Monday, April 7, 2008
Mike's Writing Newsletter/Issue #4
An Inside View of the Art, Craft,
and Business of Writing
Vol 1, Issue 4 April 5, 2008
Editor in Chief: Michael P. Geffner
Layout & Design: Bailey-Shropshire Professional Writing Services
Marketing Director: Marie Sultana Robinson
Logo Designer: Jennifer L. Miller
Staff Writers: Jeanne Lyet Gassman, Bev Walton-Porter, Kim McDougall, Marilyn L. Taylor, Barbara Crooker, Patricia Fry, Whitney Lakin, Forman Lauren, Mark Terence Chapman, Angela Wilson, Joshua James, Lea Schizas
Copy Editor: Melinda Brack
A Word from Mike
Dear Newsletter Subscribers,
As many of you already know, I’m a big believer in staying positive and running as fast as I can from negativity.
I don’t like hearing the phrase “writer’s block” said in my presence; don’t like listening to writers whining constantly about bad editors, bad editing, or mean rejection letters.
If we are to succeed as writers and enjoy the fruits of artistic fulfillment, we need to fight through all these temporary setbacks, all these trivialities, all these minor inconveniences.
We need to stay strong and inspired and spiritedly creative. We need to believe in who we are as writers and what we have to say in our work.
So repeat after me:
I am a good writer getting better every day.
I am strong enough to fight the hard fight of the publishing world.
I believe in my words, no matter what anyone says.
I will not let distractions bother me.
I will continue to write my heart and my soul, and I will make it as a writer in the face of all the odds against me.
Got it? You better. Or else I’m running from you like a sprinter bursting off the blocks.
Best always and, yes, stay positive,
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Grow Yourself as a Writer
Inside This Issue
The Spotlight Interview: Barbara Crooker
Jeanne’s Writing Desk
Guest Column- Michael Levy
Publishing to the Power of Dee
On the Writing Business
Writing Quotes of the Month
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
Fun Lit Fact
Talk the Talk
Guest Article- Moira Allen
Tip of the Month
The Writing Life
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The Spotlight Interview
To say that Barbara Crooker is a prolific, widely lauded poet is a considerable understatement. Ms. Crooker has published over 575 poems in such respected publications as Yankee and The Christian Science Monitor, anthologies such as Worlds in their Words: An Anthology of Contemporary American Women Writers, and 10 college textbooks. Her first full-length book, Radiance (2005), won the Word Press First Book Award and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize. Line Dance, her second collection, was published in January 2008. She’s the recipient of the 2006 Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the 2004 Pennsylvania Center for the Book Poetry in Public Places Poster Competition, and the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award; plus, she’s been nominated for a Grammy Award (1997), and an incredible 26 times for the Pushcart Prize. One critic once wrote of Crooker that she “writes largely about the concerns of ordinary life: raising children, planting a garden, mowing the lawn. She feels that in her work, the word ‘I’ in a poem is not a product of the imagination, but rather, comes from real experiences. All of her writing exemplifies this ideal. She strives to make her poems true to events in her life, while allowing them to live on the page independently, as lasting acts of language.” And of Radiance, famed humorist Garrison Keillor wrote: “(It’s) a pleasure to read, straight through, for its humor and intelligence and for the sheer bravery of sentiment. It dares to show deep feeling, unguarded by irony. It’s a straight-ahead passionate book by a mature poet and rather suddenly I’ve become a fan.” In addition to the following exclusive interview, Ms. Crooker is a regular newsletter contributor of poetry tips and prompts. To find out more about her life and poetry, please visit her Web site at: http://www.barbaracrooker.com/
To see her new book, go to:
Mike: I know that you took up writing fairly late in life. How did you get started?
Crooker: I was in my late 20’s. I had taken one creative writing class as an undergraduate, but now was a single mother with a small child, and going through a divorce. One day, I picked up a copy of a little magazine from Mansfield State Teachers College in northern Pennsylvania that had some poetry in it, and it blew me away. These poems were written by Diane Wakoski, whom I thought, in my ignorance, was an undergraduate there. I was fascinated both by her and her words: How did she do that? How did she say so much in so few words? Perhaps if I'd realized she was a famous writer, I’d have been intimidated, but I read her work over and over, trying to figure out how she got from point A to point B, and then I thought to myself, “Well, maybe I could do something like that.” So I wrote a couple of poems which pleased me when they were done. And then I kept on writing, one poem following another for about a year, when I met my second and current husband. When we decided to get married, he asked me if I would like to go to a summer writing conference or get an engagement ring. I chose the conference.
I had already published a few poems at that point, but I was a seeker, I wanted to know how to get better, and I also wanted to study with one of the writers there, someone who shall remain nameless. I was ready to begin learning about craft. It turned out that this nameless writer was there for a vacation, and only wanted to socialize. In the workshop itself, there was very little critical attention; in fact, the rule was that writers could read their work aloud to one another for appreciation, but there was not to be any feedback. Which wasn’t very useful.
Another writer at the conference, an accomplished fiction writer named Asa Baber, knew how disappointed I was to not have my manuscript critiqued, so he said, “Why don’t you give it to me and I’ll take a look at it?” After he had given it some thought, we sat under a tree and talked. He said, “I’m afraid I can tell you aren’t reading anybody contemporary. I don’t want to discourage you, because you’ve done some interesting things here. But what you really need to be doing is reading what’s being written today.” Boy, was he right. I had lots of influences, like Yeats, Hopkins, Dickinson, people from the past, but I didn’t know much at all about what was being currently written. The class I took in Contemporary American Literature only included Dead White Men. What he said was, “Keep going, but throw away what you’ve written, and start doing a lot of reading.” He was very kind, and somehow, I wasn’t crushed. It was the best advice I could have gotten. I had no idea what was out there in magazines of the mid1970’s, so it was a real eye-opener. It was as if I’d just stumbled through the underbrush onto a path that wasn’t really clear, but I was going to walk on it anyway.
Mike: Did you publish right away?
Crooker: Yes, I did. But I didn’t know what I was doing. You can publish work that isn’t very good. Publishing your work isn’t necessarily a sign that you’ve arrived. There’s a hierarchy to these magazines.
Mike: Was there anything unusual about your childhood that led to you being a writer?
Crooker: I did a heckuva lot of reading. I was one of those kids with my nose in a book all the time. Even when I was sent outside to play, to “get some fresh air,” I’d slip a book under my shirt and shinny up a tree so I could keep on reading. I grew up in a family that loved books.
Mike: What time of day do you mostly write?
Crooker: Are you kidding? I write all the time—scrawl in a small notebook, jot things on napkins, and the like.
In the context of real life, life with children (two daughters and one son), there were years when I only wrote during naptime or nursery school.
I’m at my desk between 12:30-3:30 PM (which is metaphoric; I don't have a real writing desk, or a “room of my own,” just a corner of the dining room). In the beginning of the process, I write in longhand with a pen (a black-ink roller ball—it has to be black), on a lined, yellow pad.
I start out in longhand drafts because I want the physical connection, from the mind to the hand to the page. At some point, five, six, seven drafts into a poem, I get eager to see how the lines are falling, so I go to the computer and do another oh, 10-20 drafts or so there.
But my best place to write is away from home, at an artist’s colony called the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Here, for 8-10 days, I can stop being a “mom,” get up early, write all day and into the night, between 10-15 hours a day. Now, some of this “writing” time is spent reading, walking, thinking…This is my idea of heaven, and if left to my own devices, if I had no other responsibilities, (but who has no responsibilities?) this is what I would do.
Mike: Is writing hard for you?
Mike: Do you pain over every word?
Crooker: It’s pains-taking work, but not painful. This isn’t agony for me; it’s a search. If certain words aren’t right and I think the poem is three-quarters of the way finished, it can drive me nuts. What I’ll do then is put it away and not look at it for awhile. Let the subconscious do its thing. It’s amazing that I then look at the same piece again later, with fresh eyes, and suddenly see exactly what’s wrong with it. The word I needed comes floating up out of nowhere. But if I were trying to work on it every day and worrying it to death, the solution would resist me.
I try to trust the inner music of the poem, and if it wants to have long lines, or short ones, so be it. Because I’m writing on paper first, I try to not, as much as possible, impose my will on things when I'm in the early draft stages, and I don't fool around with line lengths until I move to working on the computer. Then there's a shapeliness I aim for. I don't like to have a bunch of short lines and then suddenly a very long one, unless I'm trying to do that for a particular effect.
Mike: How long does a poem take you to write on average?
Crooker: There is no such thing as an average time for me—they’re all different, with different time frames.
I know I have poems that I’ve worked on for 5-10 years, simply because I knew there was something I wanted to write about, but didn’t know how to find the way in.
Sometimes, long first drafts turn into two or three separate poems.
And there are also a handful of poems that simply came out fully done and don’t get revised one bit. They wrote themselves. We call those “gifts.”
I’m still open to revising everything, even things that have been published several times. If something occurs to me that’s not quite right about a poem, I’ll change it and keep changing it, until it clicks.
I once went to hear Donald Hall read from his collected works, and as he was reading, he started scribbling in the margin of his book. When the Q&A time came, someone asked him what he was doing, and he said, “I heard a clunker there. I’m going to work on that one some more.”
Mike: That’s a poet’s mentality, isn’t it?
Crooker: It definitely is.
Mike: How can you tell when a poem is done?
Crooker: Paul Valéry, the French author, said, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”
Mike: Yet you’re so prolific.
Crooker: No, I’m not prolific, just old. I’ve been writing for over thirty years. It might seem like I have a lot of poems, but that’s simply the weight of all.
Mike: Do you outline at all?
Crooker: No, I don’t. I never know where a poem is going. Robert Frost said: “If you think you know where it’s going, then start there.”
Mike: Where do your ideas come from?
Crooker: Everywhere. I write about what engages me, for whatever weird or quirky reason.
Mike: Are you a trained writer or did you train yourself?
Crooker: Both. I was an English major and art history minor in college, then got a master’s in English Literature. That’s one sort of training. But I don’t have an MFA, or a mentor. I’m “outside the loop,” self-taught, an autodidact.
Mike: Do you write anything other than poetry?
Crooker: Poetry is all I really want to write. I’ve recently done some essays about poetry, and I’ve written twenty or so reviews of books of poetry in the past year.
Mike: When you go back to your early poetry, what’s different about it?
