Friday, May 1, 2009

My Personal Thoughts as a Writer (Part 2)

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

I think I left last time talking about writing articles for publication. I’d like to relate a true story. When I started writing articles for the Meredith Sun Newspaper Group back in the late 70s, I recall celebrating when my first article was published and I received a check for $25 for it. It was only months earlier that I had decided to write articles. I had gone to a writer’s convention and showed a woman a copy of an article I had written. She told me it wasn’t very good. I was crushed, so I asked her to tell me what kinds of articles SHE had written and published. You know what she told me? None. There she was—the grand “queen” of writing, telling me my piece wouldn’t work and she herself had never published anything! That thought me one thing—people who claim they are writers but don’t write are deceiving themselves and others.

Back to my story, however. After I submitted my first article to the Meredith Sun Group of newspapers (which servicee the entire South Bay surrounding San Jose, CA), the editor asked for an article a week, and I gave it to her. Finally, after having published six months’ worth of articles, the editor asked my not to write for her anymore. Crestfallen, I asked her why. She said that I write too well for the newspapers and I ought to write for magazines. So I did, and I wrote on a variety of topics for a myriad number of magazines. Receiving money in the mail for all those pieces didn’t thrill me as much as seeing my byline. One day I went to a Writers Digest workshop where the editor-in-chief gave a talk. After the meeting, I asked him what he thought about an article on stress that I thought about writing. He told me to send him a query on it, which I did. Another WD editor responded, asking me to expand on my topic and I did that. Then he asked for a draft. I send him that (by the way, this was before the internet or email was invented). He suggested a number of revisions, and I made changes and sent it back to him. Then he returned it to me for further editing. Finally, I received a galley in the mail, and months later, my article on Writing Stress made the cover of the magazine. I felt ten feet tall. I went to our California Writers Convention that year, and people were lined up asking me to autograph copies of the magazine for them. What a rush that was!

During this time, I did attempt to get a book published. (I should preface this by saying that when I was 17 years old I wrote a complete novel, sent it off to publishers, got rejected, although a vanity press gave me a glowing review and urged me to get it published. I didn’t know anything about vanity presses at the time and to this day, I’m grateful my mom denied my request to send in any payment.) Anyway, many years later, I wrote a how-to book on marketing research, secured a literary agent for it. The agent made two or three tries with publishers and told me he won’t be able to sell it because the market demand for the book is probably under 5,000 copies. So I gave up on that one and tried my hand at writing fiction. I discovered that while article writing kept me pumped up with how to spin a phrase, come up with interesting transitions, do my research well, and end up with a readable and informative piece—I had to learn how to write differently for fiction. I did manage to get a short story published in Stamp World magazine. I also wrote three partial novel manuscripts, a complete novel dealing with the clerical abuse situation, and a thriller. While I couldn’t find an agent for those earlier works, I did find one for the thriller. She sent it out to several New York publishers, all of whom returned it but with glowing letters indicating how well it was plotted and the writing style (One publisher said he thought I wrote like Tom Clancy). Their objections were twofold: (1) they weren’t looking for the thriller genre at that time, and (2) my manuscript was way too long (over 800 pages). At that point, I gave up and didn’t write for quite a while.

Along the way of learning my craft, I learned things about fiction writing that served me well. I will share those experiences with you next time.

---Tom Mach

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