How To Avoid Being Trapped

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Can a writer be compared to a jungle animal? Is a writer anything like the tawny leopard who pauses in a shaft of golden sunlight and lifts his regal head, nostrils flaring? He crouches low to the ground and proceeds toward his next sure meal. The leopard ignores all other aspects of nature’s bounty as the scent of a fresh kill draws him on. Without warning, he falls into a vast hole and lands at the bottom with a thud. Trapped! Caught with no way out!

Unsuspecting writers fall into traps, too. The scent of publication draws them through their own jungle. Sometimes writers forget to be cautious and tend to business, and they fall headlong into a different type of pit, trapped like the leopard. But a writer can find the means to escape and continue on his journey.

Writers are urged to write often, to write voraciously, to write, write, write. We know that in order to become better writers and win the prize — publication — there are myriad things we must do besides putting words on paper. Writing successes don’t arrive out of the blue, but are achieved in various ways.

Among them, reading about writing is foremost in our minds, so we go to the local library and bookstores. We borrow dozens of books that tell us how to plot, how to sketch characters, how to present a book proposal, and more. The books line our shelves, and we immerse ourselves in one after the other and absorb the lessons within. Certainly one viewpoint is too narrow. Let’s expand our horizons and read several.

It eats into our writing time.

Kathryn Anzak writes book reviews and nonfiction and is also working on a novel. She says, “Reading books does get in the way of writing. I get caught up in the learning and forget the application part.”

Read books about writing, but read fewer of them. It’s impossible to read every book written on the subject of writing. Select the ones you do read with care, and look for material dealing with the type of writing you do.

In addition to instructive books, the Internet is filled with writers’ sites presenting weekly or monthly newsletters. The editors offer articles to read and classes to take. They present markets and contests, writing prompts, and fun activities. Seldom satisfied with one of these newsletters, most writers subscribe to dozens. The newsletters do have some excellent information, but they take precious time to read. It eats into our writing time.

Once again, be selective. If you find yourself skimming through the contents of one of these newsletters rather than fully reading it, unsubscribe quickly. With a practiced eye, you’ll soon discern which are worth the time it takes to read them. You’ll figure out which ones offer solutions to problems or new markets, and which are forms of mindless entertainment.

We look for help other than what we find in books and on the Internet, something that includes other writers in a social setting. We find it in a personal, face-to-face critique group, which profits writers in numerous ways. Whether it meets weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, a local group like this can offer constructive criticism and perhaps praise for our work. It also eats into our writing time.

Before joining one of these critique groups, take a serious look at the time involved. Ask yourself if the time befits the benefit. Is it worth using precious hours you might spend at your computer writing a story? A writer can profit from an honest answer to this question.

Research provides another way to help craft a successful manuscript. Those who write nonfiction, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction often need to delve into investigative fact-finding. One thing leads to another, and the research takes far longer than anticipated. It eats into our writing time.

Jerri Garretson is the owner of Ravenstone Press and author of several books for children, including The Secret of Hidden Springs and Imagicat. Jerri says, “For me, the distraction is likely to be too much researching, way beyond what I actually need. I get to enjoying the process, and it feeds on itself.”

With practice, the writer can determine an appropriate amount of time given to research. A written list of facts and information to complete the story is helpful in deciding how much research is necessary. Adhere to the list rather than enlarging upon it as you go. The important thing here is to stay focused.

Writers’ organizations offer another opportunity to learn from others. If you live in a city that has a chapter of a national writers group, it makes sense to join. Groups like this can bring many advantages, but we can also become so involved that it eats into our writing time.

An author of adult fiction, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that she recently resigned from a group of writers because she got caught up in revising their by-laws, policies, and procedures. She says, “With all the apologies I heard from others at the meetings for not having gotten any writing done since the last meeting, I knew I was wasting my time.”

If you want to retain membership in a group like this, do so, but attend when you can afford the time, and don’t allow yourself to become embroiled in the operation of the group to the detriment of your own working time. It’s not easy to say no when asked to help, but learn to put your writing first and foremost. It’s the gold star item in your life if you intend to be a serious writer.

We’ve explored numerous ways we attempt to become better writers but not all of them are beneficial. As we’ve seen, some of them lead us into a trap. Frank Kryza, author of The Power of Light/cite>, gives some excellent advice. “Very few writing projects can be completed within a short planning horizon, so you just have to be committed to writing every day, whether you want to or not, and the best teacher will be your own (self-discovered) mistakes.”

This advice is plain and simple and leaves few, if any, traps to snare us.

Kate Reynolds has completed one novel and is working on another. Kate, too, has some good suggestions. She says, “Years ago, I read an article that listed ‘The Five Essential Steps To Publishing.’ I typed them into my computer and printed the page. It’s dog-eared and coffee stained now, but I keep this list by my computer and read it every day to keep myself focused.”

Kate’s five steps are:

  1. Write
  2. Finish it
  3. Do not re-write endlessly
  4. Send it to someone who can buy it; not friends or relatives
  5. Go to step 1

Don’t be like the leopard and let the scent of publication lead you into one of these traps. You can maintain a healthy balance of the tools of the trade available to a writer. Review your writing activities occasionally to make sure you aren’t falling into one of those deep pits again. When you are producing fewer and fewer pages, it may be time to step back and assess the reasons why you are writing less. To make writing a priority takes the same kind of commitment as saving money. Financial experts advise clients to take the savings out of the paycheck first. Writing is no different — those thousand words a day must take precedence over all other writing-related aspects of your life. You know what the traps are, and by practicing self-discipline, you can avoid all of them and become a better writer.

