer’s hotbed. Here’s what I can testify: the organizers (Michael Larsen, Elizabeth Pomada) really reached out to make sure that out-of-town writers like me were welcomed. Even in a meeting that had more than 300 attendees.

See, that’s the other thing to consider while deciding about a conference, something even more important than price, at least to me. Consider the number of attendees the conference accepts.

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Enter Amazon’s tourney to get published

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If you need a deadline to finish that long-malingering novel, Amazon provides one. In two months submissions start for the Amazon On-Demand publishing contest. Penguin Publishing Group and Amazon will accept up to 10,000 entries between Feb. 2 and Feb. 8. Sue Monk Kidd and Sue Grafton judge the finalists.

The beauty of this contest is that there are no entry fees. Amazon’s Vine Voices reviewers get the first cut at winnowing the entries, but in the final two round, Monk and Grafton will do the choosing.

There’s a $25,000 publishing contract as the grand prize. For complete information and an entry form, see the Amazon page that contains the Frequently Asked Questions file on the contest.

Contest submission period begins February 2nd, 2009 at 12:01 a.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time) and ends February 8th, 2009 at 11:59 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time), or when the first 10,000 Entries have been received, whichever is earlier.

To enter on February 2nd 2009, go to www.amazon.com/abna or www.createspace.com/abna, register and submit your entry following the instructions on the entry form. In the mean time, go to www.createspace.com/abna to sign up for contest updates and valuable online content that will help you get your submission ready. To register and enter you will need to submit:

  • The full/complete version of your manuscript (the “Manuscript”), which must be between 50,000 and 150,000 words;
  • Up to the first 5,000 words, but no less than 3,000 words, of text of that manuscript, excluding any table of contents, foreword, and acknowledgments (the “Excerpt”);
  • A pitch statement (cover letter/summary) of up to 300 word (the “Pitch”)
  • Other registration information as asked for on the entry page (such as name, contact information, book title), and
  • An author photo (if desired), which must be in .jpg format (at least 72 dpi and 500×468 pixels)

Life’s too short — submit simultaneous

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Don’t waste the lit-mag lifespan of your writing. Submit simultaneous. That is, let your short fiction or poems get read in several places at once. Don’t pay too much attention to how the editors feel about simultaneous submissions, either. Life is too short to wait three to six months to hear back from a lit mag that they didn’t find your story right for their readership.

This opinion is not held universally. In fact, a serious part of the most serious writing community would gasp at the above advice. The Poets & Writers magazine editors offer their take on simultaneous submissions at the magazine’s Web site. Their advice is to follow everyone’s rules and show respect for the resources that a small lit-mag might have already spent on your article.

Okay. If a lit mag has given your story a close read and is deciding on it in a shortlist of writing, I can understand that perspective. but you do have to decide for yourself if submitting to literary magazines — which is almost always a low-paying gig, often just in copies — means you’ll want your writing to linger on little magazines’ desks. If so, only submit to those who promise a six-week reading response.

This summer I took a course at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. The professor teaches writing at Coe College just north of IU, and as part of the College’s Writers’ Workshop he advises his students who edit the Coe Review lit-mag. (It’s an annual, and has been published since 1971). In class we talked about submission practices, and he said life is too short to pay much heed to submitting any writing to one lit-mag at a time.

Coe’s Review reads simultaneous submissions. You gotta love their guidelines on their Web site:

Remember, all editors are 18-22 years old.
They like edgy, quirky, strange, and new.
Anything titled “untitled” gets tossed.
Simultaneous submissions are ok.
No inspirational poetry.
No genre fiction.
No porn.
Otherwise, anything goes.

The professor said if your story gets picked up elsewhere, just contact the Review. They’ve probably got another piece of writing that was waiting to get in — so your good luck at being published elsewhere just made an opportunity for another writer who submitted to the Review.

There might come a time in your writing life when being published in a very elite literary magazine matters to your career. This tier of magazines can be a place to build prestige toward getting an agent to read a book manuscript, or getting an editor at a house to consider it. This elite group isn’t a very long list of publications, but many, many writers are trying to get into them. And so they gets tens of thousands of submissions. My advice: If you’ve had a story that’s been published elsewhere, it could be a candidate for these “solitary submission” magazines.

But think hard about how long you want to lock up your writing in solitary. I heard a story from one writer at the Iowa conference about how their submission fell behind a desk (being a paper manuscript, and all that) and it took two years for the lit-mag discover it, read it, and then — oh yes, wait for it — reject it.

Gordon’s right. Life’s too short. Get your work out there, in many places at once. Then keep writing while you wait to hear back.