Monday, November 30, 2015

Writing Takes a Village

Writers write alone, but that doesn’t mean they are solitary beings. They thrive in community with other writers and take inspiration from interaction with all kinds of people and situations. Beginning writers often keep their writing to themselves, sometimes embarrassed to have anyone know they are writing. Perhaps this is a gestation period where the writer is finding his or her own voice. But at some point reaching out is necessary in order to grow as a writer. Reading work out loud lets them hear their own words more clearly and feel the response of the group -- the potent silence when people are deeply moved, the warm laughter and the spontaneous burst of applause. There is also value in the restless rustling, the uncomfortable silence and other ways listeners show that a piece of work is not speaking to them. It’s not a personal criticism but valuable information that more needs to be done.

Writers write for different reasons, but if they want to be read, then it takes a village. One of my clients discovered this recently when she was readying her manuscript to send out for publication. She reached out to several people with questions within their fields of expertise, attended a workshop on proposal writing, asked colleagues to read her work and give feedback, and she shared her feelings of self-doubt with close friends and received much needed encouragement. She gave herself the benefit of a village.

How do you find your village? First, see if there are existing writing groups in your community. This might be an ongoing adult education class in a local college or high school, or a private group offered by a published writer or qualified teacher. Check out local bookstores too; even if they don’t host groups they might be able to direct you to one. Try the group out to see if it's a good fit. If you come away feeling inspired, it’s good. If you come away feeling hopeless, it’s probably not.

If no class or group exists in your community, you might form your own group of writers who get together on a regular basis. Put a little notice in your MeetUp or Nextdoor online communities. And when you get rolling on a project, there are writers’ colonies, retreats and conferences galore. These offer stimulation, support, new ideas and connections.

Published authors also find community in their agents and editors and other support teams. I know my clients appreciate the community aspect of working with me. I don’t just send out their works to journals and magazines; I hold back the rejection letters unless there is valuable editorial feedback. This keeps them from feeling the disheartening sting that can cause them to waste time rethinking whether they can write at all. When there is an acceptance letter, there is no one happier for them than I am! Friends and family don’t always understand the meaning of these successes. Fellow writers’ understand all too well and their congratulations may be very real, but sometimes they may be thrust against their will into thinking about their own struggles with publication. My clients’ success is my success, so we both have cause for celebration.

If you doubt that it takes a village to become a published writer, just read the acknowledgements page of whatever book you are reading!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Are you overlooking a hidden gem?

Here’s a link to an article worth reading for every up and coming author and poet. Lindsay Merbaum, fiction writer and essayist, tells it like it is without totally quashing all hope of getting published. While she lets it be known that indeed there is an MFA in-crowd and the system does work in their favor, she also offers hope for newbies and the less prestigiously affiliated.

She says, “Remember that no publication is too small. Years ago, I published a story in a little-known online magazine, back when any online publishing was considered second-rate. I was sort of disappointed, until I discovered a secret about those up-and-coming journals: they work hard for their writers. Because of the dedication of the editors at that journal, my story was nominated for an award and ended up in a print anthology of online writing. Two agents saw the piece in the anthology and contacted me, which is such a rare occurrence, it's like I got struck by lightning. Twice.”

We have a local example in the Marin Poetry Center Anthology. While submission is only open to members, submissions are competitive and actually having a poem accepted in the annual anthology is not a given. There’s a lot of talent in Marin County and the Bay Area. MPC members include such notable poets as Kay Ryan and Robert Hass, both past US poet laureates, as well as Jane Hirschfield, Ellen Bass and Prartho Sereno, all established poets with books, students and awards to their credits. The 2015 volume is the first to include many of them, perhaps because this little anthology has rightfully developed quite a reputation, and these renowned poets not only want to support the local poetry community but feel their own poetry belongs there too.

And, as Merbaum mentions, small publications nominate for awards like the Pushcart Prize, too. Our own Stephanie Noble was a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee, something she gets to have on her bio forever, and all because she didn’t turn up her nose at offering her work to a lesser known publication.

Something to consider! Read the article and let me know what you think.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Do you read romance novels?

Ok so this is a movie review but it's very relevant to writers and so I have to tell you about it.

I have to admit that I've held on to a rather condescending attitude towards the romance genre. Until now. I just saw a really eye-opening documentary, "Love Between the Covers" by Producer/Writer/Director Laurie Kahn. She also did the docs "Tupperware" (loved it) and "A Midwife's Tale" (haven't seen that one).

