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26. Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 275

For this week’s prompt, write an upside down poem. Of course, the poem could be about something (or someone) being physically turned upside down, but it could also be a symbolic reversal of the roles or change in how things are commonly done. Or you can just write a poem, print it out, and yes, turn it upside down. Poem as you will.

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.

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.

*****

Here’s my attempt at an Upside Down Poem:

“war”

the final shot fired
& everyone raced

to pack their guns
& disarm bombs

before rushing to
the town squares

for the musicians
& poets ready

with their songs
& poems & dance

& grudges fell
away like clothes

so that no one
remembered why

the first shot fired

*****

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.

A former Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, Robert has been a featured poet at events across the country and is married to poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets. He’s written and shared more than 600 original poems on this blog over the years.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

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27. Platform versus writing credits

I've heard this question asked before, and the answers are all over the map. I've read many of your query posts, but not all. If you've already addressed this, my apologies.

When querying, should you include mention of works published on websites--like for example if you been a long-time contributor at a certain site that highlights your work, and have a dedicated page there?

Do professionals in the agenting business really care about short stories, personal essays, articles published online? Do agents or their gatekeepers even click the links to check such work out, or are they just considered an encumbrance in the way of making a decision about the work the writer is seeking representation for? 



You're confusing platform with writing credits.

A writing credit is work that has been curated, edited or selected in some way.  Most work published on websites isn't curated. You submit a post, it's posted. That's GOOD for your platform, but it's not a writing credit.

The best example I can use is this blog: these posts are not writing credits. I hope the posts are well written, informative and useful, but there's no one looking over my shoulder saying "no, that post is awful, you can't use it."  This blog IS platform: it's an indication of how many readers would know my name if I published a book.


If you have a regular page on  blog, that's terrific, but you list it as platform.  If you have short stories published online you mention it as a credit if there was an editor saying yes/no in a submission process.


Generally I do not click links in a query letter.  I look at your query, and I look at your pages. I'm only concerned with the work you've sent me right then.  IF I like the concept and the writing is good, and I've requested a full, then I swim over to get a more complete picture of your body of work.


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28. Poetry Visits Are So Much Fun OR Are They?

A Reading

Poem: "A Reading" by Wendy Cope from If I Don't Know

Everybody in this room is bored.
The poems drag, the voice and gestures irk.
He can't be interrupted or ignored.

Poor fools, we came here of our own accord
And some of us have paid to hear this jerk.
Everybody in the room is bored.

The silent cry goes up, 'How long, O Lord?'
But nobody will scream or go berserk.
He won't be interrupted or ignored.

Or hit by eggs, or savaged by a horde
Of desperate people maddened by his work.
Everybody in the room is bored,

Except the poet. We are his reward,
Pretending to indulge in his every quirk.
He won't be interrupted or ignored.

At last it's over. How we all applaud!
The poet thanks us with a modest smirk.
Everybody in the room was bored.
He wasn't interrupted or ignored.


 

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29. 3 Tips for Writing on a Deadline

Martha_CarrBY MARTHA CARR

When I was a new writer and no one had commented on any of the words I’d strung together, the idea of a deadline seemed romantic. If I had a deadline that meant someone must have liked something I wrote and someone else must have asked for more.

Fortunately, all of that came true and I have had the pleasure of writing for The Washington Post and The New York Times and have had several books published.

However, a deadline also means a lot of responsibility and for writers with busy lives a due date can seem daunting, especially when talking about an entire book.

One thing became clear: Failing to turn in a manuscript on time has real-world consequences—not only for you as a writer, but also for everyone who’s waiting on your words of wisdom. There are publishing schedules and marketing strategies that are set up with the idea that you’re a professional writer who keeps your word. Miss a deadline without a good excuse and your peers will start to operate off the idea that you’re not very professional. If you’re not also a brilliant writer who says things that make everyone have to pay attention, your career may be short-lived.

But it’s not so easy to write on a deadline. You have to create a work plan, even know if you’re on time, ahead of schedule or dangerously close to not meeting a deadline. You also have to become your own project manager and figure out how to create a writing schedule that can breathe and change with your life. As you’ve probably already seen just as soon as you make a schedule someone else throws a wrench in it and you’re off doing something else for a little while.

I wrote my first three books raising a son on my own and then taking care of two elderly parents.

There were plenty of times I sat in a doctor’s office or thought about what to make for dinner for everyone while thinking about plotlines. I wanted to remain present and cheerful for family and friends, but for that to happen I had to find a strategy that would allow me to write and meet deadlines.

That strategy wound up consisting of three crucial steps:

1) You have to be reasonable with yourself and set realistic expectations.

How fast do you actually write? How much time can you realistically devote to writing in a day? How many days a week can you write without neglecting other areas of your life? Crunching these numbers will give you a framework for setting realistic expectations.

The good news is, even with small pieces of time it’s still possible to write a good book without years passing. I’ve been writing the books in The Wallis Jones series fairly quickly although I also have a lot going on in a day and even want to plan in a social life.

2) Ask yourself whether you can produce the manuscript or article in time.

Be realistic. Look at the total page count that’s needed and at the deadline, and count up the days before the deadline. Can you write enough pages per day to meet the deadline? If not, you’re going to have to either find a few extra days of writing or have a conversation with your editor, sooner rather than later. Sometimes, that’s necessary and shows that you’re on top of things and willing to work as a team member.  Not doing so can cause doors to slam closed.

My own answer turned out to be that I could write about three double-spaced pages in a day, three days a week.

3) To meet deadlines, you’ll need to glue yourself to your seat until that minimum number is hit.

If you’ve been reasonable with yourself, it may not always be pleasant, but it’s doable. In my case, sometimes, the words come so easily and I’m having such a good time working on my newest book, The Circle, that a lot more gets written. Sometimes, every single word feels like it was pulled out of somewhere murky and I struggle to hit three pages. However, I still do it and when the three pages are done, I get up and go find something else to do.

 

The last thing to keep in mind is something I mentioned earlier: Make sure that you’re still having at least a little fun and staying present with the people in your life. Both will feed your writing and make you feel more balanced in general. Then, writing and deadlines are a healthy part of your life, which will inevitably show in your work.


The Keeper front cover

Martha Randolph Carr is the author of 4 books including The List — the first in her Wallis Jones political thriller series.  A professional copywriter and editor, she has written a weekly, nationally syndicated column on politics and life that has run on such political hotspots as TheModerateVoice.com and Politicus.com.

Her work has run regularly in such venerable publications as The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune and Newsweek.

Martha is also a melanoma survivor, a Chi runner and an occasional skydiver — not to mention a descendant of Thomas Jefferson!

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30. PUNch Out

You’re in an epic pun off; whit is spewing out of your mouth and your opponent’s mouth with punishing purpose. What are some sweet puns you could use to really wipe the smile off your opponent’s face? Make sure not to frown on the worst of puns either—they’re all beautiful. Write this scene and battle of puns.

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

Want 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.

writing-prompts

Order now from our shop.

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31. Query Question: submitting to small presses during "open window" whilst querying agents




You commented in one of your last posts that an agent would not want to take on a client that had already approached some publishers. Understandable.

In a previous post, I understood one of your comments to say that an agent would not be interested in working with a small press, as there's no real financial incentive.

I'm mid-querying process - a healthy number of rejections, a good deal of radio silence and
a gratifying handful of manuscript requests. While all this is going on - and I do understand (sort of) the leisurely pace of the process - some small presses open the window for direct author submissions for perhaps a month. After a month, they will close and not open til summer of next year. They respond at the end of a month.

So, there is a well regarded (for my genre and little universe) small press open for submissions now. Some colleagues encourage me to submit although I still have manuscripts out there in agent world - assuming that the whole process is so slow and there is no guarantee that any of these fine agents will pick me up, and that submitting to this small press or another could give me more more potential options.

May I have your thoughts? Also, what's the deal with agents and small presses?


There is no right or wrong answer on this because it's a question of strategy, and whether a strategy is right or wrong can only be measured when you've got results.

Things to consider: if you "win" the open submission process and you're offered a contract, do you have tools at hand to negotiate for yourself?  I've done a couple blog posts on this topic so I know there are some resources in the archives.

Next thing to consider: if you "lose" the open submission process, are you willing to close off a potential publisher once you have an agent (if you get one of course.)  If a publisher has seen, and passed, on your work, they're not willing to look at it again from an agent (most likely.)

This is the kind of one hand or the other that can paralyze you with indecision, I know. Me, I'm a risk taker (no surprise, given my profession.)  I'd rather go for something than not.

Thus, if this were my decision, I'd submit my work to the publisher, but then I'd make SURE I was prepped for that next step.  And I'd keep querying.


