When I go to thrift stores, I always make sure to snoop around the used book section. Thousands and thousands of pages full of writing, lying there to collect dust. What overlooked insight might they contain?
Often, unfortunately for me, not anything particularly interesting. Dr. Phil’s advice on how to lose weight; a wrinkled, old, lurid romance novel featuring its authoress, Joan Collins, on the cover in full Dynasty garb; kiddy books given away once their readers have grown too old. It’s the thrift store, not the Library of Alexandria, and I know not to expect much. Instead, I know to walk the aisle like its a graveyard, ruminating over the stories these dead books contain, paying my respects to the Halo novel whose cover is completely torn off, and appears to have suffered water damage.
Every so often, however, I come across something mildly interesting, at the very least.
It was a journal with Anne Gedde photographs of babies in flowers interspersed between its blank, snow-white pages, waiting to be written in—all but one, that is. A single page was fully tattooed with blue ink. I felt a thrill when I saw that on February 29th, 1996, a teenage girl decided to take a brief snapshot of her life:
“I feel that I have no one to tell my thoughts and feelings. Today was a good day, but then again I try to make every day a good day. My parents always hold these standards that I have to meet up to and sometimes I wish I could just forget them. I can’t, so I work hard in school, but it always seems that I don’t work hard enough. I’m a little worried of what’s gonna happen to me, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. I’m gonna try to keep this journal and write in it periodically. Besides, I need somewhere to keep my thoughts and this is just the thing I can keep them in.”
Needless to say, her experiment in keeping a journal failed after that one day. So, what of it?
Maybe I’m a nut, but writing, as a way to put a hold on and process our complex emotions and experiences, absolutely fascinates me. Here is the brief, inconsequential rambling of a random, worried teenager from two decades ago, and here I am, sympathizing with a stranger who I’ll likely never meet.
Hopefully, the author is still alive and well, and doesn’t even remember scribbling her thoughts onto that page. Whatever troubles she faced at the time, may have faded, or more likely evolved into different, more complex struggles. I can reflect on the times I have felt the same way as she did, and I recognize ways I have both moved on and fell back into those feelings. The fact that she never wrote in that journal again tells a story in itself. Perhaps that leap day in 1996 was just one bad day where she couldn’t contain her thoughts. Maybe she got too busy living to dedicate time to writing. Maybe she questioned her choice of a journal, and didn’t want photos of babies mixed in with her confessions. It was just a little page of messy thoughts, and yet, it made me feel nostalgic for a life I’ve never lived. In fact, it has me thinking of the strange times I’m living in now, and the others living it beside me.
Everyone has their own story to tell. Everyone has their own unique lens through which they view the world. And yet, our stories are all intertwined.
Writing opens our hearts and minds to feeling understanding and connection towards ourselves, others, and life itself. Whether we, as writers, are exploring unanswerable questions, or we, as readers, are sympathizing with them, there is something universal and miraculous about this very human invention. Writing—even as a completely private endeavor—encourages us to understand and explore the ways that we and others view the world. Writing can be like a mirror to our own humanity.
Sei Shōnagon, a noblewoman who lived in 10th-century Japan, is one of the world’s most famous diarists. Although her diary, “The Pillow Book,” was intended for her eyes only, for centuries, it has offered colorful insight into classical Japanese high society. It has also enthralled its readers with a vibrant capture of the author’s wit, perception, and personality.
“I love the way, when the sun has risen higher, the bush clover, all bowed down beneath the weight of the drops, will shed its dew, and a branch will suddenly spring up though no hand has touched it. And I also find it fascinating that things like this can utterly fail to delight others.”
The fact that, through writing, I am able to read the thoughts and experiences of a person I will never meet—that we, as humans, invented this form of communication—fascinates me to no end. Despite time and distance, I can almost see what she saw. I can almost feel how she feels. Writing, like a photograph, can almost capture our complex societies, feelings, and souls.
