Archive for May, 2007

Fast and Fabulous Book Proposal Writing: Part Three


Message from the Managing Editor
Making the Leap from Great Idea to Book Proposal—Part 3
By Sage Cohen

Are you ready to maximize every free minute and every stroke of genius to create a polished, powerful proposal faster than you can say, “I don’t know if I can do it”? Good! Let’s go.

(If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2 of this series, I recommend starting there, so you can approach your proposal-writing starting gate raring to go!)

Create a Writing Schedule
With commitment, focus and preparation, you can write a proposal in a month, in the margins of full-time work. Here are a few tips for making it happen:

  • Choose a month that is realistic for you to commit to making this happen. (How about June?) Set a “due by” deadline, and write it down in permanent marker somewhere where you’ll see it every day.
  • Create a schedule for the month that shows exactly what days and times belong to your proposal-writing process.
  • Vary your work time so you get built-in breaks. For example, you may want to work on your proposal on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights from 7:00-9:00 p.m. You could dedicate two of the four weekends to writing; or you could work on one Saturday, the next Sunday, etc.
  • Plan which proposal section(s) you’ll be writing each week, so you can see the big picture of how it will all get done.
  • Post the schedule in your writing space or wherever you and your family will need to see (and honor) them.
  • Stick to that schedule like your future depends on it—because it does.
  • Ask someone important to you to check in on your progress at regular intervals and hold you to your deadlines. Feeling responsible to someone else can make it easier to honor our commitments to ourselves.

Lead with Your Strengths
A book such as “Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write” by Elizabeth Lyon will lead you through the book proposal research and writing process step by step. You can certainly follow the recommended flow, if it feels right for you. But I think the more important way to begin your book proposal is by writing the section that feels easiest––because the more confident you feel, the more successful you’re going to be. For example, I am experienced in marketing communications, so I started with the marketing plan section of my proposal.

With last month’s homework [link to Part 2] under your belt, you already have some great notes about how your book will be similar to and different from other books on your topic. Therefore, the “About the Competition” section may be one of the easier places for you to start. Or, if you feel that your established platform is your greatest strength, I recommend beginning with the “About the Author” section. With the easiest section accomplished first, the rest of the trudge uphill will seem significantly lighter.

Write Down the Bones
If you’ve read Natalie Goldberg’s books, “Writing Down the Bones” and “Wild Mind,” then you’re familiar with the advantages of free writing. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a quick primer. Free writing is basically unstructured writing, where you put your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write without planning, thinking or stopping for a designated period of time. This can create a kind of writing momentum that allows you to witness your ideas before that big bad editor in your mind ties your hands behind your back with criticism.

Approaching the first draft of your book proposal as a free writing exercise can liberate your creativity by giving you a little distance from any fears or doubts that may limit your performance. Then, once you have your ideas safely captured in writing, you can don your editor cap, and craft it into a masterpiece.

Celebrate Your Success
Writing a proposal is a big deal. Once you’ve crossed the finish line, make sure you take time to reward yourself and your dream team. I got a massage for my typing-sore arms and sent flowers to my cheerleader/editor.

Write a comment here about your proposal-writing success story, and we’ll celebrate with you!

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

Hear the Bellow of Your Creative Beast

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

Sshhh! Do hear that? The bellow of my creative beast? That’s what listening to good writers does to me.

You know what I mean, don’t you?

You go to a conference or a literary festival where a gaggle of writers reads aloud, ponders the universe, asks the big questions, and suddenly…BAM…your head turns on. Ideas crackle and pop like those sparklers you used to light every year on the 4th of July. New pathways open up in your brain. Synapses fire. And without warning, you’re madly curious about subjects you never thought about before: the relationship between population growth and the environment, the protection of Anasazi ruins in New Mexico, a new nonprofit organization that aids orphans in Somalia, a rose growers club that meets right down the street from your house.

Glorious, isn’t it? How the brain works? The kinetic energy of inspiration?

