14 Aug Prof Smart on How to Become A Professional Writer
BY EMILY HAMILTON
It’s never been easier to express myself artistically than here at Queen’s. We have always and continued to have a strong community on campus of encouraging the artistic talents on campus. We have Muse, the Undergraduate Review, Ultraviolet and more. I’ve never been so confident about putting my work out there until I came here, but once we leave these walls, is it possible to continue this as a career?
I got in touch with Professor Carolyn Smart, the head of the creative writing program at Queen’s to find out the best ways to continue outside our encouraging literary walls at Queen’s and answer the question: Is it possible to have a writing career if you aren’t JK Rowling or a Young Adult author?
You are a well-known poet with many anthology collections to your credit. Do you believe that anthologies are the best method of getting one’s short fiction and poetry published?
Literary magazines are the entry point for most emerging writers. There’s a multitude, with varied interests and mandates, both in print form and online. I advise people to take a look at individual issues and see what the magazine is particularly looking for in terms of style and content, and tailor your submissions that way. Sometimes editors of anthologies can view your work in a magazine, and ask for permission to republish the work, or even ask for new work from an author. Anthologies, of course, are collections containing writing by a number of different writers. I have been lucky enough to edit eight anthologies for Queen’s student writers in a series called “Lake Effect” (Upstart Press). Next year I will be editing “Lake Effect 9” for publication in April 2019.
Once you have a number of publishing credits to your name, you are in a position to gather your best work together and approach a chapbook publisher (chapbooks are small collections under 48 pages) or even a literary publisher (books over 48 pages) and submit your work for possible publication.
What literary magazines are the best vehicle for an unpublished author to get wider exposure? What do these literary magazines look for in an up and coming writer?
I have a favourite list of magazines that welcome emerging writers, and here it is:
Prism International http://prismmagazine.ca/submit/
Poetry Is Dead https://www.poetryisdead.ca
The Fiddlehead https://thefiddlehead.ca/submit
Filling Station http://www.fillingstation.ca
Room Magazine https://roommagazine.com
This link is also useful: http://www.placesforwriters.com/canadian-literary-journals/
Note: Kingston’s own Novel Idea has recently published literary magazines that you can pick up, including the ones that Smart mentions (to the right when you walk in!)
What should relatively unknown writers do to get their short stories and poetry published?
“Consider submissions as an obstacle race: you’ll be knocked down and tripped up, but you must pick yourself up and continue on if you’re going to succeed.”
There’s no way around it: you have to write daily, and read widely. You should prepare your work professionally (without spelling or punctuation errors) and treat the submission with respect. Keep track of where you have submitted and don’t send the same material to two places at once. It’s a wise idea to have more than one submission making the rounds, and as soon as you are rejected by one magazine, send the material straight off to another. That way you won’t be as overwhelmed by rejection, as you must try and battle through that. Consider submissions as an obstacle race: you’ll be knocked down and tripped up, but you must pick yourself up and continue on if you’re going to succeed.
What do you think aspiring writers’ first step should be when they finish University?
“My best advice is to take yourself seriously as a writer and try every way possible to carve out a space for your writing in your life, even if you make no money from it.”
Once you’re free to read outside of your coursework, plunge into the wide range of excellent material that’s out there. Read voraciously, as I suggested before. One approach is to pick up a good anthology of poetry such as the Best Canadian Poetry Series, or the Journey Prize anthology published annually, and see if there are one or two writers that you particularly admire: if they have books out, find them and learn from their style. The same can be said for writers you find in literary magazines. If there’s someone whose work speaks to you, search them out online and see what else they’ve published.
Go to readings! There are reading series in every town that you can find through Google or advertised in your local paper. It’s a way to meet other emerging writers and perhaps even connect with writing groups. To find a group with whom you can share your work and receive honest and constructive feedback is key. It’s also a good way to keep up with your writing practice as often your desire to write every day will falter.
My best advice is to take yourself seriously as a writer and try every way possible to carve out space for your writing in your life, even if you make no money from it. Most authors in this country earn very little (the average income for Canadian authors is around $13,000. annually). So, to answer your initial statement, yes, you can be published in all genres, but it’s very hard indeed to make a living as a writer.
We live in the age of massive success stories like those associated with the publication of Harry Potter, Twilight or 50 Shades, and which leads people to imagine it’s easy to make a living as a writer. If you go into it with that expectation, more often than not you’re going to be disappointed, so you should approach writing as your passion, and protect that at all costs.