Q&A with Beth Ann Fennelly on the Business of Writing

Beth Ann Fennelly

Beth Ann Fennelly is a poet and novelist who has taught English for nearly twenty years, and was named the Poet Laureate of Mississippi in August 2016. Her latest book, Heating and Cooling 52 Micro-Memoirs, was published in fall 2017. We are grateful that Beth Ann took some time to tell us about her experience with the business side of writing.

Katrina Byrd: What advice would you give to an emerging author on where to submit?

Beth Ann: Submit to the magazines you love to read. If you can, subscribe to them as well; it’s important to support art and artists, especially if that’s our tribe. One way I like to find new magazines is by checking out a writer’s bio or the acknowledgments page in a book I admire.

Katrina: In your experience, what is one thing that is vital to managing a successful writing business?

Beth Ann: This question is hard for me to answer only because I’ve never really thought about what I do as “managing a successful writing business.” I always feel I could stand to improve on the “business” part. For example, I just got on social media last year, after resisting for years, but my editor at Norton ordered me to before my new book came out!

But I would mention one small thing that I have learned to be true: in the writing world, as in the world-world, it pays to be nice. I have tried to take as my role models the kind of folks who want others to succeed, who don’t give in to jealousy. I remember once getting an email from someone who was submitting to a contest and thought my work would be perfect for the same contest. I entered the contest and won—and I’ve always been grateful to that writer and have followed her model of generosity. So I email people when I think of their work in connection with some prize. I try to be especially supportive of young writers—for example, attending student poetry slams or visiting writing groups—because I know how validating attention can be when you’re just starting out. And while I haven’t done these things to advance my career, I’ve often found that later someone became a reader of mine due to some community I was a part of. So I’ll get an invitation to give a reading that will begin by referencing some small thing I did for him or her, and it feels awesome to think of the many ways we create community and the many opportunities we have to support each other.

Photo by Mike Stanton

Katrina Byrd

Katrina Byrd is a student in the Low Residency Creative Writing MFA Program at the Mississippi University for Women. Katrina is a writer and playwright who has received four Artist Minigrants from the Mississippi Arts Commission. Several of her short plays have been performed locally and several of her short stories have appeared in Inflight Literary Magazine, Black Magnolias Literary Magazine and Monkeycyle Literary Magazine.

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