Vol 1, Issue 6 June 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, Sheila Bender
Copy Editor: Melinda Brack
A Word from Mike
As many of you already know by now, my article, “10 Commandments to Writing Success,” was so popular that various versions of it have appeared all over the place, including in The Writer and The Writer’s Handbook, on asbolutewrite.com as well as a slew of other writing resource sites, at my writing clubs on Yahoo and MySpace, and of course in this very newsletter.
Strangely, the whole thing grew entirely out of serendipity. I feverishly wrote the first version in no more than a half-hour and never intended it to be published. It was merely a way to answer all the member questions I had received when I began my first club, Mike’s Writing Workshop on Yahoo, in March of 2001.
As it turned out, people seemed to love it. There was a clamoring for more. So I ended up writing a Part 2 to it…and, well, the rest is history.
With this month’s issue, I thought it was time to add 10 more to the list.
Hope you enjoy—but, more importantly, get something out of it that pushes you closer to your writing dream.
Here are the new Commandments:
1) Pitch stories that you absolutely own. The best way to get an editor’s attention, especially if you’re relatively new to the game or not very high up on the “publishing credits” ladder, is to offer an idea that no one else can do—but YOU! Is it an exclusive interview with someone who’s turning down everybody else? Is it a story that only you know about? Are you the sole expert in this subject? Own a story up and down and you’ll have a huge advantage like you never had before.
2) Always push for more work. Once you’ve made headway with a publication—which means you’ve built up a mutual trust and respect with an editor or editors—keep asking for more assignments or keep pitching ideas. Writing can often be a momentum business. Don’t stop the flow. Also, if you have a published story on the stands, it’s the best time to pitch editors at other places. You’ll seem like the hot commodity of the moment.
3) Rejection should only be the beginning, not the end. Two things to consider here: A. Just because a publication nixes your story idea—or you in particular—doesn’t mean the next place will do the same. If you believe in yourself and your idea, never give up on it. B. Just because a publication rejects you outright doesn’t mean the same place won’t accept you six months later. At most places, there’s high turnover. Editors, as well as mission statements, change quickly.
4) Don’t hang all your hopes on resumes, clip packages, and query letters. Go into any high-level editor’s office and you’ll see stacks of unopened envelopes that nearly reach the ceiling. You’re annoyed, or depressed, that an editor hasn’t gotten back to you? Don’t be. He or she likely hasn’t even seen the contents of your envelope yet—and may never. Make phone calls (without being a stalker). Make meetings (without being demanding). In the writing game, as in most businesses, relationships matter more than anything in an envelope.
5) Learn to negotiate for more money. No matter what a publication offers, it’s often way less than it can afford. Always express mild disappointment at the first number, then pleasantly, professionally, ask for a little more. Understand that I don’t suggest this method for rank beginners. You’ll risk losing the assignment. It’s also running before learning to crawl. But for anyone with decent experience, you’ll gain greater respect by not jumping at the first number thrown at you. Also, if in the end a place refuses to budge on the story fee, ask for something else that doesn’t cost them money, such as your byline bigger or your name—and story teased—on the front cover. Or simply agree to do the story at their price for now (make it seem like you’re doing this out of the goodness of your heart) but, if they love the final product, that the next one will have to pay more. Always have a strategic plan when negotiating a story deal (have an answer ready for anything that might come up) and always get it in writing.
6) Whatever writing you do, try your best to be utterly unique and way above average. You want to put yourself in position where a publication or publisher can’t get what you do from any other writer. This is what gets the big jobs and the big dollars and the big careers.
7) Don’t beg. Always act as if you’re confident in your work and yourself, exuding an attitude that says, “I’d love to do this story for you, I really would, but if you’re not sure that you want it, I’m certain that some other publication will.” In other words, never show weakness, because editors will pick up on that and run away from it.
8) Don’t be a pest or a complainer or unprofessional. Editors will always choose the path of least resistance, wanting to work with writers that carry the least amount of baggage and write the cleanest, most thorough copy. Maybe if you win the Pulitzer, you’ll gain some extra rope. But until then, you best be a writer that editors love to work with.
9) Keep making baby steps upward. Don’t get too comfortable at a certain level. Keep challenging yourself. This will force you to make the work better and better, as well as help you make more and more money.
10) Don’t worry so much about people stealing your ideas. At the major publications, it hardly, if ever, happens. Plus, assuming you’re hitting a smaller, less trustworthy market, you should have so many ideas that if someone steals one that it wouldn’t matter in the least, because you have dozens upon dozens of them. The writing business is an idea business. If you don’t have ideas gushing out of your brain on a daily basis, you might want to try some other work.
Note: I plan to keep adding to this list in subsequent issues. You can help with my direction by sending me your publishing questions, problems, stumbling blocks, etc.
Best always and stay positive,
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More Senior Moments—A Book For Seniors
More Senior Moments is a companion book to David W. Silva's Senior Moments. It was a finalist in the National Best Books 2007 Award. It contains strategies and stories that help seniors deal with the problems of aging such as depression, loneliness, loss of independence, self identity and chronic illness. The book contains well though out and simple advice to help seniors accept aging as a challenge instead of a negative burden.
More details can be found at:
If you read one book this year…
...make it The Girl in the Italian Bakery!
By Kenneth M. Tingle
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THE LAST WHALE - Narrative Nonfiction
Read the blog about the upcoming book, a 1970s story of hippies Vs whalers set in the Southern Ocean during Greenpeace's first direct action in Australia. It's a true story that for the first time gets inside the heads of whalers and anti-whaling activists as they duel
across wild seas. http://thelastwhale.blogspot.com
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
1 The Spotlight Interview: Elizabeth Spiers
2 Jeanne’s Writing Desk
3 The Working Writer by Sheila Bender
4 Slice of the Writing Life
6 Looking for a Writing Job?
8 Publishing to the Power of Dee
9 Peake Performance: From Pen to Published
10 The Language by Mark Terence Chapman
11 Writer Beware
12 On the Writing Business by Patricia Fry
13 Writing Quotes of the Month
14 A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
15 Writing Promptly
16 Marketing by Angela Wilson
17 Guest Column: Julie Ann Shapiro
18 Tips of the Month
19 Market Watch by Kim McDougall
20 The Writing Life by Rob Parnell
21 Poetry Corner by Marilyn L. Taylor
22 Gold Member Sponsors
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Every Sunday at 12 NOON EST
I will no longer worry about yesterday.
It is in the past and the past will never change.
Only I can change by choosing to do so.
I will no longer worry about tomorrow.
Tomorrow will always be there,
waiting for me to make the most of it.
But I cannot make the most of tomorrow
without first making the most of today.
I will look in the mirror and I will see a person
worthy of my respect and admiration.
This capable person looking back at me is someone
I enjoy spending time with and someone I would like
to get to know better.
I will cherish each moment of my life.
I value the gift bestowed upon me in this world
and I will unselfishly share this gift with others.
I will take a moment to step off the beaten path
and to revel in the mysteries I encounter.
I will face challenges with courage and determination.
I will overcome what barriers there may be which hinder
my quest for growth and self-improvement.
I will take life one day at a time, one step at a time.
Discouragement will not be allowed to taint
my positive self-image, my desire to succeed
or my capacity to love.
I walk with renewed faith in human kindness.
Regardless of what has gone before.
I believe there is hope for a brighter
and better future.
I will open my mind and my heart.
I will welcome new experiences.
I will meet new people.
I will not expect perfection from myself nor anyone else:
perfection does not exist in an imperfect world.
But I will applaud the attempt to overcome human foibles.
I am responsible for my own happiness
and I will do things that make me happy...
admire the beautiful wonders of nature,
listen to my favorite music, pet a kitten or a puppy,
soak in a bubble bath...
Pleasure can be found in the most simple of gestures.
I will learn something new;
I will try something different;
I will savor all the various flavors life has to offer.
I will change what I can and the rest I will let go.
I will strive to become the best me I can possibly be.
Yes! Today and Every Day.
— Author Unknown
The Spotlight Interview
Elizabeth Spiers, Writer/Editor/Blogger, Entrepreneur
Elizabeth Spiers, writer, editor, blogger, was a publishing phenomenon before the age of 30, already on the cutting edge of online journalism.
She was the founding editor of the infamous New York-centric media gossip site, Gawker.com (Dec. 2002-Sept. 2003); founder and publisher of Dead Horse Media, LLC (Jan. 2006-April 2007), which publishes Dealbreaker.com, AboveTheLaw.com and Fashionista.com, editor-in-chief of Mediabistro.com (Nov. 2004-Nov. 2005), a contributing writer/editor at New York Magazine (Sept. 2003-Nov. 2004), and one of the net’s most well-known bloggers, if not its Queen of Snark.
Based in New York City and still months away from her 32nd birthday, Spiers has been described as acerbic, intelligent, supremely hip, and an “agoraphobic Dorothy Parker,” and she now writes a column for Fast Company and Fortune, has appeared in the New York Times, Salon.com, the New York Observer, and New York Post, and spoken at various media and technology conferences. She has also been a guest commentator on CNN, Fox News, CBS Marketwatch, MSNBC and VH1, and is the author of the forthcoming novel, “And They All Die in the End,” to be published by Riverhead Books, a division of the Penguin Group.
For more details on Spiers, please visit her site at:
The following is my exclusive interview with Ms. Spiers:
Mike: When did you know that you wanted to become a writer?
Spiers: I never wanted to become a writer per se. It was just something that I did and enjoyed. Every job I've ever had has rewarded me in some way for being a good writer—even when I was working in finance (as a strategist and equity analyst). I fell backwards into doing it full-time by writing for my own enjoyment on a blog.
Mike: Which writers and books have influenced you the most?
Spiers: I read Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment when I was 11 and too young to really understand the brilliance of the book, but it's the first thing I remember that really provoked me. I grew up in an evangelical Christian home and perhaps as a result, was very interested in specific ethical and moral questions at a young age. After a strict diet of anemic Christian bookstore fiction—Janette Oke, anyone?—Dostoyevsky was a nice slap in the face. I aspire to write something that has the same effect on other people as that book had on me.
Mike: How did your writing career develop into what it is today?
Spiers: By accident. I've been paid professionally for a wide range of skills, but invariably the writing work stood out the most and was in higher demand. I'd like to think that it's because my precious prose is so perfect that employers found it irresistible, but it may have just been that I was mediocre at everything else.
Mike: What was your first real professional writing gig?
Spiers: I went to college at Duke and got paid to write annual reports and essays for programs there, and while I was working in finance, half my income came from writing business plans for companies. While doing the latter, (Gawker Media founder) Nick Denton hired me to write Gawker, which is also a writing gig of sorts. So I guess I've been paid to write in one fashion or another since college.
