Tag Archives: tactlessgrace

Creative Nonfiction Magazine Writer’s Conference 2015: Take aways on pitching, publishing and platforms

I just returned from the Creative Nonfiction Magazine 2015 writer’s conference in Pittsburgh which, while fabulous, made me painfully aware that I haven’t contributed anything to my blog in months. Ironically, today is it’s 4 year anniversary (sad blog. so sad).

I have a couple feels about this blog and blogs as platforms: it’s cool, I like blogging but, man, do I not have time for it. I have a full-time job (when I started writing, I did not), and on the side of that full-time job, I hustle to do liv lit performances and writing to submit to lit journals etc. It’s a busy life. Plus whenever I wrote a blog post that was a story, I found myself in the quandary of wanting to expand it further to submit. So, I wouldn’t post it because there are rules about originality when you submit. Hence a lack of posts.

I suppose this problem might call for a change in tone with this blog, a change of focus…I’m not quite sure. And granted, I didn’t leave the conference thinking that having a blog was a must for being a successful writer, but it obviously has its merits, especially since mine is already out there.

While I figure that out, I’ll share some take aways from the conference, which was seriously informative, fun and you should go to it if you’re all up into creative nonfiction. This is a mix of advice for both book and editorial publishing.

On pitches

  • Have your argument upfront, a fresh outlook
  • Have room for curation; editors like to be involved in deciding the angle
  • Writing that illuminates the margins; looking for people who have been told “no” (more diverse voices please!)
  • Have your cred and platforms included as assets for marketing the piece
  • If you have questions in your pitch, give the answers. Don’t leave editors hanging. They want the full arc of your article

On bad pitches

  • Don’t pitch me a “surveillance is bad” piece
  • Starting with “As a millennial…”
  • Pitches that are still happening: “I was beaten this week”
  • Essays that are therapy, and that don’t let you as an editor be honest with the writer because the issue is still too close
  • A pitch with judgment that isn’t contemporary or with an agenda
  • Cancer or divorce memoirs that don’t have a fresh perspective

On getting published

  • A good book proposal can take 6-8 months to write, and can be up to 50-60 pages long (depending on research)
  • BE SHAMELESS AND AGGRESSIVE (but not a dick)
  • Use your invisibility as a weapon for self-promotion and experimentation
  • Push for book contracts to be at least 18 months; finishing a book in a year is hard
  • You need an agent for a book; you don’t need an agent for your magazine article
  • Video is breaking, especially for online publication
  • Editors love finding writers who haven’t written for big outlets before (yay!)
  • Big outlets ask for exclusive pitches while other outlets frequently re-publish from, say, literary journals
  • Be careful about non-paying exposure becoming overexposure, as in, you give up all your best material just for the cred

On platforms

  • A platform is what an author brings to the table in terms of credibility and expertise; also what they will bring to the marketing table
  • Social media presence is important, and there are a plethora of tools that can support that (no, you don’t have to be on Twitter)
  • Don’t forget that your writing is the bedrock of the platform; if your writing isn’t strong, your street cred don’t matter
  • What’s your accessibility? How many readers, curators, editors, professors have the opportunity to read and hear you (hence a blog being important)
  • If you are scared of Twitter (and who isn’t), and yet feel pressured to have it, become a resource. Use it to promote other people you read and admire, have conversations about the craft. Just remember that Twitter rewards consistent engagement (this doesn’t mean being a trolling self-promoter either)
  • Think about your audience when your joining/on social media: is your writing style more attractive to those on FB or Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr, Youtube or Vimeo (and on and on and shoot me)
  • Remember that the more sophisticated social media platforms become, the less we are able to use them for free

What I will do (promise) is follow up with a post on who some fabulous people I met, including one who interviewed me for a writing podcast. Overall, it was a very inspiring experience, evidenced by me actually writing a post. CNF magic.

