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Posts Tagged ‘Writer Resources’

The expectation of attention

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, design, journalism, life, work on September 4, 2013 at 3:26 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Do you expect to be listened to?

I’ve been writing for a living since 1978, when I was still an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, and started writing for national magazines and Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail.

I spent my teens attending summer camp, where every month we’d put on a musical, some fab creation from the 1950s like Flower Drum Song or Hello Dolly. I almost always won the lead.

Flower Drum Song

Flower Drum Song (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every Sunday evening, we’d put on a Talent Show and I’d get up with my guitar and a song I’d written that day to sing it to 300 people.

It only struck me — reading Sue Healy’s brilliant blog about writing, (and she’s a former journalist) — that, as a default position, I expect to be able to hold and keep people’s attention.

Before you all un-follow, with snorts of dismay and derision, let me explain why this is a huge advantage, especially for ambitious writers and bloggers.

Newer writers seem to fear rejection, or fear that whatever it is you hope to convey just isn’t all that interesting.

Pshaw!

You have to assume someone does want to hear/read you, that you have the talent and guile and charm and story to woo and win them for 20 or 30 or 100 minutes.

OK, maybe five, on the Internet!

Journalism offers phenomenal preparation for other attention-seeking work, whether dance, music or more writing. You have to produce something every day, sometimes every hour. (I once had to write a television news story in the two minutes of a commercial break.)

You have to crank out a ton of stuff, certainly if you work for a daily paper or, worse, a wire service or web site.

Some of it is really shitty. Some of it is amazing, stuff you read decades later with pride. You will also see other writers (grrrrr) win front page and fellowships and awards and make the best-seller list.

You, oh misery, do not.

But you must wake up the next day and re-assume the same confident stance, that your work and your ideas are worth the attention of others. What’s the alternative? Lying in bed weeping in the fetal position?

Not you!

I was lucky, in some ways, to be an only child, never competing for my parents’ attention with a crowd of siblings. I had a sort of brassy self-confidence I’ve never really understood, although I’m damn grateful for it. I rarely worry about putting my stuff out there (even if I should!)

The standard American cliche is “stepping up to the plate” — i.e. home plate, where you stand in order to hit a baseball or softball. As someone who still plays softball (and can hit to the outfield), I know how nervous it can make you.

Everyone’s watching! What if you miss? What if you can’t even make it to first base? What if you hit a fly and someone catches it?

NOTICEME

NOTICEME (Photo credit: Beadzoid)

But what happens when you hit a single/double/triple — or home run? Huzzah!

If you’re still feeling nervous about blogging, or sending your creations into the world for approval/sale/attention, just do it.

(But do not, I beg you, be all foot-shuffling and hand-wringing and ‘I don’t know what to blog about.’ Don’t be boring. Take a risk!)

Yes, some of your work will be ignored and rejected. My third book proposal goes out this week, (shriek), and has already been rejected by the people who published “Malled.” I asked my editor why and received a short, polite and helpful reply.

In the old days, I would never have asked.

My first two books, when their proposals were sent to major publishers, each received 25 rejections before the 26th. said yes. Both have won terrific reviews and been bought by libraries world-wide.

So I anticipate, (albeit pre-cringing at how nasty some of the rejections can be), more of the same. I hope not. But it happens. Rejection is the cost of doing this business.

This essay, about my divorce, won the Canadian National Magazine Award for humor — after being laughingly dismissed by an editor at one of the U.S.’s biggest women’s magazines.

Focused attention has become one of the world’s most precious resources.

But, oh, the joy when you’ve won it!

And again.

And again…

Five essential qualities writers need

In behavior, blogging, books, culture, journalism, Media, work on January 16, 2013 at 4:43 am
Writing exercise 3

Writing exercise 3 (Photo credit: aaipodpics)

Writing — what we read here or elsewhere — is merely the end product, the visible, finished material emerging from a long process that really begins with an idea or a dream or a vision of something. Many people who say they really want to write well and be widely read and maybe even well-paid for it sometimes focus a lot of wasted energy on the wrong things.

They fuss over the font on their blog or their SEO or how to find an agent or what their book cover looks like.

