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Monday, February 19, 2018


An Exercise in Observing

Yesterday we had an unusually warm day for February, so although I had a zillion chores to do I headed outside for a two-mile walk. I turned on a podcast and began the familiar route, and on this day like so many others, I found that there were many things to observe. Every time I head outdoors for my exercise, it also turns into an exercise that I could use in my own writing.

For example:

Even over my earbuds I could hear the sound of bullfrogs that reside in the water right off the neighborhood greenway. Their croaking brings back childhood memories of visiting my grandparents’ home in the countryside where there wasn’t much else to hear besides the chirping crickets and birds and call of the frogs in a nearby pond. That is the sound I would blissfully fall asleep to after a long day of exploring the property and visiting the farm animals.

Passing by one house I could smell something delicious being cooked on an outdoor grill—I could imagine a family gathering on the outdoor patio with plates of teriyaki burgers and good conversation—and maybe some ice cream for dessert. It made me miss my own family who lives across the country.

Another household was doing what I should have been doing, laundry. I could tell by the fragrant smell of laundry detergent and fabric softener that caught my attention as I walked by. For some reason that warm and fresh smell envelops me in comfort—it’s a sense memory I’ve had for as long as I can remember—although I don’t know exactly when it started. Whenever I walk by a house and smell this I get tears in my eyes.

On the greenway I saw scores of people doing the same thing I was doing—trying to take advantage of the beautiful weather. I ran into a family biking and had to step off the trail because two older women in the group (helmets and all) were a bit wobbly on their bikes. It looked like they hadn’t been bicycling in awhile and were fearful as they slowly rode past me with apprehensive smiles. A few minutes later I met two young parents carefully guiding their preschooler on a bike with training wheels—it was such a dichotomy from the two women I had just encountered. The little boy was all smiles and in no hurry—even though a teenager on a scooter (and not one of those motorized ones) was approaching behind them. I smiled as I recognized the teen as my daughter who wasn’t glued to her phone and was truly happy to be out exercising (she hates bikes but loves that scooter).

The walk wouldn’t have been complete without seeing a dog or two. I nodded at the older man walking his dog while he puffed on his pipe. I swear his dog, an adorable Corgi, smiled at me as I walked by.

It’s amazing what types of ideas and scenes can come to you while you’re doing something as mundane as taking a walk or sitting in a coffee shop. I came home with ideas for essays (the connection between family and food as I thought about my grandmother in Texas who still makes the best tortillas I’ve ever eaten), a YA character whose sensory processing disorder makes her fearful of riding a bike, although she is athletic in other ways, the heart-healthy benefits of owning a dog, etc.

Have you done a similar exercise in observing recently? What ideas did you take away from it?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor whose short story, “The Polaroid,” received first place honors in the Suspense/Thriller category of the 2017 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards. Visit her website at

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Sunday, February 18, 2018


Interview with Mary Tonne Schaefer: 3rd Place in the Creative Nonfiction Contest (Q1 2017)

Mary's Bio:

Mary Tonne Schaefer writes short fiction and creative nonfiction from her home in Vienna. Yes, THAT Vienna ... Vienna, VA, fifteen minutes outside Washington, DC. Transplanted from rural beginnings—Rock Rapids, IA—to an ultra-urban area, she explores small-scale universal themes that live in all locales.

Although in “Missing” Mary shares personal freak outs and misadventures created by her growing forgetfulness, her favorite focus is others’ backstage dramas. She best loves sharing glimpses into peoples’ unofficial bios ... spontaneous moments and unrehearsed secrets and struggles that weave the common threads of friendships (and feuds). Earlier efforts submitted to WOW contests are “Trending” (a small family in a rural town faces surprisingly painful diversity conflicts) and “Safe at Home” (an early-Alzheimer’s-afflicted elder causes ripples in the routine of the young family he joins).

Mary says she’s working at embracing living and writing outside her comfort zone ... because life makes her do that anyway! Her recent and improbable response to David Wiencek’s devilishly “impossible” writing prompt appeared in The Nervous Breakdown, Dec. 18, 2017. Her (long-ago) first creative nonfiction publication is “Jury of Peers.”

If you haven’t done so already, check out Mary’s award-winning story “Missing” and then return here for a chat with the author.