Even when we are only writing for ourselves, there is value in making sense of our experiences. Even if it’s trivial. Even if we’ll burn it after. Even if it will end up collecting dust in the back corner of a thrift store. And as we navigate this busy world, often foregoing any reflection at all, I, also, find it fascinating that things like this can utterly fail to delight others.
Putting your writing, or any kind of art for that matter, out into the world is a daunting act of vulnerability. There is so much to consider when publishing a piece, whether you’re pitching a novel to agents, submitting your short story to an online platform, or uploading some poetry to your personal social media. One big question many writers eventually face is, how will anyone find this? For many creatives, the only thing worse than putting out the art they spent hours laboring over only to get terrible feedback, is to get no feedback at all. One way you can quell this sort of dread is to take matters into your own hands and promote yourself. By starting a writing platform, you have the potential to gain an audience before you even finish that first draft.
What is a Writing Platform?
Essentially, a writing platform is any kind of self promotion or marketing that attempts to reach your target audience. Writing platforms can come in many forms from websites to social media to podcasts. Anywhere you can get your name out into the world is a good place to start.
Beyond that, having a strong writing platform can make all the difference in how commercially successful your work becomes. Having some sort of following paves the way for many opportunities in your writing career. Publishers are more likely to take on authors who have pre-established followers. This is because it is a smaller business gamble to take on a writer who already has a dedicated audience. Publishing houses can use the size of a writing platform’s following in order to make essential estimates such as how many copies of the book to print and which styles of promotion will be the best to reach new readers. Even if you are considering indie publishing, having a pre-existing fan-base basically ensures that you’ll have people excited to read your book when it releases.
The backbone of any online platform is the website. Though it may not be the most alluring part of the process, it is essential to have a well-designed website that people can rely on for information about you and your work. A website that will promote you and your writing in the best way possible should include a short biography explaining who you are and the genre/style you predominantly write in, contact information, some of your strongest writing samples, and a professional-looking photo of yourself. Beyond that, feel free to get creative with how you deck out your website. You want your online presence to reflect you and your writing, so emphasize your personality through other aspects of your site. You can have an entire page dedicated to blogging about your favorite tropes, including some deleted scenes from your current manuscript, character art, anything.
Beside your website, you will also want to have a few social media accounts where you can promote your work and link out to your website. Most social media experts encourage that new brands start with two social sites that you can post to regularly before venturing out to other platforms. When picking the social media you want to focus on, you should consider your target audience. For instance, if your writing is geared towards adults, you would want to look into creating a Facebook page. However, if your audience is on the younger side, something like Instagram would be a great place to gain traction.
It’s also important to consider which social media sites would be best suited for your work. This means finding a website whose interface and algorithm would be most beneficial to the content of your book as well as the content you plan on creating. If you’re not sure which of the many sites are right for your marketing approach, you can look at writers who produce work similar to yours and take inspiration from their writing platforms. If you write poetry, you can model your social strategy after Rupi Kaur, whose instagram presence helped her to find success. Youtube, while slightly more time consuming than other social media, is a hotspot for writers and readers. If you write any form of YA or New Adult books, Youtube would be a perfect place to start researching for your platform.
What to Post
Now that you’ve narrowed down the social media sites you plan to tackle, It’s time to consider what kind of content you want to put out for your potential readers. When making this decision, you’ll want to tap into your creative mind. While taking inspiration from other writing platforms is a good way to start, you don’t want your content to look like a knock off or blend in with anyone else’s work. So, take some time to think about how your writing stands out from the rest, and use that to create a unique platform.
Regardless of what you chose to post, it should be engaging for other users. There are many ways to build up a following on social media. The most crucial thing to keep in mind is consistency. Having a schedule and a list of pre-planned ideas can help you stay on top of your posts. And, if you do ever happen to skip a few days (or even a few weeks), don’t get discouraged, just pick up right where you left off.
