Archive for March, 2009

Reasons To Write: Writing To Persuade

Christina Katz

By Christina Katz
Maybe you like writing to persuade. I know I do, and I find myself coming back to the skill over and over and over again as a professional communicator.
What exactly does writing to persuade mean? Persuasion is simply a way of convincing someone else of your point of view. You can use persuasion to plead your case, sway others to your way of thinking, and as a way of leveraging your influence.

But maybe you think writing to persuade should be relegated to the ranks of cheesy sales people trying to shill their wares and hope you should never have to stoop so low. But my fellow writers, we all write to persuade now and again, whether we like it or not. Right?

A proposal, pitch and query are examples of types of persuasive writing that all writers must employ. There’s simply no way around selling yourself, unless you aspire to only be read after your death. A couple of great books that can help you out in this lifetime are: The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas and The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell.

Arguing skillfully is a potent tool and writers need to know how and when to use it. So the next time the only thing standing between you and persuading someone else is a blank page, here are some strategies:

Don’t rant. Raging on and on in an agitated fashion about your biases has never been a particularly effective call to action or an efficient way to change people’s minds. However, arguing the reverse argument with some passion might be an persuasive way to show just how absurd the opposing point of view is, which may illustrate the wisdom of your perspective.

Paint a picture of the positive benefits of your position. Or conversely, paint a picture of the negative impact of a differing point of view. Go with facts whenever possible rather than what might or could happen.

Explore a list of reasons as a strategy. Strive to build your argument from the ground up. Don’t start with the frosting on the cupcake if the eggs and oil are  essential for the whole case to hold together. You can also describe the opposite position and then proceed to build a case for how flawed that way of thinking is point by detailed point.

Why not try cajoling instead of issuing orders? Be encouraging. Be inspiring. Create a call to action and invoke a sense of what things could be like if everyone would only adhere to your vision. Let your readers know that feeling good will be the result of their allegiance to your cause.

Just ask! In the end, people will often do what you suggest or even agree with you, not for any of the reasons above, but simply because you were persistent, invested, and a wee bit insistent. Sometimes people will let you persuade them just to get you to shush up.

When writing to persuade, use the tools at your disposal-whatever it takes. Then make your case, take a stand, build your argument, ask for assistance, and get the heck out of there before you make a nuisance of yourself.

Writer Mama by Christina KatzOctober 2007 Family Fun Magazine is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.

Writing for the Radio: The Commentator

Laura BridgwaterBy Laura Bridgwater

Being a columnist is a close cousin to being a commentator. While columns are measured in word count and commentary is measured in minutes and seconds, their character is similar. A commentary is tweaked to sound more conversational and a column is written more formally, but they are both in the same family.

Currently, I’m a columnist for a few publications and a radio commentator. Does that make me a commentist or a columnator?  Probably not, but the advice for breaking into both jobs cross-pollinates even if the titles don’t. Here are some words of wisdom about being a columnist or commentator that I picked up from others who wear those hats, too.

The Sound of Applause
I’ve attended three standing-room-only readings by David Sedaris, the nationally-acclaimed humorist, writer, best-selling author and radio contributor. I noticed that when he reads aloud to the crowd, he does not read passively. He is constantly taking notes. I assume that he’s marking where the audience laughed or where a passage seemed awkward.

There’s nothing like an audience for immediate feedback. So with a nod to David Sedaris, I now read aloud my humorous pieces to my writing group or anyone else kind enough to listen. I note where they laugh and I mark where it’s awkward. It has helped me improve my timing for pieces I read on the air.

A Sounding Board
When I heard Norris Burkes , a chaplain, syndicated columnist, and author of the book No Small Miracles, speak about column writing at our local newspaper, he said he has a team of friends from different faiths who vet his religion columns. He said this feedback helps him to turn in clean copy which makes the editors’ jobs easier and makes Burkes a dream to work with.

In my quest to also turn in clean copy, I turn to my Internet connections. I know I can email pieces to my writing group, my writing partner, a former editor I worked with, and writers I’ve met in writing classes. Writing is about communicating effectively, so getting feedback helps you to know if you have or have not successfully done that.

Sound Advice
It’s age-old writing advice, but it’s worth repeating: Put your butt in the chair. Natalie Costanza-Chavez, the author of the Grace Notes column and mother of two, said at a presentation on column writing through Northern Colorado Writers that she started column writing by locking herself in her bathroom each morning. I took this suggestion, but instead of putting my butt on the bath mat, I set my alarm for an hour before I needed to wake up my kids for school.

It’s informative to listen to others who are doing what you want to do, so check out your local venues for book signings and readings. You never know what tip you might pick up that will help you break in.