Crooker: In some ways, believe it or not, there’s not a whole lot of difference. My voice showed up right from the beginning. In other ways, though, I know how to do more things now with the material, because of what I’ve learned about the craft. I think my current work has deepened, has more layers and nuances. I’m purposely trying to have 2-3 threads going in a single poem that somehow come back together at the end. Sometimes this works, sometimes it fails, but every day that’s spent with some desk time is a good one.
Mike: In the workshops you conduct, what are the biggest problems you encounter with beginning poets?
Crooker: Especially with the younger ones, it’s very dark and full of angst, or all about love, with too much abstraction— the curse of the beginning poet. There’s nothing concrete—no specific images—that helps you enter their world.
Abstractions are a nice, cozy way to hide behind your feelings. As a teacher, I find that my hardest task is to get people to leap from using abstractions to concrete imagery.
Another way of putting this is “telling, not showing.” Beginning poets want to tell you exactly how to feel. They want to give you the punch line ahead of time. The more serious writer wants to show you things, have a dialogue with the reader that says: “Hopefully, you’ll feel the same thing I feel. But only if I choose the right details.”
Also, when you write for public consumption, you need to have an audience in mind. Poetry is a form of communication, not navel-gazing. You have to imagine who your audience is and how to reach them.
Mike: What is your teaching philosophy?
Crooker: I want people to write about what they’re doing in their real lives, what they’re going through. I don’t want mere decoration, but honest sentences, sensory images.
And let go of control; “let that pony run,” to quote Paul Simon. Allow the poem be what it wants to be. Be funny, if it wants to be funny; be serious, if that’s where it’s going.
One way to approach this as an exercise, is to spend 20 minutes just writing. If you run out of words, keep writing anyway. Then go back and look for the good stuff. Later, when you have the gist of your poem, work on crafting it. Ask yourself: How many adjectives can I get rid of? All the power in your work comes from nouns and verbs, just like it does in other kinds of writing. And get rid of clichés.
The difference between a real writer and an amateur is you have to throw some stuff out. You can’t fall in love with every word. Hemingway once said: “What is left out is often as important as what is left in.” Less is more. Use the fewest words possible to give us the most experience.
My method of composition, if I could be said to have one, is this: I find something I want to write about, then write down as much material as I can, all sorts of things, most of it garbage. I call this “taking notes.” Once I begin to find, in this mess, some lines, some music, something to start making a pattern with, then I try to take the best line, and use what I’ve written above to work from. Then I chip, chip away. So first I amass a quantity of work, then I get rid of most it. I think of myself as a sculptor, using words instead of clay.
Other times, a line or even a word comes to me, and I start writing, following the thread, with no idea at all where it’s leading. I look at some poems I’ve written, and am surprised that I wrote them.
Mike: How did you come to having your first book of poetry being published?
Crooker: Just about the only route for a poet trying to break in to book-length print is to enter one of the contests that are in Poets & Writers. For 15 years, I entered between 15-20 contests a year. They’re both expensive and time consuming, and the odds against winning are enormous. Each contest of any decent reputation draws between 800-1000 manuscripts of between 60-80 pages each. In the end, there’s only one winner. You not only have to be lucky, but be lucky twice: first, you need to get through the screeners to the famous-writer judge. Then you need to have the right famous-writer judge, the one who loves your work above all others.
I was a finalist, semi-finalist, runner-up many times, but then sometimes, I was screened out completely. I started to think, “Is this book going to be posthumous?” And then, one day, it happened, I found out that I had won the 2005 Word Press First Book Award, and Radiance was born. By the way, it was then one of seven finalists for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize, a contest for best poetry book of those published in 2005.
Mike: Can you talk about that book? What does the title mean?
Crooker: The title poem (which was chosen as the 2004 WB Yeats Society of NY winner by Grace Schulman, pinch me) was based on a golden and glowing Hudson River School painting, so that's partly why I picked this as the title. But radiance can also be read metaphorically, as God or God’s love, or literally, as light, which is present in most of the poems. I have dark poems in the collection as well, including one about a friend who died from breast cancer, several about my son and autism, my mother’s declining health, the stillbirth of my first child. To make art, you need contrast, shadow and light.
Our lives are fleeting, everything goes by so fast, and we don’t take time to reflect. Poetry should make us all stop in our tracks, look at what’s around us, think about the world that we can’t touch or see.
Mike: What are some of the themes your poems explore?
Crooker: Family, home, and garden; aging and the body, especially that of a middle-age woman; my son with autism and the inadequacies of language; love in a long term relationship; the radiant natural world around us; art and painting (ekphrastic poems); the objects of ordinary life.
Mike: Are all your poems autobiographical?
Crooker: To an extent. I think an audience would feel cheated, for example, if I wrote about my stillborn daughter, but hadn’t gone through that experience. Charlie Parker said, “If you ain’t lived it, it won’t come out your horn.” I try to be true to the basic facts, making it as real as I can, then I might take some liberties with the details.
Mike: You seem to have had a tough life.
Crooker: Not a tough life, but I’ve had more than my share of sorrow. On the flip side, I’m in a very happy second marriage (we had our 31st anniversary this past July). Because of my husband’s job, we’ve had multiple trips to France (I call that my “third” life, besides my colony life, and my life as a mom). And we have two wonderful daughters, a very nice son, despite his deficits, and the world’s most adorable grandson. So, overall, I’d say that my life is very, very good.
And there are the intangibles that writing has brought me, including many wonderful friends in writing, opportunities to travel, and things like dinner with the late Arthur Miller (we were both speaking at a conference; I had, of course, one of the minor slots, while he was the featured evening keynote reader). They had a pre-event dinner where all the presenters mingled; Mr. Miller took my arm and asked if I’d sit next to him. I still get goose bumps thinking about that.
Then there’s the amazing exposure I’ve had being on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer's Almanac. He’s featured me eleven times, and to have him showcase my work like that has been wonderful. It actually brought me fan mail, which, I assure you, never happened, when I appeared in, say, Nimrod or Karamu (two highly respected, but unknown to the general public, magazines)—I would be hard pressed to put a dollar value on any of these things.
Mike: Talking about dollars, making decent money is a difficult endeavor for a poet, is it not?
Crooker: Money? It’s pathetic. You can’t do this for money, only for the love of it.
For one poem that won a national contest, I made $1,000, which is about the best that you can do. I’ve also won three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships in Literature awards, which paid between $2000- $5000 each.
As a poet, you don’t become famous (famous poet is an oxymoron) or well paid, unless you’re maybe Maya Angelou. In some ways, though, we’re the purest of artists since we’re not tainted in the least by the marketplace.
Mike: Who are some of your favorite living contemporary poets?
Crooker: In no particular order: Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Harry Humes, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Charles Wright, Christopher Buckley, Dorianne Laux, Maggie Anderson, Len Roberts, Linda Pastan, Maxine Kumin, Billy Collins, Stephen Dunn, Stephen Dobyns, Marilyn Hacker, Jonathan Holden, Fleda Brown, Jeanne Murray Walker, Scott Cairns, Mark Jarman, Mark Doty, Alicia Ostriker, Philip Levine, David Citino, Ted Kooser, Ron Wallace.
I love the work of all these people, and I’d advise, even urge new writers to read them. All have had some influence on my work, and I look for their work in magazines, and buy their new books when they come out:
Mike: What do you think of slam poetry?
Crooker: Not much. It’s the difference between surface and depth. I think there’s a lot of energy in it, but it’s more performance art than anything else, and this kind of poetry doesn’t usually read well on the page.
I do think, though, that there’s a place for it. It’s attracted many young people to the art of loving words and putting them together. And that’s a good thing. And when you really reach an audience, that’s another good thing.
Mike: How about haiku?
Crooker: I’m not wild about it. It works well as an exercise, as it teaches compression. But it’s not something that appeals to me. There’s only just so much you can do with the form. It’s not easy to publish them, either, as only haiku journals are interested this kind of writing.
Mike: What’s the best way to improve at writing poetry?
Crooker: One way, especially as a beginning poet, is to never be satisfied with that first draft. Writing poetry is not putting down whatever comes into your head, and leaving it at that, never taking it any further. Poetry involves layers, and a lot of revision. But I think it all goes back to reading. If you want to be writing good 21st century poetry, then you should be reading everyone who’s good right now.
And you should go to as many poetry readings as you can. There’s nothing like hearing live poetry. There are also many summer workshops and conferences all over the country you can attend.
Mike: Give me a good poetry prompt.
Crooker: Take a line from a poem— anybody’s poem—and use that line to get started with a poem of your own. (Don’t forget to credit that line in an epigraph.)
Mike: What writing books would you recommend?
Crooker: Here are a few: Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott, Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write by Gayle Brandeis, and Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith.
I came to these, however, after writing for a long time, but they’ve been useful to me as teaching guides.
Mike: And poetry sites you suggest?
Crooker: Here are three:
Poetry Daily at:
Verse Daily at
The Writer’s Almanac at:
I read the Poem of the Day at these places every day.
Mike: Every day?
Crooker: Oh, gosh, yes, every single day.
Mike: You do this to learn?
My ideas of what poetry can do are always being expanded.
If you aren’t willing to learn, or willing to read, then you’ll never be anything more than an eager amateur.
Mike: What do people need to understand about writing poetry?
Crooker: Language is a tool that we all have, but if you want to write poetry, you have to be a reader of poetry. So you should be reading widely and deeply, all kinds of work, to measure what you’re doing against the best writers out there.
Crooker: You need patience and persistence, often (or usually) in the face of a daunting number of rejections. Remember that 15-year odyssey I went through to get my first book published.
I liken the whole submission/rejection thing to a bizarre form of tennis: You hit the ball (your envelope) out, it comes right back atcha (the SASE), and you keep on volleying, hitting it back out again.
My all-time record for a single poem was sending it out over 50 times in over 10 years. It ultimately won a prize from The Atlanta Review, and it’s one of the prefatory poems in Common Wealth: Contemporary Writers Look at Pennsylvania (PSU Press).
In the autism community, we try to extinguish “preservative repetitive behavior,” but in the world of writing, it can serve you well.
Mike: Tell us about your latest book?
Crooker: My new book is called Line Dance. The title poem came from my oldest daughter's wedding, and it’s about, in part, our many connections, family, friends, etc., and the ways in which we do not connect as well. It was a finalist a number of times and runner-up at the Anhinga contest twice, but I decided not to keep going for thirteen more years (I sent it out steadily for two), and stayed with Word Press, who have been a wonderful publisher. And I have two more manuscripts in progress.
