A passionate supporter of the writing community, Robin Stratton has been instrumental in helping fellow wordsmiths get their work out there. To that end, she founded both a literary journal, Boston Literary Magazine, and a small press, Big Table Publishing. As a writing coach for 25 years, Robin Stratton is especially well-known in the Boston literary scene, though she’s worked with clients from all over the country. In 2015, she started the Newton Writing and Publishing Center, where she promotes her Big Table Publishing authors as well as other local and national writers. In addition to her work in the literary community, Stratton is also a well-respected writer, having published several novels and books of poetry.
Novels vs. poetry
I never wrote or read poetry until just before I started my magazine; it simply wasn’t a genre that interested me, because I have always been a novelist. But once I tinkered with my first poem and was happy with it, I was hooked. Even though I don’t consider myself a “poet,” I do find that sometimes an event or news article or conversation will trigger a poem, and I can’t wait to sit down and write it. Writing a novel can take years – in my case, sometimes 20 years. But a poem can be done and tweaked and perfected in an hour or two.
I was a novelist struggling to get published long before I was a coach, and I remember writing queries to publishers saying that my book was “pretty much done.” One of the first things I noticed when I started taking on clients was how many of them would use that same phrase! So No. 1 tip: Don’t submit until it’s DONE. “Pretty much done” is never going to be good enough. I also tell my clients to read everything out loud, workshop their writing in a group, and research markets carefully.
As a publisher, I can tell you that nothing is more annoying than getting a query from someone who has obviously not even been to our website. Only submit what a publisher requests – no more and no less. And be ready to submit the whole manuscript if they ask for it. I can’t tell you how many people have submitted a decent proposal and, when I ask to see the rest of it, they admit that it’s not done yet or that they want to go over it one more time.
Writing center inspiration
Writers are inspired when they are in the company of other writers; the energy and enthusiasm makes them want to go home and write. That’s an important part of the center. I have often been called a literary cheerleader, which I love. Of course, seeking (and receiving with an open mind) feedback on your writing is the best thing you can do, but just as important is offering feedback [for others]; often we don’t see the weaknesses in our writing until we see it in someone else’s.
The sad truth about running a small press and a literary magazine is that you don’t exactly get rich doing it, despite the hundreds of hours each month. It’s vital to have lots of projects going all the time, and that cuts back – way back – on my own writing time. Sometimes I’ll head into the dining room at 4 in the afternoon and write for an hour, then write while I eat, and then write for an hour or so afterwards – then go back to my other work.
What she looks for in others’ work
We love narratives with a strong sense of character and are not as interested in descriptive writing. We love feeling as if we are getting to know someone; what drives them to behave in a certain way. We love human dynamics and peering in on people interacting, whether it’s lovers, best friends, or parents and children. We love being surprised by an ending.
Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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