It’s much more basic.

Here are five qualities anyone who wants to write well  — and find a large readership — needs:

Trust

To publish your work requires tremendous trust. First, in yourself, that you have something worth hearing and have the skills to express it clearly and compellingly. Second, in your audience — that there is an audience out there for your work. Third, in your agent, (should you wish to publish  traditionally). Fourth, in your editor(s). Fifth, journalists must also, (with open eyes and a healthy skepticism of “facts”), trust their sources, and their editors and copy editors.

You have to trust in your skills and experience to see you through, even when you’ve never tackled a subject or genre before. It’s like anything else — you can’t grow unless you push yourself into new and untried areas. Given the nature of journalism and publishing right now, being able to move quickly and persuasively into new ways of using your skills is essential to earning a good living.

Humility

Walk into a bookstore or library  — and look around. There are millions of books already in print. In addition to every other form of media out there, from Twitter and Pinterest to movies, TV and video games, these books are competing for your readers’ time and attention. Whose work is currently selling most, to whom, and why? Whose work has lasted for decades or centuries or even millennia and why? Asking readers to give us their time and attention means acknowledging those who have done it so well for so long.

We don’t have to ape them, but the marketplace of ideas is a very, very crowded one.

Confidence

And yet…If you can’t summon the confidence in your voice and ideas and analysis, why would anyone else? If you lack confidence in your skills, take classes and read great writers and see what they do so well. Do whatever is necessary to develop the skill to tell your story. Then do it!

Also have the confidence that your material may have valuable iterations in other paid media, from film and television to theatrical productions to ideas you haven’t even imagined. Re-define “writing” as “intellectual property” and you will start to look at your work very differently, and protectively. (A ferocious agent and skilled entertainment attorney are key to this step.)

Empathy

You can’t be an intelligent or useful journalist without empathy — whether you’re interviewing a politician, a welfare mother, a billionaire banker or a criminal. You have to be able to imagine how the world looks and feels to them and care deeply enough to ask them thoughtful and probing questions.  Same for writers of fiction, whose characters must live and breathe for us as readers.

Decisiveness

What to say, and how to say it and in what detail? There’s no standard metric, no safe dividing line or blinking yellow warning light on our computer or notebook to warn us when we’ve moved from terrific to boring. We choose every word and then we must commit to it, even after the 10th or 20th draft. It has to go the printer! Editors are waiting. Readers expect to hear from you.

Decide what you want to express and get on with it. The only people who can call themselves writers write — they don’t just talk about writing.

I’m finally reading (and loving!) this book, a classic, by Howard Zinsser, “On Writing Well.” It’s funny and filled with fantastic advice. Here are his five tips.

What do you think are other qualities a writer needs most?

Why we write what we write

In aging, behavior, blogging, books, culture, domestic life, Health, journalism, life, Media on December 4, 2012 at 3:52 am
Sibling!

Sibling! (Photo credit: Gus Dahlberg)

Great post from Romanian writer/blogger Christian Mihai:

A lot of writers out there, if asked, will say that writing isn’t easy. But it’s not because of the rules you have to obey, or the conventions, or the need of a vivid imagination. Writing isn’t easy because you have to relieve the most painful moments of your life, over and over again, and then you have to write them down, hoping that they’ll matter to someone else other than yourself.

I plan to write a second memoir, some day, about my family, as people have urged me to do and as I want to do. But it won’t be easy or simple or fun. I have three half-siblings, one of whom refuses to speak to me and one of whom I’ve never met; the only time we spoke, on the phone from London to Quebec in June 2003, she said “See you at the funeral.”

Like that.

Readers of this blog know I occasionally touch the third rail of true honesty about some of the darker, tougher stuff in my life, like this post about how my mother and I have no relationship anymore, and have not spoken since May 2011. That post has 66 comments, and prompted some of the most honest and compassionate conversation we’ve ever had here.

My mother and I probably won’t ever speak again. I’m her only child. It hurts every single day.

But I don’t write about it, here or elsewhere for a few reasons:

– There’s no solution. She has dementia and is attended to by a woman I loathe who has made sure to paint me as a demon and she as the avenging angel. That script is deeply seductive to my mother.