During most of the year here in Shanghai, there are not a lot of opportunities to glean inspiration from writers’ gatherings. There are a few sporadic readings here and there, but for the most part, our connection to the larger writing world is limited to the Internet and books we buy from

But thankfully, for three weekends in March, Shanghai played host to the 2007 Shanghai International Literary Festival. And when I say international, I mean international. Thirty-seven writers from eleven countries gathered to present their work and talk about world issues. There were sessions in English, French, Mandarin, and German. There were playwrights, novelists, non-fiction writers, and poets.

The spectacular line-up included big names we all recognize (Amy Tan, Gore Vidal, Kiran Desai) and wonderful writers with soon-to-be-big names (Mike McCormack, Uzodinma Iweala, Wang Xiaoli, Madhur Jaffrey). All of it was dizzily inspiring, and I was no more than fifteen minutes into Pankaj Mishra’s talk, “The Rise of India,” when I heard the distinct bellow of my creative beast. (I shushed her long enough to get through the session, scribbling in my notebook the whole time.)

Inspiration is like that, you know. Hot, furious, and fleeting. You can’t wait around for it to find you. You have to seek it out. So check your newspaper and local bookstores for listings of upcoming writer events. Go to a conference or a reading, and once you’re there, hunkered down in a nice cushy couch or awkwardly propped on a metal folding chair, keep your notebook open on your lap. When you hear the bellow of your own creative beast, start to write. Let your pen move across the page and take you to the unknown.

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

Join a Networking Group. Now!

Elizabeth ShortThe Copywriter’s Paycheck

By Elizabeth Short

With the basics under your belt—a brochure, 30-second elevator speech and established rates—you’re ready to network.

Getting Started Tip #5: Join a networking group. Now!
For many entrepreneurs, a networking group—a group of business owners who meet regularly (usually for breakfast or lunch) and cultivate “leads” for each other—is the best tool for gaining new clients. A real estate agent will make referrals to the group’s mortgage broker, for example, while a graphic designer might pass leads to the resident copywriter. Networking groups come in all varieties, from large chambers of commerce at one extreme to small organizations that hand-pick members (usually one per profession to avoid competition) and emphasize personal referrals. Benefits of a networking group include more clients and the chance to become fluent in discussing your business. To find a group in your area, check out your local chamber of commerce in addition to resources like and

Copywriting Tip #5: Use “you” statements
Have you ever perused a brochure or Web site and gotten the eerie feeling that you’ve suddenly become invisible? If so, it’s probably because the copy doesn’t mention you at all. For example: I provide great pricing on massage and other bodywork. My main services are deep tissue and hot stone treatments. While “I” statements are recommended by therapists for navigating delicate personal conversations (I feel like my needs are ignored in this relationship), in marketing it’s all about you, baby! Try this revision for the copy above: You’ll enjoy massage and other bodywork at prices you can afford. Schedule your deep tissue or hot stone treatment by calling… Ah, there you are!

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.

“Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say by Judith Martin

Cathy BelbenGood Reads for Writers
Reviewed By Cathy Belben

Judith Martin’s etiquette advice, laid out in chunky chapters, might be a very dry read. But “Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say,” is formatted as quippy personal questions and answers. Her guidance assumes a conversational tone; it becomes a dialogue that’s easy to follow, and thanks to Martin’s tangy sense of informed propriety, a laugh-aloud eavesdrop.

The question-and-answer format is a fantastic choice for both readers and writers; and a skilled presentation like Martin’s can be not only informative, but entertaining. Because they aren’t dependent on maintaining continuity, question-and-answer books are perfect for readers with limited time. For me, this means I can spend months reading through a number of different Q & A books without having to hang onto characters’ identities or plotlines. I can pick up any number of books like Martin’s during a spare moment and enjoy an easily digestible segment.

Writers will appreciate Martin’s approach to a relatively serious topic—her answers to etiquette queries regarding everything from child-rearing to office romance are sensible, succinct, but most importantly, they combine good sense with humor. Any writer approaching a serious and potentially dry topic will benefit from reading and considering both Martin’s tone and format for a creative alternative to standard prose.

