Archive for May, 2008

Writing & Selling Personal Essays

October 2007 Family Fun Magazine

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

You’ve heard this before, right? When you’re writing a personal essay, use fiction techniques to make it lively and interesting. But what the heck does that really mean?

Well, remember that dinner you had last week with your best friend Jennifer? The one at that amazing new Italian restaurant on the corner with red leather booths and silky, white lanterns? You know-the one where you had that mouth-watering pumpkin gnocchi and Jennifer had, had, well, whatever it was, she adored it because she slapped her hand on the table and yelped over and over again in a voice that was way too loud for the hushed atmosphere, “God, I’m going to eat here every night from now on. Every single night. They’re going to have to kick me out to get rid of me”?

Ah, it’s coming back to you now, isn’t it?

Well, would you even consider writing a personal essay about that dinner without including the red leather booths, the silky, white lanterns, the mouth-watering pumpkin gnocchi, the slapping of the hand, or the fact that every single time you and Jennifer eat at a new restaurant-any new restaurant-she always says the same thing in the same too-loud voice?

Nope, you wouldn’t.

Why not?

Because the story would be flat, boring, and completely uninteresting-to your listener, your reader or your potential editor. It would go something like this:

There is a new Italian restaurant on the corner. There are booths and lanterns. I ate there with my friend last week. I liked my food. So did my friend.

“Aahhhh! Aahhhh!” cries your potential editor (followed by sounds of said editor thunking her head against a wall).

Listen up, writers! You’ve got to entertain your readers. You’ve got to keep them interested. A good hook is great, but if you don’t follow it up with something equally compelling, you’ll lose your readers as fast as you can say, “I remember now! Jennifer had the cod!”

So, yes, fiction techniques will help you do this. When you sit down to write your personal essay, utilize the same techniques you would if writing a novel or a short story:

  • develop your characters
  • let those characters speak to one another — dialogue, dialogue, dialogue
  • create a sense of place
  • include gestures
  • use objects to move your story forward (Oh, yeah, the salt shaker fell on the floor when Jennifer slapped the table and everyone in the place turned to stare.)

Try it! It’s much more fun-for your reader, your editor and you.

Personal Essay Marketplace: Like to write with your funny bone? Try your hand at Smithsonian Magazine’s “The Last Page.” Check out the submission guidelines for this 550-700 word essay market at Smithsonian Magazine.

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: Preparing Your Budget, Part One

Gigi RosenbergBy Gigi Rosenberg

When you find a grant you want to apply for, chances are you will also find a budget form. Most grant applications require one; the bigger the grant, the more complex the form. Don’t let the budget scare you. Think of it as the story of your proposed project told in numbers. (If numbers make you nervous, get help from a mathematically inclined friend or colleague.)

Usually the form has two sections: one for expenses and one for income. This month we will focus on the expense side. The budget is as important as your answers to the application questions, so leave yourself as much time to prepare the budget as you do for answering the questions.

Here’s what to do:

1. Make a list of all the steps required to complete your project. This may take a few rounds of revision. Don’t forget the minutiae like purchasing office supplies, arranging hotel accommodations if you’re traveling, printing, designing marketing materials, hiring consultants, etc. Don’t concern yourself with the cost of anything now; just write down every small step of your project and any items you need to purchase or hire out.

2. Calculate prices for each item on the list. Some prices you will know off the top of your head. Other prices you will have to research. How much is round trip airfare to Alaska these days? What is the cost of printing postcards? What is the hourly rate of that consultant? What does a box of paperclips go for? Depending on the detail of your budget, this could take several hours; however, most information is readily available online or by calling your suppliers. Estimates are fine; you don’t need to be accurate to the penny.

3. Put like with like. Depending on the complexity of the form, you may need to lump expenses in categories. For example, the price of the paper clips may fall under “office supplies.”

4. Contact the Funder to see if you can look at budget forms from successful grant recipients. Seeing one filled out correctly can be a big help. Find out what expenses are allowable. For example, some funders don’t pay for equipment purchases; some don’t pay for meals. Don’t include any expenses that the funder doesn’t pay for. This will usually disqualify your application. If you are not sure, call to double-check.

