Persistence

By Mark Terry

A long, long time ago (in what occasionally does seem a galaxy far, far away), I decided I wanted to be a writer. This was toward the end of my college career, between, I believe, my junior and senior years. I was majoring in microbiology and public health and not doing a very good job at it. My girlfriend (now wife) had graduated and moved back home where she was working nearby, and my college roommate (Andy) took an internship for the PASS network in Detroit, so I was living alone, working full-time in a mailroom of a veterinary laboratory at Michigan State and not doing much else.

I picked up a book of essays about Stephen King and he had written an introduction called something like “The Making of a Brand Name,” which was all about how he got started. I was struck, naturally, by the paperback reprint sale of Carrie for $400,000, but I was hit even harder by the idea that a writer was somebody who wrote things and sent them out to editors, who did or did not decide to publish them and pay the writer for the privilege. I started writing.

It’s been a very long and often twisting road, but I’m happy with where I’m at. It took talent, but I can’t define it let alone identify it. It took persistence. A lot of it.

Did it take luck? I can honestly say, I don’t think I’ve been all that lucky in this writing gig. My second manuscript almost got picked up by St. Martin’s Press. My first book contract was with Write Way, and they went out of business before the book got published. I signed a contract with another small press, and they disappeared into the night, their website replaced by—I kid you not—a site for a veterinary incinerator. I’ve had three agents. The first was this kind of fly-by-night outfit in L.A. The second was a good, well-established agency in New York and my agent there tried to sell stuff of mine for six years without success before I moved on. In my efforts to get another agent—the one I have—I sent out nearly 100 query letters.

I kept writing. I branched out, often not intentionally, into nonfiction. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.

This could have been a faster process. I could have networked more. I could have gone back to school and gotten a journalism degree.

I could have given up and gotten an MBA or whatever.

I didn’t. So where am I now, in the spring of 2006, versus the summer of 1985, when I started this path of folly?

I make a full-time living as a freelance writer. I make a decent, even good, living. I have published two books, one self-published (not recommended), one by a small press. I have a two-book contract for two more, the first of which is coming out from Midnight Ink in October 2006. I’m very busy. I can pay my bills. Clients come to me with work.

Is it talent? Yes, some.

Is it luck? If you keep being persistent, you’ll get some luck; you’ll be in the right place at the right time because, frankly, you’re always working.

But I’ll tell you what. It’s always, always related to persistence.

I grabbed a tiger’s tail back in 1985 and didn’t know how to let go. I didn’t even want to let go, although I definitely had some low spots where I wondered what the hell I was doing. But I knew I loved writing and I could never quite give up the dream of being a novelist (still can’t).

There’s no advice here, really. It’s just that, yes, if you persist—probably persist past any norm of common sense—you can probably succeed at some level.

There’s this brutal story about a master violinist who, after a concert, was approached by a young man who said, “Master, will you listen to me play and tell me whether there’s a future in music for me?” The maestro nods and the young man plays and the maestro shrugs and says, “You lack the fire.” The young man abandons music and goes on to have a successful life in business. Years later he runs into the maestro and tells him the story and asks, “What did you hear in my music?” The maestro shrugs again and says, “I wasn’t really paying attention. I never do. If you’ve really got the will and ambition— the fire—you won’t listen to anybody who tells you to stop. Nothing can make you stop if that’s what you’re meant to do.”

I really don’t advocate destroying your life in pursuit of anything, actually. I think there’s a lot to be said for “getting a grip,” and deciding what things are worth to you, and deciding what’s important. Writing, for me, is a passion, yes, but it’s also a job, and I don’t think I should wreck my marriage or alienate my kids or ruin my health over a job.

Cover of Stephen King's On WritingStephen King, again, wrote a lovely essay about this subject and comments on how do you decide when to quit. He suggests that if you quite after three or four or six tries, it’s too early. But if you’ve received 1,000 or 2,000 rejections, rejections that NEVER say anything like, “Pretty good, try again,” or have no other encouragement, then it’s time to re-evaluate your time.

My guess would be most people can decide long before that 1,000 or 2,000, but it depends on what you’re doing. If it’s journalism, unless you’re a total hack who can’t string words together at all, I think you’d get an article published long before you hit the 500 mark, let alone the 1,000 or 2,000. If you’ve gotten 2,000 rejections from agents or book publishers, there’s something wrong, not the least being that there just aren’t that many markets.

But it’s your life. Only you can decide what’s important.

Mark Terry is a full-time freelance writer, editor, and novelist. You can read more about his books at Markterrybooks.com.

10 Steps to Publication

By Joyce Lavene

1. Read what you want to write.

I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t know what the market is doing, you can’t expect publication. Have a feeling for what you’re doing, write from the heart, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you love your baby, everyone else will. Get an idea of what’s going on before you start sending your work out. It will save you time, money and heartache.

2. Revise your work at least three times.

Once is not enough in this case. It would be even better if you have someone you can depend on to be honest who could look it over for you. If not, learn to be objective. Put it aside for a few days then take it out again. Slash extra words that repeat. Don’t be so in love with an idea that you can’t chop it out even if it ruins the rest of the story and you have to rewrite. If it doesn’t work, you won’t be the only one to see it.

3. Make sure you know the editor’s name and how to spell it.

There’s nothing that will get your work shuffled from one envelope to the next like not knowing the editor’s name or sending something “Dear Editor.” If your work is important to you, act like it. Know who you’re sending it to. And know how to spell his or her name. Not doing so is a frequent way to get rejected. It may not be fair but editors are only human.

4. Be sure that what you’re sending is right for the publisher.

Know your market intimately. Don’t send genre fiction to a nonfiction publisher, then be surprised because reject the submission. If you write fiction, be sure you know the different genres and sub-genres. Check out the publisher beforehand and make sure they publish what you’re sending to them. If they ask for 300 words, don’t think you can send 500. The rules are there for a reason. That’s what the publisher wants to see. Don”t think your work is so good they won’t be able to resist publication.