As for "what's the deal with agents and small presses?" I'll leave it at this: working with small presses can be great, but inevitably it's more work for less money. 

0 Comments on Query Question: submitting to small presses during "open window" whilst querying agents as of 8/12/2014 8:12:00 AM
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32. Middle Grade Webinar 8/14

By popular demand (really!), I'm revisiting my Writers Digest class, WRITING AND SELLING MIDDLE GRADE FICTION. Last time I taught this webinar we had 100+ participants and it was really fun, and I hope interesting and inspiring for attendees! Here's what you need to know:

* The live webinar will be held Thursday 8/14 at 1pm Eastern. BUT! If you can't attend live, NO PROBLEM - everyone who has signed up ahead of time will get the webinar on-demand, and have access to all program materials for a year

* Everyone who has signed up ahead of time will get a critique of EITHER the first 500 words of their finished/WIP middle grade OR their query. Your choice.

* EVERY question will be answered, either during the presentation or in writing afterward -- if you can't attend and ask during the live presentation, you may simply send in your question to WD, and I will get to all of them.

This class is probably most useful for:

* Folks who are either ready-to-query or who are in the query trenches but haven't yet hooked an agent (or perhaps, have gotten rejections but don't know why!)

* Those just starting their Middle Grade writing journey (or perhaps don't even know where to start!)

* Published or unpublished writers in other categories who are considering transitioning into Middle Grade.

You can sign up for the Webinar with critique anytime until 8/14. Check out the Writers Digest website for more info or to register.

And if you have ANY questions about this class, please ask here or on Twitter!


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33. Laurie Kolp: Poet Interview

I would ask readers to welcome Laurie Kolp, but most of you already know her as a long-time part of the Poetic Asides community. She’s placed in a few of the WD Poetic Form Challenges, and some of you may know her debut poetry collection Upon the Blue Couch was published earlier this year by Winter Goose Publishing.

Laurie Kolp

Laurie Kolp

Laurie is an award-winning poet with numerous publications, some of which include Poets & Artists, iARTistas, and MiPOesias (GOSS183 Publishing Group), Writer’s Digest, Diane Lockward’s The Crafty Poet, Deep Water Literary Journal, cho, Miller’s Pond, The Fib Review; forthcoming in Pirene’s Fountain, Concho River Review and Blue Fifth Review. She serves as vice-president of Texas Gulf Coast Writers, and lives in Southeast Texas with her husband, three kids and two dogs. To learn more, please visit her website http://lauriekolp.com.

Here is one of my favorite poems from Upon the Blue Couch:

When I Was a Worm, by Laurie Kolp

I dug a hole to China
in search of
William Shakespeare,

my self-worth
a shot of Tequila
in a never-ending well,

and I found myself
in the bottom of the pit,
swinging my legs
from the last
blade of grass,

rotting with each
passing breath.

*****

What are you currently up to?

This has been a different kind of summer for my three kids and me. We’re used to hanging out with my mom… going to movies and out to lunch, or just visiting. You know she passed away in March after a very brief but intense illness. I’ve scaled back on some of my online poem sharing so that I can help them adjust (and vice versa). Plus, my dad finally said it was okay to start going through 30 years and four bedrooms full of Mom’s stuff, so my sister and I have slowly but surely been doing that.

At the beginning of the summer, I chaperoned my middle child’s Future Problem Solving (FPS) group to internationals in Iowa. We met people from many different countries at Iowa State University… my son’s group of four middle-schoolers who placed 2nd in state, an individual who placed 1st, an alternate, and a high school senior. The teacher and I were the only “official” adults. Everyone enjoyed it immensely.

Then I turned around and it was time to travel to North Carolina, after which I attended the Texas Poetry Society’s summer conference. Now I’m preparing for three birthdays this month and back to school. Whew.

I believe I was at your first reading, but you’ve been busy recently—even getting out to Hickory, North Carolina. Do you have any reading advice for other poets who are new to it? Or do you have something you try to focus on when you’re reading?

Yes, the first time I ever read one of my poems to an audience was the beginning of October, 2011 when I drove 75 miles to hear you read in Webster, TX. I had no plans of reading anything… I just wanted to meet you in person. After all, Poetic Asides was where I first felt comfortable sharing my poems on the Internet and you’ve always been such an inspiration. An open mic followed your reading, and you encouraged me to sign up. Thank you so much for that, Robert!

Fortunately, I just happened to have a few poems in my bag. I read I Am the Sea, which had recently won third place for your sonnet form challenge. I felt all trembly and nervous inside, but when the audience liked it, I stepped back in line to read a second poem.

Poetry Hickory was amazing. Let me tell you how it happened. I’ve met some dear friends on Poetic Asides, 12 of whom I participated with for years in a daily sharing/critique online poetry group; Nancy Posey is one of them. When Upon the Blue Couch was released, Nancy contacted me with a wild idea… wouldn’t it be neat if I came to read at Poetry Hickory and stayed with her? Much to my surprise, Scott Owens then invited me and the dream became a reality. Jane Shlensky drove down for the event, too. What a magical evening I’ll never, ever forget.

My advice to poets new to reading their work consists of a few small things that I think make a big difference. Plan ahead and practice reading the poems out loud. Pique the audience’s interest. Think about what you want to share about each poem before you read it… something as simple as, “This poem was inspired by the three men with plumber’s butts I saw sitting side by side on the beach while looking down from Pleasure Pier.”

When I’m reading, I find a few people in the audience who seem half-way interested, perhaps a few smiling real big like Nancy and Jane. Then I make eye contact with those people. There are always a few expressionless listeners who, if I don’t look away, will start my mind wondering if I’m really that horrible. So I try to delve into my words and focus on the positive.

*****

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

Publish your poetry!

Reserve your copy of the latest (and greatest) copy of Poet’s Market today!

This poetic resource includes hundreds of poetry publishing opportunities, including listings for book and chapbook publishers, literary journals, magazines, contests and awards, grants, conferences, and more!

Plus, there are articles on the business of poetry, promotion of poetry, craft of poetry, poet interviews, and contemporary poems. Reserve your 2015 Poet’s Market today!

Click to continue.

*****

Your collection Upon the Blue Couch has been a fun read—at times silly, romantic, serious, and beautiful. How did you go about collecting and organizing these poems?

Thank you, Robert! The poems in this collection were amassed through many years of writing about my past. At one point, I even wrote my memoir in the third person, and then did nothing with it except to share it with a few close friends. I still felt compelled to write about some of the things I’d been through, either personally or second-hand, and my poems always seemed to come from that desire. I wanted to offer my experience, strength and hope to others. Since the theme is a comfortable blue couch that has been the common thread of a woman’s journey through adulthood, I decided to arrange the poems chronologically.

Upon the Blue Couch, by Laurie Kolp.

Upon the Blue Couch, by Laurie Kolp.

What’s been the biggest surprise for you in the process of getting your collection published?

Well, the first hurrah came with the acceptance from my publisher, Winter Goose Publishing; but walking through the creative process, which I call a tug-of-war… the endless hours of writing more poems and then throwing them out, editing and revising, arranging and rearranging, self-discovery and self-doubt… and watching all my hard work come to fruition after more than a year of waiting has been amazing.

In retrospect, the delay in publication was a gift because in the meantime, my mother died, and I was able to add a section in the back which really completed the book.

Receiving my copy in the mail and holding it in my hand, caressing the cover and reading the poems as if I’d never seen them before… that was the greatest feeling in the world.

As you know, I like to share poetic forms on the Poetic Asides blog. Do you have a favorite form?

I love the poetry form challenges, Robert. I just wish I had time to participate in each one. They’re a wonderful opportunity to stretch out of my comfort zone and write my way into the poem’s certain parameters and specifications. I feel like following the formula is the closest I’ll ever get to wanting to work a math problem. It’s a challenge I welcome!

Of course, I really like the forms where I placed: tritina (1st ), nonet ( 2nd ), sonnet (3rd), kyrielle ( 4th place), triversen (top 10); but I like others, such as the fib, haibun, sestina (I know, I know), palindrome, and ghazal. Found poetry/erasure is one of my very favorites, though.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in The Found Poetry Review’s Pulitzer Remix April of 2013, where I wrote 30 found poems from John Updike’s Rabbit At Rest. Whew. What a month that was, as I also participated in your PAD. I was so happy when you announced your found poems challenge for your own poetry book, Solving the World’s Problems.

By the way, I really appreciate your putting together the list of poetic forms all in one place… what a wonderful resource!

What do you enjoy more—writing or revising poems?