5. Explain all line items. None of the information you provide should be mysterious. It should all make sense and relate to expenses you’ve outlined in your proposal. Label every line item specifically. For example, rather than “Printing,” write “Printing posters and postcards” so that it is clear what each expense relates to.

Remember: Your budget is the story of your project told with numbers. Making your list of potential expenses will give you all the fundamentals you need to tell your story well.

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: Travel Writing Close to Home

Sue Fagalde Lick By Sue Fagalde Lick

When we think about travel writing, most of us assume we have to fly to Europe, take a cruise, go rafting or climb a mountain. Those could all yield great stories, but if you can’t go that far, that doesn’t mean you can’t be a travel writer. In fact, some of the best stories are close to home, and you have the advantage of easy access. I’m blessed to live on the beautiful Oregon Coast where there’s something wonderful to see and do in every direction. But no matter where you live, there’s something to write about.

When company comes from out of town, where do you take them? When you need a break, where do you go? Do you know of special places that are not in the guidebooks? Perhaps there’s a historical site, a unique restaurant, a glass-blowing shop, or a nature trail that lends itself to pictures and a story. For example, not far from where I live, an elderly gentleman has set up an amazing model railroad museum in his garage. It’s not in the guidebooks; you have to look for the sign, but it would make a good article.

Take another look at your hometown. See it with the eyes of someone who has never been there before. What grabs your attention? What would you want to photograph? Always think photos when you look for travel article ideas. Good pictures will sell the story.

Look at newspapers’ websites or travel writers’ websites such as The Society of American Travel Writers to see what papers are looking for. Many newspaper travel sections focus on seasonal or geographical themes. If you are among the first to query on a subject that fits the theme, you have a much better chance of selling the story.

A list of travel writer resources can be found at Transitions

Newspaper travel articles can be sold to multiple papers. Just make sure you don’t give up all rights and don’t approach papers with the same readership.

YOUR CHALLENGE: Find a place within a half hour’s drive that you can write about and sell to multiple newspapers. Do a little research, take a few notes and pictures and start working on your query.

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.

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—Writers Using Technology: Become an Affiliate

October 2007 Family Fun Magazine By Gregory A. Kompes

Affiliate programs enable people to become marketing channels for each other’s products and services-earning financial rewards for referrals that lead to sales. Widely available online, these programs offer ways to diversify your writing career income streams.

Here are three ways to become an affiliate.

1. Join individual affiliate programs

One of the most recognized affiliate programs is Amazon Associates. It’s free to join and by inserting links with your affiliate code into your newsletter, blog, website, or emails you get credit when someone clicks the link and buys. The nice thing about joining Amazon Associates is that Amazon isn’t just about books. They offer lots of different products through their web portal. A few other examples of individual affiliate programs include Peter Bowerman’s program for his Well Fed book series; Vista Print, and Café Press. As you surf the net, scan the list of links on most product sites and you’ll probably find one that says “Become an Affiliate.”

2. Join an affiliate clearinghouse

If you discover that affiliate marketing is helping you grow your income and you want more options with less paperwork, consider signing up for one of the affiliate clearinghouses. LinkShare and Commission Junction both offer hundreds of affiliate programs from a single location. How it works: you sign up for their program and then choose from their long lists of affiliates. All the sales commissions are combined into one account and you receive a single commission sales check. It’s worth noting that some companies like Walmart do have affiliate programs, but they only offer them through the affiliate clearinghouses.

3. Develop a personal relationship with someone who offers a product or service

Not every company or individual has an affiliate program. If there’s a product or service you feel passionate about promoting, you can contact the individual or company responsible for the product sales and create a mutually beneficial affiliate sales agreement. This may take a little more time and effort than signing up for an established affiliate program, but personal relationships in business are often where the best profits exist.

You can promote your affiliates in many ways. One of the most profitable involves reviewing and recommending the products and services offered by your affiliates in your newsletter, blog and on your website. Within your review or recommendation, include your affiliate link. When your readers click through and make a purchase you receive an affiliate sales credit and later a check for that commission.

