Q&A with Windy Lynn Harris: Getting Past “No”

Windy Lynn HarrisQ. In one sentence describe who you are as a writer.
A. I’m that woman peeking out from behind the pole over there, studying human behavior, sorting through the data.

Q. What is a market coach for creative writers?
A. A Market Coach is a mentor who reads your short prose and helps you figure out who’d like to publish it. I discuss long-term and short-term publishing goals with writers and point them toward the shortest route to both. I teach writers the industry standards of query letters and manuscript formatting, contract negotiation and professional etiquette.

Q. You have been a speaker at writing events. What is the most common question people ask and what is your answer?
Writers who come to my presentations want to know where to send their stories and essays and poems. Luckily, there are several hundred literary magazines out there looking for writers. My favorite resource is The Review Review, an online magazine dedicated to helping writers navigate the world of lit mags. I’m the Tips editor there now, but I’ve been reading TRR since long before I joined the staff. You’ll find a searchable database under the Magazines tab and there’s also a monthly Classifieds section with calls for submissions. You’ll never run out of places to submit your prose!

Q. Where you are in your novel writing?
My virtual computer drawer contains one terrible novel, two sort-of-okay novels, a pretty good novel (that came close to selling), and the second draft of a project that I think has a real shot at filling shelf space someday. The current project is a war-of-the sexes story set during a time when men and women have been separated for their own health. And it goes horribly wrong, of course.

Q. You have more than 70 bylines in a variety of magazines. What is the secret to getting a “yes” from a magazine?
A. When you send a polished piece of writing to the right editor for your prose, you’ve got a potential match. Up your chances of publication by behaving professionally. Query a specific person, for a specific reason. Format your manuscript. Follow the submission guidelines. Write your best stuff and then send it to magazines you like.

Q. How is writing for print different from writing for online magazines?
A. The lines have really blurred between these two mediums in the world of short literary writing. Online and print both offer writers a chance to be read by a wide audience.

Q. What do you wish people knew about you as a writer?
A. I get more rejection letters than almost every other writer I know. Yes, I get published a lot, but the “no thank you” bin outweighs the “yes” bin every darn month. There isn’t some magical number of bylines you need before it gets easy to publish your work. You gotta keep at it.

Q. Are you more invigorated by writing or by helping other writers?
A. I just love being in the world of writers. Many of my clients come as referrals from editors and writing instructors, but a lot of writers find me on Twitter too. Some have been writing short stories, essays and poems for years, and some are just starting their journey. Some are novelists and memoir writers who’ve been told that publishing short writing can establish a platform before approaching agents and publishers. And others are creating shorts as their primary art form. I am eternally inspired by all of the different paths available and all of the writers I get to meet.

Q. You wrote in a guest blog about taking risks (as a writer), what does that mean for you at this point in your career?
A. I’m six months into a personal challenge: write shamelessly. To me, writing shamelessly means to tell the stories that come out of me without letting that annoying internal editor stomp through my page. Some days I think I’ve mastered this skill, but then I have an attack of self-doubt. I, and my process, are still evolving.

Q. What are you working on you want people to know about?
A. Breaking news: there’s a Market Coaching for Creative Writers book in the works! I’m finalizing the proposal for that this month, and I’m gearing up for a January Market Coaching session. There are a few spots still available. Details here: www.windylynnharris.com

I’ve also got a story out in Pithead Chapel this month, and another forthcoming in Literary Mama. Just signed a contract for an anthology project with Crack the Spine that will publish this summer, and I’m gathering stories for my first short story collection. More about all that at www.windylynnharris.com.