Sunday, September 3, 2017

Talking about Writing and the Publishing Journey

by Julie Tollefson

Recently, a local nonprofit organization invited me to speak to their group about writing and, although the talk isn’t until February, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what I want to tell them about my publishing journey so far.

In 2011, I took a huge, scary chance and submitted to Fish Nets, the second anthology produced by the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime.  The chapter conceived of its anthology series as an opportunity for unpublished writers to get some experience. 

The story I submitted, “Keeping Up Appearances,” was the first piece of fiction I finished writing (big).

It was the first piece of fiction I submitted for other people to read (bigger).

It was the first piece of my fiction accepted for publication (HUGE). 

The process of taking a short story from idea to publication turned out to be an incredible learning experience, too, beginning with the super helpful selection exercise in which every writer who submitted an entry also read and rated three other stories. Reviewing other writers helped me see what worked and what didn’t. The responses I received from those who reviewed my manuscript were enlightening and ranged from a lukewarm “it’s OK but needs work” to an enthusiastic “include it in the anthology now.” One of the reviews, a more middle-of-the-road take, gave thoughtful feedback, especially on character development, that continues to help me in my writing.

In June 2012, after Wildside Press agreed to publish the anthology, I volunteered to take the lead on communication between the authors and the publisher. That turned out to be a truly smart decision, because I came to see the anthology and the publishing decisions associated with it as bigger than just getting my story in print. Contracts. Deadlines. Proofreading. Wrangling responses from 22 busy writers. I had the pleasure of sending notes like “Wildside will be sending the contract soon…Hooray!” and also “I haven’t heard from you yet. Have you had a chance to review the proof of your story?” Nudge, nudge.

I came away from that experience newly confident in my ability to produce fiction, fiction, that other people would want to read and perhaps with an unrealistic expectation of how easy it would be to publish more short fiction in the future. I mean, the first time was super easy, right? Oh, boy, did I have a few publishing lessons still to learn!

Fish Nets came out in 2013, and since then I’ve written a dozen or so short stories (as well as longer projects and nonfiction). About a third of the short stories have been published or will be soon. 

So I guess part of my message to the nonprofit group will be this: I took a big scary leap with that first short story, and it turned out to be the best thing I could have done for myself and for my writing career.

Have you ever done something that scared you and that later turned out to be extraordinarily rewarding, either personally or professionally?

When you listen to authors talk about themselves, what do you like to hear? Do you want to hear personal stories? Inspirational stories? How-to stories?


  1. Julie,

    There are some great points inherent in your experience worth sharing, including that you gained a lot by volunteering to help. I agree that getting to see under the hood is invaluable. For two years I volunteered as a reader for Poisoned Pen Press and learned a lot about opening chapters and synopses by reading submissions and seeing what worked and what didn't (and figuring out why).

    ~ Jim

  2. This is heartwarming on so many levels.

    I had no idea that Fish Nets held your first published story. Congratulations. Kudos to you not only for writing and submitting (always a white knuckle experience) but for volunteering to step off the cliff and facilitate the communication between publisher and writers. Talk about jumping in the deep end. It served you well, Julie.

    This post will give courage to other writers teetering on the should I, shouldn't I edge!

  3. I submit stories to anthologies, sometimes with success. I also co-chaired the SinC Guppy Fantasy Agent project, which was a real eye-opener.

  4. I'm so glad you sent in that story! Sending in my first short story was also a nailbiter but as you said, when the acceptance came - huge! And the feeling of holding that first anthology in my hands - even bigger! (Huger?)
    Joining Sisters in Crime and the Guppies are the best things I've done for my writing. I was glad to volunteer as the SINC library liaison this year because I wanted to give back to a group that I really believe in.

  5. Sharing your journey is a way to help others along their paths.

  6. Julie, what a wonderful post. Congratulations on all your successes in writing and thank you for your contributions to the Guppies, an organization that has helped so many of us. I'm sure your upcoming speech will be very inspirational.

  7. Thank you, Jim. Your experience at Poisoned Pen Press must have been tremendous. I'm in the middle of another volunteer project now that promises to teach me just as much, if not more, than FISH NETS.


  8. Ah, thank you, Kait. I do hope that writers teetering on the edge see some value in this post. Take a chance! You have nothing to lose!

  9. Margaret - I didn't participate in the Guppy Fantasy Agent project. I'd be interested in hearing more about that. I love the creative ways the Guppy chapter comes up with to support emerging authors.

  10. Shari - Definitely HUGER! And I totally agree with you. Without Sisters in Crime and Guppies, I'd still be thinking maybe I'd like to write, some day. And THANK YOU for volunteering as library liaison - giving back is so important. That's one lesson we've tried to instill in our son.

  11. Ah, thank you Warren. I hope it helps someone else.

  12. Thank you, Paula! I'm looking forward to talking with the organization, which is very active in literacy and education efforts. Your kind words mean a lot to me.

  13. I've had seven short stories published, and just as many rejected. When I listen to authors speak, I prefer hearing things about their life first and foremost. Like Shari said joining Sisters-in-Crime and the Guppies was the wisest thing I could do to help my writing career.

  14. Thanks, Gloria. I love Sisters in Crime, Guppies, and my local chapter!

  15. Being part of writers' communities and participating in them is a tremendous boon to anyone who would like to advance their skills as an author.

    I enjoy short stories, both reading and writing them. I submit several a year to various publications, mostly anthologies, and have had both the enormous pleasure of having some accepted and the disappointment of having some rejected.

    The quality of stories is usually so good that I can't complain about mine not making it! It must be so hard for the editors to chose.