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Posts Tagged ‘Writers Resources’

Writers, beware: 10 caveats before you publish your book

In art, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Medicine, work on November 25, 2013 at 1:20 am

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Logo of french publisher Léon Vanier

English: Logo of french publisher Léon Vanier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a wise/sorrowful reflection on publishing, by former lecturer in French at Cambridge, blogger Victoria Best:

Nowadays you could be forgiven for thinking that everyone in the world writes and harbours some secret dream of superstardom. And publishers seem (and this may be an illusion) to have become more and more cagey and restrictive about what they will put out…And paradoxically, the more platforms that appear for writers to publish on, the more problematic it all becomes. There are people out there drawing flow charts now to account for all the different choices that can be made. And still the question remains: who will actually read us?

It seems to me that the basic problem is that publishing is way too emotive a subject for writers to be allowed near…Many writers talk about publishing before they have actually experienced it. In the same way that newly-formed partnerships fantasise romantically about having children, and university students imagine being rich, writers think about publication as a joyous event, and quite possibly one that will solve all their problems – financial, moral, existential. Whereas most of us who have published limp bloodied from the arena, humiliated by having failed to make the crowd go wild. My premise in this post is that – like so many modern phenomena – publishing is an awful experience and yet still we want it beyond all reason.

Here’s the inside dope from NYC career editor, Daniel Menaker, in the blog Vulture, an excerpt from his new book:

Approximately four out of every five books published lose money. Or five out of six, or six out of seven. Estimates vary, depending on how gloomy the CFO is the day you ask him and what kinds of shell games are being played in Accounting….

To make matters worse, financial success in frontlist publishing is very often random, but the media conglomerates that run most publishing houses act as if it were not. Yes, you may be able to count on a new novel by Surething Jones becoming a big best seller. But the best-­seller lists paint nothing remotely like the full financial picture of any publication, because that picture’s most important color is the size of the advance. But let’s say you publish a fluky blockbuster one year, the corporation will see a spike in your profits and sort of autistically, or at least automatically, raise the profit goal for your division by some corporately predetermined amount for the following year. This is close to clinically insane institutional behavior.

The entire blog post is a must-read for anyone who really wants to hear what goes in inside publishers’ hallowed halls. Not for the naive or foolish. It’s funny, sad, bitter — and true!

And, from The Nation:

the work of writers is traded in three currencies: money, meaning book sales and author advances; status, meaning reviews, awards, fellowships and general cachet, which are not strictly quantifiable but pay dividends nonetheless; and a third, which I can only describe as the actual life of a book, which is its movement through the world after it is published. Sales do contribute to this third currency, but only so much, because it is intangible, uncountable and ultimately unknowable, and yet still entirely, wonderfully real.

What do authors hope for with publication of their work?

Fame

Defined how? Ten people beyond your immediate family? A cover story in People magazine?

Fortune

Most writers receive an advance, from a commercial publisher, of $5,000 to $50,000 for their first book — maybe even their seventh or twelfth. The advance is typically paid out in thirds, at best, more often in quarterly payments: upon signing of the contract; upon delivery of the first few chapters or full manuscript; upon publication, (typically at least a year after signing), and — yes, really! — a year after publication.

Which somewhat re-defines the word “advance.”

Every payment is sent through your agent who claims their 15 percent fee for representing you before they forward the rest to you. Most mid-list authors, (i.e. not best-sellers), will never “earn out”, i.e. repay the publisher their advance and thereby receive any additional payment for their work. This is because we receive a tiny fraction of the cover price and because publishers make sure to claim their profits before we see ours.

Foreign sales

Pleasant, but rarely lucrative. Citic Press bought the rights to publish my book “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” in China, paying $3,000. It simply went to pay down my advance. They re-named the book for their market, (“The Greatest Saleswoman in the World” — hardly!) and gave it a crisp new cover, with a photo wholly different from the American version.  I’ve received no reply from them to my repeated emails asking for information about how it’s doing there.

Thousands of passionate readers

Many books find fewer than 1,000 buyers, in any format. Ever. A book selling 10,000 or more copies has done well. (My second book, “Malled”, did. Whew!)

A movie deal

I know someone whose book — published in 2001 — is now in production as a major motion picture. Many books are optioned, (which usually means you get a nice five-figure check), but few make it through the process to become a finished film. Here’s an interview with Orson Scott Card in the current issue of Wired magazine, author of the award-winning 1985 book Ender’s Game — now in theaters after more than a dozen scripts were rejected over the decades.

A television series (with residuals!)

Sweet! My book Malled was optioned by CBS as a sitcom and I was swooning with excitement. I was paid $5,000 — but lost $1,000 to the two agents who repped it. Many emails went back and forth between me and the script-writer, a Hollywood veteran. But CBS’ top executive said no to the final version and CBS now owns the script.

A job offer

Maybe. Certainly not a sure thing.

For posterity

Everyone’s dream.

Rave reviews

OK, these days, any reviews! While many online sites review books, and you can read dozens on amazon.com, it’s difficult to win an inch of serious reviewers’ space. The competition is ferocious.

Awards

Oh, the gnashing of teeth and the rending of garments! We’d all like that “XYZ-award-winner” on the cover of our book, but only a tiny fraction of us will ever get it. I was really honored when Malled was nominated for the prestigious Hillman Award, given to “those who pursue deep storytelling and investigative reporting in the service of the common good.” (A professor won it.)

