Archive for June, 2007

Writing Adventures in Shanghai: Sentences—The Long and the Short of It

Kristin Bair O’KeeffeBy Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Yang Erche Namu’s memoir about growing up in a remote area of China somewhere deep in the Himalayas, “Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World,” begins with a short sentence: “My mother doesn’t remember when I was born.” Though this sentence has only eight words, it is direct, powerful, and full of information. After just one sentence, we know:

1. Namu’s story is very connected to her mother’s story.
2. Namu is going to tell this story from her point of view.
3. There is a deep sense of longing in the book. (You feel it, don’t you?)
4. Namu is going to tell it to us straight. She’s not going to mince words or as my mother would say, pussyfoot around.

But of course, you can’t write a whole book with short, direct sentences. By page two, your readers would be bored, irritated, and pissed off. By page five, if you were lucky enough to hold their interest that long, they would pitch the book into the trash and curse you from here to heaven. Sentence length is an important part of successfully telling a story, creating a mood, and keeping your readers interested. It works the same way whether you’re writing a book, a short story, an essay, or an article. You have to mix it up.

Namu (and her English-speaking co-author Christine Mathieu) understood this when they wrote Leaving Mother Lake. After a number of short sentences on page 1, the fourth paragraph begins:

“Dujema is our neighbor. She is also my Ama’s best friend and they spend a lot of time together, working and singing to keep their spirits up, and after coming back from the fields, sitting by the open fire, drinking butter tea, and talking.”

See how much the long sentence accomplishes?

1. The rhythm of the prose is broken up, right at the point where the reader might begin to tune out if the short sentences were to continue.
2. There’s a lot of rich detail in this sentence that Namu cannot squeeze into a short sentence. Here Namu’s mother becomes a fully realized person who has a best friend and a daily routine. She sings and drinks lots of butter tea.
3. The story thickens, like a delicious saffron risotto..

Now you try it. Pull out a piece of writing that you’ve been sweating over. Look at your sentences. Read them out loud. How long are they? (Yes, go ahead. Count the words.) How many short sentences do you have in a row? How many long sentences follow one after the other? Have you varied sentence length or does the rhythm of the prose sound monotonous?

After you read your sentences aloud and study them a bit, play with them. If you’ve got too many long sentences in a row, break a few into two or three short sentences. If you’ve done the opposite—written a number of short sentences in row—combine a few into longer, more complex sentences.

When you’re finished, read the piece aloud again. How has it changed? What do you notice?

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe has been living in and writing about Shanghai, China, for over a year. Her articles and essays about the China experience can be found in recent or forthcoming issues of The Baltimore Review, Poets & Writers Magazine, and Highlights for Children. Recently she contributed to To Shanghai With Love, a new Shanghai travel guide. Kristin writes about other stuff as well, including education, parenting, and bears. Her work about those topics can be found in San Diego Family Magazine, The ELL Outlook, The Gettysburg Review, PortFolio Magazine, and other publications. Kristin’s blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse,” chronicles her adventures in Shanghai (the good, the bad, and the beautiful) and garners the attention of readers all over the world. To learn more, visit http://web.mac.com/kristinokeeffe.

The Copywriter’s Paycheck: Get publicity with a press release

Elizabeth ShortBy Elizabeth Short

Now that your copywriting business is set up with marketing materials, a good pitch and a network of fellow business owners to send referrals your way, it’s time to get some media attention. Don’t mind the flashbulbs as you walk down the red carpet!

Getting Started Tip #6: Get publicity with a press release
Ever wonder how your local newspaper finds the time to cover the goings-on of local businesses—those mini-articles on a hair salon’s grand opening or a mortgage company’s new employee? Actually, the media doesn’t find the time. They rely on businesses themselves to do the work with a press release. A press release is a news brief (usually fewer than 500 words) that summarizes a newsworthy development within a company or organization. For a new copywriter, this might be as simple as announcing the launch of your services: “Freelance Copywriter Helps Businesses Find the Right Words.” An indispensable form of free advertising, press releases put you in the public spotlight. To write your own press release, read my article on the subject and view samples on my Web site. E-mail your press release to the business section of your local paper and to the editors of any business journals in your area. Don’t forget to include a digital headshot!

