What the Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference taught me about acquiring an agent

LITERARY MAGAZINESI’ve had a number of short stories and essays published in literary magazines. In addition to the satisfaction of getting my work placed in well-respected publications, it’s been a way for me to build my list of publishing credits. However, until I attended the 2015 Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference in Pittsburgh, I had no idea that getting published in a literary publication could draw the attention of an agent.

“Editors and agents read them. They study them,” said Lee Gutkind, speaking at the conference. Gutkind has been recognized by Vanity Fair as “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” and is the founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction, literary magazine and editor of more than 25 books.

“We will publish a piece in Creative Nonfiction and then an agent contacts us and says, ‘Can you give me the contact information on this writer? I wonder if they’re thinking about writing a book.’ ” Gutknd said.

In doing some further research on this, I found an interesting article in The Review Review, in which literary agent Nat Sobel said he found his client, Wiley Cash, upon reading Cash’s story in Crab Orchard Review. Sobol went on to say in the article that his agency reads 175 literary magazines on a regular basis.

I never would have imagined literary agents reading literary publications looking for clients, but it’s good to know that literary magazines are an avenue for us in pursuit of representation.

To Blog or Not to Blog: What I Learned at the Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference

I spent the weekend in Pittsburgh reconnecting with a friend of mine and while I was there we attended the Saturday portion of the Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference. At the registration table they told me that about 175 people attend from most major cities as well as a high concentration of people from the Pittsburgh area. I’ve been a subscriber to the organization’s literary magazine for CNF Registrationyears and have submitted work that unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) hasn’t been accepted for publication.

Be that as it may, I was pleased to finally meet the people who produce the literary magazines and blogs that have been a part of my life for many years.

During the morning session on how to get published, agents, authors, editors and freelance writers discussed the value of a writer having a blog. I found much of what was said useful even though I’m writing fiction. Much of the CNF Audienceadvice is transferable. Here are remarks from Jason Bittel, writer for the Species Watch column of Earthwire, Kristina Marusic, editorial assistant for Creative Nonfiction magazine and a coordinator for the annual writers’ conference, and Emily Loose, an independent literary agent, who in the past worked as an acquisitions editor for some of the top New York publishing houses. Lee Gutkind, “The Godfather of creative nonfiction” moderated.

Jason: Definitely yes. The best thing for you when you are pitching your book project is to blog. Strut your stuff.

Kristina: Having a blog is a great way to prove you can craft a compelling story. If you don’t have lots of clips, or publications, your blog can show what you can do. It’s also a great way to build a community and talk to other writers.

Emily: A blog is not time away from your work. It’s synergistic. The publishing industry wants you to make a brand for yourself. We think about the author’s brand constantly as we’re going about getting works published.

Lee: It’s not just your writing that you’re showing off in a blog, you are shamelessly showing off what you know. You are branding yourself and showing your special knowledge and skills. You’re not just a great writer, you have great evidence of all kinds of things.

So there you have it. A blog can definitely be worth your time as a writer. Hopefully this blog will offer dividends when I’m ready to shop my novel around for an agent. I’ll share more from the Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference in upcoming posts.