5. Don’t compare your work to others.

This can be difficult because you want to have some idea of how you’re doing. But there are no two writers just alike. Have some confidence in your work. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn new things or you have to be resistant to change. Join a critique group only if you’re comfortable with the people who will be reading your work. Don’t change everything or put your work aside because one reader says he or she doesn’t like what you’re doing. Remember that you’re developing your voice.

6. Be willing to edit.

I’m making a subtle distinction here between editing and revision. I’m classifying editing as what an editor wants you to change in your work. Out of all the books I’ve had accepted for publication, only a handful haven’t had edits. Sometimes big and sometimes small.

Bear in mind that when editors contact you about changes, even without a contract, they’re trying to find out if they can work with you. Show them that they can by being professional. Always listen to their suggestions carefully, write them down and think about them before you say you will or won’t do them. Be ready to have good explanations for why you don’t think their ideas make the story better. Editors want to feel they have a hand in the books they work on. Smile if they ask you to make some changes and sign the publication contract.

7. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or get rejected.

Fear of rejection or of looking silly stops more manuscripts from being published than bad writing. You’re going to make mistakes and get your work rejected. It’s the only way to get where you want to be. Plan for it. Know what you’re going to do with your rejections. Then move on. If you do make a mistake, get over it. No one knows everything. Try not to make it again. Keep sending your work out.

8. Use a font and print size that can be easily read.

Every editor I’ve met has complained about getting too many manuscripts that are in tiny or strange fonts. Find out what the standard is and use it. Don’t think you can impress someone because you know what Gothic font 5 is. They don’t care. They just want to save their eyesight.

If you’re not having fun, find something else to do. Publication is hard and competitive.

9. Always send a cover letter.

A cover letter is important because it says who you are. It says if you’re impatient or easy to get along with. It says that you think of an editor as a person and not just a name in a book. Your writing should be excellent and speak for itself. But your cover letter is your only intimate point of contact with a stranger who you’d like to publish your work. Act like you’re trying to begin a relationship, in a professional manner.

10. Have fun.

If you’re not having fun, find something else to do. Publication is hard and competitive. If you don’t have chills when you finish a manuscript and cry with your characters, there’s something out there that’s easier and less stressful.

Joyce Lavene and her husband and writing partner Jim have written and sold more than forty romance and mystery novels together since 1999 (including the award winning Sharyn Howard mystery series). They also write non-fiction articles and short stories for publication. They are active in local and national writer’s groups and live in North Carolina with their family. They welcome readers to their websites at www.joyceandjimlavene.com and www.sharynhowardmysteries.com.

Interview Preparation for Radio and PodCasts

By Roberta Gale

When it comes to media interviews, interview preparation is a two-way street. The host needs to do his part to become as familiar with the guest and her topic as possible. Whether this means reading (or at least skimming) her book, checking out her biography, or reading reviews, he should ideally be prepared with a list of questions that aren’t just jotted down verbatim from the guest’s press release. Consequently, if you’re guesting on a program, you also need to show similar respect and professionalism by being fully prepared for your part in the interview.

Here are some tips to help authors prepare for a radio program. In the long run, preparation on both sides makes for a more entertaining experience for listeners. And the more listeners are entertained, the more intensely they’ll pay attention to what you’re saying.

1. Know as much about the host, the station, and the show as possible before the interview.

Go to www.yahoo.comwww.radio-locator.com or www.zap2it.com to look up the station’s website. This will allow you to check out the format, hosts, upcoming promotions and contests, selected links, and other information that may be useful to you. If the station has streaming audio, (or obviously if you’re in the same market as the host), you’ll be able to listen to his show. If not, try calling the station’s talk line, tell the call screener you’ll be guesting on the show in the near future, and ask to be put on the “on-hold” line for a few minutes to hear the program. They may or may not honor your request, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

2. Find out as much as you can about the market.

Most local newspapers are on the Web, and you can find them using the above-mentioned websites. Take the time to look over the local paper prior to your scheduled interview. The information gained will enable you to toss in the names of local suburbs and hangouts during your time on the air. This is not only a great way to connect more deeply with both the host and listeners, but you may be able to tie your topic to a hot local issue or event.

3. Don’t forget the small stuff.

Write the name of the host, the station’s call letters, the city name and the number of the radio station on a Post-it note and stick it somewhere where you will be able to see it during the interview. That way, even if you have a temporary mental meltdown on air, you can focus on getting the more important parts of your interview on track and yet not forget who you’re talking to or where they are. And the phone number? No matter who calls who initially, you may need it in case you get disconnected.

4. Make sure you can be heard clearly.

It is very important to have a phone that will sound as good as possible when you’re on the air. Nothing will get you shown the metaphoric radio door faster than poor quality audio on your end. No matter how fascinating your interview, only a masochist would stick around to hear you on a low-level phone with a buzz. In my experience, more expensive phones don’t necessarily sound better than cheaper ones. And corded phones don’t always sound better than the cordless variety. Just find a phone that sounds clear and has sufficient volume. Prior to the interview, call a few of your friends and family members on the phone you intend to use and ask them how you sound.

5. Speak up!

No matter how high-quality your phone is, you must speak loudly and enunciate clearly enough to be heard. The path your voice has to travel before it reaches its intended audience is a long and complicated one, involving phone lines, audio processing, a few transmissions and re-transmissions and perhaps a satellite or two. Again, call a few people you know prior to the interview to test your clarity and volume.

6. I Can’t Hear You!

It was always funny when Sgt. Carter said it to Gomer Pyle, but it’s much less of a laughing matter when you have to say it over and over to the person interviewing you. Not being able to hear the interviewer correctly can not only ruin the tempo and pacing of your on-air performance, but it can lower the interest level of the host and audience. Your airtime may even be cut short because of it. If you’re hard of hearing, or if you just can’t hear the other party well, be sure to turn up the volume control on your phone, if it comes equipped with such a device. Since you never know how low the volume will be on the other end, and you may be talking to hundreds of different stations, it wouldn’t hurt to take a tip from my friend, Lorilyn Bailey of NewsBuzz.com, and invest $10-$20 bucks in a volume control device from Radio Shack.