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.

Fall Writing-for-Publication Classes with Christina Katz Begin August 20th

October 2007 Family Fun MagazineWriting and Publishing The Short Stuff
Especially For Moms (But Not Only for Moms)!
Next Class Begins on August 20th
Prerequisites: None
Finally, a writing workshop that fits into the busy lives of moms! You will learn how to create short, easy-to-write articles-a skill that will make it easier to move up to longer, more time-consuming articles when you’re ready. Try your pen at tips, fillers, short interviews, list articles, how-tos, and short personal essays-all within six weeks. Now includes markets!
Cost: $199.00. [This Class Fills Fast.]
Register at Writers on the Rise

Targeting Your Best Writing Markets
Next Class Begins on August 20th
Prerequisites: Writing and Publishing the Short Stuff is recommended or Permission from Instructor

Learning to sift through and analyze markets is one of the biggest challenges of launching a writing career. This class will help you tackle the markets head on while covering: idea management, how to discover your best audiences, how to allow those audiences to lead you to fresh ideas, how to break a magazine down into the key areas that matter most to freelancers, and how to start specializing right away so your career will achieve lift-off faster. And how to determine your speciality or specialties so you can earn more.
Cost: $175.00. [Last time at this price. And last time in 2008.]
Register at Writers on the Rise

Platform Building Basics for Writers
Next Class Begins on October 8th
Prerequisites: Writing and Publishing the Short Stuff, Targeting Your Best Writing Markets, and Pitching Practice all recommended or Permission from Instructor
Be the first to sign up for the companion class to my forthcoming book, Get Known Before the Book Deal. Picking up where Targeting Your Best Writing Markets left off. This class helps you go position yourself as a seasoned professional, who isn’t afraid to let the world know what you have to offer. This is an advanced class, for people who have taken classes with Christina Katz and who are ready to take their writing career to a more professional level with a blog, Web site and newsletter. By the end of our six weeks, you will have a clear vision of your platform, and a plan for first and future steps. You will be ready to anchor your book proposal to that all-important online and in-person presence, agents and editors are looking for.
Cost: $199.00
[This Class Fills Fast.]
Register at Writers on the Rise

The Recommended Order for Taking All Five of Christina’s Classes:

  • Writing and Publishing the Short Stuff
  • Targeting Your Best Writing Markets
  • Pitching Practice: Write Six Queries in Six Weeks
  • Platform Building Basics for Writers
  • Craft a Saleable Nonfiction Proposal

Writing Roots: Literary Lust

By Christina Katz

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawerence. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Any of these might spring to mind in an adult discussion about lust and literature. But when you’re a tween, not so much.

When I was growing up, parents didn’t talk to their kids about sensitive subjects much, never mind sex. Or maybe they did on the West Coast, but not in New England, where I grew up. I also doubt there were as many articles and books about how and when to have such conversations with your kids as there are today. Parents probably just hoped someone else would take care of it, so they would be off the hook.

But what kid’s curiosity wasn’t spurred by those little blue booklets that were handed out in health class in seventh grade? Or was it sixth? I really can’t remember. But I do remember that it was really poor timing. Worse, the information in those little blue books was so scant that it was just enough to spark a much larger curiosity that would inevitably run its own course.

In my tween years, I took my curiosity to the library where I began to explore my lust for, ahem, literature with titles like Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? Of course, Margaret’s dilemmas seem pretty tame by today’s standards, but they were good enough for me. I blazed through the entire Judy Blume collection, concluding with Forever, of course.

Since my mother was an avid reader, I easily borrowed tomes like The Thorn Birds or plastic-covered gothic romances from her book trove. But that just left me in search of more provocative stuff. And I found it, in a home where I babysat. The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort-how could I resist? I didn’t.

Appetite partially satisfied, I began trolling the adult aisles at the library. Clearly, the adults were keeping all the good stuff to themselves. In the Romance aisle, I discovered authors like Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins and we became secret friends for several years.

