Arts

Many students at the University of Ottawa dream of one day becoming professional authors, poets, cartoonists, or screenwriters. Image: CC/public domain

How do you get started in this business?

Like me, many students at the University of Ottawa dream of one day becoming professional authors, poets, cartoonists, or screenwriters (or dream of all these career-paths, depending on the day of the week). 

Some of us may want to be the next J. K. Rowling (sans recent scandals), some of us want to make honest work that resonates, if only with a handful of people. 

Many of us aspiring writers are young, having little clue what we want to say to the world through our art, let alone how to monetize it. 

However, everyone needs a roof over their head on rainy nights, and the occasional meal, meaning we have to adapt while pursuing our dreams of writing.

This article explores a few of the myriad paths you could take after undergrad to explore your writing dreams and perhaps churn out funding for the occasional meal. 

Sarah Priscus is a U of O student set to graduate with a bachelor’s in English at the end offter this semester. She’s been published in several literary magazines, including the Milk Candy Review, New South Journal, and Luna Luna Magazine. She finished the manuscript for her first novel in 2019, and is currently looking to get it published.

We chatted with Priscus about how she managed to secure a literary agent at an age when the rest of us are struggling to put together our end-of-term portfolios. 

“I was submitting pieces to literary magazines in first and second year. At first, it was just rejection after rejection.” 

Although it was hard, she eventually learnt not to take the rejections personally. 

The sheer number of submissions to such magazines makes publication extremely competitive. After numerous attempts, though, her work began to be published. 

“I think that period of short story submissions really hyped me up to work on my novel. I would use r/BetaReaders on Reddit to get feedback on my drafts. Because these people are a bunch of strangers and not close friends, they didn’t hold back. I found that helpful.”

After her manuscript was finished, she began to write query letters to literary agents. 

“A literary agent doesn’t charge any fees until after a book is published. Submitting query letters is completely free. I’d say the biggest investment would be the time and effort it took to draft those letters. After eight months of rejections, I finally connected with someone willing to represent me.” 

I also spoke with Suzannah Showler, a part-time creative writing professor at the U of O. And from the get-go, she emphasized that there is no set rubric to follow to make writing dreams a reality. 

“I’m wary of older writers trying to give younger writers tips for success without acknowledging that circumstances change over time. My life experience is not supposed to be an instruction manual. I mean, I barely wrote during undergrad.” 

Showler speaks fondly of being surrounded by young creative-types during her masters at the University of Toronto. It was in this atmosphere of excitement and innovation that she finished her first book of poetry.

“Publishing involves an intersection of talent and marketability,” she said. 

“I would advise young writers to make sure they’re ready before putting their work out there. I think art benefits from being insulated for a while from the demands of capitalism.”