That’s a toughie. I really like the urgency that accompanies the writing of a draft. I need to get this out, I need to write these words, I need to make this point… whatever the need may be at the time. But the revising is where I gain the most pleasure. I love watching my poems grow from various stages like a child maturing into an adult. The process of stepping away from the poem for a few weeks and then going back, feeling less emotionally attached to it and willing to let some of it go… isn’t that a lot like parenting?

Just as we as humans change throughout life, my poems are always forking off into different directions. I never know how they will end up. My muse can be very bodacious, you know.

One poet no one knows but should—who is it?

Gretchen Johnson, an English Instructor at my hometown college, Lamar University. I recently finished her poetry collection, A Trip Through Downer, Minnesota. I love her work.

Who (or what) are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading The Sea-Wolf, by Jack London. My sister, who teaches high school English, dropped off some classics for us to read over the summer. It’s been a joy. I also reread To Kill A Mockingbird. As far as poetry goes, After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery, edited by Tom Lombardo, has most recently captivated my heart (I have a soft spot for all things recovery).

If you could only share one piece of advice with fellow poets, what would it be?

Wear a suit of armor and persevere. Never, ever give up.

******

Robert Lee Brewer is an editor with the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

******

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34. The Rules of Writing According to 20 Famous Writers

Karin Daiziel via Flickr CC licenseFew professions are as solitary yet as full of advice as writing. You do it alone, usually, but everyone you meet is an expert in what writers do, don’t do, should do, always do, never do, can’t do… Even Anne Rice, who shares her thoughts about rules below, once noted that her doctor advised her to change the title of Interview with the Vampire, to which her son, author Christopher Rice, quipped, “And he went on to write 23 bestsellers.”

Being that writing is such a strange job, if there are rules, they should come from those who do the job, too. Here, 20 bestselling classic and contemporary storytellers share their rules for writers. To kick things off, let’s use this shiny gem of good advice from Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay: “Ignore all of this as you see fit.”

1. Elmore Leonard for The New York Times:

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

And:

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

2. R. L. Stine at ThrillerFest 2014:

I write for kids, and I think there are definitely rules for when you write for kids. People are always asking me, “How do you know how not to go too far?” And I have one rule that I always follow seriously, and that rule is that the kid has to know it’s not real. I keep the real world out. The kid has to know that it’s a creepy fantasy and it isn’t something that can happen. And then I feel like I can do the story, because the kid knows that it’s just a story and they’re safe in their rooms reading it.

3. Margaret Atwood for The Guardian:

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

4. William Faulkner to an American fiction class:

I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says. It’s the ingestion and then the gestation. You’ve got to know the character. You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to feel that he is alive, and then, of course, you will have to do a certain amount of picking and choosing among the possibilities of his action, so that his actions fit the character which you believe in. After that, the business of putting him down on paper is mechanical.

5. Zadie Smith via Brain Pickings:

Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

6. Scott Turow at ThrillerFest 2014:

I think that you must be aware of the existing conventions. … That does not mean that you cannot reinvent them in your own way.

7. Jonathan Franzen for The Guardian:

Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

8. Anne Rice at ThrillerFest 2014:

I don’t think there are any universal rules. I really don’t. We each make our own rules, and we stick to our rules and we abide by them, but you know rules are made to be broken. … [If] any rule you hear from one writer doesn’t work for you, disregard it completely. Break it. Do what you want to do. I have my own rules that I follow, but they’re not necessarily going to work for other writers. … The only universal rule is to write. Get it done, and do what works for you. There’s nothing sadder than someone sitting there and trying to apply a lot of rules that are not turning that person on and are not stimulating and are not making a novel.

9. Kurt Vonnegut, from his short story “Bagumbo Snuff Box”:

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

10. Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats via io9:

Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

11. Neil Gaiman via Brain Pickings:

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

12. Alice Walker in an interview with Writer’s Digest:

[Y]ou have a right to express what you see and what you feel and what you think. To be bold. To be as bold with your vision as you can possibly be. Our salvation, to the extent that we have one, will come out of people realizing the crisis of our species and of the planet and offering their deepest dream of what’s possible.

13. Ernest Hemingway for Esquire, 1935:

When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing you were writing before you could go on with it the next day. … I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

14. Dave Barry in an interview:

Don’t be boring. [N]othing else that we try to do in journalism will work, if people don’t read it. … What readers know is that they could also watch television, or go outside, or just put the paper down. So it’s really important to keep them reading you. And I think that should be the most important rule.

15. Eudora Welty, from “Place in Fiction“:

One can no more say, “To write stay home,” than one can say, “To write leave home.” It is the writing that makes its own rules and conditions for each person.

16. John Steinbeck for The Paris Review, 1975:

Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

17. From Henry Miller’s stringent daily routine:

Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

18. Rainbow Rowell for novelicious:

Don’t worry even a little bit whether your book is on trend. All the trends will be trending differently by the time you get published, so it’s pointless to overthink it while you’re writing.

19. Annie Dillard, from her book The Writing Life:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

20. Joyce Carol Oates via Twitter:

Best tip for writers: not to listen to any silly tips for writers.


headshotWDAdrienne Crezo is the managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. Follow her on Twitter @a_crezo

 

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35. Question: my friend wants me to be his agent



Hello - I came across your blog recently, and have found it a very interesting insight into the world of literary agent-ness. I was hoping you could help me answer a question. A friend of mine has asked me to serve as his agent in getting his first book published. I have zero experience, but I am trained as a lawyer, so I figured that I could handle the legal side of things, at least. I also truly love my friend's writing style, and would love to see him get exposed to a wider audience. My question for you is: is this completely crazy, or is it possible for me to get my friend's book published on my own? I'd love to do it if I can, but I don't want to hurt my friend's chances. Any advice would be super appreciated. Thanks! 


Here are the questions you need to ask yourself:

1. How many editors do you know well enough to have their direct phone line AND have them pick up the phone when you call?

2. How many books have you read in your friend's category so that you know what's current, what's not, and what an editor will consider fresh and new?

3. Do you know what the standard splits are on sub-rights in a publishing contract? Do you know what to actually ask for instead?

4. Do you know what rights are normally reserved to the author in a publishing contract?

5. Do you know what a first proceeds clause is and why it's important?

6. Do you know what a royalty audit clause is and have boiler plate wording for it to insert when the publisher doesn't?

7. Do you know what a production editor does and why it's important to know that?

8. Do you know what countries to exclude from a contract that includes a non-exclusive license for the open market?

9. Have you ever seen a royalty statement, and if so, do you know how to read one and explain it to your client?
 

10.  Do you know what should always be excluded from the warranties and indemnities clause of a contract?





An effective agent has a complex set of skills and knowledge that go far beyond Contracts 101 in law school.

An effective agent knows the people to call, and the people s/he's calling know her. Or have heard of her. Or her agency.

An effective agent has boilerplate language for contract clauses that the publisher doesn't include in the initial draft, and knows that you're supposed to do that.

An effective agent knows the importance of the production department and what their deadlines are.

An effective agent knows how to read a royalty statement, knows who to call when the statement needs explaining, and can then in turn explain it to a client.

An effective agent is someone who has experience doing all these things, and most important has a network of colleagues to call on when a situation arises that she doesn't know about.

If your friend wants a brand new agent, well, you're probably no worse than some of the other beginners I've seen.  But if your friend wants an EFFECTIVE agent, well, he might want to query people who've done more than just read his book.

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36. New Literary Agent Alert: Stacy Testa of Writers House

Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Stacy Testa of Writers House) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

 

agent-satcy-testa

About Stacy: Stacy joined Writers House in 2011 as an assistant to senior agent Susan Ginsburg and has been actively building her own client list since 2013. Previously, she interned at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and Whimsy Literary. Stacy graduated cum laude with a BA in English from Princeton University. Follow her on Twitter: @stacy_testa.

(If an agent rejects you, are they open to reviewing your revised submission?)

She is seeking: Stacy is looking for literary fiction and upmarket commercial women’s fiction, particularly character-driven stories with an international setting, historical bent, or focus on a unique subculture. She also represents realistic young adult (no dystopian or paranormal, please!). For nonfiction, she is particularly interested in young “millennial” voices with a great sense of humor and a strong platform, startling and unique memoirs, and voice-driven narratives about little-known historical moments.

How to submit: Please submit your query, including the first five pages of your manuscript pasted into the body of the email (no attachments), to stesta [at] writershouse.com. Please do not query multiple Writers House agents simultaneously.

 

2014-guide-to-literary-agents

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition 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
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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37. Have a lovely Sunday!

