The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article with this rather mean-spirited headline: “An Epic of Memoir Writing: The lockdowns have spread a virus of nonmemorable life stories.” Ouch. Whatever happened to everyone has a story worth telling?
For those of us, and there are many of us, who flexed our literary muscles during lockdown and are now emerging a year later with a draft of a quarantine novel or socially separated memoir, it may be time to start thinking about publication — because yes, everyone does have a story worth telling.
On Saturday, May 15, author Mya Spalter will give a three-hour virtual writing workshop as part of the Literary Arts at Featherstone program, focused on the rambling and mysterious path to publication, which in itself is often filled with red herrings, long boring passages piqued by suspenseful cliffhangers, and the occasional surprise ending.
The workshop description states that Spalter “will discuss many questions about the mechanics of book publishing that most writing programs can’t or don’t provide. These include: the process of querying agents, what an agent does/can do for you, how publishing deals and auctions work, what an advance is and how it’s structured, what royalties are, and under what circumstances they are paid, what your copyrights entail, and some strategies for how one may want to conduct their business as an author.”
A poet who spent years working at New York City’s oldest occult shop, Spalter’s book “Enchantments: A Modern Witch’s Guide to Self-Possession,” was published by Penguin Random House in 2018. The book is described as “a wise, witchy, and welcoming guide to living life magically.”
When asked in an email if there is hope for unpublished authors, Spalter replied, “Of course there’s hope! Every published author was an unpublished author at some point.” True enough.
Spalter added, “One might be able to write a book alone, but it takes a whole community of writers, editors, agents, and other literary citizens to successfully publish it. I think the biggest obstacle to getting published for a lot of writers is a lack of access to the support networks that help people find and connect with their work.”
Mathea Morais, who is director of Literary Arts at Featherstone, said “After working with Mya personally on my own writing, I knew I wanted to bring her to Featherstone. She’s not only an amazing editor, she’s also incredibly knowledgeable about all of the ins and outs of the publishing industry, which can be daunting.” Morais’s first novel, “There You Are,” was published in 2019.
Asked whether there are spells, magic, or alchemy that can help writers get their work published, Spalter revealed, “I did a lot of spells to help get my book published, but the most helpful magic was confidence.”
Whether you lack that confidence — could it be that yours is the story that’s not worth telling? — or you’re deep into revisions because your pandemic potboiler needs more sizzle and the characters in your novel are hiding behind masks, if you are thinking about eventual publication, it is worth boning up on the ins and outs of the publishing process.
Spalter’s bio notes that she “has worked for many years as one of the 1 percent of editors in the publishing industry who are Black, and is now among the 5 percent of published authors who are Black. She is realizing how terrifically small a group of people that is, and how relevant her experience might be to others.”
Additional programs at Featherstone Literary include a workshop with editor Michael Piekny on May 22 on the fundamentals and necessity of writing effective scenes in telling a story, and a fiction writing workshop with K-Ming Chang focused on writing family stories, which is already sold out.
For more information about Literary Arts at Featherstone, visit featherstoneart.org/literaryarts. Mya Spalter and Michael Piekny’s workshops cost $100 each. Information about Featherstone Literary Arts workshops can also be found at the Islanders Write event, scheduled for September 2021.