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.

The Green Writer on Sierra Magazine

Susan W. ClarkBy Susan W. Clark

This month’s green market beckons with huge readership and very good pay rates. Sierra is published bi-monthly by Sierra Club and reaches 1.4 million readers. To quote from their guidelines, “We are looking for fine writing that will provoke, entertain, and enlighten this readership…Sierra is looking for strong, well-researched, literate writing on significant environmental and conservation issues.”

I’m pleased to note that women fill over half of their top editorial positions and that their guidelines show a moderate openness to new freelancers. Sierra’s content is 70 percent freelance written, but they do have a preference for working with writers they’ve used before. The good news is that once you send them a piece they like, you’ll have the inside track for more.

The magazine’s subtitle, “Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet,” gives clues to topics, style and tone that might attract the editor’s attention. The connection with Sierra Club means that you can seek out people and topics through your local Sierra Club chapter.

See if this freelance example from Sierra makes your creative juices surge. In a recent issue, the Green Cuisine department splashed the writing and photos of two freelancers across six pages. Their topic was food security and local gardens.

Departments include “The Green Life,” which showcases an upbeat take on green living, and “One Small Step,” which features first-person accounts of ordinary folks doing extraordinary things. These are both recommended spots for first-time freelancers.

The pay starts around $1 per word and Sierra pays on acceptance, which earns high marks. Please note they do not want e-mail queries or phone calls, and be prepared to wait a couple of months for a response to your paper and envelope query. Remember to enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) for that “yes, we want it” response.

Here’s the contact information:

Managing Editor, Sierra Magazine
85 Second Street, Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105-3441
Voice (415) 977-5656
Fax (415) 977-5794

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 (May)

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

Summer will be sizzling with writer events across the country and around the world. A few of our favorites:

Paris Writers’ Workshop
July 1 – 6, 2007

Meet your muse in Paris for this annual weeklong event that’s more writer retreat than industry meet and greet. Each participant chooses one workshop section — Literary, Non-fiction, Novel, Poetry or Short Fiction — which meets for a total of 15 classroom hours. Taught by an author specializing in the topic, each section is limited to 12 writers for plenty of one-on-one guidance. Afternoons are devoted to lectures, walking tours, readings and other literary events. Organized for the English-speaking community, this conference selects attendees based on manuscript submission. If you’d like to be considered, visit

Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA)
July 26 – 29, 2007

More than the charms of the Pacific Northwest await you in Seattle this July when authors, editors, agents and writers flock to the 52nd annual PNWA conference. Learn from non-fiction and fiction workshops including The Power of Point of View, The Fire in Fiction, Writing the Personal into Non-fiction and Crafting the Non-fiction Book Proposal. Manuscript critiques, faculty consultations and writing sessions will boost the inspiration factor.

It’s also a great opportunity to pick up books from your favorite authors, including Writers on the Rise’s own Christina Katz who will be signing copies of her new book, Writer Mama! Plus, you’ll get two agent appointments if you’re among the first 150 attendees to register.

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI)
August 3-6

Have a great children’s book idea? Want to expand your writing repertoire and potential markets? Then Los Angeles is the place to be in early August. The annual summer SCBWI conference brings together top professionals in the children’s book industry to share their knowledge and expertise with you. Featured topics include Writing Young Adult Novels, Translating Children’s Literature into Film and TV, How to Collaborate and Stay Friends, and Illustrating for Multimedia and Games. The three-day event also offers plenty of networking opportunities — ideal for both veterans and those just entering the world of children’s book writing and illustrating. Complete summer conference details will be online at in mid-May.

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

Ready, Set, Get Online!

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101
By Christina Katz

The Internet is a boon to your writing career, offering an infinite blank billboard upon which to shout your message from the metaphorical rooftops. But many writers balk at the prospect of developing an online presence. Some feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Internet vehicles like Web sites, blogs, forums, chat rooms, and electronic zines, just to mention a few. Others shy away from electronic innovations that pop up daily like YouTube, MySpace, podcasting, and goodness-knows-what’s-coming-next. How’s a busy writer to keep up?

