Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 22

A quick update on my results...
In her book Nancy suggests you send queries to write proposals to actual people instead of just "Dear Editor." This entails a bit of research. Here is what I did. I did an online search for the publishing house that I wanted to pitch. I looked for stories about them. I found a story from Publisher's Weekly about the executive director that discussed some of her current acquisitions. Then I did a Linkedin search to find some pertinent facts about her. I even called the office and got her email.

Now it was time to send in the query. All this research gave me the means to write a more targeted request which I did. Within the hour, my email was sent to a senior editor who covers the series I was targeting. She in turn sent me an email stating that the series will be on hold until they get the results from this year's releases. She did ask for more information about my interests in writing for this series.

I did a little more research on the editor to personalize my email response before sending. I also reviewed their catalog for other options. I emailed her back with a pitch for another book.

By specifically targeting, I got a response without sending in a manuscript. I also got two return phone calls from magazine editors in response to more details on their upcoming themes and guidelines. Now we will have to see if my writing can stand up to their scrutiny.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 21


I didn't want to post again until I got some clarification of some points in Nancy's book so I am accurately portraying the ideas she promotes. In regards to writing for an income, I apparently didn't understand what that meant. If you want to write children's fiction picture books, that should be under the category of personal fulfillment -- not easily accessible income. This is the hardest market to crack as evidenced by my research of book publishers for this genre. As publishing these books is very expensive, most companies do not want to take the risk of buying a first time author. Of course they would happily take on a celebrity who had their first book ghostwritten as they would already have a name and a following. I'll need to work into that.

The way to break into the book writing for children is the non-fiction book. I have been looking in many publisher's catalogs and there are a ton more non-fiction titles that they publish than fiction. They also do a lot of books in series. This is a good way into that market, if the books in the series are written by different authors. This shows they are looking for different voices. One of those voices could be mine.

One of my focuses for the week will be to discover publishers who will consider queries from new writers for their non-fiction titles. This will entail reviewing their websites and catalogs to see where there might be a particular niche that I might be able to fill. I was at my favorite bookstore over the weekend reviewing the titles of children's books. I found one publisher who does a delightful series of books (though only one title was stocked in the store)that fit what I would love to write. Next I will have to review if the series is singularly written and then query about doing another title or two in the series. I still get tickled about books that I think are just a joy to read and that is how I reacted to this book. I hope they are still doing the series!

When I was looking at the books in stock, I was quite surprised to find a display of about 20 Halloween books. I know it's a very popular holiday, but I am surprised there are a number of fiction books on sale. I know families buy Christmas books, but do they really buy Halloween books as well? While I was at the store, I watched a couple of grandparents and their two sweet grandchildren. The adults told the kids that they could buy 2 books but none were picking up any of the Halloween books - one week away from the date.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 20

Writing to earn an income...This is where Nancy's book veers away from the writing norm. Most writing books tell you to complete your book before you even consider pitching an editor or an agent. Nancy tells you to pitch your idea to a publisher first, see if you can get a request to then submit a proposal which at that point should give you a greater opportunity to landing a contract for the book.

On first reading that sounds really easy because I haven't mentioned the back work that happens before you pitch a story. You need to begin with a ton of research. This starts with finding books that are similar to a style that you write. You do this by going to your favorite book story or library. Then you write down the names of the books, their authors and their publishers. Make sure you check to see if the publisher is a subsidiary of a larger company and write down that name as well. Choose at least 5 or more publishing houses.

Now it's time to do some online browsing. The first thing you need to do is look up the publisher. This is the first step because you will find many of the largest publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts or even query letters. If the publisher fits in that category, scratch it off the list and start with the next one. This week I went through 11 publishers to find 2 that would consider either queries or full manuscripts.

Once you've found a publisher that will at least look at your work, you have a fighting start. Now it's time to review what their guidelines are. As my writing preference is picture books/easy readers, I am discovering that many publishers don't want to see a query but the full manuscript. Here's an example of a specific publisher's guidelines...
We much prefer to see actual samples of your work to query letters. Picture books should always be submitted in their entirety.

