Archive for January, 2008

Writing and Selling the Personal Essay: Finding Your Material in the “Ah, ha!” Moments

Kristin Bair O’KeeffeBecause I’m a nut for the personal essay, I’ve decided that for me (and for this column), 2008 is The Year of the Personal Essay.

The personal essay is about life your life. Those moments of self-discovery that make you laugh or cry or shake your head or hop up and down on one foot. The ones in which you feel completely alone. The ones that remind you how connected we all are. The ones that make you say, “Ah, ha!”

You know, THOSE moments.

Like the one I experienced this summer when I walked into a coffee shop in Shanghai, organized my writing gear on the table in front of me, folded my feet cross-legged on the chair and immediately found myself under attack by a very angry German woman.


Because I put my feet on the chair.

For nearly an hour, this woman ate, ranted at me (in English and German), complained about me to her partner (in English and German) and stared viciously at my feet (which I refused, out of principle and a bit of Croatian stubbornness, to remove from the chair).

As a human being, I was hurt and bewildered by the attack, but as a writer of personal essays, I said, “Ah, ha!” By the time the woman stuffed the last bit of salad into her mouth, I was already writing a blog entry about the encounter. And because many of my blog entries turn into longer pieces, by the time I finished typing, it was a full-blown essay called “The Rabid German” (due out in the Winter 2007 issue of The Baltimore Review.

If I wasn’t such a nut for the personal essay, this incident with the German might have simply passed into history (or even worse, developed into fisticuffs); but I am, and as I move through life, I’m constantly aware of “personal essay moments” as they happen. This is a skill you develop over time. The more personal essays you write (and sell), the more tuned in you are to potential subjects.

So, readers, get your radar up and running! For the next month I want you to move through life being aware of the moments that will make lively personal essays-the ah, ha moments! Write them down as they happen. Make a list.

And oh, yeah, have a very Happy New Year!

Personal Essay Marketplace: The Christian Science Monitor is a great market for personal essays. Check out the guidelines for “The Home Forum.”
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. 

Fund Your Writing Projects: Show Me the Money

Gigi RosenbergBy Gigi Rosenberg 

How do writers earn money? Usually from pay they receive by the hour, by the word or by the book. Are there other ways for writers to earn money to support their writing endeavors? That’s the question this column will answer over the next months.

To get started, make a list of all your writing projects, large and small. Include every project, especially the ones in that folder marked “too weird to consider” or “save for when I win the lottery.”

Next, add to your list the ways you want to “upgrade” your professional writing life. Do you need to attend a spendy writing conference to meet agents and mingle with the literati? Does your website need an overhaul?

To realize all these possibly outrageous projects, what are the actions you need to take? Make a list. To write the historical novel about 19th-century Russian royalty, you may need a research trip to St. Petersburg. Or to finish the memoir, you want a month at a writing retreat. Or to bring the first draft of your play to its final form, you need to hire a writing coach and stage a public reading.

On your list can be things like: to launch my career at a national level, I need a professional website; to get more gigs on radio, I need a voice coach; to attend the writing conference, I need $1,000 bucks.

Write down the dreams and write down the steps you need to take to achieve them.

Do you hear a mean voice in your head that sounds like a stingy 2nd-grade teacher? “Voice lessons?! Who do you think you are?” “A research trip to where?! You’ve got to be kidding!” Thank Ms. Parsimonious for sharing and let her know that her tightfisted ways will be welcome when you prepare your budget on the grant application.

Now look at your list. Many writers have found grants to pay for endeavors similar to the ones on your list. Some skeptics might ask: “Wouldn’t it be easier to work a few extra gigs and pay for this myself?” Sometimes yes. Grant researching and writing takes time-a limited resource. In future columns, we explore how to decide whether writing a grant is the best use of your time.

