Pro Tips: A Review of Allison Joseph’s Craft Talk
Monday, March 21, in room 301 of Morgan Hall, saw the introduction of Allison Joseph, poet, professor, and editor, to the University of Alabama campus. At 4:30 in the evening she gave a craft talk, focussed on submitting written work for publication. Joseph, head of the Crab Orchard Review literary journal and head of the Illinois-Carbondale MFA program at Souther Illinois University Carbondale, began by speaking on proper cover letter etiquette.
She stressed “remember your name.” An odd request, she admitted, but she explained. When writing cover letters, a writer sometimes uses multiple aliases. In the introductory sentence of the letter, she may refer to herself as Jane Smith. In the salutation, she is J. Smith. On the return address of the envelope, her name is J. A. Smith, and the editor is left to wonder where the A came from. Joseph stated it is better to stick to one name and leave the others for another letter.
Joseph spoke about the content of the letter; the editor does not need to know every detail about the writer. She does not need to know that the writer was a freelance reporter for her high school newspaper, or that she runs a blog viewed by a handful of her friends and family. The editor should, however, know about her other publications, awards she has won for her writing, internships and positions she’s held in the literary world. Joseph suggested keeping the biography simple, only including the important tidbits, so as to avoid over selling. Joseph also warned against overselling the work itself; chances are it will not be a “revelation” or the best short story/poem/essay/novel in the world; be positive, believe in the work, but be realistic.
Professionalism is important, Joseph said, particularly when faced with rejection. Joseph recalled an incident when a woman was told she would not be published in Joseph’s literary journal. After hearing that her piece was still a good one and would probably be published elsewhere, the women reverted to a “four year old toddler” state and whined, “But I wanted to be published with you!” Not very professional. Neither is storming up to editors, demanding to know why a loved one’s book isn’t being published; this happened to Joseph at a writing conference, and the husband of the rejected writer was none too happy. Moments like these are a good way to never be published, and Joseph warned against these emotional outbursts. Be polite, be confident, and walk away with head held high if the answer from a publication is “no.”
In attendance at the talk were University of Alabama students and faculty. The event ran smoothly and professionally and the audience sat in quiet attention as Joseph spoke. The talk concluded with an announcement reminding the audience of Joseph’s reading taking place that Thursday at the Jemison at 7:30 in the evening, where she would read her poetry and sign books.