So do I follow Nancy's suggestions and just do a query even though they want a full manuscript up front? Or do I seek out another publisher? If I understand what Nancy suggests, I should skip that publisher and find one that specifically says they will accept queries. Back to finding a new publisher. The other two that I previously researched also ask for full manuscripts. I find one more publisher whose books I like, but they too want full submissions.

I have now gone through 10 potential publishers whose style of writing fits the way I write. All of them say they want full manuscripts for picture books, no queries. I only found one publication who would consider a query, that is if it was for a non fiction book. So do I give up on just sending queries and write a full manuscript? Or do I keep researching until I find a publisher who will review just a query? More on that in the next post.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 19

Today was my monthly meeting with my writing critique group which usually runs about 4 hours. This group is such an encouragement to me! Our first speaker, who is an established writer did an inspirational talk on getting over rejection. That came as a shock to me as this woman has several books under her name. I wouldn't think she would have problems with rejection letters. I thought she would be tossing one of those aside and then just reading another acceptance letter. Even established writers get rejections - and not just requests to re-write!

Hearing that was a plus and a minus, but I should have realized it was a fact. I have been in sales for years and it really doesn't get any easier. I thought people would appreciate my experience and knowledge, but they don't. I still have to work for each and every sale. Of course, it is a little easier with past clients who already know and like me. It's like having an editor who has purchased my work, knows my follow through and wants to use me again because I live up to my promises. Each query or proposal is my way of trying to make the sale of my manuscript. Just like sales, it's a numbers game. Even top sales reps or established writers don't win every time.

Another speaker discussed her experiences with The Institute of Children's Literature. As a result of the classes she has taken, she has sold 2 stories and is working on proposal for a non-fiction children's book. I also discovered that 6 or 7 other writers in my group had also taken these classes. All had positive feedback for what they had learned. I was pleased and a bit surprised to hear that as I had read negative feedback on some blogs about taking these courses. So many of the blogs I read are offering courses and I start wondering if that is how they make their money rather than by writing.

I did a short talk about someone who will do critiques for free. There was lots of interest in that. This person is not a published writer, but does have a good eye for editing. She did a short story for me that had been rejected by a publisher and gave me great insight. That chat might bring her a deluge of new work to review. I hope she will have the time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 18

More on writing to get published...

I currently have over 70 magazine sources in my writer's guidelines files for submissions. To date, I have only sent out 10 articles; so there are many more for me to mine and hone my skills. For the ones I have sent out articles, I have done as Nancy suggested. I have read past issues of the publications to see where my story might be a fit.

Actually, in being honest I have only done this with eight of the publications. For the other two magazines, I only read what I could glean from their website and their sample articles. Those publications were not available in my local library or bookstore. I just had a gut feeling from those readings that the article would be a fit. As yet I have not received a response from them.

I did just discover that I did not make the top ten short list for a travel article contest. The contest was to highlight a travel moment that really stuck a chord in your life. I wrote about my first scuba dive in Tahiti. While it may have been unique, my scuba story got beat out by one of a dive in the Galapagos Islands looking for a rare species. I can see why my story was trumped - just not unique and arm chair vicarious living enough.

My story wasn't a fit for that travel publication, but I have hopes that it could be for another. My travel magazine writer's guidelines list is small. I will need to find more sources to submit for this and other travel stories I would like to write. I have been an avid traveler for about 10 years and I would love to share what I discovered with others.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 17

I am now about 1/3 the way through Nancy's book. The section I am in right now asks the question, why do I write? The answer is not because I can or because I want to write. It deals with the reasons for writing. She notes that as a writer you should have 3 distinct writing goals.

The first should be writing for pleasure. This is writing the story you really want to tell because you feel inspired to write it. For me, this would be my romance novel that has about 200 pages. I laid it down a couple of years ago because writing it just wore me out. I like having a sense of completion which is why I like writing shorter pieces. I didn't feel I was getting close to an end with that book. More currently, I am writing a childen's Christmas story. This is like dessert to me. It is fun to write because it is whimsical. I work on that only late at night. I have the beginning and end and am slowly adding to the middle.