Laura Bridgwater is a freelance writer and radio commentator at KUNC. To listen to her commentary go to and click on tapes and transcripts. She can be reached at

The Scoop on Writing Profile Articles: Selling the Fruit of Your Labor

By Lori RussellLori Russell

There is nothing better than sampling the sweetness of summer’s first strawberries at a farmer’s market. But with several stands selling their berries, how do I decide which one to buy from? Give me a grower who knows her stuff, who can give me the details about where and how that little bit of heaven is produced and maybe a recipe to showcase the bounty at its best, and I’m ready to plunk down the cash. If she really knows her stuff, I’ll probably even ask her to throw in an extra pint.

The one-page query letter is the free sample in the farmer’s market of profile writing. Do it well and you make the sale.

Before you put your sample out there, you need to know your customer (also known as the editor). Grab a copy of the publication you want to target along with its writers guidelines and editorial calendar and read them. The calendar will tell you how far ahead to pitch your profile and the guidelines will tell you what type of “produce” the publication is looking for. Check the magazine’s website, or look in the “contact us” section. No luck? Call and ask for a copy. Resources like Writers Market also list information for thousands of publications.

While a strawberry grower showcases the uniqueness of her operation and her berries, she does so within the expected form of the market-setting it out in a beautiful basket in her stall rather than lobbing her fruit at passers-by from the bed of her pickup. So too must the writer practice and perfect the “right” form of a query letter to entice an editor to bite-and then buy.

Right idea – The first paragraph of your query is a tasty sample of your subject known as the hook. Designed to catch your customer’s (editor’s) interest in your profile subject, it is similar, (and often the same) as the opening paragraph in your article.

Right style – The second paragraph tells the who, what, where, when, why and “who cares” of your idea. It is written in the style, tone, and voice of the customer’s publication.

Right publication, right time – Paragraph three shows your customer that you know what he likes. What section does the profile belong in? How long will it be? Why is this profile perfect for the magazine? Why now?

Right person – In paragraph four, explain why you are the best person to write this profile. Include relevant writing and personal experience. List websites or mention the clips you are including with the letter so the editor can read your work.

Right closing – Be sure to thank your potential customer for his time and consideration.

Write your query, let it ripen for a day, then reread it. Have a writer friend sample it. Consider how you can make your product even better. After washing your fruit carefully (check for grammatical errors and that the editor’s name is spelled correctly), send it out to be sampled.

Assignment: This month, learn everything you can about two potential customers. Obtain a copy of their magazines, writer’s guidelines and editorial calendar. Now pick one of your fruits (profile ideas) and write a letter to each of your customers.

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

Getting Your Poems on the Page: The Power of Pronouns

Sage Cohen

By Sage Cohen
Point of view orchestrates the reader’s distance from (or proximity to) the speaker. When writing a poem, your first instinct may be to recount your own personal experiences using the first-person, singular point of view-the I. This is a fine approach that can serve a poem well. However, because this is often the most obvious and natural way to go, I recommend experimenting with other point-of-view options to get a feel for how they might benefit a poem.

When you replace I with you in a poem (known as second person), you invite the reader to participate in a new way. You can be read different ways; it can mean “one”-a general, universal point of view-or it can literally mean “you,” thus including the reader in the action of the poem. You can also be a direct address to someone specific: “You left me; how could you?” In this case, the reader may be positioned as an eavesdropper overhearing words directed at someone else-or they may find themselves standing in for that person.

What happens when a first-person experience is transferred to the third person (he/she)? The advantage of the third person is that it gives both the poet and the reader some personal space from the action of the poem. They observe rather than participate. This can create breathing room to write things you might not otherwise feel comfortable expressing.

For example, consider “He wanted to die,” versus “I want to die.” The first person feels immediate and urgent. The third person feels less immediate; we read it less personally.

Your turn!

Write a poem that speaks directly to someone important to you about an experience that you have shared. Imagine there is no reader beyond this person. Then rewrite the poem as if you are describing the same experience for a general audience. Notice which pronouns you choose, and why. How do they serve each version of the poem?

Next, revisit a poem or two that you have already written, considering whether they might have a greater impact by experimenting with a different point of view.

Moving forward, continue to experiment with pronouns to help you find the point of view that best expresses what you want to say while making the depth of connection you want.
October 2007 Family Fun Magazine

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry, 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. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University and teaches the email class Poetry for the People.

The Fiction Writing Workshop: The Anatomy of a Scene

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe
By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

What is a scene?

Pushed to put this seemingly abstract concept into words, scene can be hard to define. But, if we leave the written word for a moment and jump to the stage, the answer comes a little more easily.

So go ahead, leave the written word. Jump to the stage. And think again.

What is a scene? Ah, yes. A scene is a period of time during which characters are talking, something is happening, and both are unfolding in a place.