When it comes to good old-fashioned lust, I don’t think books are such a bad place for young people to explore. If more resources on steamy subjects had been available in my own home, say on a low shelf in plain sight, perhaps I would not have felt compelled to seek the information elsewhere. But then again, healthy curiosity is not easily contained. And isn’t that what libraries are for? To satisfy a lust for literature no matter what the reader’s age?

And thank goodness for that.

Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, is working on her second book for Writer’s Digest Books, Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (now available for pre-order at Amazon!). She has also written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on Good Morning America. Christina is a popular writing instructor who has taught hundreds of writers over the past seven years. She blogs daily at The Writer Mama Riffs and is publisher and editor of two zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. More at

Time Management for Writers: Online Alert Reminders

October 2007 Family Fun MagazineBy C. Hope Clark

We are familiar with greeting cards companies’ reminder notices about birthdays and anniversaries. A pop-up or email advises that we’d better get that gift in the mail for our sister’s birthday one-week away. Birthday Alarm is one such service. Frankly, it’s helped me more than a couple of times when I had my nose so far into a writing project that I forgot an occasion until it was almost too late. Such online reminder notices can be lifesavers for a serious writer slinging paper and deadlines so fast that dates fly by unnoticed.

But when we need more than birthday reminders, that’s the time to sign up for services like:

Freminder — A free online calendar, free date book and free reminder service all wrapped into one, easy-to-use tool.

Online Reminders — This service sends you a weekly reminder about the items on your to-do list.

American Greetings — American Greetings offers a calendar with icons for holidays, appointments, book club meetings and more. You can make requests, inform others of appointments and customize email reminders to yourself.

BlueMountain — This greeting card service also can help you manage your time. A simple reminder service can send emails to you and others to let you know when that article is due or when your interview needs to be scheduled.

Google To-Do list “gadget” — This virtual, yellow notepad lists your immediate goals for the day; it’s visible each time you log into Google.

Blogs as calendar – On my blog, I keep a list of pending appearances not only to inform readers, but also to serve as a constant reminder of preparations I need to make for those events. Every blog platform will allow you to create such a list.

If you have a tendency to fall so deeply into your writing that deadlines loom more quickly than expected, instant reminders can actually give you more latitude to write. Knowing that you have several tools to nudge you about deadlines may help you relax and write with far less pressure.

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 &

June Classes with Sage Cohen: Practice Writing Poetry or Personal Essays

October 2007 Family Fun MagazinePoetry For the People with Sage Cohen
Next Class Begins on June 4th
Prerequisites: None
Have you always wanted to write a poem but didn’t know how to begin? Maybe you’re already writing poetry and want to connect with your muse more often, or brush up on your poetic prowess? Poetry for the People takes poetry off of its academic pedestal, making it accessible to and enjoyable for everyone. Six lessons with six assignments completed in six weeks.
Cost: $199.00
Register at Writers on the Rise

Personal Essays that Get Published with Sage Cohen
Next Class Begins on June 4th
Prerequisites: None
Everyone has a story to tell. Would you like to tell yours exceptionally well–and then share it with a wider audience? Personal Essays that Get Published equips you with the basic knowledge you need to write personal essays that connect-and the market know-how to get them published. Six lessons with six assignments completed in six weeks will take you from writing magnetic leads to cultivating meaningful and memorable narratives to researching markets and sending out your work. Plus, each week’s lesson will include two recommended publications for placing your essays.
Cost: $199
Register at Writers on the Rise

In the Spotlight: Colleen Sell, Editor of A Cup of Comfort Series from Adams Media

Interview By Cindy Hudson

When Colleen Sell is not editing one of the many books in the popular A Cup of Comfort book series (published by Adams Media), this freelance editor spends her time writing for magazines as well as editing and ghost writing for other clients. Plus, she always has an idea for a project or two she would love to develop if she had more time. With over 25 books under her belt in the A Cup of Comfort series and more on the way, there’s precious little free time in Sell’s life these days. She took a moment out of her busy schedule recently to talk about what she strives to create with A Cup of Comfort and to give readers of Writers on the Rise tips for submitting their personal essays.