Copywriting Tip #6: Emphasize benefits
Let’s review the reasons why every business can use a freelance copywriter. Copywriters make you money by skillfully communicating with members of your intended market—and convincing them to try your goods or services. They save you money because you use their services on demand, instead of hiring a full-time employee. Copywriters save you time by delivering a professional product right off the bat.

Welcome to your USPs—your Unique Selling Propositions. In other words, the benefits of doing business with you. Unlike features (brochure copy, web content, ad copy, ghostwriting) which merely list what you do, benefits explain why someone would hire you to do it—an invitation for the reader to visualize how her business will be better as a result of using your services. Whether you’re creating marketing materials for yourself or for your clients, always emphasize one or more USPs aimed at satisfying the needs or desires of the intended market.

Elizabeth Short is a freelance copywriter and graphic designer with a passion for helping small businesses clarify and broadcast unique marketing messages. With a focus on websites and print materials, she brings together content + design in one easy, affordable package (www.write-design.biz). Check out her e-book, 7 Steps to Effective Web Content (www.write-design.biz/e-books.htm) to learn the secrets of writing copy for the web.

Good Reads for Writers: “Twin Study” by Stacey Richter

Cathy BelbenReviewed By Cathy Belben

One Amazon reviewer enjoyed Stacey Richter’s Twin Study so much, she says, that she rubbed the book all over her body after reading it. I can’t say I blame her, although as usual, my advance-reader’s copy has been crumpled beneath my bed sheets and sat too close as I ate––among other things––to a Reuben sandwich, a handful of Girl Scout cookies, a goblet of purple liquid, and something that left an amoeba-shaped stain on page 42. Once I got to the end, I was hesitant to turn the final pages without tweezers, let alone rub the book on my skin.

Instead, I’ll just yell. STACEY RICHTER IS A GENIUS. I know there are people shaking their heads and renewing the vow they made in 9th grade to never read another short story, but I command you: UN-VOW NOW. Short stories are among the most underappreciated works of art in the panoply of underappreciated works of art. Occasionally hazy and often pretentious, short fiction can make us feel like undereducated lint balls who’d be better off watching American Idol. There are short stories that are sassy, fun, unpredictable, and sheer genius for creating tiny, twenty-page worlds peopled by dynamic, complex characters. Stacey Richter hasn’t written all of those stories, but she has written a chunk, and readers who miss them are bound to have little holes in their lives where her brilliant wordplay and stunning imagination might have nestled.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

Green Writer Marketplace: Grist Magazine

Susan W. ClarkBy Susan W. Clark

Two publishing trends collide in this month’s publication: environmental writing and the Internet. According to the April 22nd issue of the newsletter Wooden Horse, publications are leaping onto the green bandwagon. I agree. I’ve seen church publications, local newspapers, and many others picking up the green banner. That’s happy news: more markets for us.

The Internet is the focus of the second trend. “All major print media are aggressively moving online,” said David Roberts, a writer at this month’s featured green magazine, in an interview by Heather Hart. Roberts continued, “In the next two to three years it looks as though their online operations will be more important than the traditional print medium.”

This month’s publication of choice is the award-winning Grist, a free, online magazine launched in 1999. Grist’s offices are in Seattle but they use over one hundred contributors from around the world. They count their readers at an amazing 700,000.

Describing their content as “doom and gloom with a sense of humor,” this environmental publication is published by a nonprofit organization. In addition to asking for donations, on their Web site you’ll see feature stories, a blog, commentaries and an offer of an e-mail update, if your inbox can stand it.

“Fresh, funny, intelligent voices,” is what they’re looking for, telling “untold environmental stories.”