Mike: What's your biggest career break?
Spiers: The one that most profoundly affected where I am right now was my first job out of school. I was hired as a marketing director for a dot com, during the dot com boom. If I hadn't gotten that job, I would have probably stayed in North Carolina, where I went to college and my life would be much, much different now. Secondly, Gawker. It certainly opened the initial doors to most of what I've done journalistically, and they were doors I wouldn't have tried to open myself. Had a couple of editors not contacted me out of the blue when I was writing Gawker, I'm not sure it would have occurred to me that writing full-time would be a viable career.
Mike: How long have you been interested in gossip? And what makes good gossip and good gossip writing?
Spiers: I was never interested in gossip personally. (I assume you mean celebrity gossip.) Gawker was like any other publication—it has an audience and it's designed to cover a specific range of topics. Gossip just happened to be one of them, so I learned what I could about the topic area. Like anything else, it's good when the story is compelling.
These days, the word “gossip” tends to mean a certain style of reporting rather than the traditional definition, which is something that's rumor or hearsay. Even at Gawker, the writers make phone calls and try to verify items. The gossip characterization generally means news in juicy little bits—items that make people gossip, rather than actual gossip itself.
Mike: What's the key to writing a great blog?
Spiers: I assume you mean writing a great blog that people will read. There's a formula, but it's often not what people want to hear.
The Formula: Be topical. (Choose a specific subject area or niche.) Post often. (I mean 12-20 times a day, not 2 or 3.) And provide people with something they can't get elsewhere, either in the form of useful information or entertainment. It almost always works, but most people do not want to (and will not) make that kind of effort.
Mike: How can writers make decent money writing online or writing blogs?
Spiers: Write for decently paying online outlets—commercial blogs or online magazines. You can always start your own blog, make it a big hit and charge for advertising, but if you have no interest in being an entrepreneur (or business in general), that's a giant mistake.
If being an entrepreneur does sound appealing to you, you have to follow The Formula (see above), which most writers don't actually want to do. Most writers want to have a well-trafficked, visible blog, but they want to be able to write a post about whatever they feel like writing, whenever they feel like it. That doesn't work unless you already have a name people recognize, and even then, not usually.
And if you already have a name people recognize, you probably don't need to make money writing a blog.
Mike: Would you recommend young journalists starting out as bloggers?
Spiers: It depends what you want to do in journalism long-term. If you want to do commentary, absolutely, because that's the only way you're going to get in. Otherwise, it's a very “pay your dues” kind of thing, where you have to be a reporter for 40 years. But if you're a good writer, you can go straight into it if your work is good and getting read.
Mike: Can blogging be a good business?
Spiers: I think it's a good business if you do it correctly. I also think that blogs could be used for testing editorial concepts. For print, broadcast, anything.
Generally, if you want to use it to get a professional writing gig, I’d say develop a distinct voice and write about specific topics instead of doing a broad whatever-catches-my-interest blog. As an editor, I’m more inclined to use freelancers if they have some sort of niche expertise/knowledge or they have a voice that’s memorable.
Mike: Where do you think media is going? Are newspapers a dying institution? Will bloggers rule the news world?
Spiers: The first question is really too complicated to answer here. Print newspapers backed entirely by print classifieds are dying, but newspapers in general aren't. And to answer the third question, no. Most bloggers write personal diaries. Very few break news. (Those that do will have some influence, but let's not write off the New York Times just yet.)
Mike: You've been very successful at launching Web sites. What are the keys to doing this? How can one go about starting a hot site?
Spiers: Same answer. The Formula.
Mike: Could you talk about how you came up with Gawker, Fashionista, Dead Horse, Dealbreaker, etc? And why did they work?
Spiers: Gawker was Nick Denton's idea, although he envisioned it more as an insider-y city guide. I wanted it to be like the late great SPY magazine and we ended up with an inferior hybrid of the two, but one that worked.
RE: the Dead Horse sites—Dealbreaker was just a matter of doing Gawker for Wall Street, and I was more personally interested in Wall Street than celebrities, as indicated by my work history pre-Gawker. AboveTheLaw seemed like a good companion to Dealbreaker and there was an excellent writer available for it. Fashionista is just a great ad category, to be frank, and there was room for something a little more light and entertaining in that space.
They worked because we used the secret recipe, stated above—The Formula.
Mike: Could you talk about your fiction writing and the differences you experience writing fiction and nonfiction? Do you find one harder than the other?
Spiers: I find them very different. Once I have the reporting done, I can mechanically put together a non-fiction piece pretty quickly because narrative journalism has many standard conventions and once you become accustomed to them, it's just a matter of fine-tuning. The same is true with writing opinion columns. (Thesis, evidence, counter-evidence, couterargument against counterevidence, conclusion.) Fiction has standard conventions as well, but they're much more flexible. As a result, I write fiction much slower because there are more possibilities for any specific story. Right now, novel-length fiction seems more challenging, but that's mostly because I have less experience with it.
Mike: What are your most interesting writing stories (preferably ones that teach a lesson)?
Spiers: I'm afraid I don't have any. Most of the “interesting” happens in the writing itself and not in the process of writing.
Mike: What are your work habits? How often do you write? What time of day? What rituals do you have? Do you have a favorite place to write?
Spiers: I'm not consistent. I binge write. I do end up writing something every day just by default—for work, or because something amuses me—but it's not a ritual. Right now I'm writing at the kitchen table a lot (which is not very comfortable) because a guitar instruction school moved in next to the office space I rent and I can't bear to hear the first 20 bars of "Smoke on the Water" anymore. I've also been traveling a bit lately, so I've gotten used to writing in hotel rooms and on planes. When pressed, I can usually write anywhere at any time.
Mike: What's an average workday for you?
Spiers: There is no average workday. When I was running Dead Horse, that took up most of the average workday and writing got done late at night and on the weekends. Now I don't really have a schedule, so I tend to plan around deadlines.
Mike: What five best pieces of advice would you give to aspiring writers looking to make it?
Spiers: I only have two, and you've almost certainly heard them before.
Read constantly. There's no better way to internalize the conventions that make for good writing than to read a lot of it. Write regularly, regardless of whether anyone's paying you to do it, or will in the future.
Beyond that, success is really specific to what sort of writing you want to do.
Mike: What great resource sites would you recommend to aspiring writers?
Spiers: I don’t read sites about writing very much, but I enjoy literary sites. My friends Maud Newton (maudnewton.com) and Sarah Weinman (sarahweinman.com) both have great sites. I also like Mark Sarvas's The Elegant Variation (www.elegvar.com), Arts & Letters Daily and the Guardian's book blog. For news about publishing, I go to mediabistro’s Galleycat, Dwight Garner's "Paper Cuts" blog at the New York Times or Michael Cader's Publishers Lunch.
Mike: How did your Wall Street experience help you in the writing world?
Spiers: I'm not sure it did in any direct way, except that I can write knowledgably about business; financial statements don't intimidate me. That said, I think doing other things and having different bodies of experience is usually healthy for writers. Variety and depth of experience is healthy in general.
Mike: What have been the keys to your success?
Spiers: I think adaptability is important in any job. I'm probably best known for a certain type of criticism in a tone similar to the one I used at Gawker, but I'm a versatile writer and that's the reason why I've been able to make a living putting words down on paper. You don't write a business plan the same way you would write an opinion column for Fast Company or a book for Penguin. If you can do all three, it's easier to have stable writing career.
Mike: What are your goals for the future?
Spiers: What I'm doing now, only more so. I enjoy several different types of writing and I like being involved in entrepreneurial media projects. I feel lucky that I get to do both and hope to continue.
Bad Girl by Maya Reynolds: A sizzling debut novel of sex and suspense.
A futuristic fantasy novella by Leanna Renee Hieber
E-Book now available from Crescent Moon Press!
Praise for DARK NEST: “Fabulous read! Once I started, I couldn’t stop until I reached the very satisfying end.” – Isabo Kelly, award-winning author of MARSHALL’S GUARD
Chief Counsel Ariadne Corinth has just found out her long-time lover, the powerfully gifted Chief Counsel Kristov Haydn, has died. Newly evolved psychically gifted humans have been sent by the Homeworld on a space mission aboard two distinct “Nests”. Relationships between the Light Nest and the Dark Nest have faltered and Ariadne is sure there’s something insidious behind it. In a matter of hours, Ariadne must find out what really happened to Kristov, unite her people to discover vast new powers the Homeworld denied them, or else submit to genocide.
Visit the author at http://www.leannareneehieber.com
Writing Away Retreats
Join Award Winning Author R.A. Nelson
And Editor Lee Ann Ward
For an unforgettable writing experience in Vail, Colorado
October 17th-21st, 2008.
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Writing It Real in Port Townsend Writer's Conference
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Jeanne’s Writing Desk
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman
One of the most common guidelines every writer encounters is that of the maximum word count. Editors and publishers depend upon writers to stay within the word count limitations for two reasons: 1) They need to be able to plan the layout and length of their publication; and 2) The actual word count affects the cost of production. As someone who tends to “write long,” I find that I often exceed the maximum word count guidelines, thus forcing me to prune my prose to make things fit. Cutting down one’s perfect prose can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be painful if you follow some easy steps. Let’s look at them.
Start Cold. It is always easier to edit your writing if you set it aside for a few days or even a few weeks. If you’re working against a deadline, it may not be possible to set your writing aside for a length of time. However, if you can step away from the work for even one day, it will be much easier to cut it.
Big Stuff First. Whenever you exceed a word count, the first things to cut are the unnecessary chapters, scenes, or paragraphs. How do you identify what is unnecessary? Ask yourself some questions: Does the chapter advance the plot or add to the tension? Does the scene move the story forward and/or provide insight into your characters? In nonfiction, does the information give the reader a new or deeper understanding of the subject? For a short story, ask yourself if the scene is relevant to the central crisis. Does the scene complicate the crisis or provide a key to the resolution? Once you remove the large chunks of unnecessary prose, you may discover that you’ve met the word count.
Repetition. When I write nonfiction, I have a bad habit of repeating my main points. Did you understand that? I sometimes repeat examples and information—just in case my readers didn’t grasp them the first time. ☺ If you have two anecdotes for an article that are similar, drop one of them. In fiction, I think of this repetition as “copycat scenes.” For example, in my novel I have my main character coming upon a massive gathering of people in a dry wash. Later, I describe what he sees when he is sitting on a rock above this wash and watching the crowd below. A kind beta reader pointed out to me that the second scene was a copycat version of the first. Since the copycat was actually more vivid than the original, I dropped the first scene.