7. Call waiting is your enemy on the air.

Yeah, it’s a godsend when you’re talking to your mother and the network is trying to call to let you know you’ve made the finals of “American Idol,” but it’s a less-than-stellar feature when you’re being interviewed on the air and the audience call hear the tell-tale “drop-out” as your call waiting kicks in. If you are supposed to call in to the station, be sure to disable your call waiting first. If you’re unsure how to do this, call your local telephone company.

8. Create the proper environment to execute an interview.

Whether you’ll be doing your interview from your office or home, be sure that you have a quiet place to think and speak. This is no time for children yelling, battery-powered wall-clocks ticking, co-workers laughing, and phones or doorbells ringing. Clear your desk of everything but your notepad, index cards, book, bottle of water, or whatever else you’ll need for the interview. Be sure that everything you need will be within easy reach.

If you follow these simple interview preparation  tips you will find that your interview goes more smoothly. But most importantly, the host will treat you with the respect due someone who actually put some thought into preparing content for the precious airtime you’ve been so generously given.

Roberta Gale has spent 22 years on the radio in every part of the country. She now heads Roberta Gale Media Coaching, which provides media training to authors, experts, spokespeople and businesspeople.  

 

Write Tight — or It’s Gonna Cost You!

By Diane Sonntag

Our good friends at Strunk and White are always advising us to do away with those nasty adjectives and adverbs that clutter up our writing. This has always been a tough one for me. As someone who really likes to talk — and unfortunately, as someone who writes like I talk — removing those adjectives and adverbs has been a real challenge for me.

Personally, I have always rather enjoyed those cute little adjectives and those good old adverbs. They make my dry, boring sentences more pleasant, interesting, and fun for the intelligent, yet discerning reader. Cutting them out seems like cruel and unusual punishment. For a good long time, I just plain refused to leave out my favorite descriptive words.

See what I mean? Adjectives and adverbs are bad? What blasphemy!

Several years ago, I had to consult an attorney regarding a legal matter. In one of our first conversations, I explained the situation in great detail. I explained that I had been utterly and completely taken advantage of by this rotten person. I described how I had been naïve and trusting and this terrible, awful individual had seen that, and had milked it for every last blessed cent I was worth. I told him how this other party was just the most vindictive, cold, and heartless person to have ever walked the face of this great earth. (OK, I admit it — I might be ever so slightly dramatic!) The attorney just nodded and smiled throughout my monologue. He seemed perfectly content to sit and listen to me talk all day long. But he did glance at his watch every so often and smirk.

Three weeks later, I received an invoice for his services. And then I knew what the smirk was about. That one conversation had cost me nearly $500! At his rates, I was paying like $28 per adjective! I was both shocked and appalled at this bill, and I knew that something had to change. I simply couldn’t afford to carry on like I had during our next conversation. I had to be brief, or it would cost me dearly.

In an effort to cut down on my legal fees, I began to plan out what I was going to say to the attorney. I would write down what I needed to tell him, and then look for ways to pare it down. I reminded myself that unnecessary words were like money down the drain, and I took them out. I couldn’t afford to use two or three words when one would suffice.

No longer had I been utterly and completely taken advantage of by this no good so-and-so. Now I was simply “treated unfairly.” See how many words that saved? And in legal terms, that small cut also saved me like ten bucks!

Overnight, this other party changed from being “a vindictive, cold, and heartless beast who would sell his own poor mother for two nickels” to simply “an opportunist.” Did this person actually change their character? Certainly not! But when I changed how I described that person, it cut down on the words I used, which, in turn, saved me another $32.50. (But let’s be honest here — it did cut down on the drama of the story as well!)

Every time I prepared something to say to my attorney, I pared it down until it was as short as it could possibly be and still get my meaning across. And then one day, I was typing a query letter and I realized that unconsciously, I was doing the same thing. I was taking out all unnecessary words. The bank robber didn’t run quickly. He sprinted. The baby didn’t cry loudly. She howled.

I was condensing my writing down to the bare essentials. I was making it as tight as it could be. And yes, I was sacrificing my beloved adverbs and adjectives. It hurt the Drama Queen in me, but it did make my writing better.

And all of this because I wanted to save a few bucks. But when you think about it, being too wordy had probably been costing me money all along, and I was too dense to realize it. Editors were rejecting my work because it was too cluttered with adjectives, adverbs, and clichés. My writing wasn’t as good as it could have been, and I was paying for it without even knowing it.

My legal situation resolved itself a long time ago, but it certainly wasn’t a cheap fix. I paid a significant amount in legal fees. But when I think about what I learned about writing tightly and I realize how much more I’ve been published, I think I just about broke even.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the “cold, heartless, vindictive beast” got what he had coming to him.

 

Diane Sonntag is an elementary school teacher and freelance writer. Her work has been published in Woman’s World, MOMsense, and Chicken Soup for the Girl’s Soul. She hopes to remain on the right side of the law from now on.

Writing A Great Blurb

By Mayra Calvani

A great blurb can make the difference between a customer taking out his/her wallet to buy your book or putting the book back on the shelf. Great blurbs sell books.

But what is a blurb, exactly?

A blurb is the copy on the back cover of your book. After the cover, the blurb is the first thing a customer will check when considering to buy a book. It should hook, intrigue, and grab the reader right away.

“Book blurbs are eye candy to the consumer,” says publicist Penny Sansevieri, founder of Author Marketing Experts.

Not only to customers. A great blurb can help you find a publisher or an agent, too.

Last year I sent dozens of query letters in my search for an agent. As you probably know, most query letters are composed of a blurb of the book (the hook), some info about the book (genre, word count, etc.), and a short author bio or list of qualifications. The agents who responded said “No, thanks.” I’m not surprised. The blurb was as flat as a French crêpe. One of these agents wrote to say she wasn’t particularly excited about my book, but asked if I had something else to show her. By this time I had improved my blurb and had a completely new version. I mentioned this to her and asked her to consider my edited blurb, which she did. Her response was “Well, I have to admit this is a pretty convincing blurb.” She requested the first three chapters. To make a long story short, she took me in based on the strength of those three chapters. In this case, my blurb was the key factor in getting the agent’s attention.