From the film's website:

Love stories are universal. Love stories are powerful.  And so are the women who write them.
While romance novels and their signature covers are ubiquitous around the world, the global community of millions of women who read, write, and love them remains oddly invisible. Love Between the Covers is the fascinating story of five very different authors who invite us into a vast female community, running a powerhouse industry that’s on the cusp of an irreversible power shift.

The first author profiled is Mary Bly, a Harvard graduate and professor of English at Fordham University, who writes under the pen name Eloisa James. Mary, the daughter of renowned poet Robert Bly, is a best-selling author and "rock star" in the genre.

We also meet Len Barot, well-known author of lesbian romance fiction, writing under the name Radclyffe. She saw a need to support this genre and founded Bold Strokes Books, one of the world’s largest independent LGBTQ publishing companies.

I love fiction because it’s fiction. Fiction is not real and it’s not supposed to be. Fiction is a dream. Fiction is a desire. Fiction is hope.
— Len Barot/Radclyffe

Beverly Jenkins wanted to see more representation of "people like her" in romance novels. She is considered the pioneer of African American romance. She has built a loyal and large community of readers, some of whom participate in her southern heritage tours to historic sites featured in her books.

Best friends Susan Donovan and Celeste Bradley, highly successful authors in their own right, decided to team up and have become a best-selling dynamic duo.

And we watch as aspiring romance author Joanne Lockyer navigates her way through self-publishing her first novel, sharing the thrill with her as she opens her first freshly printed new book.

Here are just a few of the surprising things I learned from watching this very entertaining film:

  • all the major publishing houses produce romance novels in addition to their other genres. Romance is considered publishing's bread and butter.

"Romance is the behemoth of the publishing industry; it outsells mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy combined."

  • founded in 1980, Romance Writers of America has over 10,000 members and 145 local and on-line chapters. They host an annual convention that is visited by several thousand readers and writers.

The power has shifted. Authors are the future of publishing. And romance authors have been the most innovative, the most experimental, the most forward looking in this ebook revolution.
— Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords

  • these authors rely heavily on social media to communicate with their fans, sharing excerpts of projects and building large followings and friendships. 
  • e-readers are a boon to this industry, as romance readers are avid consumers, no sooner finishing one book than downloading another.

Maybe you are a loyal reader yourself. Do you have a favorite romance writer? I'm off to the library...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What’s In a Name?

Think of something you’ve enjoyed reading. Do you remember who wrote it? If it was good, you probably took note of the name so you can read more of that writer’s work. Or you might hear about a writer somewhere who sounds interesting and want to find something they’ve read. Either way, the writer’s name is now familiar to you, and you look forward to reading or finding out more about him or her.

Name recognition is crucial for a writer of any kind to draw and keep readers. Of course, first the writing has to be so good it makes people want to read whatever you write. But you can be a fabulous writer and no one will ever know if you make no effort to publish or publicize.

Different types of writers have different opportunities to get name recognition, but here are a few ways to ‘build your brand’, as they say:

    Do readings at appropriate venues. Download the app for finding local reading venues and other literary events from Poets & Writers.

    Write a guest post for a blog in your subject area. To pitch an idea to them, be sure you are familiar with their themes and style, that it is appropriate for your work and will attract your core readers. This might mean some online research to find the appropriate blogs of interest. Explore the blog, notice if it posts regularly or not, subscribe if you like it. You will soon have a clear idea what they are about. If you don't like it, then unsubscribe. If you do like it, then you are building your own network of information sharing.

When you pitch a post idea to a blog, be sure it is well-written, on a topic relevant to the blog, factually correct, and original material with quotes and references to anything that is not original. As a guest blogger you are introducing yourself to a whole new group of readers who, if they like what you've written, might click on the link to your blog or site, purchase your book, or remember your name when they next see it.
    Write reviews for books or movies that would appeal to your potential readers. Your name, title and contact information at the end of a well-written review will certainly be noted by potential avid readers.

    Comment on posts in your subject areas. Participating in an online community under your own name can slowly build your reputation as a credible source of good information well-delivered with integrity, humor or your quirky slant that might appeal to others. Having given freely of your expertise for a while, your sharing of a new book or a link to an article will be well-received rather than seen as sales promotion.

When commenting, try to post early so that more readers have a chance to read it before they move on to other articles or get bored with the conversation when it veers off topic, as often happens. And please don’t be the person that takes it off course or makes snarky comments.

    If your topic is pertinent to current news, be sure to write letters to the editor, using your full name, city and the name of your book if you have one. Publications have easy online or email ways to quickly submit your letter. Write the moment you read the article.

    If your work has a visual component, consider drawing people in with Instagram. If you have a pithy way of saying things that people want to hear, build your name recognition with Twitter.

    If you have a book published, give it a website and/or Facebook page so people can find you. Keep it up to date with readings and radio interviews. Encourage comments and answer the comments in a friendly way.

    Develop an email list of your faithful followers. Even if you are on Twitter and Facebook, not everyone is, so you’ll want to keep building your email list to let people know your latest publishing successes, give links to purchase publications and share your calendar of events. Get in the habit of taking pertinent interesting photos to include in your mailings, tweets and posts. Use MailChimp or Constant Contact to send out attractive mailings for free.

    Never assume your friends and family know what you are up to. Make sure everyone is getting your information, and make sure they have the ability to share it with their friends.

One of the biggest mistakes writers make is assuming that their writing alone will make them known. Publishers want writers who already have a following and know how to publicize their work. Is that you? I hope so! If not, let’s talk.

Monday, July 20, 2015

What's Your Genre??

Sometimes I struggle with this question when evaluating just where exactly I should send a client’s work. I’ll read a story that was given to me as fiction and soon it becomes clear that it is a true story, not fiction, but the names have been changed. The client verifies this and then I must determine…is it creative nonfiction (CNF) or memoir or narrative nonfiction or literary nonfiction or literary journalism?! I need to figure this out because some journals want memoir, some want personal essays, some want CNF and so on. The answer is Yes because as it turns out CNF is a broad category that encompasses many subcategories.

The leading literary journal for this genre is Creative Nonfiction. Their tagline seems to clear things up: “true stories well told.” But wait, there’s more: “Creative nonfiction can be an essay, a journal article, a research paper, a memoir, or a poem; it can be personal or not, or it can be all of these.” I’m back to being confused. An essay? Isn’t that an argument for or against something? Lee Gutkind devotes an entire page to this question of CNF.

Further research leads me to author Barrie Jean Borich. Borich was the first creative nonfiction editor of Hamline University’s Water~Stone Review and is currently a member of the creative writing faculty of the English Department/MA in Writing & Publishing Program at Chicago’s DePaul University.

“As a devotee of this form I like to define the genre in as broad a way as possible. I describe it as memory-or-fact-based writing that makes use of the styles and elements of fiction, poetry, memoir, and essay. It is writing about and from a world that includes the author’s life and/or the author’s eye on the lives of others.”

My take-away is what she calls her touchstone: the word actual. “We begin a work of creative nonfiction not with the imaginary but with the actual.” She has written at length on this topic and if you are at all interested in furthering your understanding of this genre I encourage you to read the full article.

For those of you who are working towards publishing a book, choosing your genre is ever so important. And according to blogger Brooke Warner, don’t try to be all things to all people. Figure out where your work fits best, pick your genre and stick to it, as in just one, not cross-genre. And pay close attention to descriptive categories (mystery, romance, magic, nutrition, dogs, etc) that will help you with SEO. For that website you are going to create to promote your book, right?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Wanna Write...Gotta Write...Can't Write

So it's high time I write something new here and yet I'm feeling stuck and lacking ideas. Then it struck me, writers everywhere are struggling with the same feeling at this very moment! And I'm just trying to write a blog post for my clients so they can learn something helpful or find a bit of inspiration.

A quick search on Twitter #writersblock revealed that while writing can be a lonely pastime, writers are in no way alone in the struggle to break through whatever is blocking the creative flow. I found suggestions ranging from interview your characters, to change your work environment or sign up for one of the plethora of remedies for "how to' overcome writer's block" or simply ignore it (!). 

I'd love to hear from you. What do you do when you want to write, but can't?

I'll leave you with some images on the subject:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Get Your Stories Heard!

The topic of my previous post, on-line vs print publication has provided some rich material. I’m now exploring other alternatives to getting published. Here is a sampling of what I’ve uncovered so far.

Narrative magazine was started in 2003 and “is paving the way in bringing the best new stories to the digital world and to the generations of readers who live there.” They pay their contributors well and most of their content is free. Narrative Backstage is a premium offering on their website for subscribers and donors that features Narrative Outloud audio stories and poetry. They also accept video submissions.

I happen to know that the Missouri Review publishes audio stories but what I didn’t know is that you must first have your written work accepted by them. Here’s how they describe their process:
One of the many innovative ideas we’ve had in recent years was to create an audio version of our magazine. Every issue, our staff, lead by audio editor Kevin McFillen, gets an early uncorrected version of the stories, essays, and poems forthcoming in the next issue. The audio team reads the work and then selects a reader (or “performer”) from the Columbia theater community whose voice best captures the text. They get together in our recording studio, down in the basement of McReynolds Hall (it’s room 54 and, you betcha, we call it Studio 54), and then the audio file is edited for production. Each audio recording is then included in the digital version of The Missouri Review.”
Pretty cool!

Heard of Monkeybicycle? It’s an imprint of Dzanc books:
“Monkeybicycle is a literary journal that lives both in print and online. Deemed "better than the rest of the litmags" by The Stranger, Monkeybicycle has been publishing a wide range of authors--since 2002, and has had several works included in Best American Nonrequired Reading volumes.” 
Their website includes a podcast page where you can read about the featured writer and listen to them reading their stories or passages from their novels. 

Nashville Review of Vanderbilt University is going cutting edge:
 Nashville Review was founded with two guiding principles: that our venue would be inclusive of all forms of storytelling, and that it would be both free and available online to anyone who wished to enjoy it. NR seeks to feature art not traditionally recognized as literature—comics, film, music, visual art, creative nonfiction, dance, oral storytelling and other performance arts—alongside the more traditional forms of fiction and poetry.” The site has a clean, bold look to it, easy to read and to navigate. Not always the case with lit sites.

And one of my fave research resources, The ReviewReview, has a solid article on audio publications where I learned about The Drum a literary magazine for your ears:

The Drum Literary Magazine publishes short fiction, essays, novel excerpts, and interviews exclusively in audio form.” They produce 10 issues a year and I find their website to be easy to navigate and fun to explore, for free!

I am very excited about how this audio medium opens up new possibilities for publication, as some of my clients do a fantastic job of reading their work aloud. And with all the great technology readily available to record them, it’s highly do-able.


Friday, April 24, 2015

On-line VS Print Publication

When I first began Writers' Wings there was still a bias against on-line publication. Even tho I could see the writing on the wall (screen, that is) I was still encountering resistance to submitting to on-line journals. Now that many of the major literary journals, such as The Missouri Review, have a digital editions as well as print, the tide has definitely turned. Three of my clients have been published on-line and one of them even created an on-line journal to showcase the work created during her writers retreats.

For a really well-written exploration of on-line versus print, check out this article on The Review Review. It also lays out the road map that I follow when working on submissions for my clients.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


Time to Riot
Barrelhouse Issue 15 will feature a special themed section on the topic of riots.

Whether that term makes you think of civil disobedience, riot grrrls, sports fans celebrating a championship, Quiet Riot, or something else, we want to read your work.

We want writing that is going to throw bricks through windows and flip cars and start fires and charge through clouds of tear gas carrying nothing but a stick and a lifetime of outrage. ​We want you to scare us a little.​ Deadline May 1st.

The 90's Online Issue
The dream of the 90s is alive at Barrelhouse!

We’re in search of stories, poems, and essays that celebrate one of the greatest decades in relatively recent history: the 1990s. Whether you take us back or bring it forward, show us how it was all about the Benjamins, saluting your shorts, and whatever pogs were. Make us think about Squeezit, royalty in Bel-Air, and Blind Melon in new, 21st century ways.

Most of all? Put more heart in your work than the Spice Girls, and more danger than Beavis and Butt-Head with rocket launchers.

3530 Sweet Air Road
Phoenix, MD 21131

My Blog List

  • This is a draft test. When I get a great story idea I can compose on my phone. Here I am.
  • Please go to Issues in the menu to see what’s on offer in our Change issue!
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  • Perhaps you have found yourself called to cross a boundary and move into an area that’s uncomfortable, terra incognito for you. Speaking out or standing up...
  • Identifying and bolstering your story’s theme can develop a layered narrative that resonates with readers on conscious and subconscious levels.
  • If you write or want to write, the North Bay Writers Groups workshop is for you. Writers of all skill levels, ages, or genres are welcome. Whether your goa...
  • All things are impermanent They arise, and they pass away. To live in harmony with this truth brings great happiness. - a Pali chant
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  • The intoxicating fragrance of peppermint tea bags, fresh from the box.