Tangents. If you are writing an article about how to charge your cell phone with the new Golden Widget, it may be very tempting to include the anecdote of how the Egyptians first used a modified version of the Golden Widget to purify their water in the Valley of the Kings. The only problem with this is that the history of the Golden Widget has absolutely nothing to do with its use of charging modern-day cell phones. Save that information for another article. A similar problem occurs in fiction. Writers of historical fiction are often tempted to show off their research by throwing in expository information about the place and time. Expository writing almost always slows down the pace in fiction and should be cut. When the writer falls in love with his prose, he also risks going off onto a tangent. That description of the sunrise may be the best thing you ever wrote, but if it has no significance to your character or to the story, it may be good enough just to say: “The next morning…”
Dead Prose. These are the words in your manuscript that do nothing. They can take the form of clichés, favorite phrases, qualifiers, or filler words. Clichés are overly-used phrases that have lost their meaning: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Favorite phrases are word combinations that the author adores and uses repeatedly. Look for the phrases that you fall back on to create transitions in your work, as this is the most likely place to find dead prose. Common qualifier words include seemed, as if, appeared, like, etc. Filler words are those excess words used to describe simple actions. Some examples: She stood up. versus She stood. He sat down in the chair. versus He sat. Unless your character has been directed to sit elsewhere—on a couch or on the floor—most readers will assume he sat in the chair.
Doubles. To find the “doubles,” look for the pairs of adjectives that essentially say the same thing: “gentle, loving touch.” Doubles also occur when you use a weak verb propped up by an adverb. Rather than tell us that he ran quickly, choose a precise verb—dashed, jogged, scampered, sprinted, scurried, galloped—that doesn’t require an adverb modifier.
May all of your pruning be painless, and may all of your prose be tight. Happy writing!
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:
Escape the everyday with a good book!
The Hidden Web...Exposed!
Few people know about The Hidden Web – but it’s is 500 times larger that that available through Google!
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Secret Knowledge can be found in the tarot cards
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The Working Writer
Hiring the Journal Keeper Within
An Exercise for Developing the Habit of Keeping a Journal
By Sheila Bender
...the heart...and the learned skills of the conscious mind... make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen.
A Poetry Handbook
Years ago when I was helping my husband start a computer networking training and consulting business, he and I attended a time management seminar put on by The Day-Timer company. Using an overhead projector, the presenter showed us someone’s system of keeping personal and job to-do lists in separate places. He then showed us what it would look like if the person just kept it all together in one book. He said we were wasting time and effort and making things complicated for ourselves when we tried to separate our lives according to what was for work and what was personal. If you meant to call a florist to send flowers to your wife for her birthday or you needed to make a doctor’s appointment, put it right in the book along with meetings to attend and memos to be written. It's one life, your life, he told us.
As a writer and teacher of writing, I was used to hearing a variation on this theme of separating work and personal life. If I wasn’t saying this, someone I knew was saying it: “If only I didn’t have to work full-time, then I could pay attention to my writing.” “If only I wasn’t raising toddlers (or school age kids or teenagers), then I’m sure I’d do more writing.” “If only I wasn’t the one who has to do all the record keeping and bill paying and busy work in our household, then I’d write more.” If only, if only, if only.
When the time management presenter told us about the time wastefulness of separating our lives this way, he certainly struck a chord with me. Hadn't William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens worked as full time professionals and still written—a lot? I remembered a video series called Visions and Voices where an actor playing William Carlos Williams finishes a house call to a sick patient and enters his automobile, then sits behind the steering wheel and writes a poem on a handy prescription pad. I also remembered that Wallace Stevens walked to work every day as an insurance agent and on his way composed lines of poetry.
Up until this time management class, I had been a vacation-based writer, writing in accordance with the school calendar. Summer months were good writing months, and fall, winter and spring months were more difficult for me. But after the Day Timer talk, I wrote more during the months I worked in classrooms. I learned to clear space for myself and for my writing on that piled-up desk of mine. When I couldn’t manage to get the space I wanted, I learned to get it by driving a short distance away for an hour or less. I’d drive to a park or to a scenic viewing spot along Puget Sound or sometimes just to a different block and sit behind my own steering wheel and write pages in what I called my writer's journal.
I soon realized I was not only interspersing hours of writing with hours of working and raising a family, I was also changing my sensibility: It was as if after hanging around that business presentation on time management, I had hired myself to do the work I really wanted done and I was getting somewhere.
Sometime later, I was creating exercises for a class on keeping a writer's journal. Most of the class had introduced themselves as people who weren't disciplined and couldn't find enough time to write and so were taking the class hoping it would help them get disciplined. I worked on an exercise that I thought would help these students build a commitment to interspersing writing in their daily lives as I had.
I didn't say, "Write it in your Day Timer and keep the appointments with yourself," partly because I needed in-class writing prompts for everyone. I decided to extend a business metaphor and came up with the following idea: going through the process in writing of hiring oneself to keep a writer's journal. The exercise inspired some whimsical ways of approaching such employment, some entertaining ideas about what a journal keeper does and how and when she does it, as well as guidelines for keeping a commitment to writing. I think you'll enjoy doing this exercise. I know it will help you build confidence in yourself as the right person for your writing job.
Creating a Job Description that Works
When you have a position to be filled and no one there to fill it, you must engage in a hiring process. The first step to building an effective process is to write a job description that encapsulates the responsibilities, duties, and functions of the person who will be hired. This is your chance to fully imagine the job you want done and to propose which skills the person you’d hire would have.
Across the top of a page write the title, “Position: Journal Keeper.” For the next 10 minutes let yourself describe this job. What would the person you hire be called upon to do in this journal keeper position? What would you expect the functions of such a person to include? What skills would such an applicant need to convince you he or she had? Remember, though, this is not just any journal keeper. This is YOUR Journal Keeper you are talking about. This person might have to be able to write on the fly or be especially able to pick up mid-sentence with something he or she was writing a week ago. The job description depends upon what your life is like and what you need from the journal keeper. If you are hoping that the very existence in your life of this journal keeper will change the job into something more serene than it might be now, say this and describe what you are hoping for.
Since the job description you write doesn’t need to show up in a want ad that costs by the word, take another ten or twenty minutes and write some anecdotal accounts of how you have come to know these are the functions, duties, and skills required for the job of being your Journal Keeper. You didn’t pull these notions out of thin air. They were born of your experience, wishes and dreams. Write that down!
The Candidates’ Credentials
You are the person out there who can fulfill the job you have created. It might be fun to write YOUR resume as such a candidate. The categories in the resume can be different than in a normal resume. Just call them Life Skills, Special Interests and Hobbies, Organization Memberships (families are organizations), and Goals for the Future. Here is your chance to find in your life experiences the activities and desires, the skills and abilities that qualify you to be a journal keeper. You might want to include personal and professional references at the end. These would be the names of people, real or fictional, dead or alive, that you feel would be the right people to back you up on your ability to take on the job of journal keeper.
Letter of Introduction
A resume is most often submitted with a letter of introduction. Now it is time to write that letter. Look over the resume you have created and let the person this resume represents speak in a natural but persuasive voice about why he or she is right for the job. The candidate may even be so bold as to add a few ideas of his or her own.
Interviewing the Candidate
It is often overwhelming to meet and interview candidates for a job and it is usually quite overwhelming to be the candidate having the interview.
The interviewer wonders, “Did I make the impression I was a skillful manager? Did I ask the right questions for really learning about the prospective employee? Did I describe the job and its duties accurately enough that the candidate really knows what I am looking for?
The candidate wonders, “Did I dress appropriately? Did I mumble or did I project my voice confidently? Did I seem intelligent and like I understood the job and what it requires? Did I seem like someone who could both take directions and work independently as a self-starter? Did I ask the kind of questions bosses like to hear, the ones that show I am thoughtful but focused?
You get to have fun here. Write a dialog between you the hiring agent and you the job applicant. You can do this all in dialogue or in addition you can write inner thoughts and asides on both characters’ parts. Be sure the dialog and the inner thoughts take in some of the surroundings or current themes about job hunting.
On one episode of ER, Carrie Weaver, head resident in the Emergency Room is interviewing for a head doctor position. A warm hearted but inappropriate clerk on the floor says of Carrie’s outfit, “Oh, you read that magazine article, too, the one about what to wear when you are interviewing for the important position.” This is the kind of thing you can write into your dialog. The interviewer might comment on the applicant’s attire or either party might have thoughts about the other’s or her own clothing. Either party might comment on the surroundings where they are interviewing or the place where the job is assigned. Let yourself have fun putting two human beings in this conversation that is actually wholly off the record.
Designate a Start Date and Place of Employment
Now it is time to pretend that you are talking to your new employee over the phone or writing a letter or an email to her making the offer of employment. If you have any reservations at this time or areas of concern you want your new employee to know you will be watching and evaluating, go ahead and get these off your chest in this conversation or message. When you have written this exchange or correspondence, end it by stating the start date, the start time, and the place your new hire is to report. Be sure to tell the employee how many times per week you expect her to write in the journal, one or more days a week. You will need to also tell her where and when during the week you expect her to report to work. Are her hours and the location she works from flexible or more structured? Be sure she understands how to use the journal you have created and want kept! Write this all down in your journal.
You have worked hard to envision this job well and to conjure the journal keeper you have hired.
Now it’s the journal keeper’s turn to get to work. Make sure her hours appear in your date book right alongside your children's doctor's appointments, your errands, and the work and volunteer meetings you must attend, no matter if she is supposed to do her job in the parking lot before she enters a building or for an hour each Saturday morning parked by a beach.
Guest columnist Sheila Bender publishes Writing It Real, an online magazine for those who write from personal experience. She directs the Writing It Real in Port Townsend Writer’s Conference every late June in Port Townsend, WA. The author of ten books on writing, she teaches small groups online. Check out www.writingitreal.com for info on all these activities and more.
Affirmations to Write By
I am a gifted, talented, skillful writer.
I am so creative that wonderful ideas flow through me constantly and with great ease.
I am not the least bit bothered by negative criticism or rejection.
I will continue to become a better writer in time as I study and practice more.
I don’t wait around for inspiration. Work inspires inspiration.
I will make time to write, since it’s so important to me.
I realize that all setbacks are temporary and will eventually lead to great successes.
Like the salesman, I understand that each time someone says “no” to my pitch I am that much closer to making a sale.
I have great imagination and have innovative ways of putting words together.
I write daily with excitement, enthusiasm, and confidence.
