On Saturday, April 13, "Civil Discourse Now" will stream live from the Indiana Writers Center, 812 East 67th Street. Our guest panelists will be Barbara Shoup of the Indiana Writers Center, and Lynn Swayze Wilson and writer and blogger. The focal topic of The Show will be how the internet has affected writing and publishing.
My major at DePauw ended up as political science. However, my last year of school I had decided I wanted to write. I began to write in a journal. I read about Jack Kerouac and the way in which he would "sketch"—sit across from a department store, for example, and describe the display inside one of the store’s windows. What Kerouac did in that regard sounded like a good way to acquire skills in descriptive prose, so I did that. I wrote a few plays to focus more on dialogue. I wrote some poems and picked up on economy of words. I read about writing. One important thing I did was to set myself a daily "quota." I would read a minimum of 50 pages—of anything—and write five pages.
I knew how to use words, from debate and from a few dozen term papers, so I knew the basics. I wrote a short story. I wrote some poems. I wrote another short story.
I moved from Kokomo to Lafayette and obtained employment at Purdue.
If my knowledge of how to write was, at best, rudimentary, my knowledge of how to get something published was non-existent. I received reject slips from various magazines. I taped them to the wall of my bathroom in the basement apartment I had at 15 North Salisbury in West Lafayette. I got lucky when I ran into Ben Pantoja, the editor of "The Independent," the Off-Campus Student Association monthly tabloid with a circulation of about 17,000—they printed 17,000 copies, most of which lay in piles around campus for people to pick up and read. He had heard I wrote. He wanted to read some of my work. Eventually I had about 10 short stories and a couple of dozen poems published by "The Independent." That did a great deal for my confidence. I made no money, but I had a readership. People liked what I wrote. Also, I got to inpput my work onto a computer. (This was 1981-82.) I had written one novel and began a second. They both sucked.
Then I moved to Chicago. I submitted pieces and received reject slips again. I wrote a third novel. It did not suck as badly as the first two.
Eventually I sat for the LSAT and started law school in 1986. I graduated in 1989.
In 1991 I began to write my third novel. This was the first creative writing I had tried since the start of law school. I finished the book in 1999. I bought a few books on how to get published. I sent out 186 "query" packages. Publishers then had different requirements for submissions. None wanted writers simply to send a copy of a manuscript. A standard form would be a cover letter, resume, synopsis, and sample chapter. Each package cost about four or five bucks to send. Out of 186 submissions I got 1 ½ "bites."
Eight years, a bunch of hours, three drafts, all that postage, and I got 1 ½ "bites." The "1" suggested a cooperation in which I would put up money, the book would be published, but I would receive a huge percentage of proceeds from each sale.
I should have run away from that, but did not have the experience to know to do so.