Vol 1, Issue 5 May 5, 2008
Editor in Chief: Michael P. Geffner
Layout & Design: Bailey-Shropshire Professional Writing Services
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, Dee Power, Hugh Rosen, Julie Ann Shapiro
Copy Editor: Melinda Brack
A Word from Mike
Dear Newsletter Subscribers,
I used to think that I was the only writer in the world who hated writing as much as I loved it, who would invent new forms of procrastination just to keep from doing it, who would curl into fetal positions at the thought of an impending deadline, who would go into a cold sweat trying to figure out how to start the thing. I’ve since come to understand that there’s not a writer alive who doesn’t feel like I do. That as much as they revel in the process, they suffer just the same.
The following is a 10-point list of what I love and hate about what we all can’t stop doing, no matter how much it hurts sometimes:
What I love
1) The freedom of expression, letting my thoughts burst forth unimpeded, and, on that rare occasion, finding that glorious flow, as if I were, to borrow a line from the movie Amadeus, taking dictation from God.
2) Researching for hours and hours and hours before finally unearthing that singularly wonderful fact that changes everything.
3) Polishing, altering things again and again, if not spending an hour doing nothing more than inverting just two words. Absolute joy!
4) Interviewing people who have been interviewed countless times but getting them to say something different, shocking, if not profound. The thought of it gives me goose bumps.
5) Finding the different word that stretches the reader's mind. Makes my day.
6) Entertaining readers with my unique style. I admit it: I'm a ham and I pride myself on having an instantly recognizable style.
7) Becoming known for my work, both inside and outside the business, and establishing a solid reputation.
8) Seeing a new story in print for the first time and just staring at it with pride. Nothing like it. After 30 years of being a professional writer, this never gets old for me.
9) Receiving feedback/letters/etc. that tells me that my story moved them in some way, made them laugh or cry or think or re-think, etc. It’s why we all do it, right?
10) Getting paid for doing what I love. Excuse the cliché, but you can't beat that with a stick.
What I hate
1) The dread of coming up with that first line. Facing that blank screen/page trying to fill that god-awful emptiness with something compelling. OMG! The cold sweat of it.
2) Deadlines. Although without them, I wonder if I'd ever finish anything. A necessary evil, I guess—at least for me.
3) Editors who don't understand my genius. Such idiots! LOL
4) Rejection of any kind, including requests that I rewrite things. Ruins my day.
5) Waiting to hear back from editors after you've submitted something. It's the proverbial dying a thousand deaths.
6) Horrible editing that compels me to cringe when I read the story in print, if not to make an angry call to the guilty party screaming words I cannot mention here.
7) Hate mail. But it comes with the territory. I’ve learned to deal with it.
8) Fighting for the right word/words and not finding it/them. Nothing drives me crazier.
9) Thinking about the story so much, it makes sleep all but impossible.
10) Writing badly. Nothing depresses me more.
There you have it. I’d love to hear yours. In fact, send them to me (at email@example.com) and I’ll publish them in the next issue of the newsletter.
Best always and, yes, stay positive,
Insights on the Craft and Business of Writing
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INSIDE THIS ISSUE
1 The Spotlight Interview
2 Jeanne’s Writing Desk
3 Affirmations to Write By
4 Guest Column: Hugh Rosen
6 Publishing to the Power of Dee
7 The Language: Mark Terence Chapman
8 On The Writing Business: Patricia L. Fry
9 Writing Quotes of the Month
10 A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
11 Writing Promptly
12 Marketing: Angela Wilson
14 Talk the Talk
15 Market Watch: Kim McDougall
16 Slice of the Writing Life: Brenda Ueland
17 The Writing Life: Joshua James
18 Guest Column: Julie Ann Shapiro
19 Poetry Corner: Conrad Geller
20 Poetry Tip & Prompt of the Month: Barbara Crooker
MyWritersandAuthors.com is a developing public service website for aspiring writers and industry professionals.
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The Spotlight Interviews
Syd Field, Teacher/Author/Screenwriting Guru
You could say that Syd Field wrote the book on screenwriting. His longtime classic, if not something of a bible in the industry, “Screenplay: The Foundation of Writing,” has sold over 600,000 copies, been translated into 17 languages, and used in nearly 400 colleges and universities around the country. He’s also written the internationally acclaimed best-selling books, “The Screenwriter’s Workbook,” “Selling A Screenplay,” “Four Screenplays,” and “The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver.”
The Los Angeles Times Magazine once referred to him as the “"the first prophet of writing for the screen.”
Field has collaborated with top Hollywood writers, directors and producers, such as Roland Joffe (“The Killing Fields”), James Brooks (“Terms of Endearment,” “Broadcast News”), and Joe Eszterhas (“Basic Instinct,” “Jagged Edge”), and been a special consultant to 20th Century Fox, The Disney Studios, and TriStar Pictures.
His former students include Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Mask,” ”Gorillas in the Mist”), John Singleton (“Boyz in the Hood, Poetic Justice”), Randi Mayem Singer (“Mrs. Doubtfire”), Laura Esquivel (“Like Water for Chocolate”), Michael Kane (“The Color of Money”), and Kevin Williamson (“Scream, Scream 2”).
Here is my exclusive interview with Mr. Field:
Mike: Who were your early influences in film?
Field: I had three, all great directors. 1) Jean Renoir, the filmmaker who directed two of the greatest films ever, “Grand Illusion” and “Rules of the Game.” He was, without question, my mentor, and I was lucky enough to spend a couple of years with him at the University of California at Berkeley. It was an extraordinary experience. He taught me everything I now know about film. How to look at it. How to approach it. And what the art and craft of it is. On the subject of characters, he once told me it’s more effective dramatically to portray a son of a bitch than a nice guy. It’s worth thinking about 2) Michelangelo Antonioni, Italian filmmaker who directed the masterpiece, “La Notte,” about a disintegrating marriage. He showed me exactly how to tell a story more with pictures than with words and explanations, about the emotional arc of the character underneath the level of dialogue and overall tip of the storyline. 3) Sam Peckinpah, the notorious American filmmaker who directed “The Wild Bunch.” I spent a summer with Sam while he was co-writing The Wild Bunch. And we talked about everything, from screenwriting to directing to Westerns. I learned a lot just by being around him.
Mike: Where did you get your start?
Field: At David L. Wolper Productions. In the four years I was there, I worked my way up from the shipping department to writer-producer, working on, in one way or another, 125 documentaries, including National Geographic, Biography, Jacques Cousteau. There was a ton of great talent scattered throughout that company: Naming just a few, William Friedkin (director, “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist”), James Brooks (writer, director, producer, “Terms of Endearment” and “As Good As It Gets”), Walon Green (co-screenwriter, “The Wild Bunch”), and Alex Haley (writer, “Roots”).
Mike: Were you shocked by the success of “Screenplay”?
Field: Yes, but I knew that people were hungry for it. When I taught screenwriting at the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College in Hollywood, my students would always ask me, “What book can I read about screenwriting?” And the only one I knew of was “The Art of Dramatic Writing,” by Lajos Egri. And that was about playwriting and written in the mid-1940’s. So I knew there was a need for a book like mine. I based “Screenplay” on my teachings and my two-year experience in the 1960’s as a reader for a movie company called Cinemobile, where I read over 2,000 scripts. The thing is, of those 2,000 or so scripts, there were only 40 that were memorable to me, that really worked well. It got me thinking on what makes a great screenplay. I was determined to find out what made those 40 better than all the others. So I broke them down, analyzed them. The book is an outgrowth of the conclusions I ultimately came to.
Mike: So what makes a great screenplay?
Field: The two big answers: Strong characters and strong action. But what I’ve found with most young screenwriters, they try to tell their story through dialogue, through words, and not with action. What they don’t understand is, film is behavior, creating an emotional situation that the character reacts to. When the story is told more with words than visuals, it makes for a bad, talky-talky screenplay, where the main character becomes very passive. The main character must always be active. He has to initiate the action.
Mike: Which screenplays would you suggest studying then, the ones to model?
Field: For action and character, “Thelma and Louise,” written by Callie Khouri, is by far my most significant teaching film these days. Also “The Shawshank Redemption,” written by Frank Darabont. For character, Alan Ball’s “American Beauty” is wonderful. And, of course, Robert Towne’s “Chinatown” is a masterpiece of film noir.
Mike: What’s the best piece of advice could you give an aspiring screenwriter?
Field: To write from your heart and don’t be afraid to write sh-tty pages. You can’t change something from nothing. Get it down on paper first, no matter what it looks like.
Sol Stein, Editor/Author
For 36 years, Sol Stein edited and published some of the most successful writers of the century, including James Baldwin, Dylan Thmoas, Elia Kazan, W.H. Auden, and Jacques Barzun.