– She lives a six-hour flight away from me and my limited time and funds for leisure travel don’t make me eager to step back into that minefield. I spent too many miserable years watching her gulp alcohol while I waited for the inevitable shit to hit a very large fan. It did.

– I loathe confessional writing that’s supposed to tug at my heartstrings. I don’t write it and I don’t read it. If I even have heartstrings, they are wrapped in five layers of Kevlar by now.

There is much I will never write about here. One female reader, from Kenya, asked me to write more about my struggles. I wrote her back to ask what she meant, but she never replied to my email.

Frankly, I’m not persuaded that focusing on struggle by writing about it to an audience of strangers accomplishes much. Writing about it can feel whiny and self-indulgent.

Although this writer, (a journalist and Hollywood veteran), who has produced only a few blog posts — each of astonishing emotional clarity — makes me feel differently about this subject:

I don’t know what my boss saw in me but I was relieved some good quality shined through. It was clear on the first day that we had a connection. She had lost her mother recently, and when she asked why I was jobless I said I’d moved home to take care of my mom while she was sick with cancer.

The day my boss hired me, she asked about the type of cancer and my mom’s age, and I told her the story. She was so sympathetic, I had a hard time not crying. Finally a workplace that was sensitive and nurturing, capable of seeing my pain and not finding it a turn off or unattractive.

Suddenly, all the things I didn’t enjoy about working in media and in Hollywood became obvious — the unspoken competitiveness between writers, the constant insecurity that you’re not young enough to be employable, the expectation that you will always be or act happy, the arbitrary way with which your work can be cast aside by a studio exec or an editor after months of toiling. Not knowing why they said no to publishing or producing your writing. It all creates this paranoia and lack of trust that permeates every action.

If you never read Freshly Pressed, you must start! I read it every day and almost always find something astonishingly good there; they’ve really upped their game from a few months ago when all they featured were photo, food and travel blogs.

I know someone, only peripherally, on Facebook, a male writer my age who is suffering — and that is truly the word — from Parkinson’s disease. I have very mixed feelings about the endless medical and emotional detail he spills there. I feel compassion but I also, I admit, feel irritation at so much uninvited intimacy.

That may be my problem, of course.

Here’s a lucid and lovely blog post by novelist Dani Shapiro on the disconnect — and it’s a very real one — between how private many writers really are and how public we must be in order to grow audiences for our work:

What I’m getting at here is the complexity of being a person at once deeply private and shockingly public.  A person who spends days — weeks — speaking as little as possible, a person for whom the word “hermitage” is appealing, and a person who sits in front of an audience, speaking into a microphone, telling stories (jokes, even!) and looking — in fact, being – comfortable.  It’s a split-screen, this writer’s life…It requires a kind of armor…

The absolute vulnerability necessary to write something real, honest, and universal is at odds with the public self.  Yesterday, during my event, there was a woman in the back row (there’s always one) who, every time I looked her way, rolled her eyes.  I mean, really rolled her eyes.  A full eye-roll, heavenward.  Her body language said: I’m not buying it.  It said, I’m bored to tears, when will this be over?  Now, the rest of the audience seemed very engaged, even rapt.  But because I’m a writer––because I am a sensitive creature with less armor than most––and, because in order to give a good talk, I in fact need to be vulnerable, I directed my talk to the eye-roller.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  How was I failing?  Where was I going wrong?  Why, oh why, didn’t she like me?  It’s the next day, and I’m thinking about her still.  This is no different from writers who can quote you chapter and verse from their negative reviews, but not a word from the glowing ones.  Or writers who troll their Amazon pages, only stopping to take in the one star reviews.

So what is the armor, then, that allows us to take part in the world around us, a world that will sometimes feel like just too much, a world that might insult us, or hurt us?  For the writer, I think there’s only one answer, and I’m doing it right now.  It’s to return to the solitude

What are you not writing about — and why?

What do you choose to focus your writing or blogging on — and why?