For now, revel in the adventures on your list and start your research. Check your local, state and national arts association websites and click “Grants.” Find out who provides cash (or time in the case of residencies) to support your writing. For a list of websites I recommend, visit my list at

Money experiment this month: Notice the ways you spend money, from the necessary to the frivolous. How do you decide what to buy? When you donate to a charity, how do you decide which worthy cause gets your bucks? Make some notes. This study of your own spending will help you later on when we explore how grantors decide who gets support for that outrageous writing project.
Gigi Rosenberg is a writer, teacher and occasional performer of edgy, comic monologues on motherhood, relationships and the existential nature of being. Her essays and how-to articles have been published in Writer’s Digest, The Oregonian, The Jewish Review, Cycle California! Magazine and Parenting (forthcoming).  “The Hanukkah Bush,” her radio commentary, was featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting. She coaches writers on how to read in public and teaches regional and national workshops on “Grant Writing for Success.”

Freelancing for Newspapers Challenge: Write a Review

Sue Fagalde LickBy Sue Fagalde Lick

Welcome to the new Freelancing for Newspapers challenge. Each month, I will suggest a task that should be fun and may even lead to publication. You are welcome to share your results or discuss the challenge here, as well as at my Freelancing for Newspapers blog. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers.

Reviews are written and published on almost everything a person can experience or buy, including books, concerts, trips, restaurants, CDs, art exhibits, movies, cameras, computer software, cruises, cars, even the latest hybrid roses. Look at the feature section of your newspaper for examples, especially in the Friday and Sunday editions. Freelancers write many of these reviews. Although they don’t pay a fortune, they do pay something and earn you clips that may lead to other work.

A review is more than just a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, four stars or no stars. It’s a blend of explanation and evaluation. In an average of two double-spaced pages, sometimes less, you need to pack a lot of information. At minimum, the successful review must contain:

  • An engaging first line that makes the reader read on
  • A theme or idea that ties the review together
  • Basic information, such as title, author, publisher, what type of product it is and a summary of what it contains
  • Background on what has preceded it, such as other books the author has published or previous CDs by the same artist
  • Evaluation, looking in particular at the purpose of the thing being reviewed and how well it achieves that purpose, with examples to back up your opinion

Your challenge this month is to write a practice review. Keep it under 500 words. The shorter the better, as long as it contains all the necessary elements. Look at published reviews to see how the writers do it. In addition to your local paper, try The New York Times Book Review or the Rotten Tomatoes movie reviews. A search for “[name of type] reviews” will yield more examples.
Sue Fagalde Lick, author of Freelancing for Newspapers, worked as a staff writer, photographer and editor for newspapers in California and Oregon for many years before moving into full-time freelancing. In addition to countless newspaper and magazine articles, she has published three books on Portuguese Americans. She has taught workshops at Oregon Coast Community College, online for and for Willamette Writers and California Writers Club. She offers an online course on reviews as well as individual coaching. See her website and visit her blog.

Writerpreneur: Flip Your Cube for Success

gregorywotr_002.gifBy Gregory A. Kompes 

Living a Writerpreneur life can be overwhelming. Self-employed writers need to wear many hats and yet, there’s still the writing. That’s the core of our career. Other facets of our business that require our attention are marketing, banking, goal setting, correspondence, reading, learning and research. And all of this must be negotiated with the demands of family, recreation and home life.

I used to stress “balance” in life, and I’d strive to give each facet of life and work a little bit of time each day. Ultimately, I realized that’s not realistic. When a writing deadline looms, that takes precedence; when a family member needs attention, they take the lead. Instead of balance, I now strive for harmony. I think of life like a piece of music, where each part is one of the instrumental lines. Sometimes one instrument takes the solo, and at other times it’s just part of the symphony. I have found that this approach is both realistic and sustainable.

How do we find this harmony? I believe in a slow-play approach to marketing and career building. I’m going to be a writer for a long time so I don’t have to do everything all at once. There’s time to build my career a little at a time, by doing one thing a day. During my live Writerpreneur events, I give participants a small wood cube. When you look at a cube, there’s no way to see all its sides at once. We need to turn the cube over again and again to see all its facets. Our careers are the same. We can’t see all of the aspects of them at the same time. While I look at the big picture now and again, each day I focus on a single goal, and take one step toward a positive outcome.

