Archive for September, 2007

#1 Writing Rule: Do Not Judge

Kristin Bair O’KeeffeWriting Adventures in Shanghai
By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

To be honest, when I first arrive in Mumbai, India, the only thing I can think is “How the hell am I going to write about this place?” It is hot, stinky, poor, dusty, and loud…brutal to the senses. Cars, cows, motorbikes, stray dogs, and people jam the roads. Though I didn’t think it possible, car horns are used even more often here than in Shanghai. Beggars grab at me when I pass. Taxi drivers cheat me.

For the first few days I’m pissed that I’m here at all. I remember my week in Bali back in May and I curse the gods who landed me here for a few weeks instead of that lush, quiet, tropical paradise.

But then, in the middle of a rather impressive curse that starts with an “f” and plows forward with practiced gusto, I remember my #1 rule: Do not judge.

Why?

Because standing in judgment is a big, fat waste of time. As writers, it’s our job to explore, consider, examine, uncover, reveal, and share, and over the years, I’ve learned that whenever I stand around grumbling and criticizing (most often about something I don’t yet understand), inevitably I miss the magic…of a place or a person or an experience.

With this in mind, I stop cursing. I repeat my #1 rule in my head. Then I breathe and look around Mumbai with fresh eyes.

I see now that the dusty, filthy streets are filled with gorgeous women in saris, women who, unlike many of us westerners back in the United States, do not shy away from color. In fact, they celebrate it. Their saris are hot pink, aquamarine, sunshine yellow, cobalt blue, and wild combinations of all colors.

I see that although there are thousands of feral dogs living on the streets, many people are kind and generous to them, sharing biscuits and a bit of shade.

With these and other observations in hand, I see that Mumbai—like most places on Earth—is complex and layered and worth trying to understand. It is ugly and beautiful, harsh and welcoming.

Now keep in mind, I’m not asking you to spit-shine your stories or to write only about the happy, positive aspects of life. But I am asking that when you find yourself with a less than ideal assignment (and you will) that you stay open and withhold judgment. Perhaps you’ll have to interview a curmudgeonly old codger who coughs and spits and growls in answer to your well thought-out questions. Or maybe you’ll land in a place, like Mumbai, that challenges your spirit. When you do, stay open. Withhold judgment. Learn as much as you can about your subject, look at it with fresh eyes, and once you’ve explored deeply enough, go to your writing honestly.

Ready?

Good.

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: Market Yourself to Graphic Designers

Elizabeth ShortBy Elizabeth Short

Think you’ve unearthed all your markets? Think again!

Getting Started Tip #8: Market yourself to graphic designers
If the world of marketing materials had a dating scene, here is a singles ad you’d undoubtedly find. Wanted: SBWC. Sexy graphics layout seeks single, black & white copy for LTR. Interests include collaborating on professional brochures, Web sites and newsletters. UB concise and typo-free. Let me show you my logo! If your own copy is feeling a bit lonely, market your services to graphic and Web designers. Number one, designers are potential clients who need copy to accompany their work. Number two, a good designer will add value to your own business—it’s much easier to fish for brochure and Web site jobs if you come equipped with your own graphics person. Contact local designers with a short letter or e-mail that outlines the benefits of your services. Better yet, arrange a meeting over coffee. A moonlit walk on the beach, perhaps? Probably not.

Copywriting Tip #8: Proofread, proofread, proofread!
For professional copywriters, there is no deadlier mistake than a typo. After all, you’re the person that businesses hire to make them look savvy, not stupid. To avoid typos and other capital copy crimes, proofread diligently—multiple times. Proofread once before submitting your copy to the client for review. Proofread again after making any changes. Repeat with the printer’s proof or the Web designer’s final product. For best results, use the computer for a spelling and grammar check to catch glaring errors. Then, use your own eyes to read through the copy sentence by sentence. Finally, scour the copy word by word. Pay special attention to proper nouns and other words that may not be in the dictionary. You might also consider hiring an outside proofreader to give your job a final once-over. Above all, never rely on your client (or your designer) to proofread. Make no mistake—that’s your job!

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.

Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations by Simon Rich

Cathy BelbenGood Reads for Writers
Reviewed By Cathy Belben

Quick and quirky, Simon Rich’s collection of short, humorous essays, Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations will probably take you about a half an hour to read, but it’s unlikely that you’ll forget his work.

Rich has a talent for taking unusual perspectives on ordinary situations and imagining them in the funniest possible light, and yet with a knack for hitting on observations and questions that many of us probably have.

What is life like for the ants in the ant farm? What would the world be like if punishments were handed out like they are in hockey? What are the disadvantages of being invisible?

My favorite pieces in Rich’s collection were those that revolved around school and childhood, including one about the day he got his first calculator, an essay about “what goes through my head when I am home alone (from my mom’s perspective)” and his idea of situations (there are only 2) in which he imagines that high school math will be useful to him as an adult.

Writers stuck for ideas will appreciate Rich’s solution to this problem: imagine weirdness all around you, ask ridiculous questions, formulate possible answers, and write about them without worrying whether or not anything you say follows the rules of logic.

