EP 135: Reconceptualizing Success (2): How To Get Published! With C E Hoffman

Updated: Feb 18


Listen on Spotify.

Read the transcript of Part One here.


Summary:


This is the second episode about reconceptualizing success and how it's like to get published.


Episode 1, which focuses more on reconceptualizing success, can be found here: https://youtu.be/pfftFOmG1Tc


In this episode, @tete.depunk and I interview C E Hoffman, the author of "Sluts and Whores." “Sluts and Whores” is C’s debut collection of short stories and poems that challenge negative stereotypes of sex workers via a dark magical landscape. It was published by Thurston Howl Publications in 2021. This powerfully-written collection is nearing its one-year anniversary so we’re going to discuss what it means to be successful.


C covers how they’ve come to define success since publishing their work, while me and Tete touch on how Tapas has helped us define success.


We also explore how it's like to get published and what first-time authors can do to get published.


Check out C's website here: https://cehoffman.net/


Buy "Sluts and Whores" through Amazon and other online stores!


On Amazon.


Barnes and Noble.


The book is also available at other stores! Just Google "Sluts and Whores C E Hoffman" and you should be able to see other places you can buy the book.


Transcript:


Note: I've highlighted the main points of the interview in red.


Fortunus Games:


Hi everyone. Today, we are continuing off from where we left off last time with C E Hoffman, the author of “Sluts and Whores.” “Sluts and Whores” is C's debut collection of short stories and poems that challenge negative stereotypes of sex workers via a dark magical landscape.


The link to buy the book is in the description. This powerfully written collection is nearing its one year anniversary, so we've been discussing the ups and downs of publishing as well as what it means to be “successful” as a writer.


Part one of our discussion came out last week and there's a link to it in the description.


Tete.Depunk:


Yes, so picking up where we left off - what would be the option best option for a first-time writer seeking publication? Should they secure an agent or should they try to go about themselves by themselves alone? C E Hoffman:


Yeah, this is a great question and I think it deserves iteration from what we started to touch on last week, that it really depends where you're at in your career and what you're looking for and both of those are equally important.


You know, if you're really sitting there and you're like, I just want professional, traditional all the way, yeah, then an agent is the best route for you, but then, that means it will require a more rigorous process.


But if you're down for that, then do it. I think the most important thing to do is follow your star. Each person's star needs a different place to rest in the sky and as long as you're following it, you'll be imbued with all the tools necessary. But I can definitely get into some of those tools for suggestions.


Tete.Depunk

Well, absolutely, we would love to hear that. I mean, this would be very vital for many seeking publication.


C E Hoffman:


So say you're sitting like you described. You're sitting there, you've put all this blood and toil and love into this piece and presuming it's the first piece long-form piece you've written as well and you're sitting there and you really really get want to get it out into the world.


I mean, first of all, you need to congratulate yourself because you've done what a lot of people only talk about doing. But again, just like I first realized when the book was actually published, there was a lot farther to go.


It's the exact same thing with finishing the novel. You suddenly have a whole other journey to begin, but that's the joy of it too right, that's the joy of this artistic landscape that we've been blessed to have this sojourn in as artists, right?

So the first thing that I would suggest - because I don't just want to talk about publishing because like it's easy to tell you where to go to look for publishers, but I want to actually ensure that people are going to get published and feel good about that and achieve that goal.


So the first thing and most people know this, especially if they've read Stephen King's book on writing, but you need to sit, you need to crack your champagne or cuddle your cat do whatever you do to celebrate and then you just need to let it soak. Let that manuscript soak, you know, let it age beautifully for a little bit. Everyone's different. Sometimes for me, with a short story, for example, I can let it sit for just a few hours and then come back to it and do what I need to do.


But for a long-form, I would definitely suggest leaving it alone, letting it rest for a week for sure. I’m not sure the length of time I can suggest, probably longer, but for me, I would say wait a week, chill, let your brain rest because then you're going to come back to it with a fresh mind, with a fresh heart. It's a little less yours if you just let it sit for a week, then you come on to it totally new.


This is a bit of an aside too, because the next thing you're going to do is read through it from beginning to end, whether out loud or in your head.


Give yourself time to do that as well. Try to read it like it's new to you and that first demon of self-doubt is probably gonna pop up. It's so common for me, even with “Losers and Freaks,” which I'm sitting on now and am soon to query to agents about, once in a while, depending on my mood, I'll open it up and I'll look at it and I’ll go, “Oh, is it good enough? I don't know if it's

good enough.”


So that'll happen and the key is to just try to be as objective as possible. You're gonna want at least one read-through just to get a feel for it. You're gonna want one read through as a pre-editing process and then yes, of course, you are going to want to edit it.


Oh my gosh, as an example, the second novel I ever wrote was written back in high school.

