Publishing Advice

Pay-To-Play in Traditional Publishing, and Why We Need to Talk About It

A few weeks ago, I was querying when I kept coming across agent after agent who was closed to submissions except from those who they’ve met at conferences. Below that, a list of conferences was provided, where a writer could go and purchase a ticket (often in the hundreds), and then an additional ticket to pitch them (somewhere between $50 and $200 extra). 

I almost went on a Twitter rant about accessibility and paywalls, but decided against it. 

Then I saw this:

Of course discourse followed, many of whom were against the offering. But honestly? It feels a little hypocritical to me. Or, rather, willfully ignoring the overall bigger issue here. 

There are lots of ways to pay-to-play in traditional publishing, and it was only a matter of time before it got egregious.

The traditional publishing landscape has always had issues–nepotism, lack of accessibility, etc.–but what I find the most frustrating is how contradicting the landscape can seem to a new writer. 

One of the first pieces of advice writers will hear is that money should always be flowing to the author. Agents shouldn’t be charging reading fees, editors shouldn’t be charging packaging fees, etc. However, we have created an environment where there’s exclusive conference pitching, MSWL’s e-consultations, and the freelance hiring of editorial staff and agents for query/manuscript critiques. 

As someone who works in library programming where our speakers are often literary agents, editors, and authors, I understand that we all need to make money here, but we’ve largely ignored how this environment has confused up-and-coming writers–many of whom fall prey to scams because of it. A more common issue I’m seeing, though, isn’t necessarily writers falling for scams, but rather writers feeling obligated to pay-to-play. In fact, I have been one of those writers before. I think most writers have at some point. How could you not, when you keep hearing success stories from those who could afford that one conference, service, or MFA program? The odds feel stacked against you. And the truth is, they are.

Networking is an essential role in any business, and networking—more often than not—costs money and time.   

This reality is why so many turn to buying opportunities. In fact, I’ve blogged about one conference I personally attended when I was not in the financial place to do so (but why I didn’t regret it). You can read that piece here: How Writing Conferences Can Surprise You 

I was so desperate to move up in my writing career that I sacrificed my health, wealth, and other well-being for a measly chance at talking to somebody–anyone, really. I didn’t end up with an agent, but I did find some of my best writer friends that I still have to this day. I don’t regret it for that reason. But I haven’t paid that much to attend a conference since. I just can’t justify it. Not when querying is free. In fact, I got my first agent through the slush pile. Not at a fancy conference. Not through a consultation. A free, one-page query I workshopped with fellow writers I found online. (Again, for free.) 

This is why I tell newer writers that conferences/meetings are great, but not to spend money if you are struggling. Querying is FREE. There are lots of free resources and opportunities, including scholarships. 

Here’s a quick list:

  • QueryShark
  • QueryTracker (there is a premium version, but you do not have to use it)
  • MSWL (search the database for free; some classes are also free; other classes and consultations are not.) 
  • Free newsletters and articles through Writer’s Digest, Publishers Weekly, etc. 
  • Google around for writing blogs! Especially from writers you read. 
  • Jami Gold
  • IWSG (Insecure Writers Support Group) 

We also have free writing and publishing classes at The Story Center, open to anyone in the world. You do not have to have a Mid-Continent Public Library card to use our services or attend our programs.

Speaking of libraries, if you have access to a library near you, you may have free craft books and publishing resources that you can check out. 

These resources are great to help any writer begin their publishing journey. 

You can also apply for scholarships funding memberships and conferences. Many don’t know that you can also volunteer your way into a space. It never hurts to message the conference manager and ask what your options are.   

That said, I’m not asking agents/writers/editors to not charge money for critiques or pitch opportunities. What I am asking for is a greater focus on accessibility and affordability. 

If you’re only going to be open to those who can attend conferences, make sure you’re contributing to conference scholarships. If you’re often sharing your services, make sure you’re sharing free writing blogs/tips you see that you think your followers will find helpful. You may consider doing a giveaway every once in a while. 

On a larger scale, we need to be advocating for publishers to pay their editors a living wage. We need agents/writers to make a living wage, too. That way, we’re not all side hustling ourselves into a pay-to-play model only few can benefit from. 

Most importantly, we need to be championing free resources more often. 

We need to make sure everyone feels welcome in the traditional publishing landscape, not just those who can pay. 

~SAT

Miscellaneous

One Writer’s Staycation & How You Can Recharge At Home

I recently took a week-long staycation, which consisted of me laying around my house doing absolutely nothing productive. I won’t lie, it was bliss. 

Usually, I like to talk about writing and publishing here on the blog, but I realized one vital truth while I was out: Breaks are a part of writing. If you don’t take breaks—if you don’t live—you’ll eventually suffer from burnout. To be honest, I’ve been suffering from burnout. (I should take my own advice from 2016: How to Avoid Writer Burnout.) This was my first week-long vacation in three years. Maybe more. I honestly can’t remember. Between moving and changing jobs three times, I found it incredibly difficult to justify a break. Now I realize I didn’t need justification. Working hard means getting breaks. (Granted, it’s easy to say this in retrospect. In reality, I honestly couldn’t afford to take much of a break until now, but that’s another discussion for a different day.) 

In the end, breaks are important. They can also be inspirational! In fact, I was inspired to be a little nicer to myself by writing this blog post instead of the more detailed one I had planned. (Considering how long I was gone, I’m a bit swamped with catching up with work and revisions at the moment.)  