The second reason to write is to get published. That was funny to see as another reason to write, as I am sure all writer's write to get published. It is only the most reclusive of authors who want to hold their manuscripts just to themselves. She explained this more in detail as searching out sources who are looking for submissions. One of the ways I do this is by reading blogs that offer writing leads. These blogs give leads for submissions to high paying magazines, low paying or no paying leads. I also get on email lists for upcoming anthologies that are looking for contributing authors. Lastly, I get leads from my writing group as well. I am also starting to promote myself as a freelance writer to people I meet in case they might have some writing leads as well.

I also search out short essay writing contests online, but have a rule never to submit to any that have entry fees. In a way, I consider them as writing for no fee. There are usually thousands of entries and just a few winners. I won one of those contests a few years ago. I send out at least a dozen a year. It gives me a great experience in writing briefly. Plus, I like dreaming about winning the prize which is usually some sort of trip.

On the topic of no paying magazines that are either e-zines or print media, I am unsure of wanting to write for these publications. If accepted, they are then considered published sources which will make them ineligible for submissions to paying sources. These non-paying sources have high standards, they don't want poorly written articles. So, if I sweat out writing a piece for them that fits their needs I just get a writing credit.

In some cases, I would be willing to do this. However, in reviewing the details of some of these publications I have read that their "rights" to the piece are universal. They say they have the right to reproduce and outsource. So they have the right to sell my story/article wherever they want? They may be compensated but I won't? This really annoyed me in one case when I read the guidelines for a national publication that said they do not pay for any submissions. This wasn't just for opinion pieces, but for all short articles. I guess I should be happy with just the prestige of having my byline in their publication.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 16

This book is not meant to be read through in a one shot reading. The reader needs to take the suggestions and put them into action. That is why I am only writing updates at a max of five posts each week. I am putting her plan into action and this takes time. She doesn't want to give the impression, nor do I, that once you read the book you will be a writing success. It is an ongoing step by step process.

I was reminded about the slow process of making a living wage in writing as I re-read a story by one of my favorite writers this weekend. She now has numerous best sellers to her name, but getting her first book accepted took 5 years. She was tempted several times in those years to give it up and concentrate on a salaried job, but she persevered because being a published writer was a commitment she made to herself and her family.

Am I ready to commit to 5 years without getting the results I want? That is a hard question. I want to be a successful, published writer as much as I have ever wanted anything in my life. If you feel that passion as well, then you need to have a support group around you. Nancy's book talks about the importance of being a part of a critique group. Members can encourage you to keep trying when you get frustrated, improve your writing by reviews, and give you leads for submissions.

I currently am a member of a local group that meets monthly and I interact with two online groups. My local group meeting includes a talk by a published author, segments about writing news and resources, a writing prompt, and a time to review manuscripts by other members. Some critique groups just meet to review manuscripts, I am blessed that we have a more detailed format.

I always learn something new in these meetings. I am also encouraged in knowing that others are having similar frustrations. We take the time in each meeting to announce where we've been rejected by a publisher. We applaud each other for making the attempt and are reminded that this rejection is just bringing us closer to an acceptance.

My writing goal for today was to write a press release for a recent acceptance. It's been awhile since I've written one, so I did a bit of research to improve my style and get a better impact. The research opened my eyes as to what a press release really is - an open ended query letter to the public. It is a way to get them to know me better and want to read my work. So now I am applying the 24 hour rule. I am letting it sit for a day. I will review it tomorrow and if I feel it has the necessary sizzle I will send it out for release.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 15

More info on building your library...
As a writer I love books. I am not one though that wants to keep them. That is why I love our local library's used book store. Whenever I go to the library, I always stop in to see what's new. I look for books that are like new to give to friends when they need a lift. It's amazing how you can find funny, inspirational books that look like they've been barely opened. I guess the past owner had such a wonderful life, they didn't need any inspiration.

I just purchased an anthology of inspirational stories that I read from daily. I even have one sent to me each day online. I love inspirational reading so much I am trying my hand at it. I have several ideas in the "post it" stage right now. If I had the time and energy, I think I could write 24 hours a day just to keep up with my ideas. I want to write so much I have to pace myself so I don't burn out.