How do I decide what takes the solo? I turn the cube each day on my desk to remind myself that I have this choice. I prioritize my to-do list and break up my day into chunks. Today may be writing 1,000 good words for a deadline. If it’s a marketing day, I may do a little thing (like changing my email signature or adding material to my website) or something big (like developing a piece of a book release media campaign). I’ve also learned to turn off my computer at a reasonable hour each day so I can enjoy my family, pets and social pursuits. By not trying to do everything at once and giving one thing at a time priority and focus I have established harmony in my Writerpreneur life.

Have you flipped your cube today?
Gregory A. Kompes, author of the bestseller 50 Fabulous Gay-Friendly Places to Live and the Writer’s Series, speaks at conferences and teaches Internet self-promotion courses online. Gregory is editor of Queer Collection: Prose & Poetry, Patchwork Path, The Fabulist Flash, and Eighteen Questions, a Q&A series that collects published authors experiences (chosen a “101 Best Websiteby Writer’s Digest ). In Las Vegas, he hosts the Writerpreneur Workshops and co-host’s the Writer’s Pen & Grill. Gregory holds a BA in English Literature from Columbia University, New York, and a certificate in Online Teaching and Learning and an MS Ed. from California State University, East Bay.

Time Management Mastery: Benchmarks Measure Your Path to Publicaiton

October 2007 Family Fun MagazineNew Year’s resolutions ooze out of every publication on the planet in December and January. Still, I’m a fanatic about having a writing resolution each year. So far, knock on my wooden desk, I’ve successfully achieved nearly every resolution I’ve ever made. The secret is in setting and achieving clear goals along the way.

Making resolutions is easy: eat less, exercise more, write a novel, write everyday and so on. It’s establishing benchmarks, however, that make your resolutions meaningful-and achievable. Once you’ve set your New Year’s goals, hold them at arms’ length, pick up a calendar and decide how you will track and measure your performance along the way.

Three years in a row, I vowed to double my writing income. I succeeded. Sound easy? That resolution wouldn’t have been so simple to achieve if I hadn’t established measurements along the way. I set up a spreadsheet to track submissions, follow-up dates and my income.

At the end of each month, I calculated my average monthly income and an end-of-year income projection. If I’d waited until August to tally the numbers, I might have discovered I was way behind. The monthly benchmark kept me on target. If income was lagging behind my projections, I could quickly maneuver to pick up the slack before it was too late.

To keep on top of your self-imposed deadlines, purchase a week-at-a-glance calendar. My favorite is Bylines ( Editor Sylvia Forbes devotes a writer’s picture and his or her 300 words of wisdom to each week of the year. I was lucky enough to be selected for a page in February 2007 and will be in 2008 as well. Bylines motivates me to keep up with my benchmarks, reminds me there are other ambitious writers like me and helps me maintain records for income tax time by offering a place to record mileage, meetings, chats and deadlines.

Making resolutions is a grand start. Defining clear performance, publication and income benchmarks along the way is better. Recording your progress is best. Add a dose of diligence to these efforts and you’ll have it made for 2008.
C. Hope Clark is founder and editor of, annually recognized by Writer’s Digest in its poll of 101 Best Web Sites for Writers. She delivers four newsletters each week to thousands with her specialty being grants and income opportunities for writers of all sizes. She’s published over 200 articles on paper and online. Those reluctant to promote their writing cherish her trade paperback The Shy Writer: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success. Find more hope for your writing career at &

Please Vote for Us!

Christina Katz and Sage Cohen need your votes by midnight, January 15th over at the Preditors and Editors Poll.

We are running for Best Author, Best Nonfiction Article (The Write At Home Mom), Best Book Cover Art (Writer Mama), Best Author (Christina Katz), Best Ezine Editor (Christina Katz), Best Writer’s Resource (Writer’s on the Rise), and Best Poet (Sage Cohen).

If you feel moved to vote, visit The Writer Mama Riffs blog and it will take you directly to most of the voting links.

