Writing Narrative Nonfiction: Publishing Your Personal Stories

March 30, 2007
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Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton

Your Life As Story: Writing Narrative Nonfiction

Publishing Your Personal Stories

by Lisa Dale Norton

April 2007

Authorlink is proud to welcome Lisa Dale Norton as a regular monthly columnist. She is nationally recognized as a writing instructor with a passion for story. Read more about Lisa.

"In the real world of writing . . . and editors are more apt to publish material from people they know or have met " —Norton Many of you have dreams of publishing your personal stories. You have dreams of a forum in which to be heard. You have dreams of fame and fortune coming to you via your writing.

Whatever your dreams may be, you have to first wedge your foot into the publishing door. Most books and teachers tell you to write a story and then query an editor about whether he'd like to see that story. Or, they suggest, query first before it's even written. Then wait, hopefully, for a positive reply.

But I don¹t think the publishing world works that way. '

In the real world of writing, people know people, and editors are more apt to publish material from people they know or have met–someone they’ve developed a relationship with–than a complete stranger.

". . . I suggest you identify two to four magazines or journals . . . places where you can imagine your writing appearing. "
—Norton
Instead of sending off queries into the black hole of publishing, I suggest you identify two to four magazines or journals where you'd like to submit your personal stories, publications that speak to you, that publish writing you love, places where you can imagine your writing appearing.

Read several issues of each magazine and assess the writing that appears. Do you write like the contributors? Do you have similar concerns and interests? Is your style compatible?

"Once you've chosen your publications, begin a conversation."
—Norton

Once you've chosen your publications, begin a conversation. Write letters to key editors explaining why you like their publications. Cite a particular story or a general approach to ideas that you admire. Then inform the editor you have a story you think he'd like, and say you are sending it. (Notice: No asking going on here. You are simply having a conversation with a colleague.)

"When your story is rejected, write the editor a thank you note expressing gratitude for his time . . ."
—Norton
Then package up your idea and send it along with a cover letter reminding the editor of your earlier communication.

When your story is rejected, write the editor a thank you note expressing gratitude for his time and consideration of your work. Say you have another idea you are just sure he will love. Send that story.

". . . you will–sooner or later–place a piece of writing with the publication. "
—Norton
Keep this up. You are developing a relationship. If you have any skill as a writer, if you've chosen your publications wisely, and if you have submitted professionally prepared material, you will–sooner or later–place a piece of writing with the publication. And you will publish it because the editor knows you.

Certainly, you can try the scatter-shot approach: Write something and send it out cold to multiple markets. Or you can send out a bevy of queries then sit by your mailbox–or Inbox, if it's email–and wait for the responses to arrive.

"Instead slip in the back door
like a friend would do."

—Norton

But why should you put yourself through such torture? Those editors are in the business of saying “No.” If you give them any reason to say no–and asking for entree is ample reason–it¹s likely they will say no.

Instead slip in the back door like a friend would do. Sit down in front of the editor¹s desk (metaphorically), and talk to him like an equal.

Yes, you may be rejected for awhile, but in time you will know those editors, and that will put you a lot further down the road of writing and publishing, than if you send out submissions anonymously from your garret.

About
Lisa Dale Norton
Lisa Dale Norton is the author of Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills (Picador USA/St. Martin's Press). She teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program, the Gotham Writers' Workshop, and the Whidbey MFA Program. Lisa speaks nationally on her passion: the power of story to transform lives. She lives in Santa Fe. www.lisadalenorton.com

 

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