In Nancy's book, she also suggests buying books from your library, thrift stores, Amazon.com and another source known as AbeBooks.com. That was a new one to me. I would also like to suggest www.half.ebay.com. I've been buying books there prior to them being affiliated with ebay. Of course, if you have the big bucks just go to your local book store where you will still be able to find some discounts. The major book chains also have book clubs with discounts for frequent shoppers.

Why the need to buy so many books? It's a way to invest in your future. To give you the tools you need to know more so you can write more.

My writing updates...This week I sent out 4 submissions. I know one for sure will be accepted, as I was asked by a business associate to write it. Not counting that one, I now have 11 stories out in submission. As many editors now longer respond even with SASE's, I am not sure how long I should count them as "active" submissions. My goal now is at least 3 submissions or queries per week.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 14


In this section of Nancy's book, she suggests that you have a reference library to include market guides for writing. There are a number of them that you can pick up at your local bookstore. Amazon currently lists 284 choices for writing guides if you really want to pick and choose. I would also suggest reading reviews of these books before you buy. I have read numerous editions and would probably only recommend half of them.

What I noticed was lacking in her list was the vast amount of resources available on the web. There are great blogs that offer leads for publishers online and in print that are accepting submissions. These blogs also offer many tips for writing. I would like to pass on a few of the ones I subscribe to weekly. They are found at the bottom of this blog. You can be added to their weekly updates or check on them at your leisure. Through these and other online sources I now have a list of over 70 publishers who might be a fit for my writing.

Getting ready for a webinar now. I will add more leads to the blog list as I find others that I might think are helpful.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 13

As most writers don't own their own publishing companies, the book tells how we need to seek out venues that will accept our writing. I do this by subscribing to newsletters that give leads to companies that are currently seeking unsolicited manuscripts whether they are short stories or books. I probably spend 5 hours a week reviewing these sources. Some of the leads are a fit for my work, some are not, others are hopeful. By hopeful, I am referring to sources that I do not currently have a writing sample that fits their guidelines, but someday I would like to write for that genre type.

As an example, I've saved one writer's guidelines for a mystery publisher. I am an avid reader of mystery and suspense,when I allow myself to read for fun. I have written a couple of stories in this genre though, I don't believe they are ready for publication. I also have an outline for a murder mystery, but just the outline. "Someday" I tell myself I will write for that genre. For now I am trying to stay focused.

Now I will delve into being non-focused. In reading today's batch of writer's guidelines, I ran across one for greeting cards. I have always thought it would be fun to write greetings cards, tossing out bon mots and quirky quips. So I took the time to read through the guidelines thoroughly. It got my attention and I wanted to learn more. I didn't understand a part of the guideline standards and I noticed it had a phone number so I called to get more specifics.

I discovered that it was a small greeting card company and the editor had the time to talk to me about submissions. We chatted for several minutes,laughed about writing, and shared stories of our work history. We definitely clicked. I thought this person would be a great interviewee, if I could just find a source. I also thought that since we had a good rapport, I should build on that and send her something while she still remembered who I was. Only problem, I don't have any short verses for greeting cards at the ready. So now I am wondering how I can become inspired to write greeting card verse?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 12

Today I would like to report on the Periodical challenge that I mentioned two days ago. I sent my revised first draft to a fellow writer to review last night and got it back today. She told me I had buried the lead and it had to be re-written. This is someone whom I trust. We've gotten past the nice platitudes of just saying "you're a great writer" and pointing out a few grammatical errors. We now feel free to honestly give ideas for improvement. Or in this case, going as far as saying this story doesn't work.

I have a few people who will do this for me and I really appreciate it. I need to know how to improve. As an example, I sent out a story that had been rejected to another writer who truly enjoys editing. She reviewed it according to the writer's guidelines and sent it back to me.There were notes and suggestions all over it. She even took the time to do a bit of rewriting. Seeing her review, I now had a better idea of the reasons why it might have been rejected.