Other ways to grow your audience would be to vary the kind of content you post. If you only post self-promos, it’s not very likely that your audience will stick around. Try mixing up your profiles by posting snippets of your work, updates on your writing progress, fun world-building details, anything that will generate excitement for your upcoming works.
Once you have an established following on a platform, you should focus on engagement and continued growth. There are many ways authors interact with their audience through social media. Some of the more common and successful approaches are going live to answer follower-submitted questions or offer advice, learning more about your audience through poll questions and responses, writing contests, and giveaways. No matter what you do, interacting with your followers will help you connect with your audience in a fulfilling way.
While the idea of starting a writing platform may seem intimidating, the best way to deal with those nerves is by getting started. As you build your platform, remember that patience is important. No matter how engaging and groundbreaking your content is, it will take people time to find it. Staying consistent and persistent is the best way to go about creating public interest for your work. Your writing deserves an audience, and a writing platform can give it the opportunity to reach the perfect readers.
Very little has managed to remain untouched by the impact of quarantine. As many writers know, the publishing industry along with the writing community as a whole have taken some severe blows as a result of the pandemic. However, amidst the chaos of change that we have all experienced at some point, one integral part of the writing world has managed to stay intact. In fact, it has even flourished during lockdown. Zine production amongst Gen Z creators blossomed during the early months of quarantine. And, unlike the many fleeting trends that surfaced in the past year, zines continue to grow in popularity.
A zine, also known as a fanzine or a webzine, is a form of self-publishing where an individual or group creates a magazine-structured work of art filled with whatever they desire. Though there are some disagreements about when this style of publication began, many point to the 1930s as the birth of zines as science fiction fanzines were popularized. From there, zines took on different forms and roles in subcultures. Some of the most notorious eras of zines stem from 1970s punk and 1990s riot grrrl movements. With many subcultures and scenes utilizing zines as a mode of creativity and expression, one thing has remained the same: that they are a staple for alternative communities.
In 2020, indie and ‘alt’ teens found their place within the internet, allowing them to quickly develop similar fashion styles, music tastes, and interests. They have created their own community connected by social sites. However, with the abundance of free time created by lockdown last spring, a few teens took on the task of self publishing. Slowly, promotional pages for indie zines started to pop up on the Instagram ‘explore page’ and Tik Tok’s ‘for you page’. And then, it caught traction. Just by liking one post from these accounts, you could find yourself falling down the rabbit hole of Gen Z zines. Hundreds of accounts with followers ranging from the hundreds to hundred thousands exist, and for the most part, all of them have open submissions. In the matter of a few months, alternative internet communities have managed to move beyond pixels. Using social media, they have gathered photography, articles, short stories, poems, fashion advice, short films, and practically any form of media you can create from people around the world and turned it into a tangible zine.
With this renewed interest in zines, Gen Z is also changing the production process. Prior to the internet, zines were more of a local venture. Often, someone would come up with an idea for a zine and create it themselves, sometimes as a solo mission, and other times with a team of close friends. These were the sole contributors. Distribution looked different as well. Zines were traded, sold, or simply given out at practically any and all places including book stores, record shops, zine fests, and concerts.
Rowan University professor and zine enthusiast, Jason Luther, recounts zine production when he first got involved in the culture during the mid-90s, “My parents had a basic DOS-based computer which had both pre-AOL internet service called Prodigy…. I basically remember writing terrible essays, record reviews, and type up interviews with bands I reached out to and then print them out on a dot-matrix printer.” As for the means of distribution, he comments, “I’d assemble these in my kitchen and mostly sell copies at shows by just going up to strangers (which I absolutely hated). Eventually I would drop some at local record stores in Buffalo”.