Mike: Were there times you wanted to give up on a particular poem?
Crooker: There are many times I HAVE given up on a poem. Not everything you write is savable/publishable.
Mike: What's the hardest thing about writing poetry?
Crooker: Getting it right. Making the poem in your head live up to the poem on the page.
Mike: Did you ever regret becoming a poet and not a fiction writer? If nothing else, the money would come easier as a fiction writer.
Crooker: Money means very little to me, so that part's not an issue. There have been times when I've wished I wrote fiction because it's more publishable, but now that I'm writing reviews of poetry books, for which there really is a need, it doesn't give me nearly the pleasure that writing a poem does. Nor is it as satisfying when one is accepted. I guess I've got one life to live and one genre in which to write.
Mike: Could you imagine a life without writing?
Crooker: No. At this point, it would seem to me like a life without breathing. It’s not like I’m putting words on a page every day. I have times when things don’t come out very well, or there’s nothing I want to write about. And some poems are simply Dead on Arrival, don’t ever get off the ground, or get up and dance. You have to develop a sense of not only what’s good and bad in other people’s work, but also what’s good and bad in your own work.
I’d like to end up like Stanley Kunitz, still writing one or two good poems a year into my late nineties. And still working in the garden, trying to coax something green to rise from dirt.
Five Poems by Barbara Crooker (with postscripts)
STAR OF WONDER, STAR OF LIGHT
It's Christmas, the year before the accident, when the earth
still seemed fixed. My husband and children are hanging
lights on the big pine tree, the one that Becky
brought home as a seedling in first grade wrapped in a damp
paper towel. I am cooking dinner while they struggle
with the wires that somehow knot themselves up in the box.
Shadows gather behind the hills. The tree turns dark green,
then black. The tangled string unravels, and they pass it
around, loop over loop, while I watch from the steamy window:
husband, son, and daughter in a circle around the tree,
their arms full of stars.
Crooker: I wrote the end of this poem years before I could figure out what the beginning should be, which is backwards from all the advice I gave before. But that’s what my writing folder is full of: beginnings without endings and vice versa; titles without poems—ditto; saved lines that were cut from old poems, in the hope that I might recycle them somewhere. . . .
Then my daughter had her terrible accident, was in a coma for ten days, and a year later, I knew how this poem should begin.
This day is an open road
stretching out before you.
Roll down the windows.
Step into your life, as if it were a fast car.
Even in industrial parks,
trees are covered with white blossoms,
festive as brides, and the air is soft
as a well-washed shirt on your arms.
The grass has turned implausibly green.
Tomorrow, the world will begin again,
another fresh start. The blue sky stretches,
shakes out its tent of light. Even dandelions glitter
in the lawn, a handful of golden change.
--The Christian Science Monitor
Crooker: In this poem, I’m trying to go for a deceptive simplicity. On one level, it’s just a spring lyric (Gerald Stern: A lyric is a small poem that goes nowhere). And I was very pleased to work an industrial park into a nature poem! But on a deeper level, I hope it also works as a poem of redemption, about our capacity to turn from one path and reinvent ourselves, about the possibility of change. . . .
NOCTURNE IN BLUE
She asked me to bring her back a stone
from Paris, where even the dirt is historic,
but I wanted, instead, to find her the color
of l'heure bleu, the shimmer of twilight
with the street lamps coming on, the way they keep
the dark back for just a little while, the reflections
of headlamps and taillights, red and gold, on the Champs
d'Élysees wet with rain and a fog rising.
And there's the way the past becomes a stone,
how you carry it with you, lodged in your pocket.
The blue light deepens, evening's melancholy shawl,
the wide boulevard of the Seine, the way the stones
of the monuments become watery, ripple in the currents
and the wind. Everything seems eternal here,
to us from the West, who have no memory of dates
like 52 BC, 1066, the fin de siècle
as we barge on past the millennium,
history's crazy swirl, oil on pavement,
a promenade down les Grands Boulevards.
This is what I'd bring back: shadows of stones,
twilight longings, a handful of crushed lilacs
from the bar at the Closerie, some lavender de Provence,
Odilon Redon's chalky mauves, a jazz piano playing the blues,
Mood Indigo; just a condensation of blue,
distilled in a small glass bottle with a stopper,
as if it came from an expensive parfumerie,
musk of the centuries, the gathering dusk,
a hedge against night, the world that will end.
--New Millennium Writings, winner of the Y2K Award
Crooker: The first line of this poem came from a respite sitter we’d used for our son, who, when I asked her what I could bring her back from Paris, just asked for a stone for her collection, something easier said than done in a city that’s been settled over 2000 years.
Unlike many travel poems, I wrote this BEFORE the trip (my husband was receiving an award for one of his patents, presented at a gala champagne reception, plus we had a four day trip to Paris. I’d also won a prize that year for a single poem, a check in the high three figures. . . .), using snippets from guidebooks, bad novels set in Paris, magazine travelogues, phrase books, etc. in a jazz riff on l’heure bleu, letting my mind free-associate and wander, after I’d done all that background work. What was interesting and weird at the same time was that the trip unfolded pretty much like the poem. But the poem came first.
BOOKS REVIEWED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES,
SUNDAY, JUNE 9, 2002
When I Was a Girl, summers stretched forever;
Back Then, all those hours were my own, tall cool
tumblers waiting to be filled. I’d bike to the library,
Nancy Drews and Bobbsey Twins, their blue cardboard covers
faintly musty, stacked to the top of the wire basket that hung
over the fat front tire. Deep in the Shade of Paradise,
how could I know I was Creating a Life of words,
what I needed to bring me Across Open Ground,
where The Sound of Trees talking to each other
was conversation enough. Due dates were stamped
with a rubber wheel, inked from a black pad.
Some books, I couldn’t return on time, paid the fine
with my own allowance. Years later, my first child
was born, then died, on her due date. Books were my salvation.
Nothing Remains the Same. Walk Through Darkness.
Crooker: I don’t usually like to write to prompts, and thought I’d written all the poems I had in me on this subject, but once you say “I can’t” or “never,” these things come back to haunt you. The prompt here was what’s in the title, a list of books reviewed on that one Sunday in the New York Times. They were haunting and evocative, and these childhood memories, coupled with one of my life’s great sorrows, were what came out.
red the cherries turn,
burning in the dark green sky,
a thousand suns, almost as red
as the true sun that's going down
right now behind the mock orange
and weigela, so hot you'd think
it would sizzle, hiss
as its light's put out
for the night.
At the heart of each cherry
there's a pit, a stone,
an architecture of bone,
the flesh ripening
so fast, so fast.
Robins steal the cherries one by one.
And who can blame them?
Such fierce burning.
This world, red in tooth
and claw, with so much loss
sometimes you wish
your heart could turn to stone.
But still, the flesh is sweet.
Now the sky darkens, and the cherries
cannot be seen. It is one of those soft
summer nights, after a day of bake oven heat,
the air playing with the hair on your neck,
the bare skin of your arms and legs.
In the grass, fireflies rise in their sultry dance,
little love notes that flicker, that burn.
Crooker: This poem sprang from a line in someone else’s poem (I forget both the poem and who the author was): “red.” This was the end of the line, just the word red stuck out there with a comma (it was enjambed to the line above it), but boy, did it set me off. This is one of those poems (as opposed, say to “Nocturne in Blue,” which I really had to labor over) that came out almost spontaneously, fully formed. I had to do very little tinkering or editing when all was said and done. I’m of the opinion, though, that the poems we really work hard on, but don’t succeed with, the ones that are DOA, that never get up and dance, they’re the ones that are responsible for ones like this, which I take and humbly accept as the gifts they are.
THE LAST WHALE - Narrative Nonfiction
Read the blog about the upcoming book, a 1970s story of hippies Vs whalers set in the Southern Ocean during Greenpeace's first direct action in Australia. It's a true story that for the first time gets inside the heads of whalers and anti-whaling activists as they duel
across wild seas. http://thelastwhale.blogspot.com/
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It starts with one thought, one word, an inspiration…
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Jeanne’s Writing Desk
The Magic of Good Description, Metaphor, and Simile
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman
What distinguishes solid, competent writing from writing that sweeps the reader away into a magical world of the author’s creation? In many cases, the essential difference lies with the effective use of description, metaphor, or simile. Most writers understand that these techniques are an important ingredient of good fiction, but they don’t recognize that the best nonfiction writing also uses these methods to enrich the prose. Let’s begin with description.
Good description uses the five senses to bring the writing to life, giving it a dimension beyond the bare facts. These senses are identified as: 1) sight; 2) hearing; 3) smell; 4) touch; and 5) taste. Unfortunately, as writers, we often fall back on the most commonly used sense of sight, ignoring the value of the other senses altogether. The following creativity exercise requires you to explore all five senses when describing a common orange. This experiment works best if you have a real orange in your hands to explore.
Pretend that you are describing an orange to someone who has never seen the fruit before:
What color is the orange? How can you describe this color without using the word “orange”?
Pick it up in your hand. How big is it? Is it similar in size to anything else? What shape is it? How much does it weigh approximately?
Feel the skin. Is it smooth? Bumpy? Is there anything else on the skin such a sticker from the grocery store? Does the skin have the same texture all the way around, or are there places on the orange that are different?
Using your finger, dig deep into the skin and peel it back. What happens? Do you smell anything? If so, what does it smell like? Does the orange make a sound when you break into the peel? Does it send out any mist or juice? If you got juice on your hands, what does it feel like?
Pull back the rest of the peel. What does the peel look like on the inside? Is it the same texture as the surface, or is it different? How does the inside of the peel (the rind) feel? Is it good to eat?
Once you have the orange peeled, examine the fruit inside. Is the fruit whole, a single piece like an apple? If the fruit isn’t whole, how is it divided? What divides the fruit? Can you see through it? Puncture it? Eat it? Are there seeds? What size are they? Can you eat them?
Finally, take a bite of the fruit. What does it taste like? Is it sweet? Sour? How does the fruit feel on your tongue? Is it grainy, smooth, pulpy? Is there anything else distinctive about the orange or its fruit that you can think of?
Your reward for completing this exercise is a tasty snack. Enjoy!