“People get stuck in that old-fashioned, formal style of journalism,” said David Roberts, a Grist staff writer “and they can’t see beyond the inverted pyramid. There’s great value in that kind of traditional journalism, but it doesn’t always fit with online.”

What can you expect to be paid if you write for Grist? Katherine Wroth, Story Editor, advises, “Our pay ranges from zero (much of our blogging, for instance, is unpaid) to about $300-$400 for a feature story (those are fairly rare these days, and more likely to be assigned to a writer we know, I’m afraid.) As a non-profit, we don’t have the most competitive rates in the marketplace — just great exposure, to a monthly audience of about 700,000.”

Grist’s preferred contact for queries is e-mail at grist@grist.org, although snail mail is accepted. Their address is 811 First Avenue, Suite 466, Seattle, WA 98104. Send clips if you mail or links if you e-mail. They request that submissions be both pasted in the message body and attached, but see the Writer’s Guidelines online for full details.

No pay is available for photos, but they are “delighted to accept” them. The range of written work accepted includes investigative journalism, profiles, features, opinion, art reviews and essays, and cartoons. Currently (May 2007) Grist is seeking an Executive Editor, which means it could be a good time to become a contributor.

Photographer, editor, and award-winning writer, Susan W. Clark is an ardent advocate for sustainability. The Utne Reader applauded her article “Sustainable Revolution” from In Good Tilth magazine as “world-changing.” She is a regular contributor to In Good Tilth and Touch the Soil. Her work has appeared in the Capitol Press, Portland Tribune, Small Farmer’s Journal, and Permaculture Activist. She edits Salt of the Earth, the quarterly journal of Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust. Her observations about living within our ecological means are posted at http://susanwclark.wordpress.com.

The Conference Confab (June)

Pamela KimLearn, Connect and Pitch with Industry Experts
By Pamela Kim

Willamette Writers Conference
August 3-5, 2007

Have to choose just one writing conference to attend this year? Make it Willamette Writers. It’s the place to meet and exchange ideas with hundreds of other writers, find expert advice, sell your work and get your creative juices flowing.

Attendees with a unique pitch have been known to walk away with a book deal — that’s just what happened to WOTR editor Christina Katz in 2005 when she pitched her idea for Writer Mama! This year, over 50 literary agents and editors, plus Hollywood film managers, agents and producers will be on hand to hear your ideas.

Plus, choose from over 80 workshops taught by seasoned pros like WOTR’s own Christina Katz, Sage Cohen, Mary Andonian and Gregory Kompes. Whatever your focus—fiction, non-fiction, screenwriting, manuscript editing, publishing, pitching, online platform building—you’ll get the answers and inspiration you need at Willamette Writers Conference.

The Yosemite Writers Conference
August 23-26, 2007

Come to Yosemite for an inside look into the publishing world from top book and magazine editors including:

  • Tor Books
  • HarperCollins
  • Bon Appetit
  • VIA
  • Red Hen Press
  • DreamTime Publishing
  • Chronicle Books

New York literary agent June Clark is giving a two-hour workshop entitled, Navigating Your Writing Career. Other topics of discussion will be young adult, women’s fiction, thrillers, memoir, food, literary, travel, poetry and non-fiction. Held at the Tenaya Lodge, this weekend event is a great opportunity to hone your craft and learn how to sell your ideas.

Maui Writers Conference
August 31 – September 3, 2007

Writing + inspiration + Maui. Is there a better combination? Maui Writers Conference brings together best-selling authors, award-winning journalists, top editors, agents, publishers, as well as the best in screenwriting and film:

Michael Ardnt, 2006 Academy Award Winner ~ Little Miss Sunshine
Scott Turow ~ writer & attorney ~ Presumed Innocent
John Lescroart ~ NY Times bestselling author, The Suspect
W.S. Merwin ~ Pulitzer prize winner & former Poet Laureate of the United States
Buzz Bissinger ~ NY Times bestselling author of Friday Night Lights
Lisa Nichols ~ featured contributor to the NY Times bestseller, The Secret

This Labor Day weekend, why not meet and learn from the people who can make a difference in your writing career? And if you want even more time to focus on the art and craft of writing, sign up for the six-day intensive writing retreat that precedes the conference.