So…why the desperate compulsion to publish a book?

For some people, it’s the pure satisfaction of having done it, knowing they can.

For others, it’s a strategic move, to build or bolster their brand or authority.

For academics, it’s a must, without which they can’t win tenure.

And yet, despite all of the above, I’m glad I’ve done my two books, and am now working on a proposal for another, fully aware of the pitfalls (and pleasures) if someone does make an offer on it.

I enjoy writing non-fiction books because journalism today offers few places in which to deeply explore serious ideas at length. A book gives you 80,000-100,000 words to plumb the depths of a complicated story. For me, that’s the draw.

Will anyone review it or buy it after a year or more of consistent effort to produce it? No idea!

Here’s a brilliant bit of writing advice, (there’s more if you follow the link, from Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction Paul Harding, in the one publication every ambitious writer must read, Publisher’s Weekly:

Get your art written any way you can. It’s tempting as a teacher to present your own method as normative. It’s maybe even more tempting as a student to look for a method that sounds good and austere and disciplined, with a dash of charming self-deprecation thrown in, and conform to it in the hopes that it will work for you, because writing is hard, after all, and it’s nice to think that if you follow a prefabricated set of rules you’ll get a story or a poem or a novel out of it.

But a huge part of being a writer is discovering your own intellectual and aesthetic autonomy, and how you best get the best words onto the page. The musician Tom Petty tells a great anecdote about working with the producer Jeff Lynne. Petty was in the studio making an album and being very doctrinaire about some recording method or another, much to Lynne’s exasperation, and so Lynne finally said to him, “Tom, no one gives a shit about how you make your records. They only care if the record sounds good.”

Outside of writing workshops and seminars, no one cares if you sit facing the blank page for six hours every day beginning at sunrise, or if you loaf around frittering away most days like a bum, or if you write your book one line at a time on the sly in between typing your boss’s business letters at the office. What’s important is that your reader holds a thrilling, amazing work of art in her hands.

How about you?

What would it mean to you to finally publish your book?

Those who have self-published, is it what you hoped for or expected?

THIS WEEK’S WEBINAR IS “CRAFTING THE PERSONAL ESSAY”; 4:00 p.m. EST Nov. 30. I HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US!

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

What writers really wish you knew

In behavior, books, business, journalism, life, Media, work on August 22, 2013 at 12:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Attention Icon.

English: Attention Icon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a fun life being a writer, which is why so many people are lining up, still, to do it.

I just spent a fun/tiring eight hours in Manhattan at a freelancers’ conference. But if you make your living at it, (and or dream of it), some frustrations become routine.

Here are a few things writers really wish you knew:

– It’s not a hobby. We attend conferences and take classes, (or teach them), and network and spend time and money and attention improving our skills. Assuming it’s something cute we do “just for fun” is ignorant and disrespectful.

– Working alone at home can be really lonely and isolating. Come meet us for coffee or a drink!

— We need feedback on our material, especially works-in-progress, aka WIPs. If we get up the nerve to ask you to read or review it, that’s a big gesture of trust on our part. Please say yes, please offer specific feedback and please do it.

– We need blurbs for our books. If you have a connection to A Big Name who might help us, please make the call or send the email. Asking for blurbs can be one of the hardest parts of writing and publishing a book.

— If you ask me for help, do not blow off the phone call I booked time for. Let alone twice.

— If you ask me for help, be classy enough to offer me some as well, if not today, then down the road.

— Don’t ask me to hand over the names and contacts of my editors. If I feel like that’s the right choice, I’ll offer.

– Don’t ask me for an introduction to my agent. I may not think you’re ready for prime time. I may not think you are a good fit for their list or their personality. Don’t put me on the spot. If I think it’s right, I’ll offer.

– Don’t ask to “pick my brain.” It’s annoying and presumptuous.

– Don’t ask me how much my advance was. It’s really annoying. I don’t ask your salary!

– Don’t whine about how hard/lonely/difficult/poorly-paid it can be, especially at the beginning. I know. Go do something else…like retail or fast-food work. That’s misery, kids. Rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon; a messy, necessary part of every working day. Get used it or don’t be a writer.

– We’re insecure. Did you really like that story/pitch/book/screenplay? Say so!

– Repeat business is the sweetest. When you find a writer whose work you like and you enjoy working with, throw them as much work as they can handle. You’ll win our loyalty.

– If you’re a client, and we bill by the hour, don’t cheap out and ask us for a 30-minute consultation. It can take that much time to even read your two-page material thoughtfully, let alone formulate helpful ways to improve it.

– If you’re an editor, and like what we’ve done, say so! We’re hungry for praise and enthusiasm, no matter how experienced we are. The check is what we work for. A thank-you or other additional thumbs-up is what we hope for.

– Just like you, we’re all juggling multiple projects every day, some competing for the same time you think you’ve bought exclusively. Don’t demand immediate replies, revisions or turn-arounds on a moment’s notice. If you need our undivided attention, say so, explain when — and pay properly enough that we’re willing to back-burner other things for you. Snapping your fingers at us just means we’ll never work for you again.

– Pay us promptly with no excuses! There is nothing more irritating than meeting every deadline, even beating it, then waiting weeks or months for payment. You got paid. The lights are still on in your office. The office rent got paid. Our turn!