Ten lessons new authors learn (usually the hard way)

In books, domestic life, life on March 9, 2012 at 3:13 am
Novels in a Polish bookstore

Image via Wikipedia

There are few moments more exciting than finally selling your first book. I still remember the shock and awe, in 2002, the day I knew I was going to finally become An Author, after a scary meeting in a boardroom at the midtown Manhattan headquarters of Simon & Schuster. I had walked down a long, narrow hallway whose both walls were covered with framed covers of their best-sellers, thinking I am not worthy

Could I join them?

Having published two non-fiction books, so far, and hoping to write many more, here are some lessons I and many fellow authors have learned along the way:

Finding an agent is sort of like dating, but without the flirting and cocktails. Before you can sell your book, you need an agent to read, edit and prepare your proposal before sending it around to the selected editors s/he knows. But making that match isn’t easy. You may love them and want to seal the deal, but they’re too big or too busy or only handle YA material. The best way to find a good fit is to ask your author friends about their agents.

After working with your agent, you may have to fire them. The process of selling a book, or multiple books, (let alone TV and movie deals, first serial rights and other details), is emotionally trying enough. After spending a few years working together, you may never want to deal with this person again, or they with you. It happens.

Your first advance payment is going to take weeks, if not several months to arrive. Decide how you’ll handle this: savings? Freelance income? A grant or fellowship? Teaching? Or maybe you’ll wait til it’s in your bank account to get started. Just don’t expect to start living on it right away.

Your advance is going to be slivered into a long, drawn-out process that means you’ll need many other sources of income. You’ll be lucky to get 1/3 up front, more likely one-quarter. The final payment can come as long as a year after publication!

You’ll be working closely with an editor you know very little about. It’s the most bizarre thing, like an intellectual blind date. Have a long lunch or two, if possible to get to know them and let them get a feel for who you are.

You’ll probably need to hire an assistant and researchers — and pay them from your advance. Few of us can do it all. On my first book, about American women and guns, I used four researchers, (all, thank heaven, volunteer), without whom I could not have gathered the material I needed on time. On my second book, a memoir of working retail, I worked with two others, neither of whom I ever met, both of whom came to me through writer friends’ recommendations.

Managing your researchers will take time and energy. Most writers are used to doing it all, all the time. Deciding what help you need and managing others efficiently is a new skill you’ll be learning — on a deadline and your dime.

Plan for illness, family drama and other interruptions. Once you’ve signed that contract, having promised 100,000 words within 12 months, life may well interrupt. Build a few extra weeks or months into your research, writing and revision schedule to allow for the inevitable and unpredictable.

You’ll need breaks! Writing a book is my favorite thing to do, but it’s tiring. Like any other form of work, you’ll need breaks, maybe even a vacation, if only a few hours each week far away from the computer or library.

Be prepared to be lonely. Writing is not a shared, communal activity. It means withdrawing, physically, emotionally and intellectually, from your friends and family for a prolonged period. You may need to travel to do research, or simply bury yourself in documents, books and interviews for many months — and that’s before you even start writing. No matter much you’d rather play Wii with your kids or cuddle with your sweetie, that book isn’t going to write itself…

Anything you’ve learned you want to add?

Define “Successful”

In behavior, books, business, domestic life, family, journalism, life, Money, women, work on June 15, 2011 at 12:39 pm
The New York Times

Image by Laughing Squid via Flickr

I found out this week that my new book won’t be getting a review from The New York Times. For ambitious writers, a review — even a crummy one — in the Times is a sure sign of success.

So, I’m disappointed.

But…maybe I dodged a bullet. Some of “Malled’s” reviews have been so vicious they’ve left me gasping.

And yet almost every day since it came out I’ve also been getting private emails from fellow workers in retail, like the one that arrived this morning asking: “Have you spent 23 years sitting on my shoulder?”

To know I’ve been able to tell a complex story well and to connect emotionally with readers is success for me.

I’ve been struggling for a while to write a guest post about “the writer’s life”. There are many!

The reason I can’t figure out what to say is that we all define success so differently.

I received an email this week from a young woman who described me as very successful. In many ways, on paper, that’s true; I’ve punched most of the standard tickets.

But how do I feel internally?