For philosophical anarchists like Joyce, rejecting authority meant rejecting the entire conceptual category to which "authority" belonged: abstractions and foundational assumptions.  Anarchists believed that states and churches rested upon phantom concepts (like legitimacy or moral obligation) masquerading as fundamental truths when they were really just inventions helping tyrants wield power. 

The philosophical core of anarchism was thus a skepticism of the ostensibly self-evident concepts that held sway over people.  It was the conviction that big ideas could enslave, whether they be duty, rights or God; your home, your fatherland or your church.


Anarchism emerged as a response to the rapid growth of the modern state, and, more particularly, to the growth of one of the nineteenth century's biggest ideas: the police. 

When the British Parliament created the Metropolitan Police in 1829, it invented a form of state power that was diffused throughout the city.  Ten years later, Parliament empowered the police to arrest loiterers, "riotous" drunkards and anyone committing  misdemeanor whose name and residence couldn't be verified.  The act banned cockfighting and shooting firearms within three hundred yards of homes.  It banned driving "furiously," wantonly ringing doorbells and flying annoying kites. 

It banned the sale and distribution of "profane, indecent, or obscene" books, and the laws would only get stronger over time. 

By 1878, the British government had passed more than one hundred laws expanding police powers, and Britain set the example for police expansion all around the world.


For people suspicious of authority, the multiplying laws were self-perpetuating: more ordinances created more criminals and, thus, the need for more police officers and an ever-exploding government.  The professionalize of law enforcement made patrolmen seem like foot soldiers in an increasingly centralized apparatus staffed with detectives, jailers and bureaucrats who thought of state power as job security. 

To artists like Joyce, who considered free expression sacrosanct, censorship epitomized the tyranny of state power, for the state not only banned obscenity, it decided what obscenity was. Unlike firearms or kites, the violation was arbitrary--the law hemmed the government in with limits of the government's choosing -- and that fact censors acted as if indecency were self-evident only made the arbitrariness more blatant.  To publish a gratuitously obscene text -- to deny "obscenity" as a legitimate category altogether -- was  away to expose and reject the arbitrary basis of all state power.  It was a form of literary anarchy.



The MOST DANGEROUS BOOK: The Battle for James Joyce Ulysses
 Kevin Birmingham
 (The Penguin Press: 2014)
 p 50-51

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38. Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction — August 14 Webinar (With Critique) by Agent Jennifer Laughran

Middle Grade books are generally defined as being books for children aged 8-12…. and at the moment, these books are hot-hot-hot. From the commercial successes of titles like DIARY OF A WIMPY KID and Rick Riordan’s LIGHTNING THIEF saga, to more “literary” award-winning fare, it seems most publishers are seeking the next great Middle Grade success story. But middle grade is also a tough category to write for. Much of what appears in the slush pile is cheesy or derivative, or just lacks “spark.” So what makes a great Middle Grade novel? What is selling? What are agents and editors looking for? And how can you make your book stand out and shine?

In this live webinar, “Writing and Selling Middle Grade Fiction,” instructor and literary agent Jennifer Laughran (of Andrea Brown Literary) will talk about what’s happening in the exciting Middle Grade market, as well as examine some recently published titles to see what they got right. She’ll also talk revision tips and tricks to help you take your work-in-progress to the next level. It all happens at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, Aug 14, 2014, and lasts 90 minutes.

Screen shot 2014-08-09 at 5.15.20 PM U9476

 

ABOUT THE CRITIQUE

All registrants are invited to submit EITHER the query letter OR the first 500 words of their complete / work-in-progress middle grade novel for critique. All submissions are guaranteed a written critique by literary agent Jennifer Laughran. Jennifer reserves the right to request more writing from attendees by e-mail following the event, if she 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.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

– What’s selling in Middle Grade… and what just isn’t.
– The all-important “Hook”, and what “High Concept” looks like
– Finding the elusive Middle Grade Voice
– Common mistakes of Middle Grade submissions
– Overused beginnings and clichés that can drag down a work
– How to polish your work and stand out from the slush pile
– What “core curriculum” guidelines for schools might mean for your book. Sign up for the webinar here.

INSTRUCTOR

Jennifer Laughran is a senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, the oldest children’s-only agency in the US. Before she joined the agency in 2008, she spent about a decade as a children’s book buyer and event coordinator for various successful bookstores. Her many years of experience in the children’s book field have made her one of the top kid’s book agents working today. She reps picture books through YA, but has a particular love for Middle Grade novels — the warmer and funnier the better. Clients include Daniel Pinkwater, Kate Messner, Jo Whittemore, Linda Urban, and many debut authors whose names you’ll know soon!

Sign up for the webinar here.

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39. A Few Beautiful Summers Ago...

Family reunions can help remind us of the importance of family and good times in our lives. A few beautiful summers ago, my wife, Marilyn, and I attended a Sottile Family Reunion in Colorado. More than 70 relatives from states as far as Florida and New York attended. We met in the tourist town of Estes Park for a week of fun and discovery. The town is clean, compact, and even dog friendly. There’s a well-shaded park for dogs and doggie bowls of water in some tourist shops. Picture perfect mountains surrounded this haven.

More than half of the Sottiles that came to the family reunion live in Colorado. There were two major events planned for each day. These events included a western barbecue, hayride in the mountains, a sock hop, a rock climb, an aerial ride over the mountains, racing go-carts, white water rafting, gambling Texas Hold ’Em style, a cowboy and cowgirl dance, mountain hiking, fishing for phantom fish, golfing on a fantastic course (with majestic mountains in the background), and much more.

Each morning Marilyn and I enjoyed eating breakfast in a different restaurant and doing some window shopping. A good breakfast in a new place was a delicious way to start the day. As we strolled around the town, we held hands like newlyweds. On days that were less structured than other days we visited Rocky Mountain National Park. 

On a sunny day you would have to be camera-challenged not to take a superb picture at the park. We enjoyed the breath-taking beauty by taking more than 100 digital photographs. There seemed to be endless photo opportunities to share with the family back home. The park contains 359 miles of trails and 60 peaks above 12,000 feet. In the park you can escape the crowds and enjoy a mountain playground where elk, muler deer, and big horn sheep roam freely in the meadows and along streams.

Matter of fact, the elk sometimes trot into town and you have to be careful just how fast you drive or you might hit one. Marilyn and I each had a turn at yelling, “Look out for the elk ahead!” Both times it was almost lunchtime, so guess elk get hungry too.  

When we weren’t at the park, we caught up on the lives of people who were somehow connected to us by birth or marriage. Later, after hiking or white water rafting, it was easy to go to bed and fall asleep in each other’s arms.

Since this was a vacation with no cooking or cleaning to be done, people were in superb moods. A harsh word was never heard, not even among the many children. The good times and cheer seemed to roll along from day to day. At the last dance there were old films of past family events and new slides of the happy reunion. Some of the old super-eight film brought tears to our eyes as we saw loved ones who we once patterned certain aspects of our lives after, but were no longer with us. Group pictures of our families were taken at our western dance and woven together like a family tapestry of celluloid and light to celebrate our history on our last night together

During a typical day at home, my most strenuous activity might be mowing the lawn with my self-propelled mower. Count me out as far as mountain hiking and white water rafting (during record breaking temperatures in the Rockies). But, sometimes you have to pluck down some coins and courage that were set aside for “someday I’ll do that.” Marilyn and I were the oldest white water rafters on our family’s “ride the rapids” day. We earned our wet badge of courage and had a once in a lifetime experience.


It’s great fun to share stimulating activities with people you know from birth. But there were many Sottile clan members that I had not met; they grew up in Colorado and I in New York. Fortunately, we all seemed to have the same definition of fun: swap family stories and memories, while creating new ones.


Perhaps the funniest new story told around the campfire in the mountain was about my two cousins, Laurie and Jim, from New York. One evening during the week, they came home at midnight to their backwoods condo and discovered a 300 pound bear eating out of the garbage can. They couldn’t get into their place without adding to his menu. (That’s not the funny part.) They honked the car horn and flashed their headlights, but the bear was determined to finish its midnight snack. Finally, they called 9-1-1 on their cell phone. Laurie was told to call “Bearbusters.” She laughed hysterically until the lady at the other end of the phone said that she wasn’t kidding. By that time the bear was done snacking and had wandered off. Bearbuster intervention wasn’t needed. (That was the only unbearable event of the week.

Throughout the week everyone got along amazingly well. We had fabulous food and exciting times. Even when we had an open bar at our dance party on the last night, nobody over-indulged themselves and acted like a fool in the flock.

When my brother Tony left for home, he whispered to me that being at the reunion felt like being, “bathed in love and laughter for a week.” I shared the same feeling.