Slice of the Writing Life
The following excerpted Charles Bukowski interview isn’t mine but was plucked from the literary magazine New York Quarterly. Since Bukowski rarely gave interviews, this 1985 talk is indeed a rare piece. I hope you’ll find it as insightful and instructive as I have.
NYQ: Do you revise much? What do you do with worksheets? Your poems sometimes give the impression of coming off the top of your head. Is that only an impression? How much agony and sweat of the human spirit is involved in the writing of one of your poems?
Bukowski: I revise, but not much. The next day I retype the poem and automatically make a change or two, drop out a line, or make two lines into one or one line into two, that sort of thing—to make the poem have more balls, more balance. Yes, the poems come "off the top of my head," I seldom know what I’m going to write when I sit down. There isn’t much agony and sweat of the human spirit involved in doing it. The writing’s easy, it’s the living that is sometimes difficult.
NYQ: When you’re away from your place do you carry a notebook with you? Do you jot down ideas as they come to you during the day or do you store them in your head for later?
Bukowski: I don’t carry notebooks and I don’t consciously store ideas. I try not to think that I am a writer and I am pretty good at doing that. I don’t like writers, but then I don’t like insurance salesmen either.
NYQ: Do you ever go through dry periods, no writing at all? If so how often? What do you do during these periods? Anything to get you back on the track?
Bukowski: A dry period for me means perhaps going two or three nights without writing. I probably have dry periods, but I’m not aware of them and I go on writing, only the writing probably isn’t much good. But sometimes I do get aware that it isn’t going too well. Then I go to the racetrack and bet more money than usual and scream at and abuse my woman. And it’s best that I lose at the track without trying to. I can almost always write a damn near immortal poem if I have lost somewhere between 150 and 200 dollars.
NYQ: Need for isolation? Do you work best alone? Most of your poems concern your going from a state of love/sex to a state of isolation. Does that tie in with the way to have things in order to write?
Bukowski: I love solitude but I don’t need it to the exclusion of somebody I care for in order to get some words down. I figure if I can’t write under all circumstances, then I’m just not good enough to do it. Some of my poems indicate that I am writing while living alone after a split with a woman, and I’ve had many splits with women. I need solitude more often when I’m not writing than when I am. I have written with children running about the room having at me with squirt guns. That often helps rather than hinders the writing: some of the laughter enters. One thing does bother me, though: to overhear somebody’s loud TV, a comedy program with a laugh track.
NYQ: When did you begin writing? How old? What writers did you admire?
Bukowski: The first thing I ever remembered writing was about a German aviator with a steel hand who shot hundreds of Americans out of the sky during World War II. It was in long hand in pen and it covered every page of a huge memo ringed notebook. I was about 13 at the time and I was in bed covered with the worst case of boils the medics ever remembered seeing. There weren’t any writers to admire at the time. Since then there has been John Fante, Knut Hamsun, the Celine of Journey; Dostoesvsky, of course; Jeffers of the long poems only; Conrad Aiken, Catullus…not to many. I sucked mostly at the classical music boys. It was good to come home from the factories at night, take off my clothes, climb on the bed in the dark, get drunk on beer and listen to them.
NYQ: How would you characterize what you think is really bad poetry? What do you think is good poetry today?
Bukowski: People just don’t know how to write down a simple easy line. It’s difficult for them; it’s like trying to keep a hard-on while drowning—not many can do it. Bad poetry is caused by people who sit down and think, ‘Now I am going to write a poem.’ And it comes out the way they think a poem should be. Take a cat. He doesn’t think, ‘Well, now, I’m cat and I’m going to kill this bird.’ He just does it.
NYQ: Although you write strong voice poems, that voice rarely extends beyond the circumference of your own psychosexual concerns. Are you interested in national, international affairs, do you consciously restrict yourself as to what you will and will not write about?
Bukowski: I photograph and record what I see and what happens to me. I am not a guru or leader of any sort. I am not a man who looks for solutions in God or politics. If somebody else wants to do the dirty work and create a better world for us and he can do it, I will accept it.
NYQ: What do you think a young poet starting out today needs to learn the most?
Bukowski: He should realize that if he writes something and it bores him it’s going to bore many other people also. There is nothing wrong with a poetry that is entertaining and easy to understand. Genius could be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way. He should stay the hell out of writing classes and find out what’s happening around the corner. And bad luck for the young poet would be a rich father, an early marriage, an early success or the ability to do anything very well.
The Avid Reader
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.
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
Looking for a Writing Job?
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(Disclaimer: I only recommend these sites as interesting ones to check out. If you decide to purchase any products or services, or become a paid member of a site or apply for a posted job, you do so at your own risk. Please use your discretion and common sense.)
Writing Without the Muse: 50 Beginning Exercises for the Creative Writer
By Beth Baruch Joselow
A great, quick, fun read, this 1996 practical guide on writing hits on specific points and problems in such a fast-paced, straightforward way that it’s virtually guaranteed to both instruct you and stir your creative juices at the same time.
The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
By John Gardner.
This 1983 book, which dissects the “craft” in a way more thorough than any other before or since, I believe, is a must-read for anyone pursuing a career as a novelist or short story writer. A wonderful fiction writer himself (with novels such as ‘Grendel” and “October Light,” as well as a great teacher, Gardner concedes while the ability to write well is a supreme gift, he theorizes that “writing ability is mainly a product of good teaching supported by a deep-down love of writing.” Provocative, funny, and packed with important advice.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
By Robert McKee
Written by the most controversial screenwriting guru in all of Hollywood, the tough-loving McKee, this 1997 tome is obviously geared toward screenwriters, but in my opinion this is a great book for anyone, including novelists and journalists, interested in learning how to best tell a story.
Beyond Style: Mastering the Finer Points of Writing
By Gary Provost
In this 1988 resource, Writer’s Digest contributor Provost tackles the issues of writing—such as form, tone, viewpoint, pacing, and theme—with a light, clever hand.
On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction
By William Zinsser
This 1980 book, which embodies the same loving respect for the English language as Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style,” was not only critical to my development as a writer but is something I continue to re-read. Included are chapters on Simplicity, Words, The Interview, The Lead, and The Ending. Priceless.
Publishing to the Power of Dee
What Happens at the Publishing House?
By Dee Power
(Excerpted with permission from The Publishing Primer: A Blueprint for an Author's Success)
As we said, the first step on the path to publication begins with the query letter. The editor reviews the submissions and selects those book projects he or she feels the most excited about, fits the house’s list at the time and will sell well. The editor presents his or her selections at the publishing house’s editorial meeting. And each of the other acquisition editors do the same. The publisher, editorial director, marketing vice president, sales director and the publicity manager attend these meetings and have a direct say in whether a title will be accepted. Questions and answers follow to determine if the book has a market, if it’s well written, what the competition is and what the potential “hook” for publicity might be. All this information should be in the book proposal. Finally, a decision is made about which books will receive an offer. And what that offer will be.
Money, Money, Money: Advance$
The agent and editor, or if the author doesn’t have an agent, the author and the editor, negotiate the advance, royalties and other issues of the contract. The advance and royalties are payment to the author in exchange for the publisher to exclusively publish the book. Most publishers these days want all rights including: print, electronic, syndication, audio, foreign, movie and TV rights.
If the publisher sells any of these additional rights the author gets a share of the payment. The payment can be in addition to the advance or can be used to earn out the advance.
The advance is based on how many copies of the title the publisher believes will sell. The royalty is a percentage between 5-15% and can be calculated using the suggested retail price, the net price to the publisher or the profits to the publisher. The royalty can be negotiated.
The suggested retail price is simply the price that is printed on the book and embedded in the bar code on the back. The net publisher price is discounted from the retail price and is the price the publisher receives from the wholesaler, distributor or bookstore. The net publisher price can be 20% to 55% less than the suggested retail price. For example Amazon.com demands a 55% discount. A book that has a suggested retail price of $20, would generate $9.00 to the publisher. In other words Amazon.com pays the publisher $9.00 for each copy they buy. The royalty would be paid on the $9.00. The profit price is not used by many legitimate publishers because it can easily be manipulated.
The royalties can escalate based on the numbers of copies sold. For example the first 5000 copies sold have a royalty of 5% of the suggested retail price. The next 10,000 copies sold earn a royalty of 6% of suggested retail price. The next 50,000 earn a 7% royalty.
The advance is “earned out” when the royalties on the total sales equals the paid advance. If a publisher thought that a title would sell 25,000 copies at a retail price of $20 and the royalty rate was 5%, the advance would theoretically be $25,000. In reality the publisher will hedge its bets and only pay an advance of say, $10,000. If the title does sell 25,000 copies, the author will get the remaining $15,000 paid as the books sell.
The advance is usually split into payments, sometimes as many as four or five.
The first payment can be when the contract is signed, the second when the first half of the manuscript is completed, the third when the manuscript is completed, and the fourth when the book is published. The payments don’t have to be equal. The five figure advances we have been paid for our nonfiction books were 50% upon signing the contract and the remaining 50% when the manuscript was accepted by the publisher.
Advances can range from a few thousand dollars to seven figures for bestselling authors. If the author has an agent, the advance is paid to the literary agent who then deducts their commission, and sends a check for the remainder to the author.
The author does not receive any further payment from the publisher until the advance is earned out, (unless of course, additional rights are sold) in other words until the royalties earned from the book exceed the advance previously paid. However, the author doesn’t have to repay the advance or any portion of it, if the book doesn’t earn out the advance.
Many small presses can’t afford to pay an advance. That doesn’t mean they aren’t legitimate. Sometimes the advance will be a token, from $100 to $500 to show good faith. The author will still receive royalties.
You can negotiate the number of free books you receive. It can range from 2 to 100. Usually the publisher offers a discount to the author when the author wants to purchase their own book. This discount can be negotiated. Most publishers prohibit their authors from selling books to bookstores for resale. That is the publisher’s sales staff’s job.
In most cases, the copyright for the book remains with the author. The publisher registers the copyright with the Library of Congress in the name of the author.
All of these alternatives are spelled out in the publishing contract.
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.
Peake Performance: From Pen to Published
Adding Depth to Writing: Visual Description and Symbolism
By Marilyn Peake
As a writer, you recognize when you’re reading a novel, short story or poem that sings out with resonant beauty. You find yourself rereading a passage or two, attempting to savor its essence like fine wine or rich chocolate. In addition to perfect spelling and grammatical structure achieving a kind of mathematical precision, chances are that the piece is highly visual and imbued with symbolism.
You’ve probably heard the basic rule: “Show, don’t tell”. Especially today, writers are required to accomplish this feat in order to gain publishing contracts and book sales. The modern public likes to “see” the details of the works they read, and they expect writers to paint a highly visual landscape.
