Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Writing Show

Insights on the Craft and Business of Writing

Listen to The Writing Show, where authors, screenwriters, playwrights, poets, and other writers in all stages of their careers reveal:

• How they work
• What they worry about
• How they make their writing sparkle
• How they deal with obstacles
• How they market
• Why they write

Interviews, reality shows, contests, writing makeovers, and more from Paula B. and the gang!

The Writing Show
Information and inspiration for writers
Click here

The Writing Show, where writing is always the story.
Information and inspiration for writers.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mike's Writing Newsletter/August Issue!

Vol 1, Issue 8 Aug. 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, Sandy Z. Poneleit, Krysten Lindsay Hager, Ruth Folit, Rachel V. Olivier
Copy Editor: Melinda Brack

A Word from Mike

Dear Newsletter Subscribers,

Did you ever see the 1991 Billy Crystal comedy “City Slickers”? And if you did, do you remember it?

Because there’s one scene I want you to think about.

It was the film’s key moment: Crystal’s city-slicker character, Mitch Robbins, and Jack Palance’s Curly were riding along on horseback, side by side, when Mitch suddenly asked:

“What is it that makes life really matter and how do you know when you've found it?”

Curly, the grizzled cowboy, held up one index finger and grinned.

“Only one thing,” he said and stopped right there.

To which the utterly puzzled Mitch responded:

“What is it?”

Curly looked him straight in the eyes and with something between a wink and a knowing nod said:

“That’s what you have to figure out.”

And that, my friends, is what I’d like for all of you to try to figure out.

What “one thing”—and only ONE THING—do you really want out of your writing career?

What’s your ultimate wish?

Do you want to be a newspaper columnist, a best-selling novelist, a magazine feature writer, a poet published in literary journals, a screenwriter selling scripts to major studios?

And if you can, get even more specific:

A columnist for the New York Times.

A best-selling mystery novelist.

A feature writer for Esquire.

A poet published in The New Yorker.

A screenwriter making movies for Paramount.

And once you decide what that one singular goal is, WRITE IT DOWN on a piece of paper. And keep that piece of paper in a place you can always see it.

In other words, make your dream concrete. Make it alive in your head. And make it your driving purpose, hurling every sliver of your creative energy and determination and talent toward making that “one thing” happen.

One thing.

That may be the secret for you and your writing life.

Good luck!

Best always and stay positive,
Mike, Editor in Chief

Writing Podcast

Insights on the Craft and Business of Writing

Listen to The Writing Show, where authors, screenwriters, playwrights, poets, and other writers in all stages of their careers reveal:

• How they work
• What they worry about
• How they make their writing sparkle
• How they deal with obstacles
• How they market
• Why they write

Interviews, reality shows, contests, writing makeovers, and more from Paula B. and the gang!

Call for submissions: The Writing Show December Holiday Short Story Celebration. $75 if your story is accepted. Full details at

The Writing Show, where writing is always the story.
Information and inspiration for writers.



New and established markets. Submission guidelines/leads.

You'll receive today via email Newsflash. Best for poetry, short prose, book projects. Writer's Relief, Inc. (866) 405-3003

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Tell your personal story for a new book by Paula B., host of The Writing Show.

Has your writing—or someone else’s—made a difference in your life? Share your experience and inspire other writers! Social, family, career, personal, spiritual, educational, philosophical, etc.
I would love to hear from you! If you would like your story to be considered for my book, please contact me at or

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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
Go to:


in Mike’s Writing Newsletter… reach a GLOBAL audience!

THE LAST WHALE - Narrative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction book to be published October 2008 by Fremantle Press.

The true story, written by Chris Pash, gets inside the heads of Australia's last whalers and a group of people who planned and executed a campaign to stop them. The campaign was Greenpeace's first direct action in Australia.




1 The Spotlight Interview: Laura Friedman
2 Jeanne’s Writing Desk
3 Affirmations to Write By
4 My Time at the BEA WD Writers Conference
5 Journal Like a Pro, Write Like a Pro
6 Inside the Writer’s Brain
7 Slice of the Writing Life
8 Announcements
9 The Writer’s Mindset
10 Helpful Resources
11 Looking for a Writing Job?
12 Bookings
13 Publishing to the Power of Dee
14 The Language
15 Writer Beware
16 On the Writing Business
17 Writing Quotes of the Month
18 A Bevy of Writing Knowledge
19 Writing Promptly
20 Marketing
21 Guest Column: Jo Parfitt
22 Tip of the Month
23 Wordplay
24 The Writing Life
25 On Poetry
26 Poetry Tips/Prompts of the Month
27 Gold Member Sponsors

Poetic Expressions: Personalized Poetry for All Occasions

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Network with other writers; join Mike’s Writing Workshop!

The Spotlight Interview

Laura Friedman, Movie Producer/Filmmaker

Laura Friedman was a low-level script reader when she left New York City for Hollywood at 25 years old. Within a couple of years, Friedman was one of the film industry’s rising young women executives.

In charge of all areas of project acquisition and development, she was Vice President at the Paramount Pictures-based Cort/Madden Company, producers of such films as “Runaway Bride,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” and “Something The Lord Made.” She also served as the Head of Development for Rysher Entertainment from 1994 to 1997, overseeing the production and development of approximately ten films a year with combined budgets upwards of 85 million dollars, as well as several syndicated and network television series. At Rysher, she supervised the films “Turbulence,” “Hard Eight,” and the multiple award-winning “Big Night” and “Howard Stern's Private Parts.”

Her producing credits include: Executive Producer of “Foxfire” and “Zeus and Roxanne,” Co-Producer of “It Takes Two,” and Associate Producer of “House Arrest” and “Aberration.”

Besides working in theatrical motion pictures, Friedman originated the concept for the highly acclaimed HBO dramatic series, "Oz,” and has taught film producing at UCLA and Chapman College. She’s currently an independent filmmaker/producer.

The following is my exclusive interview with Ms. Friedman:

Mike: What's the best way for a new screenwriter to break in?

Friedman: Write three great screenplays and find a good agent or manager.

Seriously, there is no single best way. The obvious answer is to write a fantastic commercial screenplay. If you really and truly do that, Hollywood will beat a path to your door.

Other things to consider: Enter every legitimate screenwriting competition you can find. Network like crazy. Try submitting to managers and some of the boutique agencies. They accept introductory letters from new screenwriters. Managers especially are easy to approach. They tend to be more open to new screenwriters than agents, and a good one can help you land a decent agent. Forget about submitting to the major agencies. They almost never sign unemployed, non-credited writers unless they come highly recommended by someone they know or have won some kind of major contest.

Mike: Can a screenwriter have their work read without an agent?

Friedman: Yes, but it is difficult. You can send one page pitch letters to production companies. The best look like professional business letters, mentioning awards, education you've received, and a few sentences about what your screenplay is about. The worst are printed on funny paper, mention names of big stars, and try to be “cute.”

If you get someone in the biz to read and like your script, the first thing you should ask is: Please help me find a good agent or manager. They really serve a valuable function.

Mike: What makes a great screenplay?

Friedman: If I knew, wouldn't I have written one myself?

Start by examining successful films that you like. What was it about them that drew audiences? What common themes, structures and characters do they contain? What did a bad film or one that couldn’t find an audience have in common?

Watch successful films, then read the screenplays and figure it out for yourself. Generally, it's easier to sell projects featuring appealing characters who undergo interesting journeys to which people can relate.

Mike: What separates a great screenplay from a bad one?

Friedman: About $150 million opening weekend, sequels and an Oscar.

Good screenplays are about dialogue, character development and structure. Good projects are about that, plus roles that stars want to play, stories that are fresh and timely, and plots that intrigue and audience.

Mike: Could you explain what you did when you were a reader, then as a producer, picking scripts?

Friedman: I read the first five pages. If I didn't really want to keep reading, I passed. If I kept reading, I usually still passed. If I read it and could visualize the film poster and star, and know why the star would want to do the project, I would consider taking it on.

When I was a reader I had to finish the script, write a brief synopsis (usually four paragraphs—one establishing, then one for each act), then write an evaluation. I evaluated the writing separately from the potential of the script. When I was an executive producer, I had the luxury of passing if I didn't want to keep reading after the first seven pages.

I looked at two separate issues: the talent of the writer and whether I wanted to make the film. Even if I passed on the project, I'd meet with the writer if I thought they were particularly talented. In the meeting, I'd expect them to pitch me another project or two—something they wanted to write that we might be interested in developing with them.

When evaluating the project, I thought about whether it was a viable film: Was it easily marketable? Would it attract a star? Did I feel passionate enough to work on it for several years if I had to? Was it fresh? Who was the audience? What did the poster look like? Which actors would be in it, and why?

Mike: What are the biggest mistakes new screenwriters make?

Friedman: Either writing something so overly formulaic that it isn't special or unique, writing something so personal and “small” that it feels more like a short story than a feature film, or writing something derivative, reminiscent of a recent hit.

Mike: Assuming the writer has talent, what is the number one most common, avoidable mistake a writer makes when submitting his/her screenplay?

Friedman: Not being professional and knowing the etiquette. Not knowing enough to target the companies who would be most interested in his/her genre. Trying to submit too high up the ladder, such as directly to studios or companies unreceptive to unsolicited submissions. Writers need to get an agent or manager and let the system work for them, rather than fight against it.

Mike: What do you think are the most common misconceptions writers have about getting their screenplays read, sold, made into movies?

Friedman: That your screenplay is better than anyone else’s screenplay. And that just writing a screenplay is enough.

The biz is so much more than that. You have to learn, and ultimately know how to be a professional: to be able to secure meetings, to network, to work with executives. It's a process, and a real business that has to be learned.

Mike: What's the best advice you could give a screenwriter?

Friedman: My strategy would be: Get the highest paying job that gives you the most “free” hours, then use those free hours to write like hell. Keep the day job. Which means you should know how you are going to pay your bills over the next year or two. Find a way to LIVE that doesn't involve depending on money made writing and pursue writing as a passion.

Mike: What is your advice for writers who get notes from producers for script changes and the producer doesn't speak dramaturgically (example, you get notes like “make this part funnier,” or “make the hero more interesting here”), what's the best way to handle that situation?

Friedman: Are you asking about a situation in which something is in development, or in which a general comment is given in a “pass” letter?

If you're talking about a script in development, ask for clarification. Ask the exec or producer to show you exactly where the script isn't working for them. Don't be afraid to take a meeting and have a dialogue.

