Archive for March, 2008

Writing and Selling the Personal Essay: Getting Into the Writer’s Guidelines

Kristin Bair O’KeeffeCongratulations! You’ve had one of those marvelous “Ah, Ha!” moments that I wrote about in January and now you have a compelling story about which you want to write a personal essay. But what do you do next? Write a query letter or write the essay? Submit to one magazine or your top ten favorites? Write 1,000 words or 3,500 words? Send it via email? Snail mail? Hand deliver it with a dozen roses and a pint of strawberry ice cream?

Great questions. Luckily most publications are happy to provide you with answers in the form of Writer Guidelines (also referred to as Submission Guidelines or Contributor Guidelines). These are available at publication websites or by request.

Once you’ve got that golden idea for an essay, choose the publication to which you want to submit and track down the Writer Guidelines. Depending on the publication, this can be a simple or not-so-simple task. Skirt!, for example, makes it easy on writers by having a link for Contributor Guidelines on the main page of its website, while Smithsonian magazine makes us work a bit harder.

(Hint: If a link isn’t obvious, click on “Contact Us” or “About.” Writer Guidelines are often accessed through these links.)

Once you find the Writer Guidelines for a publication, you’ll discover the answers to most, if not all, of your questions: maximum and minimum word counts, editor’s preferences, how to submit, to whom to submit, payment information, response times, and lots more. It’s important to know that every publication’s guidelines are different, even if they share subject matter. You can’t assume that if you’ve read the guidelines for World Hum that you now know how to write for and submit to every travel magazine in the industry. They’re all different!

And while you could write your essay before you figure out to which publication you want to submit and before you read that publication’s Writer Guidelines, honestly, it’s a big, fat waste of time.

Let’s say you write your essay without researching Writer Guidelines first, but the whole time you’re writing, you’re thinking, “Hot diggity, this is perfect for The Christian Science Monitor’s “Home Forum.” So you write. You polish. You get two friends to read your essay and make suggestions. You polish again. And in the end, your beautiful, perfectly executed personal essay turns out to be 1,758 words.

Then you read the Contributors Guidelines for the “Home Forum” section of The Christian Science Monitor and guess what? Essays for this section are to be between 300-900 words. That’s 858 fewer words than you’ve written. That’s nearly half your essay.

So you hop around your office, curse yourself, and spend the next two days cutting your essay down to 900 words. This is valuable time you could have spent working on your next “Ah, Ha” moment or even, your next essay.

My advice? Do the research, read the Writer Guidelines, and enjoy the process!

Personal Essay Marketplace: Want to write about your writing experience? Check out ByLine Magazine.

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Kristin Bair O’Keeffe moved to Shanghai, China, in April 2006 and has been writing about this incredible country ever since. Her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse,” chronicles her adventures (and misadventures) in Shanghai and garners the attention of readers all around the world. Her essays about the China experience can be found in The Baltimore Review and To Shanghai With Love (forthcoming). As a respected writing instructor, she has taught hundreds of writers over the past fourteen years and is currently teaching both fiction and nonfiction writing in Shanghai.

Last Chance To Take Pitching Practice at This Price

Pitching Practice: Write Six Queries in Six Weeks
Next Class Begins on April 16th
Prerequisites: Writing and Publishing the Short Stuff and/or Targeting Your Best Writing Markets are recommended or Permission from Instructor. Contact Christina at writer mama at earthlink dot net.
In this class, pitching is all we do. Over the course of six weeks, we crank out six queries. Exactly the kind of practice you need if you want to get in the habit of landing better-paying assignments. After you write and send six queries, you will never again ask, “What makes a strong query?” You will have developed your own and style into prototypes that you can use over and over to obtain future assignments. And that’s what query writing is about. Not someone else’s formula, but finding your own.
Cost: $175.00
[Last time at this price.]
Register at Writers on the Rise

Fund Your Writing Projects: The Matchmaking Game

Gigi RosenbergBy Gigi Rosenberg 

By now you have researched and found some organizations that fund writing projects. What do you do next?

Get organized. It can be demoralizing as you stare at a stack of grant info with no way to determine where to start. Do not throw up your hands. Instead, sort the information by deadlines. For each deadline that is more than two months away, file the info and make a note in your calendar to start work on this grant two months before it is due.

Next comes a crucial research phase that lays the foundation for successful grant writing. Think of it as a matchmaking game: you are trying to figure out if this funder and you are a good match. Starting with the grant that is due first, look at the criteria for applying. What types of projects does this organization fund? Read its mission statement. What is it looking for? What might make a project irresistible to it? Investigate: What projects has it funded in the past?