This is the blurb I first included in my query letter:

Can a good man be persuaded into committing murder and still retain his goodness?

Lullaby is about the restless soul of an aborted infant who, in order to become powerful enough to be reborn, must tempt humans into committing evil acts. Having temporarily acquired the form of a beautiful woman, this being plays mind games with the protagonist, bringing back memories of his tragic childhood. As deeply buried feelings of hate and revenge spring to the surface, the protagonist must struggle with his conscience to do the right thing. But will he, when his own ideas about justice and the higher good tell him it is right to kill?

Now compare it to the second one which got the agent’s attention:

At a trendy Turkish tavern one Friday night, astrophysicist Gabriel Diaz meets a mysterious young woman. Captivated out of his senses by her physical perfection as well as her views on good and evil, he spends the next several days with her. After a while, however, he begins to notice a strangeness in her—her skin’s abnormally high temperature, her obsession with milk products, her child-like and bizarre behavior as she seems to take pleasure in toying with his conscience.

The young woman, Kamilah, invites him to Rize, Turkey, where she claims her family owns a cottage in the woods. In spite of his heavy workload and the disturbing visions and nightmares about his sister’s baby that is due to be born soon, Gabriel agrees to go with her.

But nothing, not even the stunning beauty of the Black Sea, can disguise the horror of her nature. In a place where death dwells and illusion and reality seem as one, Gabriel must now come to terms with his own demons in order to save his sister’s unborn child, and ultimately, his own soul . . .

Here are some guidelines to help you create great blurbs:

Guidelines for Creating A Great Blurb

  • Keep it short (100-250 words). The aim is to convey what makes the book unique in a small amount of space.
  • In it set the mood, the scene, and the conflict or enigma.
  • It should have mounting tension. The beginning should  hint at the conflict or threat, yet remain pretty innocuous (look at my blurb number two: boy meets girl in a tavern). By the end of the blurb, the conflict or threat should be imminent (protagonist must save his sister’s unborn child and his own soul).
  • Think of the best angle to approach your story. Both of my blurbs describe what happens in my novel, yet the second one sounds much more exciting.
  • As with a good book review, never put “spoilers” in the blurb. You can do this in a book summary or synopsis, but never in a blurb. (Look again at my blurb number one. In it I make the big mistake of revealing the nature of my “evil” female protagonist—she is the soul of an aborted infant. In blurb number two, you suspect there’s something wrong with her, but you don’t know what. You’re left wondering).
  • Think about what makes your book different.
  • Question marks can be used to leave the reader intrigued.
  • Often ellipses are used at the end to leave reader asking questions.
  • Keep adverbs and adjectives to a minimum and use action verbs.
  • Needless to say, make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors.
  • If your book is nonfiction, does it have special features like pictures or diagrams? What is the aim of the book? What are you trying to accomplish? Does it teach anything? How is this book different from others in the field?
  • Remember that blurbs are not summaries! Don’t tell the whole story—only the exciting part of it so that the reader will want to know more.
  • Don’t exaggerate or sugarcoat it. Be professional.
  • Study the blurbs from your bookshelves, paying special attention to their style, language, and content.
  • Write and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Then show it to people who can offer honest feedback.

One last tip:

Do you know that powerful, dramatic voice that you hear in the cinemas during movie trailers? That alluring voice, often exaggerated, that describes the movies? Well, read your own blurb with this voice in your mind, matching its tone and pitch. You’ll be surprised to find out how much that helps!

Copyright ©2005, 2007 by Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved.

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The WriterWriter’s JournalMulticultural Review, andBloomsbury Review, among many others. Mayra Calvani has a Website.

How to Give an Awesome Author Interviews

By Patricia L. Fry

When you become the author of a nonfiction book, you are also considered an expert in your field. People want to read what you write and hear what you have to say. You want to promote your book and get personal exposure by writing articles and speaking publicly. Author interviews are an important part of your publicity program.

Why not add to your professional credibility by seeking interview opportunities through websites, podcasts, radio talk shows, and publications related to the topic of your book?

Add to your professional credibility by seeking interview opportunities through websites, podcasts, radio talk shows, and publications related to the topic of your book?  

Interviews and interviewers come in all shapes and flavors. Some interviewers want you to respond to questions via e-mail and they post your interview as is at their site or publish it in their magazine. Others prefer to conduct a telephone interview which they will paraphrase in their publication. But the most popular interview processes today are the real time podcast and the online radio show.

Not everyone is comfortable being interviewed. Yet, if you expect your book to reach a high level of popularity—if you hope to sell thousands of copies of your book—you really must learn to handle author interviews.

I have been interviewed numerous times in a variety of ways. Personally, I love the e-mail interview where I just respond at my leisure by typing my answers. I like having the time to think about my responses and to reread them before submitting. My worst interview experience occurred when the interviewer, in a real-time interview, began challenging my responses—playing the devil’s advocate. I’m not a debater and I don’t do well under that kind of pressure. I had to work hard so as not to come off sounding defensive. I hope I was able to carry that off. Book sales after that interview were up and that’s always a good indication of a good interview.

You truly never know what to expect from author interviews and maybe that’s one reason why the fear of the interview is so prevalent among authors. Recently, I was asked to participate in a podcast interview. I guess I misunderstood the original instructions because I was prepared to have the host ask me some questions. That’s generally what happens when someone interviews you. Just minutes before the show aired, I learned that I was supposed to speak for twenty minutes on my topic, “The Right Way to Write, Publish, and Sell Your Book.” There would be no questions. No one else would speak. I was expected to take charge of the airtime all by myself for the first twenty minutes of the show.

I quickly revised an hour-long speech I’d given recently on the subject and printed it out as a crutch. There’s nothing worse in radio than dead air, I’m told. And I did not want to be at a loss for words. I think it went well. Even though I was simply speaking over the telephone, I imagined myself looking out over the airwaves into the faces of a large audience eager for the information I was imparting. At the end of the 20 minutes, the host stepped in and asked me a few questions before the show ended. Again, book sales were up for a few days after that.