Except to vote for Sage Cohen as Best Poet, go to:

…and look under “S” for Sage.

In the Spotlight: Page Jordan, Barnes & Noble Community Relations Manager

Page Jordan

By Cindy Hudson

Barnes & Noble is a national bookseller willing to work with local authors to help them get their books on the shelves. Community Relations Managers (CRMs) serve as the “go-to people” for writers who want to participate in that process. Page Jordan is one of these CRMs. Working from a flagship store in Clackamas, Oregon, Jordan loves the time she spends meeting with writers and organizing community events such as author presentations.

Here Jordan gives advice to authors about how to approach Barnes & Noble about stocking a book as well as other ways to help promote their work.

Do you have a section in the store to showcase local authors and local subjects?
Oh yes. Barnes & Noble encourages us to bring a local flavor into the store. Each location carries somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 titles. About 40,000 of those are common to every store in the nation. The rest are specific to an individual store and its local community. While it may seem to you that every Barnes & Noble looks the same and has the same displays and the same books, there is actually a lot of room for each store to enhance the local area and carry what the local community wants to read.

What is the normal distribution channel for books carried by Barnes & Noble?
The majority of books we carry go through a buying process determined by our home office in New York, but stores on a local level can help facilitate that process. While we don’t make the ultimate decision to carry the book at the local store level, we can steer authors to our home office so they can get the information they need to be considered.

Do you buy books directly from authors?
No. We carry books available through wholesalers, and we can help folks figure out which wholesaler to go with. I give out the Barnes & Noble Acceptance Criteria Sheet to anyone who asks about it. This sheet has great information and it puts the author directly in touch with our small press department in New York.

What does a book need to be carried by Barnes &Noble?
It has to have an ISBN, it has to have a bar code and it has to have a certain kind of binding. The book also must be available through a wholesaler for us to carry it on the shelves. All that information is on our Acceptance Criteria Sheet. We also look to see if it is priced competitively with other titles of similar quality. Basically what an author needs to do if a book isn’t already in distribution is submit a finished copy of the book, not a manuscript, but a finished copy to our small press department along with a marketing and promotion plan, trade reviews, and a little something on what makes that book unique. All these factors will play a role in whether we will carry it or not.

Do you carry books by people who are self-published?
We generally don’t carry those on the shelves. What we have available for the print-on-demand or the self-published author is an event called New Writers Night. We typically schedule this with four to six authors who are all self-published. We invite them to come to our store on a particular night or afternoon. They bring their own books with them, make a presentation and perhaps have a question-and-answer session with the audience. We sell the books on consignment at the store during the event, and audience members can have them signed at the time. When the reading is over, authors take the books that didn’t sell back with them, and our home office pays them for the books they sold.

Every store has the opportunity to do one or two of these New Writers Nights a year, but the store locations with CRMs do a whole lot more in the way of events than stores without CRMs. You can call any Barnes & Noble store to ask if they have a CRM on staff.

Can people come to you for general advice about publishing?
I try really hard to give time to every author who comes into our store with questions. I’ll sit down with them and we’ll have a brainstorming session that will help them think about ways of getting their book out there while they’re going through the process of trying to get it into Barnes & Noble. Maybe they can connect with local clubs, local civic organizations or local churches. It’s like I’m helping them look through their personal address book to see whom they can connect with. I encounter so many authors who have no idea what to do and they are desperate to know, and I try to help them with that. I do know how precious those creations are. No matter what the topic or what the book is about there’s somebody out there who wants to see it, who wants to read it.

What else can an author do?
I strongly encourage authors to get out there and pound the pavement, make themselves known, make their books known. I’ve run into folks who were self-published, who started with a grass roots effort who have gone on to make it really, really big. Not every book is going to have that kind of success, but when authors work hard at promoting their work it can make a huge difference in the book’s ultimate success.
October 2007 Family Fun MagazineCindy Hudson writes for national trade magazines, regional magazines, online publications and daily newspapers. Her website 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

Two Exciting Announcements from Your Publisher & Editor, Christina Katz

Announcement Number One: 

Christina Katz is pleased to announce that she is giving one full scholarship for each of her four scheduled Writing and Publishing the Short Stuff classes this year.