If it’s a general comment given by someone who is passing on it, it probably isn't fair to ask for a meeting (unless they are on the fence about the project and would be willing to read a rewrite). You have to decide if their comment is valid and whether you want to address it in a rewrite.

Mike: What is the number one thing you look for when you pick up a script from an unknown writer?

Friedman: I look for the same things I look for in any script. I don't judge it any differently than a script from a known writer. A bagel is a bagel no matter where you got it. If you like it you'll bite, if you don't you'll toss it.

Mike: What's the best screenplay you ever read? And why was it great?

Friedman: I've read a lot of great scripts. They keep you engaged, make you care about the characters, contain universal themes, clear structure, and satisfying resolutions.

One that sticks out was a biopic about Bela Lugosi. I don’t remember the exact name. It was a very difficult project, probably best suited for cable, but it was really beautifully written. It took you into the world of old Hollywood while exposing Lugosi as a tortured and complicated individual. It started with his entering a drug rehab clinic to get off heroin, then was told through flashbacks as he went through cold turkey. His alter ego of Dracula acted as a kind of narrator, tormenting Lugosi as he evaluated his own life.

I remember wanting to buy “The Rock,” because I loved the idea of a group of men trying to break into prison. Ron Bass (“Rain Man”) has a great writing style. I’d recommend reading some of his scripts.

Mike: What do the best writers always do automatically, and talented beginners seem to need to learn? In other words, what do the best have in common?

Friedman: They are great pitchers and have an instinctive understanding of what kinds of stories people want to see. They understand the motivations of the buyers and try to give them what they want. They write simply and tell good stories.

Mike: What is the most important thing a writer should be aware of when he/she submits their script to a producer?

Friedman: That EVERYONE is TRYING to find a GREAT SCRIPT. But…no one owes you a read. All script reading is done in “off time” out of the office. It is a big deal for anyone to spend an hour reading your script, and you should be grateful when they do and understanding when they won't. Agents and assistants perform a very important function as filters. They are not your enemy. If you really, truly have a great story to tell AND have great writing talent, Hollywood will beat a path to your door. Unfortunately, the sad fact is, 99.9% of non-professional writers are mediocre at best. About 95% of unrepresented writers are not worth reading. I read scripts for about 15 years and only read about five great scripts by unrepresented writers. The rest were, at best, so-so. Given this fact, don't get bent out of shape that no executive wants to read your unsolicited script or responds to your query letter.

Mike: Writers are always told that all submitted screenplays should be between 100-120 pages in length, yet we often see movies at the cinema that are longer than that . . . is there ever a time a writer can submit a longer screenplay?

Friedman: Just like directors or stars, writers can only deviate from the norms when they've earned it through past successes. Given the difficulty of getting anything read, much less bought, why make your chances even more difficult?

Mike: Are there any stories or genres to be avoided at all costs?

Friedman: No. In fact, doing a traditionally “difficult” genre can actually get your script attention, as long as it is brilliantly executed. That script will in all likelihood never be made, but it might work as a great sample. For example, I know a TV writer who wrote a spec script in which the guys from "Taxi" picked up in their cabs the women from “Sex in the City.” That script got the writer a job because it was so creative.

Just know that a difficult genre probably won't sell, and should be written for the purpose of being a writing sample.

And what is “difficult”? Costume dramas, period films, "small" dramas that don't involve big issues or a role that will give a star an Oscar, any genre that is currently over represented, and anything with a sad ending.

Mike: What is your advice for dealing with rejection /negative feedback?

Friedman: Listening to the comments very closely. Don’t take harsh critiques personally. Instead, use them constructively, as a way to improve.

Mike: What's your favorite movie of all time?

Friedman: I don't have a single favorite movie. Some of my favorites are: The Sweet Smell of Success, West Side Story, Angels with Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties, and Annie Hall.

Mike: Are there any books you recommend as must-read for aspiring screenwriters?

Friedman: There are hundreds of books on screenwriting, yet most, if not all of the authors make their career out of teaching screenwriting rather than actually writing screenplays (example: Robert McKee).

That's a better question for writers. The only book I've read about Hollywood is “Hollywood Babylon.” I'd suggest reading as many scripts as you can get your hands on. I know some good writers who have worked in Hollywood as script readers. It's a great way to learn, and an even better way to network and get your script read.

Actually, instead of reading a ton of how-to screenwriting books, I'd recommend that you study film theory and history—especially history. You can't be a good filmmaker if you don't know the canon. You should see the great German silent films as well as the important films from each era of the 20th century. If you don't know film references and history you won't be taken seriously in Hollywood. Believe it or not, Hollywood is filled with film buffs who really know the medium.

You should read screenplays of movies they liked, read the reviews of top critics. Try to find the reviews of The New Yorker magazine’s Pauline Kael. She was a great critic.

The only RECOMMENDED reading is “The Hollywood Reporter” and “Daily Variety.” You MUST, MUST, MUST read these every day to be able to succeed in the biz. You have to learn all the important executive's names and the important companies. You have to know how to talk and what's going on around town. I can't stress this enough.

A good movie to see that really shows what it’s like in the biz is Kevin Bacon’s 1989 film, “The Big Picture,” in which he plays a boy-wonder director.


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


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Jeanne’s Writing Desk

Seven Things You Should Know About Your Book
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman

Perhaps the second most exciting moment for any author occurs when he types the words, “The End,” after a book has been revised and polished. The most exciting moment for an author occurs when the author receives that important contract from a publisher saying, “We want to publish your book.” Before the writer can move from finished book to published book, however, he needs to go through the process of submissions to agents and editors. For nonfiction works, this means creating a book proposal. For novels, the writer needs to write a solid query letter. In order to create a selling proposal or query letter, the writer needs to know the answer to the following seven things…

1. My book belongs to ______genre and is _____words. What kind of book have you written? If it’s fiction, is it commercial or literary fiction? Is it a fantasy, a romance, a mystery, or a thriller? There are even sub-genres within the main genres. For example, mysteries include cozy mysteries (bloodless crimes about insignificant victims), police procedurals (emphasizing factual police operations), and suspense (the antagonist pursues the protagonist). Nonfiction books fall into such categories as self-help, memoir, true crime, and biography. You should also know the word count of your book and what the market expectations are for word count in your genre. The average novel is between 75,000 and 100,000 words, but some genres, such as fantasy, can be as long as 120,000 words. Nonfiction manuals and guides can be as short as 50,000 words. Know your genre; know your market’s word count.

2. My book would appeal to readers who like _____. Who are your readers? It’s easy to say that you think your book will appeal to everyone, but the truth is that readers today tend to focus on particular authors or genres. To find out who would read your book, take a trip to your local bookstore and find works that are similar in subject matter, style, and/or genre to your own. Imagine where your book would be placed on the shelves. If you know your competition, it’s easier to know how to make your book stand out.

3. The market for my book is _____. What are the demographics of your potential readership? This is especially important if you have written a work of nonfiction. In other words, if you’ve written a self-help book, will this book appeal to Baby Boomers, Millenniums, or members of Generation X? Each one of these age groups has different needs, and not every self-help book is multi-generational. Demographics apply to more than age groups, however. They can also apply to racial/ethnic groups, economic groups, or regional groups.

4. I am qualified to write this book because ____. Too many first-time authors overlook their qualifications because they feel that the only qualifications that count are publishing credits. But there are other reasons why you may be the best person to write this book. If you’ve written a novel, do you have a professional or personal background that gives you insight into your subject matter? For nonfiction, your qualifications could include your training, personal experience, research, or educational background.

5. My writing experience includes ____. Most agents and editors want to know if you have publication credits. If you’ve written a novel, but have published nonfiction, the credits are not as relevant, but they do show that you have the ability to produce work that is publishable. You should not mention self-published books, blog posts, or personal Websites, as these are not considered to be legitimate publication credits. Other important writing experience includes education (particularly degrees in creative writing) and awards (including writing grants, contest awards, and awards for published work such as a Pushcart Prize/Nomination).

6. My plans for future books include ____. Have you started writing a new book? Agents and editors do not want to invest in a one-book writer. They want authors who see their writing as a life-time career in which they will continue to produce new books on a regular basis. In fact, the best time to be writing the next book is while you are submitting your current book to agents or editors.

7. Finally…The Elevator Speech. Imagine that you are at a writer’s conference and you’ve just stepped into the elevator with your Dream Agent. You punch floor number 9; Dream Agent punches the button for floor number 5. As the doors close, you introduce yourself to Dream Agent and Dream Agent asks, “What is your book about?” You now have approximately four minutes to tell Dream Agent about your book before she steps off onto her floor. What do you say? You give her the elevator speech, a one-sentence description of your book that will make Dream Agent forget to exit at her floor while she asks to hear more. Can you do it? Can you describe your book in one sentence? Here is an example of a one-sentence description of the novel, Carrie, by Stephen King:

Carrie is the story of an abused and outcast teenage girl with telekinetic abilities who uses her special powers to exact revenge on all of her tormenters at the prom.

You may not need to put all of this information into your query, but if you are ever asked to prepare a platform or pitch your story to an agent or publisher, you will be prepared.

You’ve written your book. Now it’s time to get to know your book. 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:
____________________________________________________________ Affirmations to Write By

I allow myself plenty of time for my writing projects, no matter what.

I write clearly and effectively and easily.

I make writing a priority.

I love that writing has a way of making me feel so fulfilled and at peace with myself.

I understand my needs as a writer and I do everything possible to meet those needs.

I know my deadline and I organize my life in order to make myself hit that deadline.

I know that when I revise my work it gets better and better.

I use my outline to guide me as I write, but I allow myself to be inspired outside the boundaries of my outline.

I use a dictionary, thesaurus, and other important tools to help me write well.

I read works by writers whom I admire, not only as a way to inspire but to show me the way to greatness.

My Time at the BEA Writer's Digest Writers Conference
By Rachel V. Olivier

It was 8:20 AM and already hot, the Southern California sun beating down, sweat dripping into my eyes, as I trudged from the bus stop up 11th Street to Figueroa, where Writer’s Digest, Book Expo America, and all the information on the internet had assured me would be where the Los Angeles Convention Center was, and where the Writer’s Digest Books Writers Conference would be held.

Well, there was a big building there but no signs and no way in. Being a bit perturbed, I remained undaunted as I walked down Figueroa along the Convention Center to see where I could possibly get in. I followed the outside of the building around, and around, and around again until I found an open door. Then I saw a small sign that said: Book Expo America. The door was open. I decided to try my luck within the air-conditioned building.