If you would like to be interviewed on the topic of your book, here are some tips and techniques that could help:

Author Interviews: Tips and Techniques

Locate interview opportunities through websites and publications related to your topic as well as those that feature general author interviews. If you spend some time exploring the site, you will soon discover whether or not they conduct interviews. If you see no indication of interview opportunities, post an e-mail asking for the opportunity.

Do a Google search to locate directories of websites and publications with general interview opportunities or those related to your expertise.

Check Radio-TV Interview Report for possible interview spots.

Create a succinct, but impressive bio to include with your inquiry. A potential interviewer will want to know that you are articulate (which should show through, at least to some degree, in your writing style), qualified, credible, knowledgeable, and interesting. A bio can help to portray this. A good interviewer who conducts live interviews will also want to hear your voice. So give your phone number, as well.
Handle yourself as a professional during any interview. Here are some tips:

Think like your target audience. What do they want/need to know about your subject? Even if your interviewer gets off track with his line of questions, you can bring the discussion back to the issue at hand. Always keep in mind “What information and resources can I offer my audience?

Don’t be afraid to give. It’s highly unlikely that you could ever give away too much during a 30 or 60 minute interview. Besides, the more you give, the more the listener will want. And it’s that yearning for more that will sell copies of your book.

Keep it simple. Remember that your time is limited—there’s no room during author interviews to teach or share what took you several months to write. Concentrate on a few key points and, no matter what the interviewer asks you, try to bring it all back to the original points. My book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book, covers writing and publishing a book from start to finish and beyond (including distribution, promotion and so forth). During an interview, however, I may focus on the importance of writing a book proposal or the process of self-publishing or some aspect of book promotion. Your book on baking healthy muffins from scratch would be aptly represented by revealing a few of the recipes and describing the health benefits of the ingredients. If your listeners like what you gave them, they’re going to want more.

Read and listen to other author interviews to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Of course, you want to keep your own style of speaking, but there are definite faux pas that you want to avoid. Eliminate filler words such as “ah,” “um,” “er,” and so forth. Banish habitual phrases from your vocabulary. This might include “Ya know what I mean?” and “Right on,”” and “You bet.”

Practice speaking off the cuff. You will definitely need this skill when doing a live interview.

Join a Toastmasters Club near you and participate often in order to improve your public speaking skills.

As an authority on the subject of your nonfiction book, you will be sought after as a speaker, writer, and interviewee. You’ll also want to seek out interview and speaking opportunities. Prepare yourself now for the challenges ahead.

Patricia Fry is a full-time freelance writer and the author of 25 books including The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book. She is also the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network). Learn more about her line of books at www.matilijapress.com. Patricia Fry writes a publishing blog. Patricia Fry has a website, and is the author of Promote Your Book: Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author.

Dealing with the Newbies

Five Tips for Handling People Who Want You To Critique Their Manuscript (for free, of course)

By Jonathan Moeller

First, some context.

I am a writer of no significance whatsoever. I wrote one novel, which disappeared without a trace, and I’ve written some short stories and nonfiction articles, but none have ever become well-known. In short, in the official taxonomy of writers I am Published but Obscure, and you’ve only heard of me if I’ve managed to tick you off to some extent. Or if I owe you money.

Yet people still ask me to critique their manuscripts.

This experience can range from flattering to downright creepy. One of the worst ones happened a few years ago, shortly after I published my one and only book, when a co-worker approached me during lunch.

Co-worker: “So I wrote a book, and was wondering if you’d read it.”

Me: “What’s it about?”

Co-worker: “Well, there’s a lot of sex with aliens. In fact, you could say it’s mostly sex.”

Me: (nonplussed) “Uh-huh.”

Co-worker: “And it’s pretty violent, too. Lots of just really raw violence.”

Me: (still nonplussed) “Okay.”

Co-worker. “And the sex is pretty violent, too. It’s really just sixty pages of really violent alien sex.”

(long, awkward pause)

Me: “I’m going to go clock back in now.”

Of course, not everyone who asks you to read a manuscript will hand you sixty pages of deeply, deeply disturbing alien love. But, still, it’s an awkward situation. I really don’t want to read someone’s 700 page manuscript, but neither do I want to make a new enemy. Here, then, are five tactful tips for politely turning down the opportunity to read someone’s 700 page magnum opus of interplanetary love.

1.) “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the time.”

Writing takes a lot of time, and sometimes life makes it exceedingly hard to find that time.

The government could summarize my ethnicity and marital status as Creepy Caucasian Loner, so you’d think I’d have ample time to write. But I still struggle to find the time. I work full-time, and sometimes my brain is simply fried at the end of the day. And life throws other stuff at you. I really should cook something for dinner that didn’t come out of a box in the microwave, and I ought to sit down and pay those bills, and I’ve got to look for a new apartment, and I’ve put off returning some phone calls for long enough, and I can’t remember the last time I got some decent exercise, and I have got to get in touch with the car insurance company and my lawyers, and good Lord when was the last time I cleaned the toilet . . .

I am always amazed by married writers with full-time jobs and children who find time to write. Have they forsaken sleep entirely?

The bottom line is that if you’’re doing any kind of serious writing, you’re not going to have a whole lot of time. And that’s a perfectly valid reason to turn down the chance to read someone’s manuscript. You have a lot of other obligations and priorities, and you simply don’t have the time.

2.) “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you the kind of help you want.”

Sometimes people want help that you simply can’t give. They’ll ask for a complete line-edit of their manuscript. Or they’ll want help with a massive rewrite. Or they’ll ask for any number of things that would be a huge imposition on your time (see above) and that you’re really not comfortable doing, or even qualified to do. What then?

Fortunately, this is the era of the Internet, the golden age of information. Sure, there is a lot of garbage out there, but you can also find any number of good resources. Someone wants to know where to sell their writing? Direct them to Ralan.com, or Duotrope, or a copy of Writer’s Market. Need to know how to approach an agent? Several reputable agents frequently blog on that very topic. Want to know how to deal with an editor in a professional manner? Lots of editors write blogs, and heaven knows they’re not hesitant about dispensing their wisdom.

And there’s always Absolute Write, of course.