Metaphor and Simile
A metaphor is an implied comparison of dissimilar things. The dictionary defines a metaphor as “a figure of speech that uses one thing to mean another and makes a comparison between the two.” (American Heritage Dictionary). An example of metaphor: “All the world’s a stage.” (Shakespeare) In this case, Shakespeare is comparing the world to a theater stage.
The simile is an “explicit comparison of two things of a different kind or quality, usually introduced by the words like or as.” (Harbrace College Handbook). An example:
“Yellow butterflies flickered along the shade like flecks of sun.” (William Faulkner) Faulkner is comparing the color of the butterflies to bright sunlight.
The primary function of the metaphor or simile is to provoke an “Aha!” moment for the reader, a point where the reader sees something in a new light. If you want your reader to have a positive reaction, you need to use comparisons that have positive connotations: Her hair smelled as sweet as a citrus grove in March. If you want a negative response, use an unpleasant comparison: Her hair had the stale, rank odor of old shoes.
Do remember that all metaphors and similes have an internal logic. It’s fine to make comparisons between two unlike things, but those things should share some similarities that would be obvious to the reader when he thinks about it. If you stretch your comparisons too far, you can come up with up unintentional humorous results, such as this example from “The List of Worst Analogies Ever Written in A High School Essay”: Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
This Web site contains some excellent examples of metaphor and simile and has a link to a short test to see if you can tell the difference:
Newsletter contributing columnist Jeanne Lyet Gassman is an award-winning author whose fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry has been published in magazines, newspapers (including The Arizona Republic and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), and anthologies. In 2002, Ms. Gassman was the recipient of an Encouragement Award in Creative Writing from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and in the 2005 Preditors & Editors Reader’s poll her story, '”Healing Arts,'” was ranked among the Top 10 in the nonfiction category. She also teaches writing classes and conducts workshops in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Please visit her Web site at:
…it continues with a writer’s pen…
Secret Knowledge can be found in the tarot cards
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The Bookhabit Unpublished Competition
Bookhabit.com is running an international competition for unpublished books.
It's free to enter and open to all genres—50,000 words or more. The prize for the overall winner of the competition is US$5000.
The competition is open for submissions from 3 March - 11 May 2008. Each week 6 finalists are picked to go to the next round. The overall winner will be chosen by a jury and announced on 24 June 2008.
Details can be found at www.bookhabit.com/competition or http://www.bookhabit.com/
How Rejection Becomes a Writers Tonic
By Michael Levy
A paradox in every writer's life is the fact that mainstream agencies, publishers and media will accept mediocre works/projects from famous people, while they reject meaningful, eloquent compositions from unknown writers. The criterion for such erroneous deeds of ignorance are money…Lots and lots of money.
Green crinkly fields of the stuff require harvesting to satisfy hungry company directors who are haunted by the need for greed. Perhaps this section of society has always thought this way, but I feel it is now more obvious and pronounced.
Many people in positions of power in the media ignore unknown writers. They have no time to consider inconsequential talent that cannot make instant money mounds …Cast off as insignificant, a talented writer can starve while famous people gather accolades and praise for unwise works of mediocrity.
Does this mean that unknown writers should stop writing and get another job? Yes, they should if all they seek from writing is fame and fortune. Most writers will not make a mountain of money writing, so if they are not enjoying their craft they should find something else they do enjoy doing.
The writers who find no bliss in their compositions and do prostitute their soul just for money sake will find little contentment or joy with their moneyed achievements. The best the so-called money spinning ones will acquire is misery in luxurious surroundings.
Of course, some writers enjoy their work and do make a lot of money. When they write for the correct reasons, their wealth is enjoyable in contented bliss. This credo holds true in all walks of life.
A writer should write for the joy, love, enthusiasm and passion in the meaning of their work. Many challenges will be sent their way to test they resolve and happiness. Speaking of challenges, an unusual incident enfolded my way recently that can shed some light on what goes on behind the closed doors of people in power, who make decisions on who or what to accept/reject.
A few weeks ago, I read in the newspapers that Starbucks were going to put books in their coffee shops. They hired William Morris agency to stock their coffee shops with books of appeal to customers.
Since the beginning of contemporary society, people have gathered in teahouses and coffee shops to discuss the current events pertaining to the meaning of life. So I thought as an inspirational philosopher, what have I to lose by contacting William Morris agency in New York and see how the land lies.
I rang their New York office, I was requested to send my three proposed books to them, and they would give the books a fair review for acquisition for the Starbucks project. So, without any more to do, I mailed my three latest book titles. Two weeks later, I received the following reply:
June 12, 2006 Dear Mr. Levy,
"Thank you for allowing William Morris to Consider Ultra - Violet Haiku Delights, The Joys of Live Alchemy, and Invest With A Genius. We have had the opportunity to review your submissions, and while we appreciate your interest in Starbucks initiative, we have concluded that your project is not a right match for Starbucks at this time."
That is all fine and dandy...rejection is part of any writer's world and meant to be tasted and savored many times. However, there was just one slight, significant point they had overlooked. They never opened one single page of any of the books I sent them. How did I know? you may ask.
All new books come from the printers with an invisible seal that seems to make the pages stick together. Once the cover is opened, it raises a little, it rarely sits flush to the other pages. My sixth sense told me the reviewer had not seen inside the books. I felt they were returned without anyone reading one word inside the books.
Consequently, since their letter said they had reviewed my books, I contacted them on 19 June. After much reluctance to speak with me, I was connected to one of the people who make the decisions. He told me they had not yet decided which type of books or genre they wanted to include.
I ask why they rejected my books without ever reading one page beyond the cover. He apologized and admitted they had not opened any pages before rejecting the books.
He then remarked, "In a perfect world we would have read some part of the books before rejecting them" After I stopped laughing I thought ... Oh to live in a perfect world!
He also asked me to send them back for review. I directed him to my Web site so that he could read the reviews, then he could contact me and I would re-send them. So far, he has not phoned and lucky for me I did not hold my breath waiting for a reply.
Writers should understand that many times when publishers, agents or media reject their works … the quality, style and content has nothing to do with the negative response. It is just the fact there are erroneous systems now in place, embedded in most mainstream publishing and media establishments. The ritual of rejection without true cause or reason for worthy submissions is conducted by people who are programmed by the misfortunate circumstances of receiving a "good education" at university and not knowing how to apply it for the benefit of humanity with compassion and caring. As Oscar Wilde, so aptly put it... "Anything worth knowing cannot be taught."
This is just one of many awkward episodes every writer will face in their writing lifetime. The most important point of any writer’s life is the reality they are genuinely enjoying their works whether it is published or not.
Rejection can be the best tonic for writers who understand no-body or no-thing can stop them from savoring the joys of their inspirational craft. The act of writing in itself generates success.
Writers do not need permission to breathe, nor do they require permission to write. Opinions of other people are of no consequence to writers who develop the skills to write for the gratification of writing; no other reason is necessary.
When a writer develops the habit to love and enjoy rejection...To expect all their works to be rejected in a mode of delight. So much so, that if or when their work is accepted, the disappointment of the acceptance does not disturb their balance.
Who knows, after a while of acceptance, they may even get accustomed to enjoying both the ambiance of rejection and acceptance ... Never more to distinguish between the joys, both convey.
“Singing in spirits gilded cage the wise bird seldom looks towards the open door.”—Michael Levy
Michael Levy is the author of seven books. His inspirational poetry and essays appear on many assorted web sites, as well as in journals and magazines throughout the world. He’s an expert columnist for Positive Health magazine, the leading complimentary health publication in the UK, and has been published by The Royal Collage of Psychiatry many times over the past three years.
…it never ends…
Publishing to the Power of Dee
By Dee Power
The genre of a book is that neat little label by which it finds a home on the bookseller’s shelf. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, thrillers are all distinct genres and that’s just the beginning. Subgenres include: chick lit, lad lit, political thrillers, cozy mysteries, crime novels, English mysteries, erotic romance, paranormal romance, legal thrillers—the list goes on and on.
Genre provides a welcome and necessary degree of organization for publishing industry professionals as well as readers. Booksellers know where to stock the book by its genre, customers know where to find it, and publishers know how to sell it.
How does an author choose their genre? We asked several authors that very question.
“I selected my particular fiction genre (action/adventure) simply as a change from my normal writing, which is non-fiction articles for shooting, history, and collector magazines.
“Why action/adventure? That's easy - they are my favorite reading material when I am kicking back after putting together a long, technical article. The readers I'm aiming for (sorry for the pun) are men and women who are into stories involving guys, gals, and guns (not necessarily in that order). I do research my weaponry, and make sure that the hero doesn't try and screw a silencer on to a revolver (wouldn't work!), or flick on the safety lever on his Glock (it hasn't got one!). Tony Walker, Snides, the first in a series of action thrillers featuring John and Sally Pilgrim.
“I write suspenseful romantic science fiction. Not your everyday genre. Hard to place a manuscript like that, but that's what I like to read and watch on the screen. Pure Sci-fi is often too technical, pure romance lacks suspense and plot twists. Reviewers compared my strong heroines to a mix of Lara Croft and Agent Scully from the X-files. I fell in love with Indiana Jones and when told it was a romance, I thought, I can write that kind of romance. I think that plot is just as important as character development. I like my readers to turn the pages.” Vijaya Schartz The Garrison LOCKDOWN, is set in 3033 in the Andromeda Galaxy, on a prison planet. An artist at heart, Rhonda never wanted to be a prison guard and has to team up with Captain Perfect himself, who never trusted a woman in his life. But deep in the underground penitentiary, something has gone terribly wrong...
“Why do I write cozy mysteries?
“Murder mystery fiction is not about the crime itself, but about the people who commit them and, more importantly, the people who solve them. When I read a mystery, I want to be entertained, not frightened into nightmares. I want to be informed, not 'grossed out'. I want a puzzle, and an interesting sleuth who solves it logically and systematically. Also, I want to feel empowered.
“Cozies empower ordinary people.” Anne R. Grobbo, Rural Sprawl and Dog in a Manager feature Gloria Trevisi, a slightly ethnic city journalist stuck in a xenophobic rural community, with a handsome, interesting and absent husband and a family who visit at awkward times. With a journalist's tenacity, she solves rural crime the old-fashioned way, by asking questions and putting pressure on a killer until he or she makes a mistake.