Take Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” for instance, when Romeo climbs up onto Juliet’s balcony and she professes great love for him, and the two of them coo at each other until they must part. Right there you’ve got a spectacular (and rather famous) scene: action, dialogue, and definitely a place.

You use the same three elements to create scenes in novels and short stories.

But why are scenes important? A numbers of reasons.

First, scenes give your readers something to see, and readers love to have something to see. (Think about how many times while reading certain passages in your favorite novel, you say, “Oh, I can just see it!”)

Second, scenes perform the all-important task of moving your story forward.

Third, scenes allow your readers to get to know your characters (and once your readers know your characters, they will keep on reading).

Fourth, without scenes, your story will be just plain B-O-R-I-N-G.

Consider Sherman Alexie’s poignant, hilarious, and spot-on novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown and Company, 2007). In the third chapter entitled “Revenge Is My Middle Name,” the narrator (a Spokane Indian kid named Junior who lives on a reservation) goes to a powwow with his best friend Rowdy. Now Alexie could have described Rowdy’s angry, aggressive behaviors to readers in straight narrative, but instead he puts the two boys into a situation where they talk, go somewhere, and get involved with some seedy characters. We get it all: action, dialogue, and place, and by the end of the powwow scene, we GET Rowdy. We know his role in Junior’s life. We understand why Junior loves him so much. And we suspect that eventually, there may be a bit of friction in this friendship. Most importantly, we want to keep reading. (Let me point out that although this novel’s primary audience is young readers, this is some sophisticated scene construction. It’s worth reading for both story and writerly techniques.)

With all this churning about in your noggin, try your hand at a couple of scenes this month. Use characters from a piece you’ve been working on or create some new ones in a completely new setting.

In addition, reread one of your favorite stories. Pay close attention to the scenes in the story. Where does one scene begin and end? What does the scene accomplish? How does the scene move the story forward? The more aware you become of scene construction in what you read, the more easily and artfully you’ll use it in your own work.

Understanding Personal Essays: Parenting and Publishing

Abigail Green

By Abigail Green

If there’s any topic that lends itself particularly well to the personal essay, it’s parenting. Let’s face it: families are a gold mine of material. From pregnancy to child-rearing to caring for aging parents, the “parenting” category encompasses a wide range of issues.

Fittingly, there are numerous publications that print parenting essays — from the aptly titled Parents and Parenting magazines to the more cerebral Brain, Child to websites like You can also find these essays in markets not specifically geared towards parents, like the New York Times and AARP magazine.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that practically every freelance writer who’s a parent tries his or her hand at penning parenting essays. That means the competition’s stiff. Parenting’s “Mom’s Eye View” department, for instance, is a favorite of freelancers. But since the magazine publishes just 12 issues a year, that means that out of hundreds of essay submissions editors can only buy a dozen. I’ve been discouraged to get the response: “We like your piece, but unfortunately we have too much in inventory already.”

The good news about parenting essays is, you have plenty of options. You could:

Reslant your essay. Let’s say you wrote a personal essay about co-sleeping. You could easily get some quotes from doctors and other parents and turn your essay into a first-person reported piece. Similarly, you could rework a straightforward topic as a humorous essay.

Think outside the essay slot. Lots of magazines have one clearly labeled essay section. Some that I know of are titled “In Your Words”; “Self Expression”; and “My Turn.” However, outside that department the publication may run other first-person pieces, even if they’re not labeled as such. Put on your detective’s hat. Is there a travel or health essay masquerading as a regular article? A big clue is whether the writer uses “I” in the lead.

Broaden your definition of parenting. Along the lines of the previous tip, you may increase your odds of selling your parenting essays if you expand your thinking. Sure, parenting essays can be about choosing a name for your baby, potty training your toddler, and finding a babysitter, but they can also be about finding time for yourself after kids, your relationship with your spouse, and getting back in shape after baby.

Step off the beaten path. The trouble with many of the national parenting magazines is that everybody knows about them. Why not try to sell your essay to a regional parenting magazine? (Google the term and you’ll find dozens.) Or how about a bridal magazine for an essay on your daughter’s wedding? Or a travel magazine for an essay about your family reunion at Yellowstone? Newspapers, websites, and anthologies like the Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort series are other markets that publish tons of personal essays on parenting topics.

Writing and selling parenting essays can be fun, challenging, satisfying, frustrating, easy, and time-consuming-just like raising kids!

Abigail Green is a freelance writer in Baltimore. Over the past 12 years, she has written for national, regional and online publications including AOL, Bride’s, Baltimore Magazine, Cooking Light and Health. She blogs about the lighter side of pregnancy, parenthood and potty training at Diary of a New Mom. She teaches Personal Essays that Get Published, a six-week e-mail class.

