Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Insider's Guide for Writers of Color

Finding the right publisher is difficult for any writer, but writers of color face unique challenges -- and opportunities.

For Marcela Landres, editorial consultant formerly with Simon & Schuster, helping writers of color, particularly Latina/o writers, get their foot in the door of the publishing industry is a personal mission.

She spoke at the VONA (Voices of our Nations
www.vona-voices.org) Writers of Color Workshop at University of San Francisco in June 2004.

"The bridge to get Latino writers published is not too strong," says Landres.

Landres started a website,
www.marcelalandres.com, with the intention of strengthening that bridge. The website features clear and to-the-point advice for fiction writers looking for that big break, the lucrative book contract, and possibly fame and fortune.

"Editors are not talent scouts," Landres says. "They're investors looking for a return on the advance money invested in their writers."

One mistake Landres says new writers make is focusing solely on art and technique, and not enough time thinking about the business aspects of writing. Often, that business is driven by audience likes and dislikes.

"If you expect to be paid for the art, you have to take the audience into account," Landres says. "A good story and intriguing characters will get you published and published well."

How does one become published well?

*Having realistic expectations about life as a published author.

*Managing your own business affairs, and not expecting the publisher or others to do it at high levels -- i.e. huge budgets for tours, ads, etc...

*Developing a business savvy attitude in addition to developing writing skills.

*Creating a platform -- that is, developing your reputation (writing awards, publications, taking free and paid-for writing classes) and your rolodex (networking with published authors, joining writer workshops, and doing internships); the stronger your platform, the more likely you are to be published well.

"Publishers are incapable of creating stars," Landres says. "But they can identify someone who's already a star, take them on, and make them shine bigger in publishing."

Landres cautions writers of color from focusing too much of their fiction writing time on pain and history. She says audiences and publishers are looking for writers of color to focus on new, fresh, and relevant experiences about their lives in the U.S. For Latina/o writers in particular, Landres cautions about two types of stories she has seen come regularly across her desk -- barrio stories or peasant stories.

"Not every Latino grows up in a barrio, afraid they'll never graduate from high school," Landres says. "Not every Latino has the kitchen filled with spices and homemade tortillas, or grew up barefoot in a butterfly-filled village. This is what editors see coming across their desks all the time. It's time all of us write on our current lives and realities in the U.S."

Landres says this is the perfect time for writers of color to make their mark on the publishing industry. Editors are hungry for contemporary stories based in the U.S., and Landres encourages writers to get their stories out their heads and onto paper.


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