Archive for March, 2007

Fast and Fabulous Book Proposal Writing: Part One


Part One: Gathering Force

By Sage Cohen

What’s standing between your great idea and your best-selling book? Chances are good that the first thing on your list is: a book proposal. And I’d be willing to bet that the primary roadblock to creating that seal-the-deal proposal is fear. Or time. Or maybe you just don’t know how to begin.

In truth, the book proposal is just a slightly aggrandized, distilled-to-potency version of everything you already are and everything you already know. It’s like a panoramic resume on steroids. Doesn’t that sound fun? And the reality is that you can write a book proposal in just a month, in the margins around full-time work.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and stare down this proposal beast until it’s eating from our hands. We’re going to take the process in steps so it’s easy to follow and easy to succeed. This month, I recommend that you prepare yourself as follows:

Brainstorm to clarify your concept
To help crystallize your vision for where you and your book are headed, ask yourself:

    • What is my book about?
    • Who is it for?
    • What three key things will readers learn when they read it?
    • What will the book contribute to the world that doesn’t exist now?
    • Why am I the ideal person to write this book?
    • Why is this book especially relevant today?


Get a how-to-write-book-proposals book
My personal favorite is Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write by Elizabeth Lyon. Whatever book you choose will become your new best friend, so make sure you find its format and language easy to follow. I recommend that you read it once now (with a pen in hand) to get a lay of the land.


Create a Dream Team

It doesn’t have to take a village to create a book proposal; you can certainly do it solo. But like all challenges in life, the more support you have, the smoother your ride will be. I recommend the following:


Focus group
Choose several friends or colleagues who are representative of your target audience and run your ideas by them! I asked my focus group to read and respond to my concept statement, book description and sample chapter. I also asked them which books on this topic they’ve already read. This gave me invaluable feedback that helped clarify my vision and improve my content.


You’re going to get extremely inspired and ecstatic as you manifest your vision into a proposal. You’re also going to have moments of exhaustion and discouragement. Know to whom you can turn when you need a pick-me-up.


When you’re fifty pages deep (or even five pages deep), your eyes may start crossing. I recommend lining up an editor who is willing to read each section as it’s created. This can help you see your successes and opportunities for improvement more clearly. The ideal editor will have a fabulous command of grammar and a clear understanding of your creative vision.

Next month we’ll talk about getting familiar with the competition, creating a writing schedule, and making the best use of your how-to-write-a-proposal book. The most important thing you can do between now and then is to nourish your idea. Give it space to dream itself bigger and more complete. Talk about it. Write in your journal about it. Discover how much a part of you your topic already is, and revel in your expertise. See you next month!


Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic, a creative companion for poets forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Oregon Literary Review, Cup of Comfort for Writers, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. In 2006, she won first prize in the Ghost Road Press annual poetry contest. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University where she was awarded a New York Times Foundation fellowship. For organizations including Writers on the Rise and Willamette Writers, Sage teaches poetry writing and publishing workshops. Visit Sage at

Writing Classes with Christina Katz


What would six-weeks of consistent effort, surrounded by like-minded others, teach you about your ability to write and get published? Six-week writing classes with Christina Katz begin April 18th. Visit WOTR Classes to learn more about how hundreds of writers have benefited from six weeks of sustained focus and effort. Select from four classes and jump-start your writing career in 2007!

Explore the Unknown: A Journey Into Shanghai’s Wet Markets

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Writing Adventures in Shanghai
Column & Photos By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Remember when you were a little kid? A fearless little moppet who didn’t mind a bit of dirt or a few suspicious shadows lurking in the corners? Back then, you longed for the unknown, and the most exciting thing your folks could say was, “Get on out of here. Go explore something.” Once they did, you were off, scrambling for the dump down at the end the road, your grandma’s attic, or the record store where the teenagers hung out. (Really, your folks were just trying to get you out of their hair for a bit, but who cares? A great idea is a great idea.)


And guess what? Exploring the unknown is still a great idea! Especially for a writer.

Here in Shanghai, I’ve become a bit obsessed with exploring the neighborhood wet markets (permanent farmers’ markets where locals buy all their fresh goods: fruits, rice, veggies, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, spices, peppers, noodles, and so on). They’re gorgeous, grotesque places where giant white radishes are stacked to the ceiling and skinned goats’ heads sit on counters waiting to be purchased. The floors are slick with blood and cornhusks and broken noodles (lesson #1 when exploring a wet market: do not wear open-toed shoes).

