Archive for December, 2007

Writing Adventures in Shanghai: Writing About Food: Stinky Tofu Sells

Kristin Bair O’KeeffeBy Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote “Ode to Salt,” “Ode to Onion,” and “Ode to Tomatoes.” Roald Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Dr. Seuss made breakfast fare famous with Green Eggs and Ham. E. J. Levy’s essay, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” made it into the 2005 edition of The Best American Essays, and in the May 2007 issue of Women’s Health magazine, Monica Gullon wrote about the glory of sprouts and Vietnamese spring rolls. By the time you finish reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s current bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, you’ll be more than ready to move to Italy and dive headfirst into a bowl of fresh pasta.

Or…like all of these writers, you’ll be ready to write about food. And why not? We humans are compelled by it. We love to eat it, talk about it, cook it, grow it, watch TV shows about it, and read about it. Food is a universal necessity that crosses the boundaries of race, class, religion, and country. Food makes us feel. It conjures up memories and connects us to one another. And yes, as is evidenced by the list above, it inspires great writing. No matter what you write—poetry, children’s books, literary essays, magazine articles, or books—food sells.

“But,” you stutter, “I’m not a chef. Hell, I don’t know the difference between rosemary and thyme.”

“Bah!” I say. “You don’t need to. Remember the time you accidentally baked the tuna casserole with plastic wrap still on it? Write about it. Remember the time your dog crawled onto the dining room table and ate an entire batch of chocolate drop cookies (and survived)? Write about it. Remember that perfect crème brulée you shared at that gorgeous restaurant in New York City during a blizzard with your husband on your first anniversary? Write about it.”

The truth is, we’re all passionate about food, be it burgers or osso bucco. Here in Shanghai, I’m obsessed with stinky tofu…a block of tofu soaked in a fermented brine for a really long time. I’m not obsessed with eating it, mind you. I haven’t dared to venture that far yet (and doubt I ever will). But every time I’m slapped by its horrific odor when I’m walking down the street, I wonder; and when something makes me wonder more than once, I know I need to write about it.

Eventually I’ll write about the first time I smelled stinky tofu during the 2006 May week-long festival at the Longhua Temple, and about the fact that the odor is worse than the stench of the most rancid baby poop, and about the fact that street stalls that sell it have actually been fined for breaking air pollution laws, and about the fact that last year on an airplane, a man’s bag of stinky tofu tore open and the majority of people on the plane, overcome by the odor, puked for the rest of the trip. Perhaps by writing about it, I’ll figure out why so many people in China love it so.

So put your fork down and set your chopsticks aside. Choose your dish, pick up your pen, and start writing.

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

The Copywriter’s Paycheck: Develop a Copywriting Niche

Elizabeth ShortBy Elizabeth Short

Having fun writing copy for a variety of industries? Or does switching from massage therapy to diesel mechanics to dairy farming make you dizzy? Either way, read on to learn why specializing is a good idea.

Getting Started Tip #9: Develop a copywriting niche
Doctors do it. Lawyers do it. Chefs do it. So do scientists, college professors and fashion designers. In fact, it’s hard to think of a profession that doesn’t, to some degree, involve cultivating a niche. Professionals often create a niche for themselves out of a particular love or affinity for some aspect of their work.

Greater marketability is one bonus that comes with the territory. Just as parents turn to a pediatrician when seeking medical care for their children, chiropractors will find a natural fit with copywriters who specialize in writing about chiropractic care. Another bonus? Higher income. By becoming a whiz at writing for a particular industry, you complete jobs more quickly—allowing you to make more per hour as well as take on additional projects.

Cultivating a copywriting niche often happens organically. You find an industry you enjoy writing about, land a few jobs and develop a widening network of referrals. If this hasn’t happened for you yet, market your services directly with a targeted letter, brochure or Web site. Maybe, like me, you enjoy writing about a variety of topics. Happily, there is no reason to stop. You can always develop a niche as your bread and butter, then round out the menu with other interesting assignments that come your way.

Copywriting Tip #9: Seal your copy with a KISS
Here in the northern climes of Washington State, you want the most unadulterated and scrumptious-tasting water available for your home or business. Extraordinary water isn’t just good for maintaining a clean bill of health, it also helps keep your tresses shinier, your skin free from unsightly blemishes and your clothes bright as the noon-day sun.

Okay, so maybe this example of overblown writing is a little…overblown, but you get the picture. As a copywriter, your job is to choose words and craft a tone that will appeal to your intended audience. At the same time, you should always remember to KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly) your copy. Simplicity not only fosters a clear message, it also allows you to get that message across in the minimum amount of time. How’s this for simplicity: Here in Northwest Washington, you want the purest and best-tasting water for your home or business. Better water isn’t just good for your health, it also helps keep hair shinier, skin cleaner and clothes brighter.

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.

