The Sixty-Ninth Annual Arkansas Writers’ Conference kicked off at the Holiday Inn Presidential in Little Rock on Friday May 31, 2013. Highlights of the first day of this two-day conference included a talk by Jullianne Ballou, Editor of Oxford American Magazine. In the presentation titled Getting Published in Magazines…For New and Established Writers, Ballou provided a wide range of tips for authors submitting their work to magazines and looking for an agent.
Ballou talked about the importance of networking; advising writers to get to know editors and when searching for an agent to seek out one who is very social and adept at networking. She also said it was beneficial for a writer have an “area of expertise” to increase the likelihood that they would be on an editor’s radar.
In discussing the mechanics of the submission process, Ballou spoke at length about the service submittable.com, which many publishers are now using to receive manuscripts. She pointed out the fact that manuscripts don’t get lost when using this electronic service as they might when sending the ms by traditional mail. However, she did mention that some publishers still prefer hard copies. She also said that she’s found herself reviewing manuscripts sent through submittable.com much sooner than hard copies. She shared an anecdote about getting back to an author so quickly that the writer didn’t believe she had actually read the submission.
Other tips Ballou gave the writers included pitching an idea to editors, before they write the entire piece; going to conferences; meeting people in the industry; and if writing a novel, to hold off on looking for an agent until after the novel is completed.
One of the most entertaining parts of the day was veteran journalist and author Deborah Mathis’s speech, Born to Write: Why Me, Lord? Friday afternoon. Mathis stayed true to the title as she discussed how some people really are born to write, remarking on her own inclinations to write at a very early age. She concluded that writers are a gift, telling the audience at one point “Please don’t stop”, and urged the writers in the crowd to “Just go for it!”
Mathis, who acknowledged that she does not like the actual writing process, shared a technique she’s hit upon which she has humorously dubbed “vomitous” in which the writer begins by throwing the words on the page in an extremely rough draft instead of editing as they go, telling the writers that they can clean it up afterwards.
In talking about how subjective writing is, she implored writers to be true to themselves saying, “Trusting your voice to me is so important”. To underscore her message she read passages from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and The Color Purple by Alice Walker drawing attention to how different the two novels were in tone and style but that each was very compelling in its own way.
Mathis talked about certain books and films that she is not personally a fan of, saying that although she doesn’t get it, somebody gets it and it satisfies them, further driving home the message that there is an audience for all sorts of writing. Mathis ended on an encouraging note to those going through the frequently challenging writing process saying, “Get it out of you. Get it out of your system.”