Book Expo America, the annual Bookseller Association Convention and Trade Show, is primarily for people in the bookselling and book buying business: publishers, bookstores, agents, schools, educators, and already published authors. Attendees use this event to network, look over stock and place orders, though there are author signings and speakers.

The day before the BEA, however, is the Writer’s Digest Books Writers Conference, an event for writers, by writers, held this year in Los Angeles, California at the LA Convention Center on May 28, 2008. This was the event I was going to attend come hell or high water.

Now, just to be clear, let me ’splain my vehemence. About a week and a half before, my roommate and I (aka, my cat) had a disagreement ending in a bitten leg - mine. He sulked; I attended to cleaning and medicating said wound. A couple of days later, guests came into town, we went to Disneyland only to be assaulted by rain whilst in sandals and shorts. I ended up with a twisted ankle (same leg) and a cold. I had paid $199 to go to a conference close enough to attend using a city bus. I was not going to miss this.

Wednesday dawned way too early. It was tempting to go back to sleep after the alarm went off. I almost missed the bus as it was, what with all the wrapping of the ankle, attending to the wound (still not healed), and making sure I’d taken the correct cold medicine and packed a month’s worth of cough drops. I made sure I had a notebook, pens, and even brought my commuter cup of coffee because when you’re broke, you make it at home and bring it with you, and I needed coffee.

I found out when I got there, I didn’t need it after all. Coffee and water were provided for free.

I wasn’t too worried about making it to the conference on time until I was hobbling up to the convention center and saw no signs for the conference. As I limped around this very large conference building, I finally found an entrance and asked a helper person who directed me around even further, but at least now I was in an air-conditioned building with escalators. While I was beginning to see BEA signs, I still saw no sign for the conference. I was beginning to wonder if I there really was a conference.

Finally, I stumbled upon people with nametags, books, empty tables with people sitting at them waiting for attendees. Hot and sweaty, I found a seat inside the conference room; glad I had finally made it.

The LA Conference Center is like many others, made up of halls with rooms for speakers, restrooms for attendees, and a food court on the lower level. The rooms all have soundproofing along the walls. The carpeting is very practical indoor matting and everything is in muted blues, tans, and grays. Perfect generic background for whatever signs would be used for the many conventions passing through. All the colorful signs for the writers conference and the BEA were hung on the west side of the building, where the hotels and the parking lot were. They weren’t expecting unemployed, working class writers coming in by bus, bike, or rides from friends (though there were plenty of us there) and who would end up landing on the east side of the building.

The truck carrying Writers Digest’s materials and titles was held up in traffic on the way in. The conference heads were told the shipment may or may not make it by noon. Attendees were promised free issues of the 2008 Writer’s Market, and WD planned to make extra money by selling some of their titles. This was a bit of a setback for a conference deemed by the end of the day to be their “best yet.”

It was a packed day beginning at 8:30 AM with an opening speech by Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Cage of Stars, followed by two “Breakout Sessions” (WD’s term for seminars or panels), lunch, with speaker Blake Snyder, another “Breakout Session” and last, but not least, the Pitch Slam Session.

The speech by Jacquelyn Mitchard combined personal anecdotes, relevant information, and helpful, realistic advice. In the midst of a changing publishing industry—putting out 350,000 books per year—writers have stiff competition when shopping their books for publication, and publishers have less money available for editing or marketing those books.

This has created an atmosphere where agents and editors look for impeccable manuscripts, placing the onus on writers to proofread and copy edit their work carefully. Ms. Mitchard suggested using professional editors for writers who need it. Iowa Book Doctors offers discounted manuscript critiques and proofreading. It is a group of professional writers who provide their expertise at reduced prices. Professional editors charge a range of $3000-$5000 to edit a manuscript for publication. According to Ms. Mitchard, Iowa Book Doctors halves that amount. (I need to raise my rates.)

I thought it extremely interesting that Ms. Mitchard compared writing to the priestly vocation. For many writers it is their religion, as well as their career. It is their passion. Ms. Mitchard also reminded the audience that writing is new every time the writer sits down to the blank page. It’s a craft to be practiced every day, just as a priest says mass every day. In addition, she exhorted writers not to trap themselves in any one genre or in any one way of thinking. Try everything.

After the keynote speech, there were seven different “Breakout Sessions” (panels or seminars) for the 9:30 slot:

Fire in Fiction with literary agent Donald Maass
Putting Thrills in Your Mystery Novel with author Hallie Ephron
Book in a Month with author Victoria Schmidt
Finding a Home for Your Personal Essay with author Victoria Zackheim
Get Known While You Sleep—A Platform Primer with author Christina Katz
Screenwriting: Exploring Genres with screenwriter-author John Truby
Getting Started in Writing for Television with Richard Hatem

I had looked over the list and finally decided on Putting Thrills in Your Mystery Novel with author Hallie Ephron because I like Nora Ephron movies, so I thought I just might enjoy a discussion with Hallie Ephron—and I did.

One of the most important points Ms. Ephron made was the importance of the writer to use a good narrative hook to grab the reader within the first 200 words. Many writers make the mistake of putting too much backstory at the beginning. Save the backstory, because at the beginning of the story, the reader is not invested in the main character and won’t care about backstory. Your first job is get the reader to care about the protagonist, establish setting, and let the reader know something is afoot. Ms. Ephron suggested dropping in hints of backstory throughout the novel, rather than frontloading your book. Layer it in with the secrets each character holds. She pointed out it’s the middle of the book that tends to sag, so use the secrets and the backstory to help hold up this section.

Again, for the 10:30 slot there were many different sessions to attend:

Plotting a Novel They Can't Put Down with author James Scott Bell
Fictional Seeds with author Lisa Lenard-Cook
Panel: Creating and Contributing to Anthologies with Victoria Zackheim, Jane Ganahl, Aimee Liu, Aviva Layton
Effective Use of the Internet for Authors with author Bill O’Hanlon
Panel: Ask the Editors: A publishing Q&A with WD experts
Panel: Meet the Script Agents and Managers

I almost decided on the Plotting the Novel seminar, but at the last minute veered for the panel on Creating and Contributing to Anthologies. I love anthologies of fiction, of genre fiction. I was hoping the panel discussion would cover how putting together anthologies works, such as rights for stories, choosing contributors, payment, etc., and then, most importantly, how to get it published. They did touch on some of that.

Typically, the editor of the anthology uses the small advance they receive from the publisher for the anthology to pay the writers and then hopes for royalties later. Sometimes there’s a call for submissions in the writer community, and sometimes it’s an established group. Ms. Zackheim said it almost always worked better if you found at least one well-known person to contribute. However, the panelists, most of them serious literary authors, all had agents already, so they assumed one would pitch whatever anthology idea one had to one’s agent, and assumed the anthologies in question were all going to be surrounding serious issues or extremely literary in nature. By the time I left, I wished I had gone to Plotting the Novel. This panel felt too much like my modern “literachur” classes in college, which is okay -- if you’re still in college.

By lunch, the books, both WD titles, and the loads of Writer’s Market to give away to attendees had arrived. Trying to scoot in to grab my copy at the table where they were piled was a little like trying to get at the dessert at a free buffet. But I made it through.

The meal itself was a little unorganized. Apparently the WD coordinators did not expect the turn out they got. About a quarter of us had to wait as extra food was slapped down in the kitchen and extra tables were set up and set for us. We were still on salad when many others were on their dessert and coffee. I did enjoy my tablemates. I wonder if there is such a thing as “geekdar” as I write speculative fiction and I ended up between a graphic novelist and someone who writes paranormal/fantasy romantic comedies. There were a couple of men at our table I labeled the “LA Schmoozers,” who were obviously writing partners probably there to pitch a movie idea. They were not as friendly as most of the people at the table, or the conference. Most of the people, speakers and attendees alike, were very pleasant. Nice folk.

As soon as people were settled in, Blake Snyder, screenwriter, producer, and author of the book on screenwriting, Save the Cat began his talk on storytelling. One of his most important points was the importance of looking at the opening and closing of a story. Something needs to change by the end. The question asked at the beginning needs to be satisfactorily answered by the end. In addition, he talked about some of the points all good stories include, such as the need to have the audience care about protagonist from the beginning (by having him save a cat, or help someone, etc), a false victory somewhere in the middle, and a rousing end after the character has hit bottom.

At 1:30 PM the Afternoon Breakout Sessions began, which included:

Revising a Novel They Can't Put Down with author James Scott Bell
Panel: Ask the Literary Agents moderated by GLA's Chuck Sambuchino
The Times They Are A-Changin’: Being a Successful Author Amidst Transformational Change in Book Publishing with WDB Editorial Director Jane Friedman
Panel: From Book to Film/TV: How Your Work Comes Alive
Practice Your Pitch with Lauren Mosko

Since I had missed out on Plotting the Novel, I chose Revising a Novel with James Scott Bell. Mr. Bell emphasized the need to write hot and revise cold. Finish the novel before you start really revising it. Many writers go back to revise before they finish the novel itself, ending up in a vicious revision loop, and never completing their work. Write it hot. Take notes as you go and go back later and change things – or just go back as far as what you wrote the day before to revise before continuing on.

After you’ve completed your book, walk away. Leave it for three weeks if you can, two weeks minimum. Mr. Bell then suggests printing out the entire work, putting it in a binder, complete with a false cover. You are going to read this work as a reader, not a writer. Reading and proofing the hard copy is not only easier on your eyes, but it will give you a different perspective. What may seem obvious to the writer may not be to the reader. I walked out of this seminar with a bunch of notes (he was very organized, having a Power Point Presentation available) and glad I had redeemed the afternoon.

I was not going to attend The Pitch Slam Session initially, having nothing to pitch. Later in the day, I considered maybe going long enough to watch it and understand how it worked to be prepared for the next time. However, my best friend texted me telling me to pitch my story—or die by his hand. He was talking about something I had written a long time ago and then abandoned. I decided to at least go to the info session to hear how all this worked and consider pitching my story.

Notice, there was an entire seminar dedicated to making a pitch. Media Bistro includes weekly articles on how to pitch certain magazines. My monthly writer’s group is constantly discussing working on the elevator pitch. Knowing how to pitch your story, and getting practice on it, is as equally important as writing a good query letter. I had never, ever, even considered pitching this story, and didn’t know the first thing to say about it. There was no way I was going to be able to scribble out a winning pitch during the 15-minute info session beforehand. But I tried. I figured, if nothing else, this was good practice.