Stein himself is a prize-winning playwright produced on Broadway, an anthologized poet, the author of nine novels, plus nonfiction books, screenplays, and TV dramas.
His novel, “The Magician,” sold over one million copies, and his nonfiction includes the two highly acclaimed writing books, “How to Grow a Novel,” and “Stein on Writing.”
Stein founded the book-publishing firm of Stein and Day, and served as its President and Editor-in-Chief for over a quarter of a century.
The following is my exclusive interview with Mr. Stein:
Mike: How would you compare contemporary American novelists (DeLillo, Bellow, Roth, David Foster Wallace) to the ones from the 1920's and 30's (Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos)? Are we writing better novels today or worse?
Stein: I'm not sure it's useful to categorize writers. There are marked differences within the groups. Consider your first group. DeLillo is interesting, Bellow's best work is worth rereading, my experience of Roth has been quite uneven, and David Foster Wallace has created a useful doorstop. In the second group, only Dos Passos was experimental and now seems dated and interesting only from an historical viewpoint, while the others still provide experiences for the reader. This last is what fiction is about, providing heightened experiences for the reader that he doesn't get in everyday life. With David Foster Wallace, I see his words on the page, I see his tricks, I don't experience anything except frustration.
Mike: What's the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard—and from whom?
Stein: You've just heard it. Fiction is not an excuse for getting something off the writer’s chest, it is creating strong, memorable experiences for the reader.
I've learned craft from many teachers. I deal with the sources of what I know in my books so my readers will know I didn't make it all up. I was lucky to have a few marvelous writing teachers in school, college, and graduate school.
My best editors have also taught me some. The late Tony Godwin goaded me into writing my best novel. James Baldwin said I forced him to write “Notes of a Native Son.” The continuum is quite remarkable. The most appropriate dedication I've ever had was in Elia Kazan’s "The Understudy": "To Sol, who saw what I didn't think possible."
Mike: What advice would you give someone making the transition from non-fiction to fiction writing, or the other way around?
Stein: Nonfiction writers need to loosen their grip on reality in conceiving characters instead of reporting on characters they see. Reporting what someone said is light years from producing dialogue, which needs to be learned as if it were a foreign language. It is NOT anything like recorded speech. Anyone who has ever read court transcripts knows how boring recorded speech is. Nonfiction writers need to read good novels twice, the first time for pleasure, the second time to see how it's done. They need to learn the craft of writing fiction, which is like brain surgery. You are working on the reader's brain after anaesthetizing him by immersing him in an entirely imaginary experience that he believes is real.
Mike: What are the five quickest ways to improve one's writing?
Stein: Be a strict monitor of your precision and clarity. Stop reinventing the wheel. Over the centuries, writers have developed solutions to writing problems that can now be learned. Recognize that writing is rewriting, a big difference from newspaper reporting. Hone detail, check the accuracy of similes and metaphors, test credibility, make sure your characters are different and interesting and that readers will want to live with them for twelve hours or take them on vacation.
The worst mistake is to revise starting on page one.
Lee Gutkind, Editor/Writer/Teacher/Filmmaker
Lee Gutkind is the founding editor of the anthology series Creative Nonfiction: The Literature of Reality, a teacher, filmmaker, and an award-winning author/editor of over a dozen books. He’s often been called “The Godfather behind Creative Nonfiction.”
Here is my exclusive interview with Mr. Gutkind:
Mike: What is the best piece of writing advice you ever heard?
Gutkind: That you need to build a habit of writing. To write every day and on a schedule.
Mike: Should you edit your work during the process or after you’ve finished?
Gutkind: Every writer has his or her own way of doing it, a way they’re most comfortable. But I would suggest you be like a sculptor. First get your big block of clay on the table and let your imagination run wild. Be expansive. Go off on tangents. Be creative. Experimental. Just let go. Don’t worry about editing. Just make it come alive. Then, once everything is there, slowly chisel it down piece by piece.
Mike: What quick hits could you give to my members so they can improve their writing immediately?
Gutkind: Everybody wants quick hits today. The thing is, Hemingway didn’t learn from quick hits. He learned by reading the great works. Unfortunately, all the quick hits, like reading as much of the great works as you can, take a long time. But it’s very important that you learn to read not just as a reader but as a writer. I focus on this in my workshops. By this, I mean to look at it through the eyes of a writer. With a critical eye.
Mike: What books have influenced you the most?
Gutkind: Thomas Wolfe’s and Ernest Hemingway’s books struck me during my youth. Hemingway’s ability to tell a story, as well as to go back and forth from fiction to non-fiction, using the techniques of each in doing the other, was just amazing to me. Later, Gay Talese’s “Fame & Obscurity” changed the way I viewed nonfiction writing. It’s like a Bible to me now.
Mike: What makes great creative non-fiction?
Gutkind: The passing along of information using great storytelling and poetic writing. To write in scenes. For storytelling techniques, I’d advise your members to read my book, “The Art of Creative Nonfiction.” For poetic influences, read the works of Diane Ackerman, Annie Dillard, and the first parts of Talese’s “The Bridge” or his incredible piece, “Sinatra Has A Cold.” Contrary to popular belief, poetry is closer to nonfiction than one might imagine. On the most basic levels, poems are, in essence, nonfiction: spiritual and literal truth told in free form or verse.
THE LAST WHALE - Narrative Nonfiction
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Jeanne’s Writing Desk
Let’s Talk…About Dialogue
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman
The use of dialogue in fiction is one the most powerful tools a writer can apply. Well-crafted dialogue can advance the plot, enhance characterization, or set the scene. Poorly written dialogue can destroy what is otherwise an interesting tale.
Written dialogue vs. oral speech. It’s important to understand that dialogue—the written expression of a conversation—is really compressed speech. In real life, people speak in spurts and pauses. They repeat themselves. They inject extraneous modifiers such as, “you know,” or “well.” The version that the writer puts to the page is a distillation of the verbal conversation. It is not an exact reproduction of the words as they are spoken.
Types of dialogue. Most writers think of dialogue as representing only oral speech, but a written conversation really consists of three forms of communication: 1) verbal; 2) physical action/body language; and 3) internal monologue (thoughts). Let’s take a look at the exact same conversation presented in all three forms:
1) Verbal Only
Susan sat in the dark kitchen, waiting for Mark to come home. When she heard his key turn in the lock, she called out to him, “Why are you so late?”
“I told you I had to work late,” Mark said.
2) Physical action/body language
Susan sat in the dark kitchen, waiting for Mark to come home. When she heard his key turn in the lock, she called out to him, “Why are you so late?”
Mark slung the keys across the room, missing his wife’s ear by mere inches. “I told you I had to work late,” he said as he grabbed her by the hair.
3) Internal Monologue (thoughts)
Susan sat in the dark kitchen, waiting for Mark to come home. When she heard his key turn in the lock, she called out to him, “Why are you so late?”
“I told you I had to work late,” Mark said. If you knew what I was really doing, you dumb broad, you’d be terrified by now.
In the first example, the exchange is flat. The reader has no idea how Susan feels or what Mark thinks. The second excerpt shows us that Mark is a violent man, and the third version suggests Mark is involved in something dangerous. The best dialogue has weight to it: Characters mean much more than what they actually say.
The tennis match. I like to think of dialogue as a vigorous tennis match. Every action has a reaction. That response to speech can be verbal, physical, or mental, but your characters must respond in some way to what has been said. If there is no response, then there is no reason for the character to speak. This action/reaction process in dialogue is true even if you have a person alone in a room talking to himself. The action/reaction structure of dialogue is brought to a close when the tension reaches its peak, initiating a change in your story or your character.
The beat goes on. Beats in dialogue are pauses in the conversation that allow your characters to react to what has been said. They also provide a more natural rhythm to the speech. These beats usually take the form of business the character engages in while he formulates a verbal response. Suppose that, in the example above, Mark wants to stall for time before he answers Susan. You could establish this “pause” by inserting some action before he speaks:
Susan sat in the dark kitchen, waiting for Mark to come home. When she heard his key turn in the lock, she called out to him, “Why are you so late?”
Mark slipped off his overcoat and shook it out before hanging it on the hook by the door. He was aware that Lily’s perfume still clung to him, but he hoped that Susan wouldn’t notice. “I told you I had to work late,” he said.
This small amount of detailed action provides a subtext of meaning for Mark’s words and illustrates an important fact to remember about beats: What is not said can be just as important as what is said.
Said is the invisible word. Many writers seem to feel that “said” is boring, but what they don’t realize is that most readers never notice the word. Descriptive words that call attention to themselves—such as croaked, hissed, snarled, etc.—should be used sparingly and only for emphasis. There is nothing more distracting than when a reader encounters a term used incorrectly. Hissed, for example, implies that the speech will contain sibilants (words with an ‘s’ sound), but how can you “hiss” the following? “Put the gun down.”