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: Audubon Magazine

Susan W. ClarkBy Susan W. Clark

Far more than birds fill the pages of Audubon Magazine; and if you haven’t looked lately, you should definitely put this highly-rated publication on your target list. Recent articles have covered topics like eco-friendly wines, the collapse of global fisheries, and supporting wind power. As an Oregonian, I immediately noticed the feature on the Opal Creek Wilderness, a place not far from Portland that Audubon Editor David Seideman has visited many times.

This is a top-rung publication with a huge audience. Audubon Magazine has half a million readers for its quarterly issues. The American Association of Magazine Editors (ASME) has often nominated it for the “Ellies,” and it is in the finalists again this year. I didn’t see any other green magazines in the list of finalists, so this is the top of our green markets.

Stories that will interest this elite publication will deal with how humans and nature are connecting or colliding: balanced reporting on the environment, stories about birds or other animals and their habitats, and examples of how people are working to understand and protect the natural world. The emphasis will need to be on a fresh perspective or new topic you can write about extraordinarily well.

Columns and departments include “Field Notes” (50-400 words), “Audubon at Home” (1500 words related to backyard projects), “Profiles” (300-2000 words on fascinating people), and “Journal” (1000-2000 words of personal essay). Features range from 2000-4000 words and need to be new and surprising to the well-educated, affluent readers.

Send your brief query along with clips and an SASE to the Editor-in-Chief, David Seideman, 700 Broadway, New York NY 10003. Guidelines clearly state that only hard copy queries will be accepted. Audubon Magazine pays on acceptance, with rates that vary depending on who you are as well as the article you write.

Why not set a goal of finding the perfect story for Audubon Magazine and getting into one of the very best publications on the market?

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.

Conference Confab (September)

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

Write on the Sound
October 5-7, 2007

Pack your notebook, pens and laptop for two days of literary inspiration on the beautiful shores of Puget Sound in Washington. Attracting regional, national and international participants, Write on the Sound features over 30 presenters, a literary contest, manuscript critiques, reception and book signing, onsite bookstore, and a variety of evening activities. This event is structured for writers of all levels and genres, and includes workshops such as The Art of the Ending, Publicity for Pennies and Finding and Refining Voice. Timothy Egan, 2006 National Book Award-winner, is the keynote speaker.

From Concept to Execution: Make Your Novel Sing
October 12-14, 2007

From the people who bring us the annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference comes a series of focused events such as From Concept to Execution: Make Your Novel Sing. During a weekend of lectures and guided read and critique sessions, the essential elements of the novel are explored to help participants avoid common pitfalls in order to successfully take ideas from viable concept to publishable manuscript. The October event is geared to writers of mainstream romance, sci-fi, military, mystery, action-adventure, erotica, chick lit, or any other genre of fiction. Participants submit a novel synopsis for review by the workshop leader one month in advance of the weekend intensive.

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.

Preparing Your Dossier

Mary AndonianWriting Conference Success
By Mary Andonian

I met the president of our local writers association at my first writer’s conference. We were on an afternoon break between workshops, and I made conversation by offering her some of my SOUR PATCH KIDS candy. She declined the candy but accepted my business card at the end of our brief encounter. A few months later, she contacted me about joining the conference committee. You, too, will be prepared for your first conference if you bring the following:

Business Cards
Go to www.vistaprint.com to create simple, inexpensive cards for under $20.00. Your cards should contain the obvious: name, address, phone, and e-mail. Do not use business cards from your current employment if your work has nothing to do with writing. Do purchase business cards if you’re a stay-at-home mom who has yet to write anything for revenue. You want to be seen as a professional writer, not as someone who is “looking to change careers” or “who writes as a hobby.”

Proposal Package(s)
These are inexpensive folders that contain all of the pertinent info you would want to share with an agent or editor during your pitch session. On the cover, middle-centered, attach a label printed with your project’s name on it. Inside, affix your business card to the provided tabs. On the left hand side, insert your “bio” page. This is a single sheet of paper that lists your writing credits. On the right hand side, insert what you predict she’ll want to see as a next step: first forty pages for fiction, or a table of contents and brief chapter summary paragraphs for non-fiction. Paperclip these pages together. (Stapled pages are a no-no.) Insert on top of these pages a query/proposal letter addressed specifically to the agent or editor to whom you’ll pitch.

Package Style
Your bios page can be made up in any number of ways. You can use a more traditional resume approach, listing all of your writing credits in chronological order, along with relevant educational background, and so on. Or you may opt for the author’s book flap approach, where you write your bio the way you would like it to be seen on the back cover of your book.

One author I know lists her writing credits, but lists next to each credit a full color photo representing each credit. I used her approach for my last proposal package, and ended up using visual icons representing the Contra Costa Times Newspapers (two of my essays were printed in this newspaper), a Writers Digest magazine cover (one of my essays took honorable mention in a WD recent contest), and both an Institute of Children’s Literature logo and a Willamette Writers logo (for my education and involvement in these institutions, respectively).