Writer’s Digest is known for their Pitch Slam Sessions, which operate on the speed-dating concept. Most of the attendees had come with this session as their ultimate goal. WD invites approximately 50 literary agents to attend the conference and in the conference schedule includes the biographies, likes, and dislikes of each agent. Writers look through this list, decide who may work for them, then line up for their turn to pitch. Each writer has 3 minutes with the agent. Coordinators suggest a brief 30-60 second pitch to allow for two minutes discussion, and to choose more than one agent to pitch to. Since the session is two hours long, a writer might conceivably pitch seven to ten agents (depending on the length of time). This raises the probability of someone showing interest.

I looked through the biographies and found one agent who looked promising to me, if not now, at least in the future. There were also a couple of others I was interested in. I sidled into line behind other writers who stood where my “dream” agent’s name appeared at the table nervously reviewing what I might say. The session was going to start at 3 pm sharp. Coordinators had stopwatches and bells at the ready after reiterating the instructions. But there was a glitch and a delay. The agent I was going to pitch to had not come to the conference after all, having taken sick on the plane before it took off. (Yes, she was on the plane, on the runway, when she got violently ill and had to be taken off the plane.) Therefore, we were going to be pitching to her assistant, who was running around making sure the rest of the agents in this, er , agency were settled.

Then the bell rang.

Every three minutes the bell rang, writers stopped talking after being told by the agent whether or not the agent was interested in said project. The line moved up. The butterflies in my stomach and the lump in my throat were competing for my attention as I continued to work on my pitch. Finally, it was my turn. I got to the assistant. We introduced ourselves. And then I blurted out, “It’s a fantasy,” before getting a deer in the headlights look and blanking out on the rest of the pitch.

Fortunately for me, this assistant knew how to jar me out of my panic with a simple question and I was able to, very lamely, continue to pitch my story. But I must emphasize, it was a very lame pitch, with lots of “uhs, ers, ums” and generalities.

He must have seen something of value in it because by the end he asked me to send him two chapters. The bell rang, we shook hands and I walked out in a daze. Found the nearest bathroom, cried, then waited until I got outside to call someone, scream, and do a happy dance.

I realized later I could have stayed to pitch to other agents, but they all belonged to the same agency anyway. I was lucky. This assistant was willing to take a chance (and that’s all it is -- a chance) on my two chapters, but I would have been far better off if I had a set pitch ready for my story. Work on your pitches. Work on your query letters. You might have the next Great American Novel, but no one will know unless you can get them to read it.

For more information, go to:

Guest writer Rachel V. Olivier writes, proofreads, and copy-edits from her closet-sized office in Los Angeles, California. She is currently juggling short story, poetry, and novel writing with making a living as a freelancer (Putt Putt Productions).

Her articles and reviews have appeared in Chocolate Zoom and Tyrannosaurus Press’ Illuminata. Her poetry and stories can be read in Aoife’s Kiss, as well as on Pennoir. org, SheVibe. com, and in Arch and Quiver. Future work will appear in Electric Velocipede and on Bewildering Stories and Mindflights.

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Journal Like a Pro to Write Like a Pro
By Sheila Bender

First and foremost, writing is a re-creation of experience--experience we had in the world and experience we've had within ourselves. Experience is lived through the five senses--it is what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch that add up to the impressions from which we form our attitudes, take actions, and create dreams. Even though you are only writing for yourself in your journal, if your writing does not include details and images that appeal to the five senses, you will not be immersed in your experience when you are writing. Without the necessary immersion, you will become disinterested in your own efforts because your words will seem shallow and dull and short-circuit your ability to mine your experience for deeper experience. If you write "beautiful" and "wretched" for instance, you are telling yourself how you think you feel toward whatever you are writing about. Imagine you think a philodendron in your living room is beautiful. If you say, "The leaves on the philodendron in my living room had variegations that reminded me of tributaries on the maps I loved to read when I was in grade school," you are setting up experience that cannot be gotten to by labeling the leaves beautiful.

You might want to concentrate on building up your use of sense imagery one sense at a time. Here are some exercises for more work with sight, which is the sense we most often rely on in our descriptions and writing:

1. Look at an object in the room or place you inhabit right now. Describe what this object--say a desk-- looks like without relying on adjectives. For instance, instead of writing "the rectangular wooden desk," write something like, "The desk is made of pine, with 10 boards about 6 feet in length joined side-by-side to the width of a canoe's belly." Now that the word "canoe" has come up, it is easy to leap into an association like, "and lucky days, writing at this desk, I feel myself paddle without a ripple among lily pads and marsh grasses, capturing the tadpoles and minnows of my thoughts even as they dive under the water or hide behind the tall grasses under the wide leaves." Notice what enriching your descriptions in this way brings up for you to write about or how it helps you create richer scenes, characters and narrators.

2. Practice with similes and metaphors that utilize sight comparisons to widen your observations and bring in fresh experience. All writers need to have facility with this kind of comparative thinking. It enlivens your writing and your view (or that of your characters or narrators) of the world and thereby keeps you intrigued with your writing. You can practice this simply by saying one thing looks like another thing:
A mirror looks like a lake.
A cornflake in a bowl of milk looks like a dolphin swimming in the ocean.
A shoe with its lace untied looks like a toaster with its electric cord

Dropping the like construction, you can practice inviting your metaphor-making mind into your writing:

I sit at my desk, a marionette with no one holding the strings.
The 30 student papers on poetry in my briefcase are a thick sandwich.
Dressed up in the front seat of my husband's convertible without a scarf on my head, I see my hair in the visor mirror, madly waving fronds at the top of a stately palm tree.

You can do these two exercises whenever you are bored with what you have been writing or don't know what to journal about or think the descriptions in your writer's journal are not stimulating your writing.

Sheila Bender publishes Writing It Real, an online instructional magazine for those who write from personal experience. She has authored many books on writing, including 40 Writers and Their Journals, A Day in the Life, Keeping a Journal You Love and Writing and Publishing Personal Essays. She has also written instructional content for LifeJournal for Writers software.

Mike’s Writing Workshop Named to the
2008 List of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers!

The entire list can be found at:

Inside the Writer’s Brain

Grab Your Reader With Conflict
By Lea Schizas

No, not conflict of interest or conflict within your being, but conflict found in a story.

What exactly is conflict in a story? Simple. A problem/obstacle your main character needs to overcome by the end of the story. Think of it as your engine that drives your car forward. Without one your car remains idle, collecting dust in the driveway. Give your car a super booster engine and you’ll be coasting the streets with no worries. Well, until the police stop you.

In a story, conflict moves your character through various situations he must overcome. This intrigues and pulls your reader deeper into the story, connecting them with your character’s predicament. A character needs to have a hurdle tossed at them, making for an intriguing situation to find out the outcome. Without an outcome, there is no magnetic charge with your reader.

Before writing your story and making up your character profile, ask yourself these questions:

1) What will be the main goal my character will face and need to overcome?

2) Who will be my target audience?

The second question is important because it will help to focus your words and subject matter to suit the appropriate audience. For stories aimed at children, your focus will need to adapt to a child’s view of the world around them. Most of the time, the story is told through the character’s point of view aged a few years older than the intended audience. For example, if you aim your story for the 8-10 age group then setting a story for a twelve year old character would be best since kids always like to read and associate with kids a bit older than them.

What subject matter can you write about for this age group? Middle grade readers love mysteries, soft spooky tales (no knife-wielding maniacs, head chopping, blood and gore etc, more suspenseful and goose-bumping tales like in the “Goosebumps” books), magical tales (Harry Potter), even teeny bopper stories like “The Babysitters Club” or “Sweet Valley High.” These latter ones are suitable for the Young Adult market, too.


Here are some examples of conflicts in some books:

—The almighty tried and successful (good against evil)

Think Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs—yes, these fairy tales were using the good against evil method if you sit down and think about it. The wolves in both fairy tales were intent on overcoming their so-they-thought weaker counterparts.

In the above examples, something stood in the protagonist’s way:

Harry tries to defeat Voldemort but problems and other antagonists along the way make this quest difficult for him.

The Lord of the Rings finds Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring but evil and dark forces stand in his way, too.

Luke Skywalker in Star Wars needs to defeat the new order of evil, and he, too, faces many obstacles and characters along the way.

In each of these examples, these obstacles (new smaller conflicts against the bigger goal they are after) causes a reader to continue reading to find out if he’ll be successful, how he will outsmart them, and what change will this cause in the main character. Along with these obstacles, throwing in some inner conflicts alongside the outer emotions helps to cast them more as three-dimensional beings, for example:

Luke Skywalker deals with the knowledge he has a sister somewhere out there. His inner being and emotions help to make him more sympathetic, which eventually bonds the reader to him. The same with Frodo; his world has been thrown for a loop when he takes on the quest of the Ring. Along the way he begins to doubt if he, indeed, is the best man for this job. Also, he questions his will power to avoid succumbing to the dark forces once he has tasted the Ring’s power.
Another example to show you what inner conflict means:

Let’s assume your book is based on a police officer that mistakenly shoots a young child while pursuing a suspect. It’s dark in the building and the kid jumped out of nowhere with a toy gun. The police officer is suspended while the case is being investigated.


How he deals and is dealt by his immediate peers

His struggle to remove the visions of the killing

The emotional turmoil as he waits for the investigation to conclude.

His dealings with the parents of the child he accidentally killed.

Throughout all of these emotions the one factor that will bind your reader to continue will be: How will he fare at the end of this book? The way you first portray this particular character in the beginning will be totally different by the end because of the various upsets he’s had to deal with. Show him as upbeat, nonchalant, no change at the end and you will lose your reader’s interest in the book and in you as an author.

Think of real life: if you had to go through a trauma as the officer in the example above, how would it change you? A writer needs to wear his character’s shoes and get inside his head to fully understand him. Write a story with a stick person and you get stale material. Write a story with powerful emotions and you have one interesting read.


By the end of your book all inner and outer conflicts need to have reached a conclusion. Whether your character overcame or failed is not as important as making sure he tried to meet them head on. You cannot place a conflict (or foreshadow) without making sure by the end of the story some sort of a resolution was made. This is cheating a reader and they WILL notice, especially if one of those conflicts was the one he’s been hoping to see the outcome to.

Contributing newsletter columnist Lea Schizas is founder and co-founder of The MuseItUp Club ( and Apollo’s Lyre (, both named among Writer’s Digest Best 101 Web Sites for Writerss and which have received several Preditors and Editors awards. Ms. Schizas is the author of the young adult fantasy novel “The Rock of Realm,” and the paranormal/thriller “Doorman’s Creek.” She is also the editor and co-author of “The Muse On Writing,” a writer’s reference book, and the fantasy novel “Aleatory’s Junction.”

