Grants, contests, writing residencies, conferences
I need money and/or time to write. Help!
- Houston Arts Alliance
- Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA offers individual artist grants to visual and literary artists)
- “The Case for Contests”: Frequent contest winner Jacob Appel explains his rationale for preferring contest submissions over general submissions and why contests are good for the beginning writer. Highlights include: blind submissions, smaller submission pools, prestige, better pay.
- Poets & Writers listings
- New Pages listings
- Funds for Writers listings
- The Writer listings
Residencies usually provide food and accommodation for accepted writers. They often also come with a level of prestige. Many writers swear by them. They provide dedicated time to write and very few distractions.
I want to find out more about the writing world. Help.
CONFERENCES & FESTIVALS
- AWP: The largest writing conference of the year is AWP, the conference run by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. It is typically in March or April. The location changes. This conference brings in 10,000+ writers to a common location for panels on writing, publishing, teaching, and so on, as well as readings and literary parties and gatherings.
- Poets & Writers listings
- MenilFest: MenilFest is an annual one-day festival of art, words and noise bringing together the visual, literary and performing arts organizations located on the Menil Collection campus.
- Texas Book Festival: “One of the premier literary events in the country and takes place in and around the State Capitol in Austin, hosting about 250 authors each year. More than 40,000 book lovers of all ages attend the Festival annually, enjoying author readings and presentations, panel discussions, book signings, cooking demonstrations, live music, local food, YA authors, children’s activities, and exhibiting vendors from across the state.”
- Boldface: “Boldface was founded in 2009 by the editors of Glass Mountain, the undergraduate literary magazine at the University of Houston, as a conference devoted exclusively to developing writers (i.e., anyone who has not studied creative writing at the graduate level is welcome). Our goal is to give emerging writers an experience that is usually available only to professional writers: several days of intense focus on the craft of writing through workshops, readings, and craft talks.”
- Houston Writers Guild Agents & Editors Conference: “[A] weekend with top editors, agents, publishers, self-publishers and authors. The Annual Fall Conference is an excellent opportunity to learn, get inspired and network with other likeminded people.”
- Writers League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference: “For attendees to discover new tools to strengthen their writing (craft), gain insight and perspective on the ever-changing publishing landscape while connecting with some of the industry’s top players (business), and meet and network with fellow writers (community).”
LISTSERVS & NEWSLETTERS
- CRWROPPS: The CRWROPPS listserv sends almost daily emails with calls for submissions, job opportunities, grant deadlines, and so on.
- Glimmer Train Bulletin: The Glimmer Train bulletin includes advice from writers once a month. Glimmer Train is one of the top magazines out there for short fiction and interviews, and the bulletin is free.
- Funds for Writers listserv: “Originally designed for the serious writer, FundsforWriters provides markets that pay $200 or 10 cents/word and up – just like TOTAL FundsforWriters. Expect 15+ paying opportunities in the form of contests, grants, freelance markets, jobs, and publishers/agents. Delivered each weekend.” FREE
- Pitching Shark tinyletter: For nonfiction writers. “A newsletter based on the idea that one must keep pitching or let an idea die. Rejected? Pitch it elsewhere. Rejected? Reframe your pitch. Rejected? Keep going.”
Steps to publication
I have a draft. Now what?
- Happenstance revision tips
- “My Pencils Outlast Their Erasers: Great Writers on the Art of Revision” in The Atlantic
- Necessary Fiction’s Revision month, hosted by author Matthew Salesses: Features tips on revision from Matthew Salesses, Laura van den Berg, Alissa Nutting, Marcy Dermansky, Courtney Maum, and many others.
Private editing help
Writing groups and organizations
- The Final Twist
- Houston Writers Guild
- Houston Writers House
- Houston YA/MG
- Poets Northwest
- The Spectrum Center Writer’s Guild
- West Houston/Texas Writers Group
- White Oak Writers
- Woodlands Writers Guild
Writing prompts and exercises
- Books: What If (Bernays), Naming the World (Johnston)
- Ploughshares round-up
- Poets & Writers and “The Time Is Now” newsletter: This is a free email once a week with a new writing prompt from Poets & Writers
I’ve finished my story/essay/poem. Now what?