Good Reads for Writers: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Cathy BelbenReviewed By Cathy Belben

Writing historical fiction must be one of the most challenging endeavors novelists face. Besides picking characters that will appeal to readers, unless she’s writing strictly plot-oriented bodice-buster romances about shirtless pirates, the historical novelist must be meticulous about period detail and the basic facts of her characters’ lives if she hopes to create convincing stories.

Nancy Horan succeeds remarkably in her first novel, Loving Frank, which imagines the circumstances of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s long-term affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney from their initial meeting through to the tragic end of their relationship, primarily from Cheney’s point of view. The mother of two but intellectually dissatisfied in her marriage and home life, Cheney’s attraction for Wright develops as the two share thoughts and ideas about the renovations Wright is completing on her home. Wright falls in love with Cheney, and the two pursue a passionate, intellectual affair.

To escape scandal at home, Cheney joins Frank Lloyd Wright in Europe, where he is completing several projects, and she becomes involved with the feminist Ellen Key, translating her radical ideas about women’s freedom and “free love.” But even another continent and intellectual fulfillment can’t protect Cheney from her sense of loneliness, nor can it stop the rumors and reports of the scandal from reaching her. Eventually, the pair returns home, where Wright begins building their dream home, Taliesin.

Period details, exquisite descriptions of Wright’s architecture and ideals, and Mamah Borthwick Cheney’s perspective make this fictionalization of their relationship a superior, gripping work of historical fiction and a superb example for writers aspiring to novelize the past.

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.

Green Writer Marketplace: The Final Four

Susan W. Clark By Susan W. Clark

I’ve discovered an avalanche of related publications while researching this year’s column. Selecting this final one for 2007 has been torture. Do I tell you about the online green zines, niche, and regional magazines or the scholarly and juried ones? How about those that are put out on a shoestring by dedicated activists?

Rather than a full profile on just one, I want to mention four inspiring magazines that I read regularly: Sojourner’s, Sustainable Industries, Yes! and World Watch. They have limitations as freelance markets, but might offer inspiration or help you discover a perfect spot for just the right article.

Sojourner’s is green with a Christian slant, subtitled “progressive Christian commentary.” They take their faith out into the world and put it in the trenches. The editor is Jim Rice, submission guidelines are online, and payment may range from $50 to $400. I take their free newsletter to spark ideas. See their Web site.

Sustainable Industries is a terrific West Coast publication covering emerging trends in business. You also get short tidbits from around the world about the latest great ideas, and committed green businesses worth watching. Their tag line is “The independent source for green business leaders,” and Managing Editor Celeste LeCompte selects features profiling companies making progress in every area of business, from waste reduction to green sourcing. She responded very quickly to my request for guidelines, but noted that Sustainable Industries doesn’t use much material from freelancers.

Yes! is also published in the Northwest, takes no advertising, and consequently pays with a subscription or maybe an honorarium. This beautifully-done magazine hits the ecological issues just right for me. I don’t see “eco-over-consumption” being promoted, they don’t use overly scholarly language, and I don’t think the term “smart growth” is one Yes! has adopted. Look at for style and topics. Please note they only take snail mail submissions at the following address:

Submissions Editor
YES! Magazine
P.O. Box 10818
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

World Watch is also inspiring, with its strong emphasis on research, data, and international content. Its photos are breathtaking. While World Watch is open to freelance queries, the magazine requires meaty ideas that haven’t been done repeatedly and that are relevant to its far-flung readership. Editor Tom Prugh and senior editor Linda Mastny earned my appreciation for the prompt, courteous response to my query. E-mail for submission guidelines.

No single publication will be able to use all of your creative green ideas, so if you haven’t done it already, start building your own list of publications. Brainstorm ideas for each that seem to fit particularly well and use that list to help direct your querying. Start now, and be sure to carry a notebook with you always to catch those ideas that surface like treasures when you least expect them.

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

Conference Confab (November/December)

Pamela Kim By Pamela Kim

We end the 2007 conference season with a sneak peek at what’s ahead for 2008. It’s a great time to make plans to attend a conference or two and take your writing career farther!

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 9th annual winter conference: February 9-10, 2008 in New York, NY

Excellent networking opportunity for those already established in the children’s industry and for those just starting to enter the fantastic (yet demanding) world of children’s book writing and illustrating.

San Francisco Writers Conference
February 15-17, 2008 in San Francisco, CA
Over forty “how to” sessions, panels, and workshops taught by authors you know and love. Plus Speed Dating for Agents and Speed Dating for Editors give you a one-on-one opportunity to pitch your work directly to publishing professionals.

22nd Annual Southern California Writers’ Conference
February 15-18, 2008 in San Diego, CA

This intimate setting attended by bestselling authors, literary agents, publishers and editors provides the ideal forum for veteran and emerging writers who want comprehensive feedback on their work.

