Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor-in-Chief at The Poetics Project. She has a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and a passion for stories in all their forms. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

Copyright 101 For Authors, or I Made A Thing!

So, I didn’t have time to work on what was supposed to be today’s post, because I was too busy making an infographic for my course this term on copyright. I blame my procrastination on an extreme case of “senioritis.” Graduation is only a few weeks away. It’s my last chance to procrastinate, forever, people! (Or so I tell myself.)

The infographic helps authors determine whether their work is eligible for copyright in the U.S. and has a short “FAQ” section answering other general questions an author might have about copyright as it applies to their work. The tricky bit is that copyright isn’t always so black and white and changes all the time. There are also many types of literary works, so this graphic is not meant to represent all of them. Although it does serve as a basic overview.

AWritersGuidetoCopyright

What else do you want to know about copyright and your writing? Tell us below!

Literary Paraphernalia: Necklaces That Look Like Books

When I chose the theme of this week’s literary paraphernalia—necklaces that look like books—I was reminded of those memes of the host of Pimp My Ride. Book lovers showing their love of books with a necklace that looks like books. Books on books on books.

But in all seriousness, Etsy is a place for vintage finds and some beautiful, handcrafted pieces from shop owners with a very eclectic range of tastes—and we’re just lucky books are one of them.

1940s Gold Locket Book with Engraved Flowers

Jane Austen Book Charm Necklace

Mini Brown Leather Book Necklace with Rose

Silver Flower Book Necklace with Turquoise

Book Necklace with Vintage Book Pages

Polka Dot Book Locket

Literary Paraphernalia: Bookish Socks & Sweaters

I hear it’s pretty cold out there. Though most of our contributors are based on the West Coast, we do feel a pang of empathy for all of you readers dealing with this:

Seriously, what is this blasphemy?

The good news is that with weather like that, there’s plenty of time to get some reading done. And shopping, of the online variety. Below are some bookish socks and sweaters to help keep you warm.

Got My Number Two Socks

To The Lighthouse Pullover

Everyday Inspiration

I don’t like to make generalizations, but let’s face it, book lovers and writers tend to be an introverted bunch of people. We like to live vicariously through our stories—which is good because as much as I like reading about the zombie apocalypse, I’d rather not live it.

As far as writers go, most of the ones I know tend to fall on one side of the same coin. They are either, like me, of the get-out-there-and-experience-shit variety—because what better way to write about it? Or, they tend to be of the aforementioned introverted type. The classic writer, locked away in his room typing away.

But it’s important, regardless of what kind of writer you are, to get out there and experience life because inspiration can strike in the strangest of places. Here are just a few tips how:

Take Public Transportation

I have a few poems and short stories that have been inspired by a trip on the bus or train. Buses and other forms of public transit tend to be places where you can find all types of people and personalities. You can be sitting next to someone who’s homeless or someone who owns their own company.

Sometimes, being so close to strangers leads to some pretty memorable experiences.

One time, on my way to the Greyhound station downtown, a couple boarded the MAX together. The woman was swaying and slurring her words. It was 7 a.m. She was saying goodbye to the man she was with, but she wouldn’t leave, no matter how many times he asked her. The lights on the doors flickered. “The doors are closing,” a woman’s voice said on the loud speaker. But each time the door attempted to shut, it was stopped by the woman’s large bottom and wide hips. She swatted at the door like it was a fly.

It was a little funny and sad. And when she started yelling and another man on board started yelling back, a tiny part of me was even afraid. But then it ended. And I wrote it down. An anecdote in a larger story.

Walk Through the City

Make Reading “Diverse” Authors The Goal, Not the Challenge

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed Staff member, Alexis Nedd, published a post called “My 2015 Reading List Includes Nothing Written By White Men.” According to Nedd, “After a long time reading books written by people in publishing’s privileged majority, I want to spend a year seeking some balance in the perspectives and voices I take in.”