– Make the time to get to know us, even a little bit. We, too, have kids and hobbies and new puppies. The more we know, like and trust one another, the better our working relationship is likely to be. We’re not robots. We don’t want to be treated like one.

– Let us get to know you a bit as well. We don’t need or want to be your BFFs, but people work best with those they like and respect. You can’t like and respect a cipher. I recently found out all the jobs one of my editors is expected to do. Jesus, no wonder she sounds so stressed and tired!

– Follow up. If we’ve pitched you an idea after a meeting or phone chat, or we’ve been introduced to you by your boss or someone you trust, don’t ignore us. It’s rude! These weren’t cold calls. We’ve done our due diligence to get a good referral. You’re dissing them and us.

– Be explicit about what you need, expect and in what order. If your publication normally expects three revisions, say so at the outset and we’ll budget that time, or not work with you. But insatiably grabbing more unpaid time on a set fee is greedy.

– If you’re my agent, and we’ve agreed to work together, please answer my phone calls and emails promptly. I won’t drive you mad, but I expect you to pay attention; you’ll be claiming 15% of every check I earn from our books together, so I expect you to earn it.

– If you wish to sever our working relationship, do so. Don’t be passive aggressive and neglectful. Just get it over with.

Here’s a great post, from Freshly Pressed, (which inspired this post), by a theater veteran about what actors really feel but are often afraid to say out loud about their working conditions.

Why write a (nother) non-fiction book?

In books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on July 24, 2013 at 4:04 am

By Caitlin Kelly

New Paperback Non-Fiction - Really?! 07/366/20...

New Paperback Non-Fiction – Really?! 07/366/2012 #366project (Photo credit: pgcummings)

From American business author/blogger Seth Godin:

The goal in blogging/business/inspiring non-fiction is to share a truth, or at least
a truth as the writer sees it. To not just share it, but to spread it and to cause change to happen. You can do that in at least three ways: with research (your own or reporting on others), by building and describing conceptual structures, or with stories that resonate…

A more heavily-researched approach to writing [is] exhausting, but the work is its own reward…

The biggest takeaway for anyone seeking to write is this: don’t go looking for the way other authors do their work. You won’t find many who are consistent enough to copy, and there are enough variations in approach that it’s obvious that it’s not like hitting home runs or swinging a golf club. There isn’t a standard approach, there’s only what works for you (and what doesn’t).

I read Godin’s blog every day. His advice here is spot-on.

I’ve written, and published commercially with two major NYC houses, two well-reviewed works of non-fiction.

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Journalism” was just published in China, which is pretty cool, and a first for me. Now I’m seeking someone to read it and compare it to my original to see if they censored my section about appalling labor conditions in Shenzhen, China where they make parts for Apple and others at Foxconn.

After two books published by major commercial houses, I’ve lost my innocence about how bare-knuckled a business publishing is, that’s for sure. I have no illusions — which many  yet-to-be-published writers naively and deeply cherish — like the publisher will: 1) be my new BFF; 2) that they will pick up the costs of designing and maintaining my website; 3) send me on a book tour.

The only way I got my own book from China was having it sent by a photographer there my husband knows, who did us a personal favor and Fed-Exed two copies; my publisher still hasn’t sent me any.

But I still really love the process of writing books, if not the selling of books. Trying to tell any truly complex story in an article is like trying to shoe-horn an elephant into a matchbox — articles are too short, too shallow and pay poorly.

You can’t dive deeply or widely enough, even in a 5,000-word+ story, (which very few people assign now).

You need to write a book.

This week I finally sent in the proposal for my third non-fiction book to my agent. I’m nervous as hell. I hope she likes it. I hope she doesn’t require more work on it as I’ve already spent about a year creating it (in addition to all my other paid work.); it’s about 10,000 words.

The real challenge will be finding a publisher to pay me enough to actually make writing it worth my time financially. Let’s say — hah! — I got a $100,000 advance, a sum extremely difficult to attain.

If I did, and if we could negotiate it into three payments, (also difficult now) — on signing the contract, on my delivery of the manuscript and publication — I’d get about $28,000 to start out with, (after the agent’s 15 percent cut, always taken off the top.)

From that, I also have to fund all travel costs and research; (I’ve already started looking for researchers.)

Many non-fiction writers have full-time jobs and/or teach as well. Few writers can actually support themselves, and their families, only by writing books.

So….why write another?

Surely the world is full of books already?

Not this one!

Cross your fingers, please.

The basics of freelancing

In behavior, blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Media, work on April 9, 2013 at 12:29 am
English: Traditional freelance writer work system.

English: Traditional freelance writer work system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I get asked this question a lot: How do you make a living full-time freelance?

While this post may answer some of your questions, email me at caitlinvancouver@yahoo.com, hire me at my hourly consultation rate, and you can ask whatever detailed questions you like! Or show me copy, or queries, or whatever you need…

 There are five keystones to a successful freelance career:

1) Get really good at what you do

You might be a writer, artist, musician, hair-stylist. No matter how much you hate your current job, desperate to flee cube-world and commuting, until your skills are sufficient to attract and retain repeat clients in a highly competitive marketplace, you’re not ready for prime time. Do whatever’s necessary to get really good at your skill. If you’re a writer, read smart and helpful how-to books by veteran writers, like this one or this one; attend writers’ conferences, like this one on April 26 and 27th in New York City; take classes, like the online ones offered here.

