Irony Defines This Writer’s Life: My Journey So Far With Sucker Literary Magazine by Hannah Goodman
Post MFA Blues
A few weeks after I graduated from the Solstice program, with an MFA in Writing For Young People, I felt like I was at the top Mt. Washington. Then, as the mist cleared, I saw that-OMG-I was actually standing on a tiny molehill in my own backyard. Needless to say, I fell into a very dark place. (Not unusual, btw, after finishing your MFA. Go ahead and Google “Post MFA Blues.” Here’s one I connected with —http://thomdawkins.blogspot.com/2011/06/post-mfa-blues-or-further-adventures-of.html).
Upon leaving that molehill, I went to the one place where stewing in self-loathing is typically uninterrupted: Starbucks. Curled up in the corner of my favorite spot, I stared at the screen of my laptop: The product of my MFA…a collection of heart wrenchingly funny short stories entitled Big, Fat, Broken Hearts. The cursor on the screen blinked back at me, almost apologetically. The 50 plus rejections in my inbox informed what I already knew would be BFBH’s fate. No one wants to publish short story collections. Add those rejections to my pre-MFA rejections for other work (novels), and you get 10 years of being told “no”…
While I spent lots of time standing on the mole hill in my backyard or curled up in my favorite chair at Starbucks, crying and worrying that maybe I had just wasted more time and money on my stupid, garage-band of a writing career, I did eventually snap out of it.
As I sat for the third month in a row, staring at my computer screen, alternating between the inbox full of rejections and my beloved short story collection, IT came to me: I needed to recreate the writing community I had at school so I wouldn’t feel so alone…and I needed a place to showcase these short stories…
Why not throw together a lit mag?
Based on my obsessive research, I did see a gap in the marketplace for edgy, YA short fiction, and I knew that my plight was not solo-there were others out there like me. What we needed to do was find each other and make our own platform.
I knew I had the energy, PR skills, big mouth, and editing prowess to run a magazine, but I knew I needed some support. So I threw together a blog, gave it the name Sucker Literary (for more on the namehttp://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/faq/)), and made a call for submissions and volunteers. Thanks to social media, and the support of Tanya Whiton from Solstice and the PR department at Pine Manor, Suckerbecame known to the writing community pretty quickly.
Sucker, to begin with, was a dart into the misty darkness of the publishing world. I’m not famous and while I have a lot of connections and knowledge of the industry, we all know that it’s incredibly difficult to break in. You have to just try everything, even things that could do a giant belly flop.
So when I got word from Tanya that Publisher’s Weekly wanted to interview me, I felt like that dart in the darkness made contact with the bull’s eye…and I’m not gonna lie, it definitely made me wonder, in a back-of-the-mind way, will this launch my YA writing career? Could it launch others?
Swooped off My Feet
Once PW published the article about Sucker, the Twitter followers and submissions began to increase daily (hourly on the first two days!). But history taught me that I needed to keep this attention in check.
Back in 2004, I won first place in The Writer’s Digest Self-Published book awards and got lots of media attention, including a few different agents offering representation. But for various reasons (you can see my blog for more on that http://www.hannahrgoodman.blogspot.com/p/dealing-with-rejection.html), this did not launch my career as a writer. In fact, the years I spent after that resulted in me actually leaving the publishing world in 2009 to return to school and earn my MFA. Here I focused more on my craft rather than getting published, and it was here where Meg Kearney, our director, taught me about expectations. The expectations writers have when they start an MFA program or attend a writing conference. Maybe we don’t admit it, but the secret prayer is we hope to be discovered, swooped off our feet by an editor or agent. The problem with this is that it interferes with the study of craft and can turn a writing conference into a competition, which really is a buzz-kill on creativity. Meg advises her students to simply look at conferences and programs as opportunities to be seen and to connect with other writers, which ultimately supports and nourishes your craft in a non-ego way.
So while the media attention stroked my ego, I thought my highs and lows in the industry and of Meg’s advice. This is all kind of like when you are trying to find The One. You are less likely to find The One if you are looking. Not to mention desperation isn’t attractive to potential suitors. Falling in love, that kind of magic, has to just happen while you are busy living…which is what I believe about meeting the right agent or editor…It happened with Erzsi, I believe, and-fingers crossed- it will happen with an editor.