For more information on Lea Schizas, please check out her site:

Slice of the Writing Life

Excerpts from Joan Didion’s, “Why I Write”:

Of course I stole the title from this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:

In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writers sensibility on the readers most private space.

I stole the title not only because the words sounded right but because they seemed to sum up, in a no-nonsense way, all I have to tell you. Like many writers I have only this one "subject," this one "area": the act of writing. I can bring you no reports from any other front. I may have other interests: I am "interested," for example, in marine biology, but I don't flatter myself that you would come out to hear me talk about it. I am not a scholar. I am not in the least an intellectual, which is not to say that when I hear the word "intellectual" I reach for my gun, but only to say that I do not think in abstracts. During the years when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley, I tried, with a kind of hopeless late-adolescent energy, to buy some temporary visa into the world of ideas, to forge for myself a mind that could deal with abstract.

In short I tried to think. I failed. My attention veered inexorably back to the specific, to the tangible, to what was generally considered, by everyone I knew then and for that matter have known since, the peripheral. I would try to contemplate the Hegelian dialectic and would find myself concentrating instead on a flowering pear tree outside my window and the particular way the petals fell on my floor. I would try to read linguistic theory and would find myself wondering instead if the lights were on in the bevatron up the hill. When I say that I was wondering if the lights were on in the bevatron you might immediately suspect, if you deal in ideas at all, that I was registering the bevatron as a political symbol, thinking in shorthand about the military-industrial complex and its role in the university community, but you would be wrong. I was only wondering if the lights were on in the bevatron, and how they looked. A physical fact.

I had trouble graduating from Berkeley, not because of this inability to deal with ideas--I was majoring in English, and I could locate the house-and-garden imagery in "The Portrait of a Lady" as well as the next person, "imagery" being by definition the kind of specific that got my attention--but simply because I had neglected to take a course in Milton. For reasons which now sound baroque I needed a degree by the end of that summer, and the English department finally agreed, if I would come down from Sacramento every Friday and talk about the cosmology of "Paradise Lost," to certify me proficient in Milton. I did this. Some Fridays I took the Greyhound bus, other Fridays I caught the Southern Pacific's City of San Francisco on the last leg of its transcontinental trip. I can no longer tell you whether Milton put the sun or the earth at the center of his universe in "Paradise Lost," the central question of at least one century and a topic about which I wrote 10,000 words that summer, but I can still recall the exact rancidity of the butter in the City of San Francisco's dining car, and the way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus cast the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and obscurely sinister light. In short my attention was always on the periphery, on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the Greyhound bus. During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn't think. All I knew then was what I couldn't do. All I knew was what I wasn't, and it took me some years to discover what I was.

Which was a writer.

By which I mean not a "good" writer or a "bad" writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. 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. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?


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The Writer’s Mindset

Writer’s Block?? Tear Down the Wall!
By Jeanne Lyet Gassman

Writer’s Block is the inability to begin a writing project or the inability to complete a writing project already in progress. Somewhere, in the back of your mind, you hear that nasty little editor saying to you, “You call this good writing?? This is garbage. Why are you wasting your time? You’ll never write anything worthwhile.” That voice may even sound a lot like your former seventh grade English teacher! So, how do you shut that whiny, negative internal editor down and get back to work? Here are some suggestions you might find helpful.

Permit it. Give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft. Just get those words on the paper. It doesn’t matter if the first draft is filled with misspelled words, rambling thoughts, and questionable grammar. Just get the ideas written down.

Date it. Make a date with yourself to write. Pick a time and a place and tell yourself, “On this day I will write one paragraph, no more, no less. It doesn’t matter how good it is.” When that paragraph is finished, take yourself out for a special treat. Buy a new book, go out for ice cream, go for walk; do something special that you’ve been putting off. Gradually increase your writing expectations until you find that you’re producing a lot of good writing without knowing how it happened.

Open it. Take your writing out of the box you normally work in. If you write at a computer, buy a bound composition book and write a few pieces by hand. Keep a journal. If you work in a home office, go outside. Or, go to a library, a coffee shop, or a mall. A change of scenery can often work wonders for the tired mind.

Join it. Take a writing class or workshop. Join an online critique group, a writer’s forum, or a local critique group that meets in person. Attend a writing conference. Communing with fellow writers who understand the writing process can be wonderfully invigorating. Just don’t allow your socialization to become an excuse for procrastinating.

Change it. Are you working on a novel? Try writing an essay or poetry. Do you write non-fiction? Rough out a few short stories. Experiment with different forms and genres, and you might find a whole new writing interest.

Create it. If you find you can’t write at all, then don’t. Do something else that is creative that you enjoy. Other creative activities can include: cooking, gardening, music, painting, crafts, etc. I’m a firm believer that creative endeavors begat more creativity. The most important thing is to get that right brain working again.

Time it. Set a timer for five minutes and start writing about any topic you choose. Don’t stop until the buzzer goes off, and don’t waste your precious five minutes correcting misspelled words, fixing grammar, etc. Just write. Five minutes is a long time. If you write without stopping, you’ll be amazed by what you can produce in a mere five minutes.

Move it. Sitting at a desk for hours on end can be stultifying. Get out and get moving. Regular exercise increases your sense of well-being and gives you more energy. Exercise also frees your mind to organize your ideas more effectively.

Share it. Find a writing partner who will help you set deadlines and expect you to meet them. A good critique group can work in this fashion, too. If you know that someone is expecting chapter ten of your novel by next Tuesday, you may find yourself working into the wee hours just to get the chapter finished. Deadlines--real or artificial--create pressure. That pressure could be enough to get you over the hump of writer’s block.

Storm it. Rather than struggle to write something linear and organized, take some time out to do some brainstorming. There are several popular methods for brainstorming. You’ll find links to those listed below. Remember the cardinal rule of brainstorming: All ideas are good.

Stop it…in the middle. Many writers have done this. They stop work in the middle of a sentence, a paragraph, a conversation, or an idea. That forces them to finish yesterday’s thought before they start today’s. Just retyping and editing yesterday’s work can often be enough to get the creative juices flowing again.

Remember it. Once you begin writing again, always remember to—Oops! Did I say stop in the middle?? I guess I’ll have to finish that thought tomorrow!

Happy Writing!


Books to Inspire Creativity

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
On Writing, by Stephen King
Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Prompts
Need something to jump-start your writing? Try these sites for some fun and challenging writing prompts:

Online critique groups

Online critique groups vary greatly by specialty, requirements, and members’ level of experience. Be sure to read the group’s guidelines carefully before you decide to participate. Here are a few established critique groups that have a reputation for being helpful:

To find a local critique group that meets face-to-face, visit the places writers like to congregate. Look for critique groups in bookstores, libraries, community colleges, coffee shops that host readings, and community centers. Do visit the group a few times before you make a commitment to join and actively participate. Every group has its set of dynamics. You need to choose a writer’s group that best fits your needs.

Organization and Brainstorming

Sometimes you just run out of good ideas. Here are some sites to help you with brainstorming and generating new ideas:

Are you having a problem starting or finishing a novel? Then you might want to take a look at this article by Randy Ingermanson. It offers some terrific tips for mapping out that big project:


Looking for a Writing Job?

Check out these sites:

(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.)


A Manual of Writer’s Tricks
By David L. Carroll
Award-winning television writer David L. Carroll’s indispensable reference manual is packed with advice for fiction and nonfiction, professional and amateur writers alike. I carry this slim book almost always when I’m working on a story. It not only has great little tips for working through rough spots but can also do wonders to trigger the creative juices. His ingenious devices and tried-and-true literary shortcuts will help you save time, improve style and structure, avoid common pitfalls, and have more expressive writing. I keep it alongside my dictionary and thesaurus.

Adventures in the Screen Trade
By William Goldman
Written by the two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter, Goldman’s 1983 book (as Nelson George noted in the above Spotlight Interview) is an absolute must for any screenwriter or anyone interested in the inside game of Hollywood. Witty, poignant, incisive, and incredibly compelling.

Fiction Writer's Handbook
By Hallie and Whit Burnett
The coeditors of Story Magazine published the first work of many noted writers—Norman Mailer, J.D. Salinger, Truman Capote, Joseph Heller, William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, and Carson McCullers. In this 1975 guide, they pass on practical advice on every aspect of writing novels and short stories.

Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular
By Rust Hills

Long-time fiction editor of Esquire, Hills has written a nuts-and-bolts guide for making the pieces of writing fit together as neatly as a puzzle. This valuable resource debuted in 1977 but continues to offer timely tips.

Structuring Your Novel: From Basic Idea to Finished Manuscript
By Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald

Written in 1972, this book examines the challenges of writing a novel. It puts some of the greatest novels under the microscope—Tom Jones, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Madame Bovary, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Grapes of Wrath—to show how they met these challenges.

Publishing to the Power of Dee

Behind Closed Doors: What Happens at the Publishing House
By Dee Power

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the closed doors at a publishing house? Who makes the decision to offer a contract for a book and how that decision is made?

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 does 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 for nonfiction. 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 demands a 55% discount. A book that has a suggested retail price of $20, would generate $9.00 to the publisher. In other words 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. There can be a ‘bestseller’ clause that says that additional royalties will be paid or a bonus advance will be paid if the title gets to a certain position on one of the bestseller lists. The bonus advance isn’t in addition to earned royalties but a prepayment of them.

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’s 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.

Be Creative!

The Language

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?

Disc vs. disk
Wrong: My hard disc crashed.
Right: My hard disk crashed.

Disc and disk are both valid spellings, but are used differently. If referring to CDs, then use compact disc. But when talking about floppies (diskettes) or hard drives, spell it floppy disk drive or hard disk drive.

Singing vs. singeing
Wrong: He says he’s grilling steaks, but what he’s really doing is singing the hair off his arms.
Right: He says he’s grilling steaks, but what he’s really doing is singeing the hair off his arms.

Although it looks odd, singeing is the correct spelling, to distinguish it from the act of making beautiful music via one’s vocal cords—or in some cases, making sounds like a strangled cat.

Dying vs. dyeing
Wrong: I can’t go out with you tonight because I’m dying my hair.
Right: I can’t go out with you tonight because I’m dyeing my hair.

Unless a woman is changing her hair color at the bottom of the ocean, most likely she’s dyeing it, not dying.