After your skills are developed and you have multiple clips (samples) to prove it, you’re ready for the next step.

2) Find a network of editors or clients who want your copy

This is a lot of work and requires strategic thinking. If you have a specialty — science, kids, medicine, sports, business, food — it’s easier to target specific markets. Be prepared to be ignored, a lot. Your job, like any salesman, is to pre-qualify your leads; i.e. do they pay enough? Is their contract workable? Are they a PITA to work with? Do your re-con before you pitch to avoid disappointment at best, heartbreak and financial nightmares at worst.

 3) Produce great stuff so they want more

Seems pretty obvious. If your work is stellar, (100 percent accurate, properly-sourced, attributed, clean, well-written, intelligently-structured), your odds of repeat business increase. Always under-promise and over-deliver. Never even consider missing a deadline. As you gain confidence and skill, take on some assignments whose scope or prestige or pay rate scare you a little. Don’t risk disappointing your client, but you have to grow!

English: Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan & Ne...

English: Bird’s eye panorama of Manhattan & New York City in 1873. There’s plenty of clients down there! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4) Get to know other writers (or fellow freelancers in your field)

If you’ve done steps 1-3, your name and reputation will begin to precede you, locally, regionally or even nationally. Join as many industry groups as possible, like this one, and this one, for writers, and sign up for as many volunteer positions as possible. Then show up with goods ideas and follow through; too many “volunteers” like to add a nice line to their resume — and don’t do jack.

This way people will get to know you personally, not just as some random photo on a website. I’ve learned far more about who’s really worth knowing through my many years serving on boards of writers’ groups than any conference or quick coffee with someone.

If you’re fortunate, some of your competitors will eventually decide to share some of their own contacts; we all occasionally get overwhelmed with too much work and not enough time, or fall ill, have family emergencies or take vacations and need to refer clients to someone we know will do a kick-ass job on our behalf.

The smartest freelancers who reach out to me for help, advice or a contact include several offers of their own contacts in that initial email. Of course I write them back right away. Who wouldn’t? Just because you need a lot of help doesn’t obligate anyone to give it to you!

The fourth step, referrals to good clients, only comes after people know you are consistently ethical, smart, reliable and generous. That means plenty of number three. People talk; make sure what they have to say about you is what you’re hoping for.

5) Repeat

The job of marketing never, ever stops. Your clients’ needs change all the time as gatekeepers and decision-makers get hired, fired, promoted or demoted. Their budgets may bloom, or wither or disappear altogether. Be sure to make nice to some smart, ambitious young ‘uns, even if they’re your kids’ age. They’re probably the ones signing the checks, if not now, in a few years.

Don’t believe me?

Here’s best-selling business guru/author Seth Godin, from his daily blog:

Brand, Permission and Expertise…

In just three words, there’s the huge chasm between the trusted, experienced freelancer, the one you’re happy to hear from when she has a new idea, and the newbie or the short-term maximizer. Those guys have to start from scratch, each and every time.

Think about the individual, the entrepreneur or the small organization that has built up trust with a given market, that has permission to talk to that market and that has the expertise to execute on what it promises… Once you have those three, you call the shots. If, on the other hand, you’re merely a hard-working employee, doing what you’re told, you’re never going to get what your effort ought to produce.

A writer’s week

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, work on December 1, 2012 at 12:04 am

Here’s my desk, messy as usual…

In the middle of American Thanksgiving, last weekend — at 12:30 on Saturday — I got an email that made me cry.

Having applied for one of the country’s most competitive journalism fellowships, for which hundreds try each year, I was told I’m one of 14 finalists. They will only choose six, so it’s far from a sure thing. If I win, I’ll receive funding for six months. I go to Washington, D.C. Dec. 10, with only 15 minutes in which five judges will question me further, to determine who will win.

Wish me luck!

I worked this week on two very different projects, another 2,500 word feature for The New York Times business section, my fourth for them since April. I also finished up a 20-image slideshow for the DIYnetwork, an on-line branch of HGTV, focused on interior design; writing wasn’t the skill needed here but a strong visual sense as I pored through dozens of images, chose the ones I think best, then contacted architects, designers, photographers and manufacturers to get their permission.

I pitched a few ideas, but didn’t hear back. I’m still “saving string” — accumulating clips and sources — for my next two non-fiction book ideas as I’ve found a new agent to work with. I hope to write both book proposals in December, unpaid work I never like much but the only way to sell books to publishers; a book proposal, for those who have never written one, is essentially an intellectual blueprint, laying out clearly what you hope to say, to whom and in what detail.

I have to hire a new assistant, something I’ve been putting off, a little — a lot — weary of having to train new people every few months. I’m aware that if I paid $20/hr+ I’d keep them longer, but I’ve yet to see any difference in skill or attitude between people I pay $1o to $15 an hour.

I read a thriller for fun, and am halfway through a great new business book (yes, really) about personal finance, trying to find someone to pay me to review it. I speak next week to a local women’s club, hoping to sell copies of my book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

I have a few story ideas I need to pitch to magazine and newspaper editors. This is the part of my writing business I enjoy least, busy enough juggling immediate, short-term and long-term projects as it is.