You may not have the time or the inclination to review someone’s manuscript, or provide them with detailed career advice, but you can point them in the right direction.

3.) “I’m sorry, but I just don’t want to take the legal risk.”

There are countless documented horror stories floating around the writing world. Rights-grabbing publications, greedy agents, dishonest agents, disappearing royalties; almost everyone knows someone who’s gone through that at one time or another. And it’s commonly acknowledged that reading someone’s unpublished work is a substantial legal risk. Why’s that? It’s simple; if you read someone’s manuscript, and then publish a work of your own a few years down the road, there’s always the chance that the same person will pop up, usually in the company of Nazgul-like lawyers, and claim that you stole their work for your own.

Granted, this isn’t all that likely. But like it or not, America (and most of the Western world) is something of a litigious dystopia these days. In certain ways this is a good thing; we don’t have to settle disputes with pistols at dawn. The downside, though, is that one spiteful person with an unscrupulous lawyer can really screw up your life. Reading someone else’s unpublished work is often just not worth the legal risk.

4.) Just ignore it.

Sometimes people will ask for your help in a polite fashion. And sometimes they’ll be total jerks about it. Who are you, they’ll say, to turn me away? You’re an arrogant gasbag! You don’t care about unpublished writers! You got to the top (right!) and you’re pulling up the ladder after you.

One of the great fallacies of the Internet, I think, is that people feel the need to respond to every stupid little thing. Someone writes a blog post you don’t agree with, and you leave a long, angry comment. You come across a message board thread that upsets you, and you plunge into the fray. A nasty e-mail message pops up into the inbox, and you fire off a response.

Life is short, and it’s full of nasty people. So why tolerate them any more than you must? Those Delete and Block Sender buttons are there for good reason. Use them. If someone gives you grief, start blocking and start deleting. Your blood pressure will be the better for it.

5.) Just do it.

And from time to time, you’ll come across someone whom you can help, and whom you want to help. Perhaps a friend, or a family member, or a student who shows a lot of potential. I know it’s hard to believe nowadays, but not everyone you meet is a potential lifelong nemesis with a fetish for litigation.

Everyone was a newbie, once upon a time. I don’t know much about writing or the business of writing, but everything I do know I learned the hard way; why not pass it on to someone? Give someone the chance to avoid learning things the hard way?

It is a risk, I know, and you should use your best judgment. But from time to time risks are worth
taking.

Standing over six feet tall, USA Today bestselling author Jonathan Moeller has the piercing blue eyes of a Conan of Cimmeria, the bronze-colored hair of a Visigothic warrior-king, and the stern visage of a captain of men, none of which are useful in his career as a computer repairman, alas.

He has written the “Demonsouled” trilogy of sword-and-sorcery novels, and continues to write the “Ghosts” sequence about assassin and spy Caina Amalas, the “$0.99 Beginner’s Guide” series of computer books, and numerous other works. Jonathan Moeller has a Website

How to Start a Novel: The Willingness to be the Best and the Worst

By Albyn Leah Hall

Writing fiction is like allowing yourself to be the ugliest person in the room and the most beautiful person at the same time. The “beautiful” you swans into the party, garnering admiration, presuming that everyone else will be interested in what you have to say—about anything. The “ugly” you would prefer to cower in the kitchen, scoffing leftovers in the dark.

It’s a schizoid existence. The part of you that is dying to be heard is chronically at odds with the part of you that fears exposure, rejection, or being just plain bad, which brings me to my next point. In order to write a novel, you must be willing to be bad. This is especially true in the first draft; it is, arguably, what the first draft is for. (Or, in keeping with the analogy, in order to be beautiful, you must be ugly first.)

There is no easy way to do this. Every writer has his or her own way of wrestling with the demons, and I can’t tell you how to wrestle with yours. However, I can suggest some techniques that I use when starting a novel; simple strategies that help to free me from my inhibitions and create a space for the work to emerge.

1) When you begin a novel, rather than thinking you must write for, say, a minimum of four to six hours a day, try to write for only one hour maximum.
This means you may write for no more than one hour! Most of us harbor an image of the tortured writer; the pacing, hair-pulling novelist locked up in a chicken shed while the world spins without him. And yet, while writing inevitably entails some pain and struggle, the stereotype of the suffering, workaholic writer is your enemy. The first draft is when you must pull something out of nothing: words from the ether, or from your unconscious. If you impose a tough regime upon your draft before it has had a chance to breathe, you will stifle it. If, rather, you write in bite-sized pieces, tantalizing yourself with just a little each day, then eventually you will want to write more, and take delicious pleasure in breaking your own rule. (However, while you don’t have to write much each day, it is important to write every day, including Sunday; even if that means just a quick scribble before brushing your teeth—you’ve still observed the rule.)

Lest you think this sounds frivolous—a hobbyist approach to writing—I must confess that there was a time when I thought the same thing. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t write for hours, or even, sometimes, minutes; why I spent most of my time staring at my computer screen longing to be anywhere but there. It was a severe blow to my sense of identity; I was a writer who could not write! When a friend suggested the hour max rule, I tried it with reluctance. A year later, I had written my first novel.

In later drafts, you will probably want to write for longer. This is great, so long as you bear in mind that good writing doesn’t always come from abundance. I can think of many days in which I have produced far more inspired writing after one hour than on other days when I wrote for six.

2) Write your first draft in longhand.

This doesn’t mean you have to write the entire draft this way, but write each chapter or section by hand before transferring it to the computer. The computer tends to make us feel that we must be excellent immediately. We are daunted by the pristine white space before us, which we think we must fill with something polished and literary. Writing by hand, ideally in some tatty old notebook, gives you permission to be messy and primitive. (The notebook is also far more portable. If you’re sick of your four walls, shake up your routine; write in cafes, parks, trains. Occasionally, the noise of the natural world can help rather than hinder, a welcome relief from the more punitive voices of your own head.)