At the farewell breakfast, there were hugs, kisses, and some tears. I thought of the words of Chief Many Horses had uttered to us one night while speaking to us at the campfire. He said that in his Indian language there isn’t a word for “good-bye.” What they say in their language is equivalent in English to “I hope our paths cross again soon.

I hope they do, too.

 

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40. Question: Agent commissions on self-pubbed, previously subbed work

My question is this:

Actual scenario:

Writer: I have a backlist of titles I'd like to self-publish.
Agent: That's a great idea! And we'll revise your contract to exclude self-published works from my commission structure. It's only fair, since I never worked on those books.
Writer: Yay!

Later:
Agent: Remember that book we worked on together, the one I loved so much and submitted to 10000 publishers? No one's biting. I'm afraid we have to take it off submission now.
{{Writer sobs}}

Still later:
Writer: Hey, maybe I can self-publish that one too...



Ah, but what happens next?

Possible scenario 1:
Agent: You self-published that? The one I worked several hundred hours on?
Writer: Well, it sucks to be you. Agents are working on spec, so if you don't make the sale, you don't get any of the cash.
God Almighty: Um, Writer, have you never heard of theft of services...? Don't answer that. I know you have.


Possible Scenario 2:
Writer: Here, a freelance editor would have gotten $$$ for all the work you did, so take this check.
Agent: Oh boy!
People Who Oversee Agent Ethics: Bad agent! Bad! No cookie! whisky for you!




Possible Scenario 3:
Writer, thirty-five years later: Well, I earned another five bucks this month from Amazon. I guess it's time to write my agent a check for eighty-six cents.***



My Question then is this:
Writer doesn't like any of these scenarios. What does the Shark say? #2 seems like the best option, except Writer isn't sure if it's an ethics violation for an agent to accept payment for services rendered to a client.


Well, it's not theft of services because the service the agent offers is selling your manuscript. She didn't. Thus no theft. God is very clear on this.

It's entirely ok with the AAR if you compensate your agent for sales of a book. Whether you write the check, or Random House writes the check, it matters not a whit.

This is something you want to discuss with your agent BEFORE the situation arises.  You'll say "Hey, if this book doesn't sell because every editor in NYC has lost his/her mind, followed soon thereafter by all editors in the known universe, and I self-publish this, how do we work your commission?"

And you'll find out what the agent wants to do. It's then up to you to agree. If you don't agree, negotiate.

Thus

Scenario #4
Agent: Remember that book we worked on together, the one I loved so much and submitted to 10000 publishers? No one's biting. I'm afraid we have to take it off submission now.
{{Writer sobs}}

Still later:
Writer: Hey, maybe I can self-publish that one too...

Still later:
Writer: Hey, I sold 5000 copies of that book that all those stupid editors said wouldn't fly, and that you and I really believed in.  Here's a check for x% of my earnings.  Rock on!

Agent: Yay! Booze fund money!



A lot of agents are doing this these days.

I'm not.

I've been accused by dear friends and colleagues of being "too pure" which cracks me up to no end, but my position is this: I signed on to sell your book. If I don't do that, you don't pay me.  If you elect to self-publish, you assume the risk, and you get the reward.

This is something to work out ahead of time though. The last thing you want is a disagreement about who owes who what when there's actual money on the table.  Actual money at stake brings out the knives faster than you can say "fillet of shark."



*** Agent commissions are generally 10% on subrights, and 15% on domestic sales. Thus the commission is either .50 or .75 .  If someone wants you to pay 17.2% on a book you self-pubbed you might want to shop around.




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41. How to Land HighPaying Writing Gigs in the Christian Market

Are you a Christian? Would you like to get paid well to write for things you’re passionate about? The demand for good writers in the Christian market has never been higher. Contrary to popular belief, it’s easier than ever to find writing gigs that pay very well by tapping into the $1.7 trillion Christian industry. All you need to know is where clients are and how to land them.

Listen to Joshua T. Boswell — a minister, highly-paid writer, devoted husband, and father of 11 children — on this FREE webinar. You’ll learn what the best paying opportunities are for Christian writers, what you can expect to make for each of the projects, where to find the clients, how to land the work, and more!

INSTRUCTOR:

Joshua T. Boswell is a copywriter, author of Secrets of Writing for the Christian Market, creator of Six-Figures in Six Months: Mastering the Art of Self-Marketing as a Copywriter, an ordained minister, and Advisory Board member of AWAI (American Writers & Artists Inc.), the world’s leading trainer of direct-response copywriters.

A marketer with over 19 years of experience in business development and direct marketing, Joshua has written for and spearheaded successful million-dollar campaigns for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, ChildFund International, Sony, Microsoft, GM, and dozens of other organizations. He regularly speaks and writes on topics ranging from landing high-paying writing clients to successful web-marketing strategies.

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42. Query Question: yes, this is why you pay attention in math class


I believe you have said** that $10K is common for an advance. Approximately how many books have to sell to earn out the advance?



It depends on what your royalty rate is. Royalty rates are negotiable so you'll need to know what your contract says before you can make these calculations. In other words, you won't know till you've got a deal in hand.

Let's use easy numbers to demonstrate.


You are offered an advance against royalties of $10,000.

You are offered royalties of 10% of jacket price for the first 10,000 books sold.

Assume your book will be published in hardcover at a book jacket price of $25.00

You will earn 10% of $25 for every book sold.  That's $2.50
You'll need to sell 4000 books to earn out.

You won't be surprised to learn there are at least a dozen royalty rates in a standard publishing contract.  Often there are many more.

One of the many things that have changed in publishing in the last twenty years are the proliferation of ways to sell books, each with its own formula and rate.

Your agent should be able to explain ALL royalty rates to you in ways you can understand. And s/he should be able to do the math for them too.  If that's not the case, you need a new agent because auditing royalty statements is one of the biggest values an agent brings to the table.




**Well, I didn't say that but that doesn't matter for the question to be useful.

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43. Live Today, Leave a Legacy for Tomorrow

Live for Today, Leave a Legacy for Tomorrow 

Many people have the notion of legacy as being a gift of money or an estate left for their dear ones or someone else. While this is definitely a part of your legacy, it is not the entire picture. A legacy will also include what you impart to the future generation, including things like your ideas, philosophy, your accomplishments, and also your money.

While great leaders have left behind a legacy that continues to influence the future generations and inspires them every day, you cannot imagine everyone leaving a rich legacy that is influential to an entire community or the entire world. But, your legacy can be something that talks about you and influences as many people as is possible.

In order to leave a legacy that inspires and influences the lives of the future generations it is essential to start planning for it as early as possible and sharing your thoughts and viewpoints to the benefit of the future generations. But, how does one plan on leaving a legacy?

Learn the Purpose of Your Life

Everyone has a purpose in their lives. It is essential to listen to your mind and heart and get to know what the purpose of your life is. Once you do this, you can work a lifetime enjoying each day trying to get closer to this purpose in life. Document this purpose of your life and mention your achievements as you draw every step closer to this goal. This itself will speak monuments about your achievements and thinking and speak of your legacy when people read through what you have left behind.

Identify your Thoughts and Document them

Everyone has their viewpoints on every aspect of life. You too will have your own. Identify your thought process and give in depth thinking to core aspects of life including family, love, philosophy, spirituality, community, etc. Pen down your thoughts and read through them again. You might want to visit them over time and refine your writing depending on your thought process. Enrich your writing with your thoughts and be honest. You will never know how and whom you will inspire with your ideas and thinking.

Think about Overall Improvement

Everyone thinks about improving their family and making them wealthy and rich. By doing so, you might not leave a rich legacy. Think even about overall improvement from a broader perspective, for example, you community or your city. Think about how your thought process and work can help in the betterment of many people. Being wealthy and passing it on to your near and dear ones will not help you create a legacy like the one you can create by working for the betterment of other people that need you to help them out.

It is never late to start working towards leaving a legacy. But, when you are starting early you have more time to put your efforts and thoughts into action and ensure that you are inspiring many people for a long time to come.



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44. Story Structure from South Park

This has been ALL over social media in the past couple days, but it is really smart plotting advice from Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of "South Park" and "Book of Mormon." Like... REALLY smart and simple advice, not just for film but also very much applicable to children's book writers. Take two minutes and watch!

If you've ever gotten a critique that your picture book "read like a series of lists" or "was more like a vignette/series of vignettes" . . .  or perhaps your novel was "too episodic" . . .  THIS is what those critiquers probably meant, and how to fix it.

http://www.theafw.com/blog/south-park-writers-share-their-writing-rule-1/#.

What do you think?