Our only car was in the shop all week for a viciously costly — four-figure — repair, the second one that size in a month. Double whammy, as living in the ‘burbs without a car is hopeless. The good news? I walked my hilly neighborhood at dusk, savoring the terrific Hudson River views, cutting through people’s backyards and made all sorts of discoveries I’ve never noticed in 24 years driving quickly along the same streets. I was inspired and moved by this terrific blog post, featured on Freshly Pressed, about how much the writer saw during his hour-long neighborhood walk.

The trees still have many of their red, orange and yellow leaves and I could shuffle my feet through huge piles of them on the sidewalk, happily feeling like a five-year-old.

As we head into the final month of 2012, I’m trying to plan ahead for 2013. The business of journalism and publishing is changing so quickly, though, it’s hard to know where to best expend my energy.

Next year, if all works out as I hope, I’ll sell two books to publishers, take a six-month break from this hustle with my fellowship income, do more paid public speaking and find more new markets for my work; this year I found nine, three of which didn’t last long. I always prefer, whenever possible, to create long-term relationships with repeat business.

But people change jobs and sometimes a new working relationship fails to pan out for either side.

How was your week?

So you want to be a writer? How badly?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on September 18, 2012 at 1:31 pm
Writer's Stop

Writer’s Stop (Photo credit: Stephh922)

Many people say they want to be professional writers.

Having taught journalism and writing to adults and to college students and writing professionally since 1978, I wonder, though, how many really do.

Here are some of the things you need if you truly want to make a living as a writer of fiction, non-fiction or journalism.

Self-confidence

If you’re too scared to attach your name to your work, or to publish it, or to show it to blog readers/editors/agents, how will you ever be(c0me) a published or read writer? Every writer is scared shitless on some level, often on so many levels we resemble a multi-storey office tower. But the whole point of writing is sharing your voice and your ideas with others. You have to be certain you have something to say.

Workshops and classes and graduate school can be amazingly helpful. Or they can sap your self-confidence as you place more value on others’ opinions (and grades.)

Humility

Being a writer means you’ll face a lot of rejection. You have to listen to feedback — whether about your ideas, your execution of them, your crappy attitude, your procrastination.  Every single person whose work has been selected, edited and chosen by others as worthy of publication faced the same challenges. Get over it!

If you’re not ready for rejection, you’re not ready to be a published writer.

Talent

Without which, you’re toast. But talent is subjective, so every rejection can mean you’re lousy — or you just haven’t found your audience yet. You’ll know pretty quickly, because you will sell and keep selling, if you have the goods.

My favorite success is the humor essay about my divorce I sent in to an American women’s magazine, who sent me a smarmy rejection letter. I sent it to a Canadian women’s magazine — who published it and submitted it for a National Magazine Award for humor.

It won.

Persistence

The single most essential element of writing success.

I know people now writing their third or fourth (unpublished) novel. My two non-fiction books, “Blown Away” and “Malled” were each rejected by 25 (!) publishers before a major New York house bought each one. The process was deeply unpleasant and shook my confidence to the core. But my agents (different agent for each) kept plugging away, because they believed in it.

I recently applied for a highly competitive fellowship, again. Too many people just give up and walk away, wounded and whining.

There’s a different and just as important sort of persistence — the commitment to your story and whatever it (legally/ethically) takes to get it first and exclusively. It took me six months of negotiation to win my exclusive story about Google that ran in The New York Times in June. It took me six months, starting from “Over my dead body!” from the PR official at one group to the interview with four of her clients, all young women convicted of gun-related felonies which I included in my book “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”.

Veteran magazine writer Jeanne Marie Laskas’ new book about America’s invisible workers, “Hidden America”, required a year negotiating with the FAA to finally watch air traffic controllers do their job. You can’t give up if you hope to get good stuff! It is never handed to you in a press release.

A thick skin

This is not a business of delicate phrases and warm hugs. People yell. Some people swear. Some do both. Readers will loathe you and say so in plain language on blogs and amazon where you cannot respond to them. Some critics will pan you.
A sensitive heart

And how, you ask, can you possibly have both of these? You must. The very best writers keep their hearts open — and readers can feel it.

Drive

What are you willing to give up or postpone to achieve success as a writer? Work at a horrible day job? Rarely see your husband/wife/sweetie/kids?  The world is filled with amusing distractions, but staying focused is the only way to reach your goals.

Emotional intelligence

Especially in journalism and publishing, EQ often beats IQ.

Can you mask your bitterness and frustration (see: drive, persistence, humility) with a big smile and a soft, gentle voice? Can you quickly find a way to relate to someone powerful who’s 30 years younger or older than you? Can you happily continue to network with people whose rudeness, arrogance and/or dismissal of you and your work may have left deep scars?

Members of this tribe are:

passionate about ideas; often deeply insecure about their talent; desperate for recognition and financial reward; ferociously jealous of those above them on the ladder. At every stage of this game, you’ll need every scrap of calm, mature self-management you can muster.

This is also a small industry based on long-term relationships. People in it move from city to city, publisher to publisher. They talk! They meet up every year at the London and Frankfurt Book Fairs and at BEA. We attend and teach at the same conferences.

Keep your nose clean.