The same caution should be applied to the use of adverbs, those deadly ‘ly’ words. Too often, the novice writer tries to prop up ‘said’ with a descriptive adverb, such as ‘happily, angrily, sadly,’ etc., producing prose that tells rather than shows the emotion. It’s much better to illustrate the emotion with action and/or internal monologue.
Eavesdropping 101. The best way to learn how to write dialogue is to listen to live conversation. Take a trip to a public place, such as a mall or a restaurant, and listen (discreetly, of course) to the conversations taking place around you. Listen to the ebb and flow of the words; notice the gestures people use to punctuate their conversations; listen to the inflections and the idiomatic expressions. Then reconstruct one of those conversations into the compressed form of written dialogue. After you’ve written a scene, read it aloud. Does it sound natural? If so, congratulations! You’ve just mastered the art of writing good dialogue.
Happy writing, and may all of your written conversations be scintillating!
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:
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Affirmations to Write By
I’m exceedingly disciplined and therefore allow myself plenty of time for writing projects.
I think about my writing projects even when I am not actively working on them and take notes about those thoughts when they arise.
I’m very organized and use a form of outlining that works best for me, using my outline to guide me through my work but still allowing myself to be inspired outside its boundaries.
I understand my needs as a writer, making sure they are met, but I am constantly reassessing those needs and changing them.
I find a congenial, relaxing place to write, allowing my ideas to flow easily.
I make sure to make writing a priority, refusing to give into procrastination.
I think writer's block is a silly phrase, since I always have something to say and often too many ideas to write them down in only one session.
I pace myself as a writer, allowing myself times to refill my creative cup.
I use a dictionary, thesaurus, and other tools to help me write well.
I read works by writers whom I admire, which inspires me as well as allows me to see, through careful study, their greatness.
Perspectives on Creative Writing Critique Groups
By Hugh Rosen
Groups for the purpose of authors critiquing each other’s fiction writing come in many varieties. One of the most common types can be found locally with the members meeting periodically anywhere from weekly to monthly. If no such group exists, a writer may play an active role in organizing one. Another, more formally structured, is to be found in MFA and MA creative writing programs at a college or university. Groups of this sort generally meet weekly and are led by an instructor, who is usually someone with experience as a published fiction writer.
The participants, by the very nature of these groups play two roles. The first is to engage in providing feedback to peers in the group, usually having read the text in question before the meeting. The other is to be the subject of receiving feedback about her writing that is given by the other group members. A writing critique group can turn out to offer a constructive or destructive experience; if the latter, one should leave the group as soon as she realizes it. This may be more difficult to do, however, when the activity is taking place in the context of a school setting.
Delivering a critique to a peer in a group is in itself an art. When giving feedback try to provide it within he writer's framework and do not impose the way you would have done it. It should be borne in mind that the purpose is to help the writer to enhance her writing, voice, and style, not to tear down or attack what has been submitted. Whenever possible, a critical commentary should be communicated tactfully and accompanied by a rationale along with some suggestions for alternative approaches. This does not require being circumspect or oblique. The information given should be direct and honest, but spoken (or written) tactfully. The "feel good" approach is not helpful to the author. If the person presenting the critique is afraid of hurting the feelings of the recipient, then the message will be diluted and distorted, hence, diminishing its value. Sometimes the person giving the feedback purposely has only nice things to say in order to assure that when her own material is critiqued the group members will go easy on her, too. This is of help to no one and should be avoided. However, when there are genuinely positive things to say about the work under scrutiny, do not withhold them from the author because it is important for her to learn her strengths, as well as her weaknesses, and have them reinforced.
When the author is receiving feedback about her writing from other members of the group, she should not be defensive. It is important to recognize that you are not being personally analyzed, but your work is. You are not your work, no matter how strongly you may be identified with it. Remember that your ultimate purpose is to someday have your work published and go out into the world to readers who will not be thinking of you, but what they are reading. Granted this is sometimes hard to do for the reader when in those rare instances your name is Margaret Atwood or Stephen King. But, nevertheless, you need not fall into that trap.
Aspiring authors are frequently cautioned to be thick skinned when submitting their work to an agent or publisher, as they are sure to collect a good many rejection slips before finally being published. One is bound to be disappointed by rejections, but they should not lead to depression or giving up. Rather, perseverance and faith in your growing ability is the antidote to them. Some of the best-established authors, past and present, have received dozens, if not hundreds of rejection slips before finally being accepted. That same thick skin is required in the critique group. The writer whose work is being analyzed by the group should not be defensive or try to explain away why the person offering the feedback is wrong. This leads us to an unavoidable dilemma that arises in every group. You will often find that the criticism you receive can run the gamut from poor to superlative. No matter how objective your peers may try to be, they will to some extent be interpreting your writing through the lens of their own worldview and experiences. So listen carefully and respectfully to what each person has to say, but keep in mind that in the end, it is your work and your judgment that should prevail. Be selective. Take from the group what you find significant and enriching, while setting aside comments that are not helpful, which you do not agree with, or that do not suit your style.
Lastly, if you do not have access to a group and do not wish to start one, it is a good idea to have someone in your camp that is willing to read your work and knows how to provide constructive feedback. It is ill advised to choose someone who is not experienced and who will merely pat you on the back while whispering into your ear how good your work is. Not every author is a "joiner," but everyone needs somebody outside of her self to review her work.
Good luck with your writing endeavors and I wish you every success
Professor Emeritus Hugh Rosen, D.S.W., born and raised in Philadelphia, Pa., is the sole author of three academic books and has co-edited three others on cognitive development, moral reasoning, and psychotherapy, and has published a novel, Silent Battlefields.
Please feel free to visit his Web site at:
Enter the third annual Writing Show First-Chapter-of-a-Novel Contest! First prize $1000. Late deadline June 20, 2008. Details at http://www.writingshow.com.
The Author’s Repair Kit is a NEW ebook designed to help you breathe new life into your faltering or failing book. Use Patricia Fry’s post-publication book proposal system and heal your publishing mistakes. The Author's Repair Kit, only 27 pages: $5.95. http://www.matilijapress.com/author_repairkit.html.
Call for Submissions at Cowboy Logic Press
• Short stories between 2500 and 5000 words on “Uncommon Sense”
Select a favorite quote and expand to a story:
Example: “Can’t see the forest for the trees.”
• Flash fiction using humor on “A funny thing happened on the way to the rodeo”
See details in the Submission forum at the following links:
Free registration required.
The 2008 Hollywood Book Festival is set for July 11-12 at the Grove at Farmer’s Market in conjunction with Barnes & Noble. The festival spotlights books for the film/television communities. More information at www.hollywoodbookfestival.com
The 2008 New York Book Festival will be held June 27-28 in Central Park. Author readings/signings, children’s activities, vendors, food, music, with awards at the famed Algonquin Hotel. More information at www.newyorkbookfestival.com
Publishing to the Power of Dee
Fishing for an agent? Use the right bait
Our survey of 60 agents offer writers a wealth of tips
By Brian Hill and Dee Power
Most aspiring authors begin their careers with little or no understanding of how to go about finding an agent to represent their work. They quickly learn that most major publishing houses only accept submissions through literary agents. So, with great anticipation, they begin sending query letters to agents and usually get a cool reception, or even hit an impenetrable brick wall.
To understand how authors can improve their odds of attracting an agent, and to learn the outlook for rookies trying to crack into the brutally competitive publishing industry, we surveyed more than 60 literary agents. Their backgrounds range from large, well-known agencies to smaller “boutique” agencies.
Among the questions we asked were these: Where do agents find clients? What is the most critical mistake writers make when approaching agents? What is the most common reason you decline to represent a writer? And, do you see the publishing industry becoming more or less favorable for new (unpublished) authors?
We think our survey results and agent comments offer some good insights for all types of writers.
Where do agents find clients?
39% Referral from one of their other clients
33% Direct contact by the writer
9% Referral from editors and publishers
8% Referral from other authors not their clients
5% Referrals from other agents
3% Attendance at writers conferences
It is no surprise that referrals from the agents’ current clients were the top method cited. Publishing is a relationship-based industry, and contacts are extremely important. A recommendation from someone whose opinion an agent trusts is always valued and receives prompt attention. Several top-selling authors’ careers were launched when another bestselling author took them under their wing and introduced them to agents or publishers.
What might be surprising is that as many as a third of the agents said direct contact from the writer was the most common way they found new clients. So, most definitely, there’s hope for all the authors sweating blood over the last draft of that perfect query.
What is the most critical mistake writers make when
approaching literary agents for representation?