Ask Wendy: Your Writing Questions Answered

Wendy Burt

By Wendy Burt-Thomas
Q: I just got an acceptance for an article that may turn into a regular column. The editor asked me to send a bio. What exactly should I send?

A: Because your column isn’t confirmed yet, my guess is that the editor isn’t looking for something to add to the contributor’s page, but rather a bio to go at the end of your article. Look at a past issue to see the length of other writers’ bios. If you have something to sell or promote (ebook, book, newsletter, website or blog), do it here. (If you don’t have any of the above, read Christina’s new book, Get Known Before the Book Deal to see why you should.)

A simple, two-sentence bio might read:

“Wendy Burt-Thomas is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs. She welcomes your writing questions at”

When you’re confirmed as a columnist, your bio will likely be longer, perhaps more relevant to your experience writing that particular issue’s column, and likely accompanied by your photo and/or email. Check out the contributor’s page in Oprah’s O Magazine or Shape magazine to see a good example of this.

The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-ThomasWendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer, editor and copywriter with more than 1,000 published pieces. Her work has appeared in such varied publications as,, Family Circle and American Fitness. She is the author of three books: Oh, Solo Mia! The Hip Chick’s Guide to Fun for One (McGraw-Hill, 2001); Work It, Girl! 101 Tips for the Hip Working Chick (McGraw-Hill, 2003); and The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters (Writer’s Digest, 2008). Visit her at or her blog,

Dear Fellow Writers (March 2009)

Christina Katz

We’ve got lots of exciting news this month, writers!

First, I’m celebrating the two-year anniversary of Writer Mama (can you believe it?) with a blog tour giveaway. Every day in March, I tell a portion of the Writer Mama story in a different blog and give away a book to one person who comments. It’s not too late to submit your blog for consideration. The cut off date to submit is Sunday, March 15th.

Second, March 17th is Sage Cohen’s Amazon spike day for her forthcoming book, Writing the Life Poetic from Writer’s Digest Books. I’ve got the very first signed copy in my hands and it is a beauty! Every once in awhile, the designers at Writer’s Digest Books go all out. And with the help of Sage’s illustrator friend, Gregoire Vion, and an embossed four-color design, this baby is a work of art! Please help Sage midwive her first traditionally published book into the world by purchasing your copy on March 17th with me!

And finally, columnist Abigail Green welcomes baby #2 into the family. And I quote from her blog, Diary of a New Mom: Baby Riley came into the world in just under 8 hours, weighing in at just under 8 lbs. Congratulations to Abby and her whole family!

Abby’s essay, “Belly Flop,” about adjusting to her postpartum figure, appeared in the February 2009 issue of American Baby. Just in time for her to adjust again!

Make good things happen!

Christina Katz
Publisher and Editor

Quick Note About Classes That Begin Wednesday, March 11th: This will be the LAST opportunity to take Writing and Publishing the Short Stuff and Pitching Practice at the low-low price of $199. I decided not to raise prices over the 2008 holiday season and halfway into the New Year. But, for example, the food I buy for one dog alone has gone up twelve bucks. Class prices will bump up beginning in August 2009. I’ve already bumped up the prices on coaching. I’ll post the new class prices soon. Class registration and the full 2009 calendar, including classes with other highly qualified instructors, has moved to

Affordable, Empowering Classes With Highly Qualified Instructors Begin March 11th

Classes With Christina Katz

Writing & Publishing the Short Stuff (Especially for moms)
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 help you quickly move up to longer, higher-paying articles. 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
More info or Register

Pitching Practice: Write Six Queries in Six Weeks
Prerequisites: WPSS recommended or Permission from the Instructor
In this class, pitching is all we do. Over the course of six weeks, we crank out six queries. Exactly the kind of practice you need if you want to get in the habit of landing better-paying assignments. After you write and send six queries, you will never again ask, “What makes a strong query?” You will have developed your own and style into prototypes that you can use over and over to obtain future assignments. And that’s what query writing is about. Not someone else’s formula, but finding your own query-writing rhythm.
Cost: $199.00
More info or Register

Writing for the Web with Jennifer Applin

These days virtually every business and industry needs to have an online presence. That’s where you can come in! With a growing trend in Internet marketing, e-commerce and online publications, the need for creating well-written web content is more important than ever.  If you are looking to make a name for yourself, and a living, writing for the web, then this course can help you get started. Students will learn how to develop a writing style that is suitable for the web; provide a variety of services (online articles, website content, blogging, editing, etc.); establish a fair rate and avoid scams; find paying assignments and secure steady accounts.
Cost: $199.00
More info or Register

Poetry for the People with Sage Cohen
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
More info or register

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