Archive for April, 2007

Want to Write About Writer Mama?

Writer MamaWant to feature Christina Katz, Writer Mama, Writers on the Rise, or The Writer Mama in an article you are working on or pitching?

If so, I’ve made your job easy by updating The Writer Mama website and adding a media page.

You’ll find out how to order a “review copy,” read the latest Writer Mama press releases, and find a list of Frequently Asked Questions. Help yourself to an author photo and cover image. And sample chapters, if you need them.

Also on The Writer Mama Web site, you’ll find what others say about WM, the story of how WM came to be, and, coming soon, tips for how to meet like-minded writer moms in your community.

You may also wish to visit The Writer Mama Riffs blog and check out upcoming events and buzz there.

Fast and Fabulous Book Proposal Writing: Part Two

sage.gifMessage from the Managing Editor

Making the Leap from Great Idea to Book Proposal Part 2: Know Thy Competition
By Sage Cohen

Last month we laid the groundwork for your book proposal with the thinking, dreaming, reading and team-building that could take you to the starting gate. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll have three key accomplishments under your belt:

  • You’re clear about your book concept: what it’s about, whom it’s for, why it matters today and why you’re the best person to share it with the world.
  • You have read a how-to-write-a-book-proposal book such as Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write by Elizabeth Lyon.
  • You have created a dream team to support you in your proposal development process.

Great work! Now you’re ready to venture into the realm of competitive research.

Knowing how you measure up to what’s out there before you start writing your proposal is a critical step in clarifying your unique niche. This can also help ensure that you are not reinventing a wheel that’s already on the bookshelf! Before you even start thinking about putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I recommend spending some time in bookstores–in your community and online–to take a good, long look at what’s out there on your topic. Take detailed notes while you’re at it. This will inform the “About the Competition” section a little later.

Let’s say your topic is dog training. What do you have to offer that Cesar Milan hasn’t covered? How is your audience different than his? (Maybe you’re targeting single, urban women.) How is your approach different than his? (Maybe you’ve found that women exhibit pack leadership in a unique way that requires a different set of skills, which you’re teaching.) See where I’m going with this? When you know the range of books that exist on your topic already and how your idea is similar and different, you’ll be able to contextualize where your project might fit in today’s book market.

A note of warning: In my experience, it’s easy to get intimidated during this phase of the game. Looking at a published book on the shelf, you can jump to the conclusion that your topic has already been covered exhaustively by someone far more impressive than you are. However, chances are good that you offer an angle or approach that is uniquely your own. And the truth is that the author whose book you’re holding was once in your situation, most likely just as unsure as you are. I recommend that you suspend any disbelief about your own place in the hallowed halls of authorship and instead focus on letting all of your great ideas flow.

Once you’ve confirmed that you have a valid concept that offers something new to the conversation in your field of expertise, it’s time to write that book proposal! In the next installment, we’ll discuss how to maximize every free minute and every stroke of genius to create a polished, powerful proposal in just one 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

Learning to Speak Chinese

Kristin Bair O’KeeffeWriting Adventures in Shanghai

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Never in my life did I think I would be learning to speak Chinese. Italian? Maybe. French? Perhaps. German? Doubtful, but not beyond the realm of possibility.

Mandarin? No way.

First of all, I never thought I’d end up living in China. And second, Mandarin is a hell of a tough language…one so fundamentally different from the Indo-European languages with which we Westerners are comfortable, that the only way to take it in is to toss out our preconceived notions about language and open up to new possibilities. (Perfect mindset for a writer, huh?)

shanghai_lit-fest-2007_empt.gifAs you may know, Mandarin does not have an alphabet. Instead it has characters (thousands and thousands of characters). It is also a tonal language, and each spoken word has one of four tones: 1) up, 2) down, 3) up-down, or 4) flat. Each tonal pronunciation has a different meaning.

So…for example, ma (up tone) means hemp; ma (down tone) means either curse or swear; ma (up-down tone) means either yard or horse; and ma (flat tone) means either mom or wipe. (Of course, ma without any tonal marking at all is an indictor of a question…but let’s not go there.)

Got all that?

In addition, the order of the parts of speech in a sentence is very different than in English (time references, for example, come between the subject and the verb) AND prepositions are not always used. (If translated into English, a sentence might go something like this: I Sunday go store.)


But despite the challenges, I am living in China and learning to speak Mandarin. In addition to gaining the ability to chat with shopkeepers, maintenance folks, and new friends, my quest to speak Chinese has given me a lot to think about. And once I start thinking, it’s inevitable…I start writing.

So what about you? What class or group can you join that might first lead you to opening your mind in new ways and then lead you to a new writing project?

How about that knitting circle on Wednesday nights? Or golf lessons at the new course? Either could develop into a great profile or interview for your local paper.

Feeling adventurous? How about that belly-dancing class all the women at the gym are crowing about? It’s a sure sell…for you and for the editor at the right magazine who is just waiting for your article to land on her desk: “Shake It Up: Belly Dance Your Way to a Happier Sex Life.”

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

Getting Started Tip #3: Craft your 30-second copywriter’s pitch

Elizabeth ShortThe Copywriter’s Paycheck
By Elizabeth Short

By this installment, you’re ready for business. Here’s one way to get it.

A copywriter walks into an elevator and her fellow passenger asks: So, what do you do? Nope, it’s not the beginning of a bad joke. It’s your future. During your career (in an elevator, at a meeting, in the check-out line), you’ll have many opportunities to pitch your services. Instead of fumbling for words (bad news for a copywriter), roll out your “30-second elevator speech”—a brief summary of your business. For example: I create marketing materials like brochures and Web sites for small businesses. My niche is supplying both the copy and the design, which simplifies projects and makes them more affordable.