For fun, I thought I’d share my staycation ideas with you, especially since these ideas are social distance friendly, on the cheaper end, and might just help you have a day to unwind. 

First and foremost, I promised myself two things when I went on my staycation:

  • No “serious” writing: What do I mean by serious? I mean anything that you plan on pursuing seriously. For me, that meant NOT working on my revisions. It’s not much of a vacation if I replace it with my other career, right? I actually made this mistake once during my last trip. I flew the whole way to Charleston just to pull out my laptop and work on a R&R for an agent that ended up quitting before I finished the rewrite. Biggest vacation regret ever. 
  • Staying offline as much as possible: As a writer and program manager who manages social media, I spend an ungodly amount of time staring at screens, let alone being online. I promised myself I’d log off as much as I could. And I did! TBH, it was my favorite part. I think this is a good idea for many of us. The internet is an awesome place, but it can also be very distracting. In fact, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve logged on for “just five minutes” only to realize a half-hour has passed. For this reason, I recently took Facebook and Twitter off my phone, and it’s been a godsend. 

So, what did I do during my staycation? 

  • Baking Day: I love baking. It keeps me off my phone and computer, and I get to have a delicious treat after. Recently, I haven’t been baking as often, but this past week, I baked my first Japanese roll cake. (Strawberries and cream!) I definitely recommend choosing something you’ve always wanted to try but have never felt energized enough to pursue. It was so satisfying! 
  • Spa Day: I had a spa day with cucumber/lemon water, face masks, Epsom salt, etc. 
  • TBR catch-up: Here’s the thing, I have A LOT of books I want to catch up on. But reading many of those novels felt a lot like industry research to me, even if they are books I personally want to read. So I set out to catch up on my Webtoons. If you haven’t given Webtoons a chance, I highly recommend them. I caught up on Siren’s Lament, SubZero, In the Bleak Midwinter, and Midnight Poppy Land. The artwork is beautiful, and so are the stories. 
  • Fondue Night: Who needs a fancy restaurant when you can recreate one at home? I made fondue and chocolate dip, picked up all my favorites, and had a blast. 
  • High Tea: Before everything shutdown, I went to high tea at a local historic house that happens to also post their recipes online. Check it out. You can have high tea at home! 
  • Movie Night: I’ve fallen behind on many of the films I’ve wanted to see the last few years, so I set aside some time to watch Get Out and Knives Out, and they were both amazing! 

Basically, there’s lot of fun activities you can do at home, and you don’t even need to take significant time off to do so or spend lots of money. Most of these could be done on the weekend. I’m definitely going to partake again! And hopefully, I’ll have less burnout this year, more laughter and fun, and my work-writing-life balance will be—well—more balanced. 

How do you recharge?

~SAT

P.S. When I made it back to work this month, I was awarded Mid-Continent Public Library’s Maggie Jackson Community Spirit Award, which is given to a library employee who dedicates extra time and energy to their community. I was totally blown away. Working at The Story Center over this past year has been a dream come true, and I can’t wait to see where the next year takes our community. Keep sharing your stories, everyone! The world needs them.

Miscellaneous

Black Authors I Love + Resources

Today I wanted to share Black authors I love and some that I’m looking forward to reading this year! Why? It’s important that we all take the time right now to read and listen to Black stories, reflect, and help in any way that we can. Sign petitions. Educate yourself. Spread the word. I also wanted to share some resources, so that you can help support Black voices.

Books I Absolutely Loved:

Honestly, there are so many books I love, I could go on forever, so I’m talking about my top three, and placing more in the photo below. I hope you check them all out!

  1. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton: Dhonielle Clayton is one of my favorite authors. I first started following her after I read Tiny Pretty Things, which was a duology co-written with Sona Charaipotra. Everything she writes is amazing. So much drama! So much luscious description. So much fun!
  2. Pride by Ibi Zoboi: I recently reread this novel, and I loved it as much as I did the first time. The characters are really realistic, and I loved watching them grow. I really enjoyed the cultural aspects of this novel, too. Family is so important in this book, and it was really refreshing and lovely. This is a Pride and Prejudice retelling.
  3. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo: The emotions in this book leap off the page. I read it in one sitting, and I’m always recommending it at the library. It’s worth reading over and over again.

More Books To Check Out:

What books by Black voices have you read that you loved? What books are on your TBR? I’m always looking to expand my list! Also, every Monday, Sandra Proudman and I run #Giveaways4Writers on Twitter, where we give away query critiques, pitch feedback, and more. On Monday 6/8, we’ll be giving away query critiques to two writers who give a shoutout to their favorite book by a Black author. Announcement goes live at 8 AM (PST) on Sandra’s page, so give her a follow.

How Can You Help?

Here is a link to a National Resource List curated by Dr. Joan Morgan. It includes nationwide charities, free legal help, mutual aid funds, protest tips, and more. I love this document because it breaks everything down by topic, as well as highlights how those who don’t have the ability to donate or protest can help. It’s a fantastic resource, and I encourage everyone to check it out.

More Resources:

Open Yale courses: African American History: From Emancipation to Present

13 Podcasts to Listen to This Black History Month (And Every Month): I’m a huge fan of podcasts. Code Switch is a great one, too.

How to Financially Help BLM with NO Money/Leaving Your House: This is a YouTube video that you can play to help collect funds for the movement. Do not skip the ads.

If you have more resources, please drop them in the comments below!

~SAT

P.S. I was SCBWI KS/MO’s featured author of the month for June! Check out my interview here for writing tips, publishing insight, and a shout-out to my hero, A.K.A. my dad.