Check out the other writers who have received grants. What’s the common denominator in the projects it’s funding? Your project does not need to be identical to other projects the group has funded, but it does need to be in the spirit of projects this group likes to fund.

Then, make a list of questions. At some point you will be ready to have a conversation with the granting organization, but not yet. When you finally do call it, you want to have a list of the smartest questions to ask. You don’t want to ask something that is clearly stated on its website or in the application guidelines.

Your goal at this point is to assess whether this organization is worth pursuing. Is it worth your time? Is your project worth the organization’s time-and money?

If you conclude that this group is not a good match, Bravo! You don’t need to spend any more time with it. On to the next grant application!

Your assignment for this month is to find one or more organizations that fund writers and be your own best investigator: What makes this organization tick? Do you think it could love your project? Do you think you could love it? Or do you feel you’d have to tweak your project so much that it wouldn’t interest you anymore? Your research will turn up questions. Write them down.

Next month we’ll talk about that first phone call with the funding organization. For now, remember that your time is too precious to waste on organizations that aren’t the right match for your project. Go gather your prospects. You’re looking for the perfect match.

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Gigi Rosenberg is a writer, teacher and occasional performer of edgy, comic monologues on motherhood, relationships and the existential nature of being. Her essays and how-to articles have been published in Writer’s Digest, The Oregonian, The Jewish Review, Cycle California! Magazine and Parenting (forthcoming).  “The Hanukkah Bush,” her radio commentary, was featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting. She coaches writers on how to read in public and teaches regional and national workshops on “Grant Writing for Success.”

Freelancing for Newspapers Challenge: Brainstorm Some Ideas for the Food Section

Sue Fagalde LickBy Sue Fagalde Lick 

Newspaper food sections are an often-overlooked market to sell freelance articles. Perhaps you don’t even read the food section because you have more than enough recipes or you don’t like to cook, but you do like to eat, right?

The trick to getting into any food section is to come up with something it’s not already doing. Food is a broader category than you might think. You could come up with delicious ways to cook a ham, find new ways to make fun and exciting cupcakes for your child’s preschool class, or profile outstanding chefs. You could write about ethnic meals that your family enjoys, telling where to buy the ingredients and how to prepare the food.

But think beyond recipes. What’s the difference between all those apples in the produce section? Should you use a Fuji, Granny Smith or Red Delicious for your pie? Or, what’s the latest on pots and pans? Some people believe that aluminum pots and cookware coated with nonstick surfaces are unhealthy, so what are the alternatives? Or, how do you cook when the power goes out?

To crack this section, as with any other, email a query to the editor. Grab her attention with a tantalizing lead, describe what your article will be about, including a few sample recipes or suggestions, and tell a bit about your writing background.

YOUR CHALLENGE: Brainstorm food-section article ideas. List where you would send them and why readers would be interested. Keep in mind that your ideas could be resold to multiple newspapers and might also apply to food-oriented trade papers.

If food writing interests you, check out the Association of Food Journalists or the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association.

You are welcome to share your results or discuss the challenge here, as well as at my Freelancing for Newspapers blog. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers.

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Sue Fagalde Lick, author of Freelancing for Newspapers, worked as a staff writer, photographer and editor for newspapers in California and Oregon for many years before moving into full-time freelancing. In addition to countless newspaper and magazine articles, she has published three books on Portuguese Americans. She has taught workshops at Oregon Coast Community College, online for Writing-world.com and for Willamette Writers and California Writers Club. She offers an online course on reviews as well as individual coaching. See her website and visit her blog.

Writerpreneur: Cross Promotion

gregorywotr_002.gifCross promotion, sometimes called collaborative marketing, is the perfect way to grow your writing career. How does cross promotion work? Two or more people combine their efforts to promote a product or event.

Here’s a nice example. Writers on the Rise’s Christina Katz had a super cross-promotion event in September: The Writer Mama Back to School Daily Giveaway. She held a daily drawing and gave away someone else’s book or product every day for a month. The result: Christina promoted all those give-away authors to her email and blog lists; and each of the authors participating in the giveaway promoted the event to their own blog, newsletter and email followings. Together, they collectively introduced themselves to thousands of people.