It isn’t until my second or maybe third draft that I do what I tastefully call “mining the vomit for gold,” transferring the work to computer, and in the process, honing the quality of the writing itself. But for now, it’s a mess, and if it isn’t, it should be. Scrawl and scribble; spew it out. This is as true for work that is autobiographical as it is for work that isn’t remotely autobiographical; as true for comedy as an epic period novel. Like good dreams and bad dreams, it all comes from the same place. If you give yourself time to dwell there, “literature” will follow when it is good and ready.

3) Stay away from the phone, Internet, and email until you have written for the day.

In keeping with this, it is a good idea to write early, not only because you will be less distracted by the clutter of the day, but because you will be closer to your unconscious mind and dream state. Even if you write for only fifteen minutes, the quality of your attention will be much, much better if you have not yet filled your head with other people and the many things you have to do. Even something as prosaic as shopping for lunch or having the car fixed can throw you off completely. You’ll be amazed by how difficult it feels at first, removed from your social “fixes.” This is a sobering reminder of just how addicted we are to these things, and how often we use them to procrastinate! (Yet it is also a liberating, if humbling, experience to realize that our friends, colleagues, and household chores can usually hang on without us for a little longer.)

4) When you start a novel, do not worry about having a great story.

The search for the “great story” is, in my view, overrated. I speak only partly in jest when I say that there are roughly half a dozen stories in the world and most books are variations upon them. The story is only as interesting as the person who is telling it. If you have a strong voice, the reader will follow it through anything. You can write a wonderful book which, on the surface, simply describes a party (think of Mrs. Dalloway, or The Dead) or a dreadful book about a prison break or espionage.

Cover of Albyn Leah Hall's novel The Rhythem of the RoadWhen people ask how I worked out the story for my latest novel, The Rhythm of the Road, I reply that I didn’t, to start with. I found Josephine, my young heroine, and she told me the story. How did I find Josephine? One night, I was watching a documentary about a middle-aged housewife who stalks a young priest, convinced that he shares her obsession. I wondered what it would take for a person to become so delusional that she is driven to behave this way. Josephine, a teenage truck driver’s daughter, has little in common with this woman, but the first glimmer was ignited on that evening, by my own curiosity. Like giving birth, I conceived her, but she seemed to develop in her own right. She did so partly through my research (I’m a great believer in research, which will also help to develop the story), but also from a place within myself, a place that could empathize with a young girl so lonely that she must conjure a fantasy relationship to fill the void. In the end, it seemed to be she who was introducing me to her lonely Irish father, to the hitchhiker who becomes the object of her attention, and so on.

When I could finally see how the book was unraveling, I did sit down and work out an outline for the entire story. But I could not do this until I had Josephine’s voice. So remember that a story can begin in all sorts of ways, no matter how prosaic: with a question, with the way a piece of music makes you feel, with a joke, a dream, a memory, a three minute conversation you overhear in a bus. You can find an entire universe in a single moment.

Of course, I am only one writer and this is only one set of tools. Yet whether or not they work for you, I believe that the underlying philosophy applies to all writers of fiction; to write anything good, you must first be willing to take the ugly, messy, chaotic self out into the light, take it for a run, let it tell you where to go. One of the greatest compliments ever paid to me as a writer was “you must feel pretty good about yourself to let yourself feel this bad.” And yet, the funny thing is that once I do allow myself to feel “this bad,” it doesn’t feel too bad at all. At the very least, I’ve gotten a novel or two out of it.

Copyright © 2006 Albyn Leah Hall

Albyn Leah Hall is the author of two novels: The Rhythm of the Road (published by St. Martin’s Press, January 2007 and Deliria, (published by Serpent’s Tail, 1994.) She is also a screenwriter; her screenplay, The Rose of Tralee, is currently in development. Albyn’s childhood was divided between New York and Los Angeles, but she has spent most of her adult life in London, where she works as both a writer and a psychotherapist. Albyn Leah Hall has a Website.

Attending a Conference for Writers: Anxiety and Ecstasy

By Krysten Lindsay Hager

The night before attending a conference for writers there’s always that excitement about going and meeting the perfect agent or editor for your work. Maybe it’ll be a magical moment where time will slow down and you’ll end up running in slow-motion toward each other,“Chariots of Fire” playing in the background as you leap, holding your manuscript in one hand, the other outstretched to literary glory. Or maybe you’ll just go, find out your genre isn’t selling and come home feeling defeated and a little poorer since you spent fifty bucks buying the speaker’s books. In reality, very few people find their editors at conferences.

In fact, in 2005 I attended a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference where I heard the most surprising news. An editor from a very well-known publishing house said that she had been shocked to find an author at one of these conferences that she actually went on to publish. The editor said it almost never happens and that she might see potential in a few writers that she had done critiques with, but she had never heard of anyone getting published from having a writing conference critique. This was news to me and the rest of us who had plunked down the extra thirty-five dollars for a critique and clung to dear life to the few positive comments that were thrown our way. This editor had been in the business for years and for her to say it was almost unheard of to find talent through attending a conference was shocking to me. However, it was also a relief.

I decided after hearing that comment that I would no longer get so worked up about missing out on my “big chance” with an editor or agent. Instead of handing out business cards and trying to corner agents and editors in every place but the bathroom (I have my standards) and missing out on the speakers’ advice because I was too busy “stalking my prey,” I was going to take advantage of the conferences in a different way.

First, no matter how interesting your work is, chances are an editor or agent isn’t going to remember what you looked like or if you told them a witty story. Instead of making editors and agents attending a conference uncomfortable by cornering them and asking if they’re interested in your new novel, take note of what the agent or editor is interested in. Find out what they’ve represented or published before and what they’re looking for now. They usually share these things in their presentations, but if they don’t you can always raise your hand to ask and, if you’re not the type to raise your hand in public, many conferences have a box for questions that is presented at the end of the conference for the speakers to address. That way you, once you’re at home, you can mention in your query letter that you enjoyed his presentation at whichever conference you attended and then ask if he’d be interested in seeing your work. The agent or editor isn’t going to remember you anyway, so you might as well do your homework and save yourself the embarrassment of coming on too strong with your proposal.