Hah!

Because “Malled” has gotten a ton of press attention, many people consider this success. But for a writer trying to find thousands of paying readers, it’s only one crucial piece of it…success is actually selling books.

Success, for me, is the ability to wake up in the morning and not worry about where the next set of bill payments is going to come from, and freelancing without any steady income means almost constant anxiety.

Getting a job doesn’t feel like it would solve the problem; my last staff job, from 2005-2006 at the New York Daily News, was a terrible fit and an extremely stressful experience. No job can be better than the wrong job. And at my age, in this hard-hit field, getting a staff job feels next to impossible.

Success to me, then, would mean freedom from financial anxiety.

For others, it’s another day simply being alive and/or healthy, or their child’s achievements or finding and keeping a partner or a home…

How about you?

How do you define it?

Have you achieved it?

Or is it…I suspect!…a constantly moving target?


Want To Write A Book? You Sure?

In blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Media, women, work on May 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

  As the pushpushpushpushpush of book promotion and marketing for “Malled’ My Unintentional Career in Retail” continues — today offering interviews with two Canadian newspapers, a photo for my local newspaper and a radio interview — time for a reality check on the reality of book-writing.

Yes, this photo is of me, summer 2010 — mid-revisions!

Writing a book, for me, is a tremendous joy. I love having months to think long and hard about what I am trying to say and how. I love doing interviews for background and a better understanding of my subject, and reading entire books — ten for this one, on low-wage labor, retail and management — to make sure my individual impressions aren’t overly personal and limited.

But, having just attended the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference in Manhattan, I also appreciated listening to the comfort and wisdom of more experienced friends who have published five or six or eight books.

They all know the giddy excitement of signing that contract with your publisher, getting the manuscript in and accepted, publication date — and the anxiety over reviews. Will you get any? How will you handle the savage ones?

Writing and promoting your book(s) is an extraordinary process. It can also be an emotional roller-coaster.

At a dinner table after the conference, four of us — who had never before met — brainstormed how one of us, a fellow Canadian, might best introduce his non-fiction book, The Erotic Engine, into the American market.

Three of us: a education specialist from Vermont, a home decor writer from Florida and I all gave it our best efforts, all while eating some great Italian food.

I love and live for this sort of generosity and camaraderie. At the conference, when I went up to panelist Kathleen Flinn, whose memoir of attending cooking school in Paris, “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” was one of my favorites, she was excited to meet me. (!) She’d heard about Malled, as had many people at the conference.

Becoming a published author and climbing the many necessary steps along the way: finding an agent, writing a proposal, finding a publisher, writing, revising and then tirelessly marketing and promoting it, is a little like joining the military.

Really want to write and sell your book? Drop and give me twenty, soldier!

Whatever branch of service — cookbooks, YA, memoir, biography, history — we earn those stripes! We all experience many of the same issues and challenges and — like veterans of battle — know that we all know intimately what others only fantasize about.

Writing books means joining a long ladder of success, with many rungs.

Some books become huge best-sellers, leaving the rest of us gnashing our teeth in envy. Others become films or television series. Many find their own niche, buzzing along through social media and word of mouth.

Some just…die.

Do you hope to write a book? What do you hope to do with it?

What steps are you taking to get there?

Sacrifice? Moi? Eight Things Successful Writers Learn To Lose

In blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on March 30, 2011 at 11:55 am
Bookstore HS germany

Ooooh, I want to be there!Image via Wikipedia

What do you mean sacrifice?

Isn’t becoming a successful writer — speaking here specifically of publishing your books commercially through major houses — all about winning? Money? Fame? A shot at being on Oprah?

Not so much.

Writing and selling your book, or books, is a terrific and exciting journey and one thousands of us make every year.

But even those who insist on self-publishing (even the super-successful like Amanda Hocking) learn the hard way it’s never an easy route.