One benefit of cross promotion is that everyone involved with the promotion gets access to everyone else’s audience. And, you don’t need to go as big as Christina on your first cross-promotion effort. The Internet makes cross promotion simple and effective. If both you and your cross-promotion partner have email or newsletter lists, you could suggest an advertisement exchange.

Ready for something a little bigger? First, decide what you want to promote. It might be your new book, a teleseminar, class or live event. Next, find a perfect partner match– another author or business with an audience that will find your product or service beneficial. Contact them and propose a cross-promotion event and brainstorm to find the perfect promotion. Finally, promote your event to your email lists, blogs and newsletters.

One of the reasons cross promotion works is trust. The folks who read your blog and sign up for your email list have a relationship with you. They trust you. When you introduce them to new authors and products, they extend their trust for you to what you promote. It’s therefore important to only promote people who are worthy of that trust.

Do you see a trend here? Cross promotion works best when there’s a mutual benefit for everyone involved. Not just you and your cross-promotion partner, but also for the audience you are both trying to reach.

If you’re not ready to go it alone, you might want to combine forces with a larger group to start. If you’re an author, check out Author’s Coalition (AC) at Red Engine Press. They do frequent cross-promotion and collective marketing events that include attending major west coast book fairs. One of my own cross-promotion efforts, LAMOO Books, is in this category, too. The site offers autographed books at a discount and features a different author each week on all the pages. As authors promote these programs, they are also cross promoting the other authors involved. A little effort from each creates a collective marketing landslide.

How can you use cross promotion to build your writing career?

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Gregory A. Kompes, author of the bestseller 50 Fabulous Gay-Friendly Places to Live and the Writer’s Series, speaks at conferences and teaches Internet self-promotion courses online. Gregory is editor of Queer Collection: Prose & Poetry, Patchwork Path, The Fabulist Flash, and Eighteen Questions, a Q&A series that collects published authors experiences (chosen a “101 Best Websiteby Writer’s Digest ). In Las Vegas, he hosts the Writerpreneur Workshops and co-host’s the Writer’s Pen & Grill. Gregory holds a BA in English Literature from Columbia University, New York, and a certificate in Online Teaching and Learning and an MS Ed. from California State University, East Bay.

Writing Roots: Audience Adjustment

Christina KatzMy mother was the first audience for my writing. I was young, maybe seven or eight, and I’d written my first poem, quaintly titled, “The Girl with a Curl.” I ripped my penciled page out of its memo pad and trotted downstairs to find my mom. I’ll spare you the actual poem, but suffice it to say my mother was willing to interrupt her dusting to be my first listener. Or should I say victim?

Amazingly, my mother whooped with delight. Now perhaps you saw that coming, but whooping was not typical behavior for my mother. So, I was impressed. I had cracked her up. She’d laughed her head off. How did I do it? I was hooked.

Time and feeble writing attempts ambled on. Despite the positive impact I’d made on that first audience, my success rate from there was fairly inconsistent. For one thing, I hoarded my writing all through junior high and high school. A couple pieces were published in the school literary journal but I would have flushed with embarrassment if anyone had mentioned them. Luckily, no one did. Phew!

In college, everyone else in my creative writing class-the class where I was sure I would find my tribe-wrote like one of the male literary icons we studied, while my writing sounded like sentimental drivel. I was icon-less. What a bummer that was at the time and how embarrassed I was of my work.

In graduate school, my perception of my writing alternated between flights of low self-esteem and overblown ego. When my writing was praised, I was oblivious. “Really, you think it’s okay?” When it was verging on terrible, I would become superhumanly attached to it.

But, on the upside, in graduate school, the significance of audience was burned into our brains by the workshop method used there. I suppose, that’s why I spread the gospel of audience today. I’ve been converted.

If you’d asked me what caused the communication gap with my various audiences in the past, I’d say that before, with the exception of my mother, I’d had trouble trusting them because of my self-consciousness. Which is another way of saying that I struggled with letting go of my writing. I didn’t know how to get out of the way and put my audience’s needs first.

What I’ve learned, ultimately, is that it’s important for me to manage my creative process, but eventually no matter what I’m working on, I have to dedicate the final draft to the intended audience. And when I step out of the way and let go, it’s a huge relief. Worth all of the work (and angst) that lead up to it.

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Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, is working on her second book for Writer’s Digest Books, Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform. She has also written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on “Good Morning America.” Christina is a popular writing instructor who has taught hundreds of writers over the past seven years. She blogs daily at The Writer Mama Riffs and is publisher and editor of two zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. More at http://www.thewritermama.com/.