Nancy Julien Kopp’s writing reflects both her growing-up years in Chicago and many years of living in the Flint Hills of Kansas. She has published stories, articles, essays, children’s stories and poetry in magazines, newspapers, and online. She is a former teacher who still enjoys teaching via the written word. You can find her at Writer Granny’s World.

10 Suggestions for Sticking with Writing

By Penny A. Zeller

I contemplated quitting early in my career as a writer. My reason? A rejection letter.

I received a request to see a bicycling article I had spent weeks perfecting. Excitedly, I sent the article and numerous photographs to the editor. Not a week later, I received the manuscript back in the mail with a note rejecting it. I was devastated. My heart and soul had been poured into those three pages of text. I am ashamed to say that I cried for days and thought seriously about giving up my newfound career.

I wondered if I really was cut out to be a writer. Sure, I’d had rejections before, but never had I worked so hard on an article as I had on this one. If you get stuck in a rut, as I did, here is some advice that has helped me along the way:

  1. Seek out family and friends. My husband was ultimately the one who told me not to let this one editor be the one to make me quit the career I had dreamed of since I was seven. I am grateful that he sat me down and gave me the “you listen here”speech, and I am grateful I listened.
  2. Join a local writing group. Years ago when I walked into my first writing group meeting with my four-month-old daughter on my hip, I never realized just how valuable the Range Writers would be. I have gained insights, confidence, and lasting friendships from this group of people with whom I share the same goal.
  3. Find an editor. Every writer has inborn antennae to “catch” things others may miss. When I heard that my new neighbor was a retired teacher who had once taught English, my antennae went on full alert. Now was the time to find out if I should be writing as a profession. With several manuscripts in hand, I walked over to her house and asked if she would be willing to edit my work. She was honored. Since that time, I have learned extensively about punctuation and have had many typos caught by this woman who I am proud to call my editor. She gives me honest and constructive criticism—and that’s what a good editor does.
  4. Discover your niche(s). So maybe writing about bicycling wasn’t my niche. What about other topics? I believe there are as many topics as there are writers to write about them. So, I found my niches. When I look back on the articles sold, I find that most of them fall under one or more of the following categories: they are geared toward teenagers, include some type of spirituality, or deal with health and fitness. Does that mean I can’t write about other topics? No, it just means that for now I am perfecting, focusing, and honing a few niches.
  5. Develop a “happy file.” I have never kept my rejections (there is a reason why my outdoor garbage can is next to my mailbox!) But I DO keep thank-you notes from people I have interviewed, congratulatory notes, newspaper write-ups about me, and “atta girl” letters from editors. I place all these in a file to resort to whenever I need that extra motivation.
  6. Examine your motives. There is a reason why a person wants to be a writer. For me, it was my dream before I could use a computer. The idea of dreaming up new things to write about and then proceeding with the written project is exciting and challenging to me. Examine why you wanted to be a writer in the first place. Write down the three main reasons. File it away in your “happy file”and read it whenever you feel like giving up.
  7. Keep an “idea file.” Ideas always come to me while I am taking a shower or suffering from insomnia. I quickly write these ideas down and file them in my “idea file.” This is a highly motivational tool. If you don’t write those articles and stories, who will?
  8. Realize that opinions are subjective. I realized that everyone has his own opinion and what may not look good to one editor may look acceptable to another. Keep this in mind when you receive a rejection letter. That was one editor. Big deal! There are a million more and they all have different opinions. The chances are good that one of them could easily like the article you are proposing.
  9. Look back to the past. Whenever I am feeling discouraged, I look back at old query letters I wrote at the beginning of my career. I am amazed at how far I have come. Keep copies of the queries you send “this is a great way to track your progress in the future.”
  10. Do not give up. I am a firm believer in perseverance. Stick with your dream, and someday your dream will be realized.

Penny A. Zeller writes for national and regional publications across North America. Some of her recent credits include Women’s Health & Fitness, ePregnancy, Grit, Woman’s Touch, Hopscotch, and WREN Magazine.

Review: The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything by Magdalena Ball

Review by Betty Winslow
Let me say right off the bat that I prefer my writing books in hardcopy, so that I can red them in bed, in the car, or in the bathtub (not a good place for an e-reader). However, Magdalena Ball’s e-book, The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything, made sitting in front of my computer worth the crick in my neck I ended up with.

I’ve been doing book reviews for about five years now, and I more or less fell into it one day, when (at my second job as school librarian) I read a professional librarian review magazine, thought to myself, “Hey, maybe I can do this, too!” and sent in my first review. A bit to my surprise, the editor liked my work, and I’ve been doing reviews for her ever since.

Cover of Magdalena Ball’s The Art Of AssessmentMore recently, I’ve sent a few clips from that magazine to other publications and have made a place for my work at several other magazines (some of which even pay!). Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about doing reviews, but I had to do it pretty much on my own, since no matter where I looked, I couldn’t seem to find a book about this field. When someone in one of the on-line writer’s groups I belong to mentioned Maggie’s book, I sent off for it right away. Now, after reading it, I only have one thing to say– Maggie, where were you five years ago?

