I recently talked to a fellow English major, Seth Clouser, about his experience with writing and publishing post-graduation. We don't know each other too terribly well, but we sat together in a few classes and read a fair share of each other's work; I know his style, and he knows mine.
Yes, I know what I said about other English majors, but I believe he's on a completely different wavelength; he knows who he is and the amount of judgement I emit.
This short, yet surely informative, talk provides hope for the unpublished. Don't give up yet; tack those rejection letters to your wall and consider them learning experiences.
Here is that talk:
I remember reading your article a while back, “Freelance or Unemployed?” and it’s been on my mind lately. I recently graduated, just as you did a semester back, and now I’m dealing with the rejection letters and lack of a job, as well (though, I recently went to a temp agency and it looks promising). The way I see it, if you’re a writer, you’re always hard at work, even when you aren’t. Is it worth the emotional stress, having your mind constantly race about it?
Well, let me give you a bit of perspective first: a lot of time and effort has passed since I first wrote the piece in question, shortly after I had graduated. Since then, I've struggled a lot with being the new guy in every regard. It is stressful and your thoughts will run away with you if you let them. As of right now, I believe that until you can get your name out there and published, you need to focus on having a primary source of income. Nobody wants to publish the new guy unless he is suddenly more brilliant than other, already published, authors.
Do you think it's bullshit when they say that they 'prefer' to publish newcomers?
Depends on who the they is. If you are talking about a paid publisher, it seems it’s a bit of a stretch. If it's a publisher that doesn't pay, I'm not too sure it's bullshit. You need to look at the quality of the work they do publish.
I never dove into the paid publishing side of things; I didn't think my work was that up to snuff. But, I did try some lower-end publishers that were, basically, the opposite of The New Yorker. Regardless, I was never accepted. Have you had any luck publishing? I know you leaned toward the fiction side of things.
I have not had much luck. It's been an ordeal. I have pushed one story as far as polishing goes and it has been rejected ten different times, each from a different publisher. Other stories or poems that I've tried to publish didn't have as much polish. I try and work through my so-called 'Polish Pit' when I can; however, it's not uncommon at all. If you look at Reddit's Writing subreddit, you will see a bunch of intelligent people doing what I'm doing: worshiping their rejection wall. It's a concept that Stephen King talks about in "On Writing" where he taped every rejection he got to a wall; it marked an odd sort of progress and pushed him a bit more with each new rejection.
I find it hard to sift through it all. I told myself that I’d take a few months off since I’ve been in school for the past sixteen years, but, as much as I hate saying it, lounging around, drinking beer and playing Nintendo doesn’t pay the rent. Did you vow any time off, or did you head straight to applying for positions?
I headed straight into all of it; looking for a job and publishing. I even started tutoring, which didn't supplement my income much. I had some mixed bag experiences with one client.
Well, firstly, English was his second language, but I was okay with that. He was a college student wanting to better his English. I talked to him and formulated a lesson plan of sorts. After about three or four sessions, he gave me a call to ask if I would help a friend of his. I said okay and asked when he wanted me to meet with his friend. He said tomorrow, but it didn't work with my schedule, as I had a previous obligation. So, I told him I could meet his friend on Monday. Which would be two days after. He immediately started ignoring calls to set up appointments, whether it was for him or his friend. No explanation at all. I wasn't full-service enough for him, apparently. I lost two clients by not agreeing to a last-minute calls to study. Since then, I've passed out over one-hundred business cards and have received zero calls.
So, this was a paid thing, I presume. Would you consider going into teaching? Everyone I've told that I was an English major has said, "so, are you going to be a teacher?" and I want to give it my full might that I won't fall into that hole. Of course, it's a different experience for everyone.
I'd consider it, but to teach you need at least a Master's degree. Although, there is so much more I'd rather do with my degree. There's publishing, editing, writing (technical, creative, journalistic, copy, etc.), and so much more. You can even work at several libraries that don't require Masters of Library Sciences with an English degree
Are these things you've wanted to do for a long time? Almost every English person I've met had wanted to pursue since they were in the womb. Me, I switched Sophomore year because I was confused. Not to say I'm not passionate now, it's just I feel as though I was brought up a different way.
English was my second major choice after Computer Science didn't work out for me. Writing has been a passion since before high school. So, it was natural that I made the leap to that. I want to make a living writing, although it's starting to feel a bit unrealistic.
That's quite a switch. Now that I'm thinking about it, I was super into Dave Barry in high school. He influenced me to write humorous crap (that I've now enhanced a bit), which led me to write a collection of essays entitled When I Don't Know the Speed Limit (I Go 40). In a way, that was the slap in the face that told me "this sucks, but do more," which is kind of my life motto. Maybe we can't make it in the writing industry, and maybe that's how it's going to be, but it's certainly not going to stop us. I think I'm decent, I know you're good. People will like our writing. We just need that one opportunity. Perhaps we're looking in the wrong places.
I think the thing with being published is that once you do get published, people will want you. It's like getting a job; it's difficult to get one with no experience. Also, don't sell yourself short; your stuff had me splitting my sides at times. Although, after so many rejections, I'm glad to hear that you still think I'm a good writer. The piece I've pushed the most was the major focus of Capstone for me. I had a friend, who is a published author, look it over and give me extensive notes. I made a huge rewrite, but it still got rejected, even though she recommended a venue that was supposedly right up my alley.
What was that about?
You read an early draft of it. “VICI.” The one about the artificial intelligence that needs therapy after connecting to the internet.
Shit, I loved that one. I'm not even a science fiction guy, but that pulled me in full force. That's a skill. You brought me into something I have little to no interest in.
I should send you the most recent draft. It's come a long way. As in about seven drafts.
Oh, wow. Yeah, I’d love to read it.
Just don’t post it elsewhere.
Of course not. Nobody ever told us this would be easy - the writing, publishing, etc. But both us just said 'bring it on.' And now we're here. Unpublished, writing things that may never be read. Do you think it was worth it?
Yeah. I'm working on a series of short stories right now that I hope to get published as a collection. If that doesn't pan out, I'll submit them separately to a number of publications. People are inherently story-tellers, despite what we've been told. It's our job to enjoy what we do, despite how stressful it can be. Seeing someone react to your story is an experience that cannot be replicated. Nothing beats the high of someone deeply hallucinating while staring at the ink your computer put on a sliver of dead tree. If I'm never published, I'll keep writing for my sake and for those around me… that and it gives me an excuse to drink. Kidding...kind of. You gotta admit, we all want to be Hemingway in his personal life as it's portrayed.
Isn’t that the truth.