Advice from Chris Sciabarra on getting published mainstream

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The following discussion is not exactly on writing technique, but it deals with an essential element all authors have to face.

There is an article by Chris Sciabarra I read awhile back on the old SoloHQ that has stuck in my mind, as it is the only one I know of within the Objectivist world on getting published in the mainstream. It is called, "Spreading Objectivism: Tips on Getting Published in Popular Media" and is published in Free Radical, Volume 55. It came out on SoloHQ on May 6, 2003, but can no longer be accessed at RoR or the new Solo.

Chris has been so kind as to allow me to publish a portion of it here and provide the link to the full article:

In the first part of the article, Chris narrates how he managed to see an opportunity for a Rand feature (Roark, actually) for the New York Daily News' Big Town Chronicles series, made the queries, studied the venue and its format, then wrote an article which was published.

I've always believed that Objectivist writers should work toward publishing in more and more popular venues. Clearly, Rand has become a part of the cultural Zeitgeist. She can be found in popular music (e.g., the progressive rock band, Rush), in film ("The Passion of Ayn Rand" and "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life"), in television series ("The Simpsons," "South Park," "Judging Amy," and "Queer as Folk") and even in comics (especially those of Steve Ditko and Frank Miller).

One way to affect the dialogue is to work toward packaging Objectivism for popular audiences. Here are a few tips on how to work toward that end:

First, learn to be an intellectual entrepreneur. The Austrian economists have helped us to understand the role of entrepreneurship in the market. The word "entrepreneur" literally means "undertaker"—not as in one who embalms the dead, but in active terms as one who undertakes a plan, organizing and directing activities toward the achievement of a goal over time. In Austrian theory, the entrepreneur seeks out profit opportunities. The entrepreneur often serves an epistemological function, bridging the gap between ignorance and knowledge, sometimes directing resources toward the satisfaction of consumer demand, sometimes creating the resources for whole new markets that serve human needs.

An intellectual entrepreneur can serve a similar function. Take an active role in bridging the gap between public ignorance and your knowledge of Objectivism and Ayn Rand. Direct your energies toward satisfying the public's continued interest in Rand, while creating the context for a whole new appreciation of what Rand has to offer. This means keeping your eyes open to "profit opportunities." If a newspaper is running a series that might be relevant to Objectivist ideas, craft a piece that meets the needs of the series while serving the goals of education. Pay attention to current events: If a specific news item is calling out for a specifically Objectivist response, do your best to craft that response with reference to those events. Answer editorials or op-ed pieces with letters to the editor. Remember to follow the style and length requirements of the letters section of the newspaper in which you seek publication. Don't give them an excuse to reject your contribution. And don't sweat it if you can't get Rand's name into the newspaper; ultimately, it's the ideas that matter.

Second, learn to craft these ideas for the distinctive audience that you target. Every audience has its context of knowledge and its interests. Study the venue for which you wish to write. Study its "flavor," its "style", the ways in which ideas are conveyed. This is not a question of "selling out" your style; it is a question of packaging the substance of your message in a manner that is accessible to the audience you wish to reach. The needs of a scholarly or specialized audience will be different from the needs of a general audience. Always aim for unit-economy in your exposition. (For terrific hints on writing and on judging your audience, see Rand's Art of Nonfiction; see also my "Dialectics and The Art of Nonfiction," The Free Radical,

Third, get some feedback from other readers prior to submitting the piece. Odds are, if somebody has an objection to the way you use a word or formulate a point, somebody else out there will voice the same objection. You can't write a piece by committee, but you can preempt criticism or outright rejection of your piece if you pay attention to your critics.

Nobody likes rejection. But sometimes, you need to take a chance. Be persistent. Don't give up. As Mom used to say: "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

In brief, here is a recapitulation:

1. Look for an opportunity for what you write (nonfiction on Rand in this case).

2. Study the venue and format your work for that audience.

3. Get friendly feedback from people you trust before submitting the final draft.

Then there is what he said in the first part of the article:

4. Make the queries or do whatever you need to do to get noticed by the publisher.

And finally, at the bottom:

5. Keep at it and don't give up.

This same strategy can be used for fiction and poetry in mainstream publications - not just for writing on Ayn Rand. But it is a very good one for writing on Rand.

There is no reason to limit your writing to the confines of the Objectivist community and many good reasons to branch out. Chris spread his own name and Rand's by going through the standard steps for the market. The hundreds of emails he received from that article (and probably the check, too) are just some of the good reasons for doing it that way.

Thanks for the advice, Chris.


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