If reviewing interests you, don’t mess around like I did; buy this book and read it cover to cover (uh . . . screen to screen? Whatever. . .). Maggie not only tells it like it is, in chapters like “How to Write Reviews” and “How To Review Anything” (in which she discusses books, concerts, CDs, and other products you might not have thought about reviewing), she includes plenty of useful resources, too. Some of them may not be useful to you unless you’re also Australian, as she is, but all in all this is one of most valuable niche marketing books I’ve read in a long time.

[Editors’ note: Since Betty published this article, Magdalena Ball has republished The Art of Assessment; it is now available as both a printed book and an ebook.]

Interview: Aaron Krach

By Alex Shapiro

Aaron Krach is a writer and artist presently living on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He graduated from the University of California, San Diego, with a B.A. in Visual Arts and continued his studies at the University of Copenhagen. A former editor at Empire magazine and Gay City News, he is currently a senior editor at CARGO magazine and columnist at A&U Magazine. Half-Life is his first novel, published by Alyson Publications.

You’re a writer, an artist and an editor. Which comes first? Do you favor one over the other?

Financially, being an editor because it pays my rent. Then writer and artist equally below that depending on what project I’m working on. When I was finishing the book, it was all Half-Life all-the-time. Now that my book is out in the world, I’m taking a lot of pictures again and working on a couple of exhibitions planned over the next year. But inside my head: I’d say writer and artist fight each other for supremacy. I’ve been told by so many people to focus on one thing or the other. Really, since high school I can remember a teacher pulling me aside and telling me that I could go from a B+ student to an A student if I’d only settle down. It was very frustrating advice to hear because I was happiest doing as many things as possible. And I still am. So I try to block out that advice (which keeps coming from bosses, agents, fans, boyfriends, family) and just do whatever I want. As long as the work gets done, and it gets done well, then all is well in the world, I think.

You are a young artist, yet you have quite a career: from editor, to columnist, senior editor and first time author, not to mention your national and international photo shows. When was the first time you realized you wanted to become an artist? What triggered this decision?

I had this bizarre experience as a child where I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that I wanted to be cutting edge. I wanted to be doing whatever was the newest. For a while this meant being an astronaut because I thought they were dealing with the most advanced science, not to mention true adventure and discovery. Then this translated into becoming a radio disc jockey because that was “right now”; their work was in the immediate present tense. This was all before I knew what I was talking or thinking about. Really, probably before I was 12. Then during my high school years, it started to come together as art, writing, publishing, exhibiting. These were the things that were most up-to-the-minute because you/me/the artist chooses to make them the newest, most current item/idea/experience.

How did your studies abroad (international experience) influence your work as an editor and as a writer? Would you recommend it to other writers or artists?

Beyond question. The world would be a completely different place if everyone had traveled around the world. My experience in Copenhagen was scary and exciting and so illuminating. Denmark isn’t very exotic, but it got me to Europe where I could travel more easily to Turkey, Italy, France, Morocco, Holland, Poland and Spain. I didn’t know it at the time, but the classes I took were secondary. It was the experience of being “foreign” and being a “traveler” not a “tourist” that changed my outlook and my life. When President Bush was “elected” and admitted to never having been to Europe, I was sick to my stomach. Really, you can probably trace his ignorance of the world to every bad decision the man has made in regards to foreign policy. I was chastised by friends for judging him harshly.

“Not everyone is a fortunate as you,” they said. “Forget it!” I replied. It is not about money. It is about opportunity and everyone has the chance to be open to the world. They just have to open their mind.

What comes first: editing or writing? How do you wear the two “hats” successfully and what is your advice for others who may want to follow in your steps?

First comes reading. I can’t say enough about reading. I am in a constant state of shock when I read or talk to other writers and editors and they are not voracious readers. Newspapers, magazines and books (both fiction and nonfiction) should be a staple of the writer/editor’s life. There is no excuse. “I don’t have time to read the paper every day” is not acceptable. Make time. You can only learn how to write by reading. And you can only learn to edit by knowing how to write. Editing is rewriting. Plain and simple. I wrote my book in five years from start to finish. I “wrote” the first draft in 3 months. I spent 4 years and 9 months rewriting/editing. Obviously you can see what was more important.

There is nothing worse than overwriting something. I wish desperately I could go back to my novel and rewrite it now. I am such a better writer/editor today and I would cut about 40 pages of excess.

As an editor you work with writers on a regular basis. What do you expect from potential writers? Can you share with us a few dos and don’ts of breaking into a magazine and “catching” the editor’s attention?

First, meet the editor. In person or on the phone. You have to connect personally. I realize this is difficult. It’s practically impossible, actually. But the best writers that I go back to again and again as an editor are people I trust to hand in what I need. So, send in clips and pitches, email and snail mail. Then call. But do not become a pest. If the editor shows little interest, don’t take it personally. It probably has nothing to do with you. Really. He could just be having a bad period in his life. So drop your pestering for a few months and come back to him later. You only get one chance, usually. Become a pest now and you’ll never work with that editor again.

Getting the editor’s attention is great, but not enough. Writers need to keep the editor interested in their ideas. What do you think is the secret to a successful relationship with the editor?