Most of the answers were clustered in the following four areas:
Poor writing or poorly prepared contact letter
It’s curious that agents report getting so many weak query letters, since a number of books deal with the subject, including Making the Perfect Pitch by agent Katharine Sands, and many writers conferences cover the topic in depth. Once you see some examples of successful queries, it isn’t really that complicated to compose your own—particularly compared to the task of writing a long novel.
Here are some representative comments from the agents:
“Declining to divulge the contents of their manuscripts in their queries—they just don’t get that it’s the writing, not the ideas.”
“Writing a clumsy, uninformative, grandiose, marketing-heavy, casual or just poorly composed query letter.”
“Not being professional, succinct or specific, and for inexperienced novelists they most often have what I call the ‘first 50-page ho-hum.’ The story really begins somewhere between pages 56 and 100. This is a downfall which crosses my path more often than it should.”
“They don’t know the components and priorities for writing a good pitch letter, especially about listing their professional credits up front.”
Inappropriate subject or genre for that agent
The second most popular response to our question about critical mistakes indicates many writers don’t do their homework when selecting agents to contact. Sending a wonderful query about your amazing revolutionary cookbook to an editor who specializes in placing mystery fiction is simply a waste of everyone’s time. Reference books such as Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents clearly point out what individual agents are looking for. (Some of the agents’ preferences and prejudices can seem odd. In one guide, for example, an agent warned, “Don’t send me any right-wing Tom Clancy stuff.” Did this agent really mean to say he’d turn down the chance to earn 15 percent of the mega-royalties Clancy has earned? This poor fellow should be seeking career advice, not dispensing it.)
Author hype, ego, arrogance
Agents report that creative people often have big egos. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Part of the problem stems from the authors’ awareness of how many other writers they are competing with for the agent’s attention. The temptation to use hyperbole to differentiate oneself can be overwhelming.
A significant number of the agents warned against overselling and arrogance—”Trying to act more like a sales person, and not like a writer,” as one agent put it. “Hyping the agent. A straightforward recitation is much more effective.”
Yet, others said the worst mistake was “Not writing an engaging query,” or “Writing dreary query letters describing the plot of the book.” Now we’re starting to get confused. Do the agents want an exciting query or that “straightforward recitation”? Most likely they want both.
Uneducated about the publishing process
The author who is truly talented and dedicated to the craft of writing has a clear advantage right from the start, since the overwhelming response from agents was that the quality of many submissions they receive is poor. But the author who can articulate the market for his or her book is also way ahead. The author needs to think of himself as a small businessperson entering a new industry, not as a “literary artist.” Prospective authors must be able to address the question: Who is going to buy my book and why? Writers should not assume that an agent or an editor will automatically recognize the target audience for a book, or how large that audience might be.
Authors who can show they’ll be helpful and energetic in selling the book once it is published are particularly sought after in today’s market.
Some representative comments from the agents:
“They fail to think about who the audience is for their book, and how best to reach that audience in real (as opposed to airy-fairy) ways. Lack of original thinking . . . lack of professionalism in that they have no real clue how the industry works or what an editor or agent does for a living.”
“Less a mistake in approach, more a mistake in knowing what makes a publishable book. Most writers really don’t know.”
What is the most common reason you decline to represent a writer?
60% Poor writing
17% Book was outside agent’s genre
10% Agent’s client base was full
8% Writer’s work and agent don’t click
The good news is that the top two reasons given are factors under the writer’s control. Most authors develop and improve their craft over a number of years. An aspiring author certainly doesn’t have to remain in that “poor writing” category forever.
But what exactly is “poor writing”? In the decline letters they send to authors, agents often say they turned the author down because they aren’t enthusiastic enough about the material. A favorite phrase they use is, “I simply didn’t fall in love with the writing.” This is probably the source of more author frustration than any other aspect of getting published. Success or failure hinges on extremely subjective judgments. Think about your own reading experience. How often do you pick up a novel, read 10 pages and decide you aren’t interested in it? Does that mean the writing was “poor”? Not at all. It simply means you didn’t connect with the story. Every individual’s literary taste is different.
One frequently received type of rejection isn’t really “rejection” at all: The agent has all the clients she can handle at the present time, so she really has no choice but to send a decline letter to unsolicited submissions. The agent in this case was doing the author a favor; it would have been far worse to accept a new client who would receive inadequate attention. Too often, though, authors interpret such a decline letter as meaning “my book must not be any good.” Actually, the agent may not have even had time to read the submission package.
An encouraging note is that the agents’ answers here indicated that the fact a writer was unpublished was not a significant reason for rejection.
The outlook for the next generation of authors
Agents can be considered a bellwether for the publishing industry. The manuscripts they’re now accepting for representation are the books that have the potential to become published a year or two down the road. Overall, the agents were mildly negative about the prospects for new authors in the next 12 to 24 months. Some representative comments follow:
“Publishers don’t know how to sell books. They’ve continued to lose money. Now they think the only way to be sure to sell books is by buying names that are known. This is not the correct way to think, however. And perhaps within the next five years they will get it.”
“Editors no longer rely on their instincts and passions as selection criteria; instead they go by such formulas as Bad Numbers, Author Has No Platform, etc.”
Changes in book retailing
“Because of the pressure of the chain buyers, publishers are increasingly locked into publishing only the new authors with no record and bestselling authors.”
“ . . . As long as the retail market continues to consolidate in the hands of fewer and fewer retailers, the entire industry becomes dependent on the taste of a small handful of ‘buyers’ who choose which books get shelf space.”
Publishers are becoming more risk-averse
“What does keep projects from being bought is the fact that lists are shrinking, and in a marketplace in which it’s terribly hard to win anyone’s attention—from buyers all the way to customers—everyone up the editorial chain is anxious about making the wrong bet ... more often than not, ‘no’ is a safe answer.”
Some agents, though, are optimists
“[The publishing industry is] for unpublished writers who have a brilliant first novel to offer or a nonfiction platform. It is against unpublished writers who are bad writers (or, in the case of nonfiction, are not credentialed in their field, [or don’t] have a new original, high-concept idea, etc.).”
“The industry is not a monolithic thing. Some genres (nonfiction especially, which more and more requires the author to have a major platform for promotion and media attention) will continue to become more difficult, [while] some genres (upmarket fiction) exalt first-time writers. The ‘first novel’ for literary fiction represents a unique marketing opportunity for a publisher; it’s the second and third novels that tend to be far more difficult to publish well if the first doesn’t take off.”
Improve your chances of gaining literary representation
First of all, study the elements of a good query letter. Make yours succinct and positive, but not obnoxious. Stress that you understand the market for your book and how to reach it. Include your credentials and writing credits. Learn what agents are looking for and query the agents that match up best with your topic or genre. Polish, polish, polish your pitch. Use every chance to meet people in the publishing industry. Don’t take negative responses personally. Don’t give up. Perseverance is the critical, but often unheralded, element of publishing success.
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
Continuing my series of articles, here are some more words and phrases 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?
Poo-poo vs. pooh-pooh vs. pupu
Wrong: You always poo-poo new ideas.
Right: You always pooh-pooh new ideas.
Poo-poo is what an infant does in its diaper, while pooh-pooh is what you do to an idea you don’t like. Pupu is a selection of snacks served on a platter in a Chinese restaurant. Just make sure they serve you a pupu platter, and not a poo-poo platter! (I’d ask for my money back on that one….)
Perogative vs. prerogative
Wrong: That’s your perogative.
Right: That’s your prerogative.
Perogative is a simple misspelling of prerogative.
Do to vs. due to
Wrong: We failed do to your incompetence!
Right: We failed due to your incompetence!
Due to means “because of.” Do to is simply a spelling confusion due to the similarity in pronunciation of the words.
Wrong: Irregardless of his feelings, we have to do it.
Right: Regardless of his feelings, we have to do it.
“Irregardless” is an erroneous combination of irrespective and regardless, synonyms that mean “without regard” or “unmindful.”
Would of / could of
Wrong: I would of come with you if you would of asked.
Right: I would have come with you if you’d asked.
Would of/could of/should of are improper grammar. Always use “have” instead of “of” or use the contractions, would’ve/could’ve/should’ve. (Alternatively, substitute other phrases, such as “you had” or “you’d”, in the example above.)
You and me vs. you and I
Wrong: You and me have to go get Dan.
Right: You and I have to go get Dan.
Wrong: Do you want to go to the store with Dan and I?
Right: Do you want to go to the store with Dan and me?
Confusing? It’s actually quite simple to figure out when to say you and I versus you and me. The rule I learned is to leave out the other party and see how it sounds. In the first example, above, you wouldn’t say “Me have to go get Dan.” You’d say, “I have to go get Dan.” Similarly, you’d say “(You and) I have to go get Dan.” In the second example, you wouldn’t say, “Do you want to go to the store with I?” You’d say, “Do you want to go to the store with me?” So, you’d say “Do you want to go to the store with (Dan and) me?” (And, of course, we all know never to say “Me and you…,” unless we’re writing dialog for someone who speaks in an uneducated manner—right?)