Are white men overrepresented in almost every aspect of the publishing industry, as Nedd states? Sure. Male authors still produce about 75 percent of the work being published. And while men make up only 26 percent of the publishing workforce, 89 percent of that workforce identifies as white.

Putting those numbers in perspective, however, also means that there is a great deal of work being published by authors who are neither white or male. Forbes estimates that somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year (nearly half of those are self-published). If even a quarter of those books are written by diverse authors—women and men of all shapes, colors, and backgrounds—then that’s still more books than one person can hope to read in a lifetime.

It’s hard to be critical of a personal commitment, like Nedd’s, that 1) gets people reading, 2) gets people talking, and 3) points readers to books that they may not have otherwise heard of. But my own bias is this: most of the books I read every year are written by women. That isn’t because the publishing industry shoves those books at me. It’s because I gravitate towards them, and I believe that’s how most readers are. Nicole, a fellow blogger, reads graphic novels because she wants to. And Tiffany reads YA because she wants to. Entire blogs are dedicated to specific genres because those are the types of books that audience can’t get enough of.

Is There Such A Thing As “The Great American Novel”?

I used to joke a lot about the “great American novel,” about how I’d like to write it. This was when I was younger and still thought such a thing existed.

Growing up, I read books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, and Catcher in the Rye without even fully understanding them, but for their greatness. The fact that we still read them at all was a testament to that. And later, in college, the reading lists in my American Lit courses grew even denser and long. I read Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Junot Diaz—a different sort of America I’d never seen up close.

How can one book represent all of those authors’ Americas? How can they represent my own?

Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, in a recent piece called “Why Are We Obsessed With the Great American Novel?”, wrote “America isn’t one story. It’s a layered and diverse array of identities, individual and collective, forged on contradictory realities that are imbued with and denied privilege and power.” In Strayed’s opinion, the “great American novel” is a collection of stories and voices, not just one shining emblem.

Paying For A Writing Contest: Is It Worth It?

To submit to today’s literary contests, writers can spend anywhere from $0 to $50. But generally, the average for entry fees is around $15. After spending countless hours tweaking every line and sentence of a poem or story, many writers find it difficult to fork over this kind of money.

It’s not just that many new and emerging writers are young students that makes this difficult. Most contests and journals take quite a bit of time to read submissions, even listing periods of up to six months in delay to hear back from their editors. Because of this, it’s not unusual for writers to submit one piece to multiple publications. If each contest charges $15 to enter, then the cost of doing so quickly adds up.

It begins a vicious cycle. Writers take better, more time-consuming jobs to help support their writing endeavors, but then soon discover they have little time or energy to write.

I may sound sympathetic here, but I’m not. I once went to a lecture given by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. She looked at the audience of hopeful writers and said “It’s no one’s fault you wanted to be an artist.”

It’s important that if you’re going to be a writer, you develop a thick skin. That when the author of a bestselling novel tells you it’s no one’s problem but your own that you decided to be a writer, you listen.

Writers, including myself, want to be taken seriously. On the bus the other day, a coworker began telling me about her friend, “the novelist,” who self publishes young adult books online and has now been picked up by a larger publisher. She’s making a living doing it, my coworker told me. I don’t know how, she went on, it seems like she’s never doing anything to me. I cringed. I suppose writing does look a whole lot like doing nothing from the outside.

Being taken seriously means not only desiring to be able to earn a living by the work we do, eventually, but also to be respected for that work. A long day of brainstorming and plotting might, to a stranger, appear a whole lot like me pacing my studio apartment in my underwear—but that’s how real work gets done folks.

Let’s look at the facts about writing contests:

Book Covers: Do They Matter?

While reading an article about self-publishing, I happened to stumble upon this fact about book covers:

“75% of 300 booksellers reviewed (half from independent bookstores and half from chains) recognized the look and design of the book cover as the most important part. They agreed the jacket is prime real estate for promoting a book.”