Once you get a foot in the door, say, once you get a first assignment: Kick butt! I mean, do it so well, so thoroughly and so creatively that you knock the editor’s socks off and make a great impression. There are just too many writers out there who want your job. So . . . Never ask for an extension; in fact, hand it in early. Tardiness is evil. If you have to hand something in late, you better have cancer or a death in your immediate family. Really. Once you have a relationship, then you can get flexible and ask for more. But before that, don’t even think about it. And, most importantly, and this is something I’ve told every intern/friend/beginner: Never say “No.” Always say yes to every single assignment. Flexibility is so attractive in a writer. Unless you’re a superstar and can afford to say no, just don’t.

What are the main mistakes that freelance writers make and how can they be avoided? What makes a good/bad query?

First, find out exactly what the editor wants and needs. For example, right now I’m a senior editor at CARGO magazine. It’s a very unique publication about shopping. We don’t have many traditional articles, but we have a lot of short newsy items and a lot of in-depth reporting that gets translated into short service articles. So I need very specific pitches about products. Before a writer contacts me, they should . . .

  1. Know CARGO inside and out, and know what sections I’m in charge of;
  2. Target their queries to something I cover and write them in a format that matches CARGO style.

Everything else is useless to me. I think this is appropriate to any editor. You wouldn’t write an editor at The New Yorker and ask to review a book. They already have a high-power book critic. But you might write them a query about a big story on the invention of the VCR, something just quirky and yet timely enough to be of interest to The New Yorker.

Always ask editors exactly what they mean. In fact, ask all the questions you can think of because you don’t want any misunderstandings. For me, if someone asks if they can send me pitches, I say yes. If I like one, I’ll contact them or call them and discuss moving forward. If the pitches are on the right track, but not right for me today, then I’ll email them back and say “Thanks, but not thanks right now.” And then, unfortunately, if the queries are completely out of left field and inappropriate for my publication, or they are too long, and poorly explained, I’ll just delete the email.

Your novel, Half-Life, was published in May of this year. Why a novel and why at this time?

Nonfiction journalism is highly creative and challenging, but a novel is so completely different and fantastic (and fanciful). It is a pleasure for me to write under no restriction or guidelines. Writing a novel let me do whatever I wanted. Because remember, everyone has a boss. As an editor, I’m the writer’s boss. But I have an editor in chief who is my boss. And even he has the owner of the company judging him. Life is strange that way, but it works. And my key to keeping my wits about me is to have a creative outlet like novels and photographs to help me focus.

How did your editorial experience help you write your own book? Did it influence your marketing and promotion strategies?

Yes, yes and yes. Being an editor I knew how bad my first draft was. And it helped me spend five years rewriting. Marketing and promotion was intense because I knew exactly what to do and what not to do. I knew what kinds of letters the publisher should send out. I knew what kind of press release I wanted sent because I know what I want to receive as an editor. Short, sweet, timely.

And it cannot go unsaid that being in the media helps because you can pull in favors with friends. I could make calls to editors at papers and magazines and ask them “when” not “if” they were going to cover my book. This really helped. Because I couldn’t have written the best book in the world (which I didn’t) and if I didn’t know a few people to help me get press, then nothing would ever have happened with the book.

Half-Life is a captivating read, with fully developed characters and an intriguing yet, realistic plot, I’d say. Tell us about your sources of inspiration and how you managed to write and publish a novel while still working as an editor full-time.

Thank you. I’d say that keeping Half-Life fully human and subsequently “believable” were two very important goals. I’m not interested in science fiction or fantasy. I like stories about real people with real feelings.

Half-Life was very much imagined by taking a “What if?” approach to my own life. My mother is clinically depressed and has attempted suicide. What if she succeeded? I grew up gay in Los Angeles in the early 90s before it was very cool to be gay. But what if I had grown up in 1999 when it’s a lot easier (in big cities) to be openly gay? And what if I had those perfect, cool friends that every high school kid dreams about? This is how I wrote the book. Took my life and made it a hell of a lot more interesting. (I hope!)

As to how I finished it while holding down a day job: simple. I got up and wrote for two hours every day before work. I was so resistant to the whole discipline thing for so long that I tried writing when I got home from work at 7 or 8 o’clock at night. I can tell you what happened. I would begin working and it would take about 30 minutes to begin to focus, to let go of the dramas of my day and get inside Half-Life. Then I would write for about 30 minutes and get so tired I would crawl the few feet from my desk to my bed and fall asleep. It was pretty funny, actually.

Then one day, I don’t know what changed my mind. I got up and tried writing in the morning. No radio, no TV, no newspaper. I wouldn’t look at anything that might distract me. I made good coffee and sat down so fresh and sleepy and my mind entered Angelito (the fictional town in Los Angeles where Half-Life is set) and I would have to pull myself away in order to get to work. They became the happiest two hours of my day.

What are your plans for the future? Are you working on a new book?

Yeah, I’ve started another one. This time about New York City, or at least set in New York City, although the setting always becomes a character to me. The book tour and promotion have kept my mind buzzing and unfocused, but hopefully soon I can settle into the new book and get it done. I know one thing: I don’t want to wait five years before publishing again!

You can find Aaron Krach’s Web site here. You can buy Aaron Krach’s Half-Life: A Novel from Amazon, as well as Aaron Krach’s other books on Aaron Krach’s Amazon page.