Kudo vs. kudos
Wrong: That’s deserving of a kudo.
Wrong: That’s deserving of many kudos.
Right: That’s deserving of kudos.
Kudos means praise or acclaim. Despite the “s” on the end, it’s singular, not plural. Therefore kudo as a singular form, and kudos used as a plural are both incorrect.
Mano a mano vs. man to man
Wrong: He’s going to take him on mano a mano.
Right: He’s going to take him on man-to-man.
Okay, this isn’t exactly an English phrase, but I see it misused so often in English writing that I felt the need to mention it. Presumably due to the spelling, many English speakers use the phrase as if it means “man to man.” In fact, mano a mano literally means “hand to hand” in Spanish, as in hand-to-hand combat. (I’ve also seen/heard it misused as mano y mano, or hand and hand, which makes even less sense.) There’s no point in spicing up your writing with foreign phrases if you’re going to use them incorrectly. If you mean one-on-one, head-to-head, or man-to-man, why not just say so?
Who’s vs. whose
Wrong: Who’s car is that?
Right: Whose car is that?
Who’s is a contraction of “who is.” Whose (in this context) means “belonging to whom.” Therefore, you might ask “Who’s (who is) going to the store with me?” and you might say “I don’t care whose shoes they are.” (I don’t care to whom these shoes belong.)
Wrong: While at work, you may only smoke outside.
Right: While at work, you may smoke only outside (or “outside only”).
Is smoking the only thing you can do outside? That’s what the first example suggests: no walking, talking, or anything else but smoking. Often, only can be used in multiple places within a sentence, and impart different meanings to that sentence, depending on where it’s used. For this reason, it’s best to position the word as close as possible to the word it modifies (in this case outside).
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:
On the Writing Business
6 Unique Ways to Make More Money Writing
By Patricia L. Fry
Are you a working writer? Do you have strong time management and marketing skills? Can you find enough work to support your writing habit? Would you like to make even more money? Of course you would. And you can! All you need is an awareness of the vast opportunities out there for writers and the willingness to stretch and grow.
Let’s say that you write articles for magazines. You send out forty queries and write three to eight articles each month. Additionally, you recycle your articles as reprints. You get paid to write a church bulletin and an occasional book review. What more could you do? Plenty. Here are some ideas:
1: Write political campaign material. Elections can be lucrative for writers. Whether the campaign is citywide or at the national level, candidates rely on accomplished writers to sway voters. I’ve earned some good money writing campaign material for school board candidates and local union election contenders. It’s easy to get involved. Simply choose your candidate or cause and apply for a writing job. Be prepared with a resume and a sample press release or campaign blurb. I charge $40/hour for this work, but the bigger the election, the higher the pay rate.
2: Start a newsletter business. I know someone who writes newsletters for half dozen or so businesses and organizations. Potential earnings per newsletter are in the $2000 to $6000 range per year. What does this work entail? You write articles, conduct interviews and provide data related to the business or organization and arrange to have the newsletter typeset and printed or copied.
3: Become a teacher. It took me years to figure out that my writing/publishing experience was a valuable commodity. Perhaps yours is, too. Give seminars for fledgling writers. Teach classes through a local art center, a community college or online. Present memoir classes at a senior center. Not only will you get paid anywhere from $100 to $1000 per course or seminar, some of your students might hire you to help them publish their works.
4: Produce fundraising material for businesses and organizations. Fundraising takes a special knack which is why business leaders and organization directors usually hire someone to write their fundraising materials. If you can write convincing, straightforward copy designed to touch people’s hearts and their pocketbooks, you can probably get work in this field. Fees vary according to the scope of the project.
5: Expand your writing services. Article writing or client work might be your forte. But don’t limit yourself. There are a wide variety of companies and organizations out there looking for good writers. Have you ever visited a Web site that was disorganized and littered with misspelled words? Contact the Web master and offer to rewrite the text. Do you sometimes find mistakes on brochures you receive in the mail? Go to the heads of these companies/organizations, point out the mistakes and offer your services.
Perhaps a local business, your county seat or a historical church is nearing a hallmark anniversary. Propose a commemorative piece to celebrate the event. I just finished a booklet featuring the history of our largest local water district and earned $3,000 for my efforts.
6: Ask for writing work. When you experience a slow time (and we all have them), contact some of your favorite editors and ask for an assignment. Maybe one of their writers can’t make deadline and they need a fast turnaround on an article. Perhaps they have an idea, but haven’t yet settled on a writer to initiate it. It often pays to make yourself available.
In order to find and land unique writing jobs such as these, you must be proactive. Here’s what I suggest:
Subscribe to online writing-oriented newsletters and join online writing organizations that offer job listings for writers. Many of them also keep you current on publishing trends.
Network constantly. Networking has served me extremely well. Last year, for example, a writer friend suggested I contact an editor she knows about writing for their technical magazine. I ended up writing a dozen articles for this magazine during a twelve-month period.
If writing is your passion and your livelihood, it’s imperative that you write where the money is. Let this list be a starting place that launches your lucrative writing career.
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, 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
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones that you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover!”—Mark Twain
“Books aren't written; they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it.”—Michael Crichton
“Every writer I know has trouble writing.”—Joseph Heller
“One of the things that draws writers to writing is that they can get things right that they got wrong in real life by writing about them.”— Tobias Wolff
“Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.”—Screenwriter Mike Rich in the movie Finding Forrester
“It seems to me that the problem with diaries, and the reason that most of them are so boring, is that every day we vacillate between examining our hangnails and speculating on cosmic order.”—Ann Beattie
“Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.”—Catherine Drinker Bowen
“Poets need not go to Niagara to write about the force of falling water.”—Robert Frost
“What I learned . . . is that the writer must take infinite pains—if he writes only one great story in his life, that is better than writing a hundred bad ones—and that finally the pains the writer takes must be his own.”—John Gardner
“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
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
Writing is a Journey – NEVER Give Up!
By Bev Walton-Porter
There is a truism I've learned about writing, and here it is: you can still write what *you* want to write, but realize if you want to publish your work and have others read it, you have to learn your writing is a product. If the product—your writing—doesn't fit with what is going to sell in the marketplace, you'll never see it published unless you self-publish it.
As for articles, do not write them first and then try to sell them. Query first, interest an editor and then write the entire article. The vision for your article or book may not be what the same vision your editor/publisher has. A prime example would be my book Sun Signs for Writers. My proposal and sample chapters were not of the same vision as the editor had. She liked the idea, but what I presented was too text heavy for what they had in mind. Thank goodness I didn't write the entire book—what a waste of time that would have been! Instead, she had me rewrite a 2,000-word sample, crafted to her specifications, and then they decided to contract the book.
The same thing happened with Writer's Digest in 1997. I queried an article and the editor liked my idea, but her vision of how the article should read ended up much different than what I had in mind. She asked if I'd slant it their way (of course I said "yes!") and the article was published in February 1997. Had I written the article ahead of time and tried to sell it my way, they wouldn't have purchased or published it. Because I wrote it their way, I ended up with a nice $100 check and a clip in a prestigious writing magazine for my files.
Talent counts for something in writing, to be sure. But I submit that just because you have talent, it doesn't mean you automatically have what it takes to be a published writer. Beyond talent, you must also have the mind of a marketer as well. You must know your audience, know how to sell your work to others (editors, publishers, agents) and be willing to work well with others. Sometimes that means you aren't always going to get your way...but hey, do you want to be published or do you want to be labeled as a difficult writer? I'd rather work in a harmonious relationship with my bosses, thank you.
If you're a bestselling author or famous, maybe you can afford to be difficult; but if you're not, you better give yourself a reality check—and quick! Sure, feel free to gripe and moan about the ‘the system’ and all of that, but don't be surprised if you find yourself seeing most of your work gathering dust on your writing desk rather than published in the pages of magazines and books. This doesn't mean you shouldn't make the best decisions for you or that you should let yourself get screwed, but I have seen too many writers who cop an attitude and rant about trivial matters rather than seeing the bigger picture. The question is this: do you or don't you want to be published? If the answer is yes, you know what you need to do.
The bottom line is this: writing is a journey. Despite all the advice and blathering (including the rambling I've done here), no one knows everything about writing. No one has the ultimate secret for writers. And there's not one right formula for every writer or every writing situation. You have to find what works for you and go with it. Take bits of info here and there, test it out, see what works and then hone it to meet your needs. And while there are tons of rules you'll read about writing, once you learn them you can break some of them. But you have to know the rules first and when you can get away with breaking them. It all depends on circumstance!