Once a writer learns how to do this, the process is actually fun and quite exhilarating. It’s like opening a door into a magical land and seeing everything beyond the portal in crisp, clear detail. How wonderful to feel as though you visit a new place every time you write!
In order to illustrate “Show, don’t tell,” I’m going to offer an example of the difference between the two approaches.
Here’s an example of telling: “Casey was very scared. He found the man walking behind him late at night very frightening. He looked up and saw a Church one block away and headed there at a fast pace. Once inside the Church, Casey felt better, more relieved and safe.”
Now here’s the same paragraph injected with description: “Heading home from work, Casey absentmindedly listened to the staccato march of his shoes on pavement. The moon, a scythe tinged blood orange, retreated behind thickened clouds and dropped a shadow across the night. Suddenly, another set of footsteps rang out upon sidewalk. Casey’s heart beat wildly. Sweat pooled within his clenched fists. Discovering a church steeple rising up to claim the night, Casey headed in that direction, the steeple a steady compass. Arriving at the sanctuary, he swung the door wide open, allowing it to close quietly behind him. God, the saints, and the blessed Virgin stared down upon him from their shattered panes of stained glass.”
It’s important for description to create a mood and to encapsulate a great deal of information in every sentence. In the above example, I wanted to “show” fear without ever “telling” the reader that the man was afraid; and I wanted to suggest a story in which a battle over good and evil was taking place. Let’s look more closely at the specific words used to accomplish this.
“Staccato march” suggests a drumbeat or beats of a heart, but it doesn’t necessarily suggest fear. The next sentence suggests death and murder, but only symbolically for the sake of creating mood, tension, and the beginning of fear in the reader: “The moon, a scythe tinged blood orange, retreated behind thickened clouds and dropped a shadow across the night.” After suggesting a scythe tinged with blood, “dropped a shadow across the night” is meant to convey intense darkness. In the next couple of sentences, rather than “tell” the reader that Casey was afraid, I want to make the reader feel the same fear and then “show” Casey’s reaction: “Suddenly, another set of footsteps rang out upon sidewalk. Casey’s heart beat wildly. Sweat pooled within his clenched fists.”
After that, I want to let the reader know that there is some battle between good and evil taking place: “Finding a church steeple rising up to claim the night, Casey headed in that direction, the steeple a steady compass. Arriving at the sanctuary, he swung the door wide open, allowing it to close quietly behind him. God, the saints, and the blessed Virgin stared down upon him from their shattered panes of stained glass.” The brief description “shattered panes of stained glass” was written to convey the idea that God and all that are holy would be shocked with something that has taken place. The phrase “steady compass” was meant to indicate both physical direction to find the church and a play on words similar to moral compass.
I wrote the descriptive paragraph above solely as an illustration for this article; but already I feel that this could be developed into a murder mystery—with Casey either the innocent or guilty party at this point in time. Descriptive writing—“showing rather than telling”—has a magical way of drawing not only the reader into the story, but the writer into it as well while he or she creates it.
The human mind loves symbols and we respond to their presence in art. Carl Jung wrote about archetypes—symbols so much a part of human existence that they appear over and over again in culture. Some of those archetypes are: mother, father, family, child, shadow (animal instinct), hero, wise old man, and self. These archetypes abound in literature and draw us into it.
In the example above, God and the Virgin Mary suggest protection coming from a powerful father and mother. What if Casey were to be murdered in the Church under their watchful eyes? In that case, the symbolism of the archetypes would suggest that all hope had been lost, all sources of protection unavailable to Casey. In the reader, a sense of fear would suddenly ratchet up a notch or two.
Writers can also create their own symbols within particular stories. For example, if later on in Casey’s story, a scythe becomes important, its first mention would be symbolic.
By adding layers of visual description and symbolism to their work, writers create depth and resonance for their readers. This approach is attractive to readers, publishers, and reviewers. It also allows the writer a unique opportunity to step through magnificent portals into alternate worlds.
Newsletter contributing columnist Marilyn Peake is the author of both children’s and adult literature. Her trilogy of children’s fantasy adventure novels – The Fisherman’s Son, The City of the Golden Sun, and Return of the Golden Age – have received many wonderful reviews. Ms. Peake’s short stories appear in both the Illuminated Manuscripts and Twisted Tails anthologies from Double Dragon Publishing. Two of her adult short stories, Coyote Crossing and Cannon Fodder: Operation Horse Whisperer, are published by DDP with their own book covers, and are listed among the “Fictionwise Recommendations” at Fictionwise.com.
Please visit her Web site at: http://www.marilynpeake.com
Their writings…food for thought, contemplation, and inspiration.
The Seven Wonders of the World
A group of students were asked to list what they thought were the “Seven Wonders of the World.” Though there were some disagreements, the following received the most votes:
1. Egypt's Great Pyramids
2. The Taj Mahal
3. The Grand Canyon
4. The Panama Canal
5. The Empire State Building
6. St. Peter's Basilica
7. China's Great Wall
While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student had not finished her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list. The girl replied, “Yes, a little. I couldn't quite make up my mind because there were so many.”
The teacher said, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help.”
The girl hesitated, then read, “I think the 'Seven Wonders of the World' are:
1. To See
2. To Hear
3. To Touch
4. To Taste
5. To Feel
6. To Laugh
7. And to Love.”
The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
The things we overlook as simple and ordinary and that we take for granted are truly wondrous!
A gentle reminder—that the most precious things in life cannot be built by hand or bought by Man.
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, phrases and forms of punctuation 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?
Adequate vs. sufficient
Wrong: Make sure you take adequate time to decide.
Right: Make sure you take sufficient time to decide.
The relationship of sufficient to adequate is one of quantity vs. quality. Sufficient means “enough,” while adequate means “good enough.” You may have a sufficient quantity of food for your needs, but you still have to consider whether the nutritional quality is adequate as well.
Shammy vs. chamois
Wrong: Grab a shammy and start drying the car.
Right: Grab a chamois and start drying the car.
A chamois is a European antelope whose hide is used to make soft leather. Chamois also refers to a cotton fabric made to resemble chamois leather. Shammy is merely a phonetic spelling of chamois.
To coin a phrase
Wrong: All’s well that ends well, to coin a phrase.
Right: All’s well that ends well, to borrow a phrase.
To coin a phrase means to create (coin) a new phrase; yet it’s most often used when reiterating a cliché. If you’re going to coin a phrase, then—please—actually coin one.
Moral vs. morale
Wrong: That victory was a great moral booster.
Right: That victory was a great morale booster.
Morale (rhymes with horse corral) refers to one’s mental and emotional state regarding confidence, cheerfulness, zeal, etc. A moral (rhymes with coral reef) relates to the principles and rules of proper conduct and the difference between right and wrong. (“The moral of the story is….”) One can be a moral or amoral or immoral person and yet still be the company morale officer.
Could care less vs. Couldn’t care less
Wrong: I could care less what you do.
Right: I couldn’t care less what you do.
Saying I couldn’t care less about something means that nothing interests you less. On the other hand, I could care less implies that you must care something about it, because you could possibly care less about it than you do now.
Wrong: Well….I guess we should turn left.
Right: Well…I guess we should turn left.
Wrong: I-I don’t know…
Right: I-I don’t know….
I see a lot of confusion in the use of ellipses (the plural of ellipsis), yet they’re quite easy to use. An ellipsis consists of three consecutive periods and is used to indicate a pause (perhaps for thought) in the middle of a sentence or sometimes the tailing off of a voice at the end of a sentence. (Some publishers might insist that you insert spaces between the periods for formatting purposes; however, this is nonstandard usage.) When used at the end of a sentence, follow the ellipsis with a fourth period to end the sentence. (If you use Microsoft Word, you’ll discover that when you type three consecutive periods, Word’s AutoCorrect feature will replace them with an ellipsis character. You won’t be able to insert your cursor between the periods, but you will between the ellipsis and the ending period.)
Rain vs. rein vs. reign
Wrong: He needs to reign in his enthusiasm.
Right: He needs to rein in his enthusiasm.
Wrong: There was much upheaval during the rein of King Charles.
Right: There was much upheaval during the reign of King Charles.
To reign is to rule (or it’s the period during which a ruler is in power), while reins are used to control a horse or other beast of burden. Don’t let an editor rain on your parade because you used reign or rein incorrectly.
Lay low vs. lie low
Wrong: We have to lay low for now.
Right: We have to lie low for now.
This is another case of confusion between lay and lie (addressed in an earlier article). To lay low is to kill or defeat a foe, or to knock someone down. To lie low is to conceal oneself or to bide one’s time. You might lie low until the time is ripe to lay low your enemies.
Proceed vs. precede
Wrong: He proceded to cross the street.
Right: He proceeded to cross the street.
Wrong: She preceeded him across the street.
Right: She preceded him across the street.
The spelling of these two words seem to confuse many people, who spell both words as if they’re the same except for the first vowel.
Asterik vs. asterisk
Wrong: Be sure to footnote that point with an asterik.
Right: Be sure to footnote that point with an asterisk.
I’ve seen asterisk (rhymes with risk) misspelled (and heard it mispronounced) as asterik many times. (It seems to be mispronounced almost as often as “athalete.”) Be sure to include the second s both in your writing and in your pronunciation.
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
Warnings About Literary Fraud and Other Schemes, Scams, and Pitfalls That Target Writers
Do yourself a favor and check out this great sites to keep you safe in the publishing world:
On the Writing Business
The Power of Writing
By Patricia Fry
Q: What’s the opposite of a wannabe writer?
A: One who is experiencing burnout.
At one end of the spectrum we have someone who says he wants to write, but who can’t discipline himself to actually sit down and write. And then there are write-a-holics—those who can’t not write—who write at every opportunity—who seek reasons to write instead of looking for excuses not to write.
Which writer are you?
If you want to write, but you can’t find the time, can’t make the time, won’t sacrifice anything to create the time, I suggest examining your motivation. You say that you want to write, so why don’t you? What is stopping you? I know the answer to this question; you just aren’t in tune with your true motivation.
In order to shift from wannabe writer to “I am a writer,” you must get in touch with why you want to write? Once you discover your motivation for wanting to write, you will either begin to honor it by writing or you will realize that it is superficial and you’ll walk away from your writing room.
To discover your true motivation, ask yourself:
Why do I want to write?
What emotion would I be feeding?
What objective, value, result, benefit do I seek?
What deep or surface need/desire would I be acknowledging?
What is the purpose of the book or article I want to write?
What principle would I be honoring by writing this book/article/story?
