Friday, February 15, 2019

How to Write and Publish—4—Short Pieces, Self-Publishing

Writing, as explained in the three previous posts, is the process of getting ideas out of your head and translating them into a readable form. Putting your musings on paper is a huge step, but communication really happens when someone else reads what you wrote.

Publishing is the process of getting that writing out to where others can read it. If it’s scary to take your ideas and put them into a document for the first time, it’s absolutely terrifying to put that writing out before the eyes of others.

This is all part of using the voice God gave you, of listening to that persistent voice in your ear or thumb in your back, and of sharing your unique message.

The publishing process varies with the length and style of writing, its intended audience, and whether it’s distributed by yourself or someone else.

Today we’ll talk about publishing short pieces of writing and doing it yourself. “Short” is article length, maybe a few thousand words.

Today’s writers have landed in a propitious moment as communication has switched from paper to digital, from a laborious and difficult process to a few clicks, and from only a few gatekeepers in the industry to everyone potentially being their own publisher.

Here are a few ideas for spreading your work:

To one person, or a few
To many people
Paper and ink
Individual letters
Photocopied form letters,
Newsletters, booklets, tracts,
Group emails

Blog posts
Facebook posts

Never underestimate the value and validity of a letter. I know people who wouldn’t consider themselves writers at all, yet they pour their hearts and stories into personal letters that are a joy to read.

My dad's letters always begin with, "Dear Ones in the West,"
HOW TO: If you’re too young to remember letters in the mail, you might want to learn that art from a grandma.

As a child and teenager, I had lots of penpals. It was a magical process—getting a letter in the mail and answering it. Depending on the receiver’s personality and the type of relationship we had, I could insert all kinds of witticisms and craziness in my letters to them, knowing they would understand. 

In between pen pals and blogging came a strange little newspaper called The Eye that I produced sporadically during my years as a teacher and a few years into married life. It served no real purpose except as a creative outlet, and I was lucky to have friends who acted like they were happy to receive it. Production involved several evenings of typing, cutting, pasting, and photocopying.

I had forgotten that poem, which has since been relevant to many situations, 
not only school board meetings.
"Entreating with the Lord
At a meeting with the board
I have found to be the standard and procedure.
And the long and dull discussions
On the weather, life, and Russians,
Have relevance to school things: very meager."

I dug out my old Eyes to get a picture and may have gotten a tiny bit distracted.

: I’m not sure anyone should try to replicate The Eye, but you have permission to be as creative as you want with paper and ink or online.

One writer who combines writing and illustrations is Striped Pineapple.

As a young mom on the mission field, I wrote monthly form letters on our primitive computer and mailed them out to a list of family, friends, and supporters. The letters often took a week or more to arrive, and a reply might come back weeks after that, but all the people on our list made us feel supported during long winters and tough times.

The feedback from those letters helped me improve my writing and prepare me for a larger audience later on, although I was unaware of this at the time of course. 

Sometimes I wrote a story and everyone misunderstood it. Or they got exactly what I was saying. It all helped me communicate better.

HOW TO: Form letters are still the communication of choice for ministries and missionaries, but there’s no reason you can’t send out form letters on your own, just for fun. Type one up, print it off, send it to friends, and see what happens.

Blogging was a natural transition once I was introduced to the internet. I was still in charge of the process, but everything about publishing this way was so easy and free. No paper, no stamps, no photocopying—and I could reach hundreds or thousands of people with the same amount of effort.

Wikipedia says:
A blog is a discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries. Posts are typically displayed in reverse chronological order, so that the most recent post appears first, at the top of the web page.

HOW TO: If you want to get started blogging, go to or and follow the instructions. If I can do it, so can you. My children will verify this. You can adjust your settings to restrict comments, if a public discussion makes you uncomfortable.

Eventually I switched to email for much of my personal communication, but I didn’t get into mass emails until after I had a newspaper column. I would copy the column and email it to my list of maybe 300 people every month.

An email list is a rich resource when you start publishing. I have friends who invite people to sign up for regular updates, devotionals, or articles. I send a notice to my email list when I have a new book coming out or a book signing coming up.

We’ll talk later about finding a publisher for your book. One of the words you’ll hear over and over in the publishing world is “platform.” Even a beginning author is expected to have an audience and a platform, which is unfair and unrealistic, in my opinion, but meanwhile a list of email subscribers can be a good foundation for your platform.

HOW TO: To develop an email list, send a letter out to everyone in your current address book letting them know what you’d like to send out regularly and giving them the option of signing up. Also, invite them to forward the email to others.

You can send them updates, articles, or fun meandering letters, like my Georgia friend Rhonda Strite does.

I think her letters are dispersed to people she chooses, but her blog is open to all, and it gives you a good taste of her writing. Here it is. 

Make sure you always use the “blind carbon copy” feature for group emails.

In recent years, I’ve done less blogging and 
more posting on Facebook, usually quoted conversations or 4-paragraph cogitations that seem too short for a blog post. Some people like to do longer posts on Facebook.

Again, you are your own publisher and you can post whatever you want.

HOW TO: go to Sign up for an account. Do a search for people you know, and invite them to be your friends. If they like your posts, they might "share" them with others.

When you publish your work in any of these ways, people will read it. If your words resonate with them, some of them will let you know. Their responses will tell you whether or not you communicated clearly what you wanted to say. There’s no shame in finding out that everyone misunderstood you. That’s how you learn.

Be brave. Write. Find a way to share your work. Learn a lot. Keep writing.

Post 5: Edits and critiques.
Post 6: Publishing short pieces via a publisher.

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