Monday, July 26, 2010

In matters of taste, there is no dispute

In an attempt to improve my writing skills, I decided to attend a free writing workshop at the Atlanta Public Library today.

I heard somewhere (in an interview with the Degrassi actor turned rapper Drake, actually) that Denzel Washington still takes acting classes to perfect his already perfect craft. Drake said he was inspired by Denzel's recognizing that he can't become complacent and still be competitive in his industry.

Although I do not currently have a writing career, I plan to in the near distant future. What better way to start it off than with some much-needed well-guided instruction from a pro?

Author's Corner: A Writer and Publisher's Workshop is a series of classes taught by James Taylor who is a librarian in Fulton County and hosts a television show where he interviews famous authors. Taylor has met with countless authors in his time, including Terry McMillan, Nicholas Sparks, and E. Lynn Harris with whom he considered to be a friend before he passed away recently. The main focus of Taylor's instruction this evening was to give writers hoping to publish their work some advice and to explain the difference between traditional publishing vs. self publishing.

Here are a few valuable points from this class:

1. The book The Literary Marketplace 2010 is an essential guide to both types of publishing. In it, you can find the names of all of the publishers in the U.S.; listings for literary agents who can help writers get a publishing deal; instruction on writing a query letter (like a cover letter for a job, but for written works); and a list of contests/awards/fellowships that writers can apply for to gain recognition and make some money in the process.

2. There is a Catch 22 when it comes to publishing:
- someone wants to read your work, so you need your work to be published
- in order to get your work published, you need an agent to market it to publishers
- you need the agent to consider your work, however, they won't unless its published
(I wondered if this was the same double blind scenario that Joseph Heller had to face with his own work)

3. Traditional publishing is for people with a lot of money (borrowed or their own) who pay a publisher to take care of all of their distribution for them. Then depending upon the connections that this publisher has, the writer can become very successful with getting their book out to the world. Whereas, self publishing requires less money but you have to make all of the decisions yourself including where the book is distributed to. Also, the writer must sometimes pay extra to have the content copyright protected, to get an ISBN #, and even to add color onto the cover art!

After learning this information, I must admit, I was very overwhelmed. Then Taylor mentioned something that turned it all around...he asked us all one simple question:

What do you want to accomplish by publishing your work?

Taylor explained that for some people, it is enough to publish a collection of poems or short stories and distribute them to loved ones or around their immediate community. For others, they want the recognition of being an accomplished writer with thousands of adoring fans. He said that the choice of which type of publishing to use should be based on what we would like to get from the experience.

For a writer who has no gimmicks (Kardashian charm) to launch my own fan base (like a reality tv show, sex scandal, or sports career), a combination of both publishing styles seems like it may be a good fit. Apparently, there are several self-publishers that will allow you to pay a fee so that writers can receive around 100 copies of their work. Then if the self-publisher is affiliated with a larger book selling company, an interested reader can order the book from that company. If enough copies are sold and there is interest in the content, a literary agent may be more inclined to represent the work. Then a writer can gain a better publishing deal. Here are the self-publishers that Taylor highlighted:

Xlibris $399 for eAdvantage Publishing Package

Lulu $599 for Novella Publishing Package

iUniverse $599 for Select Publishing Package, affiliated with Barnes & Noble

BookSurge/CreateSpace $758 for Total Design Freedom Standard, affiliated with

Disclaimer: These companies will get your work out there but there is no guarantee as to how many readers will gain access to it.

Overall, the main point that Taylor tried to impress upon our class of budding writers was that De gustibus non est disputandum. This latin phrase means "In matters of taste, there is no dispute." He is saying that a literary agent or publisher or reader could love your work or they could hate it. The writer just needs to couple their talents with perseverance and if they are lucky they may have the kind of success that they have hoped for.

I will save some of the other pearls of wisdom I learned from this writing workshop for another blog. I hope this information was helpful to anyone interested in getting their work out there to the masses. I plan to attend a few more workshops in the coming weeks so I will let you all know how they go!

For any of you budding writers out there, check out your local library's events calendar. You may be pleasantly surprised to find classes in your area that can help you to advance your own writing careers.

If you know of any self-publishers or books that are helpful for writers trying to publish their work, please post them in the comments!

Jessica Ebony


  1. Wow... that's some food for thought. I never knew it was so difficult to decide which route to take.

  2. this is a great post! very informative :)