I struggle with this, because, to me, I fundamentally disagree that the cover is the “most important part” of a book, but on a marketing level, I supposed I understand. When I go into a bookstore or search shelves virtually on Amazon, I generally already have an idea of what I’m looking for. It’s either a text that my teacher assigned, a sequel to a novel I’ve been obsessing over, or perhaps something entirely new. But even when I purchase something new, the first thing I do is grab the book, turn it over, and read the description. I don’t see a pretty picture of a bird or flower on the cover, or maybe even a woman, whose back is mysteriously facing me, as is so common in chick-lit these days, and automatically decide the book is for me. But maybe there are readers who do.

In fact, I’m sure they do. As Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, points out in a recent article from The Huffington Post:

“Our brains are wired to process images faster than words. When we see an image, it makes us feel something.”

Or as Naomi Blackburn, top Goodreads reviewer, states in the same article:

“If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it. If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”

To be fair, an author might give away the responsibility of cover design when they choose to work with a publisher. If you ever plan on writing your own book or working in publishing, here are a few things to keep in mind during the design process.

For one, it’s important that the cover doesn’t give away too much.

…like the ending.
…like the ending.

It’s also important that your cover doesn’t give readers nightmares.

90 percent of dolls in America are victims of abuse.
90 percent of dolls in America are victims of abuse.
Is the child somehow involved in this? Do we really want to know?
Is the child somehow involved in this? Do we really want to know?

Throwback Thursday: How Tumblr Helped one Author Get Published

Last Friday, Publisher’s Weekly published an article called “What Tumblr Taught Me About Writing.” The article was written by Tim Manley, a writer who, after being accepted into two MFA programs in New York, decided not to enroll. Manley also decided to quit his job teaching a ninth-grade humanities class. That summer, Manley started a Tumblr called “Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings,” and by November, “Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings” had gone viral. The Tumblr gained the attention of a literary agent, who helped Manley turn the blog into a book, which was sold to Penguin that January. His story and appreciation to his fans is depicted in the comic strip below.

tumblr_mvz5x1vXkt1re3yz3o1_r1_500

(Credit: Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings)
(Credit: Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings)

At this point, some of you may be thinking that Manley’s story is the exception, not the rule. In order to see how realistic of an approach this would be to get an agent and a book deal, I interviewed Fiona Kenshole, a literary agent here in Portland who has previously worked as the Editorial Director at Harper Collins UK. After reading the article and viewing Manley’s Tumblr, Fiona had this to say:

This guy writes really well, so he would probably have found an agent whether through Tumblr, and MFA, or just sitting in an attic writing a query letter. Agents look for talent wherever they can find it–and the good stuff really stands out.

When Manley decided to forego more schooling and just write, he made the right decision. MFA programs are great for writers who still feel like they need to fine tune their craft, or simply want to make connections with other writers. But if you’re good, you’re good, and sometimes, you just have to force yourself to sit down and write.

When Can Writing Come First?

A few months ago, in a break between terms, I was looking for something to watch on Netflix. I wanted to watch something about another writer, something to make me feel more connected. Author’s Anonymous was on a list of movies for writers, somewhere, and my good friend and fellow blogger, Missy, recommended it, so I hit play. Frustratingly so, the protagonist, Hannah Rinaldi, doesn’t read books but, nevertheless, lands herself a publishing deal. She’s not the kind of writer I’d want to be, but she is a writer, who actually writes. “The writing comes first” is her mantra. No boys allowed. No distractions. And that part about Hannah I can respect.

Hannah’s fictional, but to put her life in perspective, Hannah (as far as I can tell) doesn’t have an actual job. She’s a young, twenty-something, living with her mom, who writes every day and attends a weekly writing group. She doesn’t read, doesn’t know who Jane Austen is, and can’t come up with a single author’s name when asked “Who’s your favorite writer?” Her book becomes an instant bestseller and earns itself a movie deal. It contains lines like “You’re my shining star.” And, just like that, everyone she knows (including the audience) hates her.

There’s plenty of reasons to hate Hannah, but I only hated her for her dedication. Hate isn’t the right word. I envied her.