Ink pen
Wrong: Can I borrow your ink pen?
Right: Can I borrow your pen?

Because all writing pens (as opposed to, for example, pig pens) contain ink and only ink, saying ink pen is redundant.

Proved vs. proven
Right: He proved his case.
Right: She was proved wrong.
Right: She was proven wrong.
Right: Unless I’m proven wrong, my decision stands.

Proved is correct in either usage, while proven must be proceeded by a form of the verb “to be” (is/was/will be/will have been). In the latter case, the two words are interchangeable. However, sometimes one sounds better than the other. (Personally, I feel that proved wrong, when spoken, doesn’t flow as well as proven wrong.)

Shear vs. sheer
Wrong: She cried out in shear terror.
Right: She cried out in sheer terror.

Shear means to cut, so unless she’s being menaced by pinking shears, it’s sheer, as in utter.

Right: He left his waitress a niggardly tip.

Perhaps due to the unfortunate similarity to another word, some people mistakenly assume niggardly is a racial slur of some sort. In fact, it simply means miserly or stingy. Still, due to the potential for confusion, perhaps it’s best to use a synonym instead.

This reminds me of the story of a politician who used dirty tricks in a campaign, by claiming of his opponent that “He has been seen masticating in public and his wife is a known thespian.” The politician evidently counted on the voters possessing poor vocabularies. Similarly, you might enjoy this spoof of a campaign speech by Bill Garvin, published in Mad Magazine in 1970:

Squash vs. quash
Wrong: Saddam Hussein squashed the rebellion.
Right: Saddam Hussein quashed the rebellion.

To squash is to crush, flatten, or pulp. To quash is to suppress, quell, or subdue. Although a dictator might be said to crush a rebellion, he does not literally press it into a flat mass to squeeze the juice out of it. The correct term for ending a rebellion, or to deny a legal motion, is to quash it.

Purposely vs. purposefully vs. on purpose
Right: You did that purposefully.
Right: You did that purposely.
Right: You did that on purpose.

Purposely means intentionally (as opposed to accidentally) or on purpose. If you do something for an express purpose, you do it purposefully. Both expressions are correct, but be sure you use them correctly.

Spaded vs. spayed
Wrong: Have your dogs spaded or neutered.
Right: Have your dogs spayed or neutered.

To spay means to have a female surgically sterilized. Spaded means shoveled as with a spade. Do you really want to encourage people to shovel their dogs?

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: or his blog at:

Writer Beware

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

What Can You Expect From Your Editor?
By Patricia Fry

I’ve been doing quite a bit of editing, lately and I’m loving the work. I’ve edited a fantasy, a thriller, a few spiritual books and memoirs as well as a true crime, a historical, some how-to and self-help books and mass market novels.

While the books are different in content and purpose, there are some similarities between many of them as far as editing goes. Are you curious as to what they are? Here’s my tell all:

1: Most writers still leave two spaces after a period, question mark, etc. The rule now is one space after all punctuation. You’ll save yourself some money if you will correct this problem throughout your manuscript before turning it over to an editor. If your editor doesn’t know about the one-space-after-a-period rule, maybe she/he isn’t the right editor for you.

2: Many authors still leave the em-dash dangling between two words. The em-dash is correctly placed when it is about the width of the letter “M” and it connects the two words—thusly. Also, make sure that you use the em-dash appropriately within your text. I can see that I need a new Associated Press Stylebook. While there is text within the book in which the em-dash is used correctly, the punctuation section of this 1992 edition still shows the em-dash as a dangler. Use the em-dash to denote an abrupt change in thought within a sentence, to set off an explanatory element of the sentence and sometimes it’s used in place of a comma. My 2003 edition of the Chicago Manual of Style shows the em-dash (or dash) used correctly.

3: Many authors engage in what I call “muddy writing.” They sacrifice clarity for some sort of desire to use complicated, go nowhere sentences. Write so that you can be understood, or why bother.

4: Writers use incomplete sentences. Make sure that your sentences can stand alone—in other words that it has a subject, an action and appropriate connecting words.

5: New authors commonly write sentences that are too long and/or too complex. If someone has to read a sentence through again just to figure out what it means, the author has failed that reader.

6: Novice writers tend to repeat themselves. As an editor, I spend a great deal of my time suggesting that authors replace copycat words with fresh ones. When you finish a paragraph, read through it again to make sure that you haven’t repeated words such as, “had,” “also,” “very,” etc. When you are writing about a dog, vary the way you refer to him. Use his name, call him pup, the old guy, pet, canine, four-footed friend, fur kid, man’s best friend, etc.

7: I see some excellent, fresh writing and some boring, stale text. Make your paragraphs more interesting by varying the size and style of sentences and using unexpected words and phrases. One way to jazz up your writing is by increasing your vocabulary.

8: I also see manuscripts where authors use words that are too fancy and even obscure. Again, think about your audience. Ask, will they enjoy reading this or will it become a chore for them to make their way through unfamiliar territory?

9: Many authors aren’t sure where to break for a new paragraph. I deal with a lot of paragraphs that are too long.

10: Most authors use far too many instances of quotation marks. Often, it is Italics that they should use in order to emphasize a word or a phrase. Use Italics sparingly, however. Likewise, authors use quotation marks incorrectly in dialogue. They put punctuation outside of quotation marks and omit the comma before the quote, for example. Some don’t capitalize the first word in a quote—you should, you know. And, in dialogue, each new speaker starts a new paragraph.

11: Many writers today still use the passive instead of the active voice. Instead of writing, “The worm was put on the hook by the fisherman.” Say, “The fisherman baited the hook.” Rather than, “The chick was thought by us to be stunning.” Say, “We all agreed that the chick was hot.”

12: Probably the most consistent problem I see in editing is lack of consistency. Rather than charging my clients to fix inconsistencies, I generally suggest that they use the find and replace tool on their computer and do it themselves. When you finish your manuscript, make sure that the words you want capitalized are all capitalized, that the names of your characters stay true, without different spellings throughout, and that your facts stay the same.

13: Some authors lean too much on their editors. When I edit a manuscript for a client, I provide lessons as I go along. I teach the rules and techniques in hopes that the author actually learns from the experience. But, alas, some of them send me their second manuscripts with the same mistakes I encountered in their first. I guess some writers just aren’t interested in developing new skills.

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,

Visit her publishing blog at:

Ms. Fry’s free guide to writing a Post-Publication Book Proposal can be requested by emailing her at:

Write It Right!

Writing Quotes of the Month

“You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight.”—Ursula K. LeGuin

“In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself; to understand himself, to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratification, is a curious anticlimax.”—Alfred Kazin

“The faster I write the better my output. If I'm going slowly I'm in trouble. It means I'm pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.”— Raymond Chandler

“Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!”—Edna Ferber

“I have no theory of stories, just a theory for each story I write. A particular form is right for a given story and that's all. I don't like generalizations about literature -- I think the general is the enemy of the particular and the particular is the friend of the writer.”—Tobias Wolff

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”—Erica Jong

“A writer writes not because he is educated but because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood. The writer wants to be understood much more than he wants to be respected or praised or even loved. And that perhaps, is what makes him different from others.”—Leo Rosten

“In the beginning you may be writing around what you want to say instead of getting to the core. Keep writing. The route may be circuitous but after you zero in on what you truly want to say, you'll see that during all those false starts and detoured storylines, you weren't wasting time, as you feared. You were developing as a writer, developing a discerning eye and ear, finding your own voice, learning to respect self-imposed deadlines.”—Madeleine Costigan

“To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the music the words make.” —Truman Capote

A Bevy of Writing Knowledge

Making the Leap from Part-time to Full-time Freelancer
By Bev Walton-Porter

When is the right time to go from part-time, moonlighting freelancer to work-at-home full-timer? There are guideposts to go by, progress that you can chart. In this article, we'll discuss how to assess your readiness for full-time freelancing so your entry will be as smooth as possible.

Now, I do understand there are a lot of you who freelance just as a part-time proposition, and maybe you're never planning on going full-time. Hey, that's no biggie! Not everyone goes full-time—nor should they. But still, there are quite a few people who want to go full-time, but the idea of making the jump into uncharted waters scares the doodles out of them.

To be sure, making the decision to go full-time is not for the faint of heart. If you're the type of person who has to have a future that's constantly stable and predictable and who has to have everything just "so" all the time, then don't freelance full-time. If you do, you'll end up getting gray hairs if you don't have them already, or you'll chew your nails down to the utter quick—and maybe past the quick!

What does it take to be a full-time freelancer? Well, there are many combinations of traits, and it's probably true that all freelancers aren't alike down to the tooth and nail, but I contend that if you're a full-time freelancer, you're probably an optimistic, confident risk-taker at heart.

Some people may say, "Oh no! I'm not a risk-taker! I'm very well-organized and blah blah blah—anything but a risk-taker." I disagree. In your heart of hearts, you are a pioneer and a risk-taker. With the boldest of actions, you have chosen to go where most men and women in life never even dream of traveling: into the wild, unpredictable wilderness of working without a net.

When you work without a net, that means you are not guaranteed the same paycheck every two weeks (or, perhaps, every week) like most workers. Your job doesn't guarantee health care or dental insurance—although you can sign up for such plans through writers' organizations. You literally have to go out and find jobs over and over again. You also have to be a marketer, a salesperson and a publicist, among other things. You not only have to sell a product, you also have to sell yourself, in a manner of speaking.

By the same token, there are benefits to freelancing full-time, not the least of which is the satisfaction of working for yourself and not a boss who stares over your shoulder all the time. You can also work anytime you want—day or night. You set your own hours.

However, this is a double-edged sword; you must be disciplined enough to work without supervision. You have to motivate yourself each morning to get up and get cracking. Of course, nothing motivates people more than a looming house payment!

What are the telltale signs that you're ready to consider striking out on your own as a full-timer? Here's a list to get you thinking:

1. Increasing sales. Are you pulling in assignments on a consistent basis? Have you gone from selling four articles in one year to selling 40? If so, this is a good indicator of your ability to sustain regular assignments.

2. Have you mastered the art of composing an effective query letter? More importantly, are your query letters targeting the appropriate publication markets and pitching ideas that fit just right most of the time? Are your queries hitting the target more often than not? If so, this is a good indicator of full-time readiness.

3. Before you slap that feather in your cap and begin to whistle a song of self-employment bliss, you'll have to take into account your ability to wear many hats: writer, administrator, marketer, salesperson, promoter, publicist, researcher and producer.