Forgiveness

You’ll need to forgive yourself when your work fails to find a market. You have to forgive your agent and editor if your book doesn’t hit it big, because they probably gave you their best anyway. Your friends and loved ones will have to forgive you the endless, insane absences that a book or serious project demands — travel and/or solitude.

A stiff spine

No one will stiffen it for you on the latest Monday facing a pile of deadlines — or a dwindling bank account. That’s always going to be your job.

Voracious curiosity

If you’re not intensely curious about the world, what do you have to tell us?

If you’re not intensely curious about how writers think/write/teach/succeed/fail, why do you even want to be one?

If you’re not intensely curious about how to get better at your craft, even after decades, how will you do so?

Generosity

I’ve given away hours, probably months, of my time and skill and advice over the decades. These days I’m likely to insist on being paid for it, but this business depends on reciprocal help. This week, a friend asked me to read her essay — and wrote me a letter of reference for a fellowship. Last week I spent some time advising one of my assistants, a fresh Columbia J-school grad — and asked her if she’d make an introduction for me at the glossy monthly she’s starting to pitch.

Consistency

I recently started playing golf. I actually haven’t played a game yet. I just keep going to the driving range, buying a bucket of balls, and hitting for an hour or so. It’s a totally new set of skills. My husband says he won’t play a game with me until I can hit consistently.

Same for would-be writers. Anyone can bang out an awesome piece, once. But it’s showing up for years, doing every single one of them well, that creates a reputation for excellence.

Anyone in journalism, especially, has to crank out good stuff every day — sometimes every hour. That’s what they hired you for!

Here’s a powerful blog post about the determination and stamina it takes to stay in the writing game for the long haul.

Kristen Lamb’s blog about publishing offers a lot of excellent advice.

I really like this blog, Freelance Folder, which offers practical tips.

Want to hear the secrets of book reviewing? Come tonight to Park Slope, Brooklyn to this event at Barnes & Noble.

Do you dream of being a paid writer?

Are you one now?

How’s it going?

Twelve ways to blog better

In behavior, blogging, culture on September 9, 2012 at 12:13 am
compassion hearts

Go ahead — share your heart with us! (Photo credit: journeyscoffee)

Last December I posted fifteen tips on how to make your blog more compelling. A few of you have since emailed me privately to ask how to find more readers, and more quickly.

Since I started blogging here at WordPress, in July 2010, I’ve been chosen for Freshly Pressed five times, which has been a pleasant validation that I’m doing OK in this new medium.

Here are twelve tips I hope will inspire and help you to grow your readership.

None are necessarily simple or quick. Just because it’s “only” a blog doesn’t mean creating quality content is, or should be, painless.

We all have limited time and attention

You know how few seconds we’re willing to offer anything on line. If you’re demanding others’ attention, which you are with a blog, why does yours deserve it? What value are you adding to my day if I take three or five or even ten minutes to read it? Don’t just hit publish because you think a post a day is worth doing. Make every single post something you truly think worth others’ valuable and limited attention.

The very best blogs combine the personal with the universal

We all feel fear, crave humor, hope to avoid embarrassment, experience sadness or anxiety. How often is your blog being emotionally truthful?

Compassion and empathy rule!

Snark isn’t my default mode and the blogosphere is full of stupid photos and political rants. You don’t have to be smarmy, but realizing that 99% of us feel pretty much the same feelings all throughout our lives (yes, really!) will inform the best writing.

Check your spelling, vocabulary and grammar

Messy copy shows a lack of respect for your readers. Spell-check is not your best friend. A dictionary is.

Pretend your blog is a magazine and you’re the editor in chief

By that I mean, make me eager to read it, using great visuals — photos, drawings, video — and a terrific headline to tease me in. Magazine editors are intensely aware of the need to entice readers away from all their competitors. Think a little more like them.

You’re being read worldwide — be inclusive

It’s easy to forget that whatever you’re writing about may be read by someone thousands of miles away. It drives me nuts when people can’t be bothered to tell me where or who they are. It’s extremely common.

Use social media to spread your work, selectively

As I write this, 25 people have wandered over for a look from Facebook, where a guy I’ve never met who lives in California liked one of my posts enough to link to it. Don’t beat people to death with your opinions, but social media is the one sure way to attract new eyeballs and potential readers.

Leave thoughtful, funny and/or helpful comments on others’ blogs. Do it every day.

I did this every single day for more than a year. It took up a ton of time and I’m glad it’s no longer necessary, but it is something you simply have to do if you’re truly hungry for more readers. I read Freshly Pressed every day and often find two or three posts I can leave a useful comment on. “Liking” isn’t enough! Leave a trace of your personality as well, which may well intrigue others back to see who you are.

Fill out your “About” page. Today!

Even if you’re not writing using your real name, readers want to have some idea who you are and why they might want to listen to you. Include a photo, a recent and flattering one. If you’re too scared to write even a paragraph about who you are and why we should be reading you…are you really ready to blog?

Move us!

The very best blogs, like a piece of music, leave us feeling something emotionally, whether outraged, laughing or pensive. Bland = zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Edit, revise, repeat

Do you bang out your posts in an urgent frenzy to share your views with the world, and hit “publish” right away? If this is your automatic habit, time to re-think. Use every revision to make it tighter and stronger.

Use paragraphs

A blog that goes onandonandoandonandon without a single line break, or paragraphs, is just selfish and rude, the written equivalent of a big fat boring monologue.