As for these new-age zines, things function a bit differently. Instead of having one or a few contributors, most of them utilize submissions from across the world. This allows them to have a more diverse outlook as they include many distinct voices. Still, they can face the issue of continuity. With so many contributors, it can be difficult to get a cohesive voice and tone across articles. Distribution is also extremely changed. Especially with social distancing mandates temporarily closing venues where zines were traditionally sold, publications are mostly reliant on online orders. Aside from that, zines are also slowly sneaking into the corporate world that they once rallied against. As Luther mentions, “They also circulate there [social media], blurring distinctions between print and digital, and are sold via places like Etsy and Urban Outfitters, which are corporately controlled spaces”.
While this change may not seem that substantial to people outside of the zine production, it means a lot to potential contributors and their submissions. Younger writers now have an entire different side of the publication world to explore. Most professors and writing mentors will suggest that newer writers focus on sending their work to literary magazines. Of course, there are many benefits to submitting to more traditional magazines, however, there is a certain freedom that only zines possess.
“Zines are raw,” remarks Luther. “Zines today are much more focused on identity…”. Zines offer contributors and readers alike a way to see a reflection of themselves in print where they otherwise wouldn’t within the confines of mainstream media. Which is why having a wide variety of voices in contemporary zines is so important. Without diverse perspectives and alternative outlooks, zines would not have the charm that has allowed them to maintain vital parts of subcultures for so long.
So, submit your work to a zine! Let your most honest and truthful writing be seen. “Submit to one, sure!” Luther suggests, “but also, make your own! That’s how communities develop and how you’ll create writing that is specific to your audience.” Creating zines is a great way to express yourself and highlight your interests without any limitations. There are no word counts, no prompts, and no rules.
If you attend Rowan and are fascinated by zines and the world surrounding them, make sure to check out Jason Luther’s course offered Spring 2021 semester, Self Publishing. Beyond learning the ins and outs of self publishing, students will also have the opportunity to create their own zines with guidance from Luther himself.
We are introduced to books at a very young age. They are read to us as forms of entertainment and bedtime stories. We learn to read using them. We learn how to tell stories. If you’re a writer, books most likely had more of an impact on you than most. I think it is this that should make us aware of the responsibility we have to readers to make stories that make them feel safe, seen, and enthralled.
In order to do that, we have to explore a fundamental question: Why do we read anyway? More specifically, why do we read fiction? If we are not reading for the purpose of research, why do we still pick up the books? Why do we feel compelled to reach for the book about dragons, the books about everyday life, the love stories? Why do we choose books about people who offer different perspectives?
Why do we read?
That answer may vary from person to person. Some may read books that remind them of their own lives, they want to feel seen. Some want the exact opposite--they want a book about an entirely different world with characters nothing like them. They want an escape. Some read to learn about others’ experiences. Some want to be comforted by a story, while others want to be frightened. Some prefer happily ever afters, while others long for a tragic or bitter-sweet ending. Our tastes and what we want evolve over time. We become different readers, and therefore different writers. But does what we read at younger ages influence what we read as we grow up?
After asking about ten people, I found various results. There were a lot of the same favorite books from childhood. This may be due to the fact that most of the people I asked were in the same age range. Popular favorites during childhood include Junie B. Jones, The Magic Treehouse, The Gallagher Girls, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, The American Girl Doll books, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I think this selection of books makes perfect sense. Kids love using their imagination, so books series such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and The Magic Treehouse give them that outlet. On the other hand, Junie B. Jones and Diary of a Wimpy Kid offers a relatable story that helps kids feel seen--and they’re humorous.
Popular books that were listed as favorites now include One of Us Is Lying, Darius the Great is Not Okay, Simon vs The Homosapien Agenda, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Welcome to Night Vale. Like the books from childhood, each of these books aim to either be relatable and show voices that may have not previously been given a platform, or to create an entirely new world where we can escape to. These seem to be the primary reasons for why we read.
More than anything, we remember books that make us feel things. Sometimes specific plot points and quotes get blurry overtime, but what lasts is the memory of how that book-- its story and its characters--made us feel.
So what does this mean for us as writers?
