Where aspiring writers go to learn the ropes
The telephone on a book reviewer's desk rings frequently with calls from beginning authors who have questions like this one: ''I've written a children's book, and I want to find out how I can get it published?''Skip to next paragraph
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How to get published is apparently the question being asked by hundreds of writers these days. And many are turning to the numerous writers conferences being held throughout the United States to find out. (Literary Market Place: Directory of American Book Publishing, published annually by R.R. Bowker in New York, currently lists 41 such conferences.)
Writing conferences are conducted throughout the year, but in the summer they burst forth like wildflowers, and people often combine learning and vacation to attend. Some of the sessions are sponsored by colleges. Others are sponsored by independent writers organizations such as the national Society of Children's Book Writers and the local writer-organizers of the Cape Cod Writers' Conference.
Colleges may offer credits for those who complete requirements during or even after the conference, but many of the people who come want guidance and training , not credit.
Of course, writing conferences aren't all that new, but the sudden increase in the number is. The Bread Loaf Writer's Conference held at Vermont's Middlebury College is in its 57th year. The Chautauqua (N.Y.) Writers' Workshop is in its 36th year; the Cape Cod Writers' Conference in Craigville, Mass., held its 20th session Aug. 22-27. Simmons College, in Boston, recently hosted the 6 th annual New England Writers' Conference (previously called the Eastern Writers' Conference and held in Salem, Mass.). The University of California at San Diego held its second conference in July.
The conferences share a common goal - to get beginning writers together with published writers, editors of publishing houses, and literary agents to learn more about their craft and the mechanics of getting a manuscript into print. It seems that most aspiring writers are in the dark about just what to do once a manuscript is ready to send to a publisher.
Bringing new writers together with published authors has long been the norm at these sessions, where the teaching staff may use the creative-writing faculty from a college or university and then round out the sessions with visiting authors of best-selling books. However, the inclusion of agents and publishers is a recent development. The New England Writers' Conference began with the idea of doing just that, according to Theodore Vrettos, its director and the author of five books.
This face-to-face exposure allows the aspiring writer to ask questions like:
* What happens to my manuscript when it arrives at your publishing house?
* How many manuscripts do you receive each year?
* To what publishing house or houses should I send my manuscript?
* What are the chances of a first novel being published?
* What exactly does a literary agent do?
And the new writers are frequently surprised with answers like:
* Every manuscript arriving at my office is seen by me. (This is what one editor told the conference at Simmons. Many houses, however, don't accept unsolicited manuscripts.)
* Our house receives over 2,000 manuscripts each year, and we publish around 125 books, so the competition for acceptance is stiff.
* Look at the books in your own library and see if there is a predominance of any one publisher; if there is, and if your writing is similar to that style, then perhaps send your manuscript to that house first.
* There were a large number of first novels published last year, but one of the best ways to submit a first book is to get someone known to the publisher to formally or informally introduce you and your material, since we receive so many manuscripts and are often overworked.
* An agent is a specialist who, for a standard fee of 10 to 15 percent of an author's royalties, sends manuscripts to appropriate publishing houses and represents the author in negotiations with interested publishers, not only for the initial printing but for subsidiary rights, too. Established agents often are asked to find writers for special projects, as well.
Often anyone who wants to enroll in a writing conference is required to submit a sample of his or her work, such as one chapter of a book, several poems , a magazine article, or a completed manuscript for a children's book. The applicant also selects the genre of interest, such as poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or children's literature.
When accepted to the conference, the writer is assigned to a group, and the manuscript is given to an author-instructor for criticism. The manuscripts become a basic part of workshop instruction and discussion in class, as well as during individual sessions with the instructor.