Does anything you read in the real world lack punctuation and paragraphs?

What are some of your tips?

Rejection hurts? Pshaw! Man up, ladies!

In behavior, blogging, books, film, journalism, Media, Money, movies, photography, women, work on June 5, 2012 at 3:36 am
Aggie pitcher Megan Gibson pitches A&M to a Bi...

Aggie pitcher Megan Gibson pitches A&M to a Big 12 sofball victory over Iowa State, March 25th, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week in Brooklyn, home to the hipster/indie/creative class, an event was held to help adult women better understand the most crucial element of their business.

Not their fancy MFA or Ivy degree(s). Not their raw talent or burning desire to Change The World.

How to pitch their ideas to those with the authority and budgets to hire them.

This is from the Poynter Institute website (which is a terrific resource for all journalists, if you don’t know of it):

Hundreds of women (and a few men) crammed into a standing-room only bar in Brooklyn to discuss ways to close the byline gap.

At “Throw Like A Girl: Pitching the Hell Out of Your Stories,” which was organized by women’s nonfiction storytelling organization Her Girl Friday, a panel of experienced journalists and editors rejected suggestions that sexism or gender bias is exclusively responsible for the gap. Instead, they emphasized the need for young female journalists to develop the confidence to let rejection roll off their backs.

“You can’t see rejection as a real reflection of your value,” said New York Times metro editor Carolyn Ryan. “Every day, seasoned reporters pitch and get told no. Practicing pitching makes you a better pitcher. Rejection is part of the process.”

New York Times reporter Amy O’Leary, who hosted the discussion, said that as a young reporter she was so afraid of rejection that she would often agonize over her pitches for weeks or even months at a time. Meanwhile, she said, her male counterparts would happily send off pitches they had written in a day.

I’m going to piss a few of you off here and I’m fine with that.

Grow a pair!

I grew up in a family of full-time freelancers. My father directed film and television documentaries and series. My step-mother wrote television drama. My mother wrote journalism. No one had a paycheck, pension, paid sick or vacation days or any form of back-up beyond our own gumption and savings.

We ate well, drank good wine, traveled widely and wore cashmere. We drove new-ish good cars.

And rejection — of our ideas and pitches and plans and goals, no matter how hard we’d worked on them — was as normal to all of us as breathing. Nor was it anything more noteworthy.

So I really don’t buy this notion of women being too afraid to pitch, pitch, pitch again.

I wrote an essay about how well and carefully my husband cared for me after my hip replacement this year. So far, it’s been rejected by The New York Times, More and O magazine. I’ll sell it, or some version of it, to someone. Just not yet.

What makes me so sure?

Well, the essay I wrote about my divorce and pitched to Woman’s Day, which soundly rejected it, was bought by another women’s magazine — and won me a Canadian National Magazine Award for humor. Sweet!

But what if I’d curled up in a little sad ball, held a pity party — and never pitched it again? Rejection to a writer (any artist likely) is like blood to a surgeon — a messy and inevitable part of every workday.

If you can’t handle rejection, you’re not ready to make a living as a creative/independent person. Even people with cube jobs — especially people with cube jobs — have to pich their ideas, (if not for their day-to-day living) for buy-in to get their projects approved, funded or green-lighted, to their colleagues and bosses.

Do you find it difficult or terrifying to sell your ideas?

What are you doing to get over it?

Ten things writers don’t want to hear — and five that we welcome

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, work on May 30, 2012 at 12:27 am
Merlin dictating his prophecies to his scribe,...

Merlin dictating his prophecies to his scribe, Blaise; French 13th century miniature from Robert de Boron’s Merlin en prose (written ca 1200). (Manuscript illustration, c.1300.) Arthur Cotterell, The Encyclopedia of Mythology, Lorenz Books/Anness Publishing Limited, 1996-1999, p. 114. ISBN 1-85967-164-0. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone who earns his/her living as a writer hears some mighty stupid shit along the way. Often.

 Like:

I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’m going to do that when I retire. Because, you know, it’s dead easy, right? Maybe you haven’t heard that tired old joke about the neurosurgeon who meets a writer at a party and tells the writer, “I plan to take up writing when I retire.” And the writer says…

Who’s your agent? Will you introduce me to them? I know you’ll tell me because you want to share your contacts with me. My work is exactly like yours and every bit as good. I just know it. (While you’re at it, make a pass at my partner or spouse.)

How are sales going? Oh, really? But I plan to be a successful writer.

Have I read anything you’ve written? And I would know everything you read because….?

Who do you write for? Yes, an innocent question. But, all too often, a tedious demand to prove your credentials. Zzzzzzzzzz.

Are your books best-sellers? Of course. Not.

My last three books were best-sellers. I know, already. And you know that I know.

I loved my MacArthur grant/Pulitzer/Neiman. So much fun! Get the hook.

Will you read my proposal/manuscript and tell me what you think? Sure, for a fee.

Oh, you charge for that? Of course not. Money? Every writer gets a lifetime numbered card from the government. We show it every time we rent a home and buy gas and groceries and clothes and medicine. We get a 50% discount for being, you know, creative! Not.

Here are five winners:

I loved your book(s). My favorite part was when…The whole point of writing is being read. Carefully.

Will you come and speak to our book club? Many of us enjoy meeting enthusiastic readers face to face and answering their questions. (Other authors are too shy or busy.)