Full-time writing is not just writing, period. If you have a difficult time managing more than one job responsibility, then you'd better be a quick study in multi-tasking. Until you get financially successful enough to hire people to assist you with these tasks, then you'd better get used to the idea of being a one-man or one-woman band!

4. So, you can write, but can you market what you write? If you plan to sell regularly, you'd better figure out how to market. What is marketing? It involves not only figuring out what to sell to which market, but also how to advertise it, put it together into a pleasing product and deliver it on time to your client.

In my experience with freelancing, I've learned that marketing is just as important as the written product. Writing without marketing know-how is like a car without wheels—it may be a nice ride, but without wheels, it isn't going to take you anywhere!

5. Do you have a manager hidden inside? If you're planning to go full-time, you should have an ability to manage not only your time, but your finances as well as records, too. You should also know how to think ahead and decide how many assignments you plan to tackle for the next month, six months or a year.

6. Can you fend off procrastination? Will you be able to slay writer's block? These are deadly enemies to the full-time freelancer.

Often you'll have to turn out articles or other projects dealing with a range of subjects, and you'll have to research, too. Being able to hit the ground running with interviewing and research, as well as writing on the fly, are assets. You don't have time to be inspired or motivated as a freelancer when deadlines are looming. Motivation and inspiration often equals butt in chair (as I've heard many times before!).

One caveat: beware of too much research—you don't have to be the world's foremost expert on a subject to write a decent article about it. Get the best facts you can and the best, most informed sources you can. Interview by recorded phone call or e-mail whenever possible -- when you get the experts' replies in their own voices or writing, it's hard for them to say they've been misquoted!

7. Another eater-away of your writing time are unwelcome interruptions. Can you effectively handle interruptions and complete your writing assignments despite all sorts of scenarios that may pop up? Because time means money when your bounty pays the bills, watch for time stealers. Interruptions, unnecessary phone calls during your working hours, an overabundance of e-mail that has nothing to do with writing. These are all ways to entice you to procrastinate or waste time. Here I'll admit e-mail is my biggest downfall, so be especially wary of that. Oh, and online Scrabble [TM] is another downfall of mine as well!

8. Finally, do you have a financial Plan B? What I mean is this: until you get the hang of full-time freelancing and are firing on all eight cylinders, do you have a nest egg or a spouse to help pay the bills when they come due? When I began freelancing full-time back in 1997, I made sure my family could live on my husband's salary. It was tight, to be sure, but we met the basics and there were places I scaled down our lifestyle and saved money. Things were more difficult when he died unexpectedly in 2001, but I've managed to stay at home writing despite that unexpected and tragic event. You can never foresee the future, so plan with care!

When I began freelancing, I counted on zero guaranteed income for my first year. Luckily, I brought in much more than zero, but I did the math and covered all the bases, nonetheless. By the second year, I made $7,000 more than I made at my previous city government job. Three years into freelancing, I had enough income that my husband was able to quit his job and take time off to look for new employment in a different state—Colorado—so we could finally move to the place we'd longed to move to for years.

Remember, however, that freelancing isn't all about money. It's about earning enough so you can keep doing what you love the most—writing—so you won't ever have to go back to working in a less-than-appealing work environment. Freelancing can offer monetary rewards, but if you don't want to write from the heart, the money won't mean much.

Let me say this again: freelancing does not offer a guaranteed income and before you make the decision to do this full-time, cover all your bases -- most especially your financial ones.

Hopefully I've given you some valid points to consider in your quest for full-time freelancer status. In no way does this article cover all the ins and outs of making the leap, but this can at least give you a jumping-off point for exploring all the avenues and the pros and cons of your future decision.

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, 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:

Writing Promptly

Write about…

your secret wish.

the most interesting person you ever met.

your favorite dream.

the best movie you ever saw.

your perfect job.

a penny.

your favorite vacation.

the trait of which you’re most proud.

your childhood idol.

the worst thing that ever happened to you during childhood.


Fresh ideas for the marketing weary
By Angela Wilson

It’s tough to find fresh ways to market your work. After long, grueling hours of hard marketing using standard techniques, your brain is fried, and trying to think of a new technique is the last thing you want to do.

Finding those ideas isn’t as hard as you think. You just need to get inside of your story to find outside-the-box marketing ideas. Your novel may offer a key component that will offer new venues to sell, subtle ways to promote your work or a stroke of brilliance that you can promote to other authors.

Here are some great examples from successful authors – and a few tips of my own.

• Maggie Sefton pens the A Knitting Mystery series featuring protagonist Kelly Flynn. Inside her latest, she includes a recipe and knitting pattern and Sefton signs and sells her books at fabric stores like Lambspun of Colorado.

• Offer value added items to your site – not just summaries, cover art and sales pitch. For example, if you have a character dying of cancer – even a minor character – put links and information on your site about cancer. Not only is it a value to readers, but the meta tags will spread your messages throughout search engines anytime someone looks up information on the disease.

• Coffeehouses are not just for poetry anymore. Many coffeehouses are looking for talent to fill an hour or so a night. Hook up with local coffee shops that offer entertainment and arrange a book reading, where you can also autograph and sell. Better yet, if a character in your book likes a particular drink, see if, just for that night, the shop will name it for your character – an added sales feature for both yourself and them.

• Austin Camacho, author of Successfully Marketing Your Novel in the 21st Century, decided to check out airport shops to introduce readers to his signature character, Hannibal Jones. He was an instant hit – and continues to get invites back. Camacho puts a “local author” sticker on the books so people can use it as a trip memento, or for an in-flight read.

• Doctor’s offices always need new reading material. Consider printing up the first chapter of your novel in a mini-book to leave in waiting rooms.

• Book club members love to meet authors – and with technology, you are not constrained to just your hometown. Consider using Skype or even a call on speaker phone to chat it up with readers about your latest and what’s ahead for you. Not only do you have immediately sales for readers in the group, but the personal touch will help sustain them as fans and customers.

• You can post all the flyers you want on bulletin boards, but inevitably they will get covered. Consider doing buttons of your book cover instead. It can’t get covered, and people will use it to hold up other items, so it will always be prominent. Button machines are inexpensive. It is also likely your local school district will have one that you can borrow.

• How do you market a children’s book about making candy turtles? That was Sara Ann Denson’s quandary as she worked to promote her book, Christmas Turtles. Denson targeted elementary schools for speeches, where families could preorder books, but she knew she needed something more to sell her print run. A Google search led her to several pecan growers associations. She signed on for the Texas Pecan Growers Association convention – chosen strategically because of it’s location in the center on the nation – and found instant success among pecan growers. Many bought her books to sell with their products – especially the tins that hold pecans, which were prominently featured in the book art. They also recommended her to other growers, who passed along those recommendations when they called to order. As a bonus, Denson was not expected to purchase items from vendors, which eased the financial pressure. (After all, how many people need a machine that shakes pecans from trees?)

• Get inside a Mom Pack. This innovative idea allows moms everywhere to network with other mothers and put their announcements into packets, which are left at doctors’ offices, garage waiting rooms and other places where people are craving reading material. Find out about current packs at

• The library isn’t the only place that takes book donations. Check with your local Ronald McDonald House, developmental centers, daycares, senior centers and other community areas to see if your genre fits their needs.

• The Fall 2007 edition of Visit Detroit featured a short vignette about P.J. Parrish, the pseudonym for native sisters Kristy Monte and Kelly Nichols. This slick glossy is published by the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. Put your local chamber on your news release list. Develop contacts and campaign (quietly) for a feature story or other item highlighting your work and connection to the region. This could be especially useful in smaller, touristy areas.

Creative marketing ideas are just a thought away. Delve into the back story of your novel or your own life to find them.

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:,, or

Got a marketing question you want answered in this column? E-mail Angela at:

Guest Column

From the Editor’s Mouth: 10 Sure-fire Ways to Make an Editor Say Yes
By Jo Parfitt

These tips came from my editors at Stamford Living, Dial, Embrace, Eurograduate and American in Britain.

Tip One
Appear serious about writing. An editor would rather be approached with a handful of good ideas from someone who really wants to be published rather than someone who’s just been on holiday and wants to write about their time.

Tip Two
Know the publication (and ideally editor’s name!). Round robin communications or thinking the magazine is consumer when it's customer etc. is a big faux pas. Show a genuine interest and understanding in the magazine. Do this and your feature ideas will be perfectly tailored to the readers.

Tip Three
Let the editor feel he or she can have confidence in you and that your ideas are both good and properly researched. Show that you can write, that you will follow the brief and that you will deliver on time. Most people can string a sentence together the editor wants evidence that you've got va-va-voom. Ideally, demonstrate this with how you word your communication, with details of work that's been published or with articles that haven't if you haven't.

Tip Four
Feature ideas that are topical and that can be backed up with research, surveys and/ or quotes are more useful than a feature that is purely the writer's opinion.

Tip Five
Make the editor believe that once the readers have read the article that they will know something that they didn’t know before.

Tip Six
Be prepared to go the extra mile and help a desperate editor with a tight deadline. Help him out and do it well in double-quick time and you have the chance of becoming a regular writer for the publication. Be confident and say, "Sure, I can."

Tip Seven
Become an expert in your field and thereby show the editor that you can make a useful contribution to the publication.

Tip Eight
Make the effort to provide good headlines, standfirsts, subheads and resource lists for your articles. Save the editor time.

Tip Nine
Do not pester the editor with weekly emails offering stories. Offer a few great ideas that are perfect for the market every three to six months at most.

Tip Ten
Offer to source photographs for your piece. Maybe you are capable of taking them yourself with a digital camera? If you are writing a piece about someone in another city or country an editor may appreciate a connection with a local photographer.

Jo Parfitt is a journalist, author, publisher and teacher known as The Book Cook.

Please visit her Web site at, where you can sign up for her free newsletter, The Inspirer, and tips book, "So, You Want to Write a Book."

Tip of the Month

Spy conversations—and learn.

Without being conspicuous, spend a couple of weeks listening in on other people’s conversations in public places, such as Starbucks or McDonald’s, and writing them down verbatim in a tote-around notebook. Study hard the rhythms, inflections, words, accompanying body/face movement, and keep them all in memory—to be used later as dialogue or even as the basis for a story.


Unusual but cool sounding, interesting words to occasionally sprinkle into your writing.
Caution: Go very gently and wisely, lest you risk over-spicing your prose to point of the reader’s irritation.

Oblique—Slanting; expressed indirectly, not going straight to the point.

Ablution—A ritual cleansing. This can literally be a bath, or, more commonly, a spiritual purification. Vestal virgins probably engage in this kind of activity, since they have a lot of time on their hands.