Getting your name known online a little bit every day really adds up over the course of a year. You can get your name out there using both new and tried-and-true methods that anyone can master after only an hour or two of time invested. If you can dedicate fifteen minutes to a half hour a day to online platform development, you will be truly amazed at the trail of “online shingles” you’ll leave behind. Try a gradual approach and watch your influence and reputation ripple out across the ether over time.

And remember to have fun getting known, as we discussed last month. Internet vehicles are neutral. It’s the intention behind the expertise you offer—your sincerity, authenticity, and integrity that make the biggest impact. When you bring your unique personality, flair and mission to the virtual playing field, that’s what folks are going to remember.

When you begin with the easiest-to-build Internet vehicles and progress to more complex vehicles as you go, you will learn quickly and be able to apply what you learn from one experience to the next. Jump in and try these tools! I bet you’ll find yourself enjoying the process in no time.

Build a Squidoo Lens
Go to and register to build a Squidoo “lens.” You can’t learn to swim without getting in the water and this is especially true for “Squids” (a name for Squidoo members). At Squidoo you can build what is called a “lens,” which is one page of information about the topic of your expertise. As you go along your merry lens-building way, you can add cool stuff like photos, text blocks, polls, Amazon recommendations, café press products, links, Google Maps, iTunes, and even eBay modules (that’s how you build a lens, with “modules”). Squidoo is not only free; your lens can actually make a little money for you and a good cause of your choice. Check out my Squidoo page as an example: and soon, you’ll be swimming with the Squids.

Claim Your Space
Go to Don’t think of a laundry list of reasons why you don’t want to be on MySpace. It’s for everyone these days, not just teenagers. For example, visit my “Writer Mama” page at Also see my publisher’s page at See? Everyone else is doing it. Just be sure to put your professional face forward, otherwise you might be mistaken for someone who is there to hook up. Also MySpace may have some questionable copyright rules, so don’t put all of your best writing up there. It’s simply another billboard for the topic of your expertise and a great way to make lots of “friends” (you befriend them and they befriend you), whom you probably wouldn’t otherwise meet.

Start Blogging
I recommend for new bloggers because it has nice templates, many of which are customizable, and––best of all––allow you to categorize (tag) your blogs easily as you post. Compared to other blogging platforms, this makes the tagging process a relative joy. When you utilize tags in your blog, search engines like Google can find you that much more easily, which means folks searching for your topic on the Web can find you within twenty-four hours. And with WordPress, you can start blogging and probably blog for quite a while free, since payments are based on how much memory your blog uses. Here’s my wordpress blog: Also check out the Writer’s Digest Editor’s blog, which is a good example of a blog that feels more like a Web site:

Attract an Audience Through an E-zine
There are many e-zine communities that invite you to join, create, and send your own customized zine in either text or html formats. Though some of the old text formats used to be fine, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that when you are ready to launch an e-zine on your topic, it’s worth going with html format, which includes images. For example, by using a blog and an e-zine together, you’d hardly have a reason to have a Web site at all. This is good news, because most nice-looking Web sites are either labor-intensive or expensive to hire out. When you are ready to splurge for an html format newsletter, check out Constant Contact ( Their online control panels are easy to use and they offer a free sixty-day trial. Willamette Writers uses Constant Contact for their announcements and now I use them for both of my zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama.

Use e-mail signatures like mini-press releases
E-mail signatures are a few lines that appear at the end of e-mails you send out. You can usually set them under the “Preferences” panel of your mail software. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to update them frequently, say once a month, in order to keep them brief while highlighting the most newsworthy things you have going on at any time. For example, I usually mention my upcoming classes, appearances, and a testimonial or two about Writer Mama in mine. I also typically list the link to Writers on the Rise, my blog, and whichever of my sites I am promoting most.