How to submit to magazines
Fiction/poetry: You want to follow the magazines specific guidelines, but a typical fiction or poetry submission will include a cover letter with a third-person bio and the attached or copy-pasted story/poems (see the guidelines). Regarding your cover letter: Address the editor by name. The first paragraph should say what you are submitting (title(s), genre, word-count—for fiction or nonfiction, NOT a summary) and whether you have submitted the same pieces elsewhere (follow the magazine’s guidelines). The second paragraph should be a third-person bio (list your previous publications, awards, residencies, grants, if you have any, or say directly that this would be your first publication). The third paragraph should thank the editor for their time and say whether the piece is attached or so on and (if you’re sending via snail mail) that you’ve included a self-addressed envelope for reply.
- Useful tips here
- Also see: “Contests” in “Writing Opportunities and Community”
Creative nonfiction: If you are submitting creative nonfiction to a literary magazine (like Creative Nonfiction or Gulf Coast) again you want to follow their submission guidelines, but probably your submission will look a lot like a fiction or poetry submission. If you are submitting nonfiction to a media publication, see “Pitches.”
Pitches: For submitting nonfiction to most media publications (i.e. not literary journals like Creative Nonfiction) you will have to pitch your story or your idea. This means writing an email with or without the finished piece (follow the submission guidelines) pitching what you want to write about or have already written about. A pitch letter includes three things: 1. a paragraph that explains why your story is of interest (what makes it newsworthy, what makes it a fit for the publication, what your take is, some kind of hook), 2. a paragraph that explains why you are the right person to write the story (a bio, basically, with relevant information), and 3. if you have them, 2-3 clips (links to other articles you have published).
- Here’s a good breakdown: “The Rules of the Freelance Game”
- Here are some tips for personal essay
- More tips here
Why submit to magazines? You might be wondering why you’d want to submit your work to literary magazines versus self-publishing it, submitting it to larger media outlets, waiting until you have enough stories for a book, or so on. One reason is that magazine publications can qualify you for grants and residencies. They look good on your CV, if that is a useful thing for you. Another reason is that agents read literary magazines. Agents are some of the most avid readers of literary magazines, because they are often looking for new writers, and literary magazines are like free vetting of writers for them. Journal publications also help you get more journal publications—they build credit. They can help you meet people, get connected, and make friends—editors are often writers and are eager to meet people they’ve published. Finally, literary magazines reach dedicated readers—very dedicated readers who become your audience as a writer.
Where should I submit?
- Poets & Writers: Poets & Writers’ listings of literary magazines, written and submitted by the magazines themselves.
- Duotrope: Duotrope is a searchable database of literary magazines and small presses. It will tell you what the submission guidelines are, whether the magazine is print or online, whether it nominates for prizes, how much it pays, whether it has a call for submissions, and will even give you a rough idea of the kind of work the magazine likes (though of course sampling an issue is your best bet). This database used to be free but now requires a membership. There is, however, a free trial period.
- New Pages: New Pages offers extensive listings of literary magazines, as well as many reviews that can help you find out what a magazine might be looking for. The website also includes plenty of other resources for writers. It’s all FREE.
- The Review Review: The Review Review runs reviews of literary journals and magazines. This can give writers a good sense of what individual journals are looking for and their reputations. There are also calls for submissions, interviews with editors, and tips. For example, submissions tips:
- The Rankings: This blog ranks or links to rankings of the top literary magazines according to how many times they have been included in year-end anthologies like Best American, the Pushcart Prize, the PEN/O. Henry, and so on. This will give you a good general idea of the “prestige” of various literary magazines, how hard it is to get an acceptance from them and how the prize anthologies view them.
I’ve finished my book. Now what?