Here, with my second non-fiction book out in two weeks from Portfolio, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, are eight lessons in loss I’ve learned along the way:

A fixed definition of success

The best-seller list? Only the tiniest fraction of us will get there. Huge sales? Ditto. The thrill of your family and friends beaming with pride? That’s a for-sure. Whatever you hope for your book, don’t attach your ego or future income stream to any specific outcome. Let the process unfold, even while working your hardest on every aspect of promotion, marketing and sales. You may not hit it out of the park the first, second or third time. But a solid single or double is something to be proud of and may still be sufficient to win your next contract.

Ego

This might be the biggest and most important of all. The paradox of writing a book for public consumption — and skilfully fielding the resulting media attention you need to sell it — demands an ego strong enough to firmly believe that there are readers out there eager to hear your ideas. But along the way, your ego is likely to visit the woodshed more than a few times. Your agent may ask for multiple revisions of your proposal. The proposal may never sell. The book may sell but require significant revision; one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read, “Absolutely American”, was rewritten twelve times, the editor told a writers’ conference, before it made the cover of The New York Times Book Review. Or the publisher might simply refuse it as “unpublishable.” It happens. You must be prepared to work closely for many months with your agent, editor, copy editor and publicist. It’s much more of a team sport than it appears.

Dreams

You might need to shelve fantasies you’ve harbored for years. It’s important to dream, and dream big. But the process of moving from idea to manuscript to bookstore can look a lot different from your cherished dream or that of your writing friends. Be open to it!

Expectations

Authors get book tours, right? Authors get on all the big TV shows. We travel far and wide on our publisher’s dime. Not! The average first-time advance for a new author of a trade book is low, as low as $15,000 to $20,000 — paid in four installments, each with 15 percent taken out first by your agent. Do as much homework on the publishing industry as you possibly can, attending writers’ conferences, reading wise blogs, devouring smart books like “Thinking Like Your Editor” so you’re heading into the fray well-prepared. The most successful authors are also those who know how to work within the system, and become the writers their agent and publicist and editor look forward to working with again. This tough business is no place for naievete.

Time

It is hard to overstate how much time it takes, usually, to get a book from the inside of your head into a bookstore. Like — years. Let’s say you have a fabulous idea and, within weeks of having it (and already having built your “platform”, the gazillions of readers who already know and love your work) you’re fortunate enough to find an agent you can work well with. (It’s not always automatic.) They will want you, for non-fiction, to produce a proposal, which can run up to 30 pages or more and must include at least one sample chapter. The months you spend polishing the proposal will require a steady income from elsewhere. Even after you have sold your book, the first advance payment may take several months to show up. Then, when you think the book is finished, you may need to revise it to your editor’s liking for weeks or months.

Money

If you have another steady source of income allowing you to focus solely on producing and polishing and promoting your book, terrific! If not, where’s that funding going to come from? This is the money you’ll need for a variety of expenses: researchers, assistants, FOIA requests, travel for your own research, creating and updating your book website, planning and executing a book tour, polishing the book between advance payments (that can take up to a year.) You may find funding from grants and fellowships, or teaching or a full-time or part-time job. But be sure to have several thousand dollars at the ready for all of these costs. You have one shot at making your book the best it can possibly be. This is not the time to cheap out!

Social Life

If you really want to produce, you’ve got to plant your bum in the chair. That means not: having coffee/lunch/dinner with your friends or colleagues, taking vacations, going to movies or shows or concerts. It may mean missing out on all sorts of fun things you’d really rather do. Not while you’re on a book deadline! That date is no joke — an entire team of people you may never meet (from the production editor to the sales team) — are relying on you. Your spouse or partner and your kids and friends and relatives may really not get it. Writing is easy, right? You can do it later, or tomorrow, or between the kids’ naps or playdates. Maybe. Maybe not. Stay in close touch with other ambitious and successful writers. They know what it takes, and will steer you back to the computer.

Competing projects

These range from laundry and exercise to a tempting new job or lucrative or fun assignment. Every writer knows we have to shut down other sources of income and projects demanding our time, energy and attention. Something, and often many things, are competing for our time, which is limited. If you’re an avid volunteer, you may need to withdraw or scale back for a while. No matter how tempting these sirens, stay focused on your book!

Here’s a great blog post about a new book that really explains the trade publishing industry in the U.S. and U.K. Every would-be author needs to read it!

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