How To Succeed in Writing When Spike Lee Doesn't Call    



In a writer's journey to the Holy Land of Publication, there are many forks in the road. These are the forks that helped me to finally get there, with most of my sanity intact. lmr

In the last few years, I’ve found myself answering this one question countless times:

“So, how do I get published?”

Seriously, without exaggeration, I must have answered this same question for 6 or 7 hungry-starving-struggling-artist-writer-poet-type people just within the last week. In each instance, I’d take time out of a busy day to explain it, in detail. Then, it finally dawned upon me that maybe I shoulld just write it all down, save it, and simply go back to that file whenever that question was broached again.

Yes, I'm a writer, but sometimes I'm incrediably slow on the uptake!
And so, without further ado…hereitgo:

** First and foremost:  Congrats! Yes, Mad, MAD PROPS to YOU for dreaming, for writing, for seeing a world, for penning and winning and sticking to your goal, and most of all: for finishing what you started! That alone dictates an inner fire and a Real Passion for what you do.

You need to know, everyone’s journey will be different and there are no surefire ways, only some tried and true ones from each writer’s personal experience.

My situation dates back to poetry. While in high school, an English teacher first noticed I had a gift for writing. She submitted a poem of mine to a National student magazine, & BAM! There I was, 17, and a published poet.  I was both mortified (bye-bye cool points) and elated  (Wow!  Someone actually took what I'd done seriously!).  So... making it into an anthology, it appeared, that part was easy.

However, the following years were anything but easy.. and maybe, just perhaps, they weren’t supposed to be. 
Each of us gets tested in various ways. Maybe this is to separate the walkers from the talkers. In college, I had several published authors/ polished professors tell me that I had "a Voice," and that I should really "get published."

Cool-cool. How lovely. How flattering!   How vague!   It seems, no one, not a soul would volunteer the needed info on HOW I was to get published, where I should go, or what I had to do to make that happen. Was this some State Secret? Would it have killed them if they’d TOLD me how to go about it? Or if they told me, would they then have to kill me?

So, I kept writing, poetry mostly. But sometimes I’d get inspired by some life event and I’d create plays and songs and rambling monologues. I just kept writing, not knowing if any of it would ever see the light of publication. I was doing it for me. I was doing it to purge, to unleash, and to let this urgent song inside my soul sing. And like any muscle, the more you work and exercise it, the stronger and more vital it becomes.

A small turning point came when I happened upon a copy of Essence Magazine, read the work contained in their poetry section and thought… hmmm… I can do that. 
So, dammit! I tried, I wrote, I pinned, I edited and reedited and then I submitted a total of five poetic masterpieces (or so I thought) to this magazine. I waited, expecting the world as I knew it, to change.
Then,  one month later, I received a long-awaited beige business-sized envelope from the Poetry Editor. Inside, I found a terse, well-worded, but ultimately spirit-crushing rejection slip.

*Pipe in that famous Jeopardy BUZZER SOUND: Annnnnnt!*

Oh damn! It completely hurt my feelings. Seriously. But I'd grown accustomed to having my feelings hurt. And thus,  I just pressed onward. I still WANTED my work to land inside the glossy pages of Essence Magazine. I was determined.  Hard to explain the method to this particular madness, but it had become my obsession.  People within my circle constanly asked: 'why… when it only paid $25.00?'

Well, it had a circulation of over a million readers. If a percentage of those subscribers actually read my work,  then perhaps I would become a known writer. Maybe the famous person on the cover would read it, and I too would become mad famous, deeply hip and awesonely cool, if by association.

Ok. Foolish! Major mistake in thinking! HUGE, in fact! No one needs to be writing if their only goal is to become famous. That was stupid. But so was I… well, at the very least, ignorant. Again, I had no one telling me, pointing me, advising or guiding me.

So, I issued this challenge to myself: I will BE in Essence Magazine before the year is done!
I went so far as to visualize my words, and more importantly, my name, right there, in the same print and the same font as the other writers they featured. I stared at that page for the longest time until I could actually SEE it, emblazoned there, and mentally and visually, this had become a reality, at least my reality.

And then, I sent them four more poems.

One month later, another long business-sized beige envelope arrived. But this one felt different. It was slightly heavier than that previous one. I took a deep breath before opening it.

A typewritten letter with my name in the heading was followed by the beautiful word: "Congratulations!"