“I write Middle Grade/ YA fantasy. The reason I write it is because it is my favorite to read. I've always been a big fan of fairy tales. Some of my most prized books are written by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and variations thereof. I enjoy being able to make anything happen on paper. Fantasy is so much fun, because pretty much there are no limits. As with other genres, it should make sense, but if you can imagine it, you can write it.” Christine Norris, Talisman of Zandria, LBF books. An eleven year old girl stumbles into a magical world that exists just outside her own and has to fight an evil sorceress to get home.
”About twenty-five years ago I discovered and fell in love with the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain (AKA the late Evan Hunter) but it wasn't until much later that I decided to write my first police procedural. Maybe I was afraid I would never match his talent. I have great respect for police officers and appreciate the opportunity to add to their fictional mystique. My first police procedural was a collaborative effort, released under the pen-name Sutton Miller.” Maryann Miller, Doubletake Two brutal murders rock the quiet community of Twin Lakes, Texas, and Detective Barbara Hobkins must catch the killer before becoming the target of Doubletake.
”I write both contemporary and contemporary paranormal. I think the genres chose me rather than the other way around.
”I like writing contemporary because I don't have to think about the details of life as much as with a period piece. I understand the mores, the characters, the times.
”As for paranormal, I've always been interested in magic and its possibilities. My contemporary world might just exist. My heroine is a "magic practitioner" who can't cast a spell on anyone but herself. She makes a good living as a management consultant by spelling herself to be seen as someone who can be trusted with employees' secrets. The hero is not a practitioner, but needs help with his company. And an ancient force operating on practitioners, the soul mate imperative, will bring them together, ready or not.” Federicka Meiners writing as Ann Macela, The Oldest Kind of Magic
“I write in paranormal and western historical and though I never thought about it I suppose much of the reason is that being part of the first "TV Generation" I grew up with shows such as The Addams Family, The Munsters, The Twilight Zone and of course everyone's favorite late night local show "Chiller Theater". And since I was raised by my dad and older brothers I also got to see a lot of Bonanza, Wild Wild West, The Big Valley and of course many John Wayne movies.” Barbara Sheridan, Indian Territory 1892, Newspaper editor Star Mcnamara would like nothing better than to see all non-Indian “intruders ejected from the territory. Lawman Jason Hillhouse is every it as independent and proud of his Choctaw heritage as Star, but he believes women belong at home and that the future of the Choctaw Nation lies in obtaining United States citizenship.
“When I started reading, things that went bump in the night appealed to me. I was an avid reader of Stephen King. Yet, I also discovered Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and became enthralled with romances. This has mutated into what I write being a combination of paranormal with a huge dash of romance thrown in. Lately, even things I’ve thought of that are contemporary keep heading for the supernatural, so I think that’s where my heart is right now. I love vampires, weres, shapeshifters, ghosts when I read. It makes sense that I would write them.” Mechele Armstrong, Blood Kiss, Nick, a centuries-old vampire and Sarah, a untrained psychic succumb to passion while a killer watches from the shadows. Can Nick save her from a rogue's Blood Kiss?
“I write romantic suspense with paranormal elements - mainly because writing straight romance didn't appeal. From one scene to the next, it was sex/love/sex/love/sex - you get the idea. I tried to write it but couldn't get my characters to behave. They wanted more to happen and so did I. I wanted to see my hero and heroine challenged, make use of their brains as well as their bodies and emotions. And my heroines aren't always the perfect beauties of romance, my GH finaling manuscript featured a blind heroine who needs a makeover to become an attractive woman. And an upcoming book features a heroine with somewhat of a physical challenge. The upcoming book (RAPTURE OF THE DEEP) features the supernaturals that make up the Haida Indian legends. Where the paranormal elements came from, I've no idea. They just keep showing up--I guess because I like things that go bump in the night.” Kelsy George, Kill a Painted Pony, Annabelle Oakes who paints and restores carousel horses by day, at night becomes Annie Oaklee--sharpshooter/knife thrower/trick rider of an American paint horse with the rodeo.
“My action/adventure book is about wolves and boys, no romance, and is for teens and adults. I raised Alaskan Tundra and Canadian Timber wolves along with two sons and a daughter, so I found that growling and gnashing of teeth works equally well as discipline for both species.” BetteLou Tobin, WOLFCUB
Romance is the largest genre. According to PublishersMarketPlace.com 28% of the adult fiction titles sold so far this year were romances, followed by mysteries (13%), thrillers (9%), scifi/fantasy (7.5%), and finally horror (less than 1%). There is a category called ‘other’ which accounts for everything not in the other categories. Nearly 16% of the titles bought by commercial publishers were debut novels. So there is hope for all of us.
A genre for an author is like a friendly port for a ship. It’s a wonderful place to stop, but you don’t have to spend your whole career there. Many times, authors are beckoned by new, equally interesting ports, as they transition from one genre to another, Iris Johanson is an example as is Catherine Coulter, both started out as strictly romance.
Other authors do spend their whole careers writing in a single genre, focusing on the never-ending challenge of achieving a kind of mastery of say, crime fiction.
Interestingly, at least one author chose his genre because he felt it gave him the best shot at a bestseller. Want to know who? Nicholas Sparks. And it worked, he received a $1 million dollar advance for his first book, The Notebook, which did go on to make the New York Times Bestseller list.
Newsletter contributing columnist Dee Power is the co-author with Brian Hill of The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them and the novel Over Time.
Don’t let these commonly misused/misspelled words and phrases trip you up
By Mark Terence Chapman
Here are some more words that are commonly misused or misspelled. A conscientious writer should use these correctly. More importantly, using these words/phrases correctly will reduce the odds of your writing being rejected by an editor due to excessive errors. (Editors don’t want to waste time on pieces that require an inordinate amount of their time to clean up.) Even if you write only business reports and emails, you still wouldn’t want people chuckling over your misuse of the English language, would you?
Intense vs. intents
Wrong: For all intense and purposes….
Right: For all intents and purposes….
Intense (an adjective) has a number of meanings, including extreme, vehement, and to a high degree. Intents (noun) are plans, intentions or states of mind. The phrase “for all intents and purposes” specifically means virtually or practically.
Tact vs. tack vs. tactic
Wrong: I’m going to take a different tact on this problem.
Right: I’m going to take a different tack on this problem.
The phrase “taking a different tack” comes from nautical terminology meaning a course run obliquely against the wind in a zigzag fashion. So, taking a different tack means to try another approach. Tact, on the other hand, is a sense of what’s appropriate or a skill with delicate situations. A tactic is a plan or procedure to attain a goal. A person of tact, then, might try a different tack as a tactic for achieving victory.
Allude vs. refer
Wrong: She kept alluding to the particulars of the annual report.
Right: She kept referring to the particulars of the annual report.
You refer to something directly or allude to it indirectly.
Gambit vs. gamut
Wrong: The colors in a rainbow run the gambit from red through violet.
Right: The colors in a rainbow run the gamut from red through violet.
A gambit is a tactical maneuver or ploy to gain an advantage. Gamut refers to the entire range or scope of something.
Then vs. than
Wrong: It’s colder today then yesterday.
Right: It’s colder today than yesterday.
Use then when referring to aspects of time (now and then; do this, then do that). Use than for comparisons (“It’s more brown than green.”).
Disperse vs. disburse
Wrong: Make sure you disperse everyone’s pay on time this week.
Right: Make sure you disburse everyone’s pay on time this week.
Disperse means to scatter or spread widely. You probably wouldn’t want someone to do that with your paycheck. On the other hand, you might want to disperse smoke or an unruly mob. Money, on the other hand, is disbursed, or paid out. (Adding to the confusion between the two words is a secondary meaning for disburse of distributing or scattering. Still, even through you might disburse troops you wouldn’t want to disperse someone’s money….)
Noone vs. no one
Wrong: There was noone there to meet me.
Right: There was no one there to meet me.
There’s no such word as noone (unless you’re a fan of the rock group Herman’s Hermits’ lead singer Peter Noone). It’s correctly written as no one.
Discrete vs. discreet
Wrong: We have to be discrete about it.
Right: We have to be discreet about it.
Discreet means to be circumspect or prudent, while discrete means distinct or separate. If you see friends pairing off into discrete couples at a party, you might want to be discreet about whom you tell.
Biweekly vs. semiweekly / biannual vs. semiannual
Wrong: Do you have both of this week’s biweekly reports ready?
Right: Do you have both of this week’s semiweekly reports ready?
I often see biweekly used incorrectly for semiweekly. The prefix “bi” means two (bicycle literally means “two wheels”), while “semi” means half. When referring to something that happens every other week, say biweekly. But if it occurs two times a week (once every half-week), use semiweekly. If you can’t remember the distinction, you can always say twice-weekly or twice a week. Biannual and semiannual work the same way.
Mucus vs. mucous
Wrong: The flames seared the mucus membranes in his nose.
Right: The flames seared the mucous membranes in his nose.
Mucous (adjective) membranes secrete mucus (noun). Hey, I don’t make this stuff up….
If you’ve ever been confused about any of these words or phrases, tack this article to the wall by your desk. It’ll help you avoid similar errors in the future.
Mark Terence Chapman writes in various genres: He’s a poet, short story writer, novelist, humorist, and even a nonfiction writer tackling computer topics and nanotechnology. To find out more about Mr. Chapman, please visit his Web site at: http://tesserene.com/ or his blog at: http://tesserene.blogspot.com/
Writers, Don’t Get Scammed, Defrauded, or Taken Advantage Of
Do yourself a favor and check out this great site to keep you safe in the publishing world:http://www.sfwa.org/beware/
On the Writing Business
5 Ways to Promote Your Book Through Your Blog
By Patricia Fry
A blog can be many things and serve many purposes. When you have a book to promote, it makes sense to turn your blog into a promotional tool. Whether your book is a historical novel, a how-to gardening book, a memoir or a book of poetry, let your blog entries spread the word and you will sell more books. Here are five ideas for using your blog to promote your book:
1: Stay focused on your topic. Make sure that you are providing the information your audience wants in a way that makes it palatable. Stay on track when adding to your blog so that you are always addressing your target audience. Sure you can write about something personal if you want, but try to tie it into your primary topic. I write about writing and publishing in my blog (www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog). I might share something about a recent trip I took or a concept that caught my attention, but I always connect it to the subject of writing and/or publishing and I always pitch one of my books in my blog entries.