For best results, I recommend that you:
1. Speak conversationally
2. Identify your market
3. Highlight the benefitsyou offer

Your speech may feel awkward at first, but with practice your confidence will increase—along with your ability to win new clients.

Copywriting Tip: Send a message
Subtle. Mysterious. Tentative. These adjectives generally do not describe good marketing copy. Instead, effective copy has an overt message and makes no bones about announcing it—loud and clear. Before you write your next piece of copy, pinpoint your client’s basic message. For example: Hot Dog, a purveyor of hand-knit pet sweaters, offers products to keep your dog warm as well as fashionable. Cover key points multiple times (hand-knit, warm, fashionable) in multiple ways throughout your copy. Worried about overloading your reader? Don’t be. Chances are, she or he will need to experience the message more than once before it sinks in.

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.

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder By Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman

Cathy BelbenGood Reads for Writers
Reviewed By Cathy Belben

If your desk is a mess and you find yourself wasting valuable writing time trying to tidy up, you’ll be relieved to know that help is in sight–and not in the form of a multi-hundred-dollar organizational system. In , authors Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman tout the overlooked positive side of messes and messiness. Citing examples of our culture’s expensive and often inefficient obsession with organization, the authors claim that there’s often more to be gained from systems and situations that are less orderly.

If you’ve ever berated yourself for having a sloppy workstation or for working on twenty different pieces of writing at a time, fear not. While a certain amount of focus is necessary, these authors want readers to look at the possible advantages of living outside the box (or the file folder, calendar or Palm Pilot). Letting go of rigid routines can allow people to think more freely, adapt to change with more flexibility, and often, come up with ideas that they might not otherwise have developed. Even writers, who are often thought of as being creative, get stuck in ruts. And who would have thought that the solution might not be getting more organized, but getting more messy?

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.

Aim For the Stars at Orion

Susan W. ClarkGreen Writer Marketplace

By Susan W. Clark

Since Orion Magazine was launched in 1982 it has been, according to the Web site, “…a forum for thoughtful and creative ideas and practical examples of how we might live justly, wisely, and artfully on Earth.” This magazine is an ideal fit for green writers.

Each issue glows with artwork, including a portfolio of “…powerful visual images that blur the boundaries between the human and the natural…” The layouts are generous with white space, and include a lavish selection of full-color photographs. But–and here’s the surprise–this publication is ad-free. Yes, no advertising.

Orion Magazine reinvented itself in January of 2003, dropping a theme-focused special section and becoming a bi-monthly blend of the former Orion and Orion Afield. The most recent issue, as I write this, includes work by Wendell Berry, James Howard Kunstler and Barry Lopez. Don’t let the big names deter you. According to the Web site the magazine regularly works with new voices as well.

The magazine’s publisher is The Orion Society, a non-profit organization that hosts workshops, sells books and takes environmental concern into the world with hands-on projects. This organization also pays its contributors fairly well, offering from $400 to $1,000 for features, with department pieces paying up to $300.

The Sacred and Mundane (S&M) and Groundswell sections are recommended for writers new to Orion, with the former paying from $25 to $50 for 200 to 600 words. Only completed manuscripts are reviewed for S&M. Groundswell pieces can run from 1,500 to 4,500 words focused on groundbreaking contributors to social and environmental change.

Please note that while e-mail queries are accepted, articles cannot be sent electronically. Be prepared to wait four to six months for a response and, as always, be sure to study the publication before submitting a query. Orion’s Editorial Guidelines are available online under “About Orion Magazine” at the Web site ( Orion is clear about not wanting phone calls, so please honor this request. We owe it to ourselves as writers to present editors with work that shows we’ve respected their time and their preferences.

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 Conference Confab (April)

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

Santa Barbara Writers Conference
June 22-29, 2007

Rub elbows with the literati in Santa Barbara this June. The line-up for the Santa Barbara Writers Conference (SBWC) includes Ray Bradbury, Gregory Maguire (Wicked and Son of a Witch), Carolyn See (There Will Never Be Another You), Gail Tsukiyama (Women of the Silk), Jewell Parker Rhodes, and National Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. And that’s not all. There are 30 different instructional workshops each day; a day devoted to agents and editors (for an additional fee, you can sign up to pitch a project); and three late-night, in-depth critiquing workshops. All this plus beautiful Santa Barbara weather and the luxurious DoubleTree Resort will provide endless inspiration to get your creative juices flowing.

Jackson Hole Writers Conference
June 28-July 1, 2007

Nestled against the Grand Teton Mountains in northwestern Wyoming, Jackson Hole was once a rendezvous site for fur-traders. On June 28, it becomes the gathering place for writers, authors, agents and editors at the 15th annual Jackson Hole Writers Conference. The conference features workshops led by novelists, non-fiction writers, agents, editors, and publishers––all of who are focused on helping writers get published. Three manuscript critiques are included in your registration, plus you can take advantage of special tracks on young adult fiction, travel and outdoor writing, and teaching writing. Best-selling author of Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell will share his unique perspective on writing. Whatever your emphasis, you will learn the nuts and bolts of the writing profession, from cultivating ideas to making the sale.

There’s Still Time – BookExpo America

Looking for something to do in early June? Head to New York for BookExpo America. This event was featured in our last issue but, since we know you won’t want to miss out, we’re providing the key details again. Find out about the May 30 Writers Conference and get the full BookExpo scoop at

Pair your vacation with a conference!
August will bring several great conference choices that also make ideal vacation destinations. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s coming up, so you can plan ahead:

August 3-5, 2007: Willamette Writers, Portland, OR

August 23-26, 2007: Yosemite Writers Conference, Yosemite, CA

August 26-September 3, 2007: Maui Writers Retreat (8/26-8/31) and Conference (8/31-9/3), Maui, HI

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

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