I’d made it. My work was to appear in the shiny pages of Essence magazine!  I'm not worthy!  Yes, I am!  Thank you!  THANK YOU ANGELA KINAMORE, Poetry Editor! 

I was hyped, yo. I was so mad happy. I was high. Dammit! I’d arrived, yo!

Spike Lee and his sister, Joie, graced the cover of the issue in which my work appeared. I received two copies and a phat check for 25 beans.

I was beside myself. I told most everyone I knew. It was my calling card. Even to perfect strangers, it became my M.O. to say: “Have you seen this month’s edition of Essence? Well, I’m in it.”

I was living the dream, bay-bay! For a whole month, I was living, gloating and just-a floating on Cloud Nine. Besides, all that… maybe, just maybe SPIKE would see it, read it, and dammit, maybe we’d be like riffin' and dialoguing, spitting and co-hittin' , and maybe even co-writing screenplays for his joints together.

Hey. I mighta been published, but I remained very much an ignorant Brotha.

Spike never called, yo.  *Pipe in the tragic organ dirge*

Time passed, and Essence would later accept yet another piece. Coolness! Cha-Ching! Another 25 beans! Now I could finally buy that island in Tahiti!

But in between, it was a very dry season. I mean drrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiier than the Gobi desert in my writing life. No one else was biting.

It was, by then, the early 90s.  There were no rapid answers, no internet, no Google; just good old school nose-to-the-grindstone research.  It was about that time I discovered the best friend a person in my position could ever possess: WRITERS MARKET! Later still, added to my collection would be POETS MARKET, then NOVEL & SHORT STORY MARKET.  With these reference books I would find hundreds of other resources actively seeking the kind of work I offered. I submitted to those places, and was lucky & Blessed enough to have a lot of it accepted. BUT even though my work has appeared in over 200 places, I must have submitted to  well over a THOUSAND more places where it was NOT accepted. The lesson there is: never stop at rejection! Just keep plugging! Let rejection FEED you… NOT fade you!

So, if you want to get your name out there, start out small... make baby steps, like poetry and short stories or excerpts from your novels or works-in-progress, simply because publishers like shorter work, as it saves them time and, yes, money.

HOWEVER, never dismiss the power of a reference manual, whether that be a WRITERS MARKET, POETS MARKET, SCREENWRITERS, or NOVEL/ SHORT STORY MARKET!  You'll save so much time and needless frustration. These books list thousands of people, places, publications, addresses, editors, when and how to submit, and how NOT to submit, what they’re looking for, when to expect a reply, and what they pay (if they pay). They also have sections for each and every kind of writing under the sun: childrens, black, feminist, romance, sci-fi, gay, lesbian, mystery, adventure, technical, erotica, comedy, experimental, etc. So if you have a particular niche, you'll discover the many places that seek exactly what you have to offer.
Feel me?

You can find the books at most public libraries. But your best bet would be to invest the 30 bucks and purchase one so you'll always have it within reach. It would truly behoove you to have such a reference book as they are also full of valuable ideas, suggestions, help tips on sharpening your manuscript, and thus, making it more salable. There are even agents, resources and contests, oh my!

The story of how I became a published writer is simply one of diligence, hard work, and never giving up.  Finally, it paid off.

As I mentioned earlier, everyone's journey is different. But the one thing most people have in common is a love for what they do.

So, if YOU have a need to do it, possess a passion that doesn't die with rejection slips, if you’re not doing it to get rich and famous but have a purpose, something REAL and important to say, and if you possess the Balls and Bravery it takes to SUBMIT your work, you WILL eventually get published. It's your fate.

The rest is finding the RIGHT place, the right fit, & the right hands in which to place your work.

So, GET the Writers Market Book, whether for POETRY, SCREENWRITING, or NOVELS & SHORT STORIES. Study those mofos! Find your markets, & then dammit submit your work!

That's it.

Unlike so many other selfish, insecure, spirit-poor writers, I actually WANT to see YOU succeed! If writing and getting published is really your dream, your passion, then by all means, go for it! Talent definitely helps, passion will drive you, but determination and *support* provides a Giant push forward.

When one of us wins, we ALL win!

Feel me?

I wish you many Blessings in your endeavors.

Keep Writing! Keep Fighting!
One Love.
Lin  (L.M. Ross)
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