Nonplussed—Completely perplexed.

Scurrilous—Incredibly abusive, obscenely nasty. Villains are guilty of scurrilous deeds.

Puerile—Juvenile, immature.

Acrimony—Biting sharpness or bitterness. It’s used to describe words, attitude, or disposition, not food. Old coffee is bitter; hostile divorces lead to acrimony between partners.

Runtish—An undersized person or animal.

Fey—Showing unnaturally high spirits, playful, mischievous, having a strange, otherworldly charm.

Besotted—Mentally stupefied, especially from drink.

Scabrous—Covered with small bumps, rough, sometimes a bit slimy or scaly; full of difficulties; scandalous, lacking in delicacy, salacious.

Final Suggestion: Before you unveil these words in public, look them up in your dictionary, learn all the different shades of meaning and uses, and roll them around on your tongue—and inside your head—until they feel comfortable to you.

The Writing Life

The Hard, Joyous Work of Writing
By Richard Turner

Anyone who has seriously engaged in writing knows that it is hard work, that finding the right words and putting them in the right order is anything but easy. Like any skill, it requires practice; like any process that involves the mind, it requires concentration—sometimes intense concentration. To become really good at writing, one must understand and apply the rules of grammar, acquire a varied and versatile vocabulary, and develop a good ear for language and a sense of style.

No matter how successful aspiring writers are at meeting all of these demands, however, they must meet one more requirement. They must love to write. The desire to write well is an admirable ambition, but without all the work and a passion for writing that wells up from the core of one’s being, this ambition is not likely to be realized. At least, that has been my experience.

It all begins with a curiosity about language. We all develop a fascination with words at a very early age. As we learn that tangible things have names—and, later, that even intangibles such as emotions have labels—we embark on the great adventure of exploring language. Our earliest ventures into this magical land are strictly oral, but we soon learn that we can miraculously put together otherwise meaningless symbols into written words that other people can read and understand. Thus begins a bond without which, I dare say, civilization as we know it, could not exist—the bond of readers and writers.

For reasons I don’t pretend to understand, some of us place more importance on this bond than others do. Some are satisfied to be mainly readers, to be consumers of writing rather than producers of it. (A few, of course, develop little interest in either and are satisfied to exist in a predominantly nonverbal world, as much as is humanly possible.) Some find their niche in other means of self-expression and communication—all of them worthy contributions to the bonds that link mankind: by creating art or music, by designing buildings, by engineering roads or bridges, by inventing tools and machines—the list is endless. And some of us choose and feel compelled to write.

As I said at the beginning, it’s hard work. Nevertheless, for those who endure and prevail, it becomes joyous work. Writers, I think, are much like musicians and composers in this respect. Except for rare geniuses, musicians must endure the painfully difficult tasks of learning scales and doing exercises before they are even halfway good. Similarly, writers must learn the rules of the language—grammar and syntax. As they become more practiced—that is, as the basics become almost automatic—musicians may take some liberties with traditional musical conventions and may begin to experiment with their own style, though not to such an extreme that the music degenerates into meaningless cacophony. Likewise, writers may begin to bend traditional rules and take stylistic liberties, but not so far as to undermine clarity and sense. One must master the rules before one can creatively and effectively bend them.

Yet, after all this effort, the result is tremendously satisfying. It is like the thrill of a musician who has given a virtuoso performance, and the readers who experience what a skillful writer produces may feel exhilarated too, as one does when one listens to an accomplished musician. The masterful writer is a virtuoso of sound and sense.

Because I teach writing, I place considerable emphasis on rules, though I prefer to think of them as “conventions.” If writers are unaware of, or ignore, the rules or conventions of language, they will not succeed. They will have broken the “contract” between them and their readers, whether they are telling a story, presenting images, or stating facts and opinions.

On the other hand, since I have also been a professional editor, I am aware that there’s much more to effective writing than following the rules. A writer may adhere to all grammatical conventions and may still be obscure, verbose, and dull—in a word, uncommunicative. Most editors spend more time addressing stylistic weaknesses than they do correcting outright blunders.

Only someone who is fascinated by language and in the thrall of writing will take the pains to go beyond mere correctness. Only the most dedicated and persistent will seek the best words rather than those that are merely adequate, to search for the creative turn of a phrase that makes language vibrant and memorable. Writers who love their craft constantly try to find the words that will make readers respond with “Right on!” or “Wow!” We do not and cannot always succeed, of course, but we keep trying—because it matters and because we derive great joy from making it happen.

In his distinguished career, Richard Turner has been a writer, editor, and teacher.

Postscript—Turner emailed this fascinating addendum to his bio:

“Apart from the dry career facts, the following is perhaps more illuminating and relevant to my article. I was blessed, at a very early age, with an interest in words and writing, though I have no idea where this interest came from. At age 9, I used my parents’ old typewriter to peck out (with one finger–I still type with one finger) something that grew into a roughly novelette-length adventure story. The manuscript was lost in our family’s travels, but I recall that it was very bad, even if it was an ambitious undertaking for a nine-year-old. From that time on, I was a student of words and language. Though I enjoyed reading, the creative process of writing gave even greater satisfaction. I dreamed of writing the “great American novel,” but fiction was never my forte; I found my niche in expository writing—the essay. This form allows me to explore ideas without having to construct a plot or to develop characters. Perhaps, at some unconscious level, I developed the conviction that, though writing should be entertaining, its primary function is to inform and enlighten. I have discovered that, even with respect to reading, I prefer nonfiction to fiction; I read more to be informed than to be entertained, though the acquisition of information is itself entertaining. Moreover, whether I’m reading or writing, I always focus, almost automatically, on how words are used to express ideas. Once, in writing a college essay about a novel, I responded to the question “With what character in the book do you identify?” by writing that I identified more with the author than with any of the characters.

“Hardly a day goes by when I am not writing something, whether it’s a long letter or an attempt at an essay. When I don’t write for a number of consecutive days, I experience something resembling withdrawal symptoms. Just as many people walk or jog to keep their bodies healthy. I write to keep my mind healthy. Besides, I can’t imagine not doing it.”

On Poetry

Poetry—Where does it stand nowadays?
By Rob Parnell

There was a time when poets were regarded as rock stars are today.
Poets could live very well on the sales of their work and commanded
respect and admiration wherever they traveled.

Less than two hundred years ago the likes of Keats, Shelley, Byron,
Wordsworth, Browning et al. were seen as bold heroes, creating
important and magical works of art within their writing.

Now, there are few markets left for selling poetry and unless you're a multi-award-winning writer or a celebrity, most publishers won't touch poetry with a stick. In fact they're more likely to use the stick to keep a poet away from their office.

Now, romantic poetry is more often regarded as insipid or worse, irrelevant. But that doesn't mean it's still not a popular art form. From the amount of requests I get to provide information on it, I can tell you that it most definitely is.

Poetry enables us to use words in such a way as to translate, encapsulate and communicate certain emotional and mental states that straightforward fiction cannot. Writing a poem can be a rewarding experience. It can be cathartic. It can be intellectually stimulating and of course, great fun.

But is it still a valid art form in today's world? And, more importantly, can you still make money from writing poetry?

It depends on your definition of poetry of course.

I would contend that Rap is the latest form of poetry. Hard edged and confronting some of it may be, but rap is largely dependent upon rhythm and rhyme, even if that means most of the lines ending with y'all!

Seriously, Rap music makes millions. If you can write Rap for an artist, you could really start to bring home what they call “the bling.”

There's also poetry around that we're not always aware of, as in greeting cards, advertising copy and song lyrics. There are plenty of opportunities to write poetry professionally if you keep your eyes open and think laterally.

Some writers sell poems specially written for ceremonies and special events like births, death, marriages and people's parties, bar mitvahs and anniversaries. Sometimes local councils, government bodies and commercial companies will commission writers to compose poems that celebrate events or promote their products and services.

Of course, one of the largest markets for poetry is the children's book market - with especial regard to pre-school picture books.

There's a common misconception that you need to present illustrated children's books to publishers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

99% of picture book texts are accepted with no illustrator involved. That part is the publisher's job. They find the illustrator they think will be most appropriate for your text. So don't feel shy about submitting your children's poems to publishers but, as always, read their guidelines first.

There are still magazines that publish poetry and a quick scan of
Writer's Marketplace will provide you with a list. And of course, there are many Internet sites that allow you to post your own poetry, including discussion and critique groups too.

Anthologies sometimes call for submissions but be warned, not all of them are on the level. Just remember that you should never pay to be published - and in no circumstance get involved with

Competitions can be a good source of extra income for poets that sometimes give out generous prizes. Plus these will look good on your writing resume.

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:

Poetry Tips/Prompts of the Month

By Marilyn L. Taylor

Prompt 1: Word choices

Take a poem you have written and eliminate all the descriptive adjectives and adverbs. Every single one. Does the poem still hold up? If not, go to the thesaurus and force yourself to replace the nouns and verbs with much stronger ones. You might end up with a much better poem than the one you started out with!

Prompt 2: Bad Poems

Pair up with a partner to write the worst poem imaginable. Then revise it to make it even worse. Be aware of what makes it so awful; clichés? Terrible rhymes? Hideous metaphors? It’s a great way to internalize what to avoid like the plague in your “real” poems! (Optional: when you’re finished (if you have the nerve), think up pen names and submit your bad poem to one of those on-line poetry sites that will publish virtually anything. Does its awfulness stand out? Are the other poems almost as bad? This can turn into a great lesson in critical reading!)

Prompt 3: Three extended metaphors

I. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about sex. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with warfare for the words having to do with sex.

II. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about love. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with government for the words of love.

III. Write a poem (or take a poem you have already written on the topic) about god and religion. Then rewrite it, substituting words having to do with a political figure whose policy you oppose for words referring to faith and god.

Explore Your Mind for Fresh Ideas

I need some motivation

If you think you are beaten, you are
If you think you dare not, you don't
If you like to win, but think you can't
It is almost certain that you won't
If you think you'll lose, your lost
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellow's will
It's all in the state of mind

If you think you're outclassed, you are
You've got to think high to rise
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize
Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the man that thinks he can!

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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, Cigar Aficonado, 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.

Mike’s Writing Newsletter does not guarantee any offers made by any of the advertisers, sponsors, or business opportunities mentioned herein. While every business and persons associated with said businesses are believed to be reputable, this publication cannot and does not accept responsibility for their actions; therefore, readers using this information do so at their own risk.

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