Will you come and lecture at my school? For a fee that includes travel time, sure. Every unpaid hour for someone self-employed is lost income. You, the teacher/professor are earning a salary, paid sick and vacation days and, if lucky, a pension. Yes, I get that being invited to share my knowledge is an honor. I do. But my bills don’t care.

Will you speak at our annual conference? Of course we’ll pay you a fee and all travel expenses. You got it!

Are you available to offer coaching or editing — what do you charge? $150 to 200 an hour. When do we start?

For those of you who may still want to write/sell a book or two or three — here’s a very cool blog post with advice from Joyce Carol Oates who suggests the best way to develop a strong sure authorial voice (and readers hungry for more of it) — blog!

“Are you still writing?”

In art, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, family, journalism, life, Media, work on May 15, 2012 at 4:04 am
Homework Session

Homework Session (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They always ask this with a little chirpy voice. Like…really?

They’re usually people with office jobs and big paychecks and paid sick days. People who line up every morning to catch the bus or train or subway and some of whom pray for reprieve from the vocational choice they’ve made.

Writing for a living looks so damn easy. No stress! No boss! No demands or deadlines!

Anyone can do it, right?

I thought I was alone in hearing this annoying question after spending my entire life as a journalist and author.

But Roger Rosenblatt, a much bigger name than I here in the U.S., gets it too, as he writes in The New York Times Book Review:

And, as far as anyone in the family can see, I do nothing, or next to it. This is the lot of the writer. You will hear someone referred to as “the writer in the family” — usually a quiet child who dresses strangely and shows inclinations to do nothing in the future. But when a supposedly grown-up writer is a member of the family, who knows what to make of him? A friend of my son-in-law’s asked me the other day, “You still writing?” — as if the profession were a new sport I’d picked up, like curling, or a disease I was trying to get rid of. Alexander Pope: “This long disease, my life.”

Writers cannot fairly object to being seen in this way. Since, in the nothing we do — the “nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (Wallace Stevens) — we do not live in the real world, or wish to, it is fruitless and dishonest to protest that we do. When family members introduce us to one of their friends, it is always with bewilderment camouflaged by hyperbole. “This is so-and-so,” they will say, too heartily. “He’s a great and esteemed writer.” To which their friend will reply, “Would I have read anything you’ve written?” To which I reply, “How should I know?”

Everyone wants to be a writer — it looks like so much fun! Sit around the house in your pajamas all day waiting for inspiration. Sign me up!

Even the plumber who recently came to my apartment, and socked me with a $225.00 bill for fixing our only toilet, said “Oh, when I retire I want to be a writer.”

“You don’t,” I warned him, wincing as I wrote the check. “Most of us don’t make a lot of money.”

“Oh, I just want to be a successful writer,” he replied. “You know, like John Grisham.” (Who last year raked in a cool $18 million.)

Those of us who’ve been cranking out journalism or book-focused copy for a few decades, even with some nice reviews, (my first book was called [swoon!] “groundbreaking and invaluable” by one influential publication), know it’s a risky way to make a living. Because your “living” can vary from $4,000 a day to $4,000 a year.

Last year I made more money from public speaking engagements and a TV option from CBS for my memoir, “Malled” than I did from the book itself. It cost me 10 percent of the option income to have an entertainment attorney review the inch-thick contract with CBS negotiated by two agents — now taking 20 percent of the option cash for their input.

I waited 12 months after publication for the final instalment of my advance, which, after my agent took her standard 15 percent cut, came to $8,500. That’s a year’s income, or more, in sub-Saharan Africa. In suburban New York, (with no kids to support), that lasts quite a bit less.

Here’s a great list from Forbes.com, and fellow journo/blogger Jeff Bercovici, why journalism still kicks ass as a way to make a living. Because it just does.

(Here’s a brilliant blog post with a visual of how “success” appears to different people, including writers.)

So, why do so many people long to be writers?

People want to be rich. If writing doesn’t make you rich (and it certainly can for those who hit and stay on the best-seller list and/or sell their work to film or television), then why the hell are you bothering?

People want to be famous. If your book is on a shelf in a store, you’re the bomb! (So is weed-killer and diapers, but hey, retail exposure is cool, right?)

People want to be on TV/radio/blogs. They crave global attention. Because then life will be so different. (Not!)

People want to feel cool and creative. As opposed to cube life with 10 days of vacation.

People want to have other people quote them as wise and witty experts. Not just their Mom.

People want to feel validated as having something compelling to say, with millions eager to listen to them. Not just their Mom.

So, having published two non-fiction books (so far), is any of this true? Does it happen?

Sort of. I’ve met a few people who knew my name before I walked into the room. That can be pleasant.

I write because it’s how I make sense of the world.

I write because it stitches me back into the crazy quilt of other people’s ideas and feelings.

I write because my skill and talent and hard work, even working freelance for most of my life, have still allowed me to earn and save more than the average American with a steady paycheck.

I write because it allows me to indulge my insatiable curiosity about the world and get paid to do so.

I write because it has allowed me to meet everyone from Queen Elizabeth to convicted felons to Olympic athletes to a female admiral to the Inuk man who greeted me on a snowmobile when our tiny plane landed in his village just south of the Arctic circle.

I write because…

I’m a writer.

Why do you write?

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