Information about the scholarship for the first class of 2008 is now posted. For complete guidelines, please visit:

The Writer Mama Blog

The application deadline is one week only: Sunday, January 13 – Saturday, January 19 at midnight.

The recipient will be announced by midnight, January 26th in The Writer Mama blog and in The Writer Mama zine.

Please feel free to spread the word about the scholarship, even if you do not intend to apply!

This is a full scholarship (value $175.00). The recipient commits to participating fully in the class, delivering all six assignments on time.

Announcement Number Two:

Christina Katz’ second book announced in the January 8th issue of Publisher’s Lunch!

Author of Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids Christina Katz’s GET KNOWN BEFORE THE BOOK DEAL: Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform, to Jane Friedman at Writer’s Digest Books, by Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency.

Check out my new blog of the same name and sign up for the Get Known Before the Book Deal Zine–coming soon!

Great Sites for Writers

Tiffani Hill-PattersonBy Tiffani Hill-Patterson 

Good Ol’
Most of us are familiar with the venerable Writer’s Digest, but did you know about the magazine’s companion website? is jam-packed with information to boost your writing career. Check out the daily update of market listings, a searchable database of guidelines, a list of the top 100 markets  and free advice.

The online version also includes articles from the print version as well as writing exercises, blogs and contests. Sign up for the free newsletter and get tips, advice and market news delivered right to your inbox. Can’t get much easier than that!
Tiffani Hill-Patterson is an award-winning journalist with 13 years of writing and editing experience. She’s a regular contributor to The Writer Mama zine and Birmingham Parent magazine, and her articles on health, parenting, fitness and pop culture have also appeared in The Huntsville Times, The Moulton Advertiser and The TimesDaily. She lives in Alabama with her husband and daughter. Read more at

Ask Wendy: How Do Writing Careers Evolve?

wendywotr.gif Q: What’s different about your career today vs. seven years ago?


1.    I have more steady work from regular clients. This means I rarely write query letters or mail manuscripts. Once in awhile I’ll send a magazine pitch for PR that I’m doing for one of my clients, or I’ll run across a very part-time gig that just looks perfect for me. But for the most part, I’ve got enough work to keep me busy. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to get one (or more!) regular clients so you can count on the income. When you know you’ve got at least one steady check coming in, it actually frees up more time and energy for you to do “fun” writing because you’re not as worried about paying the bills. The best clients to shoot for?

  • A weekly or monthly column that you enjoy writing (so it’s easy and fun)
  • A magazine (most likely local, regional or online) that will send regular, steady assignments
  • Copy writing or editing (for a magazine, newspaper, website or ad agency)
  • Newsletter writing for a (paying) client

2.    I’m much better about charging what I’m worth. When I first started, I took almost every gig that came along–some that probably had me earning less than minimum wage–because I wanted the published clips and REALLY didn’t want to go back to a 9-to-5 job. I gradually became choosier and would drop my lowest-paying gig when a better one came along.

3.    I expect to spend money to make money. I don’t cut corners when it comes to things like my computer, my high-speed Internet access or my fax line because I know it’s worth it in the long run to have reliable tools and technologies. Plus, you can write them off your taxes.

4.    I only do work I enjoy. Once in a while I have to do some boring editing or work with an advertiser who has me rewrite her 20words of text 17 times, but for the most part, I love what I do, which makes it easy to get up every morning. Seven years ago, I would have called in sick.

Wendy Burt is a successful full-time freelance writer and editor who has more than doubled her income since leaving her job as a newspaper editor just four years ago. With two women’s humor books for McGraw-Hill and more than 1,000 published pieces, Wendy’s work has appeared in such varied publications as Family Circle, The Writer,,, Home Cooking Magazine and American Fitness. Wendy teaches “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” and still finds ample time to spend with her beautiful children, Gracie and Ben. Visit to see books by Wendy and her award-winning dad.

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January 2008

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