I think that if you do write creatively and you aim to write novels, it's important to create art that is authentic to you, but you should also consider the audience. Not only from a marketing perspective, but think about how they might benefit from your story. Are you going to offer them solace, escape, education, or comfort?
It’s important to consider what we want out of a book when we read it, and apply that to our own writing. Of course write what fulfills you as a storyteller, but remember that if you are meaning to share this story with the world, it will impact others as well. This is the ethical responsibility of writers. Considering how your words are going to affect readers, especially when writing for children or young adults, is vital to the process.
The correlation between people’s favorite books as children vs now seems to be that in both cases, at these very different stages in their life, they are seeking escapism and/or visibility. It is our job as writers to give that to them. One other thing that fiction does for readers is offer a different perspective.
We only have this one life, and it's sometimes hard to grasp the many different types of lives other people are living. By reading about the lives of people different from us, fiction encourages empathy and understanding. This is why it is so important to uplift voices of marginalized groups in fiction, as well as other genres. Not only does it help marginalized audiences feel seen, but it offers a new perspective for those who may have never considered how other people live.
Something interesting that I noticed while comparing responses to the most popular favorite books as children vs now is that as children, it seems most of the books read were very white, heteronormative, and male dominant in terms of characters and plot. However, looking at the more popular books as the respondents grew up, there is a lot more diversity in terms of race, sexuality, ability, and gender. This may be due to the fact that exploring identity is a convention of the Young Adult genre. But it is important to explore these themes in children’s books as well. From a young age, children should be able to see themselves and people different from them in these stories. While I think this is improving, the work is nowhere near done.
This all ties back to that question. Why do we read?
To feel seen, to escape, and to learn. To understand and to be understood. That is the goal of reading, and therefore, the goal of writing. Our perspectives as readers have to feed into what we write. Passing on what you get out of reading, whatever that may be, into your own writing will give others the opportunity to experience the reason you love reading. Isn’t that the point of storytelling?
Sidestepping Stereotypes: An Interview with Students Scott MacLean and Georgia Iris Salvaryn on LGBTQ Stereotypes in Literature--Marissa Stanko
Stereotypes abound in literature. They become part of formulas, stock characters or situations that are used across genres. But stereotypes are just generally accepted assumptions about groups of people, and many times, not only are they untrue, they are hurtful and dehumanizing. Everyone deserves representation in literature. I’ve gathered two members of the Writing Arts student body and of the LGBTQ community, Scott MacLean and Georgia Iris Salvaryn, to discuss LGBTQ stereotypes in literature and how to avoid them in writing.
Writer’s Insider: What harmful stereotypes have you seen in literature and other media?
Scott MacLean: So one of the most prominent stereotypes that I see usually involves gay men being obsessed with straight men or straight-acting men. It reinforces this predatory idea that all gay men want to seduce masculine straight guys. Another thing I've noticed is sometimes it seems like they include a gay character just to check off a box, and then the character is just a shallow one-dimensional character with no backstory or progression (e.g., the gay best friend). The worst stereotype is the fixation on sex, as if that is all gay men care about and they just can't control their libido. So many of the movies I've seen that are labeled "LGBTQ" are about drugs, partying and sexual encounters.
I think sometimes people are just trying too hard when they write gay characters or not nearly hard enough. I'm also so tired of seeing gay characters die or have unhappy endings. Why can't they get married in the end? Why can't they ride off into the sunset? I understand it's important to show the struggles that people in the LGBTQ community face, but I don't think that every story has to end in tragedy.
Georgia Iris Salvaryn: I have only recently started reading and watching LGBTQ literature and media, but I have heard that many times, the author/creator forms their LGBTQ characters based on mainly stereotypes. I'm personally not sure if that is just something that is "inescapable" (in other words, if the person who wrote the book or created the media doesn't identify as that sexuality, how can they otherwise write the character if not based on some stereotypes?) or if it's their choice to create generic characters and/or "drama" within the story.
“Sometimes it seems like authors include a gay character just to check off a box.”