Alex Shapiro (a.k.a. Alina Oswald) is a freelance writer and author of “Poetry of the Soul” collection. To learn more about her work, check out Alex Shapiro’s Web site.

Writing An Author Bio That Will Knock The Editor’s Socks Off!

By Dorothy Thompson

Never been published? Here are some suggestions on how to write that author’s bio that is sure to achieve success!

You have just finished your masterpiece and are about to send it off to that magical world, The Land Of The Publishing Industry. You have done your homework and have edited it with a fine-tooth comb. Now what?

You must prepare an author bio to knock the editor’s socks off. Your manuscript cannot stand alone. Along with an impressive cover letter and query, your manuscript must include an author bio. As an already established author, you have probably saved your bio in a file, updating it as you go. As an unpublished author, it is hard to know the exact way to go about doing this. I will show you the tricks of the trade to send off an impressive bio, even if you have never been published before.

Always Write In Third Person

To begin your bio, always remember to write in the third person. Many professional authors know that this is the correct way to write your bio. This makes it more presentable to the publisher. It also allows your readers to distance themselves and not be intimidated.

Your Opening Sentence

This is where you sell yourself to the editor. Your opening line is your introduction, the first thing the editor notices. This line can make you or break you. I start out by stating, “Dorothy Thompson is a freelancer, online journal editor, e-book author.” State your name and who you are. Never mention your personal life, just your professional titles. If you write, “Hi! I’m Jane Doe and a housewife from Minneapolis,” you are already looked upon as an unprofessional. No editor wants to hear this. They simply do not care.

No credentials? No problem. There are ways for even a first-time writer to wing it. Let’s say you have written a poem about your dog that perhaps saved a drowning boy’s life. First of all, you are already a freelancer because you are sending this article to a publisher. Second, you are a poet because this is a poem. Now, you can say, “Jane Doe is a freelance writer and poet.” Sounds better, doesn’t it?

Join Writing Or Critique Groups

Are you a member of a writing group, online or otherwise? If not, join today! This is very important for a first-time writer with no bylines. An editor will take notice if you are a member of a writing or critique group as this tells them you have an interest in perfecting your craft. There are several places online to find a writing group. One good place to look is Yahoo!. Go to Yahoo Groups at and look for Entertainment & Arts. Look under “books,” then “Writing.” Peruse the groups, as there are over a thousand groups listed here. Join as many as you want. Be careful about the amount of groups you sign up for, for it will take up much of your email space.

Writing Organizations

Another plus in an editor’s eyes is your affiliation with writers’ organizations. Where to find them? One way is to go to one of your writer’s groups and ask. Many writers in these groups are already associated with several organizations and they can give you advice on which ones to join. Another way to find out is to put “writer organizations” in search. I went to Yahoo and put “writer organizations” in the search box, and this is what I found: at the time of this writing, Yahoo included 23 categories and 298 websites for writer organizations. They included:

Most have yearly fees, so be prepared for that. This should not defray you. One particular writers’ organization I know is so well respected by editors and publishers that having that in your bio is almost all you need for an instant passport to publication.


As an unpublished author, you have to always remember that you are your own product. You have to sell yourself. By following the above suggestions, I can guarantee you will come up with an author bio that will knock the editor’s socks off and increase your chances of becoming a published author.

Dorothy Thompson 2001

Dorothy Thompson is a freelance writer, children’s ebook author, and editor of The Writer’s Life. She writes for many online publications, as well as AuthorsDen and Her children’s ebook, No More Gooseberry Pie! is published by Writers-Exchange E-Publishing. Her latest project is a soul mate anthology she is compiling that will be published next year.

Review: You Can Market Your Book: All the Tools You Need to Sell Your Published Book

Review by Betty Winslow

You Can Market Your Book: All the Tools You Need to Sell Your Published Book
By Carmen Leal
ACW Press
250 pages price: $10.50

If there were an election for the position of Queen of Book Promotion, Carmen Leal would win it, hands down. Her latest book, You Can Market Your Book: All the Tools You Need to Sell Your Published Book, is chock full of ideas she and others have used to generate a buzz about their books, self-published or published through a royalty publisher. “Through a royalty publisher?” you ask? Yep. Even going that route doesn’t mean you can sit back on your laurels and let the publishing house do all the work—unless you don’t care if your book sells or not. You do, don’t you? Ms. Leal says, “Make sure that you understand the 80/20 rule: Writing takes only 20 percent of your effort, marketing and promotion takes up the other 80 percent.”

You Can Market Your Book will show you many ways to make good use of the 80 percent. With it in hand, you can pull off all kinds of marketing: press kits, book signings, on-camera interviews, giveaways, public speaking, and more. The book is divided into four sections, Project and Site Preparation, Choosing the Right Tools and Materials, Finding the Right Subcontractors, and Executing Your Plan, and it has a detailed table of contents, making it easy to find the section you want to concentrate on next.

She doesn’t use only her own ideas, either. She also presents ideas that have been used by other successful authors, as well as articles on various promotion topics by over a dozen other professionals. No matter how much you know about promoting a book, I’d be surprised if you weren’t able to learn at least a few new angles by the end of the book. One interesting side note: Be sure to notice how she uses quotations (a particular passion of hers) and dialogue from the movie Lilies of the Field to illustrate various points.