What grabs my attention most at a market? It depends. Last weekend, it was the chickens—dozens of live, squawking chickens delivered to the poultry counter in tiny cages on the backs of mopeds and bicycles—and the women behind the counter who killed, cleaned, and chopped up whichever chicken you ordered…right then and there…as you watched.

But that’s not all. Last weekend I snapped photos of the (dead) five-foot-long eels coiled like cobras in the fish section, live turtles (for soup), dried fish skins hanging from the rafters, and much more.

Now it takes some guts to explore these markets. The sights and smells aren’t for the weak-kneed. But they’re perfect for me…writer me. After every visit, I’m brimming with so many ideas that I can’t get to my desk fast enough.

So put on your walking shoes and go explore someplace new! Visit the model railroad museum tucked under the bridge or the park where old folks play chess. Head down that alley near your office that always smells like donuts. Enjoy your exploration, and when you get home, get all your impressions and observations on the page. Make a list, write a journal entry, and then consider what may come next: a query letter, an essay, an article, a poem, a blog entry, or maybe even a book.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

Come Out of the Expertise Closet

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101

By Christina Katz


In January I wrote about why I think it’s a good idea for every writer to develop a non-fiction platform. Last month I wrote about how specializing can help your platform grow faster and higher before you branch out. This month, I am asking you to come out of the expertise closet.

The fact is, most writers don’t know what their expertise is or what kind of expertise they’d like to develop. It’s especially challenging for a writer who has the equivalent of a walk-in closet full of gold bars of expertise, all stacked up nicely and neatly, but wasting away because no one knows about them! A writer who isn’t willing to take the time to uncover a specific direction is definitely missing an opportunity to get nonfiction published on that topic.

A common misunderstanding about expertise is, “Yes, but don’t I have to have a degree or years of study in my field already?” But you don’t need to have anything already, except a desire to dive in deeply and learn and absorb what you need to know. This is how to get from wherever you are to wherever you’d like to be. That’s pretty much what writers have always done: reach for the next ring of knowledge.

Regardless of how much expertise you already have and how much more you need to learn, I recommend choosing a topic that has sustainable passion for you. By this I mean a topic you could stick with for a few years, at least, without getting burned out. Kelly James Enger is a fitness buff and therefore writes about health and fitness. Kelly Huffman puts her theater degree to use writing theater reviews. Many parents, world travelers, and foodies incorporate their familiarity with their subject into their writing. Discovering your sustainable passion can give you a fresh foothold to climb into a writing career you love and one you continue to love to develop. And what writer wouldn’t want that?

Author Sharon Cindrich is a good example of someone who wasn’t afraid to dive into semi-unfamiliar territory. Her experience could happen to any writer.

Sharon is a freelancing mom up in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. A couple of years ago, she had some gold in her closet and was regularly going in there and pulling out a bar or two at a time and using them to write an article about how to make great birthday cupcakes or how to make a smooth transition to middle school or how to navigate the technological jungle when you have kids. In the process of writing and submitting articles, she learned how to do the footwork and get her writing published. She had been working like that for a few years and eventually became a contributor to Family Fun magazine among others but, like many of us, she longed for the challenge of writing a book.

Along came mutual friend and mentor Kelly James Enger, who said, “Hey Sharon, my editor over at Random House says they need someone to write a book on how to parent kids in the technological age. Would you be interested in submitting an idea?”

Sharon submits a detailed outline, initially, on some of the gold in her closet (she’s the mom of two middle-school-age kids and deals with technology issues every day). Then she augments what she already knows with research, interviews, and publishing factoids. She submits it with Kelly’s recommendation and lands a book deal! Then she gets to spend the next year plus writing her brains out on her favorite topics: kids, technology and parenting. Do you think she had a lot to learn in addition to everything she already had in her closet? Heck yeah. But she’s up for it and the result is E-parenting, Keeping up with your Tech-Savvy Kids, a much-needed book destined to help parents everywhere, which will be published in June by Random House.

Sharon’s story leads me to a question for you: What is languishing in your expertise closet? It might be one little gold bar or it might be twenty. It might be a whole closet full of knowledge literally worth its weight in gold. But it isn’t going to do you or anyone else any good stashed away. So what do you say, we take a look in there and see what we can do. More on that topic, next month!

Christina Katz placed her book, Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, 2007) at the 2005 Willamette Writers Conference. To keep current with Christina, her upcoming classes, and her book tour, please subscribe to this online zine (jump to subscribe).

