Ever wonder what editors really think when they receive submissions? Curious about MFA programs but not sure what to expect? Feel like the state of publishing is so bleak you may just slowly Tweet your next novel? Writers’ Program student Clarissa Romano is here to help! As a Senior Editor at Los Angeles Review of Books with an MFA in creative writing and work published in The Los Angeles Review, South Carolina Review, and Wisconsin Review, among others, she brings a uniquely diverse perspective to the table. Here she discusses the value of writing education and shares her tips on getting published.
Writers’ Program: You’ve experienced the submission process from both the writing and editing/publishing sides. What advice do you have for those that aspire to publish? How does one keep their creative momentum going in the face of rejection? Do you have any insider tips to share?
Clarissa Romano: First of all, as an editor, I’m hoping to say yes to pitches—isn’t that good to know? Secondly, I appreciate proactive writers; sometimes a writer will pitch me at a busy time, and I’ll tell them to query again in a few weeks. The ones that follow up establish a relationship with me, and in this way end up creating opportunities for themselves. Don’t worry about being pushy! An editor will tell you if you’re barking up the wrong tree.
As a writer, you can increase your chances of getting a pitch accepted by making it easy: include a brief bio in your cover letter, plus any links to examples of your work. Lastly, familiarize yourself with the publication: as an editor, I’m looking to accept pieces that are as close a match as possible to our review. Oftentimes the same essay can be pitched in several ways, so do the research!
WP: What do you think about the current state of publishing, specifically as it applies to short fiction and novels?
CR: Before I began working at the book review, I often joined the choir on the familiar refrain: “Readership is diminishing! Book publishing is a dying market!” Now, I’m literally overwhelmed by the number of books that tumble through our office doors. What I’ve learned is: the book market is healthy and thriving. If you have a good manuscript, there is a place for it!
WP: What would you say is the value and/or downside of pursuing an MFA in creative writing?
CR: For me, those three years were the best investment I’ve ever made. Away from my hometown, I was able to hear my voice as a writer more clearly. Away from the distractions of city life, I turned up the volume on my inner world. When you’re in graduate school, people expect you to prioritize your writing; you get into the habit of saying, “My writing comes first.” This is an important mantra; writing takes time, and to be successful, you’re going to have to fight for it. Perhaps it’s this habit of prioritizing my writing for which I’m most grateful.
WP: How did your Writers’ Program classes help you progress as a writer?
CR: Immensely! The Writers’ Program prepared me for graduate school—I knew what to expect! But even since completing my MFA I’ve taken Writers’ Program classes to help me create and meet deadlines. The roster of teachers is inimitable; Paul Mandelbaum, Rob Roberge and Francesca Lia Block are all tremendous writers in their own right, and it’s a privilege to study with them. Each of these teachers turned me on to new books and passed along useful tools for navigating the wilderness of storytelling. I also like to keep in mind that writing is as much about communicating as it is about self-expression; somehow, these stories aren’t complete until they’ve arrived in another persons mind. Workshops are a wonderful way to investigate the ways in which your stories communicate themselves to other people. I recommend taking classes at the Writers’ Program to anyone who has interest in growing as a writer.
Katy Flaherty is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Onsite). Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.