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45. WD Online Exclusive: Book Proposal Basics

The October 2014 Writer’s Digest lets you in on “The Secret to a Stronger Nonfiction Book Proposal”—but if you need a refresher on how to put the whole proposal together, we’ve got that covered, too, on The Writer’s Dig blog with 8 Essential Elements of a Nonfiction Book Proposal

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46. Lisa Scottoline: Bonus WD Interview Outtakes

An award-winning suspense series set in an all-female law firm. A library of bestselling book club picks. A humor column in the tradition of Erma Bombeck. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Lisa Scottoline is not your average lawyer-turned-author.

Lisa Scottoline doesn’t like labels. But she does classify herself as a People Person—and about 30 seconds into any conversation with her, it’s easy to see why. Just as the bestseller’s 22 novels are cross-shelved as Crime Fiction, Legal Thrillers and Women’s Fiction, she herself could be cross-categorized as both a Readers Person and a Writers Person. She opens her home to hundreds of book club members every year; she has served as president of the Mystery Writers of America; she exudes gratitude for her success, having begun her keynote at this year’s 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop by calling thank you “the two most important words in the English language.” All of which is to say that if she isn’t already one of your favorite authors, she probably will be if you ever meet her.

It didn’t take long after her 1993 debut, Everywhere That Mary Went, for Scottoline to be dubbed “the female John Grisham,” as the lawyer-turned-author made her own name writing a series of legal thrillers centered on an all-female law firm, Rosato & Associates. (The 13th installment, Betrayed, is due out this November.) Yet as she has expanded her body of work to include stand-alone bestsellers—most recently, her April release Keep Quiet, about a suburban father who makes a split-second decision to leave the scene of a fatal hit-and-run after letting his teenage son take the wheel—her books have become known above all for their emotionality and real, down-to-earth characters (yes, even the lawyers!) facing moral and ethical questions.

The quick-witted author also pens a Philadelphia Inquirer humor column with her daughter, Francesca Serritella. Their essays have been collected in several books, the latest of which, Have a Nice Guilt Trip, hit shelves in July.

If you’re keeping track, that’s three new books out this year alone—a pace she has no intention of slowing. Her work ethic is a product of a writing career that began when she was an in-debt, newly divorced mom struggling to provide for the infant Francesca. Scottoline has won awards ranging from the Edgar for excellence in crime fiction to the Fun Fearless Female title from Cosmopolitan. She studied under Philip Roth at the University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated magna cum laude in three years with a concentration in Contemporary American Fiction before going on to law school at her alma mater, where in recent years she developed and taught a course called “Justice and Fiction.” She has 25 million books in print, in more than 30 countries.

I first met Scottoline at ThrillerFest several years ago, where she told a riveted audience that with her writing, she still follows a rule she learned in law school: “Milk the facts.” The facts of your story, she says, will yield incredible possibilities if you let them.

The full WD Interview with Lisa Scottoline appears in the October 2014 Writer’s Digest. In these online exclusive outtakes, she talks more about “Justice and Fiction,” the emotion that drives her writing, the importance of connecting with readers and her best advice to writers everywhere.

You’ve developed and taught a course called “Justice and Fiction” at The University of Pennsylvania Law School. What a testament to the power of fiction—I’ve heard of people teaching law to fiction writers, but never the other way around. If our readers were to enroll in that class, what would be the most important thing they’d learn?
That’s true, that’s true. They would learn that fiction about justice changes with a number of factors, like: the law at the time, the politics at the time, and the social morays at the time. What I did was I started to look at, why was The Godfather so popular, or why was To Kill a Mockingbird so popular? The Godfather in particular, because it’s more recent, and it’s not looked at as much as a book like To Kill a Mockingbird. But The Godfather comes in time after the upheaval of the ’60s—so there’s a social revolution, then the Vietnam War and Watergate. All of a sudden, the government lies to you, the politicians are crooks, the attorney general went to jail, I mean, it’s kind of incredible… And when you have that environment, where there’s a total topsy-turvy in politics, in law, in society, then you understand completely why The Godfather is going to be the bestselling post-war book trilogy ever. Right? Because in The Godfather, the protagonist goes from honest war hero and ascends to power through corruption. And it’s so topsy-turvy—the cops are the crooks; you’re rooting for the Corleone family.

You know, people say that I’m a crime writer. You’re always writing at a point in time, and none of us think that we’re a category. In truth, I don’t think I’m writing about crime. I’m writing about people, and secondly I’m writing about justice. So when I developed the course, it really helped me understand my stuff better. It’s really good, I think, for people who are writing to see their work in context. And that’s what the course was about. It’s almost like a cultural history of the U.S. with respect to fiction.

Maybe this is just my own bias as a parent, but many of your stand-alone stories seem to focus on a parent’s worst nightmare. You’re so good at drawing on the fears and insecurities that we all share—

That sounds bad, doesn’t it? But thank you!

Does your process start with a fear?
I start with an emotion. Like the emotion [that triggered the idea for my novel] Look Again was, my daughter was growing up, and I’m going to have to let her go.

When I started writing a long time ago, I really wanted to see more women protagonists in crime fiction. I was a woman lawyer, and I’m a crazy reader, read everything, and I was so tired of reading only about men lawyers.

My focus a little bit was on the domestic detail—I didn’t think of it then, but now I see it—partly from being so involved with my daughter. We write at home, so raising my daughter was very much integrated into my [writing] life. And I really felt, and I kind of secretly still feel, that domestic life gets devalued. You know, we give a lot of lip service to parenting, and motherhood, and fatherhood, but we don’t really think it. If we really thought it, we’d do a lot of things differently in our culture. And we don’t.

So I wanted to elevate that stuff. Because even though I got published and eventually started to do better and better, the thing you secretly care the most about is who’s across the breakfast table from you, and that’s the stuff that affects you [and what you write].

If you really feel emotionally what you’re writing about, it really communicates, it connects. But it connects only if it’s true. And that’s why books are great.

A lot of writers don’t like to talk about branding, but you’ve talked about changing tact with your writing, and I think your publishers did with your marketing, too. Your early books looked very much like what you would expect a thriller to look like. Now, your books look more character driven.
You’re right, and you’re right to notice it, and I think it’s important to talk about. Everybody has to think about it, whether you’re self-published or published by legacy publishers. I think that stuff really matters. It was a change when I changed publishers, and you know, we still work on the covers. We’ve talked about, should the April stand-alones look different than [the Rosato series books]? I have a wonderful editor in Jen Enderlin [at St. Martin’s Press], and she said, you know what, these distinctions we’re making are not really meaningful ones. People are coming to you for a family story and a crime story. Whether one is the plot or the subplot—lawyers say it’s a “distinction without a difference.” So I think Rosato is going to start to look more like the stand-alones, because to me, that resonates. I’m writing stories about people. They’re character driven, and they always will be. I think character and voice and plot are all the same thing. It is about branding, and it helps the book find its audience—conversely, it also makes sure you put a book in somebody’s hands and it’s what they expect. …

I’ve been very lucky to be very involved. They listen to me, but I think they know a lot—I think a lot of times they know better. But they’re a great publisher in that they are open enough to go, “Hey, what do you think about this?” And it does matter, because it’s not a fun feeling to have a book out there that somehow you can’t relate to. I think everything matters with a book, and I try so hard to get these books read, and so I’m very happy to be involved in those parts. I’m involved in the flap copy, I get the blurbs, and I’m happy to do that too, I feel lucky. And it seems like it’s really working.

I saw an interview where Francesca said the most valuable thing you taught her was to give herself permission to take her writing seriously—to take herself seriously. Why do you think that is so hard for us, and so important for us to overcome?
It really is hard, and there are a million reasons. The first reason is really self-doubt. And the problem is that it’s a solitary activity. I love my job, but the only aspect of it I don’t like is that you’re so alone. And the world doesn’t really support that. The world wants you to answer the door, answer the phone, text back, write back, answer the email.

Part of the reason I go to [the Book Expo America industry event every year] is to see an agent who rejected me, because his rejection was so mean. He said, “We don’t have any time to take any more authors, and if we did, we wouldn’t take you.” The world is really tough on people who want to be writers, and there’s precious little support for it. And if you’re a good person, and most people are, and if you’re an adult, you have a lot of responsibilities. And we are so good that we put them first, and we lose ourselves. And I think it’s a little bit about [being] an adult who has a dream. Like, little kids, when you go, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you think that when you’re 30, you should have answered that question and you should be it already. But that’s really not fair. In my case, it didn’t work out. I was a lawyer, and when I got divorced and my daughter was born, I wanted to be something else. You have to nurture this little dream.