In the Spotlight: Andrea Hurst, Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Agency

Interview By Cindy HudsonAndrea HurstLiterary agent Andrea Hurst has been around all sides of the publishing industry. She’s a published author, has worked as a freelance consultant for writers, and has spent some time in acquisitions and development for a publishing company before deciding to open an agency of her own six years ago. Located in Sacramento near the thriving publishing community of the San Francisco Bay Area, Andrea Hurst Literary Management represents authors in both fiction and nonfiction on a variety of subjects. Here’s her advice for writers seeking agent representation.


What do you look for in a writer when you’re deciding which projects you’d like to represent?

When I sign an author, I want a wonderful writer, a great manuscript, and if they’re writing nonfiction, a really good platform. But I also want someone I can work with, because we become a team. I love working with people who are motivated, open, flexible and who meet deadlines. I love giving authors ideas for changes to their proposals and having them come back with more. I love the brainstorming, the creativity and working with someone who will respect my opinion because agents are the bridge, and through experience we know what publishers are looking for.

What do you find the most challenging about working with authors?

Lack of professionalism. It’s so frustrating to get query letters and know that the writer didn’t even take the time to learn how to write a query letter. And it’s so easy to pick up The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, which is the best book I recommend for anyone getting started. It’s a crash course that can bring writers up to speed and put them above the slush pile immediately.

What challenges do you face once you sign a writer?

I would say 99 percent of the authors I’ve signed and worked with are wonderful. One of the biggest challenges comes when they realize I was telling the truth when I said publishers don’t market the book. Authors realize just how much they have to be involved and how hard it is.

You mentioned platform earlier. How important do you think platform is to helping you decide whether or not to represent an author?

For nonfiction, on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most important, it’s 11. That’s mostly because I can sell a book to an editor, but the editor has to sell it to the marketing and sales people. That’s where platform comes in.

You also act as an agent for the Complete Idiot’s Guides is that correct?

I act as a packager agent for the Complete Idiot’s Guides and Everything Guides, which means I package a writer with an expert and then act as the agent. It’s a great way for writers to break in, and I’m always looking for both experts who can write and writers who don’t mind working with an expert.

How does a writer know if her idea might be good for a Complete Idiot’s Guide?

One of the first things is to go to the website, alphabooks.com, and make sure the subject or anything close to it hasn’t been done. The other thing is to think about whether it’s a large enough market for Idiot’s Guides to be interested. You also have to be able to follow a template very well. I have some writers who do one after the other after the other of these because they take to it.

What else should writers know about these guides?

They don’t give you a lot of lead-time; a writer usually has anywhere from three to six months to write the guide. The Idiot’s Guides pay a royalty as well as an advance. The Everything Guides just pay an advance. Again, it’s a great way for writers to break in, and it can be a good way to build a platform or a business.

Are there any specific topics in nonfiction you’re looking for now?

As long as someone has a good platform and a unique idea, I am interested in just about any area of nonfiction. One of the areas publishing seems to like right now is science meeting spirituality. I haven’t found anything I love in that yet, but I’d like to. Someone who has expertise in parenting along with a platform and a different slant would be great. Advice, relationships and health are very strong. I would love to find the next killer diet book.

Any other advice?

Go to conferences, meet agents and editors, learn your craft, go to the agents’ and publishers’ websites and study them. Christina Katz’s book Writer Mama talks about the importance of marketing and I can’t emphasize enough how important that is. That’s what sells books. I have a tips section on writing a proposal on my agency website (andreahurst.com). I already mentioned The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, which is invaluable for finding agents. Serious writers should also join publishersmarketplace.com. Finally, don’t give up. Agents can’t work unless we sign good books.
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Cindy HudsonCindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her website and its companion blog, publishes reading lists, book reviews, author interviews and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at www.cindyhudson.com.