In the end, if you are a writer you will fail at some time, in some way or another. Get used to failure. Get used to rejection. Then get up off the floor, dust off your jeans and get back up on that horse. You may fail a thousand times (I'm probably up to 2,000 by now!), but
the mark of a true writer is that you continue to try over and over again—and those failures serve as lessons for the future. How many times did Edison fail with his inventions? Look it up. What about Abraham Lincoln? He failed at most everything he tried. But neither of them gave up. You shouldn't, either. True writers never give up. No matter what. And eventually, after banging your head on that closed door a million times over...it'll open, ever so slightly. When it does, wedge your foot in the door before it closes again and propel yourself forward.
When it comes to writing, I've never given up and I never intend to. Ever. Will you?
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:
the qualities that you most admire in a person.
a letter to a dead, beloved relative or friend.
the weirdest person you’ve ever met.
your own eccentricities and peculiar mannerisms.
your favorite word and a brief reason why.
what you’d like to see happen in your writing career.
your favorite piece of furniture in your home.
you most memorable adventure as a child.
your most passionate hobby.
the actor/actress that you’d most like to see playing you in a movie about your life.
By Angela Wilson
Authors have found an innovative way to use the Web to promote themselves and their work. Virtual author tours, or book blog tours, are fast becoming an inexpensive way to meet new readers and further develop your fan base.
Blog tours allow authors to post content on a variety of sites during their heaviest marketing season. It’s a great way to get your name up in Google searches, and introduce yourself to new readers. It’s not difficult, but it is time-consuming, and any author who goes this route should be prepared to give up a little writing and a family time to fulfill blogging obligations. Don’t let that time element scare you. With proper planning – and short-term tours – any author can manage to do it.
Standard items you need for your tour:
• One-page bio. You can use the one you have in your media kit, but make certain it is written in Web-friendly language.
• Q&A. Make a list of the most common questions you get from both readers and interviews. Intertwine a few questions unique to yourself, or allow you to offer up unique tidbits about yourself and your writing. Answer them and you’re good to go.
• Columns. Have five to 10 columns about anything—writing, life, balancing career with family, your latest FAB review. Use one column per blog submission. Use the ones that are best suited for a particular blog. For instance, you will want to send a column about writing to a blog about writing. You want a good variety of columns because you don’t want to be too repetitious. Readers want fresh content, and you don’t want them to get bored by reading the same copy on different sites. There will be times when you need to write a new column, but at least you will have a stash to get your started.
• Audio interviews. If you have them, use them, giving credit to the group or business that conducted the segment.
• High- and low-resolution JPEGS of yourself and your cover art. Try to include a few different poses of yourself, maybe one relaxed at home and a studio shot. Adjust the size so they can easily email, or post them in the media section of your Web site for downloading.
• A list of blog tour stops. Post this on your Web site, blog, MySpace, Tagged, Ning, Facebook, and give copies to your blog tour hosts.
Leave yourself open for unique items requested by various Web sites. If a site receives thousands of hits per day, you will want to work a little harder for them than a site with 12 hits.
When venturing out into the blogosphere for the first time, start slow. Plan a three-month tour. Secure space on blogs every week during that time. Check the sites each day to be certain your sponsors post your items. Reply to any comments submitted by readers. The personal touch goes a long way with people in an age of impersonal communication. Send thank you notes to your sponsors, as well as updated newsletters that tell them where you will be featured. Ask them to post that as well, so readers can follow you throughout the blogosphere.
Do not pay to be placed on a blog. If someone wants cash, get site statistics and feedback from other authors of the payoff before you cash in. Google the sites and see uninhibited feedback about them; don’t just trust the owners’ word.
Some authors take whatever blog space they can get – which is not a bad idea when you are first starting out. Other authors, both experienced and new, have specific criteria for blogs that feature them, including a certain number of hits per day and demographics. When first starting out, some big-name blogs may be reticent to host a small-time author, e-published or self-published novelist. Be prepared to take what you can get, then build on that as your career grows.
You may not realize the pay off immediately, but you should see additional activity to your MySpace, Facebook and Web site during the tour and the first few months afterward. You should also have a new network of contacts for future tours, book deals or even critique groups. Track your tour in a spreadsheet so you can see what sites were beneficial and which ones may have been a waste of time. Even heavily-trafficked sites can be duds if they don’t fit your niche.
If you want your blog tour to be a success, then you have to devote the time to it that it deserves. Enlist the help of friends and family, who can easily respond to comments or other general items while you handle the tough stuff. Also check out listings for virtual tour companies and, if the budget allows, think about hiring someone to do the set up so you can concentrate on networking and sales.
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 www.angelawilson.net, www.wickedwordsmith.com, or www.myspace.com/angelawilson
On Becoming a Novelist
By John Gardner
Known as a writer who brought fiction to life and a teacher who brought writing to life, Gardner tells it like it is in this 1983 book (published a year after his death), answering the questions of the dedicated writing student.
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting: Insights and Interviews
By William Froug
Froug gives a glimpse from the screenwriting trenches in this 1996 tapestry that weaves together insightful essays with in-depth interviews of top screenwriters.
For Writers Only
By Sophy Burnham
In this inspiring 1994 favorite, you’ll find pearls of wisdom from great writers: the motto Zola kept in his workroom ("No day without lines."), Stendhal's personal writing rule ("I see but one rule: to be clear."), and many more. Burnham works on the premise that what worked for the likes of Hemingway and Toni Morrison might work for you.
The Writing Life
By Annie Dillard
The Boston Globe once called this slender 1989 volume a "spiritual Strunk & White." In her understated, imagery-laden style, Dillard speaks to her readers like a good, comforting friend, exploring the landscape of both writing and being a writer.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
By Anne Lamott
The title of this witty 1994 bestseller comes from a childhood story of Lamott's little brother, overwhelmed by writing a report on birds, getting the fatherly advice to simply "take it bird by bird." The great thing about this book is, you can open it up anywhere and just begin reading.
Talk the Talk
BLUELINES—A magazine proof printed in a single shade of blue that is also printed, folded, and bound to approximate what the finished magazine will took like. Changes made after an approval is often costly.
FOB (or F.O.B)—“Front of the book,” or the beginning pages of a magazine, usually consisting of columns and departments. FOB items are often the best way for a new writer to break into the publication.
BIMONTHLY—Published every other month.
BOOK—Shorthand slang for a magazine.
BIWEEKLY—Published every two weeks or twice a month.
SLUG—The label given to stories when filed.
SQUIB—A short editorial item.
LEAD TIME—The time it takes to get a magazine published.
FILLER—Short editorial item to fill an otherwise blank space.
SEVEN SISTERS—A term to describe seven well-established, mass-market women’s service magazines, one of which, McCall's, is now defunct. The others are Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, and Woman's Day.
Tip of the Month
Read to learn. The next time you read a good book or magazine article or newspaper story, go back and read over the parts that really moved you, touched you, made you laugh or smile. Try to dissect it, analyze it. What did the writer do to achieve such results? What made the picture vivid for you? How did the writer set scenes, use dialogue or quotes, describe people and things that made it special to you?
Markets to Tickle Your Funny Bone
By Kim McDougall
Writers are always asking me for advice on where to send manuscripts. Often they’re looking for niche markets. Sites like Duotrope and Ralan’s offer searches by genre (literary, sci-fi, mystery, etc.) but not by theme. What if your story is about fly-fishing? You can, of course, target sporting magazines. But what if your theme is vaguer? For instance, several times in the past few weeks authors asked where to send humorous stories. Good humor is hard to write and many editors mention it on their wishlists. Here are a few tips to find those editors with a funny bone.
Duotrope has a keyword field on the search page. This is a good place to start, but I recommend a careful reading of the guidelines. Sometimes, when the word “humor” pops up in the guidelines, it¹s to say that a magazine doesn¹t accept it.
Another way to search is simply to read, read, read submissions guidelines. Duotrope lists over 2000 markets. You can¹t possibly read them all (though I’ve taken a good stab at it). Narrow it down by a broader genre first, then by your acceptable pay rate and word length. You should end up with a dozen or maybe a hundred markets. Now read. You can often get a feel of what an editor is looking for by the tone of the guidelines. Are the submission rules straight-laced and to the point? Or does the editor pepper the guidelines with witty quips? Chances are, that is an editor who would appreciate humor. The editor of Defenestration writes, “Please keep all prose submissions under 5,000 words. Anything else will melt peoples¹ eyeballs as they try to read from their glowing computer screens.” Apart from giving me a lift as I read hundreds of guidelines, this line gives me a sense of the editor’s wit.
Here are some quotes from various magazine guidelines. So go ahead a write that humorous romance, satirical rant or absurdist sci-fi. And don’t sprain an eyeball reading endless guidelines. Start with these.