Last, But Not Least
Don’t forget the candy. It’s a great conversation-starter.

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).

What a platform is vs. what a platform isn’t

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101

By Christina Katz

Pitching at a conference this year? Be sure to take this multiple-choice quiz as a refresher on what a platform is vs. what a platform isn’t.

Through the eyes of an agent or editor, your platform boils down to:
a) Your credentials
b) Your potential as an author
c) The story of how and why you came up with your book concept
d) Your already published work (a.k.a. your clips)
e) The readership / following / network / fan base you have already cultivated
f) All of the above

Before I reveal the answer, let me explain why it’s not obvious. For years now, publishing industry insiders have been buzzing among themselves about platform-platform-platform, whereas half the folks attending writer’s conferences are just getting wind of the concept for the first time. This explains why publishing insiders are so weary of hearing about platform that the mere mention of the word makes them cringe, whereas so many writers are scratching our heads and saying, “Platform? What the heck is that?”

But just because industry insiders don’t want to talk to you about what a platform is doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear about the platform you already have.

Okay, now for the answer to the quiz. We need to get crystal clear about what a platform is vs. what a platform isn’t. The answer is e. Did you get it? I’ll break down each choice in detail.

a) Your credentials
No doubt you will have a section about your credentials in your book proposal, but this is not your platform. Your credentials are all of the indicators of your expertise on a particular topic. Your credentials qualify you, but they do not get you known. For example, if your book topic were how to save sea lions from extinction, then your credentials would include everything on your resume that authenticates your knowledge and experience on this subject.

Possibly you have a master’s degree in marine biology. Perhaps, you have had jobs in the past where you worked with sea lions. Maybe you have lived in the Pacific Northwest all your life and have been a sea lion activist. Generally speaking, credentials come straight from your résumé. But remember, writers don’t rely on their résumés. More often we pick and choose what is relevant from our experience and include it in a short bio paragraph to match an assignment. You will need to do the same in your book proposal. But that’s not your platform; it’s typically called your bio.

b) Your potential as an author
Though strong identification with published authors may have led many of us to await our literary discovery with baited breath, our potential as authors is not part of our platform. Neither is the comparison of our unpublished writing to successful authors. Saying your book echoes the style or voice of a bestselling author is a strategy likely to lead agents and editors to wonder why you write like someone else and not yourself. Planting the seed in the first place creates an automatic comparison—possibly one that will not measure out in your favor.

Instead of describing your own writing in glowing terms, simply write and pitch your idea clearly and concisely. Like your credentials, your readiness (and eagerness) to become an author is not part of your platform and no amount of well-turned phrases, disclosed praise or author identification will change this. In fact, I recommend that you avoid referring to your potential altogether, both in your pitch and in your proposal. A better approach is just the facts, ma’m.

c) The story of how and why you came up with your book concept
I encourage anyone who is pitching or writing a book proposal to reflect on how they got from where they once were to being exactly the right person to write their proposed book today. However, being the right person to get the job done and having a platform are not the same things. So, while this story may be included in your proposal or briefly summarized in your verbal pitch, this tale is not your platform. Even if the timing is absolutely perfect for your book, and I hope this is true, this fact is not your platform.

d) Your already published work (a.k.a. your clips)
If you have been writing a column for your local paper for five years, this is a genuine accomplishment, and hopefully you feel proud. However, what your local column lacks, through the eyes of agents and editors, is reach. If the publication you write for is not a household name, agents and editors are not likely to be impressed. But if you’ve written for or currently write for O Magazine, The New York Times, or iParenting.com, your clout as a future author goes up along with the size of the audience you serve, especially if your work reaches readers on a regular basis.

Strictly speaking, your clips fall under your credentials. A lot of people have them; it’s what you do with your credentials that makes up your platform. And remember, the bigger the readership and the better the reputation of the publication, the more oomph your clips carry. So mention your best clips, but only emphasize those likely to impress.

e) The readership / following / network / fan base you have already cultivated
The number of people you currently reach and influence is the sum total of your current platform. This explains why agents and editors usually offer book deals to writers who also already teach, speak, and self-promote themselves or who have created a following through traditional media or the Internet. If your following associates you with the book topic you are pitching, even better. Agents and editors prefer a self-producing writer to a totally unknown writer any day of the week.

Why? Because a self-producing writer has a proven track record of getting known that insures he or she will not balk when the time comes to get out there and promote the published book. And previously developed networks, readers, and fans are all potential future readers of the book in which publishers, editors and agents are going to invest their time, money and energy. So when you pitch, try to volunteer the facts about your platform in a concise, targeted manner rather than as a laundry list of incidental experience that doesn’t position you as an authority any publisher would want as a partner.

You may feel that an emphasis on platform is unfair and that your book idea should only be assessed based on a-d above. But remember, the onus to develop a platform does not just affect writers; it also affects every single person involved in the publishing business today (including fellow writers, and yes, even agents, editors and publishers). So don’t waste one more minute feeling sorry for yourself, when you could be channeling that same energy into building a solid platform that will serve you and your growing readership––today and the day your future book hits the shelves.

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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