What stops me from writing? (Make a list of obstacles.)
What fear keeps me from writing? Fear of failure? Success? Ridicule? Lack of confidence as a writer? (fill in the blank)
Then there are those of you who (like me) are more likely to suffer burnout than writer’s block. You love to write and do it as often as possible. Some of you, like me, do it full-time. You can get so engrossed in a writing project that you forget to eat or pick up your kids from school. If you’re really on a roll, you might write all day and night like a college student cramming for an exam. And then you crash and burn. Here are some preventative measures that work for me:
Get plenty of sleep.
Eat right—you know, veggies, fruits, whole grains. Go easy on the chocolate, coffee and fast food.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water.
Take regular breaks. Stretch for 5 minutes every hour or so, jog around your house once an hour, vacuum a room, take a shower, brush the dog, grab a gulp of water and a piece of fresh fruit, call your mom/sister/husband/son…, go out and get the mail, chat over the back fence with a neighbor for 10 minutes.
Expand your creative endeavors. I garden and do needlework, for example. You’ll be amazed at how much more creative you are as a writer when you explore other creative venues.
Acknowledge your spirituality. Attend church, read inspirational books, meditate.
Help others. Taking time away from writing in order to do good only serves to enhance your writing.
Get out among people often enough that you don’t forget how to use your social graces. If your public attire resembles your working attire (fluffy robe and bunny slippers or holey sweats), you spend way too much time in your home office.
Writing is a pleasure to some and a necessity for others. Writing for publication can thrill some while intimidating others. The writing process can feed the soul or drive you crazy. Use these prompts and tips to help you find your level of comfort as a writer whether you are still trying to find your motivation or you are bordering on burnout.
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
“I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”—Joan Didion
“All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald
“I'm a writer—if I stop writing, I'm nothing.”—William Faulkner
“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”—Winston Churchill
“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”—T. S. Eliot
“If you steal from one author, it's plagiarism; if you steal from many, it's research.”—Wilson Mizner
“Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”—Ray Bradbury
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something-anything-down on paper.”—Anne Lamott
“I began to write because I was too shy to talk, and too lonely not to send messages.”—Heather McHugh
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”—Mark Twain
A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
So You Wanna Be a Writer? Work for It
By Bev Walton-Porter
In life, there are small irritations and pet peeves that are more amusing than anything else. Case in point: why do people in other industries (where they are either successful or perceive themselves to be successful) assume they should suddenly become writers and can whip out a best-selling book with nary a thought?
There is a certain person (who shall remain unnamed) on another blog site that seems like a nice person—this person spouts a lot of positive-thinking stuff and works in Hollywood. This person defines himself as a mover and a shaker—which, by all accounts, he appears to be in many circles.
He knows Hollywood and all that jazz (well, as much as you can for his age) and now he puts out a call to everyone on his f-list to hook him up with an publisher and agent because he's decided it might be "nice" to write a book and spread his wisdom to as many readers as possible.
Fair enough—and he does have uplifting things to say—but he makes it seem like writing books and getting into the publishing industry is just as easy as snapping one's fingers. That's it's a matter of simply having someone on his friends' list hook him up and—BINGO!—he can just call up a publisher, pitch his book and it'll magically appear on the shelves and become an international bestseller.
It would be nice for him if that happened and I would buy his book to support his dreams, but what irks me are people who decide as a flight of fancy that it would be nice to write a book as an afterthought or to enhance their careers like it's a cute little game of some sort.
It's not. And no, finding a publisher or agent isn't as easy as putting out a message that essentially tells people he's so busy doing Hollywood-like tasks that he needs someone to help get him started and hook him up with an agent or publisher.
For those of us who have been writing for decades and who have endured rejection upon rejection and have paid in sweat, blood and time only to finally see some of our words in print, watching someone waltz into the room with a flippant, almost nonchalant attitude about writing and publishing is a complete an utter insult to the rest of us who have had to WORK for the few successes—however small—we have.
WE have to agonize over query letters and proposals. WE have to do our own dirty work (i.e.—researching markets, contacting agents, steeling ourselves against countless 'thanks, but no thanks' letters). WE battle writer's block and unwieldy musings in the middle of the night. WE fight cold and flu during deadlines, yet push through and get the work done anyway. WE put in the footwork and don't expect others to go out and take care of things because we're too busy schmoozing with illusionary movers/shakers in HollyWeirdTown.
Just because you work in Hollywood, it doesn't mean you can write worth crap. And even if you get published, it should be because you put in the time to get there and it wasn't just handed to you because of a five-minute phone call. You should have to prove your worth by crafting a professional book proposal and a query letter. You should have to demonstrate your writing abilities to the publisher and the agent.
You should have to go through all the steps THE REST OF US have to go through. And you should feel the sting of rejection at least once. Why? So you RESPECT the process. So you RESPECT the others who put work into writing. Hollywood is NOT the same as book publishing. We "do" lunch...but if we're in the middle of a deadline you're going to have to wait till our work is finished first. I've missed many an engagement, party or social gathering because a writing project took priority. Writing is WORK, not a sideline activity undertaken just for kicks.
Need a publisher? Find one yourself. Want an agent? Snag one yourself. Write the proposals, sample chapters and query letters *yourself*. There are no shortcuts...I don't care who the hell YOU are in Hollywood. This is another ball game, kiddo. Most of us working writers aren't impressed by who you lunched with today.
This person does have good things to say and he has decent basic skills as a writer (save for occasional grammar and spelling niggles—and none of us writes perfectly all the time anyway).
However, it's not his writing that bothers me. I believe he could write a wonderful book about positive thinking that would motivate others. It's his attitude toward writing/publishing a book that bothers me.
You want to get a book published? Do the footwork. Do the research. Get your hands dirty. Write your own query and proposal for a publisher or agent, *after* you've spent hours researching the market for your potential book and *after* you've spent hours researching publishers and agents. Book contracts aren't handed to people on silver platters just because they had the wisp of an idea today and thought they "just might like to write one of them thar books." *rolls eyes*
Writers rarely garner enough respect. And even if you are a famous author, you still don't get the proper respect for the work you do. Writing is not valued like work at a construction site is valued; working with your mind and your fingers on a keyboard...well hell, ANYBODY CAN DO THAT, RIGHT? But hard, intense physical labor...now that's REAL work! *bull* I'd venture that MENTAL work is much more trying than physical work overall. Don't believe me? Try it sometime. Try sitting in a room, weeks or months on end, writing a novel...making something out of nothing but with your mind. Try selling your IDEAS and getting another person to PAY for your ideas and then to publish them on the off chance other people might want to read what you have to say. Who the heck are YOU, after all? Why should WE listen to or read your ideas? That's not work...that's play (or so some would have you believe).
Creatives (writers, artists, musicians, etc.) are the Rodney Dangerfields of the world—they never get enough respect. It all looks so easy, doesn't it? Anyone can whip out a book (or so it's believed). Do most people really think about the time, effort and anguish it takes to get a book on the shelves? No. Why, it's SO SIMPLE that anybody and his mother can do it (wrong!)
So yes...Mr. Unnamed Mover/Shaker may have a great book idea and I do hope he finds a publisher and an agent (if he so desires). But please, don't be flippant about the publishing industry or the writers who work—really Work—in it daily. It's a job to us, not a hobby. Not an afterthought or icing on the cake of another career aspiration. Some of us would write with or without a publishing industry. The only reason why we want to earn a living with our words is so we can KEEP WRITING instead of working at a crappy job in cubicle hell. A bad day writing is better than the best day working in corporate America. If I won the lottery, I'd never care if I earned another cent by writing. I write to support my family because it's my chosen career...and writing is one of the lowest-paid professions a person can select (unless you're one of the top two percent who earns a decent living).
As one famous person said (I'll need to remember who), you'd have better luck betting on horse racing. And yet, I choose to be a writer because I love it. It's the only thing I can do halfway decent. Writing isn't just because you WANT to some of the time...it's because you HAVE to all of the time. You live/eat/breathe/sleep writing. You can do nothing else. If you want to be respected as a writer, respect the profession and act like a professional. Work for it. Nobody is going to give you a darn thing.
If you plan to write, please don't do it on a whim. Have respect for the profession and the people in it. Writing is not a dalliance. For some of us, it's a serious undertaking that reverberates deep within the soul.
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:
Something you like/dislike about yourself.
Your best friend.
Your favorite place to write.
What makes you laugh.
The best advice about life you've ever gotten.
Your most indispensable possession.
Your favorite book and/or author
Your greatest pet peeve.
What you would do if you could be invisible for a day.
The place where you feel most at peace.
Need a Friend?
By Angela Wilson
Social network giant MySpace allows you to meet fans and new readers with just a few clicks of the keyboard. It’s user-friendly interface doesn’t seem to deter writers – even the ones who aren’t so techno-savvy. But inviting friends? Well, that’s a different story.
As an author publicist, the No. 1 question I receive from authors is how to make friends on MySpace. I must admit, this question befuddled me when I first got it. To me, you just get on the site, make friends with people you know, then become friends of their friends, and so on. I do general searches of publishing housing or writers to find more people with like interests.
But it’s not that simple for everyone.
Instead of just sending out a blanket instruction sheet to those with this question, I emailed and called with questions about how the authors were using the site. Many used the blog for new copy, or to link to their other blogs and Web sites. Some understood the value of bulletins and used them to announce new releases or book signings. But the majority was hung up on friend requests. When they received a request, they would take several days to correspond with the person before finally accepting the request. Other times, they would pursue new friends by corresponding with them before sending the final request.
For most, this painstaking effort was to reduce the number of MySpace whores—people who just want to be friends to increase MySpace rankings—and be certain that all friends were really fans, critics, publishers or agents. Others felt compelled to chat it up with requesters to build a bigger fan base via personal communication. This careful attention to friend detail was wasting precious writing time, and leaving them exhausted.
Making friends on MySpace is not that hard. You don’t need to personally email everyone at least three times before you accept their request. Just accept it, post a “Thanks for the add!” comment on their page and move on. Only communicate with those who really need your input or who send a kudos note about your latest project. Same goes for requests you make. When you notice people have accepted your invites, leave them a nice comment, then move on.
Making MySpace friends takes time, and it didn’t take software developers long to devise a technological strategy to invite friends with just a click of the button – for a price, of course.
Software like EEK, AdderDemon, UberAdd, Easy Adder, and Friend Blaster Pro will allow you to make friends by using keyword searches and, with the click of a button, invite hundreds of MySpace users to be your friend. While these may look good, they don’t always deliver – and they threaten your credibility with MySpace administrators.