Try not to get distracted by the latest technological advances. A good place to keep tabs on what’s new is Suzanne Falter Barnes’ blog, Painless Self-Promotion ( But don’t feel like you have to jump right on the latest online tools bandwagon just because everyone else is doing it. Give Web innovations some time to get the bugs out—usually a month or two—before you try the latest-greatest online gadgets.

Off you go, now! Have fun playing online.

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007).  She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at

An Interview with Lilly Ghahremani of Full Circle Literary

Lilly GhahremaniIn the Spotlight: Agent & Editor Insights for Getting Published
By Cindy Hudson

Many authors count on literary agents to sell their books to publishers so they can be sure they’re getting the best offer possible for their writing. But if you’re unfamiliar with the world of literary agencies, finding someone to represent you can be an overwhelming process that delays the publication of your work.

Recently I talked with Lilly Ghahremani, co-founder of San Diego-based Full Circle Literary, about what agents are looking for when choosing authors to represent, how a writer can select an agent who’s right for her, and what writers can expect an agency to do for them.

Since launching FCL with Stefanie Von Borstel in 2004, Lilly has represented authors of cookbooks, craft books, parenting, pop culture and lifestyle books as well as multi-cultural children’s picture books. Here’s what she has to say:

What do you look for in a book proposal?
I skim through the overview, but what I really need to know is what makes this person the perfect author to write the book. I am definitely guilty of flipping to the author’s section and starting there. I want to know who’s writing this proposal and what their inspiration is for it.

Are you talking about platform?
Yes, although I believe that word makes authors nervous. Platform is not just about academic credentials. It can largely be self-made, especially in the age of the Internet. You don’t necessarily need to be the biggest person in your field writing about a topic, but you need to have an authentic and unique take on a topic. Publishers aren’t looking to start a wave of publicity for you; they’re looking to ride a wave that you’ve already started.

If an author already has a publisher interested in her book, is there still an advantage for her to work with an agent?
I’m so glad you asked me this. Ideally an agent will do a lot more than just get a book deal. That’s a large part of what we do, but it is not the reason we earn our commission or earn the right to be part of an author’s writing career. An agent’s job is to negotiate the business side of the relationship, which gives the author freedom to deal with the publishing house on a purely creative basis. An agency can oversee what’s going on with publicity and marketing and smooth out any bumps in the road. It can help authors keep on top of deadlines and manuscript editing. We also give advice on how to build a platform. It’s almost like having a life coach.

How long do authors typically work with their agents on book projects?
Authors should count on working with their agents for at least a year, probably longer. Generally, I don’t send things right out the door, because I have the author edit some first, which takes a month or two. From the time a book gets pitched to a publisher, on average it takes about two months to find a good home. Then there’s the contract process, and books usually don’t publish until a year after signing. So the cycle may be a year and a half from the time an author comes to us until her book comes out in print.

How does an author decide which agent is best for her?
Look at other authors an agency has represented. Chances are if an agency had success placing a certain type of project it means they’re savvy on that angle of the market. And I always tell authors, “Pick someone you really like.” You’ve got to choose someone you feel confident can speak for you so you can get back to work, because the bottom line is, the agent’s words go into the editor’s ears, not yours. Finding the perfect fit is worth the wait.

Do you see an advantage to working with a smaller agency over a larger one?
I absolutely do. The amount of personal attention an author gets from a smaller agency is extraordinary. Generally, with a smaller or younger agency you’ve got agents who are thirsty for success, and they’re going to put in extra hours for you. My clients sometimes get e-mails from me at two in the morning. That’s because I’m still making my name in this industry, and they are reaping the benefits of that.

How do clients approach you?
We attend a lot of writer’s conferences, and many authors approach us at those. Happy clients refer other people to us, which means our list has grown very aggressively. We also welcome e-queries. Authors often need a quick answer as to whether something they have would be a fit for us and e-queries can do that quickly.

Note: Queries to Full Circle Literary should be sent to or for children’s, middle reader and young adult projects. Before submitting, check out the submission guidelines at

Cindy Hudson

Cindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her Web site,, 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

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  • This Blog Moving to as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
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May 2007

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