American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) Writers Conference
April 12-13, 2008 in New York, NY

Come to New York for great seminars and individual opportunities to work with editors, established writers, and other experts who can help you sharpen your writing, marketing and technological skills.

BookExpo America
May 29 – June 1, 2008 in Los Angeles, CA

This event brings together the largest selection of English language titles with industry and author events, creating a dynamic environment for network, sourcing and relationship-building.

Willamette Writers Conference
August 1-3, 2008 in Portland, OR

One of the biggest writers conferences, Willamette Writers is the place to meet and exchange ideas with hundreds of other writers, learn from the experts, sell your work and get your creative juices flowing.

Maui Writers Conference
August 31 – September 3, 2008 on Maui, HI

Labor Day weekend in Hawaii finds best-selling authors, award-winning journalists, top editors, agents, publishers as well as the best in screenwriting and film at the Maui Writers Conference.

And there are many, many more! Bookmark Shaw Guides Writers Conferences & Workshops to get up-to-the minute details about these events, as well as the many others offered across the country. Happy conferencing!

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

Writing Conference Success: Real-Time and Post-Conference Strategies

Mary AndonianBy Mary Andonian

It’s conference weekend! You’ve mapped out your classes, signed up for your pitches, sent in materials for critique, prepared your dossier, and painted your nails. Whew! Now what?

Workshop Strategies
After every workshop, thank the presenter and request his contact info so you can follow up if you have post-conference questions. If you don’t receive a card, write down the information on handouts. ALWAYS take the handouts, and at the end of each day (or each break, if you can swing it), reread the handouts, adding notes that you want to remember while they’re fresh in your mind. If you go with a friend, divide and conquer by attending different workshops and requesting two sets of handouts. Sometimes you can glean the same info by reading the handouts as if you had actually attended the class.

Critique Etiquette
Try not to get defensive as your critique expert pulls apart your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. This is what you paid for, and it’s the only way you’ll learn. Instead, take copious notes and ask for his contact info in case you need to ask follow up questions post-conference. Thank your expert.

Pitch to Your Heart’s Content
Pitch to your chosen agents and editors. Ask to leave your proposal package with them or offer to mail it first thing in the morning. Don’t forget to ask for a business card and say “thank-you.”

Offer up your business card to everyone you meet and ask for theirs in return. Find the conference committee members and thank them for their hard work. Ask if you can volunteer your services for next year. Give them your business card, too!

Within 24 Hours Post-Conference
Three-hole punch your workshop handouts, and file them in a marked binder. Organize the business cards you received at the conference, and send follow up e-mails to every contact you made. If it was an instructor, send a short e-mail thanking him again for his class; if it was a conference committee member, send a follow up reminder that you’re available for future venues; and if it was a new friend, send an e-mail to follow up on whatever it was you two said you’d do after the conference and make it happen!

Prepare all proposal packages for mailing by making sure you have the agent/editor’s correct address. Make adjustments to cover letters to reflect any new information you gleaned during your pitch session (including updated addresses). Reference something you talked about to jog their memory. Under your return address, mark in big, bold letters: REQUESTED INFORMATION – [NAME OF] WRITERS CONFERENCE. This will keep you out of the slush pile.

After every e-mail has been sent and every proposal package mailed, sit back, relax, and congratulate yourself on making the most of your first writers conference. We’ll see you at the next one!

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. She just completed her second book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth. You can reach her at (

Platform Development 101: The Village People

cmkwritermama.gifBy Christina Katz

If you have just signed a book contract or an agent agreement, congratulations! Now is the time to connect with your book’s “Village People” and start creating excitement for your book immediately inside your publishing house.

I bet you’d agree that the best books you have ever read draw on the widest number of resources. I’m talking about research, interviews with experts, polls, studies, statistics and connecting with current trends. So why wouldn’t you want as many real live supporters for your book inside your publishing house? What works on the page also works in the world.

Here’s a line-up of the people you’re likely to meet after you sign your contract as part of the Publisher’s Team:

The Acquisitions Editor
The editor who offers you a contract is your first ally inside the publishing company. No doubt this is the person who went to bat for your proposal and helped get your book concept through the approval process so you could sign a book contract in the first place. Keep in touch with your acquisitions editor, even after he’s handed you off to your book editor to go in search of other promising writers.

Tip: If you are friendly with your acquisitions editor, why not ask if he can suggest an agent whom he respects for you? With a book deal in your pocket and the recommendation of your editor, you can likely connect with agents who might not otherwise be available.

The Agent
You may have landed a book deal on your own or through an agent. If you don’t have an agent, I highly recommend that you get one. Not only can an agent negotiate a better contract for you than you can negotiate on your own, she can also advise you through the first-book process and help you envision a bright, future writing career. And remember, just like writers, agents are a pretty diverse bunch.

