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

The Secret Language of Editors: “Lead Time”

Abigail GreenFreelancers’ Phrase Book

By Abigail Green

Who, besides Santa and seriously organized people, starts thinking about Christmas in July? Freelance writers. That’s because they know if they have any hope of selling a holiday-themed article, they’d better keep the magazine’s editorial calendar in mind.

Most magazines decide on their editorial line-up months or even a year or more in advance. How far ahead they work is called “lead time.” A magazine’s lead time is usually spelled out in the writers’ guidelines, and it varies greatly from publication to publication. For instance, Yankee magazine requests that seasonal topics be pitched one year in advance so photos can be arranged. The Christian Science Monitor, on the other hand, will sometimes publish a timely article the week it’s submitted.

This means that for most publications, you can’t send out a timely piece a month or even two months beforehand and hope the editor will find a slot for it. By then it’s too late–unless you’re submitting to newspapers or you’re pitching a magazine for next year. But even then, it helps to consider a publication’s lead time.

Some magazines make their editorial calendars available to writers. Hint: On a magazine’s Web site, if you can’t find the editorial calendar in the writers’ guidelines, look in the “For Advertisers” section. You might learn, for example, that a special vacation issue is planned for June and that the deadline for editorial copy is in March. Then you can fire off your “Teen Travel Tips” article at the end of February and have plenty of time to follow up with the editor. Sending the right idea–at the right time– just might make the difference between selling your story or not.

Abigail Green ( is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 10 years, she has written about health, travel, weddings, business, education and more for national, regional and online publications including AOL, AAA World, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. Her latest project is raising her first child, which she chronicles in her blog:

The Faces Behind a Writing Conference

Mary AndonianWriting Conference Success
By Mary Andonian

We’ve talked about all the people you’ll meet at a writers’ conference, including agents, editors, presenters, and manuscript critique specialists. Here are other folks you won’t want to miss the next time you attend a conference:

At the conference to share their expertise and to promote their work, authors can typically be found either signing books, teaching/presenting, or critiquing. Look for the ones who are in between activities, make an introduction, and then ask them about their journey to success. Listen to their feedback and count yourself lucky that you get this personal workshop that wasn’t listed in the brochure.


This is you. Find others whose company you enjoy and stick with them at the conference. You might already be part of a critique/networking group. If so, encourage your peers to attend the conference with you. You’ll feel more confident walking into a pitch if the last person you see is your writing bud giving you the “thumbs up” sign. If you go alone to the conference, make friends by approaching the people who asked good questions in your workshops. They just might become your future “thumbs up” writing buds.

Conference Committee
These are the people who labor away all year to make the conference a reality. Look for an opportunity to help them. Do you have a skill set they can use on next year’s committee? Is it your secret desire to make copies of handouts at 3:00 a.m.? The committee can use you. Find a way to meet them and offer your services. Not because you want to sell conferences for a living, but because it will help give you an insider’s perspective to the writing conference realm.

Action Steps this Month
1. Target a writing conference you’d like to attend. Contact the conference committee and ask if any volunteer positions are available before, during or after the conference.
2. Encourage your writerly friends to register with you.
3. Scan the brochure and find authors you’d like to know. E-mail one of them and ask if you can buy them a cup of coffee and “pick their brain” at the conference.

Attitude Is Everything
Don’t go into the conference with an attitude of “What’s in it for me?” Instead, think of every interaction with every person as an opportunity to be of service. Your successful writing career will be the result of many people working together to bring your words into the world. Someone’s counting on you to help them do the same.

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.  Her book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth, was picked up by a prominent agent at last year’s conference. You can reach her at (

Milk Your Expertise

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101
By Christina Katz

If you’ve been reading this column, you will not be surprised when I say that developing your platform can be a labor of love. In fact, developing your platform can almost feel like play. As ice cream entrepreneurs Ben and Jerry said, “If it’s not fun, why do it?”

I definitely second that emotion. Why? Because your audience can feel where you are coming from, so why not come from somewhere positive that adds more good to the world? If you choose a sustainable passion and act with gradually increasing momentum, your audience will feel like they are participating in something special and unique. But if you just “get a platform” because you intellectually know that you should, you may as well not even bother.