Time Management Mastery: Calendar Management

hope_000.gifA writer’s calendar is more than a reminder of the date. It’s a permanent record of the effort and work production of a serious artist. It’s a business tool to make a writer more successful. It’s a tax tool to help you track and manage deductions. A calendar can help you best when you develop a management routine, clearly noting items such as these:

  • Editorial deadlines. That doesn’t mean just the date your story is due. Your calendar should indicate the date the assignment was accepted, the drop-dead date and an interim date about a week before it’s due. If this is a major project, include dates of interviews, photographs and first drafts. These benchmarks keep you motivated while indicating to the IRS that you are a serious writer putting honest hours into your work.
  • Meetings. Chats and teleconferences can slip by easily without a reminder. In-person meetings are important to record, because every mile counts at tax time. Even your writer’s group should go on your calendar¬¬–if not as a reminder, as a record of activities contributing to your writing life.
  • Conferences and tours. Note the day you leave home and the day you return. This way your receipts and expenses coincide for tax purposes.
  • Completion dates. Maybe you didn’t have a deadline and you wrote a piece on spec or prepared a query. Note the date you sent it, then flip the pages and post a follow-up date.
  • Phone calls. You might appreciate knowing when you last spoke with a client before you call him again. An editor’s confirming phone call for an assignment should be recorded somewhere other than your memory.
  • Bills due. Note when your website hosting and domain registration are due for renewal. Missing those dates can be devastating to a writer relying upon a website for sales.
  • Benchmarks. You have your goals. For them to be realistic, they need measures. Give your plans tangible dates for follow-up to ensure you are successful with this year’s writing resolutions.
  • Expirations. Free trial offers of databases or online services can creep up and cost you. Note when they expire a few days ahead of time so you don’t miss the deadline.

Make your calendar work for you, and at the end of the year, you’ll have a comprehensive record of your writing life. With detailed documentation to prove that you earn a living as a writer, you will be eligible for all the deductions that go with the profession.

TIP: For great online calendars and calendar aids, see Calendar Zone. For an endless array of hands-on calendars, see Calendars.com.

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C. Hope Clark is founder and editor of FundsforWriters.com, annually recognized by Writer’s Digest in its poll of 101 Best Web Sites for Writers. She delivers four newsletters each week to thousands with her specialty being grants and income opportunities for writers of all sizes. She’s published over 200 articles on paper and online. Those reluctant to promote their writing cherish her trade paperback The Shy Writer: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success. Find more hope for your writing career at www.fundsforwriters.com & www.theshywriter.com.

Great Sites for Writers: Wooden Horse Publishing

Tiffani Hill-PattersonBy Tiffani Hill-Patterson

Wooden Horse Publishing is a one-stop shop for writer’s guidelines and editorial calendars for more than 2,000 print magazines. For less than two dollars, you can browse the database of market guidelines, themes and contact information for 24 hours. If you like what you see, you can get a longer-term subscription. The site’s Fast News on the home page keeps you abreast of the latest magazine launches, and the free email zine tells you who’s in, who’s out and what’s new in the publication world.

According to the site’s About Us, founder Meg Weaver chose a Swedish “dala” horse for her logo because the “good luck charm has been part of her life since childhood.” Who knows? Maybe Wooden Horse Publishing will bring you good luck, too.

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Tiffani Hill-Patterson is an award-winning journalist with 13 years of writing and editing experience. She’s a regular contributor to The Writer Mama zine and Birmingham Parent magazine, and her articles on health, parenting, fitness and pop culture have also appeared in The Huntsville Times, The Moulton Advertiser and The TimesDaily. She lives in Alabama with her husband and daughter. Read more at http://www.tiffanihillpatterson.com.

2008 Classes Through Writers on the Rise

NEXT ROUND STARTS APRIL 16TH!

Writing and Publishing The Short Stuff
Especially For Moms (But Not Only for Moms)!
Next Class Begins on April 16th
Prerequisites: None
Finally, a writing workshop that fits into the busy lives of moms! You will learn how to create short, easy-to-write articles-a skill that will make it easier to move up to longer, more time-consuming articles when you’re ready. Try your pen at tips, fillers, short interviews, list articles, how-tos, and short personal essays-all within six weeks. Now includes markets!
Cost: $175.00. [This Class Almost Full! Last time at this price.]
Register at Writers on the Rise

Pitching Practice: Write Six Queries in Six Weeks
Next Class Begins on April 16th
Prerequisites: Writing and Publishing the Short Stuff and/or Targeting Your Best Writing Markets are strongly recommended or Permission from Instructor
In this class, pitching is all we do. Over the course of six weeks, we crank out six queries. Exactly the kind of practice you need if you want to get in the habit of landing better-paying assignments. After you write and send six queries, you will never again ask, “What makes a strong query?” You will have developed your own and style into prototypes that you can use over and over to obtain future assignments. And that’s what query writing is about. Not someone else’s formula, but finding your own.
Cost: $175.00
[Last time at this price.]
Register at Writers on the Rise


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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, […]
    The Writer Mama

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