I visualize it as a candle. You’re the person walking around in the dark scary house, and you have the candle in the little dish, and you have to protect it with your hand. And the candle is your wish to be a writer. It can blow out very easily. And the world is not going to help you hold the candle. You never see a movie where somebody protects your candle—it’s not going to happen! And it’s so important, I feel it so strongly. I feel it everyday myself.

You’ve got to protect the candle. You’ve got to go, “No, I can’t come into work on the weekends, because the weekend is when I work on my novel.” Or, “Yes, I need to take vacation, because on the vacation I’m actually going to try to write.” People deserve those dreams, and they deserve to follow them through, and they have to fight for them. I’ve heard people say protect the work, but I think of it as a candle, because it’s so fragile. And you don’t want to be at the end of your life, or even a year later, and go, “Oh, I met all the obligations that all the people had for me.”

You have to have hope as an unpublished author. You have to believe that it actually can happen, and nobody tells you that. Yes, it can happen! I had five years of rejection. I had the worst rejection letter ever. But it happened to me. And I didn’t get the big book contract to start with. I was in horrible debt, and I built it up over 20 years. So it happened to me, it can happen to you. But you have to protect the candle. You have to give yourself permission, say to yourself, I’m not foolish for wanting this.

I feel very much like I stand in the shoes of a lot of people who are starting to write. Even though I have a career now, I think all writers have to fight the same fight. I haven’t really gotten started yet today, and at some point around 4:00 I’m going to make a pot of coffee, and I have to write 2,000 words today, no matter what. That’s my discipline, and that’s me protecting the work. Luckily I have the whole day to do it and I even have the whole night, and I know it will get done. That’s the discipline of this job.


If you enjoyed these outtakes with bestselling novelist Lisa Scottoline, be sure to check out the feature-length interview—full of valuable insights about pulling off plot twists, changing directions with your writing, and much more—in the October 2014 Writer’s Digest.

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47. How I Got My Literary Agent: Kate Dyer-Seeley

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Kate Dyer-Seeley, author of the mystery SCENE OF THE CLIMB. 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: Kate 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).

 

kate-dyer-seeley-author-writer       scene-of-the-climb-novel-cover

Kate Dyer-Seeley writes the Pacific Northwest Mystery Series for Kensington
Publishing. The first book in the series, SCENE OF THE CLIMB, features the
rugged landscapes of the Columbia River Gorge and a young journalist who
bills herself as an intrepid adventurer in order to land a gig writing for Northwest
Extreme. Kate lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and son, where
you can find her hitting the trail, at an artisan coffee shop, or at her favorite pub.
Better yet—at all three. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

The Dream List

I’ve been reading mysteries since I was a teenager—actually even longer. I started with Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden as a kid, and have been devouring every series I can get my hands on ever since. As a fan of the genre, I’ve read some great and some not-so-great series over the years and without even being conscious of where it would lead me, I started making a dream list of my favorite authors. The list is lengthy today, and includes notes about why a particular series or author resonated with me. It rests in the top drawer of my nightstand where I can quickly jot down thoughts as they occur (which is usually at 2:00 in the morning, but that’s another story).

My path to actually writing a mystery is nearly as lengthy as my reading list. If I look back, it also began at an early age. I recently found a copy of the first mystery I wrote in the third grade, circa 1982, Lincoln Elementary School. The story involved a haunted house, a bike with a flat tire, and very little plot or structure. I went on from there to dabble in creative writing throughout high-school, college, and my early career, but mostly I enjoyed reading fiction with little thought of writing it. I focused my writing efforts on non-fiction, submitting and being published in number of national and international magazines.

(Why writers who don’t have a basic website are hurting their chances of success.)

When I decided to take the plunge and write my own mystery, my reading list suddenly became my dream agent list. I wrote down my top ten favorite authors and researched who represented them. At the same time, I attended a writer’s conference here in the Pacific Northwest and pitched a select group of agents and editors of small presses who were interested in acquiring new mysteries. I figured it would be good to test my pitch in person and see what sort of response I received. That way I could tweak my pitch before sending queries to my dream list.

Prepared for the worst (I’m totally neurotic about my own work), I presented my pitch at the conference and surprisingly received great feedback. Everyone wanted to read the manuscript, which was thrilling, but also meant that I needed to send out queries to my dream team—fast.

I sent my manuscript to the agents and editors I met at the conference and sent queries to my top five agents. Again, because I’m my own worst critic, I figured I’d save the other five for later in case everyone else rejected it.

If there’s any advice that I’ve learned and can pass on it’s this:

  1. Be professional. In all my correspondence I made it clear that there were other agents and editors reviewing my submission.
  2. Do your research. I sent personalized queries to each agent, with specific examples of how my work was similar to other clients on their list.
  3. Be patient. Yeah, right. I’m still working on this one.

(How successful writers are using the Internet and social-media to sell more books.)

The Waiting Game

Waiting is the worst! I spent gobs of time here reading through other writers’ paths to publication. I tried distracting myself with a number of activities with little success. My phone came everywhere with me, and I would get an equal sense of excitement and dread anytime it dinged with a new email.

Fortunately everyone on my dream list responded quickly (within the first hour in one case, to a week). By mid-September, I had a total of twelve agents and two small presses reading my work.

At the time it seemed to take forever, but in hindsight my process ended up being really fast. By early November I had an offer from a small press and an agent. As soon as I received the first offer, I reached out to all the agents reading my manuscript. It was amazing how quickly everyone responded.

I found myself in the surreal position of having multiple offers to choose from. Speaking with agents who were excited about my book and pitching me, still makes me pause today.

The Dream Agent

Ultimately, I ended up signing with my “dream” agent, John Talbot of the Talbot Fortune Agency. John had been number one on my list based on the fact that I was a huge fan of a number of his clients. After we spoke on the phone, I knew immediately that he had the vision and contacts to not only sell my manuscript, but to help build my career. He sent the book out on submission in early January and we had an offer a few weeks later.
Build your dream list—your dream agent is out there waiting for you!

GIVEAWAY: Kate 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).

 

Agent Donald Maass, who is also an author
himself, is one of the top instructors nationwide
on crafting quality fiction. His recent guide,
The Fire in Fiction, shows how to compose
a novel that will get agents/editors to keep reading.

 

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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48. The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs Young Adult

OK, class. What sets a middle-grade novel apart from a young adult novel? If you said MG is for readers ages 8–12, and YA is for readers ages 13–18, then give yourself a check plus. But if you’re writing for the juvenile market and that’s all you know about these two categories, then I’m afraid you still need to stick around for the rest of this class. A book that doesn’t fit within the parameters of either age category is a book you won’t be able to sell.

In my work with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, I see my inbox flooded every day with queries for manuscripts that suffer from an MG/YA identity crisis. Like when a query says, “I’ve written a 100,000-word MG novel about a seventh-grader who falls in love and has sex for the first time.” Or when one states, “In my 20,000-word YA novel, a 14-year-old holds her first sleepover and learns the meaning of true friendship.” Both queries would earn a swift rejection, based on both inappropriate manuscript lengths and on content that’s either too mature or too young for the audience they’re targeting. Sadly, by not understanding what makes a book a true MG or a solid YA, these writers have hamstrung their chances for success, regardless of how well written their stories may be. It’s like they showed up to a final exam without ever cracking a book.

On the bright side, writers who study up on the many key differences between MG and YA will be able to craft the kind of well-targeted manuscript that will make both agents and editors take notice. Pay attention, because someday your manuscript will be tested.

***********************************************************************************************************************
This guest post is by Marie Lamba (marielamba.com), author of the YA novels What I Meant…, Over My Head and Drawn. She’s also associate literary agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (jdlit.com).
***********************************************************************************************************************

Mg At A Glance

Age of readers: 8–12.
Length: Generally 30,000–50,000 words (although fantasy can run longer to allow for more complex world-building).
Content restrictions: No profanity, graphic violence or sexuality (romance, if any, is limited to a crush or a first kiss).
Age of protagonist: Typically age 10 for a younger MG novel, and up to age 13 for older, more complex books.
Mind-set: Focus on friends, family and the character’s immediate world and relationship to it; characters react to what happens to them, with minimal self-reflection.

Voice: Often third person.

Ya At A Glance

Age of readers: 13–18.
Length: Generally 50,000–75,000 words (although there’s also a length allowance for fantasy).
Content restrictions: Profanity, graphic violence, romance and sexuality (except for eroticism) are all allowable (though not required).
Age of protagonist: Ages 14–15 for a younger YA with cleaner content aimed at the middle-school crowd; for older and more edgy YA, characters can be up to 18 (but not in college).
Mind-set: YA heroes discover how they fit in the world beyond their friends and family; they spend more time reflecting on what happens and analyzing the meaning of things.

Voice: Often first person.