To add to the book’s value, Ms. Leal has included at the end of each chapter a list of authors and resources featured in that particular section, to make finding them again easier. She also offers the URL to a companion web site that features every link in the book and a tip archive as well as several worksheets and forms that can be printed out for use by her readers. In the very back of the book is a list of recommended books that Leal considers to be valuable. (I already own or have read several of them and I’ll be investigating the rest.)

If you plan on writing a book and you want it to sell, You Can Market Your Book should be #1 on your shopping list.

Betty Winslow is the author of The Lady and the Lawman.

Six Steps to Getting Published

By Georganne Fiumara

Freelance writing is a rewarding way to work at home. As a writer, you have the special opportunity to influence what others think and do. You can touch emotions and possibly even change the course of a reader’s life. Each year, millions of men and women will attempt to have their words published in magazines, newspapers or books but only a very small percentage will be successful. Those who remain unpublished may secretly feel that the published writers have more talent than they do. Although some have more skill than others, talent is not the reason why most freelance writers achieve success. The following six steps can help you get started on the road to getting published:

  1. Now is the time to start. Ask yourself this question: Do I want to be a writer, or do I want to write? There is a difference. Becoming a writer is a fantasy: writing is hard work. If you are waiting for the right time and place to begin writing, you will never find out if you can do it. Don’t wait until the kids start school or until you can afford a computer. To become a writer, the first thing you have to do is write—right now. There is no better time to begin, and waiting is just an excuse to avoid failure.
  2. Learn your craft. There is not enough room here to give writing lessons, but I can tell you what you have to do to become the best writer you can be: Read and write. Read the type of writing that you want to do. Read all of the publications you want to write for. As you read, notice the best and worst traits of each writer. Write down phrases that you admire. You can even type out a good article to get a feel for how the sentences are structured. Then, read about writing. There are many excellent books about writing and most are available from Writer’s Digest Book Club in Cincinnati, Ohio. They also publish an excellent magazine called Writer’s Digest. The most important way to improve your writing is to write. Like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you will get. Eventually you will develop your own style, your unique voice, which will make it a little easier to complete your assignment. But this won’t happen until you write as much as you can.
  3. Choose your topics carefully. What you write about is more important that your writing skill. Your topics must be marketable. Determine if your article is of interest to the readers of the magazine you are targeting. What makes you qualified to write such an article? Do you have expertise in this area, or will you interview those who do? Is your topic one that has not been covered recently, or do you have a fresh angle on the subject? Will you be teaching your readers a skill that they might have to pay to learn elsewhere? Will the information you provide empower your readers? If you cannot meet these guidelines, it is unlikely that a magazine would be interested in publishing your material.
  4. Do what successful writers do. You may have been blessed with some writing ability, but you will not become a published writer until you learn the methods used by working freelancers. Everyone has heard the expression “Write about what you know.” If you want to have your writing published, you also need to write for publications you know. Until you become a regular reader, there is no way you can know the “personality”of the magazine, the type of articles they buy, and which ideas have not yet been used. Just as you cannot draw a picture of someone you have never met, you cannot write an acceptable article for a publication you have never seen. If you read about a magazine that is not available in your area, send for a sample issue and ask for writer’s guidelines. Become as informed as possible but do not write the article until you contact the publication with a query. Experienced writers do not submit completed articles. They do not want to waste their time completing work that has not been assigned. Instead, learn how to demonstrate your writing ability and present your ideas in a focused proposal letter called a query. Splurge on good stationery with your name and address at the top. Always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for reply. Appearance and professionalism does count.
  5. Effective marketing is as important as good writing. If you view your writing as your “product”; you will understand why it is so important to use marketing techniques to convince and editor to buy what you are selling. Writing is a business, and only those who realize this will have a chance of succeeding. Use your query to explain to the editor why the readers will be interested in your topic and how they can benefit from your words. Unpublished writers have the greatest difficulty selling their work. You can make it easier to become published if you don’t try for the national magazines right away. If you have to, write for the local shopper newspaper for free, but do the very best job you can do. No one will know that you were not paid for your writing and you will have published clips to show the editors of larger publications.
  6. Rejection is part of the process. No one likes to be told that their work is unacceptable, but it is especially difficult to have a creative endeavor rejected. The great majority of people who want to become writers submit one article, poem or short story. When the publication sends them a preprinted rejection slip, the writer feels that his or her worst fears have been confirmed. So, the manuscript goes into a drawer and never again sees the light of day. This is a very big mistake. Publications reject work for many reasons. Bad writing is only one of them. They may have covered a similar topic recently, or the publication does not use poetry, or the editor had a bad day and rejected everything that crossed her desk. Or, maybe this particular piece was not up to professional standards. The reason doesn’t really matter. It is important, however, to decide at the very beginning of your career that rejection is just one part of the acceptance process. Until you are willing to take the chance of being rejected over and over again, you will never have your work accepted. Even the best baseball players strike out more than they get hits. But, the strike-outs do not take one bit of the glory away from each home run. Instant success cannot be expected in any profession. Becoming a published writer is a process. Anyone with a little talent and a lot of focus and perseverance can succeed.