Its original manuscript was written back in high school. It is now 10 plus years later and I have not only revised it but rewritten it. The plot has stayed the same, the characters have changed a bit, the plot has stayed the same, but I’ve rewritten it for its actual syntax at least five times.


So that's just giving a little bit of an idea of how long a haul this can actually be and this is kind of presuming that you're wanting to go a more professional route, especially if you're wanting to get agents.


Again, with self-publishing, it's yours. You know, it's your DIY punk show, do what you want with it. Like I did self-publish a poetry book in 2017. It's called Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948, a little nod to J D Salinger in the title there. And I just Kickstarter fundraised for it. I drew the cover myself and I just got some staple-bound copies at a little printing place.


I was in Halifax at the time and my goal with that book was to distribute all the copies, whether I sold them or gave them away or sent them to libraries and I did so.


Guess what? That was a success because that was my goal for that book, but I'm kind of thinking more in the lines of either you're wanting to go with an indie publisher or you're wanting to get agented and then go with a larger publisher, so definitely be prepared to sit on it for

a long time.


Which is another reason why I want to emphasize getting your writing out there in shorter form fiction if you're a fiction writer. Start getting your stories out there and for that I do have a very practical non-abstract tool for that.


I really recommend Duotrope. This is not an endorsement. I literally like fiercely recommend them. They do have a free trial that you can use and you can always just use that and then just write down the magazines and publishers that you like. Otherwise, I think it costs 70 Canadian dollars a year, so depending on your budget, it might work, it might not, but I, at least for the

free trial, I recommend it.


It's a search engine devoted entirely either to publishers of both long-form and short-form fiction so it'll come in handy later too as well as agents.


So the first thing I'd suggest with Duotrope is start with those short-form magazines. Start reading the magazines. Figure out where your voice might fit. Try to create relationships with the editors. I know some amazing editors like Mallory Smart of Maudlin House magazine and publishing house.


Amazing. She has a great book out too that I’m really excited to check out. She has a great podcast as well, it's called Textual Healing and her and I actually have again that idea of collaborating these relationships that you create.


Don't just think about, “Oh, I want to get published, I want to get published.” You won't get a lot of joy or even pride from that, but definitely keep on working on that catalog while you're sitting on your beautiful masterpiece. Let it rest, let it be revised, and after all that, however long all that may be, the next thing is beta readers.


And not just your friends. Yes, start with your friends. By all means, you're gonna need that little arm punch of, “Oh my god, you wrote a book, what the heck!” You need that and you deserve that, absolutely, but after that and after you’ve asked for feedback from your friends and family too, they'll give it to you by all means, but absolutely, I would recommend at least hiring one beta reader and one sensitivity reader especially if you feature any characters who are minorities of any kind. That's really really essential, I think, to make sure that everyone's voices are properly heard and not wrongfully and often just accidentally skewed from ignorance.


That's really really important and after you've done all that, including creating more of a publishing catalog - and I have a little amendment there too, because you don't have to just create a CV by way of publications. That's important, but writers are creatives, we're collaborators.


Just do anything that contributes to the artistic community in a meaningful way, whether that means you're going to be volunteering at a creative arts program in an inner city project in your city something like that or like this amazing podcast you two have. That goes on the CV! That's an accomplishment. You two are cultivating a wonderful space for creatives to convene. That's already doing something as a writer, you know, so make note of those accomplishments.


Host events. Host your own little E-Zine. I mean, I’ve been publishing and editing my E-Zine Visceral Uterus since 2012.


So you have those things again to prove I'm serious, this is my life. That's really the message you want to show these people. Of course, unfortunately, at the end of the day, a lot of them don't care if it's your life. They just care if it's going to make them money, but the right publisher or the right agent will really want to listen to your heart and they're really going to want to see

that you're serious about this.


So I would definitely recommend all of that. As for traditional education, I am yet officially educated as a writer. I actually recently applied to a creative writing bachelor program out in Ontario and I'd be very excited to do that because I'm ready to hone my craft in a very serious way. But I hope to possibly be agented before I even procure that degree, so as much as I am giving this bullet point list, I do think it's a good place to start with.


Things can be done out of order, because this is life, you know. There's no rule book to life. There are helpful guidelines and suggestions and I think there's definitely some moralistic considerations that we all need to take to heart, but beyond that, you really need to follow life the same way you follow your muse. You need to follow what feels right for you at any given time, but yeah I would say those are definitely my checkpoints for prep. I would call that all publishing prep to make sure you're really ready.


Tete.Depunk:


That is so vital. Thank you so much for this advice. It's been such an eye-opener because I think a lot of especially first-time writers, or rather, let's just say inexperienced writers, who have yet to be published in any kind of format, there's kind of a wide-eyed naivety that it's sort of an old-fashioned traditional thing where you know you put it in the paper packet, you send it off

to a publisher, they read it, they love it, they publish it.