This brings me back to the periodical challenge. As part of the challenge I read several past stories from the features section I was targeting before I wrote the article. I thought I had a good idea of what the story should be about. Then I wrote the story in the way I wanted to cover it. There's where the problem came in. I was writing for me and not the way the editor likes to have a story written.

I went back and read four past stories. I did detailed outlines for each of them. I now realized how much I had missed the mark. Here's the format for the story. Begin with stating the problem or situation that needs to be solved. Then you give details about the characters. Next step is the planning stage of how to make the change. Next the changes begin, and some tension or minor conflict occurs. Lastly there is a resolution and achievement of the goal. It all wrapped up in a final hook that ties into the title.

After reading this outline, I realized it is a typical format for writing children's stories. You begin with a problem that gives the reader a reason to get involved with the story. The attempts to solve get the reader wondering what will happen next and keep them involved. The tension keeps a story building and the pages turning until the denouement and final take away of the story. So now it's time to go back and write some more.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 11

I am now on Chapter 3 of the book up to page 72. This chapter covers setting up an office space for writing. I wholeheartedly agree with Nancy about setting up your own private space.

Years ago I shared an office (in the same room) with my husband. Though we work in the same business we don't work in the same way. He needs lots of room to spread out and I like to have everything right at hand. My work area kept shrinking which I didn't appreciate. He didn't appreciate that I yell at my computer when I have a problem with it. We now have separate offices and a happy marriage.

Having your own office space is very important. If you want to be a professional writer, you need a place to organize your thoughts and projects. My office is very important to me. I have a "works in process board" on my wall, reference books on writing, copies of magazines to submit stories, and paper copies of past writing in a bookcase. I also have writing tips on my wall by the computer. My other tools include a fax/scanner and a separate printer.

Two suggestions she made are very relevant to me. The first is to have reference books on writing for grammar & punctuation. This can also be found on the internet, but it is nice to have at hand as well.The second suggestion is to email your stories to yourself. When you keep your writing in an email file (that you update daily as you write) it gives you a another back up if your hard drive or back up system crashes. My husband's computer crashed 2 weeks ago so I really appreciate having a back up system. Of course, you can also pay to have an online back up system that does it automatically for a fee.

It is easy for me email myself as I have 4 email addresses - one for business, one for friends, one for writing only, one for just everyday junk when I have to supply an email to access some info or enter some contest. This last one is what I use to send letters to congress and businesses when I have a complaint.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 10

As I sit in my southern California office, I have to admit I am a bit distracted. It is raining outside. I live in an area that may get 6 inches of rain a year. When we get a real downpour it is always exciting. I am watching the raindrops dance on the street and the trees swaying to the beat. I hear the rat a tat tat on the roof as it joins its tempo to the rain music. It is our version of a snow day in other parts of the country. I want to go outside with my umbrella and boots and take in the sounds and smells.

Instead, I am writing my blog. In the part of Nancy's book I am now reading, it is talking about committing to work. If you want to get paid, you have to work at it daily. If you only put in 15 minutes a day, you won't get results. If you had a part time job like that, you would never get a promotion. You have to look at work like it is a commitment. Block the time off on the calendar and stick to it like it was a real job. The more time you can commit, the quicker you will start seeing results.

As an example, Gone with the Wind was written over a 10 year period by Margaret Mitchell -- when she had the free time and the inclination. Do you have stories like that? I have a romance novel that I started 10 years ago. It has about 200 pages. I still think it is a great story, but I haven't added to it. I got frustrated with writing at that point and put all of my writing aside.

Now I am back to writing seriously. I have a goal to submit an article each week to some publication. I never underline or write in books, but I did today to get me motivated. I will share it with you now.

Career writers know they have to spend their time writing what editors want in order to earn a steady income. They know that earning an income from writing takes work, even if they're not particularly interested in a certain project.

I am taking part in the Periodical Challenge that my writer's group does yearly. The idea is to choose a national publication for which I would like to write an article. I am encouraged to aim high -- choose the most prestigious or highest paying periodical. The next step is to review their guidelines to make sure they take unsolicited submissions or queries. This is not an exercise in total futility.