Tip: Just because an agent is the right agent for a writer friend, she may not be the right one for you. Be sure to interview both your friend and her agent to determine if she is a fit for your project and personality. Trust your instincts.

The Book Editor
Chances are good that your acquisitions editor will hand you off to another editor, your book editor. A book editor is likely to be the project manager of your book also. But don’t be surprised if your acquisitions editor is still involved in major decisions like cover art, formatting, and how to structure the book (at least this was my experience).

Tip: Your book editor is your friend for the long haul, so go out of your way to get to know her. I had a great experience with my book editor, even though she is quite a bit younger than I am (as is commonplace in this industry).

The Cover Designer
Cover designers may work in-house for publishers or as freelancers. The cover designer for Writer Mama was a member of the in-house team for Writer’s Digest Books. I was fortunate that my agent negotiated to include me in the cover review process. Working closely with your acquisitions editor and book editor can only help when it comes time for cover art reviews.

Tip: Be sure your agent inserts a clause in your contract that you will be “consulted” on your book’s cover. Otherwise you may find yourself unhappy and without a vote.

The Copy Editor
You will interact with your copy editor after you have completed your final manuscript. The copy editor assigned to you may work in-house or be a freelancer. You will likely receive a series of suggestions from your copy editor that further refine your manuscript and help prepare it for publication. However, you will both miss typos and that is just life. (Don’t worry. All your writer friends will let you know all about the typos that they find when they get their copies.)

Tip: Your book editor and acquisitions editor will also likely sign off on the draft of your book that goes to the printer. (If not, invite them for a final read because you won’t be able to catch anything at that point.)

The Publicity Director

Whoever manages book promotion and book events for your publisher is definitely a person you want to get to know. That is, if you want to be invited to literary conferences and get support publicizing your book. I am fortunate that the publicity and trade show manager at Writer’s Digest Book is such a charming and organized guy.

Tip: If you make an effort to get to know your publicity director, everything related to your book is bound to go better. Try to reserve judgment and be friendly and proactive. That’s a win-win-win attitude.

The Sales Team
I dropped the ball on this one. It never occurred to me that the sales team would care to meet me, so I didn’t initiate anything. When I finally met the two sales team leaders at a conference, I kicked myself for not getting to know them sooner. My bad.

Tip: Ask your acquisitions editor for a list of suggested contacts within the company whom she thinks you should meet. If you’re unsure about timing (and every company is different), just call when you get the contract to introduce yourself. No harm in that!

Lest we forget, it takes a village to write a book. Writing a book is not an event; it’s a journey, similar to ascending a mountain. (A mountain that you create as you climb!) Don’t go it alone. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t create an antagonistic dynamic with the folks who can be your allies and help you champion your book into the world.

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

Message From the Managing Editor: A Field of Dreams Platform


The movie Field of Dreams gave me the wisdom, “Build it and they will come.” Our publisher Christina Katz introduced me to the platform-building toolbox gathering dust in the back of my writing closet, and articulated a blueprint for actualizing my potential into a publishing path. Discovering through a series of classes with Christina that I already had the requisite skills, publications and experience to qualify as a bona fide platform, I took the plunge and claimed it: Writing the Life Poetic.

With this stake in the sand, I quickly connected the dots among my many poetic passions and proclivities, and started taking myself seriously as a poet who knows a great deal and has much to share about writing and publishing poetry. I wrote and published articles, beefed up my creative writing web site,, and refined the focus of my blog,

I pitched—and taught––a publishing workshop at a writing conference, and established my first online poetry class. Perhaps the greatest celebration was publishing my first collection of poetry, Like the Heart, the World.

Having a clear target gave me such a sense of purpose that somehow my writing and publishing efforts began to feel effortless. As if I were magnetized to them, opportunities just started unfolding for me. I was invited to bring the poetry reading series I host to Barnes & Noble, Lloyd Center. I was invited to host my book launch reading and celebration at Barnes & Noble, Vancouver. I was invited to judge a poetry contest for a writing conference. I was invited to sell Like the Heart, the World at Powell’s Books and Border’s.

Within a year of claiming my platform, I wrote and submitted a proposal to Writer’s Digest Books. Nine months and three Table-of-Contents versions later, this week I signed the contract for Writing the Life Poetic. A creative companion offering ideas and inspiration for people who want to cultivate a poetry practice, Writing the Life Poetic will be published in February 2009.

I share this story with you in the hopes that you will take a look at your own writing career and take stock of how much good work is already pointing you in the direction you want to go. Chances are, naming and claiming your platform will put the pedal to the metal of your publishing trajectory. I’d love to hear about your latest three platform-building successes in the comments below! Thanks for celebrating mine with me!

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 Cup of Comfort for Writers, Oregon Literary Review, 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 Writers on the Rise, Sage teaches Poetry for the People, an email poetry class.

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December 2007

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