I have tested these programs and, frankly, got more aggravation than results. Some of the programs were large, or difficult to download. A few that allowed a so-called “free trial” didn’t offer up the services I really needed to get to the right people, so I would have been forced to pay to see how it worked – with no refunds if I was not satisfied. A few were not user friendly. I spent so much time trying to figure out how they worked that I could have invited at least 20 MySpace users to my account just by using a general search on the Web site.
Then, once I finally got them to work, either the invitations the programs sent were rejected, or the programs hooked me up with users who had no interest in writing or reading. They totally missed my target demographic. There are also “free” programs that allow you to accumulate points with the number of people you invite. While I did get some takers, they were more interested in band profiles than books, or just wanted a larger friend count.
A few programs are also incredibly costly – especially if you have multiple logins for pseudonyms. MySpace users can tell when you are trolling the site for friends, and that threatens your credibility with them. Would you want to be known as the MySpace whore?
Oh, and did I mention that these download a significant amount of cookies, spyware and other techno junk on your PC?
If you decide to use software and find one that works for your techno ability, remember that MySpace’s terms of service specifically state that your account could be terminated if you are found to use these services. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the time, effort, money, or risk of losing everything you’ve built up just to add a few friends who may or may not be part of your target demographic.
What to do
Still looking for an easy answer? Check out the Groups section and find an Add Me group. If you want to be specific, tell people you are only looking for writers, readers, publishers, agents, editors, etc. You can also add yourself to a Train site – which will put you in the MySpace whore category. You’re best bet, though, is personally skimming MySpace profiles for the right fit.
If you have a hard time managing the friend option of MySpace, get your kids or grandkids to do it. If that’s not an option, call the local high school or college and ask for a reliable student who needs to earn cash for books. They work cheap and will be able to easily navigate the system fast and efficiently – and leave you more time to write.
Accept that no matter how hard you try, you will always have people linked to your profile who don’t exactly fit your marketing strategy. MySpace and other social networking sites are just too massive for that not to happen. Curtail your efforts as much as possible, and don’t hesitate to block a user or refuse a friend request from someone who obviously isn’t interested in your work.
Making the Most of MySpace
Here are some other quick tips to get the most out of MySpace. These also apply to other social networks like Ning, Facebook, Friendster, Tribe, Tagged and 43 Things.
KISS: Less is more. When building your page, remember to Keep it Simple, Stupid. Too many graphics makes a page look unprofessional and uninviting. (Please, do not ever use the Christmas Story background. YUCK!) The more graphics and music you have, the bigger your page – and the longer downloading time. There are still dial up users out there who will not visit your page if it takes too long via their connection. Super large graphics are also difficult for some high speed connections. Standard graphics for items like RSS feeds, ShareIt, Digg, Technorati, and Twitter are okay.
Theme: Your theme is the background people see when they pull up your MySpace page. Your best bet is to use the standard white and blue MySpace theme. If you want, choose code that has only a solid color—not a lot of photographs.
Music: If you chose to load music, be sure it does not automatically play when the page pops up. It is annoying to have songs immediately play—especially if you already have tunes on. Give the user the option to listen, rather than forcing tunes on them.
Photo: Your book cover makes an excellent MySpace photo icon. Readers will know what to look for if they want to buy, or will be more likely to recognize your book at the store if they have seen the cover art. You can also use a GIF image that blinks between your mug and your book cover. If you chose to use a headshot, use something that fits your genre and the image you want to portray. A children’s book author would likely use a different photo than a PhD who’s written the latest on global warming.
Bulletins: These easy-to-use short missives allow you to connect with all of your friends with just a few clicks of the keyboard. Use them to announce book releases, signings, conferences where you are a speaker. Keep these short and simple – no more than a paragraph.
Blog: Post news releases, links to stories about you, or go more in-depth into your bulletin items via the blog. It is also a great place to link back to your other sites – especially if you have advertisers on them. Be sure to choose the correct category for your posts, as not all posts are writing-related. For example, if you write a post about your dog, put it in the LIFE section, not WRITING.
Top Friends: MySpace allows you to arrange your top 12 friends my dragging and dropping their icons into the appropriate slots. It looks more credible for an author to have other authors or publishing houses as top friends.
Got a marketing question you want answered in this column? E-mail Angela at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Collaboration Wins by a Mile:
Seven steps for great teamwork
By Julie Ann Shapiro
It’s track and field time. The starter’s pistol goes off and the relay race is on. Your team is in the lead and you’re ready to do your part. You grab the baton, run as fast as you can, and extend the lead. But, as you pass the baton for the final leg, your teammate, Thompson, runs right past you and the baton falls to the track—disqualified.
Coach McPherson screams, “All of you to the bench.”
You yell back, “But Coach, its Thompson’s fault,” pointing at the runner who ignored your baton.
The Coach explains, “I don’t care who ran the fastest, you can’t win, if you can’t work together. If one member fails, we all fail.”
In athletics, teamwork is a necessary component for success. The same is true in a creative environment like publishing—where an edit, or two, can transform a good article into a great one. Collaboration often makes the sum greater than the individual parts.
Some businesses embrace the spirit of collaboration; others aspire to it. There are companies that never provide the proper atmosphere necessary to foster the collaborative process. Why?
Instilling the attitude for true teamwork is difficult. It’s like a “think tank”—ideas and strategies materialize. There must be acceptance of the collaborative effort without fear of recrimination or rejection. Respect is crucial.
The main steps to collaboration involve:
1) Setting up expectations for working together
2) Developing open communication
3) Including all parties in the process
4) Trusting each others input
5) Willing to take risks
6) Committing to teamwork
7) Respecting others contributions
One company that fosters collaboration is an online publisher of over 20 newsletters. At this company collaboration is the preferred methodology. It is inherent in the whole editorial process and the company culture. Editors, the interviewee, and the client review each article written. After each review, the writer has the opportunity to accept or reject suggestions. This process is fluid and dynamic.
Setting up expectations
This is about process. It begins with developing a standard workflow process. The mechanics of collaborative need to matter of fact. It’s all about process. It’s about training in that process. What we do at my company is, we have an editorial process. Everyone knows what the flow is, other people are involved, and the clients know the process. The collaborative process is part of the selling process. If you want collaboration in your employee, it needs to begin in the hiring process. The types of collaborators are writers, editors, and marketers, for internal collaborator is about the hiring process in the interview process, part of the interview would be to give people a story to edit, early on brought on to see how people work together.
This is how you do it. Set up expectations: internal collaborators start expectations in interviewing, for external clients start process during the selling phase.
The working example of the collaborative process:
A writer composed an article about selling education as a commodity. The article opened with an analogy about salt. One editor took the initial idea of salt and turned it into sugar, and wrote about all the ways sugar is a commodity. The writer loved the idea and found it exciting watching the idea blossom into something entirely different.
The client saw things differently. They didn’t like the sugar analogy and suggested using an analogy about buying a car. The writer incorporated the car-buying analogy throughout the story. It conveyed a much stronger message than salt or sugar. The final article became a smorgasbord taking a little from this person and a little from that person, making the article the best it could be. That’s the way collaboration works; sometimes it takes a little salt, and sugar, before you get the intended results.
Developing open communication
This process works by setting up expectations for collaboration and open communication. Unfortunately, the greatest expectations sometimes fall flat. Here’s one case that illustrates how, even when great intentions go bad, the collaborative circle can be extended, offering a quick fix for a dire situation.
A writer was all set to interview a venture capitalist for a client’s publication. The interviewee received questions prior to the interview. When the writer asked additional questions for clarification, the interviewee objected and cancelled the interview. He didn’t want to talk with someone that wasn’t an agricultural expert.
All was not lost. The writer had an open, trusting, and collaborative relationship with his client. He explained what happened and suggested that the client (subject experts) participate in the interview. The client and interviewee agreed and turned a losing situation into a fine collaborative effort. The writer produced an informative article that all parties liked. In fact, the interviewee liked it so much, his company posted it on their web site and asked for permission to use it for marketing purposes.
Including all parties in the process
Collaboration works when there is effective communication. While this entails trusting one another, respecting the other’s viewpoints, and listening to what each other has to say, it also involves including each other in the process.
Here’s an example involving an ad agency and a freelance writer. It demonstrates how lack of inclusion in a group can kill a project. A freelance writer was called in to write a series of interview-based articles for an agency to include in a brochure for a pharmaceutical firm.
The ad agency’s “working team” was comprised of eight people managing the client in various capacities. This team operated like angry cooks in a kitchen, with some cooks not talking to others; consequently, no one knew what to stir in the pot. When the writer asked for additional information, she encountered resistance every step of the way and, more often than not, the client struggled to figure out which of the eight people should talk to the writer. One time, a baffled ‘working team’ member said to the writer, “but I thought you’re the subject expert.”
This assignment dissolved before it had a chance to evolve. Why did it fail? There was no spirit of inclusion, no sense of openness, no commitment to working together, no trust, little communication, and no shared vision.
Trusting each others’ input
For another client, an editor offered editorial direction for beginning writers. The chief editor clearly established the groundwork for collaboration. The editor communicated with writers and made suggestions on ways to improve their stories. Writers could interpret the editor’s ideas however they wish, running with some ideas and disregarding others. What makes this process work is a willingness by both parties to work together.
In a recent situation, the editor worked with a writer that he thought had agreed to engage in this collaborative process. The editor’s feedback complemented the anecdotal gems from the writer’s culture, praised strong insights and experiences, which warranted publication, and explained the overall structural problems inherent in the story. However, much to the surprise of the editor, the writer walked away, saying she didn’t want to change the article.
Why did this process fail? The writer was unwilling to take risks, not committed to working as a team member, and did not trust that the suggestions were in her best interest.
Willing to take risks
Here’s an example where an entire editing team took a risk. A medical publication firm hired a writer to act as managing editor, to keep track of the production schedule. The writer saw a need for consumer friendly articles and approached the chief editor about doing these kinds of articles. Instead of rejecting the writer outright, or giving the writer a test project, the chief editor suggested she take it up with the individual editors.
One editor in Florida welcomed the idea and together they developed articles, which the team also accepted. In this risk-embracing environment the writer found support, a mentor willing to coach her and a Chief Editor open to fresh ideas.
Committing to teamwork
All parties need a willingness to work together. When one party pulls out of this process, like when a teammate drops the baton in the track and field race, the process fails. We saw this when the writer did not want to work with the editor, and again when the ad agency did not provide the writer the necessary assistance to get the job done.
Respecting each other’s contribution
Honoring each other’s contributions for writers and editors can be tricky. In theory, we all want respect and feedback. In reality, the ego can get in the way and threaten to damage collaboration.