MG vs. YA Characters

When picking your hero’s age, remember that kids “read up,” which means they want to read about characters who are older than they are. So an 8-year-old protagonist won’t fly for the MG category, though it’d be OK for a younger chapter book or easy reader. For the widest audience, you’ll generally want your protagonist to be on the oldest side of your readership that your plot will allow. That means a 12- or even 13-year-old hero for MG, and a 17- or 18-year-old for YA (just remember your hero can’t be in college yet—that would push it into the “new adult” category).

MG vs. YA Readers

Middle-grade is not synonymous with middle school. Books for the middle-school audience tend to be divided between the MG and YA shelves. So which shelf do those readers go to? While there is no such thing as a ’tween category in bookstores, there are degrees of maturity in both MG and YA novels that’ll appeal to the younger and older sides of the middle-school crowd. A longer, more complex MG novel with characters who are 13 could take place in middle school and be considered an “upper-MG novel.” But the material can’t be too mature. It’s still an MG novel, after all, and most readers will be younger. Writing a sweeter, more innocent YA? Then it’s pretty likely that your readers will be ’tweens, that your characters should be around 15 years old, and that your book will be marketed as a “young YA.”

While it’s useful for you to understand these nuances as you craft your story and relate to your true audience, when it comes time to submit, don’t go so far as to define your novel as upper MG or younger YA in your query. That’s already pointing to a more limited readership. Instead, just stick to calling it either MG or YA when you submit, and let an interested agent draw conclusions about nuances from there.

MG vs. YA Content and Voice

What’s cool to a fourth-grader differs from what a 10th-grader will idolize. Same goes for the way they speak and the way they view the world. Which is why if romance appears in an MG novel, it’s limited to a crush and maybe an innocent kiss, as it is in Shugby Jenny Han. A YA could involve deep, true love as well as sexuality, as in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Another key difference? Overall, MG novels end on a hopeful note, while YA novels could have less optimistic endings, as in Green’s tearful story. You could say that that’s youth vs. experience coming into play.

When it comes to content, here’s another important thing to keep in mind: There are gatekeepers between your book and your targeted audience. MG readers typically don’t have direct access to their novels. To get a book, kids first go through a parent, a teacher or a librarian. While you might want to have that gritty character in your upper-MG novel drop a few four-letter words, doing so will hurt book sales, so choose your language wisely.

Also, think carefully about your content. MG is not the place for graphic or persistent violence, but can it be scary and dark? Sure—look at Holes by Louis Sachar, where boys are threatened by a crazy warden and nearly killed by poisonous lizards. (Note, however, that book does have a happy ending.)

If you’re writing a YA, you don’t have to worry about those gatekeepers as much. But while YA authors cover just about anything in their novels, keep in mind that gratuitous sex, foul language or violence won’t fly in any great literature. And do remember that school and library support can really catapult a YA title to success. While dropping a ton of F-bombs is OK if it fits with your characters and setting, be prepared for your book to be perhaps on fewer school shelves as a result, and make sure it’s worth that risk.

Exceptions to Every Rule

Like any rebellious teen can tell you, rules are made to be broken. Word counts often vary from the suggested norms. Just don’t deviate too low or too high, especially for a debut. I know what you’re thinking: J.K. Rowling.
True, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came close to a whopping 200,000 words, but her debut novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was roughly 77,000 words—which is still long for the genre, but not outrageously so for an MG fantasy. Hey, once you get as popular as Rowling, you can write doorstopper-sized tomes, too.

Content can also stray from the stated guidelines, with good reason. You might, say, choose to have an MG with a swear word, or with a more edgy storyline. Whatever norm you do stray from, just make sure you do so for a specific and valid purpose, that your book still fits your audience’s point of view, and that you understand what deviating from the norm might mean for your book’s marketability.

Whether you aim to write a YA or an MG novel, there is one thing you absolutely must do: Tell a story that is meaningful to your intended reader. And to do that, you must first know who that reader is.

So which shelf does your book belong on? Know that and your book will surely graduate with full honors, moving on to a long and happy future in your readers’ appreciative hands.

90 Days to Your Novel90 Days to Your Novel is an inspiring writing
manual that will be your push, your deadline, and your 

spark to finally, in three short months, complete that first
draft of your novel. Order it now in our shop for a discount.

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

*********************************************************************************************************************************

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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49. QueryQuestion: Have we met before?



An agent recently tweeted that she wanted people to mention in their query letter if they had submitted past projects to her. Now, if someone had requested a full from me before I could see the benefit to this, but what about someone who declined to request material or didn't even respond? Should we remind even the rejections that they've seen our names before?


I'm going to take a wild guess here and mean "submitted past projects" means submitted full manuscripts, not queries.

I'm not sure why anyone wants to know this, but if she does, she does. On the other hand if it's not in her submission guidelines, how the hell is anyone to know unless they happen to see that particular tweet?

And truly, honest to god, this is just one more way to make writers crazy.  I'm of a mind that making it as easy and straightforward to query the better. Time enough to make your clients crazy when you need a synopsis for a film deal in 30 minutes.


0 Comments on QueryQuestion: Have we met before? as of 8/7/2014 1:56:00 PM
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50. Reviewing Poetry Books: Why Does It Matter?

Please welcome the incredible Jeannine Hall Gailey to the blog! She’s going to cover a topic that I don’t feel gets enough coverage: poetry book reviews.

I’m enjoying the guest posts on this blog, but they can only continue with your participation. If you have an idea, send it my way at robert.brewer@fwmedia.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.

*****

I recently had just this conversation over coffee with a colleague: Why do you write book reviews? I’ve been reviewing poetry books for almost a decade now, mostly (luckily) books I’ve loved, a few books I’ve been indifferent about, and very few books I’ve hated.

Does it benefit you in any way? Does it help your writing career? What do you gain from it?

All perfectly valid questions, and, easy to understand. Most of my reviews are unpaid, though I’ve been paid for a portion of them. It’s a lot of time and effort to spend lifting up someone else’s work, without a lot of reward – I mean, very few authors or publishers write me happy notes, saying “Thank you so much for that thoughtful review!”

Why Review Poetry Books?

The reward, I started to say, was being part of the larger critical conversation, where, let’s face it, not enough women are being heard. Reviewing teaches you to be a close and careful reader of books by writers I admire and respect, tests your aesthetic preferences and prejudices, and encourages you to slow down and pay attention to the poetry world around you, what’s being published, and by whom, what isn’t being published and why.

For instance, Copper Canyon Press and Wave Books are both Northwest publishers, but they have very different aesthetics. You learn something about publishers and publishing trends that might help you when you start sending your book around.

But even more than that, someone said to me in my late twenties, “If you want your poetry book to be reviewed, then you’d better review other people’s books.” In the spirit of paying it forward, we writers need to give back to our literary communities in real, concrete ways, and writing reviews is one of the ways we can do that.

In the same way that volunteering to edit at a literary magazine helps you understand the process of rejection and acceptance, reviewing helps you understand why your own book may or may not be reviewed.

How Do I Know If I Can Write Book Reviews?

Another question I’ve gotten a lot comes from a different angle: “How do I know if I’m qualified to write a book review? I mean, I have an MFA, but…” I hear this all the time.

How do you start writing literary criticism? I started out getting a lot of practice, starting at NewPages.com reviewing literary magazines, and from there I just kept practicing, writing for more and more outlets, some more chatty, others more academic.

If you want to learn how to review a book, read the reviews in some of the literary magazines you already enjoy, but also pick up The New York Times Review of Books, The Women’s Review of Books, Poetry Flash, The Review Review, and The American Book Review. Find and read the reviews from some of our best poetry critics, like Stephen Burt, one of my particular “critic heroes.”

Check out some of the more lively online review venues, like The Rumpus, to see what the hipsters are reading and reviewing (but full disclosure: I review for The Rumpus and cannot, strictly, be called any kind of hipster). After all that reading, you’ll have a good feel for what’s required, so just try your hand, practice, and send out some queries!

There are never enough good poetry reviews out there, and despite my aforementioned lack of poetry review thank-you-notes, authors will be grateful!

Jeannine Hall Gailey

Jeannine Hall Gailey

*****

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the former Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington, and the author of three books of poetry, Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and Unexplained Fevers.

In addition to being a great poet and supporter of poetry, including a guest judge for the 2014 April PAD Challenge on Day 27, she wrote a very generous review of Robert Lee Brewer’s debut collection, Solving the World’s Problems, in the most recent edition of Crab Creek Review. And Robert is very grateful!

Learn more about Jeannine (and buy some books) at her website: www.webbish6.com.

*****

Find more poetic goodies here:

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