2: Turn your blog entries into articles. Either submit them as is to appropriate sites and publications or tweak them to fit. Most of my blog entries are suitable for publishing, as I’m mindful to create stand-alone articles. Sometimes, however, a newsletter or magazine editor wants a longer piece or a more condensed version. Not a problem—I just rewrite the blog to fit their submission requirements. Of course, articles sell books. How? In a word: exposure.
· When you publish informative articles on the topic of your book, this adds to your professional credibility.
· You can usually add a few lines at the end of the article in which to promote your book and your blog.
3: Create handouts. Use specific blog entries as handouts when you promote your book through presentations, workshops or at book festivals. If yours is a local history book and your blog follows suit, your audiences would enjoy receiving those blog entries containing historical information that doesn’t appear in the book. Hand out your blog entries featuring additional tips, resources and information related to your self-help or how-to book. If you are promoting a novel or a book of poetry, delight your audience by handing out some of the short stories or new poems you post at your blog.
4: Compile a booklet of blog entries. If you’re a dedicated blogger, you could actually produce a booklet every six months or once a year and offer them free to anyone who purchases your book. Maybe you’ve written a novel featuring Americans who’ve chosen to live in the Middle East. Your blog, then, might follow some of the innovative things happening in the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Oman and Bahrain, for example. Report on positive accounts of the people, some of the amazing historical and newer architectural sites and interesting tidbits about the culture. Wouldn’t that make an interesting promotional tool?
5: Write a book based on your best blog subjects. Review your blog entries. If you’re like me, you may occasionally hit upon a topic that would make a good book. So start writing. With thought and research, your blog on the feral kitten you rescued over the summer might become a book featuring how to successfully raise a feral cat. If your current book features an aspect of pet care, this new book would make a great spin-off product. Your blog entry on how you created curb appeal that sold your home, could become an entire book for others who want to make an excellent impression when selling their properties. And what a great companion this would be for your book on family financing.
You started blogging because you heard that blogs sell books. Use these five tips and you’ll reach even more people and sell even more books.
Contributing newsletter columnist Patricia Fry is the author of 25 published books, including, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book. She is also the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network, http://www.spawn.org/).
Visit her publishing blog at:
Ms. Fry’s free guide to writing a Post-Publication Book Proposal can be requested by emailing her at:
Writing Quotes of the Month
“If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissoluble as if they were conceived together.”— F. Scott Fitzgerald
“One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.”—Hart Crane
“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”—Rainer Maria Rilke
“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success—but only if you persist.”—Isaac Asimov
“1. Find a subject you care about. 2. Do not ramble, though. 3.Keep it simple. 4.Have the guts to cut. 5. Sound like yourself. 6.Say what you mean to say. 7. Pity the readers.”—Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
“Day by day, you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects, If you give freely, there will always be more.”—Anne Lamott
“Ideas are easy. It's the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats. I read newspapers, textbooks on crime. I talk to private investigators, police officers, jail administrators, doctors, lawyers, career criminals. Ideas are everywhere.”—Sue Grafton
“Unless a writer lives with a periodic delusion of his greatness, he will not continue writing. He must believe, against all reason and evidence, that the public will experience a catastrophic loss if he does not complete his novel. The public is just clamoring to give him his fame.”—Leonard Bishop
“You must find some way to elevate your act of writing...
Usually this means giving the reader an enjoyable surprise. Any number of methods will do the job: humor, anecdote, an unexpected quotation, a powerful fact, an outlandish detail, a circuitous approach, an elegant arrangement of words.”—William Zinsser
“I take the reporting side of writing more seriously than the writing side. I think it really is a lot of work to get things right, so I trained myself. I sort of take notes the way photographers take photos. You just sort of scattershot, record everything, because you never know what's going to prove invaluable...”—Jon Krakauer
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
You, Too, Can Help End Apostrophe Abuse
By Bev Walton-Porter
The other morning, close to 5 a.m., I couldn't sleep. So I grabbed Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss and began reading about my favorite punctuation mark, the apostrophe. Lynne's comments were so on the mark (pardon the obvious pun) that I found myself laughing out loud - alone in my bedroom - at oh-my-god o'clock in the morning. I submit to you one sample quote from the book that sent me into convulsive fits of laughter:
"To those who care about punctuation, a sentence such as 'Thank God its Friday' (without the apostrophe) rouses feelings not only of despair but of violence. The confusion of the possessive 'its' (no apostrophe) with the contractive 'it's' (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian 'kill' response in the average stickler…Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you persist in writing 'Good food at it's best', you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave."
Source: Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
While I've been known to get all loose-handed and crazy with commas and such, I'm darned accurate with my apostrophes and, usually, my semicolons. It pains the hell out of me when I notice misused apostrophes. Like Lynne Truss, I'm tempted to crawl up a ladder in the dead of night with paint bucket in one hand and brush handle in mouth on a mission to paint over those apostrophes on a particular pawn shop sign down the road that disgracefully announces they have "stereo's, DVD player's and TV's."
**Insert long, agonizing scream**
Not long ago, I read over a slip of paper my neighbor gave me, and darned if there wasn't an errant apostrophe on it: "Assisted irrigation tech's." Okay...tech's...what? Tech has been written as possessive here...so what is the tech's, damn it?! I swear to Zeus on Olympus, the next time I see a misplaced apostrophe on a business sign, I'm going to hunt down the owner and beat him/her with a rotten fish. Apparently, Arianna Huffington feels the same way. Her rancor over the whole misplaced apostrophe issue led her to write a December 2002 column for Salon on America's apostrophe catastrophe. She admitted she was "...at the end of my rope. Or, more appropriately, 'my rope's end'...." Me too, Arianna.
Now, I'll gladly admit I'm not a master of punctilious punctuation, nor have I dodged countless grammatical gaffes. My mistakes are legion when it comes to splicing commas and splitting infinitives. In fact, I can splice and split with the best of them! But what bothers me about the apostrophe is that it's just so darned easy to figure out where the blasted thing goes. Rather than not knowing where it goes, I wonder if people just don't care anymore and have taken to sticking apostrophes nearly anywhere in a stunning display of defiance for the sheer heck of it. "Oh look! There's an s! Shall we tack an apostrophe before it? Or shall we walk on the dark side and throw it up AFTER the s?"
Anyone have a fork? There's a tine on said fork itching to plunge straight into my right eyeball. The pain would be less than that of seeing *one more errant apostrophe*apostrophe on a sign in this town*!
Not a big deal, you say? Tell that to The Apostrophe Protection Society (http://www.apostrophe.fsnet.co.uk/). If you have a strong stomach, check out their page on real-life apostrophe abuse. It's not pretty. In fact, it's downright appalling. Now tell me misusing apostrophes isn't a big deal. This world is going to hell in a hand basket - and apostrophe abusers are leading us down that treacherous road!
What can you do to stanch the alarming trend of apostrophe abuse before it reaches epic proportions? Apostrophe abuse stops at home. Yes, I mean you. And your spouse. And your children. And your cat or dog, if applicable. Know the rules of apostrophe use, then follow them with dogged consistency. Teach others. Carry highlighters, markers or red pencils. Start Apostrophe Abusers Anonymous meetings, if need be. If that doesn't work, then keep a supply of rotten fish on hand. Furthermore, don't hesitate to use them!
Newsletter contributing columnist Bev Walton-Porter is a professional writer/author who has publishing hundreds of stories on a wide variety of subjects and written three books: “Sun Signs for Writers,” the contemporary romance “Mending Fences,” and “The Complete Writer: A Guide to Tapping Your Full Potential,” co-authored with three other writers.
She has also worked as a contract editor for NBC Internet and Inkspot.com, among others, published in the award-winning e-zine for writers, Scribe & Quill, for the past nine years, and is a member of The Authors Guild as well as the co-founder of the International Order of Horror Professionals.
Please visit her Web site at:
when you first knew you wanted to write.
your favorite cartoon character.
the smell of your favorite flower.
your first date.
the perfect meal.
your dream job.
your ideal vacation spot.
your most memorable birthday.
a person you’d love to confront and what you’d say.
your all-time favorite book.
eLetters That Work
By Angela Wilson
Scores of authors have moved their newsletters into the cost-effective electronic era.
Unfortunately, not all of them create quality, unique copy to keep fans from caring if it goes straight to SPAM.
Electronic newsletters, or eLetters, should be concise, include promotional items as well as personal thoughts and content unique to you as a writer. They should be no more than a single-spaced Word page, with a double space between paragraphs. Arial 12 point is a nice, clean font that translates well on screen, and is a better choice that the standard Times New Roman.
Your eLetter is an excellent venue to promote your latest work, book signings and speaking engagements. To keep the fans reading, offer up a regular contest feature where they can win freebies, including a book and swag like bookmarks, postcards and pens. (Readers LOVE freebies. The popular site Author Island employed this marketing tool to gain thousands of hits a day.) Also include personal notes to readers. Maybe you share a short paragraph about being a newlywed writer, or a new mother trying to find time to continue your serial police procedural. Whatever you decide, speak from the heart. That will reach readers more than any bullet point list. Some authors also include kudos from fans they recently received.
Many authors like to include graphics—especially ones with animation. Just remember that too much of a good thing can make your newsletter appear garish and sophomoric. Keep graphics to a minimum and make certain they are small in resolution. There are still thousands of dial up users out there, and huge graphics don't translate well on that slow connection speed.
At the end of each edition, include a short sentence with the originating email address, and ask your readers to put you in their address book. Give them a way to update their email information, or cancel their free subscription. And always, always have at least two other people proof your eLetter before it goes out.
Austin Camacho is by far the best eLetter writer I have come across. The author of the Hannibal Jones PI crime serial is in constant touch with readers about what's next for his character, an updated book signing schedule and short musings about life. His letter works because it blends personal notes with marketing news, and arrives like clockwork each month.
Urban fantasy author Jeanne C. Stein also offers up a fun newsletter titled, "The Jeanne Stein Irregular!" She has a short and effective sign up form on her Web site, http://www.jeannestein.com/. There are many other ways to sign up fans. Have a sign up sheet at autograph sessions. Allow readers to join a listserv or email to receive your newsletter via your Web site, Facebook, MySpace, Ning or AIM Pages. Tell people about it in online groups, or make the sign up part of your signature line. Direct readers who send you kudos to your newsletter link, along with a short note of appreciation for their support and kind words. Print postcards or business cards with sign up information. Also, keep the eLetters archives on your Web site. You can always refer back to previous items in new missives, which will in turn drive more traffic to your Web site, group, or blog.
eLetters should be fun, informative and short. Write a few different versions and share them with trusted friends, readers and writers. Take their feedback and use it to help you discover the eLetter format works for you.