Writer mama Pamela Kim writes non-fiction articles about kids, single mommyhood and the joy of organizing the stuff of life. She leverages eighteen years of experience as a corporate communications consultant to connect readers with the information they need and want. When not traveling the conference circuit – each year finds Pam at writing, blogging and health conferences – she lives in Northern California with the fabulous Katie Kim who is six. Her home online is www.studiopk.wordpress.com.

Do Your Research: Writing Conference Success

Mary AndonianBy Mary Andonian

Plot Your Course
You just received your conference brochure in the mail. What to do? The first thing I’d recommend is go online and print another copy of the brochure from the conference Web site. This will be your working copy: the one you will dog-ear, mark up, highlight, and scribble on. Your goal this month is to profile the agents and editors listed in the brochure, and map out your workshops. If you already have your list ready, spend this month reading books on how to pitch. We’ll catch up to you in August.

Most conferences have a limit on how many pitches you can buy. Plan on picking four agents and editors and learn as much about them as you can. Here are a few sites to help you:

WRITER’S MARKET (www.writersmarket.com)
Part of Writer’s Digest magazine, Writer’s Market is my favorite source of information. For a low subscription price ($30/year), you have instant access to a searchable database. Not only will you learn more about your target agents’ and editors’ needs, you will also be able to use Writers Market’s “submission tracker,” a neat organizational e-tool that helps you keep track of your queries and proposals.

HINT: If you don’t find your agents’ or editors’ names, try using their agency or imprint names.

PUBLISHERS LUNCH (www.publishersmarketplace.com)
Publishers Lunch is self-described as the most widely read daily dossier in publishing and known as “publishing’s essential daily read.” This is a free e-newsletter that gives you the latest, greatest info on everything publishing. My favorite part is the weekly deals. They describe who’s selling what, for how much, and by whom. Scan their weekly list. Is your targeted agent there? If so, what is she selling?

HINT: If you have the means, purchase a subscription to the companion of Publishers Lunch, Publishers Marketplace. This is a site dedicated to publishing professionals and acts as a clearinghouse. It is only available to registered members for a $20 monthly fee. Membership is month-to-month, so you can always use it short term to glean the most up-to-date info on your targeted agents/editors.

BILL’S LIST (www.wrhammons.com)
Bill’s List might take you a while to navigate, but once you figure out how to search on it, you will find information GOLD.

HINT: Check out the “No Dumb Questions” section to find questions (and their answers) you don’t have the guts to ask.

PREDITORS AND EDITORS (http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/)
This is a wonderful site that acts as an industry watchdog. They reveal scam artists and other folks who would not act in your best interest if they should happen across your manuscript. Compile your target list and then go here to feel better about your choices. I just searched on my agent’s name and saw that she was “recommended.” I’m feeling better already.

HINT: If you can’t find the agency name, search for your agent or editor by their first name. As stated on their Web site: P&E lists agents by first name just like businesses because businesses don’t have last names.

Mary Andonian is the agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference—one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator. She just completed her second book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth. You can reach her at (maryandonianwwconferencATyahoo.com).

Set Yourself Apart From the Crowd: Pitch!

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101

By Christina Katz

In the pitching room at the annual conference, the ensuing seconds after a not-as-strong-as-it-could-be pitch are uncomfortable. The pitcher stands expectantly waiting while the agents and editors on the panel pause in an effort to choose just the right words to critique the pitch in the most educational way for all involved. For reasons not known to this writer, one of them usually opts—Simon Cowell-like—for brutal honesty to get his points across.

This scenario may explain why some of the most confident people I know balk at the prospect of pitching a book at a writer’s conference, while others get bitten swiftly by the pitching bug as soon as they give the idea consideration. Whether you feel nervous or brimming with bravado, take some wise advice from Edna ‘E’ Mode in the animated film The Incredibles, “Luck,” she says, “favors the prepared.”