When you first started as editor of A Cup of Comfort, what did you want to bring to the series?

One of the things that was important to me is that the stories we included were not homogenized to have the same tone and the same voice. I wanted variety and I wanted to allow as much literary influence as possible. I wanted the stories to read like fiction; but I wanted them to be absolutely true. I wanted the stories to capture readers and pull them in.

How many submissions do you usually get for each book?

It varies on the topic but between 1,500 and 3,000. I select about 50 for each book, but I will not take a lesser story over a better story just to get that number. For me, the quality of the book is always the most important thing.

Does each A Cup of Comfort volume have its own personality?

Yes, definitely. There’s commonality with each volume, but each of the books I’ve worked on has a very distinctive personality as well.

What do you look for when you’re selecting stories to include in a particular A Cup of Comfort volume?

Authenticity is really important to me. It’s been said that there are no new stories. But your perception of what happened in your life and how it affected you is unique. And there’s always something that’s unusual, that’s specific to your life and your situation that’s different from everybody else’s and that’s what I want to see in stories. I also think the best stories have a universal truth. Something in that story needs to resonate with just about everyone who reads it. And it needs to have a nugget of truth, that thing that makes us human coming through in the story without actually saying it. When a story lets readers come to that conclusion themselves, that is an excellent essay.

If you choose an essay from a writer for one volume will you consider something else they’ve written for another?

I consider the essays individually every time. And we have published more than one essay from a writer in the same volume. People can submit as many stories as they want for as many volumes as they want. Our policy says that I cannot publish more than three stories from any author in any single book. It’s usually better for the reader if there’s variety. But sometimes the very best stories that provide the most variety and flavor and different points of view are by the same author.

Do you choose essays from people who haven’t been published before?

About 25 percent of the essays in each book are by people who have not been published before. If I see a good story, even if it needs a little work, I’m going to grab it.

Do the authors participate in the promotion of the books?

They do, but it’s not required. Many of the contributors set up signings at bookstores. We also have authors who participate in local art fairs that feature local authors, library events and charitable events.

When submitting to A Cup of Comfort, what can authors do to make their writing stand out?

I’m a firm believer that you’re going to write the best story if you write what you know and write from your gut and not think too much about what we want. A lot of the stories deal with challenging and painful events in life. Write honestly about that, but for our purposes it’s about comfort, hope and inspiration. So keep that in mind. No matter what you write about it has to resonate with a large audience, it has to have some kind of insight or redemption quality or something that’s uplifting.

What kinds of stylistic and submission no-no’s should people avoid?

One of the common tendencies in writers is to overwrite, to say too much. Make sure every word counts. Also, preachiness doesn’t work for A Cup of Comfort. And, believe it or not, I get submissions with no contact information, no name. So if I want to publish the story I don’t know how to contact the author.

It’s not a good idea to submit something, revise it and submit it again. Sometimes people submit something because they’re excited and then after a couple of days they think, “Oh shoot, I have a mistake in there so I’m going to resubmit it.” It happens a lot with new writers. Sit on it a couple of days and make sure you want to submit what you submit. And if you find something you’d like to change after you submit, don’t worry. Editors don’t expect every submission to be perfect. We can tell if a story is close to what we need, and we’re accustomed to fixing things later.
Cindy HudsonCindy 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

Craft a Saleable Nonfiction Proposal with Christina Katz

Next Class Begins on June 4th

Prerequisites: Permission from Instructor
Most writers underestimate the comprehensiveness needed in a book proposal that will garner the interest of agents and editors. They also mistake the definition of platform and importance of alining their proposal to a solid track record. A two-time author, Christina has helped hundreds of nonfiction writers succeed over the past seven years. Now she’s making her proposal-writing advice available in a six-week e-mail course to aspiring authors who want to nail the proposal the first time around.
Cost: $199.00. [Only time at this price!]
Register at Writers on the Rise

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  • This Blog Moving to as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
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May 2008

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