Contributing newsletter columnist Angela Wilson is a Web producer, author publicist, and marketing/PR specialist. When not writing, she manages the author virtual book tour blog at:
Also find her on the Web at http://www.angelawilson.net/, http://www.wickedwordsmith.com/, or www.myspace.com/angelawilson
Fun Lit Fact
Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, both of whom won Nobel Prizes for Literature, were the fiercest of literary rivals from mostly the 1920’s through the 1950’s, with polar opposite styles. Hemingway wrote from his journalistic roots: simple words, tight, straight-to-the-point sentences. Faulkner’s prose, on the other hand, was a tangled web, sometimes without punctuation, and often hiding deep symbolic imagery. Yet the two are strangely connected in the history of one Bogart and Bacall movie in 1944, “To Have or Have Not.” While Hemingway wrote the novel, Faulkner’s screenplay transferred it to the big screen.
Talk the Talk
Working On Spec—short for “working on speculation,” which means there’s no guarantee of payment until the editor accepts your story. This is the best, and sometimes only, way for a new or unpublished writer to gain entry into a publication. The opposite of this is “Working On Assignment.”
Freelance Contract—the binding agreement between the publication and freelance writer (albeit an established one with a decent track record) regarding payment, deadline date, rights purchased, kill fee, article length, etc. Unless you’re a newbie, always request, if not demand, a contract. If a publications refuses, be afraid, be very afraid. This document gives you some legal leverage, although, trust me, it’s still no guarantee you’ll get paid. And read it! Know what you’re getting into. If some clause seems unfair, suspicious, or strange, nicely ask the assigning editor if you can cross it out.
Kill Fee—the reduced fee paid to a writer when for some reason an editor “kills” or rejects a contracted story. The kill fee is usually between 20-25% of the original full fee. A personal note: I absolutely hate this clause. I think it’s so unfair to the writer, who’s already done all the work. But unfortunately, all writer contracts include them. My advice: Ask to be written into the contract that your story can ONLY be killed if it’s “inferior” or “less than professional.” At least that way, you can have an argument against a publication using the kill fee merely as an “escape clause” for over-assigned issues.
Nut Graph or Nut Graf—the summary paragraph introduced early in the magazine or newspaper article (usually but not always the second or third paragraph) that summarizes what the story is about. In other words, its gist, "meat," or essentials. It often follows an anecdotal or descriptive lead. By the way, this could also double as part of your “pitch” in query letters.
A Get—a very good, or exclusive, interview with a much sought-after or “hot” individual. Writers are always desperately on the lookout for these. With freelancers, these stories virtually guarantee not only a sale but also a high payday.
How to Write a Successful Query
By Moira Allen
As editors become increasingly swamped with inappropriate manuscripts, more and more publications are closing their doors to unsolicited submissions. This means that the query letter is fast becoming the only way to break into some of the best markets.
The Value of a Query
Queries benefit both editors and writers. Editors much prefer to review a one-page letter than a 10-page manuscript, so queries spend less time in the slush pile. They also enable an editor to determine, quickly, whether you:
Can write effectively
Have a coherent, well-thought-out idea that fits the publication's content
Have a basic grasp of grammar and spelling
Have read the publication
Have the credentials or expertise to write the article
Are professional in your approach to writing
Queries save YOU time by ensuring that you don't invest time and energy into writing an article that won't be accepted. Keep in mind that articles are often rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with quality. An editor may already have a similar piece on file, or assigned, or have covered something similar in a recent issue. It's much easier to find this out through a query, than to tailor an article for a publication and then have to rewrite it and send it somewhere else. It's also easier to obtain interviews when you can say you have a solid assignment.
By querying first, you also give the editor a chance to provide feedback on your idea. The editor may want to suggest a particular length, or approach, or recommend experts to interview. S/he may want you to cover other aspects of your subject in sidebars. By finding out what the editor wants before you start writing, you'll avoid having to revise the piece later.
A well-written query can also result in assignments you didn't expect. If the editor is impressed by your style and credentials, he or she may offer you some other assignment, even if your original idea isn't usable. This can often be the beginning of a long, rewarding relationship!
Query Letter Essentials
But how do you "sell" an editor on your article when you have no more than a page to explain your concept and display your writing skill? The answer is: By including everything the editor needs to know about your article—and about you. A successful query letter generally includes these five basic components:
* The hook
* The pitch
* The body
* The credentials
* The close
Your very first line should grab an editor's attention. It must demonstrate that you can write effectively, and that you understand your market.
There are several ways to approach the "hook," including:
*The problem/solution hook. This defines a problem or situation common to the publication's audience, then proposes an article that can help solve that problem. Here's an example:
The pet magazine market is an ideal place for newer writers to "break in". However, it is constantly flooded with inappropriate submissions. To break in, one must understand what these magazines want, and what they won't accept. ("Writing for Pet Magazines," sold to Byline.)
*The Informative Hook. This usually presents two or three lines of useful information (e.g., facts, statistics), followed by an explanation of how this applies to the target audience. For example:
Thanks to a translation glitch, Microsoft was forced to pull its entire Chinese edition of Windows 95 from the marketplace. Microsoft recovered—but that's the sort of mistake few small businesses can afford!
*The Question. Often, this is a problem/solution or informative hook posed as a question, such as:
Did you know...?
What would you do if...?
Have you ever wondered...?
*The personal experience/anecdote. Many writers like to take a personal approach, as it immediately establishes the credential of "experience." Be sure, however, that your market uses more personal articles, or first-person accounts, before attempting a hook like this:
Forget-me-nots. I love their wistful name. I love their tiny blue flowers. And yes, I love that growing them is as simple as pie. ("Forget-me-nots: Simply Unforgettable Spring Flowers," by Mary R., sold to Fine Gardening.)
*The attention-grabber. The goal of this type of hook is to make the reader sit up and take notice—hopefully long enough to read the rest of the story. This might be a good "hook" for a query about parachuting in Yosemite:
As I fell from the top of Yosemite's El Capitan, I wondered if my life would truly flash before my eyes—or if I would stop screaming long enough to notice.
Hooks to Avoid
Certain hooks scream "amateur" and are guaranteed to speed a query to the rejection pile, including:
The personal introduction. Never start with a line like "Hi, my name is John, and I'd like to send you an article about..." Don't offer irrelevant information, such as "I'm a housewife and mother of three lovely children. Recently I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of writing..."
The "suck-up" hook. Yes, editors want to know that you've read their publication, but they also want you to prove it by offering an appropriate query -- NOT by saying, "I've been a subscriber for 20 years and just LOVE your magazine..."
The "bid for sympathy.” Don't tell an editor that you've never been published before, or that you need to sell this piece or your children will starve.
The "I'm perfect for you" hook. Never sing your own praises: "I am a highly experienced professional and will be an asset to your magazine". Don't inform the editor that your article is "perfect" for his readers. Never declare that your article is "wonderful" or "fascinating." Prove it -- with a good query.
The "I'm an amateur" hook. Never announce that you have never been published before, or that you've tried to sell the same article to 20 other magazines, or that your writing teacher (or mother or spouse) suggested that you send this to a magazine. Even if you haven't sold anything before, you can still ACT like a professional.
Once you have an editor's attention, move on to the pitch. Usually, this is your second paragraph, and its purpose is to explain exactly what you're offering. For example, the pitch that followed the "localization" hook, above, went like this:
I'd like to offer you a 1,500-word article titled "Internationalizing Your Online Market." The article would discuss how small businesses can take advantage of "localizing" agents to tailor their products and market strategies to the international marketplace." ("How to Localize Your Web site.")
If possible, your pitch should include a working title for your article (titles help editors "visualize" what you're proposing), a word-count (make sure you've checked the publication's guidelines!), and a brief summary of what the article will cover.
This is where you really start to "sell." The body of your query will usually be from two to four paragraphs, and presents the details of your article. Remember that an editor wants to know exactly what the article will cover, so by this time you should have a working outline of the piece in your own mind.
A good way to present an overview of your topic is to break it into logical subtopics -- e.g., the sections that would be likely to appear under subheads in the finished piece. The longer the article, the more subtopics you can include (though it's usually not advisable to have more than four or five). For example, a 700-word article on cancer in pets might only cover "The ten warning signs of cancer," while a 2000-word article on the same topic might cover "common types of cancer, warning signs, and current treatment options." A good way to determine whether you have the right number of subtopics is to divide your word-count by the number of topics -- e.g., a 2,000 word article with five subtopics gives you a budget of 400 words per topic.
Here's how I described the content of an article on quilt care:
The article covers techniques of hand-cleaning delicate quilts to avoid damaging fragile fabrics and prevent fading and staining. It discusses ways to remove spot stains (including blood spots and rust stains from needles and other metal contact). It also discusses ways to mend damaged quilts without destroying the integrity of an heirloom piece. Finally, it discusses the best ways to store or display quilts in order to preserve and protect them. ("Caring for Heirloom Quilts," sold to DownUnder Quilts.)
Some writers like to use block paragraphs; others like to use bullets. There's no rule on the best style; choose a style that makes your query visually appealing and easy to read.
Editors want to know why you are the best person to write the article you've proposed. This is where your credentials come in. Don't assume, however, that these must include writing credits. While a list of previous articles on relevant topics is nice, you may also be able to prove your qualifications with credentials such as:
Professional experience (some publications accept material ONLY from qualified experts)
Academic degrees or training
Teaching experience in the subject area
Personal experience (especially if the article relates to personal issues/problems)
Interviews with experts (a way to demonstrate that even if you don't have the credentials, you'll be able to get information from those who DO)
Credentials are usually listed in the last or next-to-last paragraph. Here's an example:
As webmaster of www.musicphotographer.com, it has been my job to connect music writers and photographers with the markets that need their work. This is the only site devoted to music journalism on the Web. I'm also writing the first guide on the topic. Reviews for my last book, The Van Halen Encyclopedia, are available at Amazon.com. (C. Chilver's successful pitch to Inkspot for "How to Write for the Music Market.")
