I wasn’t thrilled to delete a favorite chapter from my latest book – a story about how several kids’ books my neighbor placed in my family’s Little Free Library helped my young daughter to overcome anxiety and depression. But I cut it anyway because I agreed with my editor that the tone and content didn’t mesh with the rest of the chapters. Still, trashing the piece I’d labored on and loved hurt. And so, on a whim, I revised it as a stand-alone essay and sent it to Real Simple.
The magazine accepted it. Editors published it along with a photo and my bio. I earned a hefty paycheck and a top-notch venue in which to showcase an essay directly related to my nonfiction work Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019).
Savvy authors know that even if they find themselves “killing their darlings” during the revision process, those beloved chapters and essays and paragraphs can find new life in magazines and newspapers, in blog posts and online giveaways that build an enthusiastic audience for longer work.
Burn it – but save the ashes
Oregon author and publisher Kim Cooper Findling never published her memoir about the birth and death of her first baby. She wrote and rewrote it for five years, trying to find a central theme in the story…then gave up and literally lit the manuscript on fire in a sort of farewell ceremony. Still, pieces of the book have made their way into her published essays for years.
“Sometimes you have to walk away from a manuscript. Sometimes you literally have to start a fire.”
Hip Mama published the first excerpt, “Just a Few Hours,” in the early 2000s. Editors at the magazine published another excerpt, “Baking Cupcakes for the Dead,” in 2019. “That felt very bookendish,” Findling says. “The first piece was immediate and in the moment, while the second piece was much more reflective.” Another piece, “Roots and Flowers: Loss, Grief, and Growth,” appeared in True North Parenting.
“Sometimes you have to walk away from a manuscript. Sometimes you literally have to start a fire,” Findling says. “But publishing as many pieces as possible in as many places as possible helps to build your audience. The goal is to get your voice out there. Even if it’s not in a book, readers develop a taste for your style and subject matter, and they begin to seek you out.”
Having learned from her first manuscript, when Findling found herself cutting a chapter from her memoir, Chance of Sun (Nestucca Spit Press, 2011), she submitted it to High Desert Journal, where it was accepted for publication. “It was one of my faves. I was determined to place it somewhere,” she says.