Georganne Fiumara is a writer specializing in home business topics. She has had more than 85 articles published in magazines and newspapers such as Family Circle, Women’s Day, American Baby, Income Opportunities, The New York Times and Newsday. In 1984, she founded Mothers’ Home Business Network, a national organization providing ideas, information and inspiration for mothers who choose to work at home, with a Web site at

What’s So Special About A Writers’ Conference?

By Linda Chiara

By nature writers tend to be solitary people. We spend hours alone in front of a computer or in libraries doing research. Oh, sure, sometimes we venture out into the real world and sit in a favorite coffee house sipping on a latte. But rather than truly interacting with others, we find ourselves eavesdropping on our fellow man, straining to hear a good conversation which we hope to be able to use in our work-in-progress novel.

However, more often than not, you’ll find us at home, alone.

By virtue of our profession (and on the plus side) we don’t have to cope with office politics, unless you count the rare situation when we must tread lightly and handle delicately the quirks of an unorthodox editor.

However, on the flip side of the coin, we are not privy to the helpful career news that is frequently discussed while standing around the office water cooler. Nor do we have much contact with other professionals who could help steer us in the right direction, or at least point us to a path that we had not considered before.

That’s where a good writers’ conference comes in. There are at least 1,000 writers’ conferences or seminars offered each year. (Check out for information). Each and every one of them can provide you with something to help you in your quest to becoming a better, and more productive, writer.

Conferences work the same way for writers as they do for dentists or undertakers. They offer professionals a chance to meet with other professionals to exchange ideas and discuss trends within the industry. Plus they give us a chance to associate with people who share the same interests and who can help us propel our career forward. Attendees and guest speakers of conferences are not only writers; often they are editors, publishers and agents, as well. These professionals speak on panels that cover a particular aspect of writing. Some conferences even offer workshops that can truly motivate a writer. Plus the pros frequently make themselves available to answer specific questions and give writers some tips of the trade. That alone is often worth the price of admission.

And speaking of the cost of admission, there are writers’ conferences to suit almost any budget. Where some conferences can run in the thousands, once you include airfare and travel, there are often local conferences that are significantly less pricey and just as high in quality.

So if cost is an issue, why not attend the least expensive conference you can find to get you started? The first conference I attended was not really a good fit for me, but it was inexpensive and close to home. And yet, I can honestly say that it was worth it, because I made several professional contacts and came out with countless article ideas.

As far as time goes, be aware that conferences can last anywhere from several hours to a week or two. Find one that fits your time schedule.

It’s important to note, that after considering the cost and time element, a writer should try to find a conference that focuses on their genre. There are conferences that include such specialty writing as mystery, children’s, romance, inspirational, humor and horror, just to name a few.

What should you expect to get out of a writers’ conference? Be prepared to walk away with new contacts, new ideas, new markets and quite possibly, new friends.

Here are just a few tips to help you get through your first conference:

  • Wear tailored, casual clothing. Comfortable shoes are a must! You don’t need to dress up in designer duds, but leave the faded jeans and sloppy t-shirts at home.
  • Bring along business cards and writing supplies (although every conference I’ve ever attended has been very generous in supplying notepads, pens, and canvas carry-all bags to its attendees).
  • If you can swing it, go with a fellow writer/friend. For the past two years, I’ve attended a two day conference in New York City that was so jam packed with information, that there wasn’t enough time in the day to get it all in, let alone absorb the content. On my last trip, I coerced my friend Marlene to join me. We split up after breakfast and met for lunch, where we compared the notes we had taken for one another at different panel discussions.

The greatest thing about attending a conference is that they are, above everything else, inspirational. My friend Marlene is a gifted writer. However, she didn’t see herself that way, because her day job is secretarial work. As we rode home on the train after the conference was over, she became very introspective.

Finally, as we were pulling into the station, she said, “Thank you for bringing me. It opened my eyes. I used to think of myself as a secretary who writes. Because of this conference, I now realize I am a writer, who just happens to work as a secretary.”

That’s what a writers’ conference can do for you.

Linda Chiara’s work has been published in Reader’s Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Boys Life, Ladies Home Journal, and Chicken Soup for The Teenage Soul on Love and Friendship. In addition, she writes frequently for parenting magazines around the nation, including Pittsburgh Parent, Western New York Family Magazine, Montana Parent, etc. You can find out more at Linda Chiara’s website.

Home Advantage

By Bill Harper

If you’re a seasoned freelancer, then you’ll have discovered the real benefit of working from home: being able to act like a complete slob while you’re writing.

Sure, you tell everyone else about the flexible hours, being your own boss, and not having to drive to work every day. But let’s face it: the best thing about the job is being able to sit at the computer in your underwear, eating ice-cream straight from the tub, and watching your dirty clothes crawl to the washing machine in a desperate attempt to get washed.

Trouble is, once you’ve been doing it for a while you start to think it’s perfectly normal behavior (what psychologists call “Not having a life”). Which is fine, until a client wants to meet you to talk about a possible assignment.

Suddenly your mind is filled with questions. “What do they want me to write about?” “How much are they paying?” “Where did I put my pants?”

Fortunately, you may find just the answer you’re looking for in this list of Frequently Amusing Questions. (Then again, you might not.)

Let’s start with the most obvious question (especially from where I’m standing):

Q. Is what I’m wearing important?

A. Yes, because in today’s business world clothes do more than just cover up your rude bits. They tell the world where you fit in the social structure (or, in your case, if you fit).