Use the final paragraph of your article to thank the editor for reviewing your proposal -- and to offer one last "nudge" to encourage the editor to respond. I usually include a time-estimate in this paragraph -- e.g., "If you are interested in this article, I can have it on your desk within XX days." Here's a typical closing paragraph:
I hope this topic interests you, and look forward to your response. If you would like to see the article, I can have it on your desk within two weeks of receiving your go-ahead. Thank you for your time!
The presentation of your letter can be as important as your content. A traditional (paper) query should include the following elements:
A decent letterhead. At the very least, your name and address and other contact information should be printed at the top of your letter (NOT at the bottom or under your signature) in an attractive font. You can have an inexpensive letterhead designed and typeset at your local printing shop, or online through iPrint.com. Or, design your own on your computer.
A business-style body. If you aren't familiar with terms like "block" or "modified block.” Always include a blank line between paragraphs, and don't indent more than five spaces (if at all).
A formal salutation. Don't address the editor by first name unless you know him/her personally.
Clean, proofread copy. Don't rely on your spellchecker; review your query yourself before mailing it out.
Quality paper. Use at least 20-lb. bond paper for queries. Some writers like to use fancier papers—parchment, linen, etc.—on the theory that a nicer paper with a professional tint will stand out amidst all the white paper on an editor's desk. Don't go to "colors" however—pink paper and blue type scream for rejection.
A SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). Don't use "insert" envelopes; fold a full-size business envelope (#10) in thirds and use that. Be sure it has adequate postage. If you are submitting a query from another country, be sure that your SASE has the correct postage for the target country—or else include an appropriate number if using IRCs (international reply coupons).
These guidelines are for traditional "paper" queries. Needless to say, not all of these "rules" are possible when sending an e-mail query.
Many editors ask for clips so that they can review a sample of your writing style. Clips are simply copies of previously published materials. Never send copies of unpublished works! Don't send clips of work you've self-published or posted on your own Web site. And remember, bad clips are worse than no clips at all.
It's best to send clips that are relevant to the proposal, if you have them. If you don't, send samples from your most prestigious publications. If most of your published works are electronic, print out copies from your Web site; don't just ask the editor to "visit" unless you are sending an e-mail query.
If you have no clips, don't despair. Most editors consider the merits of a query first and the clips second. (To be honest, many editors don't even have time to read clips, even though they request them.) If your query is strong enough, the absence of clips shouldn't be enough to trigger a rejection, unless the publication works ONLY with published writers.
How long should you wait for a response? Usually, you should wait at least as long as the publication's guidelines suggest (e.g., 4 to 6 weeks) -- and then add another two weeks "grace period." Then, send a polite follow-up. Attach a copy of your original query, so that the editor won't have to search the files for it. If you still hear nothing after another 3-4 weeks, consider a polite phone call. (No, it won't cause your article to be rejected.) If you STILL can't get an answer, and you would like to withdraw the query, send a final letter informing the editor that, as you have received no response, you are officially withdrawing the query from consideration. This protects you from charges of "simultaneous submissions" if the first editor finally decides to reply after you've already sent the query on to someone else.
The ability to write a good query is one of the most important skills in a writer's toolbox. A good query shows an editor that you can write and that you are a professional—qualities that may result in an assignment even if the editor can't use your original proposal. Think of your query as a letter of introduction, your first and only opportunity to get your foot through that particular door. If you make a good impression, you're likely to be invited back (even if your original pitch is rejected). If you make a bad impression, you may find that door forever closed.
Moira Allen, editor, publisher, and author, has written more than 300 articles and columns. Her books on writing include Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing.com: Creative Internet Strategies to Advance Your Writing Career.
Tip of the Month
Don’t move! The words are coming!
Move past slow periods by staying put at the computer, or with a pad in your hand. Resist getting frustrated and just walking away in disgust. Go out for a few minutes and get some fresh air if you must, or a cup of coffee. But persevere. Don’t get into the habit of merely quitting when the writing isn’t flowing. Train your mind to not be lazy, to break through during the tough times. Even give yourself a hard deadline to write a certain amount of words by such and such an hour. Try it. You’ll be a better, more productive writer as a result.
Markets for the Next Generation
By Kim McDougall
When I was eight-years-old, I wrote my first book of poems. I proudly illustrated each verse and put them together in a binder. With pride and joy, I showed my collection to my mother. She dutifully praised me, and I put the book away. When I was a teen, I started to write again, sporadically, but I didn¹t commit to being an author until well into my twenties. A few years ago, I found that book of poems and wondered how my writing career would have differed if I had been encouraged at a young age. Not that I blame my mother or my teachers for this lapse in my education. At the time, there were few resources for young writers.
Today, many authors mentor emerging writers through critique groups and chat forums, but what about our youngest generation of aspiring writers? Shouldn¹t we make an effort to encourage them? Thankfully, several print and ezine markets have sprung up for just that purpose.
Magic Dragon Magazine publishes stories and artwork for grade school children. Their mission statement says, “Our conviction is that encouraging children in the elementary grades to be unafraid to express their creative ideas will increase their chances of becoming adults unafraid to apply a creative approach to all aspects of their lives and work.” Many educators agree that reading and writing are the building blocks of a successful school career as well as the foundations needed to succeed in the multi-tasking world that lies ahead.
Apart from the educational benefits, having a story or picture published can build self-confidence. Can you remember the pride and excitement of your first publication? How much more exciting would that be for a child?
Apollo’s Lyre, a well-respected fiction magazine, has recently expanded to include Junior Muses. On this forum, kids can publish stories and get feedback from established writers. With school budgets being cut, arts programs are nearly a thing of the past. These forums are invaluable resources for kids who otherwise would have no outlet or feedback for their creativity.
Not every kid is going to be an author, but writing fiction isn¹t the only way to get kids motivated about literature. Musing Our Children is a site for kids to post reviews of their favorite books. With resources for parents and teachers, this forum offers a new way for adults to encourage and interact with children.
My eight-year-old daughter recently wrote a review for Musing Our Children. Her excitement at seeing her words in print was infectious. She read her review at school and showed the website to all her friends. On her next report card, her teacher commented, “Genevieve continues to exhibit a positive attitude towards school. Towards the end of the marking period, she displayed great enthusiasm towards reading and writing. I think the on-line book review really sparked her motivation.”
Of course, kids aren’t going to find these sites by themselves. They need gentle nudges from parents and teachers. If you have a child in your life, consider introducing her to a world of creativity through the written word. When she sees her name in print, her eyes will come alive and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are setting her on a path for success.
Take a look at these sites by and for kids:
Magic Dragon publishes fiction and artwork for children in the elementary school grades. http://www.magicdragonmagazine.com/
Stone Soup publishes stories, poems, reviews and art of children 8 to 13 years of age. http://www.stonesoup.com/send-work/
Apollo’s Junior Muses publishes fiction from children up to 17 years of age. Provides a forum for feedback from readers and resources for teachers. http://apolloslyreco.tripod.com/apollosjuniormuses/index.html
Water Lilies Network publishes books written and edited by children. http://inspirekids.weebly.com/
Stories for Children publishes fiction and artwork from children 17 years and younger. http://storiesforchildren.tripod.com/id319.html
Alex’s Spotlight Reviews. This teen hosts a podcast of book and movie reviews. Her site also includes a forum for other teens to discuss the reviews. http://alexsspotlightreviews.tripod.com
Flamingnet. Publishes reviews from student reviewers. http://flamingnet.com/aboutus.cfm
Musing our Children. Publishes reviews by children. Includes resources for parents and teachers. http://musingourchildren.tripod.com/
Other great sites for kids:
Innovative Teen is a blog for aspiring teen writers. http://innovativeteen.blogspot.com/
Jessica Kennedy’s website has a very useful little bug named Herb who has many links for kids. http://www.jessica-kennedy.com/HerbSays.html
Contributing newsletter columnist Kim McDougall is a photographer and author of fantasy fiction for adults. Under the pen name Kim Chatel, she writes children's and YA fiction. Check out her upcoming picture book "Rainbow Sheep," coming soon from Guardian Angel Publishing at:
And please check out her Web site at:
The Writing Life
What Makes You a Writer?
By Benjamin Cavell, author of Rumble, Young Man, Rumble
I have always been afraid that if anyone knew how difficult writing was for me, they would never read my work. Everyone loves stories of mythic discipline--Hemingway wrote standing up for twenty-three hours every day; Kipling would hire local gangs to beat him with lead pipes at the end of any afternoon during which he did not write at least a thousand words--but when it comes time to actually sit and enjoy the work, no reader wants to be confronted by the drudgery of an author's days. Part of the fiction of fiction is that its creation is effortless.
Every writing-advice book admonishes its readers to write every day. I read one once that, in giving its reasoning for this advice, asked, "What if the angel came and I wasn't there?" My objection to that--beyond my aversion to its facile, sentimental treatment of writing as magic (writing may in fact be magic but anyone who would say that thing about the angel wouldn't be able to tell you why)--is that on days the "angel" comes, it takes no discipline to write. That is, the really inspired days are the ones on which you don't have to force yourself to write. Of course writing, when it's going, is an ecstasy. The drudgery of being a professional writer comes in trying to make good days out of bad days and in squeezing out the words when they won't just flow.
Writing every day is vital to the life of a writer in part because, before one is published, there are very few concrete indications that one is in fact a writer. You are a writer because you say you are and maybe because other people say you are, but mostly you are a writer because you write. On days when you don't write, it's not as clear what you are.
But, again, these are things that the reader doesn't want to know. These are things that one maybe wants to read in a literary biography when the subject's work is only rarely read for pleasure anymore.
"There appears," says Dr. Johnson, "to be a strange affectation in authors of appearing to have done everything by chance." I don't think it's so strange.
Words live forever in the hearts of those who read them.
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Credits, Disclaimer, and Copyright
Michael P. Geffner, the founder/editor-in-chief of this newsletter, has been a writer/journalist for nearly 30 years. He's appeared in hundreds of publications, including the New York Times, USA Today, Details, The Sporting News, Men's Health, The Village Voice, FHM, Texas Monthly, and Los Angeles Magazine. He has won two Associated Press Sports Editors awards, been awarded first place for magazine profile writing in 2000 by the Society of Professional Journalists (NJ), voted Best Sportswriter in New York City in 1990 by New York Press, and acknowledged for excellence six times by the annual anthology, The Best American Sports Writing.
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