Grow Your Writing Business in 2007

Elizabeth ShortThe Copywriter’s Paycheck
By Elizabeth Short

Now that you’ve surveyed your copywriting horizons, what will you charge?

Getting Started Tip: Take a deep breath—and set your rates
Before you can start earning money as a copywriter, you need to set your rates. How much will you charge—$25 to $30 per hour? If that sounds good, take into account:

1. un-billable hours (the time you spend marketing, keeping the books, etc.)
2. costs of business (utilities, advertising, etc.)
3. self-employment tax

Okay, maybe $40 per hour is more reasonable. But what about the value-added nature of your services, the fact that clients forego a permanent employee by hiring you on-demand to provide a valuable service? Truth is, professional copywriters charge between $50 and $75 per hour (see to cover their costs and pay themselves a deservedly nice wage. If you’re a slower writer (as I am), shave a few hours from your bill and smile.

Copywriting Tip: Be concise
A novel might use 150,000 words to relay its message. A newspaper article might use 1500. Copywriting uses the fewest words possible and leads directly to the marketing message. Why? Let’s face it, people have better things to do than read promotional content—especially if its meaning is buried in long-winded passages. Lure readers in with short sentences composed of simple words, omitting everything that is not strictly necessary. Perhaps the best way to learn concision is in an editing class at your local university or community college where you’ll study the secrets of ruthlessly wielding the red pen.

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 ( Check out her e-book, 7 Steps to Effective Web Content ( to learn the secrets of writing copy for the web.

Seattle Conscious Choice Magazine

Susan W. ClarkGreen Writer Marketplace

By Susan W. Clark

This month’s green magazine is part of Conscious Enlightenment LLC, a family of publications that includes Common Ground, Chicago Conscious Choice, Whole Life Times, Yogamates, and Seattle Conscious Choice.

Formerly called Evergreen Monthly, Seattle Conscious Choice is interested in such subjects as developments in alternative health care, nutrition, ecology, the environment, green businesses and sustainable development, urban planning, spirituality, personal growth, social justice, progressive politics, and renewable energy.

Recent features have covered topics such as: surfers working to protect the coast, how to achieve zero waste, and saying good-bye to junk mail. In their words, they “prefer thoughtful, well-researched articles with an informed and upbeat tone; use a narrative approach in which ‘story-telling’ is emphasized.”

Green writers will find it worth the time to explore the Web sites for all of these publications.


Each magazine in the family has its own identity, but they may run an article in more than one of their publications for one-third of the first sale payment. That’s a potential built-in reprint market.

Article word counts may go as high as 2,000 words. If your idea is selected, your pay (delivered upon publication) can range between $50 and $600. The higher rates go to writers who provide artwork and clean copy. They also offer 50% kill fees for subsequent pieces once you’ve published your first article with them.

Your story idea should be no longer than 300 words, accompanied by a short description of your experience and a few clips or links. If they’re interested in the idea, you’ll get a response in six weeks or less.

This magazine and its family give the eco-writer a bouquet of choices for marketing ideas. Time to make a conscious choice to get that query written.

Contact information:

At Seattle Conscious Choice, Editor Ritzy Ryciak can be e-mailed at although she prefers ‘snail’ mail.

Ritzy Ryciak Editor Seattle Conscious Choice 3600 15th Avenue West
Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98119

(206) 320-7788, editor extension 15


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


The Know-it-all: One Man’s Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs

Cathy BelbenGood Reads For Writers

Reviewed by Cathy Belben

Writer A.J. Jacobs discovers early in his wise and witty journey through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) that “the Britannica is not a book you can skim. This is a book that you have to pay full attention to, like needlepoint or splinter removal…The reading is much, much harder than I expected.”


What happens to someone when they read the EB in its entirety? Jacobs finds that random conversations trigger memories of his new (and sometimes trivial) knowledge; he makes some unexpected discoveries about himself, and he learns about the book—its history and construction, its errors, omissions, prejudices, and peculiarities. In a particularly funny section, he lists his deduction of how something gets an entry into the EB. Getting beheaded generally works, as do winning the Nobel prize, being the mistress of a monarch, and “becoming a liturgical vestment.”

Reading The Know-It-All is not just reading a book about a guy reading a bunch of books. It’s a trip through history, a reminder about just how much there is to know, learn, do, see, and appreciate about the world.

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.

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