I think a lot of writers have that kind of wide-eyed naivety, but here, you've presented the prep to it letting the work rest, carefully ruminating as you culminate everything, as well as the different practical steps and everything.


C E Hoffman:


Well, yeah, and of course, that's all just preparatory, which again, it's such a mountain to climb, which is why I think it's so important to focus on the joy of the climb, because there's just another mountain waiting behind.


But you know, it's an amazing view the higher and higher you get. So yeah, I think if I'm like, if it feels good for me to just go on with this, I can go on to, “Okay, now you're ready to query. Then what. I can definitely move into that and I will start.”


Actually, the great thing about this aspect, querying, or pitching, you can call it - I think it's more referred to as pitching with non-fiction. The great thing about it is whether you're looking at an indie publisher, a traditional publisher but still a smaller one or you're looking at creating an agent, they're actually going to be wanting the same material as a rule, so that's really really nice.


It will vary a little bit, but no matter what, oh, I'd be very surprised if this wasn't the case for an agent or publisher. You're gonna have to get your query letter ready. They're the bane of many authors, myself mercifully not included, except for some of my ridiculous experimental novels. It's like how can i condense this, I have no idea.


And for querying, there's lots of good formats to follow. The best one I would recommend looking at is Query Sharks. It's this blog that a literary agent posts and it's a kind of a fierce idea. You don't have to send your own query letter, but what she does or did - I don't know if it's now defunct - is people send in their query letters from their real novels and she edits them and gives advice based on what she sees. It's harsh critique, but it's valuable critique as well. I've learned so much reading all of those blog posts. I never sent one in, but I read all of the feedback that she was giving to other people and it was totally invaluable.


I'm so grateful to her that she was willing to do that for writers, because she knows how many of us really really want an agent and she's showing you, “Well, this is what we're looking for. This is what we're rejecting, but basically, a query is going to consist of:


  1. A first sentence that's a pretty good hook, hopefully, introducing your protagonist and their main problem or at least something about them that's going to make people want to read longer.

  2. Two to three more sentences setting things up, definitely leaving it on a bit of a cliffhanger so people are like, “Ooh,” and then you introduce your title, you know, and it's usually a certain structure and again.


The publishing industry is changing all the time, so I don't know how much this has changed, but for me, this is still the format I follow and nobody has complained yet.


So it would be like, I think, mine said something like after that little intro, you know, that little four or five sentence issue intro, “It's a 40k word #OwnVoices urban fantasy short story collection” and that's long. That's not ideal, but I did feel the necessity of putting the #OwnVoices tag right because in this case, I was just pitching. The publishers knew immediately the context of and that this is lived experience stuff for me, that this isn't just something I'm playing around with.


But usually, just give the word count, the genre affiliation, a demographic affiliation, if you want. Like you could say, “An urban fantasy novel or short story collection, whatever it is, and then you have a little paragraph under that which will kind of complete the story, give a little more detail, what are the machinations, what are some other supporting characters. You don't want a synopsis yet. You don't want to give too much away. You want to kind of go more into why it's important and then if you have time or space.


You can introduce yourself. Some agents, especially, will actually ask for a short bio. always do that third person. List any recent publications or anything that makes you special or anything that makes you kind of an expert on this. That also really really helps, which is why for me, #OwnVoices writing has always been really valuable, because I can say this is lived experience, you know, this isn't just something I'm making up, I mean, the pixies and stuff I make up, but

I like to think they're real in their own way. They're meta-real.


But so, that's what you really want to do with that. Agents will sometimes ask for synopsis outright, which is my bane.


That's my Achilles’ heel, that's my whole Achilles’ tendon. I hate synopses because the synopsis, it's literally, beginning to end, summarize the story you know. It's like a book report and I can't get over writing a synopsis and feeling like it's a bad translation of Marcel Proust.


You know, this happened and this happened, that this happened. So if you want advice on a powerful synopsis, I'm afraid you're going to have to look somewhere else. Some agents on the off also request a sample chapter, which is often up to 50 pages. They'll usually want you to attach that in as a Word document, but some of them specifically just want a query. If they're interested, they'll get back to you


And now the rest. For me, when it comes to looking for agents, that’s yet uncharted for me, because I am looking to agent.


But as a rule, the next step, if they're interested, if they haven't requested sample pages from the off with the query, they'll ask for sample pages next. Send that to them. If they like that, they'll get back to you and ask for the full manuscript.


And that's the really nail-biting period, because then, at that point, that's when they write back and say, “Thanks, but I'm not really sure how I could market this. Best of luck with your work” and you know, you got to get used to those rejections. It's just like submitting your stories, I mean, even recently. I've written some new stories and had them rejected, you know, two, three, times in a row and it never gets easy.


I'm highly neurotic, you know, with the big five traits. I have high trait