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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 265

Updated on July 15, 2019

The Death of a Student

I just found out a student I had back in 1990 just died. She was a mother of two, came down with spinal meningitis in June, and just died. She was a feisty one, that’s for damned sure, always questioning me and demanding this, demanding that, and like most of my students, she made me a better teacher.

Her mother and I became good friends over the years, and I grieve for the family this Friday.

You simply never know when this ride will end.

Make the most of it.

Of course this took me back to the death of my father when I was twenty. It was all so sudden, so invasive, and so totally impossible to grasp. Here one moment, gone the next, and all that remains are the bittersweet memories of better days.

I think we should tackle the Mailbag. It’s time to move on, as the survivors always do.

The Mail Room!
The Mail Room!


From Brian: “Bill, your customers expect you, as a freelance writer, to meet their deadlines. When you work on your own writing projects, do you self-impose deadlines? So many words per day in so many hours? Publish by Christmas? So many minutes maximum per mailbag reply and per comment response? How do you incentivize compliance?”

The quick answer to your question is NO, Brian, I do not impose deadlines on my own works. I have far too many things going on; it would be unfair to myself to expect a book published by Christmas, or an article published in eight hours.

And no, nothing on the Mailbag replies. I demand that I respond to all comments, but it’s taking me longer and longer to do that. Many years ago, when I first started on HP, I promised myself I would find the time to respond to every comment I receive . . . and I think I’ve kept that promise. I may have accidentally missed a few along the way, but I’m fairly confident I have responded to 99.9% of them.

Incentivize compliance? No! My incentive is doing a job well. That’s all I need to keep me going.

Thanks so much for the questions!

For Sara....Happy Sunset!
For Sara....Happy Sunset!

More on Traditional Publishing

From Verlie: “I hope traditional publishing is not extinct, maybe there will be a revival? There's got to be some small press activity out there somewhere? In Canada there is still some of that going on. If a poet is serious about publishing in Canada, they can join the League of Canadian Poets, which supports, and provides resources, contests, and publishing opportunities for its members. I always wonder if online published work, like what we do here on Hub Pages is considered 'published'. Because for a lot of contests, they want only work that has not been previously published. It's confusing. I feel like I need to hire a 'poetry lawyer' to advise on what qualifies as ' previously published'. Any thoughts from you, or your readers on that?”

This is a fascinating question, Verlie. I was pretty certain of the answer, but still I did some research to confirm my suspicions.

Back in the old days, prior to the internet, this question was black and white. If your work appeared in print, it was considered previously published, and publishers of all types would not touch it. The internet certainly muddied the waters, but still, black and white seem to still be black and white.

If your writing has appeared in a blog, on a social media site, on a content site like HP, just about anywhere other than a private forum, it is considered published. Period! Now, there are two gray areas in this discussion.

What if you publish something, but then “unpublish” it, so you can present it to a publisher? Technically, in that situation, it is not published, even though it was at one time. The courts have leaned towards still calling that work “published” even though it is no longer published.

The other area in question is that of excerpts. If you share an excerpt of your story or book online, does that qualify as published? No, not according to existing publication laws.

I hope I clarified things for you and didn’t manage to further muddy the waters. You mentioned Canada, and I cannot swear that the same is true in Canada, but I suspect it is.

Keep writing keep publishing, and pray!
Keep writing keep publishing, and pray!

Where Does It Come From?

From Vidra: “You recently shared a piece of random writing on your blog, “Artistry with Words.” It was about some character with a fascinating pedigree. The characterization was amazing and I’m just curious where these characters come from? Have you personally experienced, or known, people like them?”

First, Vidra, thank you for the kind words; I don’t know a writer who hates praise, so I truly do appreciate it. As for the character in question no, I do not know anyone like that, nor have I ever known anyone like that. He was purely a figment of my imagination. I’ve met some interesting people on the streets, people “in the game,” and people who have led violent lives, but no one who was quite as colorful as that character.

I am drawn to that sort of duplicity. I believe there is darkness and light in almost all human beings, if not all. I like to explore that duplicity by creating characters with some serious depth. I love to write about the inner struggle we all deal with. I happen to think it is one of the more fascinating things about being human, the fact that we all don’t just give up and go over to the Dark Side.

Anyway, thank you! Hopefully you will never meet someone like my “man with no name.”

And Still More on Publishing

From Victoria: “I’ve been following your recent discussions about traditional publishing with some interest. I just finished my first manuscript, and now I don’t know what to do with it. Is there any chance I can find a traditional publisher to take my novel, or a professional agent to take it? Of should I just give up and self-publish on Kindle?”

Is there any chance, Victoria? Sure there is! There is also a chance I’ll one day be elected President of the United States but, if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for either of those two things to happen.

Listen, you can still get picked up by a traditional publisher after you self-publish. It happens every year, and that is my suggestion to you: self-publish, start a marketing campaign, a social media blitz, whatever, and make your book go viral. Once it goes viral you will have publishers calling you.

I made that sound easy, but it’s not. Having a book go viral, or having your self-published book top Amazon’s best-seller list, those things are like catching lightning in a bottle . . . incredibly difficult to do, but absolutely impossible to do if you don’t first find a bottle.

Time to Run

Always time to run, until it isn’t, and then it will be a time of permanent rest.

Rest in peace, Sara! You fought the good fight, you left a loving legacy in your two sons, and the world is better for having known you.

2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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