Funny Times: We are always looking to expose our readers...to hilarious new material. http://funnytimes.com
The Town Drunk: The more humor, the better, but a story does not have to be laugh-out-loud funny for us to use it. http://www.thetowndrunk.org/guidelines.aspx
Open Spaces: Although we take ourselves seriously, we appreciate humor as well. http://www.open-spaces.com
Takahe Magazine: Humor (of the understated, unforced variety) is welcome. http://www.takahemagazine.ne1.net/
Hobart: We've said in the past that we tend to like quirky stories with subjects like truck driving and mathematics and vagabonding, but not really stories that rely too heavily on their quirkiness. We like stories with humor, but are not looking for humor pieces. http://hobartpulp.com/print/
Stitches Magazine: As a magazine targeting the medical community, Stitches is primarily looking for articles (fiction and non-fiction) with a medical angle, however, we will happily review material that discusses other subjects. http://www.stitchesmagazine.com/
Demockeracy Magazine: We like to think of ourselves as "The Onion" of the people, by the people. http://demockeracy.com/
Andromeda Spaceways: Why does the world need another SF magazine? Because not enough humorous SF & Fantasy gets into print. Because SF can be printed AND entertaining at the same time. Because it's not the size of the sword, it's where you stick it. Because too many ‘light-hearted, un-serious’ stories are rejected. http://www.andromedaspaceways.com/
BUST DOWN THE DOOR AND EAT ALL THE CHICKENS is a popular vacation spot for stories who have never felt like they fit in, stories that want to take time off from their 9 to 5 work week of searching for the meaning in the universe, stories that take a moment out of their nightly television programming to see what has always been there but doesn¹t show itself until someone changes the channel. They thought they were getting a discount on airfare, but they only paid for a one-way ticket. These stories are doomed to spend the rest of their lives between the covers of THE JOURNAL OF ABSURD AND SURREAL FICTION. http://www.absurdistjournal.com/
Most Original Guidelines Award:
Defenestration was created in late 2003, after the following conversation took place:
Andrew: “I want to make a literary magazine. A funny one.”
Genevieve: “Good idea. Let’s call it Defenestration, because it’s a funny word and I’m making you use it.”
Andrew: “Excellent. Let’s lure Eileen into our scheme by using shiny things. I’ll meet you at the IHOP in twenty minutes.”
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, on her Web site at:
Slice of the Writing Life
An excerpt from: If You Want to Write
By Brenda Ueland
Ueland: I wrote this to someone three years ago:
“Forgive me, but perhaps you should write again. I think there is something necessary and life-giving about 'creative work' (forgive the term). A state of excitement. And it is like a faucet: nothing comes unless you turn it on, and the more you turn it on, the more comes.
“It is our nasty twentieth century materialism that makes us feel: what is the use of writing, painting, etc., unless one has an audience or gets cash for it? Socrates and the men of the Renaissance did so much because the rewards were intrinsic, i.e., the enlargement of the soul.
“Yes, we are all thoroughly materialistic about such things. 'What's the use?' we say, of doing anything unless you make money or get applause? for when a man is dead he is dead.' Socrates and the Greeks decided that a man's life should be devoted to 'the tendance of the Soul' (Soul included intelligence, imagination, spirit, understanding, personality) for the soul lived eternally, in all probability.
“I think it is all right to work for money, to work to have things enjoyed by people, even very limited ones; but the mistake is to feel that the work, the effort, the search is not the important and the exciting thing. One cannot strive to write a cheap, popular story without learning more about cheapness. But enough. I may very well be getting to raving.”
And so now I have established reasons why you should work from now on until you die, with real love and imagination and intelligence, at your writing or whatever work it is that you care about. If you do that, out of the mountains that you write some mole hills will be published. Or you may make a fortune and win the Nobel Prize. But if nothing is ever published at all and you never make a cent, just the same it will be good that you have worked.
The Writing Life
Adventures of the Script Trade
While You’re Over Here, You Mind Grabbing That End Of The Couch?
By Joshua James
I’ve just finished my newest play and handed it out a small group of select reader folk for feedback and what-have-ya, so I thought I'd take a moment to share with you the PROTOCOL for handing out scripts and what to expect and appreciate from a reader/friend.
It's simple, really. Expect nothing and appreciate everything.
Just to make sure you got that, I'm going to repeat it.
Expect nothing and appreciate everything.
Are we clear on that? Okay, here's WHY.
Anyone reading a script for you is doing you a favor. They are taking time out of their lives to read a script, a work in progress, and it's not something they're getting paid for (though there are folk who do that) or even obligated to do. It's something you've asked them to do and if, by chance, they get busy and don't have time to read it after all, that's the way it is.
It's like asking someone to help you move.
I'm being a bit clever with that, because sometimes reading a new script can be real fun and helping someone move very rarely is, even when a keg of Budweiser is bought to grease the skids.
But it is work, mind you, a person is volunteering their time and energy and you need to remember that.
So even if they hate it, even if they hadn't the slightest idea what you wrote and maybe got your story confused with the skinamax flick they watched the night before on cable, you smile, say thank you and buy 'em a cup of coffee.
Just appreciate the fact that they read the script/play/novel at all, and if they didn't read it but lied, appreciate that they went to the trouble of creating a modest fiction about it all their own.
Appreciate it because reading something new is tough, especially a play or screenplay, because both of those aren't really meant to be read, they're meant to be seen and heard. It's hard to read them and see the forest and not the trees, it's work and a lot of it. A new novel is even more difficult because it's three hundred unbound pages of text and looks like a term paper.
Now if you're good at what you do, hopefully you make the experience of reading your work more enjoyable for the reader than moving furniture. But bear in mind that it's early in the process and there will be errors and logic lines and stuff you missed because you were so pleased to finally be done you couldn't wait to send it out.
What I do, once it's finished to the point where I feel comfortable sharing it with trusted readers, is I contact those I'd like to hear from, ask if they have time and would like to read something new, pass it onward and forget that I ever did it. Just forget and don't think about it, don't have that look in your eye when you see your friend and by all means do not say "Have you read the new play yet?" with desperate eagerness each and every time you speak to them. Just let it go.
Try to forget you even wrote anything (and you should be working on your next project anyway, writers should always have more than one iron in the fire, keeps us occupied and out of jail) until someone mentions it to you.
If someone did read it, got back to you and and didn't like it, it's gonna sting, I'm not gonna lie to you, it always stings. But smile and thank them anyway. If they read it and loved it, do the same. It just won't sting. It'll be a short-term buzz that you will wish to experience again, but that also is not the point of the reader, otherwise Ma would be the only one ever reading anything, right?
What you're looking for is folk who understand the work you're doing and can offer responses that help you to improve upon it (and karma being a boomerang, you should do the same for them when asked) before sending it out into the cruel harsh winter of the real world.
Now, obviously if you've given a person five different works to read over time and they've never read a single one, it may be time to stop giving them material.
But a friend should be a friend whether they're willing to suffer your work or not.
And if you have a friend/reader who reads everything but their feedback never makes sense and just confuses you, it may be time to look for more readers (and Ma's got enough to do anyway, right?) and whatever else, don't tell that person. Not everyone gets everyone and they did you a favor simply by reading your work, even if it went over their head or under their radar.
If you find people like that who DO get you, DO help you improve and support your work with enthusiasm and balanced criticism, do more than appreciate them, worship the ground they walk on (and help them move, if they need) because you've found an important part of your audience and a writer who doesn't know his or her audience is a writer lost in the wilderness.
And that's what these first few readers do for you, the writer, they help you find your way in the most efficient manner possible to YOUR audience, to the audience who will love and appreciate the work you've taken time to craft. They're your guides, so listen to them, even when you disagree or it stings, and find those guides that best help you. And don't forget to return the favor. When you find folks like these, you do more than buy them a cup of coffee. You help them move if they need it, whether there's a keg involved or not. And you thank them in the program notes.
Appreciate the folk who take the time to help you out. Just remember, no one owes you anything.
There are exceptions, obviously, your agent should read anything you give to them (and if they're not reading it, that says something else entirely) if you have a deadline and need something proofed by a certain day, kindly let your reader friends know and check in right before that time. But never, ever lash out if at the last second life steps in and they are unable to help you out by reading something new. At the end of the day, it's your house and up to you to make it move, with or without your friends and readers.
Anyone that shows up, even if they drop a lamp or break the recliner, they're your first readers who are doing you a favor by showing up and helping with the heavy lifting, so appreciate them for it.