After the magazine is chosen, it is time to do some research. This is where I need to review several past issues of the magazine. This search for copies will include libraries, used book stores, and the magazine's website. From there, I am to determine which feature section of the magazine I want to target.

Now comes the interesting part. Instead of just writing one article I am encouraged to write FIVE. I need to find different ways to meet the style guidelines. This will include word count, point of view (1st or 3rd person), and anything else that I might note in the sample stories I've read.

Now I will be able to write the stories, keeping in mind that I am writing to their guidelines. If I was the editor of the magazine, I could write it the way I wanted. Since I want to get paid I will write to suit the editor. Once I've done a couple of rewrites, I will get it critiqued and then review and rewrite as needed. By the end of the month it is to be submitted.

I have already chosen the publication and the feature section. I have done 2 drafts of one story, but then I noticed that it was only half the length of their recent articles. So it is time for a new draft.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 9

I am not going to blog about the book today. Instead, I want to comment on a statement I just read from an agent's interview about what she looks for in an author. Here's the quote which I will keep anonymous as it is similar to what I've read in many other posts by agents.

"I want to get so excited that I call the author and say, ‘I love it! I want to take it on.’ Or I want to call an editor and say, ‘I’ve just read a fantastic manuscript—I’m sending it to you right now.’ I want that kind of excitement when I’m reading a new work.”

Don't we all! However, that's not what I find in a number books I've read by new or even established authors. So it seems like their dreams don't match their realities. While an agent is waiting to discover the next blockbuster writer are they missing out on a perfectly good niche writer who could break out a new genre? How many publishers passed on a Harry Potter type writer because it didn't fit their mold even though the book piqued their interest?

Is this the mind set of I'll know it when I see it, just don't ask me to define it? Look at TV. Producers get pitched stories everyday. They get jaded and stuck into their particular mind set. Then something hits them as a great new breakout show. It goes into production, the critics rave about it and then it flops. Did they get excited about it? Of course they did! They wouldn't have spent the time and money to produce it if they didn't feel it was right.

What I am trying to say, is that we can't always trust our initial gut instinct. There can be many things that affect it negatively. If I've had a rough day and I am frustrated, my attitude affects what I am doing. This is not the time for me to do any critiquing as I will probably shred the writing.

If an agent has had a fight with a spouse, just gotten a speeding ticket, or finished reading a lousy review of one of his or her authors; how will they respond to what they are now reviewing? Agents are human just like the rest of us. It would probably be like trying to be cheerful when you have a migraine or a hangover. So hope and pray your agent is having a good day when he or she picks up your masterpiece manuscript.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Yes, You Can - Writing Challenge Day 8

I've sent my article back to my interviewee to check my facts. Once I have that I will be sending out my story. It will be interesting to see the response from writing non-fiction. I've done newsletters and reports for years in my full time job. I hope that experience can pay off in writing for others.

So far I have read 33 pages of the book. Nancy's writing is like having a cheerleader by your side to encourage you to try new ways to write. She makes it sound so utterly easy - you have this idea for a story/article, send it out and wow they've accepted it! It is so easy you just need to find your niche.

It's like those commercials Kelly Ripa does for Electrolux. In the commercial, she walks over to the dryer with her laundry basket and the clothes are magically folded as they drop into her basket. Then as she walks to the children's bedrooms they jump out and neatly land into the drawers. All this is done to the background music of the old Bewitched TV show. The concept of the ad is that Electrolux appliances will make your life a breeze. Hah!

The ad doesn't take into account that in reality you have to search for the dirty clothes (like socks that my cat loves to parade around the house); sort through them so you don't mix color fading clothes (my husband doesn't want his favorite shirt to change to the pink or purple of my clothes); and make sure you empty the pockets (you don't wash the business cards of contacts you might need).

Maybe some writer's lives are like the Kelly Ripa ad, but mine isn't. Writing is a lot of trial and error. I read several blogs that give leads for sources that are looking for articles. In their blurbs, it shows you what the publisher wants. When I go to the actual website for the publisher, I discover that the lead is out of date. One source is no longer taking queries, another doesn't take any more fiction pieces, or one is no longer in existence. At this point my writing is more like 80% research and 20% writing.