How to get an agent
If you are writing fiction or memoir, you should wait until you have a finished manuscript, in most cases, before you query agents. At that point, you will want to look into agents who might be a good fit for your work. One of the best ways to do this is to look in the acknowledgments sections of the books you love. The author will almost always thank her agent. Put that agent on a list of agents to query, and note how you found their name—that’s important! Most agents are looking for ways to tell quickly that a writer is right for them, has a platform, and can write. A mutual love of a certain author is one connection to start with. If you know writers who have agents and wouldn’t mind introducing you, that’s a great way to connect with an agent. Prior publications can help make you look qualified. Social media platforms can help an agent understand how you could sell books. Agents also query authors for themselves, especially after reading publications in major or favorite outlets. When you query an agent, you will need to write the best letter of your life. In it, you should say how you found the agent, summarize your book in about six amazing sentences, and share a bio with key publications, grants, awards, etc. Start here for more info about the query letter, or here.
Nonfiction book proposals
If you are writing nonfiction or think you don’t want an agent, start here. Or start here for how to write a book proposal. Probably what is most often the case with nonfiction book proposals is that the writer finds an agent before writing the proposal. This happens in various ways. Getting an agent through a query is less common with nonfiction than with fiction. Often, with nonfiction, the writer has built a platform via blogging or speaking or social media, or has written something on his/her book topic for a major publication and it has gone somewhat viral. Agents will contact the writer in this case, and often ask for a nonfiction book proposal after or before signing the writer up. So you still have to do a proposal at some point; it’s just a matter of when. If you have a great idea for a nonfiction book and want to try agents with it, then you may need to have the proposal in hand in order to send out queries. Try the posts above for more information.
Agent submission resources
- Poets & Writers: Poets & Writers’ listing of literary agents. This likely has a more “literary” bent.
- AgentQuery: This is maybe the largest database of agents on the internet. It will tell you agents’ email addresses, client lists, specified genres. Other writers will also update with the responses and wait times they got from certain agents in the past.
- Writers Digest: Writers Digest has a guide to literary agents and listings for new literary agents—which is a good way to get your work in front of someone who is looking to take on clients. Includes interviews with new agents in which they specify what they are looking for manuscript-wise and cover letter-wise. Their “How I Got My Agent” column can be found here.
- Publisher’s Marketplace: Lists just about every book sale to major publishers and many to smaller presses, as well. There’s a large agent database here with their past sales. Publisher’s Marketplace requires a membership, but there’s a free daily email called Publisher’s Lunch, which has a quick roundup of the top sales of the day:
Book submission resources
An agent, if you are a nonfiction or fiction writer, will send out your manuscript for you to publishers. However, agents are usually unlikely to send to small, university, and independent presses. If those sorts of presses are more appealing to you, for whatever reason, you may want to try sending your book out yourself. If you are writing poetry, you’re out of luck on the agent front and should either try sending directly to publishers or, more likely, entering first book contests. (See “Contests” in the “Writing Opportunities and Community” section.) Watch out for scams, like vanity presses. The Poets & Writers guide has a section on this. See the guide for more on how to submit to publishers directly.
- Poets & Writers has a list of small presses here.
- New Pages also has a list of small presses here.
- Duotrope is another option for finding small presses.
- Some benefits of publishing with a small press are detailed here.
Another possible route to publishing your book is self-publication. There are many paths you might take with this. If possible, a professional editor and a professional copyeditor are essentials. Hiring a cover designer might help. Paying someone to code the mobi (Amazon) ebook is useful. Amazon (CreateSpace and Kindle Direct), Simon and Schuster (Archway), Lightning Source, Lulu, and many other companies offer “full-service” self-publishing packages. There are plenty of pros and cons that go along with self-publishing, for example the greater control one has over content, cover design, promotion, price, and so on (each for better or for worse). Do your research. Start here, perhaps: or here: After you’ve considered things carefully, if you decide to self-publish, maybe take James Altucher’s advice.
Resources by Matthew Salesses
This list of resources was put together by Houston writer Matthew Salesses in Spring 2015.
MATTHEW SALESSES is the author of the novels The Hundred-Year Flood and I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying. His other books include a collection of essays, Different Racisms, and a novella, The Last Repatriate. He has written for NPR, The New York Times, Salon, The Toast, Glimmer Train, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is the fiction editor at The Good Men Project and online fiction editor at Gulf Coast. He received an Inprint C. Glenn Cambor Fellowship, the Inprint Donald Barthelme Prize in Fiction, and the Inprint Marion Barthelme Prize in Creative Writing, and is currently a PhD candidate in the UH Creative Writing Program.