Hello everyone. I got my COVID booster a few days ago, and today I got dizzy and fell down several times. Not a pleasant experience. But I assume COVID is an even-less-pleasant experience.
I am also going through edits on another piece that is going to appear in the Chronicle of Higher Education sometime next week, and I wrote a piece too that I sent to the LA Review of Books that maybe / probably will appear next week.
Not sure what to say about the whole essay-writing thing. I’ve always wanted to try to write for periodicals—it’s something they seem to have endless demand for—but was never sure who to pitch or how to develop ideas. I had a bad experience in 2013 when I pitched an article to Salon and worked really hard on it, and it was not at all what they wanted, and they killed it. So I didn’t try again for a long time. In retrospect it was probably good for me not to get caught up in the hot-take production line, but at the time it felt like a major failure, and it seemed like I just would never be able to adapt my voice to what any periodical might want.
The whole thing is really obscure. You can pitch articles in one of two ways: either to some submission email or portal the publication has (in some cases), or by hunting down the relevant editor and emailing them. But when I went with the latter, it never quite worked somehow. I actually tried sending things to the LA Review of Books multiple times, and it turned out that the editors had left or were about to leave. Submissions got swallowed up without reply by their general submissions portal. Finally, with my classical education piece, I sent it to someone on their masthead who was like “I’m not a commissioning editor, but I’ll send it on to Boris (their editor in chief)” who liked it. But even then they were like, “We will get you an edit in September.” I had no idea what that means…did it mean the piece was accepted or not?
This is just how writing for periodicals is I guess! To be honest I have no idea. I have a bunch of friends who do it, and I could’ve asked them, but always felt too shy. I prefer to fail in private. With these things, stuff that’s outside my comfort zone, I wonder if I’m good enough or whatever.
But I’ve been really pleased at the success of the classical education piece! It’s been retweeted and included in all kinds of wrap-ups and substacks. Oh my god, there are a lot of literary substacks. Wow. Come on, guys, haven’t you ever heard of a good old-fashioned WordPress blog? It’s like a substack but people can also find it online. Anyway, I have no substack, but you’re certainly welcome to do an email subscription to this blog—there’s some kind of tool or doohickey for doing that on the left-hand side of the page.
I’ve gotten a few emails—not an outpouring or anything, but a few—praising the piece. One was from an editor at Chronicle of Higher Education. They asked for pitches. I gave them one.
Personally, I hate pitching. I prefer to write out a piece beforehand. I think I’m sensitized by the Salon incident. I just want them to be able to scroll down, read the article, and see right away if it’s good enough. So in this case, after being accepted off a pitch, I was on tenterhooks, worrying the piece itself wouldn’t make the cut.
I dunno. It’s a sideline. Sorry if this is scattered or disjunctled—I’m still recovering from the shot and the fall (the latter happened about half an hour ago). I started writing essays (again) around this time last year, when I was still hunting for an agent. I’d spent a year looking, with little success. I was working on a fantasy novel, and I abandoned it, thinking, “What’s the point? It’s just another thing that I can do nothing with unless I get an agent.” So I made a big list of writing that I could do and pursue even without an agent. I’m trying to remember what was on that list. It was definitely something like the following:
- Pitch another YA novel to my editor
- Sci-fi short stories
- Literary short stories
- Literary essays
- Book reviews
Obviously the biggest outcome of that decision to refocus my energies was that I wrote a proposal for my third YA novel, Just Happy To Be Here, which my editor took to acquisitions—which event finally found me an agent. But I also got short stories published in Gulf Coast and West Branch. I had poems appear in Cherry Tree and Vallum. I had book reviews in The Rumpus and The Bind. I self-published my cynical writer’s guide. and now I’m having these essays come out!
I think once I started working on all those sidelines, I felt almost immediately much better, more in control, and more confident about my fate. I literally said to myself, “Okay, even if I never get another novel published, I can keep writing, and that’s what’s important.” It was a very empowering moment for me. I know that none of these forms is nearly as high-impact as having a novel come out from a major publisher, and none of them is as close to my heart as my literary novel (which was the book that was failing to find an agent), but I think what’s important is just that you work, that you have a meaningful outlet for your talents, and that you have some chance of seeing your work reach the world. What’s so corrosive about the agent search is that your life is just on hold until you find an agent—you can write another book, but why bother? In my experience the agent usually doesn’t like the second book. And anyway they won’t send out the second one until the first one sells! So you’re just left sitting there twiddling your thumbs, waiting for someone to read your manuscript.
Breaking through that cycle was really great and empowering, and I continue to bear its fruits.