Did you know that before they were world-famous, Ben & Jerry started off selling ice cream cones in a converted gas station in Vermont, of all places? If they can build the kind of brand recognition and feel-good reputation they did, then I’m thinking that you and I should have a decent shot at identifying and delivering our expertise in a similarly serious yet lighthearted manner. No matter what your topic is, as long as there is a demand for it (even if your “demand” is as fleeting as a hot summer day in Vermont, and there aren’t too many of these every year), you can carve out a niche that will support your platform and help you reach potential readers.

So how can you test-drive this platform fun? Just rev your sustainable passion engines, identify the needs of your audience and begin filling those needs with what you already have. That’s an easy way to start. And then you can let your efforts evolve from there.

I’m going to list some platform-builders here. Don’t take any of them too seriously. Put a check beside every endeavor that sounds fun:

__ Public speaking
__ Manuscript evaluation
__ Teaching
__ Editing
__ Consulting
__ Copywriting
__ Co-authoring
__ Ghostwriting
__ Self-publishing

Here are a few examples from Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writers Digest Books, 2007):

Kelly James-Enger gives presentations on writing and fitness topics at colleges, libraries, and conferences. In addition to a successful writing career that has resulted in four non-fiction books and two fiction books, Kelly is a certified personal trainer and has been published in over fifty national magazines. (

Manuscript evaluation: Elizabeth Lyon offers editing services and manuscript evaluation as part of her platform. She runs Editing International, which offers ser-vices including editing, coaching, group instruction, outsourcing, and writing, pro-vided by herself and her associate editors. Elizabeth has written five non-fiction books and presents at writers conferences around the country. (

Teaching workshops or classes: You can teach classes independently, through an institution or organization or online. I teach e-mail classes through my Web site Writers on the Rise. I’ve taught adults live at a community college and indepen-dently via e-mail, each for three years. Last year, I branched out into conference presentations and speaking. This is my first book. (

Editing (freelance, contract basis, or as employee): Wendy Burt offers freelance editing to custom magazines along with her writing. The two services complement each other, so clients can hire Wendy to both generate content and manage it as well. Wendy’s experience as an author of two books has led her to edit books for other authors and to counsel authors on everything from book proposals to agents and foreign rights. Since she is used to soliciting work as a freelancer, she doesn’t maintain a Web site. She pitches her editing/writing services instead.

Consulting in your area of expertise: Jennifer Louden, the comfort expert, offers consulting services to companies like Proctor & Gamble, Johnny Rockets, and Spandex Fiber. She has also worked with associations like the National Council of the State Boards of Nursing. She has appeared on the Oprah Show, CNN, and CNBC and is the author of six books. (

Copywriting for businesses: In addition to writing for national magazines and teaching a writing class via e-mail, Linda Formichelli offers copywriting services to corporations. She’s penned brochures, newsletters, press releases, ad copy, radio scripts, and slogans for companies around the country. (

Co-authoring/Ghostwriting: Jenna Glatzer offers ghostwriting (writing for another person) and co-writing (working with another author) services. She’s written three non-fiction books for writers and one children’s book of her own. She has ghostwritten/co-authored five additional books (which sometimes carry “With Jenna Glatzer” and sometimes don’t carry her name at all). (

Self-Publishing (newsletters, e-books, and self-published books): C. Hope Clark publishes four newsletters for writers (paid and free). She has also published eleven e-books to help writers find funds and a self-published book, The Shy Writer. She also offers online chat sessions and writing contests for writers. (

But how are you going to get started? By starting small, that’s how. If you want to teach, write up a class synopsis and contact your local community college. If you want to consult, take a working consultant out for coffee and do an informational interview. Not sure if you’d like copywriting? Visit someone’s business writing site and check out the samples. Think you could have fun doing any of these things? Then why not try?

Once you’ve determined the direction or directions you would like to move in, simply take one step a day until you’re doing it. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can go from conception to manifestation when you have the energy of enthusiasm behind your intention. And once you get started, remind yourself to have fun, have fun, have fun!

Because if it’s not fun, why do it?

Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids teaches, speaks, coaches, and inspires writers to new career heights. She is publisher and editor of two e-mail newsletters, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. Christina strives to balance her roles as a wife, mother, and multiple pet-owner with her calling as a writer and writing career synergizer. She cherishes the reflective moments cultivated in the corners of an otherwise busy life, preferably with a cup of tea, pen and pad of paper handy.

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April 2007

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