Often the first person who needs convincing that you have a good idea to pitch is you. And often, you need to keep convincing yourself right up until the moment that you arrive at the conference and pitch…and pitch…and pitch some more. But seriously, what have you got to lose? And couldn’t you stand to gain quite a lot from the experience?

If you do your due diligence, you will feel more on a par with the agents and editors who come from all over the country to attend the conference. You will feel a lot less like give-me-a-book-deal-please (wince along with me, if you know the quiet desperation of which I speak) and a lot more like a writer-teetering-on-the-edge-of-author.

Of course, the only way to confidently project what sets you apart is to know what sets you apart so that you can leverage it and make the best impression possible. I have attended the open pitching session and heard writers offer up good ideas to the panel of agents and editors (though not all ideas were as well developed as others). In some cases, the writer was not as polished in her delivery or as poised as she could have been. In other cases, the writer was not prepared to explain why she was the best person to write and sell the book. Other writers could not explain why now was the right time for their idea. All of these bases will be covered briefly in a thorough pitch.

Scared yet? Or tempted to try pitching? Well, here is the good news: you (and only you) can control how prepared or unprepared you will be when and if you stand up in front of the small crowd in a conference room and pitch. (Thank goodness, right?) How much help will you solicit to get ready? How many friends-in-the-know will you run your pitch by? How many times will you polish it? Practice it? Rehearse it? The answer is until you have it down…and down flat.

Here are the three concepts your pitch must nail:

Why this book?
Why this book now?
Why this book by you now?

Your pitch will answer all three of these questions, not necessarily in this order.

Sue Lick, author of the forthcoming book Freelancing for Newspapers (Quill Driver Books, July 2007), complimented me for the pitch I gave at the 2005 conference that helped me capture Jane Friedman’s attention and eventually landed me a book deal with Writer’s Digest. So I figured why not share that pitch here? Elaura Niles and her husband Mark Renie helped me craft and polish this pitch in preparation for the conference:

Hi, I’m Christina Katz, a freelance writer for The Oregonian and mother of a toddler.

Three years ago I experienced the happiest moment of my life, fol-lowed by the most creativity-zapping, soul-sucking months from hell. I gave birth to my daughter, Samantha Rose, and my writing career, that I had spent years developing, disappeared into a black hole of diaper chang-es, marathon feedings, and sleep deprivation.

Since then I’ve learned how to balance motherhood and writing, pub-lishing hundreds of articles in daily newspapers, periodicals, and online magazines.

Last year my piece on working moms was one of the most popular on the Web and resulted in an interview with Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America.”

I teach other moms how to do what I did and continue to do on a daily basis. My book proposal is titled “The Busy Mom’s Guide to Free-lance: 24 Steps to a Profitable, Part-Time Writing Career.”

Pitching is nerve-wracking and perhaps that’s how the conference planners intend it. The prospect of pitching certainly gets folks pumped up to get in there and give it a try. But how do you make sure that you are the writer with the saleable idea delivered with enough poise that makes the panelists smile, nod their heads, and lean forward…and not the negative example that has them sharpening their critical cutlery?

You show up prepared. Be like the Mounties, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, Smokey the Bear and Scar in The Lion King. BE PREPARED. This means you not only know why you stand out in a crowd of experts with similar experience as you, you also know how and why your topic fills a void that has not yet been filled both in the world and on the bookshelves.

Another way to say this is that you are the right person with the right idea at the right time for a very specific readership. Or, at the very least, you have an old idea that has been out of print for some time and is ready to make a swift and sure comeback.

This is the beginning of finding your niche in the publishing landscape. If you can do it, you are probably going to land a book deal,––if not at the conference, then eventually. The only thing standing between you and a possible deal is research—something every writer knows how to do. Hallelujah!

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.


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  • This Blog Moving to ChristinaKatz.com as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: http://christinakatz.com. And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
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