So, yes, Erzsi found me because of the press around Sucker, and- yes- it was a dream come true. Seriously, I think that she is the alternate, European universe version of me. I mean her short story collection entitled Period Pieces had me at “hello.”
Despite the awesomeness of a Publisher’s Weekly article and signing with a fabulous sista from another motha agent, I was an experienced gal in this, so I put my nose back to grindstone, shoved my ego back into the recess of my brain and told myself okay now you have to get really serious.
Hello Nose. Meet Grindstone.
I used every connection I had through Solstice and SCBWI, through Twitter and Facebook to let people know thatSucker was open for submissions. I also made sure that people knew what Sucker‘s mission was-to showcase emerging writers of edgy YA fiction. I did this through Twitter and Facebook blurbs. I said-very bluntly-what we wanted and didn’t want. No middle grade fiction, no excerpts from novels that weren’t stand alone, no preachy, after-school-special-type stories. I even offered a sample via my own work and told prospective submitters the authors who I enjoyed reading. I wanted to be very transparent about submissions, and this also led me to wanting to be transparent about rejections. I began to tell writers why their piece didn’t make the cut and also started to offer mentoring options (which didn’t guarantee that we would accept the piece). These were all extensions of my original mission. Not only that, this was my own therapy, as I now was signed with an agent and would be facing more hard work ahead, rejection and revisions. I figured paying it forward would only create the positive energy I needed, as I tried once again to get out there and show my work.
As I was reading submissions, providing detailed feedback, managing my staff and working on the look of the magazine, I was revising a manuscript with Erzsi (not to mention regular life obligations of family and work), I found that while this was a lot of work, it felt so natural, so meant to be. And selfishly, I figured no matter what happened with my own writing and submissions to editors, I had Sucker, a magazine I created and edited. A magazine that wanted short fiction. A magazine that kind of doesn’t care what the publishing market thinks is hot. A place for my work and others similar to me.
Fast forward to January 24th, 2012 when we (my BFF Alyssa Gaudreau, Sucker‘s executive art director) made my vision a (virtual) reality. It took about six months from start to finish, and the product has surpassed my expectations. It’s a beautiful magazine visually and prose-aly.
I have thrown myself into social networking and plugging Sucker and am determined that the hard work we all put into it will be seen…rather than that we will all get “discovered”.
And we have been getting seen. Our Facebook fans and Twitter followers continue to grow every day. These folks have spoken to me directly saying we want to be able to read Sucker on our e-readers and in our classrooms. That, plus the desire for our work to be seen by as many folks as possible, led me to recently decide to have Sucker formatted for e-book distribution. Although I really didn’t want this venture to include my own funds, I decided after researching, the cost would be nominal; Smashwords andKindle allow you to upload and sell your e-book at no cost. All I had to pay for was the formatting. If we sell enough, I can get make that money back plus use whatever is left over to get more distribution through print-on-demand channels. Yes, that means Sucker would be come a tangible, hold-it-in-our hands book (call me old fashion).
Dreams Come True?
Whether or not Sucker will create America’s Next Top YA Author, remains to be seen. Ultimately, what I want for all of us at Sucker is to have our work out there reaching those teens and adults (and agents and editors) who long for edgy, original, voice-driven YA fiction.
So go now to …… support us and buy a copy of Sucker from Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/ or Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Sucker-Literary-Magazine-Issue-ebook/dp/B007GPYKTY/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1330874288&sr=1-1
If you want to submit to us, please go to http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/submission-guidelines/
Follow us on Twitter @SuckerLitMag
Hannah R. Goodman has published YA short stories on Amazon’s Shorts, in an anthology entitled, Bound Is The Bewitching Lilith, and in the journal Balancing The Tides. Her first novel, My Sister’s Wedding, won first place in the children’s/YA category of the Writer’s Digest Self Published Book Awards, 2004. You can find her on Twitter @hannahrgoodman or @suckerlitmag or her blog Write Naked http://www.hannahrgoodman.blogspot.com/ She is represented by Erzsi Deak of Hen&ink Literary Studio.