Many times it’s not the big names at the conference that will get you anywhere. One author I know spent all her time at a writing conference trying to find publishers and representation for her middle-grade novels. She ended up getting discovered through a query letter to an editor she had seen named in a writer’s guide and said the only decent contact she had made at that conference was me because once she got her books published, I wrote reviews on them in several places (both in print and online) and later wrote an article about a group book-signing she was participating in that gave her more attention as well as articles to put in her portfolio. You never know when the person you sit next to at the conference might help you more than the famous connection you’re trying to make by attending a conference.

Also, many times editors and agents come to conferences with an invisible shield up. They’re wary of taking writing and art samples at the conferences for many reasons. Your work could get lost, nobody wants to carry extra heavy manuscripts back home on a plane, and there are also the legal issues. They prefer to get work that’s been submitted in the mail. Plus, nobody likes to be put on the spot. Sure its easier for them to reject you via mail where they don’t have to face you, but may editors and agents are so put off by people trying to slip them manuscripts at conferences that they’ll give you a flat “no” if you ask about giving them work. So save your dignity and put your questions in writing.

Focusing on meeting fellow writers can also benefit you in finding out about publishers that are eager to sign on new authors. You might meet someone who gets published down the road and can later direct you to the right person to submit to at that publishing house. You can also meet people who write book reviews who, when you do get published, can later help you out by writing a great review and “bumping” a less-than-great review that’s been posted on Amazon.com. You might meet people attending a conference who are aware of great new places to submit to or critique groups or other writing conferences that might help you. I found out about a writing publication through a writing group member that later published one of my articles. I never would have found it on my own, but that publication has proven to be a great way to get my foot in the door. Finding out where other conference attendees have been published is a great way to get new leads for your work as well.

Plan to Enjoy Attending a Conference

Instead of staying up late worrying that you’ll miss your big shot to talk to the editor or agent that you “just know” would be perfect for your manuscript, relax and plan to enjoy attending a conference. You’ll end up gathering more information from the speakers and you’ll be just as far ahead (if not farther) than the people who tracked down that editor in the lunch line. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you make a personal connection at the conference because these professionals meet so many people at these things that they wouldn’t remember you anyway. So enjoy the conference, take notes on the market, and find out what each agent and editor is interested in. Then mention in your query letter that you saw them at the conference. In the long run, this will pay off more.

Cover of Krysten Lindsay Hager's book Can Dreams Come True? (The Cecily Taylor Series Book 1)Krysten Lindsay Hager writes about friendship, self-esteem, fitting in, frenemies, crushes, fame, first loves, and values. She is the author of True Colors, Dating the It Guy, and Can Dreams Come True. Krysten Lindsay Hager has a website.

Limiting Computer Time

By Katherine Huether

Most of my day is spent on the computer. I check e-mail, write queries, and use my word processing programs to complete the bulk of my assignments. Recently, I spent a day without my computer. I spent some time feeling lost and unhappy without my laptop and Internet access. Then, I dusted off my journal and started writing longhand for a change.

The end result of my time away from the computer was that I experienced more creativity and motivation than I have in a while. I’ve made it a goal to limit my computer use and spend at least one day a week away from the computer. I find that I need this weekly rest away from my writing and my “work.” Here are all the benefits I’ve experienced from this weekly ritual.

More Balance

When I first began my writing career, I felt that I needed to spend every free minute I had working. My kitchen was a mess, my house became disorganized, and my exercise and grooming routines both fell apart. My life was out of balance.

Even though I currently spend less time writing and developing my business, I am more productive. That day off recharges my mind and helps me use my time more efficiently. I exercise more, I eat well, and I spend time with my family.

Make a list of all the aspects of your life that feel disorganized and out of balance and make sure you give yourself ample time during your week to work on them.

Living Life

As a writer, I get most of my ideas from my life. When I spend all my time working, it is easy to run out of ideas. Since I take time away from technology and my business, I am experiencing life and giving myself a chance to develop new ideas.

Even if you don’t have the luxury of taking a whole day off, you can still schedule time each day to turn off your computer and ignore all telephone calls. Do something for yourself. Go for a walk. Take a bath. Plant some flowers. Go out for dinner. Make sure you bring your journal along so you can write down any ideas that may come to you.

Journaling

A journal is a powerful tool. There’s something about writing longhand that can spark creativity. Use unlined paper; this opens you up even more because you aren’t constrained by the lines provided. Do writing exercises. Observe the world around you. Jot down any ideas or thoughts. Write a poem. Keeping a journal on the computer doesn’t have the same effect. Turn off your computer at least once a day and find an inspiring place to write. Let yourself write whatever comes to mind. Then, go back through it later to extract all those little bits that can be turned into an article or story.

Stress

Although helpful, technology can also be stressful. Yes, computers, laptops, e-mail, cell phones, and our personal electronic organizers do make our jobs easier. But what happens when the phone rings all day and you check your e-mail on an almost minute-by-minute basis? This can promote stress. It isn’t necessary to respond to every call and e-mail you get as soon as you get it. In fact, it can cause stress.

Checking e-mail only a few times a day and letting voice mail pick up your calls can help you relax. Stress hurts creativity. When you are relaxed you can be more productive with your writing time and it is easier to come up with new ideas.

Greater Productivity

Yes, spending time away from your computer and from e-mail every now and then does enhance productivity. I know it seems hard to believe. I mean, it seems like you need to actually be at your computer in order to get things done.

I don’t know about you, but when I sit at my computer all day, I start to zone. I play a game or two of solitaire. Then I check my e-mail. I finally start writing but I can only write one sentence before I feel stuck.

At that point, I know I should switch off the computer and do something else. It’s time to take a break and at the very least do some housework. But when I take a REAL break away from the computer and take out my journal or get some exercise, that is when my mind starts to organize my thoughts and ideas and I am better able to return to my work refreshed and more productive.

Small Steps

Intrigued? You may want to start with small steps. Try taking a few ten minute breaks throughout your work day. Build up to taking an entire day off. You will be more creative and productive and have a lot more things to write about because you will be experiencing life

Katherine Huether is a freelance writer who takes care of the majority of her business with her computer. Her work has appeared in Herbs for Health and Herb Quarterly. Katherine Huether has a website.

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