Have you got a manuscript that’s finished and you can’t figure out how to get the attention of agents or publishers, or are you wondering what to do to get people to take your writing seriously? Being a writer isn’t easy. No one seems to want to pay for our words and it looks like we need personal contacts to get noticed.
Last week I attended a free panel on writing memoir at the Toronto Reference Library with the library’s writer in residence Ayelet Tsabari, author and journalist Kamal Al-Solaylee, author Jan Redford, and author Chelene Knight who is also managing editor of Room Magazine.
With a line up like that, it was a fascinating talk. They discussed how they write: Knight, whose most recent book is Dear Current Occupant: A Memoir, writes in fragments and then pulls it all together. Al-Solaylee tends to write in blocks from 9am – 5pm and felt he couldn’t have written his memoir if his mother was still alive.
The thing that stuck me most though was the route to publication. Kamal Al-Solaylee, an experienced journalist, said his book Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes was rejected almost 20 times before he published an essay “From Bikinis to Burkas” in The Globe And Mail in 2010 and it went viral. The title piece for Redford’s new book End of the Rope, was shortlisted in Prism’s Non-Fiction Contest (2012) and several of her essays were published in literary journals before she found a publisher for her memoir.
Agents and publishers are always watching for new voices in literary journals like Hazlitt and Room and other publications, Al Solaylee said. He encouraged writers to submit to contests and literary journals and adapt excerpts from their books for newspapers and magazines to start building a profile as a writer.
Now I haven’t published a book, but I am writing one, and years ago I started building my profile very slowly by publishing personal essays in various US and Canadian journals and entering contests. Yes, it’s hard work, and yes, writing other pieces to build a publishing profile takes time away from working on a book, but these award-winning authors are proof that it’s worth the effort.
If we’re serious about our writing, this is one of the many things we need to do. So pick your contests, read the literary journals to find a good fit for your writing and submit, submit, submit.
Then submit some more.
I was honoured to meet all of these writers at the Toronto Reference Library. You can find their books through the following links: Kamal Al-Solaylee will be delivering the Keynote Address at the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society’s annual conference which I’m helping to organise this year in Toronto. Ayelet Tsabari leads amazing writing workshops as the writer in residence at the Toronto Public Library. Meet Jan Redford in BC on her book tour or half way up a big wall. Chelene Knight is the managing editor at Room Magazine.