Fortune Society writing class – July 9, 2018


First and foremost, sign up for a library card! It's free and it's easy. You can go to any library branch (Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island branches are part of the New York Public Library system, branches listed at and Brooklyn locations are at ). The libraries also have great, free courses on everything from computer basics to meditation to languages. Those are listed at and   Librarians can also help you search for, find and check out all kinds of books. They are there to help, and even if they seem intimidating, just walk up and ask and they can and should help you. 

You will need an e-mail address and account to access a lot of library resources.  You can sign up for free at 

Stephen King’s On Writing – best book I’ve read on how to write clearly and cleanly.  Available at New York Public Library + Brooklyn Public Library.  (Everyone in New York can get a free library card – just go to any branch and ask where to sign up.  A librarian can help you look for and check out books.)

Lagos Ejri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing – this is focused on fiction/novel/play/short story writing, rather than nonfiction writing, and is useful for any writer.  Great analysis of some standout plays and why/how they work.  Also available at New York Public Library + Brooklyn Public Library.


* A few people in the world who’ve never published anything—meaning they’ve never had an editorial, or an essay, or anything, appear in a publication—get a book published on their first try.  That’s not most of us.  Try building up with a few smaller articles, essays, etc. before you try to get a book published. 

            Before you submit anything, read the submission guidelines. Places will immediately reject your work if it’s not the right word length, or not sent in the right format.  Then, read a ton of the site/magazine’s other pieces in the genre you want to submit in to get a feel for what they like, how long they are, what topics they’re interested in, etc.

Some places to start:

* Short stories (fiction, usually 2,000 - 10,000 or so words)

* Nonfiction (i.e. not made up – something that really happened to you, which is called a personal essay)

* Op-eds (which stand for “opposite the editorial page”)– these are strongly argued opinion pieces about something in the news. You need to be an expert on it in some way and know more about it than the general public – so incarceration would be a good topic, for instance. They need to be tied to a specific piece of news; it can’t just be general thoughts on a topic.

New York Times:

Daily News:

USA Today:

Washington Post:



* First, read as much as you can.  Find authors you love and in the genre you want to write in (meaning, if you want to write a thriller, focus on thriller writers).  Analyze how they do what they do and learn their tricks—if you’re visual, you might diagram how a favorite novel works, for instance.

* Finish your book! You will need a complete book as a first-time writer. Books should generally be between 80,000 – 100,000 words. Make sure it is structured neatly, in chapters, etc. – it should look like a polished, professional book.

* Get as much feedback as you can.  Give your book to friends, neighbors, etc. and ask for feedback: when do they get bored? Which characters do they care about and not care about? It can take years and years to get a book right, so be patient and keep going back at it!

* Once you think the book is ready, you will need an agent. Think of the agent like a sports agent for a star quarterback, and the publisher as the team that the quarterback ultimately ends up with. Publishers don’t accept un-agented works, so it’s not worth trying that route. You will first need to write a “query letter” – which is sent as an e-mail these days – and that quickly explains who you are and what your book is about. 

   To find the right agent for you, try looking in the acknowledgments section (the “thank yous” section) at the back of books you liked; most authors will thank their agents. Write down that agent’s name, then Google them to find out what agency they work for and how to contact them.  You can also look on Internet directories of agents like - but they can be kind of overwhelming.

  Again, check each agent’s submission guidelines – which will be on his/her website.

  I strongly suggest using a subject line that will make you stand out, such as “Submission from former maximum-security prisoner” or something. They get TONS of queries and this will, I think, pique their interest.

This post summarizes how to do it nicely:

* A word about writing: If you don’t love writing, it’s a very hard way to make a living; even if you do love writing, it is a very hard way to make a living. It should always be a side hustle—it’s not going to make you money for a long time, if ever—but it should also be something you love doing. It’s not worth it otherwise.