Joshua James is a New York City playwright/screenwriter. Please check out his Web site at:
Why You Should Take Literary Digital Fiction Seriously
By Julie Ann Shapiro
It’s the way of the future, unless your idea of good writing is the screenplay version of a novel and the blockbusters that mimic each other with formulaic plots. If you like those kinds of books then go ahead and read them; the mainstream publishers have a ton of those books in the name of cash, yes cash, not art.
If you’re of the other persuasion that likes something a little different with a fresh voice, words that make you think, lyrical imagery, powerful language, characters that taunt you with their predicaments and their emotions, then click on over to the digital realm. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s fast becoming a home for experimental and bold fiction that’s not afraid to take chances, much like independent films. It serves a growing audience that wants art for art sake and not the corporate conglomerate’s who are more concerned with cash renderings than discovering new talent.
Yes, talent, that’s what you’ll find in the digital realm. As more and more legions of writers are shut out by the main stream publishing conglomerates they will have no choice, but to seek out other avenues. For this reason, some may liken digital publishing to self-publishing. While it’s true that anyone can be published in the digital environment, it doesn’t mean that by association it is a place to shun or disrespect.
This neglects the marketplace and the recognition that there are a plethora of well respected independent literary publishers such as Double Dragon Press, Zumaya, Phaze, Mundania Press, SynergEbooks, New Concepts Publishing, Boson Books, C & M Online, Samhain Publishing, Echelon Press, Silk’s Vault and countless others who choose to offer books digitally. Not to mention the major distribution channels established for ebooks including Fictionwise, Amazon.com and Mobipocket.
Even the mainstream publishers recognize the dynamic medium that digital books offer. Most of them now have ebook divisions and are seeking to capitalize on the vast Internet audience, the massive amounts of people using PDAs and other mobile devices that support ebook readers. Last fall, Harlequin announced that 40% of its new titles would be issued as ebooks.
According to the September 5, 2007 article in the New York Times, Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books, "Amazon.com will unveil the Kindle, an electronic book reader priced at $400 to $500 which will wirelessly connect to an e-book store on Amazon’s site. This is a significant advance over older e-book devices, which must be connected to a computer to download books or articles.
Google also has plans to start charging users for digital copies of books in their database. Despite these two major Internet leaders plans to further their reach in the digital publishing market, and respected publishers in the ebook marketplace legions of consumers still don’t view digital books as real books. Many consumers in turn are hesitant to purchase ebooks, even though they are vastly cheaper than their print counterparts, not to mention the environmental factor of saving trees. In turn many traditional book reviewers will not consider reviewing a digital book. The authors of ebook books and even epublishers at times feel like Rodney Dangerfield uttering his famous refrain, "I don’t get no respect."
It’s time to recognize digital books as real books and applaud digital publishers for giving innovative authors a chance. Let’s recognize that they are entrepreneurs living out the American Dream and carving a literary niche in a difficult market. Thousands of very good books are turned down by the mainstream publishers every year for the basic reason that they are not commercial enough…i.e. they won’t generate enough cash.
If you love books, support a digital literary writer by reading and reviewing their books. Good books deserve to be given a chance. This is your literary future, your legacy.
Business writing site - http://www.gotdot.com
Fiction writing site - http://www.julieannshapiro.com
Julie Ann Shapiro, living in Encinitas, California, is both a business and award-winning fiction writer. Her work has appeared in, among other places, the San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Journal, Pindeldyboz, Story South, Word Riot, Opium Magazine, Insolent Rudder, Cezzane's Carrots, Mad Hatters Review, Ghoti Magazine, Spoiled Ink, and Void, and her novel, Jen-Zen & The One Shoe Diaries, will be available this fall, published by Synerge Books. (http://www.synergebooks.com/ebook_oneshoediaries.html).
For more about Ms. Shapiro, please visit her two Web sites—fiction at http://www.julieannshapiro.com and business at http://www.gotdot.com.
Three Bad Reasons to Write Poetry—and One Great One!
By Conrad Geller
I remember some years ago attending a seminar of poets at which the great British poet Basil Bunting went around the table asking each participant why he or she wrote poetry. To each response he said, "Wrong!" or "That's not a good reason." At the end, we all waited for him to tell us his good reason for writing. But he never did, just changed the subject abruptly.
So poetry remains a mystery to me, even after almost sixty years of reading it, writing it, and, it seems, endlessly talking about it. What makes a poet, and what makes poetry?
It's discouraging how little I know for sure about poetry after so much time. It doesn't help much, either, to look at what others have said over the years. William Hazlitt's "Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself" isn't much help, nor Robert Frost's "Poetry is what is lost in translation." When they talk about poetry, most poets get, well, poetic. Worst of all was the always (I think deliberately) enigmatic Allen Ginsberg: "I have a new method of poetry. All you got to do is look over your notebooks... or lay down on a couch, and think of anything that comes into your head, especially the miseries….Then arrange in lines of two, three or four words each, don't bother about sentences, in sections of two, three, or four lines each." Maybe that sort of thing worked for him, but his recipe is probably not much help for the rest of us.
Maybe it's best to start with a couple of things I know poetry isn't:
Poetry isn't raw self-expression. There are plenty of yowlers out there, who think the essence of poetry is shouting about how they feel. Some yowlings, admittedly, even make it into the pages of The New Yorker. But yowlers aren't poets. They haven't paid their dues. Poetry is more than expression; it's communication. And real communication takes work, discipline, and a respect for writing as an art form.
Poetry isn't decoration. Actually, some poetry is the kind you see on mantle pieces at Christmas time, the sort of thing that comes in the mail from your elderly aunt. I have no quarrel with decoration, but the purpose of decoration is to soothe, while the purpose of serious poetry is—should be—to disturb.
Poetry isn't proof that you have a heightened, more refined sensibility than other people. Some of us read and write poetry. Others go bowling. Bowling, done right, requires plenty of discipline, intensity of purpose, attention to detail. If you love poetry, love it, but there is no need to put on airs.
OK, then. After we have disposed of the pretensions and the awful poses that sometimes surround poetry, what is left, that might make someone call you, or me, a poet?
It's very simple, in my opinion. You are a poet if, and only if,
You are obsessed with language.
Let's put the matter to the test. Do words, phrases, sometimes names keep repeating themselves in your mind until they suddenly become strange? Do you wonder about not only the bare meanings of the words you use, but also their feelings, their intimacy, even their social aspirations? Are you uncompromising about every word? W.S. Merwin had it about right when he spoke of the insufferable need for precision. He said, "Poetry is like making a joke. If you get one word wrong at the end of a joke, you've lost the whole thing." Gustave Flaubert had a different way of saying the same thing: "Poetry is as precise a thing as geometry."
And Adrienne Rich gives the poet's sense of the cosmic importance of language in the scheme of things: "Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe."
Or, taking the passion for language to an extreme, I'm not sure I can endorse, Montaigne rhapsodized: “Poetry reproduces an indefinable mood that is more amorous than love itself. Venus is not so beautiful all naked alive, and panting, as she is here in Virgil." Different strokes for different folks, as they say.
Have you always been a reader of poetry? Virgil in the Latin may not be your dish, but do the tocsins of Milton, for example, roll around in your head, the cannonades of Whitman, and the light, insistent melodies of Keats? If not, what kind of poet can you expect to be?
Maybe, if we're reviewing what poets have said is the essence of poetry, it might be best to end with another comment by Robert Frost: "Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat."
Writing teacher Conrad Geller is mainly a poet but has published film, drama and book reviews, as well as humor and educational articles. Besides winning awards for his poetry from Charles E. Tuttle Co., Bibliophilos, and the Harvard Summer School, Geller has served as the literary manager of the American Playwright's Theater and chairperson of the Committee on Public Doublespeak of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Poetry Tip & Prompt of the Month
By Barbara Crooker
One thing that’s endlessly fascinating to me is the difference that “a” vs. “the” vs. “neither of them” can make in a poem.
Geri Rosenzweig, a wonderful poet with whom I have an e-mail critique exchange, is kindly letting me quote from a poem of hers where we went back and forth on this.
In a couple of cases, I’m altering her original lines just to make my points.
Point # 1: Specific vs. general: “Tides swell the estuary, / I’m just one of those small lives / wrapped around a shining strut / of the world”—The line “a shining strut of the world” to me is too general, means any shining strut at all, not “the” specific one. So I’d switch “the” for “a” here.
Point #2: Sometimes you want to be general, and not tied down: “Miles from here, lance fish / dart and glide through the swaying gardens of kelp”—Here, I suggested taking out “the,” as “swaying gardens of kelp” is much more evocative.
Point #3: Be specific when you need to be: “the humpback whale sings / to calf in a sea’s blue mansion”—I think you need “the sea’s blue mansion” here, to really nail it down.
Go through a recent poem you’ve written. Look hard at those articles. See if you can substitute “a” for “the,” and vice versa. See if you can leave any of them out.
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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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