Upcoming reading: 2nd Story “No Fool: Stories of Risk and Strategy” April 1st

Hey all-

I’m fortunate to be reading again with the good folks of 2nd story on April 1st at City Winery. You can buy tickets here.

Even though it’s April Fool’s, our stories are anything but foolish. Here’s an excerpt from mine, “The Bear in the Cage”:

Melissa quickly walked over, but nobody hugged anyone. She immediately asked me, “Have they found her? What’s been going on?” questions I avoided as I grabbed her suitcase. The whites of her eyes shined like a person in a cage with a wild bear. I averted my eyes, so afraid I would say something and ruin the surprise. Like it was a birthday party or something instead of this awful news. My mom jumped in and put her arm around Melissa’s shoulders—No, honey, they haven’t found her yet. You just come with us. Everything will be ok. Don’t worry, everything will be ok. We walked out to the car. I carried the suitcase, trailing behind them.

I took the driver’s seat, grateful to have the distraction. Melissa sat in the front passenger seat while my mom sat in the back. I gripped the steering wheel and entered the ramp onto 90 going west. Our hometown of Bartlett was about 45 minutes away.

Melissa gestured to the sky through the windshield, “I don’t get it. I know she went missing before, but we found her, ” she said. There was this buzzing energy about her that made me nauseous, like there were landmines beneath her skin.

 “I just talked to her earlier in the week. She seemed fine.  We talked about how she was getting her hair done on Friday,” Melissa turned to me, “What do you think, Alyssa? Do you think she’s ok?”

 “I…” my shoulders weakly shrugged, my jaw tensed, my head locked straight ahead. “uh…” Don’t look at her. DO NOT FUCKING LOOK AT HER.  “I don’t know.” There was a vice grip on my throat that made the words sound strange and strangled. She knew me better than anyone. Had she started to put it together?

– alyssa xx

Surprise plus Surveillance

Inspired by my recent encounters with surveillance, both artistically and security oriented, I decided to go home to Chicago and surprise my mom, dad and best friend for Memorial Day weekend.  I made a short film called Surprise, Chicago documenting the adventure.

The project involved about 3 weeks of “soft” surveillance in which I spoke with other family members to plan the surprise, employing my aunt to arrange a Memorial Day bbq at my mom’s house.  I also planned to have my best friend come to the gathering with her family.  Meanwhile, I lay decoys, chatting with my “targets”, spreading lies about my inability to come home anytime soon, and lamenting about “how I wish I could be there too!”.

I LOVE surprises: the planning, the execution, the attention to detail, the lying…maybe I shouldn’t admit to the last one. BUT, if you think about it (i.e. hastily rationalize), surprises are a very positive way of lying to the people you love.  In fact, I think people should plan more surprises in order to channel our innate desire to tell the infamous little white lie.  Wouldn’t that make the world a better place? Then all our lying could contribute to positive outcomes that are about making people feel loved and important.

There is a guilty thrill in lying and I felt the same adrenaline rush in the purposeful surveillance of my family.  As I rounded the corner of my house, armed with my camera, scouting the whereabouts of my mom and dad, my heart raced. I felt nervous and giddy. I think I even sweated a bit.  All the lying and watching and planning was about to burst out into the open.  And when I finally ambushed everyone, the effect was much more meaningful than I had expected.

I didn’t necessarily plan to make a short film out of the footage; I just felt a strong urge to capture everything about the process, most importantly the outcome.  Seeing people react to something unexpected has always been a draw for humans, but with the advent of technology, the recording and replaying of these events is the pièce de résistance.  We can revisit the entire experience and relive all the pleasurable sensations over and over, much of which include a great helping of schadenfreuden.  While pranks have always existed, my little film is born out of grand television mainstays such as Candid Camera which has evolved into popular shows such as Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d. We watch and reveal, and in that combination, there is an innocence about surveillance.  It becomes harmless because ultimately the intention was not malicious. Surprise plus Surveillance equals funny, moving, touching, thrilling, laughter and tears of joy.

And really, can we ever get sick of fart jokes? I think not: