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1. Comment on One Shot by Reaper

I thought it was strong. The voice in the memory was not as powerful at first but it got there. You made me wonder, then dislike the MC but still think he didn’t deserve what he got. Then at the end I had nothing but sorrow for him even though I was smiling for his simple pleasures. In a quick short work you took me on a roller coaster and I loved it.

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2. Comment on One Shot by Reaper

Interesting and well written take Noodlebug. In your second to last paragraph you have Jessa watching the blood ooze from her own head rather than her neighbors. Normally I read right past those but that one made me pause and reread. Otherwise, very nicely done.

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3. Comment on One Shot by Augie

Man, did I ever laugh picturing this event! These two stupids make me laugh! Thanks k.spicer.

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4. Comment on One Shot by Augie

margi33, thanks for your comments. I couldn’t let the given prompt go away without some Tony and Mo mobster humor! Thanks!

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5. Comment on One Shot by Augie

Just got back from a wedding and on my way across the country for another one. Funny how folks get exhausted “putting on” the appropriate face at these events. I missed this small community where I know folks by their writing, not by their event appropriate face. I have been reading all week, just no time to respond. Thanks Kerry!

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6. Comment on How I Got My Literary Agent: Margo Kelly by Lissa Waller-Carlino

This is inspiring. Thank you for sharing! Congratulations! I will be ordering your book.

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7. Comment on One Shot by k.spicer

OT, this was nicely done. I really enjoyed it, it made me smile.

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8. Comment on One Shot by k.spicer

Nice take Margi, I like science fiction and techno so this was right up my alley, and you did it well.

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9. Comment on One Shot by Reaper

I can only add my voice to the comments about poetry here Bilbo. This was stunning. Your stories always capture but this one set deep hooks really fast. I was drawn in so completely both by the voice and the story. There are echoes of 1984 and after reading your synopsis, Dies the Fire both. Of course you also spoke eloquently to my own personal distaste for giving up freedom to obtain the illusion of safety. The depth to this was magnificent.

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10. Comment on One Shot by k.spicer

Jay this was an awesome piece of writing. Gory yes, but spot on with character and style. I may have known your Frank though…and this would have been exactly what he would have done…this one was a little too familiar for comfort. Well done as usual!

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11. An Interview with Meryl Gordon, Author of The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Death of Heiress, Huguette Clark

Just as the world thought they had seen the last of the great tabloid trials in 2009 when Brooke Astor’s son was found guilty of looting his philanthropist mother’s estate of millions, two years later another equally contentious case made its way into the New York Court System.

—by Sharon Hazard

In the fall of 2011 long-lost relatives of the reclusive heiress, Huguette Clark marched into Manhattan Surrogate’s Court on Chambers Street seeking a share of her millions and for the next two and a half years, author Meryl Gordon was there to witness it all. No stranger to the system, Gordon had covered the Brooke Astor circus and had written a book, Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach, based on her astute observations of the famous trial and the cast of characters involved.

Meryl_Gordon_credit_Nina_Subin    gordon.phantomoffifth.hcAccording to Gordon, “When 104- year-old Huguette Clark’s obituary appeared on page one of the New York Times on May 25, 2011, her publisher, Grand Central called. Since my first book, had centered on the final years of another memorable Social Register centenarian, they thought of me for this project, which would come to be titled, The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Mysterious Death of Heiress Huguette Clark.”

Three years later, after many interviews and a massive amount of research, Gordon had the manuscript ready, or so she thought. The author said, “I actually wrote two entirely different versions of the book.” The first one had the usual suspects, well-meaning relatives, loyal care-givers, a lawyer and accountant under investigation for mismanaging Huguette’s affairs and the star witness, Hadassah Peri, Clark’s long-time caregiver who was primed to inherit the bulk of the Clark Family fortune.

Then came a delectable dilemma that any investigative writer would find hard to pass up. More research became available to her. Seventy-six boxes chock full of archival material removed from Huguette Clark’s Fifth Avenue apartment filled-with tell-tale tidbits of information that would put a new spin on her story.

The litigators presenting the case recognized Gordon as a well-respected journalist and director of Magazine Writing at New York University and knew she would give a balanced account of the proceedings. After four sets of lawyers signed off, Gordon was allowed several days to go through mountains of new information revealing intimate details about the woman who for the last twenty years had chosen to hide from the world in a drab hospital room in New York City while still owning three sprawling apartments on Fifth Avenue, a 23-acre oceanfront compound in Santa Barbara, California, original artwork, rare antique furnishings and jewelry worth millions.

After sifting through each box and reading Clark’s personal diary, love letters, many of which were in French and seeing receipts dating back to the 1930s for jewelry purchased at Cartier’s, Gordon knew she had to begin revising her book about Huguette who hadn’t seen her relatives since 1968 nor stepped outside her hospital room since 1981. Now on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List, the Phantom of Fifth Avenue is both a biography and the story of the high-stakes fight over Huguette Clark’s $300 million fortune.

About writing the book, Gordon noted, “I was able to talk to virtually all the key players in this legal battle and I have tried to explain how Huguette’s unusual life-choices and complicated relationships led to this public drama.”

Gordon said, “Going into this project I knew very little other than what the tabloids were reporting about this mysterious millionairess, but as I got to know Huguette Clark, the woman born in Paris in 1906 and raised in a 121- room Beaux Arts mansion on Fifth Avenue through her own words, I found her to be a warm and talented person and I had affection for her at the end.”

What began as a courtroom tell-all ended up exposing a very private person as a personality worth far more than the millions left to her by her father, Senator William Andrews Clark. The copper magnate was the second richest man in America when he died in 1925.

Gordon said, “Huguette wanted to make everyone around her happy, even if it cost her a fortune.”

 

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12. Interviewing Poets: Why and How

Please welcome Glenda Council Beall to the blog. She was inspired to write a guest post after reading Jeannine Hall Gailey’s post on poetry book reviews last month.

I really enjoy the guest posts on this blog, but they can only happen with your participation. If you have an idea, send it my way at robert.brewer@fwcommunity.com, and we’ll work to flesh it out. No idea is too big, too small, or too “out there.” Okay, maybe some are, but I won’t judge–and I’ll help you get it under control.

******

I enjoyed the recent post by Jeannine Hall Gailey about reviewing poetry books. Instead of reviewing poetry books, I like to interview the poet by e-mail. I write up the interview for our NCWN West blog or my own personal blog.

Readers get a more personal view of the poet, and I’ve found that today’s readers like to feel they know a writer or poet–know more than just what the blurbs on the book tell them. With social media, readers follow their favorite authors and become friends online.

Requesting an Interview

Karen Paul Holmes’ poetry book, Untying the Knot, reads almost like a memoir about the breakup of a thirty-year marriage. The honesty in the poems lends such depth that I wanted to know more and knew my readers would enjoy knowing more about this writer who openly conveyed her pain, her grief and sadness over the loss of her husband, loss of a family, and loss of three decades of what had seemed to be a good marriage.

I asked Karen for an e-mail interview and she was pleased to answer my questions. I believe that good writers must be willing to bleed on the page and that is why I was intrigued with this poet’s story. She held nothing back in her book and I knew she would do the same in an interview.

Conducting the Interview

I like to send the questions to the writer and let her answer when she has had time to think carefully about what she wants to say. If she chooses not to answer a question, that is fine. I am not an investigative reporter. My purpose is to recommend a book and an author to my readers, the same thing I would do if I were to write a review.

I post the interview with my questions and direct quotes from the poet. That way there is very little editing involved. It is raw and innocent of speculation as to what the writer wants us to know.

Here is an example of a candid response from my interview with Karen Holmes:

I didn’t set out to write those poems, nor most of the ones in Untying the Knot; they just happened. One of my friends said, “Oh now that you’ve had a tragedy, your poetry will get better.” I wince at that, but it’s probably true. My poems definitely got deeper emotionally and darker in tone. However, I also believe in trying to stay positive, so many poems have a positive spin. Some are even funny. Like I said, poetry was therapy.

In her own words, Holmes tells us more about her book and why we should read it than I could tell in a review. How can we find humor in this sad theme? The poet did use irony in a few poems, and, like the comedic actor in a drama, it helps move us along without breaking the spell created in this book.

Gracious Poets

For the past eight years, I’ve done e-mail interviews with a number of writers and poets, and I found them to be gracious and appreciative. Only one writer, Ron Rash, told me he would rather have a telephone interview than an e-mail interview and that was because he had trouble with his hands and limited his use of the keyboard.

You can read some of my interviews online. http://netwestwriters.blogspot.com/2010/01/writers-on-radio-with-joan-hetzler-host.html

http://netwestwriters.blogspot.com/2013/03/glenda-c-beall-interviews-robert-s-king.html

http://netwestwriters.blogspot.com/2013/09/author-interview-by-glenda-beall.html

 

*****

glenda_council_beallGlenda Council Beall lives in Hayesville, NC. She is owner/director of Writers Circle Around the Table. She teaches writing in the community enrichment department at Tri-County Community College and began publishing poetry in 1996. Her poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals including Wild Goose Poetry Review, Appalachian Heritage, Main Street Rag, Journal of Kentucky Studies, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and plenty of other fine publications. Now Might as Well be Then, her poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press is available on Amazon.com and from City Lights Books in Sylva, NC.

Find her online at www.profilesandpedigrees.blogspot.com and www.glendacouncilbeall.blogspot.com.

Read some of her interviews here:

*****

Find more poetic goodies here:

 

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13. How to Destroy Your Initial Idea (& Make Your Story Better)

W3606 WritersIdeaBookPablo Picasso said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” I wasn’t there when he said it, and I have no idea what he meant. He may have been in a bad mood. But I’ve always thought the statement sounded pretty cool. It makes the creative artist seem powerful and iconoclastic, smashing with the hammer of artistic vision the statues of conformity. As writers, we do have that power, if we’re willing to use it.

For our purposes, we’re going to use the quote to begin a discussion of destroying our initial idea. Sometimes the generative idea for a piece is more an avenue to richer ideas than an end in itself. At those times, we must be willing to let go of our initial premise. We have to explode the idea. In some ways, to echo Picasso, this is the first act of creation.

—by Jack Heffron

There are few comments more deflating than when your readers agree that your 25-page story “really begins on page 24.” We’ve worked hard on those first 23 pages. They’re honed and crafted and have a lot of good lines in them. And now we’re supposed to believe they’re a mere prelude to the real story? Sometimes the answer is yes.

At such times, we must remember that we wouldn’t have achieved the real start of the story if we hadn’t written what came before. Our initial premise led us to literary gold, even though now it must be discarded. I had this experience with a story I wrote a few years ago. It concerns a mother and daughter who are lost in Los Angeles, far from their Ohio home. I worked hours on extended dialogues between the characters and took great pains to deliver the exposition in an unobtrusive way. I had conceived the story much like a play, focusing on subtle shifts of character as the mother and daughter conversed. Near the end, two rough-looking guys enter the doughnut shop where the story takes place. My plan was to have a brief encounter with the men and for the foursome to leave together at the end. Several readers said they felt the story spark to life when the two guys enter. But that was at the end! This was a Beckett-like story of tightly woven dialogue, not some tale of women being picked up by truckers. Hel-loo. Tightly woven Beckett-like dialogue here. You folks are missing the point.

I let the story sit for some months. Then I read it with a fresh view. Then I reread the readers’ comments. They were right. My pages of tightly woven, Beckett-like dialogue were cut extensively. I now could see that much of it was self-conscious and tiresome anyway. The tension between the mother and daughter as they sat in a doughnut shop wasn’t enough to carry the story. After five pages or so, the story felt static. In the revised version, the men enter the doughnut shop on the top of page 2. The foursome is out the door by page 7. But those weeks of working the dialogue helped me get to know the mother and daughter, and my knowledge of them led to surprising turns in the revised story—turns I don’t know I’d have imagined if I hadn’t had such a rounded understanding of the characters.

When you find yourself in a similar place, listen to your readers. If only one reader advises to start with the ending, give the piece to a second reader or put it away for a while. Your first reader may be imposing her own vision of your story world and is stating the way she would handle the material. If a second reader offers similar advice, it’s worth considering. If the second reader says something more like, “It seemed kind of slow to me,” ask for specific places where it seemed most interesting. If the reader points to the place the first reader suggested to begin the story, you have a decision to make.

Lopping away a big chunk of story isn’t easy and requires consideration. Put the piece away and move on to a new one for a while. Give the piece at least a month to cool off. Set a date for rereading it. Put it on your calendar. The date will ensure you don’t read it sooner than is helpful, and it also reminds you the piece is waiting. We sometimes forget about our projects for so long that we have trouble bringing them back to life. And so the deadline works in two ways, making sure you don’t return too soon or wait too long.

When you return to the piece, note in the margins where it’s working and where it needs help. Are the readers correct in their assessment of the sections that could be cut or be significantly condensed? Read the piece again, beginning at the place where it might be made to start. Does it make a strong opening? What needs to be pulled from the cut material, and how much can be set free?

Letting Go

It takes a certain amount of courage to cut away pages of a project. Don’t forget to put these pages in an idea file or in a separate document—they may contain the seed of another idea. But when you’ve cut the pages, they’re gone. Don’t agonize over them or rationalize ways of returning them to the story.

Letting a piece go where it wants to go also can be difficult for us. Our initial premise dictates a certain structure, a clear narrative path. And yet, when a piece is well underway, it takes on a will of its own. I don’t talk a lot about characters taking over or telling the writer what to write. I’ve always found such talk a bit fallacious and self-aggrandizing, turning the creative process (and therefore, the creative artist) into an inspired genius in touch with mysterious forces beyond the powers of normal folk.

At the same time, I don’t agree with Nabokov’s famous comment about characters being his “galley slaves.” The creative process isn’t just a mechanized act of will, an application of learned techniques. Our subconscious minds, the mythmaking power of our imaginations, do come into play. Conscious craft and subconscious artistry unite in a piece, granting it a power we can’t always control. I don’t know that it’s a matter of characters taking over. I think it’s that, at some point, the story moves along its own path. It knows what it wants to be, even when we have different ideas about what it should be.

Creative writing is such an intuitive act that it’s tough to make this point in a concrete way. To recognize when you’re forcing a piece away from its natural course, look for places where it begins to sound awkward to your artistic ear. Do you find yourself, at some level, asking whether the character would really do that? Does a scene end with one character having the last word in a way that seems false? Does the analysis of a key event in your personal essay serve more to make you look innocent than to provide an authentic insight? Trust your instincts. Perhaps you’re working against your own piece. You’ve moved beyond your initial premise into territory you may not want to visit, but your uneasiness is suggesting you have to explode that generative idea and move on. Responding to that uneasiness, even consciously feeling it, requires spending enough time on a piece to really hear what it’s telling you.

At first, we may feel uneasy about an aspect of the piece in a faint way. We may feel it sometimes as we read, but at other times, it feels just fine. Sometimes it takes another reader to point it out, causing us to say, “I sort of wondered about that part. It never seemed quite right to me.”

For example, we’re trying to end a scene but nothing works, nothing feels like the natural place to stop. Whatever final lines we write don’t have the ring of finality. If you want to say that the characters have taken over, that they’ve decided they don’t want to stop talking, fine. I would phrase it more along the lines of the story asserting its own course. The falseness enters because we are sticking too closely to our idea of where the story must go. We say to ourselves, “This isn’t an important scene. It’s just a transition, taking me from this event to that event. I can’t spend 10 pages on a transitional scene.” And yet, something about that transitional scene remains unresolved. If we trust our intuition, we allow the scene to find its own resolution. Perhaps a better idea is emerging, but we stick stubbornly to our original concept of the piece, trying not to notice that something about the scene bothers us every time we read it. Something just doesn’t quite feel right.

Try not to see the need to explode your idea, blowing it up and beginning a new course, as a failure. It’s not. It’s another way of perceiving and building upon the possibilities of the original idea. The explosion creates all sorts of wonderful fragments that can be new ideas in themselves.

As in relationships, breaking up with an idea is hard to do. We try one strategy after another, but still the relationship isn’t working. We read books, surf Internet sites, seek counseling. Nothing helps. Something essential is missing, and all the advice and effort in the world won’t bring back the love you once felt. At some point, we need to tell the piece to sit down. We need to summon the courage to say, “Honey, we need to talk.”

 

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brian-klems-2013Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

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14. How I Got My Literary Agent: Margo Kelly

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Margo Kelly, author of the YA thriller WHO R U REALLY? These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

GIVEAWAY: Margo is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

 

who-r-u-really-novel-cover       margo-kelly-author-writer

Margo Kelly is a native of the Northwest and currently resides in Idaho. A veteran
public speaker, she is now actively pursuing her love of writing. Margo welcomes
the opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs. Find
her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. She has September and October 2014
signings in Meridian, ID and Boise, ID. Margo’s debut novel is WHO R U REALLY
(Merit Press, Sept 2014), a young adult thriller-suspense. Kirkus said of the book,
“Kelly’s first novel is a suspenseful page-turner.”

 

 

A CHANGE IN CAREERS

In January, 2009, I decided I wanted to change careers and pursue a long forgotten dream of becoming a published author. Sound familiar? I purchased Janet Evanovich’s HOW I WRITE and Writer’s Digest’s GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS, and I began my research into the industry.

Six months later, I finished my first manuscript and I started sending out query letters. The rejections flooded in. I had tough skin. I knew rejections were part of the process, but one of the form letters pushed me over the edge. I struck a match and sent the rejection up in flames. (Yes, that was back in the days of snail mail.) Then I took a deep breath and went back to querying.

I also started writing my next manuscript. I read more books on the craft of writing, subscribed to magazines and journals that would help me better my skills, wrote flash fiction to tighten my story telling, and connected with two great critique partners that I met through online communities.

A year later, in August, 2010, I had finished my second manuscript and began to send out query letters. The requests for partials and fulls came in right away! I was so excited! But then rejections followed. I paid attention to the agents’ feedback, because I wanted to improve the story and make it saleable, but it was tricky, because while one said, “The main character is too naive” another said, “The main character sounds too adult.” I revised nonetheless.

I HEADED TO MY FIRST CONFERENCE

With a bright and shiny polished version of the story, I headed off to my first writers’ conference. I met up with my critique partner, Melissa, and we had an absolute blast. Plus, two agents at the conference requested my full manuscript, and I just knew one of these fabulous agents was going to offer me a contract. Yes-sir-ee!! I went home too excited to work on any writing. I was waiting to hear from the agents.

More than a month later, I sent very polite follow-up emails to the two agents from the conference. Both responded, explaining how busy they were (of course, I understood, I wanted them to take care of their current clients first, that made sense). But I was demoralized. I couldn’t seem to start a new manuscript. So I pulled out my first novel and dusted it off. I figured I could work on rewriting it and improving it until I found my writing mojo again.

(Looking to attend a writers’ conference? Start here.)

Three months later, one of the conference agents emailed to tell me she’d decided to shelve my manuscript, unread. She was no longer looking for new clients. By the summer of 2011, the second conference agent emailed and apologized for the delay in reading my manuscript. She said the writing was great, but it didn’t excite her enough to offer me representation.

My tough skin had been broken, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue down this publishing path. Then I was diagnosed with a rare 12mm lesion in the middle of my brain. After a lot of time and money, the specialists decided there was nothing they could do about it. I had to reevaluate my life, my priorities, and my goals. What if my time was limited here on earth? How would I want to spend it? Through self-evaluation, I realized writing was still important to me, and as a result I refocused my efforts with great fervor.

11 MORE QUERIES

On November 11, 2011, I sent out eleven queries for my novel, WHO R U REALLY? A dream agent from my dream agency requested a partial the same day (it was a Friday). Monday, she requested the full. Wednesday, she requested a phone call. Thursday, we discussed ideas for revisions. I loved all of her suggestions, and my mojo exploded! She said if I could accomplish these revisions, she’d offer me formal representation. I wanted it! I got to work, and I was on fire! I sent her the revised manuscript about a week and a half later (I know, it sounds like I rushed it, but I’m telling you: I was ON FIRE!!). She read it right away and requested more revisions. I got right back to work. I was still excited about the process, and I was thrilled to think that someone had caught the “vision” of my story. While I was busy working on more revisions, she surprised me and mailed me a contract! YES! Not to mention, in the time I was working with her on revisions, other agents had requested partials and fulls. Out of respect, I contacted them to let them know I’d received an offer. One of the agents told me I’d be nuts to not accept the offer from this great agency.

(How long should a synopsis be? Is shorter or longer better?)

On December 12, 2011, I signed with Brianne Johnson of Writers House. I’ve been smiling ever since, because I have the best agent from the best agency.

From there, we finalized revisions and made another title change before sending the manuscript out on submission. It took a while to sell, partly because the main character’s age put the story on the fence between middle grade and young adult. However, Jacquelyn Mitchard of Merit Press (an imprint of F+W Media) saw the “merit” in the story and made an offer. WHO R U REALLY?, will finally be published on September 18, 2014.

Now I’m polishing my next manuscript, and I’ve already started writing another. The publishing process certainly requires persistence and patience, but the future is so exciting.

GIVEAWAY: Margo is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

 

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Buy it online at a discount.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
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Order the book from WD at a discount.

 

 

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15. Self publishing 101: Where to Begin?

“How do I get my eBook on Amazon?”
“Do I really need both printed books and eBooks?”
“What price should I charge for my eBook?”

There’s never been a better time to be an author. It’s an oft-stated truth, as the digital technology driving the publishing revolution now enables creative people around the globe to develop and market content in truly unique ways.  But with anything new and unfamiliar, questions are sure to follow:

“Can you help me design a cover for my book?”
“How much money can I make from my eBook?”

The stigma of failure that used to be associated with self publishing is a thing of the past.

Digital delivery systems such as Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle bring your readers right to your doorstep. Gone too are the old barriers that kept self published authors from seeing their words in print. Digital printing and POD (print on demand) have expanded writers’ horizons. New mediums are being invented and old ones are being re-invented. New devices are being created at unprecedented rates.

“What’s an ISBN?”
“How can I distribute my book to Europe and other regions?”

With all the rapid changes in publishing swirling around, there’s another less-stated truth: there’s never been a more confusing time for authors, especially the ones who have chosen to self-publish. The process of taking your finished manuscript and putting it into the marketplace can be daunting for even the most tech-savvy author.

That’s one of the reasons why Blue Ash Publishing was created. We believe that self publishing doesn’t necessarily mean going it alone. Authors can rely on the resources of two publishing industry heavyweights – Writer’s Digest and BookBaby – who have the experience and knowhow to answer all the questions posed above – and then some!

The two companies that comprise Blue Ash provide everything an aspiring author needs to take their work directly to the marketplace. Blue Ash publishing packages are powered by BookBaby, so you can sell your eBook in the world’s biggest online bookstores — including Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and beyond. BookBaby is the sister company of CD Baby, the indie music powerhouse that’s helped musicians sell their music around the globe.

Meanwhile our writer’s resources are powered by Writer’s Digest, giving you access to their wealth of marketing and educational information. For more than 90 years, the experts at Writer’s Digest have been creating books, magazines, competitions, conferences and distance education materials for writers who want to polish their skills and hone their craft.

By providing answers to all your questions and taking care of the heavy lifting for all technology issues, we help writers concentrate on what they do best: Writing.

To help authors get a jump start on their self publishing efforts, we’ve put together a Blue Ash Publishing guide called:

Guide CoverSelf Publishing 101 – The Quick Start Guide for Authors

It’s free to any author thinking seriously about pursuing the path of self publishing. The guide is available for download HERE.

 

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16. Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 280

Before we get into today’s prompt, be sure to check out my first year as a traditionally published poetry author. In the post, I share things that I think I did right, missed opportunities, and what I’m doing now. Click to continue.

For today’s prompt, take the phrase “Hold (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Possible titles include: “Hold the Mayo,” “Hold That Thought,” or “Hold on a Minute.” Anything you can or wish you could hold is fair game. Go hold something or someone.

*****

Win $1,000 for Your Poetry!

Writer’s Digest is offering a contest strictly for poets with a top prize of $1,000, publication in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a copy of the 2015 Poet’s Market. There are cash prizes for Second ($250) and Third ($100) Prizes, as well as prizes for the Top 25.

The early bird deadline is October 1 and costs $15 for the first poem, $10 for each additional poem. Enter as often as you’d like.

Click here to learn more.

*****

Here’s my attempt at a Hold Blank poem:

“Hold Out”

for that next kiss, that sweet
bliss, from my pure missus
me and her, sure that we’re
almost where we need be
……..celestial bodies……..
both of us in orbit.

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

He believes in muses, kisses, and bumblebees. While he loves writing about a variety of topics and events, he really enjoys a good love poem, which might be why he’s such a Pablo Neruda fan. Robert is married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

More poetic stuff here:

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17. Solving the World’s Problems: Year One

My debut full-length poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems, was released by Press 53 last September. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what has happened since then and share any lessons I’ve learned during my first year as the author of poetry collection. (Click here to check out my 8-part series on getting it published last year.)

Numbers
One thing I learned right away is that the most common question someone asks you when you’ve published a book: “How many books have you sold?” Or, “How are your books selling?” And I quickly learned to answer in this way, “It’s doing pretty well…for poetry.”

I have sold quite a few books personally. I’ve received my first royalty check from my publisher. Neither are going to pay my mortgage, but there’s a great joy in being compensated for something I would be doing anyway for free: that is, writing poems.

*****

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

Publish Your Poetry!

Learn how to get your poetry published with the latest (and greatest) edition of Poet’s Market. The 2015 Poet’s Market is filled with articles on the craft, business, and promotion of poetry, in addition to poet interviews and original poetry by contemporary poets.

In fact, it has an entire section covering various poetic forms.

Plus, the book is filled with hundreds of listings for poetry book publishers, chapbook publishers, magazines, journals, contests, grants, conferences, and more!

Click to continue.

*****

However, I work in the publishing business, so I know relative book sales, and I can tell you that sales are usually not spectacular for debut authors in any genre–but they’re especially lean for poets. So it’s the first question often asked, but I prefer to get past talking numbers.

Promotion

Solving the World's Problems

Solving the World’s Problems

Numbers aside, I learned quite a few lessons about selling poetry books. The first thing is handling how to get the word out about the book. In some ways, I have a very good platform for a poet.

I have a lot of followers on social media sites, edit the Poet’s Market book, write a poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine, and well, there’s this Poetic Asides blog too. All of that helped, but not as much as one (namely me) might expect.

Here’s how I achieved the most sales:

  • E-mail list. I’ve long maintained a personal e-mail list of writing contacts, and this list has helped me sell out two limited edition self-published chapbooks in the past and get a good jump start on pre-order sales for this book. If you’re one of those folks, thank you!
  • Remix challenge. I made quite a few sales directly as a result of a little challenge I created for readers and writers: the Remixing the World’s Problems challenge. I challenged writers/readers to remix the words in my collection, and I’ll be announcing a winner for the best remix on October 15–with that winner receiving $500 from me.
  • Live events. Beyond e-mail and challenges, live events really helped me sell books. While I was featured at some larger events like the Kentucky Book Fair and Austin International Poetry Festival (making sales at both), the most profitable events were usually the more intimate ones in which I was one of two or three featured readers.

Lesson learned: A little creativity in promotion can work wonders, but also a more intimate approach. Look for local and regional reading series and see if you can be a featured reader. As a published author, you have an added level of authority.

Missed Opportunities
There are a few (obvious) opportunities that I missed as a debut author that I don’t plan to let slip by again with the next book. They are:

  • Book launch party. I really didn’t know how to handle this a year ago. And really, I didn’t put aside the time and resources to make it happen. Big time missed opportunity to bring friends and family together to help get it off to a good start.
  • Author contests. I did enter the Pulitzer contest knowing full well that I had next to no shot of winning, but I did not take advantage of entering several other book contests, including the Georgia Writers Association (as a Georgia resident), Ohioana Book Prizes (where I was born and raised), or others. Not saying I would’ve won those, but I’ll never know now–and I surely had a better chance than with the Pulitzer, right? Don’t discount the power of winning a reputable contest.
  • More live events. I have been to plenty of live events over the past year to promote the book, but I think I could’ve done more. And as I mentioned above, these are great places to sell books and connect with new readers.

Here’s the thing: No matter how prepared you think you are there will be missed opportunities. Don’t beat yourself up about them. Rather, pay attention and try to do a better job next time. I’m sure I’ll have a whole new list of missed opportunities with the second book. As with writing, selling books is a process.

My son Ben solving the world's problems.

My son Ben holding my book.

What Am I Up To Now?
Most importantly, I’m writing. The work of a creative person is to create. It’s not to write a poem and call it a day. Or write a book and call it a day. Or two books. Or three. Creative people create, and that’s what I’m doing for the sake of creating.

These creative acts are important for other reasons too. For starters, I’ve had a few new poems published online here and there over the past year, and nearly every new publication has coincided with a few new book purchases on Amazon. I’m not able to track it directly, but I’m pretty sure each new publication leads to more books selling.

Plus, I know from other genres that authors tend to build book sales over time by writing more books. Someone reads and enjoys your new book and then hunts down your older title(s). This isn’t selling out; it’s building a readership.

The entire enterprise of being a creative person, regardless of medium, is a process. After more than two decades of writing poetry and one year as an author, I’m enjoying the process more than ever and focusing on the art and the craft…and hoping it doesn’t take another 20 years to get my next collection together.

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

He honestly believes writing has done more than he’s done for writing. Before and beyond getting published, poetry has helped him deal with the real problems in his life. Material things come and go, but sanity is priceless–and poetry has helped him in that regard time and time again.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Find more poetic thingamabobs here:

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18. How to Write and Sell New Adult – Sept. 18 Webinar With Literary Agent Gordon Warnock

gordon-warnock-headshotNew Adult (books with protagonists ages 18-25) has swiftly become the hottest thing in both self-publishing and traditional publishing. New authors are making astonishing strides in this category and making great deals with the big traditional houses. Recent success stories include Molly McAdams, whose book Taking Chances has sold more than 200,000 copies so far.

The rise of New Adult has introduced questions, such as: Is it a genre? Does it need to have sex scenes? How do you define it? Should you self-publish it? How do you know if an agent wants NA? How is it different from YA? Despite all the questions, New Adult manuscripts have been selling remarkably well, no matter how it is published. The readers want it, it is here to stay, and we are among many agencies actively looking for it.

In this live 90-minute webinar — titled “How to Write and Sell New Adult” —  Literary agent Gordon Warnock will help you understand New Adult fully from all aspects of the business, whether you need to know the rules of the category, how to pitch it to agents, or how authors are hitting the bestselling lists with modern marketing techniques. Plus, as a bonus, Warnock will critique 1,000 words of your manuscript! It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, September 18, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes.

Click Here to Register

T7218WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

  • What makes a story New Adult
  • How NA is different from YA
  • What’s hot and what’s next
  • Characters, settings, and themes that work well for NA
  • How to tell if an agent wants New Adult
  • How to brand yourself for long-term success
  • What you need to do online to sell more books

 

Click Here to Register

INSTRUCTOR

Gordon Warnock is a founding partner at Foreword Literary, serving as a literary agent and editorial director of the Fast Foreword digital publishing program. He brings years of experience as a senior agent, marketing director, editor for independent publishers, consultant, and author coach. He frequently teaches workshops and gives keynote speeches at conferences and MFA programs nationwide. His NA books include A Real Emotional Girl by Tanya Chernov and Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories by MariNaomi. You can find him on Twitter @gordonwarnock.

Click Here to Register

HOW THE CRITIQUE WORKS

All registrants are invited to submit the first 1,000 words of their manuscript for critique. All submissions will receive a written critique by Gordon Warnock. Gordon reserves the right to request more writing from attendees by e-mail following the event, if he deems the writing excellent.

Please Note: Even if you can’t attend the live webinar, registering for this live version will enable you to receive the On Demand webinar and a personal critique of your material. Purchasing the On Demand version after the live event will not include a critique.

Click Here to Register

 

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19. The Writer’s Journey: How Much Someone Possibly Stand?

Above your desk is a bulletin board, crammed with outlines, assorted index cards with character descriptions, fliers from places you went for research, cards from agents and editors you met at assorted writers conferences, a postcard from a favorite book (note to self: next query don’t forget to mention your story is just like this one!), yellowed movie stubs from Crazy Stupid Love and Pride and Prejudice, a calendar indicating all the dates from sent queries, and a plethora of erratically stuck Post-it notes of varying colors and sizes holding minutiae ranging from brilliant snippets of dialogue to the color of the suit your villain will wear when he jumps the hero behind the warehouse.

Below it is a bookcase full of craft books, 2009 Rand McNally Road Atlas, three Marble compositions crammed with notes from various lectures and last year’s Writer’s Market. Next to that is a desk supporting a dictionary, thesaurus, a votive candle/pen holder, a stapler, hand lotion, various manila folders holding bits and pieces of paper, a lamp, a coaster and coffee cup, a mouse and mouse pad, a spoon, your phone–charging–and lastly, the font from which all springs, your laptop, repository of two works-in-progress, five novels, three novellas, ten short stories and six or seven random pieces all patiently cooling, simmering, boiling within its hard drive, but even more so, the receptacle of your benighted heart.

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 1.21.36 PM     Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 1.21.18 PM

Column by Gwen Jones, an Assistant Professor of English at Mercer County
College, in West Windsor, NJ. Her work has appeared in The Kelsey Review,
and The Connecticut River Review, and she is the author of WANTED: WIFE,
book one in the HarperCollins/Avon French Kiss series, and book two,
KISS ME, CAPTAIN (August 2014), which is about Captain
Dani Lloyd and her adventures with French shipping billionaire
Marcel Mercier. Book three is due by the end of 2014.

A writer of women’s fiction and romance, she lives with her
husband. C
onnect with her on Facebook or Twitter

 

So there’s this, there’s all of this, and yet as hard as you work, shuffling schedules to make room for those two blissful hours alone, polishing that manuscript until it screeches surrender, querying in bunches and crossing your fingers, there it comes again, that blasted, callous bit of communication that so effortlessly denies you entrance. So you steal more hours, polish some more and once again type that header: QUERY: Historical Thriller 80k–and it’s almost as if you’re stuck in a copier churning out denied, denied, DENIED.

So what’s the secret? Who do I see? Where do I go? What do I do? Who must I screw? Oh don’t tell me–that’s got to be it! Why I know this person and she can barely write her own name and her fifth book is coming out next month! Don’t give me that “subjective” crap—that wears thin after the first hundred times! You have to know someone. You need to to get in the door. Or you have to write Steampunk. Zombies. New Adult.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

Dystopian. Cozies. Historicals. Contemporaries. Thrillers. Forget Chick Lit! Nobody reads Regencies anymore. World War One’s Hot! She’s the new Nora! Stephen! Patterson! Asimov! We don’t care! Just as long as it’s original! The hell with the Big Five! Self-Publish! Trade paper. Mass market. Hard cover. Who needs paper? It’s a virtual world. Get a website. Blog. Tweet. Get a Kindle. Nook. Tablet. Download an audio file. Put the damn thing on Facebook and let the whole world see it. Churn out some fan fiction, tweak with some kink and watch your Bank Account Explode.

*facepalm* *headdesk* Sigh

How much longer can this go on? How much can you possibly stand? When will you finally reach that tipping point when you can NOT take it any longer and you throw out your hands and give up? How much is finally enough?

(How long should a synopsis be? Is shorter or longer better?)

Got news for you sweeties. If you’re reading this and nodding your head then you’re in way, way, way too deep to get out now. You’ve got it bad and you’ll receive no sympathy from me. Congratulations. You are officially at the point of no return. Sounds like you’ve become what so far, you think you’ve been denied from becoming.

Sounds like you’re a writer.

Such is the writer’s reality. There isn’t one of us out there who hasn’t gone through similar trials and humiliations. We’ve all had to walk through fire. The thing is you earn the right to call yourself a writer if you keep going back for more. And why is that? Because writers write. We can’t help ourselves. It’s what we do because it’s what we are.

So get back to work. There are dozens of interns out there working late with fingers twitching on the “reject” button. Let’s do our damnedest to disappoint them.

Need help crafting an awesome plot for your
story? Check out the new acclaimed resource
by Ronald Tobias, 20 Master Plots.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.

 

 

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20. Literary Agent Spotlight: Lana Popovic of Chalberg & Sussman

This week’s agent spotlight is not a new agent, but rather an established one who has just made an agency move and is actively seeking clients. Get to know Lana Popovic of Chalberg & Sussman (info below) and see if she is a good fit for you work. Good luck!

(What query letter mistakes will sink your submission chances?)

 

lana-popovic-literary-agent
About Lana: Lana Popovic holds a B.A. with honors from Yale University, a J.D. from the Boston University School of Law, where she focused on intellectual property, and an M.A. with highest honors from the Emerson College Publishing and Writing program. Prior to joining Chalberg & Sussman, Lana worked at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, where she built a list of Young Adult and adult literary authors while managing foreign rights for the agency.

With an abiding love for dark, edgy themes and shamelessly nerdy fare—Battlestar Galactica and Joss Whedon are two of her great loves—Lana is looking for a broad spectrum of Young Adult and Middle Grade projects, from contemporary realism to speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and historical. For the adult market, Lana is interested in literary thrillers, horror, fantasy, sophisticated erotica and romance, and select nonfiction. An avid traveler, she has a particular fondness for stories set in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, although she also loves reading deep and original stories about American subcultures. You can follow her on Twitter at @LanaPopovicLit. She will be a panelist at the Boston Book Festival this year, and also the AWP 2015 conference.

(Writing non-fiction? Hear submission advice from literary agents.)

She is seeking:

  1. Young Adult/Middle Grade Fiction: Contemporary/realistic, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, historical, horror, sci-fi
  2. Adult Fiction: Literary thrillers, sci-fi, horror, romance, erotica, women’s literary fiction
  3. Adult Nonfiction: Pop culture, blog-to-book, literary memoir

How to contact: To query Lana, please e-mail lana [at] chalbergsussman.com with the first ten pages of the manuscript included in the body of the e-mail. Lana accepts queries by e-mail only.

2015-GLA-small

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

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21. “How to Craft Query Letters, Opening Pages, Synopses, and Nonfiction That Get Noticed” — Sept. 22 Agent One-on-One Boot Camp with Kimberley Cameron Literary

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 1.01.22 PMWhen your submission materials arrive in an agent’s inbox, they land among hundreds of others. At that point, one of two things will happen. Either the agent will like the submission and request more materials, or they will reply with a rejection. Authors who get rejected tend to fall in one of two categories when submitting materials: they try too hard, or not enough. This Writer’s Digest Boot Camp, which starts on Sept. 22, 2014, is designed to help you streamline your submission materials to stand out in a good way.

Attendees will learn how to write a dynamite query letter, tackle a one-page synopsis. The instructing literary agents of Kimberley Cameron & Associates will also explain the importance of author platform in addition to basic etiquette in dealing with an agent and manuscript basics. Lastly, all attendees will have an opportunity to interact one-on-one with an agent and submit the first ten double-spaced pages of their manuscript and a query letter for valuable feedback provided by successful literary agents. Note that there are limited seats for the event, and WD boot camps frequently sell out, so sign up sooner rather than later.

Here’s how it works:

On September 22, 2014 you will gain access to a special 60-minute online tutorial presented by literary agents Kimberley Cameron and Elizabeth Kracht. This tutorial will provide nuts & bolts advice on how to help you streamline your submission materials.

After listening to the presentation, attendees will spend the next two days revising materials as necessary. Following the tutorial, writers will have two days in which to log onto the blackboard and ask your assigned agent critiquer questions related to revising your materials. The agents will be available on the Blackboard discussion boards from 1-3 p.m. (PT) on both Tuesday, September 23 and Wednesday, September 24. By end of day (11:59 p.m., PT) on Thursday, September 25, attendees will submit up the first 10 double-spaced pages of their manuscript and a query letter for review to their assigned agents.

The agents will spend one week reviewing all assigned pages, provide relevant feedback and offer suggestions to help attendees improve upon them. The agents reserve the right to request more materials if they feel a strong connection to the work and want to read more.

(Sign up for the September 2014 boot camp here.)

The agents at Kimberley Cameron & Associates are allowing all attendees to individually choose exactly what they want to receive instructor feedback on. You are able to submit the first ten pages (double spaced) of your manuscript and a query letter for review by the agents.

If there are questions about how to submit work for critique, please ask them during the boot camp’s multiple Blackboard Q&A sessions, and either an agent or WD staffer can help you with an answer. Please note that agents cannot edit materials a second time, so please do not send your revisions back to them for a second review, unless they have specifically requested more work from you in an effort to consider your book for representation.

RECAP ON DATES:

Monday, September 22: Online Tutorial
Tuesday, September 23: Agent Blackboard Q&A 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM (PT)
Wednesday, September 24: Agent Blackboard Q&A 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM (PT)
Thursday, September 25: Submit Ten Double-Spaced Pages by EOD (11:59 pm PT)
Thursday, October 2: Agent Critiques Due

Only registered students can access the discussion boards. You’ll also be able to ask questions of your fellow students. Feel free to share your work and gain support from your peers.

Please note that any one of the agents may ask for additional pages if the initial submission shows serious promise.

(Sign up for the September 2014 boot camp here.)

In addition to feedback from agents, attendees will also receive:

– Download of “Everything You Need to Know About Literary Agents,” an on-demand webinar by WD editor Chuck Sambuchino
– 1-year subscription to the WritersMarket.com literary agent database

Please note that all attendees should have ten double-spaced pages of the beginning of their manuscripts finished and ready to submit to the agent prior to the beginning of the event. If you are submitting fiction, please send in a one-page query letter and the first ten pages of your manuscript (double spaced). If you are submitting non-fiction, please send in a one-page query letter and ten pages (double spaced) of the same chapter text. If attendees have a preferred agent they want to work with, please notify the assigning WD editor. Though not guaranteed, we will try to link attendees with a preferred agent if they have one. Also, please note that no Additional discounts are available. All sales are final.

About the Agents:

KIMBERLEY CAMERON
Kimberley was educated at Marlborough School for Girls in Los Angeles, Humboldt State University, and Mount St. Mary’s College. She began her literary career as an agent trainee at the Marjel de Lauer Agency in association with Jay Garon in New York and worked for several years at MGM developing books for motion pictures. She was the co-founder of Knightsbridge Publishing Company with offices in New York and Los Angeles. In 1993 Kimberley became partners with Dorris Halsey of The Reece Halsey Agency, founded in 1957. Among its clients have been Aldous Huxley, William Faulkner, Upton Sinclair, and Henry Miller. She opened Reece Halsey North in 1995 and Reece Halsey Paris in 2006. In 2009 the agency became Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Kimberley resides and works from Tiburon, California and Paris, France, with many visits to New York to make the rounds of editorial offices. She is looking for exceptional writing in any field, particularly writing that touches the heart, and makes us feel something. She’s been successful with many different genres, and especially loves the thrill of securing representation for debut authors. She represents both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts, with the exception of romance, children’s books and screenplays.

ELIZABETH KRACHT
Elizabeth Kracht represents both literary and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction, and brings to the agency experience as a former acquisitions editor, freelance publicist and writer. Elizabeth’s career in publishing took root in Puerto Rico where she completed her BA in English and worked as a copyeditor for an English-language newspaper. When she returned to the mainland she found her “vein of gold” in book publishing. She thrives on working closely with authors and researching the potential market for new books. Elizabeth’s eclectic life experience drives her interests. She appreciates writing that has depth, an introspective voice or that offers wisdom for contemporary living. Having lived in cities such as New York, San Francisco and San Juan, Puerto Rico, she is compelled by urban and multicultural themes and loves settings that are characters unto themselves. In fiction, she represents literary, commercial, women’s, thrillers, mysteries, and YA with crossover appeal. She is intrigued by untrustworthy narrators, tragic tales of class and circumstance, and identifies with flawed yet sterling characters. In nonfiction, she particularly loves memoir and other narrative nonfiction projects that contribute to the well-being of the self or others in addition to niche projects that fill holes in the market, offer a fresh approach, or make her laugh. She also has a soft spot for nonfiction heroic pet stories.

AMY CLOUGHLEY
Amy Cloughley came to Kimberley Cameron & Associates with a background in editing, writing, and marketing. She seeks authors with unique, clear voices who put forth smart, tightly-written prose. As a new agent, she is now actively building her client list with both debut and veteran writers. She enjoys literary and upmarket fiction of all types in addition to commercial—including well-researched historical and well-told women’s fiction. She also loves a page-turning mystery, suspense, or thriller with sharp wit and unexpected twists and turns. She has a soft spot for distinctive, strong, contemporary characters set in small towns. Amy always looks for an unexpected story arc, a suitable pace, and a compelling protagonist. She is interested in narrative nonfiction when the plot and characters are immersed in a culture, lifestyle, discipline, or industry. She will also consider a travel or adventure memoir. Amy has studied creative writing, journalism, and literature and holds a B.S. in magazine journalism. She worked in editorial and marketing roles in magazine publishing and corporate business before shifting her professional focus to her lifelong love of books. She leverages her background in both words and business to benefit her clients.

MARY C. MOORE
Mary C. Moore started her career in publishing as a writer. She graduated from Mills College with an MFA in Creative Writing. After freelancing for two years as an editor and writer in non-literary sectors, she began an internship with Kimberley Cameron & Associates with the desire to learn more about the literary business for her own writing. During the internship she discovered a passion for helping others develop their manuscripts. Now she balances three jobs: writer, editor, and agent, and finds that the experience in each helps and supports the other. She is looking for unusual fantasy, grounded science-fiction, and atypical romance. Strong female characters and unique cultures especially catch her eye. Although she will not consider most non-fiction, stories about traditional dance or pagan culture may interest her. Above all, she is looking for writing that sweeps her away.

(Sign up for the September 2014 boot camp here.)

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22. Take Action: How I Overcame Writer’s Block

thompson-136Ray Bradbury once said if you’re a writer and you’re blocked, well, you’ve picked the wrong subject then, haven’t you? At least he had a subject. For me, writer’s block was never so much about stalling in the midst of writing a story as the lack of a story idea.

Until the late winter of 2013, I had never suffered from writer’s block. If anything, I was a bit of a snob, doubting that writer’s block even existed. I thought it was an excuse on the part of writers to keep from doing their jobs – you know: The Work. I’d written hundreds of features as a journalist for a daily newspaper, and then after seguing into fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, and they had all come easily to mind. I couldn’t fathom a loss of inspiration, and then one day my mind went blank: I had no clue what to write next. In desperation, I scoured my Idea File – a manila folder crammed with notes, photographs, newspaper clippings – even etchings on fast-food napkins – in the hope that a brilliant notion would sally forth. When it didn’t, I Googled my favorite topics: birds and birdwatchers and the American West, and visited my local library.

Yet after four months, nothing spoke to me. I began to wonder if my writing career was over. When I confided this fear to my writer friends, they said, “You’re tired, Renée, don’t be so hard on yourself. Take the summer off.” So I did. And the relief was immediate.

For weeks I did nothing more than tackle household chores and catch up on errands. I knew I’d made the right decision to take time off when I drove the speed limit day after day (o glorious leisure!), rather than race from the store to the bank and then home again, stressed that I hadn’t yet hit my word count.

But a funny thing happened during that down time: it calmly and quietly occurred to me that if I couldn’t think of a story to tell, I could tell someone else’s story. I selected a favorite, John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” and labored to make it my own. About a month after that, I also spotted an intriguing photo on Facebook, which inspired the premise for my new novel. It seemed that giving myself permission to breathe again had recharged my batteries, but even so, I moved forward cautiously. I signed up for a workshop led by a local writer, Jodi Angel, author of You Only Get Letters from Jail. Jodi is straight-forward, articulate, and utterly devoid of the flowery compliments writers give one another. She’s also a believer in prompts – or windows, as she calls them. I’d never written to windows, and doubted this plan would work for me. Still, I was determined to learn something new, and so I forged ahead. Over the next six weeks, my workshop-mates and I wrote 1,000-word stories based on the following prompts:

  • A winter coat in summer. (My first stab at writing a piece in first-person; I had to assume the point of view of a dog, just to get through it.)
  • The color yellow. (This endeavor produced a slightly more daring piece on Disney inkers and painters. Side note: Disney inkers were all women in the Snow White era, earning roughly $18 per week to a male animator’s $300.)
  • Intense clarity. (At this point we were halfway through the workshop, and I was getting bolder. I wrote a story about a robber who abandons his friends in the Oregon desert, thwarting his own arrest.)
  • Disappointment. (This assignment induced panic on everyone’s part, since Jodi asked us to write in second person. I wrote a short-short from Pete Best’s point of view, regarding his sacking by the Beatles.)
  • On week five, each writer was given a different genre, with a specific location and an article, which we were asked to incorporate into the story. My assignment: sci-fi / drug-rehab center / wig. (I wrote about a dog who morphs into a woman, in order to kill a killer.)
  • In this, our last prompt, we were each assigned a random sentence from a different novel. My sentence: “She had cut her wrist with a knife.” (This produced a piece about a misfit genius.)

What I’ve learned from all of this – the writer’s block, the letting go, the need to embrace a new writing practice – is that it’s crucial to be as kind to myself as I am to others, and to cut the ties of judgment. In moving forward, I now have a strategy to deal with writer’s block: follow Jodi’s lead and pick a word or a sentence – any sentence – and know it will take me where I need to go: from paralysis to action.


Plume_Hunter_Cover_HRRenée Thompson’s latest novel is THE PLUME HUNTER (Torrey House Press, 2011). She has placed in the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition on three occasions, most recently taking 2nd place for mainstream/literary fiction. She has new stories forthcoming from Crossborder and Chiron Review. Find Renée at reneethompson.com.

 

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23. Terzanelle: Poetic Form

What do you get when you mix two super popular Italian poetic forms, specifically the terza rima and villanelle? The terzanelle, of course!

It combines the lyricism of the terza rima with the repetition of the villanelle to make a powerful one-two punch in only 19 lines. The traditional stance on the terzanelle is that the lines should be written in a consistent iambic meter, but there are plenty of contemporary terzanelles that just aspire to keep the lines a consistent length throughout.

Here’s the rhyme and refrain order for the Terzanelle:

A1
B
A2

b
C
B

c
D
C

d
E
D

e
F
E

f
A1
F
A2

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Here’s my attempt at a Terzanelle:

“Big A”

The hardest thing to do is remember
what I just did and what I want to do.
I can still recall that one December

when both the moon and snow surrounded you
like a whisper. Am I losing my mind?
What I just did and what I want to do

vanish completely as soon as I find
the answer. The question a question mark
like a whisper, “Am I losing my mind?”

I’ve never felt comforted by the dark,
but I still remember that winter night
the answer, the question, and question mark

unraveled beneath the frozen moon’s light
like there was something worthwhile to forget,
but I still remember that winter night

in the park in the dark when we first met.
The hardest thing to do is remember
as if there’s something worthwhile to forget.
I can still recall that one December.

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

Ever since college, he’s loved learning and fumbling around with new (to him) poetic forms, whether it’s the shadorma, paradelle, or triolet. When he’s not messing up another sestina or other traditional form, he’s bound to be making up forms to fit the poems he writes.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

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24. Writing What You Don’t Know: Tips for Telling Another Person’s Story

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BY AMY PARKER

“Write what you know,” the adage goes. But when my heart pulled me way outside my knowledge base to help Rwandan Frederick Ndabaramiye write his unbelievable story, I knew that I had a lot to learn.

Here are a few pointers based on what I did, what I didn’t do, and what you must do … from someone who now knows.

What I Did

I saturated myself in the culture—as much as a Tennessee girl can, anyway. I asked Frederick for photos, read Rwandan news and books set in Rwanda, and listened to Rwandan (Internet) radio. Much of that information never made it into the book, but it enriched my ability to feel the surroundings, see the scenes, and hear the voices that later would be woven into the story.

I went! None of the remote research will enhance your knowledge and sense of setting as much as seeing it for yourself. If I hadn’t, I would have never known that the whole country smells like a campfire or why—almost everyone cooks over an open fire. I would have never known the inexplicable warmth and kindness of the people, felt the breathlessness of climbing the steep Rwandan hills, or known the awe of looking into the eyes of a mountain gorilla.

You’ll learn things that the native people would never think to tell you, and you’ll discover answers to questions that you would never have known to ask. Sure, it can be costly, but it is worth every cent—or Rwandan Franc—you’ll spend.

I begged the advice of those gone before me. And I got answers about everything from car rentals and hotels to what kind of shoes and electrical adapters to take.

This proved to be invaluable, especially in hiring a driver. We tried to rationalize that particular piece of advice away (the per-day fee was as much as a weekly car rental in the States), but in the end, we caved and were greatly rewarded for our investment. Our guide Charles had actually fought with the RPF (the army that ended the genocide) and shared knowledge and experiences beyond what I could find in any book. And as for the driving, we honestly could have never navigated the steep, rutted roads ourselves.

What I Didn’t Do

Learn the language. Of course, I bought the book and practiced some phrases, but I had no working knowledge of the language. So when the Rwandan pastor said something from the front of the church that prompted the entire congregation to turn and look at us, I didn’t know whether to smile or hide. (Thankfully, he was welcoming us.) If you even think that you may be traveling to a foreign-language location, start practicing the language yesterday. I can’t imagine how much more I would have learned if I had.

Ask permission to take photos. Every. Single. Time. It’s a courtesy common to most cultures, and I asked most of the time. But the one time I didn’t—in the market, when I wasn’t really photographing a person, but a place—I greatly offended one lady. And I didn’t need to speak Kinyarwanda to know it.

What You Must Do

Keep a journal. I did this but wish I had done more, had noted more details, went more in-depth about daily experiences. Stay up for an extra thirty minutes each night and jot down every single detail you remember about your day. This will be a priceless gift to yourself, not to mention the much-needed descriptions it will provide for your story.

Try something new. I ate sambaza, best described as fried minnows. And it was delicious. I fell in love with African Tea (like a chai latte with a kick). I’m not an athlete—in any sense of the word—but I eagerly signed up for the mountain gorilla trek. I drank in the culture, and I am forever changed.

Share the experience. I quickly shared my photos on Facebook, but two years later, I have yet to compose the dozen blog ideas that I jotted down while riding in that bumpy SUV. (Okay, so I did write a book, but still.) Find the time—share your experiences.

After all, it is our duty to the world as writers. And in many cases, it’s the only way readers will experience another world for themselves—through your writing, now that you know.


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Amy Parker has made her mark as an experienced and versatile writer and editor who has a particular enthusiasm for children’s books. She authored the bestselling A Night Night Prayer and has collaborated with authors ranging from a New York Times bestseller to her own son.

She is the co-author of Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope from Thomas Nelson, which releases September 16, 2014. You can find her on amyparkerbooks.com or Facebook.

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25. One Shot

The click of the pistol’s hammer wakes you. A velvety voice lilts out of your vision, “Give me a good one liner and I just may let you live.” You can see two of your friends hiding outside the door, signaling to you that they are working on saving you. What do you tell the nice lady? Write this scene.

writing-promptsWant more creative writing prompts?

Pick up a copy of A Year of Writing Prompts: 365 Story Ideas for Honing Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block. There’s a prompt for every day of the year and you can start on any day.

Order now from our shop.

 

 

 

 

 

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