Q. So should I wear a suit and tie?

A. Not necessarily. What you’re trying to do is wear clothes of the same “rank” as your client so they feel as if you’re on their level. So you should either:

  • look at what they’re wearing through the peephole, yell out “Just a minute,” and quickly change into something similar, or
  • answer the door in your underwear and ask them to strip down to theirs.

Q. Should I offer them drinks?

A. Hey, why not? Maybe they enjoy a drink first thing in the morning too, although they’re probably used to it being poured from a bottle rather than a cask.

Q. I meant coffee.

A. Oh. Of course. Yes, a cup of coffee would probably be a good way to break the ice. Just remember to have a fresh carton of milk in the fridge. (The phrase “one lump or two?” is meant for the sugar.)

Q. What should I have in my office?

A. Apart from obvious things like a desk and a filing cabinet, there’s no hard and fast rule as to what should be in there. But here’s a table to get you started:

Published clips Toenail clippings
Pulitzer Prize Death threats
Your latest book The latest copy of Penthouse

Q. Not even if Penthouse published my article?

A. No one reads the articles.

Well, I’m afraid that’s all the advice I’ve got time for. I’ve got a client coming soon, which means I’ve got just enough time to get dressed before he arrives.

Assuming I can find some clean underwear.

Bill Harper is a mild-mannered public servant by day, and a very stroppy one by night (public transport does that to you). But when he’s not sitting in meetings (and quite often when he is), he’s thinking of something funny to write about for the next edition of Bill-Bored, his weekly humour column.

Check it out at Bill Harper’s “Because life’s too stupid to take seriously.”

Workshop Critiques: Four Ways To Convey Constructive Criticism

By Michele R. Bardsley

Writers who seek out critique workshops want to improve their writing. They must. Why else would they allow their works to be judged by other writers?

While writers who offer their manuscripts to the group must be mentally prepared to accept criticism, it is the group’s responsibility to make sure opinions are conveyed in a positive and encouraging manner. Yet is that always possible? Some manuscripts need a little fine-tuning, but others need a match and some kerosene. How can you, as a critique group member, impart constructive criticism to another writer?

Start With Positive Comments

No matter how badly written a manuscript is, there is always a little nugget of goodness nestled in it. Even if it’s only a word or phrase, point it out before expounding on the manuscript’s problems.

“Writers should convey criticism honestly, but with tact,” says Judy Snavely, an award-winning writer who recently finished her first novel. “I have experienced something very close to ridicule a time or two from my fellow writers. It’s unnecessary and unprofessional.”

Your choice of words can help or hinder a fellow writer. Blurting out, “This is awful,” is not helpful. In one classroom workshop I participated in, a beginning writer turned in 40 pages of his mainstream novel. I disliked the protagonist, the love scene offended me, and the writing was, well, awful. I found one beautifully written sentence that I complimented him on and then I picked one or two aspects—out of the hundreds I wanted to say—to tactfully criticize.

Positive comments cushion the forthcoming criticisms and the writer will probably be more receptive to your ideas. If you can’t find a single good thing about the work, do as your mother told you, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Use The Phrase “It’s Your Story.” Then Believe It

End your commentary with, “This is my opinion, but it’s your story.”

Using this phrase will reassure the writer that you’re trying to help him or her and it also reminds you not to try and change the story to fit your ideals. Always remember that you are trying to help the author first. As writers, we automatically think of additions or plots or twists, but we can’t impose our ideas. Unless a writer wants a brainstorming session, focus comments on your initial reactions to the work. Offer suggestions for changes–but only go into detail if asked.

Offer Your Ear, Not Your Pen

Unless you’re getting paid, be careful about offering editing services to group members. A writer can easily become dependent upon someone willing to line edit and critique a manuscript. For example, a writer in one of my critique groups relied heavily on members to fix her manuscript’s problems. We happily helped her by taking chapters home and spending hours on them instead of our own writing. Finally, we had to stop “helping” her and suggested she rewrite the chapters before bringing them to critique.

The purpose of a critique group is to help the writer improve. Critique members should learn from each other. If a writer is taking advantage of the group’s skills without infusing the knowledge into his or her writing, then the group’s effort is wasted.

A Writer Doesn’t Have To Listen

No matter how right you believe your comments are or how well you think you can help, the writer doesn’t have to listen to you. Writers should choose the information they feel will best help them. However, there are some members who refuse to listen to anyone. Just as the writer has the right not to listen, you have the right not to comment. If you feel your input is always ignored, then pass when your turn comes to critique.

A few years ago, I took a Novel I class. We were all novices, except for one gentleman who had completed two novels. He submitted his chapters for our approval, but we all had difficulty with his plot. He didn’t want to listen to our reactions, he only wanted to hear about his wonderful writing. No matter how we put our comments, he had an answer, a jibe or a blithe quip. Eventually, we gave up trying to help him. While giving critiques is sometimes a difficult task, it is usually worth the effort.

Think of a critique group as a flower bed. Seeds are planted, fertilizer is added (we are writers after all), and after a lot of sunshine and pruning, the writer grows. Nurturing a blossom is not the same as holding a wilting plant up with wires. Encourage growth, but if it doesn’t happen, concentrate on the writers who are blooming.

© Copyright by Michele R. Bardsley

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Michele Bardsley lives in Las Vegas with her husband and two children. Visit her at