Here’s a case where a writer’s ego could have caused trouble. The article went through an editorial process where each editor, offered little nuances to make the article better. No problem there. However, when the interviewee reviewed the article, she wrote whole new sections changing the style and tone. Ego–wise, the writer hated the changes.
Fortunately, the writer put things into perspective and saw the greater good instead of having a run-away ego. By keeping an open mind and not taking it personally, the writer realized the interviewee’s changes strengthened the article and added significant value.
When writers, editors, and publishers understand the power of collaboration, and know that it’s part of the culture, it’s much easier to keep egos in tow, instead of running amuck.
Creating an article that all parties support and that resonates with the reader is what collaborative publishing is all about. Writers, editors, and publishers each play an important part in this process, running the track relay, and, in turn, passing the baton, so the team can win together.
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.
Tips of the Month
The late Billy Wilder was one of the greatest writer/directors in film history, having co-written and directed such classics as Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, and Double Indemnity.
Here are Mr. Wilder’s 10 screenwriting tips/observations given in Cameron Crowe’s Conversations with Wilder:
1. The audience is fickle.
2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
4. Know where you’re going.
5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.
Great ideas, great writing!
By Kim McDougall
Serial fiction evolved in the 17th century as a way for newspapers to fill extra space. They grew in popularity until the 19th century when authors such as Dickens released novels with illustrations that could last months. Installments of such serials were gossiped over the way modern water-cooler talk inevitably shifts to American Idol.
Today, there are two main reasons to write a serial novel. One is to make continuing money from a magazine or site such as iTunes. Serial novels have migrated from newspapers to magazines, ezines, blogs, forums and podcasts. Just take a look at the podcast section of the iTunes store to see how popular this format has become.
Chatting with RLB Hartman (http://rlbhartmann.com), author of "Strong Coffee" (a serial available from Shadow Daily), I asked her, What place do you see for Serial novels in the future of publishing? “Well, after Stephen King's failure at it, I think that it will be a long haul to fame and glory,” said Hartman. “But in the short run, superior work will find readers. The only hitch at the present is that serialized online work, like other online offerings, is seldom bought and paid for. It's advertisement.”
This brings up the other reason to go serial: for promotion. Adding a serial novel to your website or blog can be a great way to entice the search spiders to recognize you. It also offers potential buyers a glimpse of your writing style, which may encourage books sales. Readers will come back for future installments, giving you the opportunity to promote new releases. Magazine editors who accept serial novels are probably thinking along these same lines. Hook the reader in and keep him coming back.
Jamieson Wolf (http://www.jamiesonwolf.com), an author from Ottawa, Canada has experience with serial fiction. He serialized his novel “Electric Pink,” and Jamieson suggests finding an audience before you start writing. One way to do this is set up a blog or a Yahoo group just for your serial. “It's a great way to get readers involved too,” said Jamieson. “One of the other things that keep you writing your Serial Novel is the encouragement your readers will give you. Nothing helps cure writers block like someone telling you to write more, write faster.”
Whatever your reason or your market, a completed serial novel may eventually find a publisher as well. While it’s true that most publishers of short fiction shy away from previously published material (which includes anything published on a public internet site), novel publishers may take a chance on a published novel, particularly if you can prove a readership base. Consider this: if you have, 500 readers follow your serial through to the end, that’s 500 potential customers for the print version (readers often want print copies after reading a favorite online). That’s also 500 people who are enthusiastic enough about your book to tell others.
Here are some markets currently accepting serial fiction (all are open to submissions unless otherwise noted):
The Daily Shadow: Not only can you read exciting, edge-of-your-seat new novels, any time, on a computer, cellphone, printed copy, what-have-you, but you can comment to the author and the rest of the readers in real time! This is a revolutionary concept! Book and book club at the touch of a button. http://shadowdaily.com/blog/2007/11/20/letter-from-the-editor-111907/
Cerebral Catalyst: So we're clear, the C.C. publishes: Fiction, metafiction, flash fiction, hypertext fiction, non-fiction, poetry, verse poetry, prose poetry, comics, graphic novels, serialized regular novels, essays, amusing columns, photojournalistic essay columns, and unspecifically-categorized clever stringings-together of words and symbols. Please don't take that too seriously. We publish things that we think are worth reading. http://www.cerebralcatalyst.com/faq.htm
Digitalisobscura: We like hard hitting, interesting, but most of all, moving and strongly motivating fiction that bites the edge of people’s consciousness and makes them pay attention. We WANT stories that are only partially resolved—that can be revisited—in fact, once a month we¹ll be adding to our own serial, with guest writers included. We WANT stories that have our readers demanding that we come to you for more—and we want stories with strong tapestries—even if you’re only showing us one thread. http://digitalisobscura.com/
FiveChapters.com is the home of the most exciting original fiction on the web. A five-part story will be published every week, serial-style, beginning on Monday and with a new installment every weekday. http://www.fivechapters.com/
Neon Beam: For short fiction most genres will be considered, with the exception of fan-fiction and young children's stories. Novel excerpts and serializations may also be considered if the piece is fully complete upon submission. Open to fiction submissions from Sunday, June 01, 2008 to Friday, October 31, 2008. http://www.neonbeam.org/
Niteblade Fantasy and Horror will accept poems and stories of any length, from drabbles to serialized novels—so long as they have an element of fantasy or horror to them. http://www.niteblade.com/submissions.htm
Slice magazine welcomes short fiction, nonfiction, and novellas for serialization. For novellas, please submit the first three chapters, along with a synopsis. Opens to submissions on Monday, September 01, 2008. http://www.slicemagazine.org/
Contributing newsletter columnist Kim McDougall is a Canadian-born writer and photographer. Her serialized novel “Second Skin” is currently available from Between the Cracks Digest at www.kimmcdougall.com.
The Writing Life
Stretching Your Comfort Zone
By Rob Parnell
You know your comfort zone—probably intimately because it's where you live, or rather, how you live.
It's the food you eat, the clothes you wear. It's why you say no to certain invitations, or agree to others. It's evident in your attitude towards your family, your past and what you expect of yourself in the future.
It's an almost unconscious set of boundaries you put around your life—to maintain your sense of security or control, even sanity.
Despite its far-reaching affect on your life, it's important to remember that your comfort zone is not a permanent, physical place.
It's purely a mental construct, bound together by all the decisions you've ever made. The trick is to keep our comfort zones flexible and organic.
Sometimes bad things happen to us—or to others—that cause us to believe we are perhaps less capable, and somehow deserve the disappointments that beset us and others like us. We adjust our world-view, and thus our comfort zone, on a day-to-day basis, trying to make sense of new and often conflicting information.
You know how it is.
When we fantasize about the future, we generally imagine we are capable of anything - great feats, or of acquiring great wealth or power or fame.
But when it comes to the real world, we tend to limit ourselves to what we know we can do.
Then, we become discouraged by the enormity of the goals we set for ourselves and take every setback personally. We shrug our shoulders and think, “Ah well, maybe that's just not for me.”
There is one sure way to arrest this way of thinking.
Try new things.
Eat something different. Speak to a stranger. Wear something unexpected. Buy a book you're not sure you'll like. Visit somewhere you've never been.
Once a week, do something you're just a little uncomfortable with.
It's actually not what you do that's important—though you might be surprised how much you enjoy them—it's that you're sending important signals to your subconscious.
You're telling your subconscious that you take risks—and can feel comfortable with the new and unexpected.
This can be enormously beneficial in the long term. It can change you—and by doing so, change your life for the better.
Okay, taking big risks can scare the !@#$ out of you, too! But small risks over time can empower you to go that little bit further when necessary.
You'll be unconsciously giving out just that little bit more confidence and power. And that can't be bad, can it?
Rob Parnell is a prolific writer who’s published novels, short stories, and articles in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, and a teacher who’s conducted writing workshops, critique groups, and seminars.
Please visit Mr. Parnell’s Web site at:
A Former Poet Laureate’s Guide to Quickly Fixing Your Poetry:
The Top 10 Problems in Amateur Poetry—and Instant Antidotes
By Marilyn L. Taylor
Problem: The poem is all about the inner life of the poet, and nobody cares.
Antidote: Take out every "I" and "me" in the poem, and rewrite the whole thing in the 3rd person (he, she or they).
Problem: The poem's language is full of clichés.
Antidote: Ask a friend to highlight the clichés. Replace every single one of them with fresh language of your own that means much the same thing.
Problem: The poem generalizes too much.
Antidote: Write a brief summary of what the poem is about. Think of one small example of that situation. Write a new poem that focuses on the example ONLY.
Problem: The poem reads like broken-up prose.
Antidote: Try re-writing it as a skinnier poem, 3 or 4 words per line.
Problem: The poem's speaker sounds holier-than-thou.
Antidote: Re-write the poem in the voice of someone directly affected by the subject matter (war? flood?), rather than in the voice of someone viewing-with-alarm.
Problem: The poem is too sentimental.
Antidote: (1) Replace all baby animals with Harley-Davidsons; (2) never write a poem about "Grandma"—give the lady a NAME instead; (3) avoid including any of the following words: Rainbow. Tears. Heart.
Problem: The poem is impossibly opaque and obscure.
Antidote: Write a paraphrase, or summary, of the poem. Then re-write it, using some of the language from the summary, to ensure that the reader will "get it."
Problem: The poem refers to a specific situation that only one other person would ever understand.
Antidote: Put the poem in an envelope and send it to that person. Forget about exposing the rest of us to it.
Problem: The poem looks amateurish on the page.
Antidote: Single-space your poem. Use plain white paper ONLY. Use 12-point Times New Roman, Helvetica or Ariel fonts ONLY.
Problem: The poem sounds like a thousand other poems
Antidote: Stand 4 to 6 feet from a wastebasket. Crumple up your poem. Aim carefully, and toss.
Marilyn L. Taylor, Ph. D., who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and leads poetry workshops at many distinguished venues, is the former Poet Laureate of Milwaukee. Her work has been published in a number of notable anthologies and journals, including Poetry Magazine, The American Scholar, Iris, The Formalist, The Cream City Review, and Poet Lore, and nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. She’s a contributing editor for The Writer (authoring the column “Poet to Poet”), co-edits a local poetry quarterly called A Cup of Poems, and has published five collections of poetry: “Subject to Change,” “Exit Only,” “Shadows Like These,” “Troika I: The Accident of Light,” and “Marilyn L. Taylor: Greatest Hits, 1986-2000.”
Please visit her Web site at:
She’s available for readings, lectures, private coaching, and literary workshops. For more information, feel free to e-mail her at:
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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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