WOW: Congratulations on placing 3rd in the Creative Nonfiction Contest! Was there a particular moment that prompted you to write this piece, or what encouraged you to write it?

Mary: A clutch of conversational “brain drops” forced me to face the issue. My increasingly uncomfortable “tip of the tongue” lapses really bugged me. Despite problems like a plague of frequently forgotten passwords—even to the point of looming email lockout—that kind of problem wasn’t the biggest. On-the-spot verbal “in-alacrity” alarmed me. I rationalized publicly but I couldn’t fool myself that I urgently wanted to keep my words working, so I sat down to “write my way” toward answers in "Missing."

WOW: I like that idea of writing your way towards answers. What was your writing process like for this essay? (How did you start? How did you revise?)

Mary: My operational process was the same (research, write, revise, cut … repeat). But the thought process was different. Although I was dealing with a subject where I needed objective information, what I wanted was a “happy ending.” This was nonfiction—but not someone else’s story. It was my life. Did I even want to explore it, let alone write it? Did proximity color my process? I began as usual, checking out a range of medical research resources. At first, my research query frame reflected my fear: searching on “forgetting” not “memory.” But “memory” turned out to be the way professionals phrase it. And that helped plug me into the positive and begin writing.

WOW: Sounds like an interesting learning process. What did you learn about yourself or your writing through this essay?

Mary: I’m quite private but I’m glad I stepped out and shared instead of continuing to fumble and feel bad. Friends offer, “Same here” and “Welcome to my world.” They need to talk about it too. Research reinforced what I had only hoped was true. My self-diagnosis (not always the best thing, I know) indicates I’m in the normal, neuron-wearing-out pool. But the facts I’ve learned are worth broadcasting, including that possibly up to 30 percent of memory decline cases may be preventable through modification of risk factors and behavioral changes. So, now I’m working on a new piece.

WOW: Oh exciting! I hope it’s something you can share with us when you’re ready. In your bio it says you best love “sharing glimpses into peoples’ unofficial bios ... spontaneous moments and unrehearsed secrets and struggles that weave the common threads of friendships (and feuds).” This is so fascinating! Can you tell us more about this interest and how you observe people and use these concepts in your creative nonfiction?

Mary: Yes, the fiction and nonfiction themes that draw me in are those small pivotal moments of facing what you feel horribly unequipped to deal with or just plain don’t want to look at … but you do. In “Missing” I wrote about my own moments and feelings. I hear the conflicts all around me in everyday life and I think it’s great to have a safe haven (a book, an essay, a personal conversation) to “pull into” to see how another person/character deals with similar issues. If we can find a sensitive way to inject humor or optimism, all the better, so I try for that outlook and tone.

WOW: Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?

Mary: There are many, many role models but three stand out as inspiring me to try my best to see, feel, capture other moments, subjects and settings, even if the reach exceeds my grasp.

Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek pouring out the small moments--raw, real, difficult, stunning, ugly/beautiful. She opens with her night-marauding tom cat disturbing her sleep, depositing bloody paw prints so her chest appears in daylight as though “painted with roses.”

Chelsey Clammer, especially in her essay Ecstasy within Body Home, reaching out to connect with her father, SHOWING the moment where she opens herself to ask for a response on something important to her. And then, it’s not his answer but their acts of asking and answering, “Now, his words glitter and glow through my skin. That permeable organ, a part of me finally letting a part of him in. A thing I’ve never before done, and I can feel the fact of it conga up and down my back.”

Joanne Beard, in The Fourth State of Matter as she interweaves the unimaginable: real time moments of her marriage disintegration, her disruptive house disrepair, her sadly declining long-time pet and … all this within a single week … with the tragic 1991 shootings of her University of Iowa. graduate school office mates.

WOW: Thanks so much for those recommendations! Anything else you'd like to add?

Mary: Yes, absolutely, I have so much appreciation for WOW for the wonderful, effective, engaging, encouraging teachers and classes and for WOW itself as a forum for publishing! It's great to have the challenge of the contests to try to reach new heights in writing and sharing. Engaging with the teachers and other students is a great experience and gives great depth to the online environment.

WOW: Thank you, Mary, for your wonderful writing and thoughtful responses. Happy writing!

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.

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Saturday, February 17, 2018


Writing Advice From Readers

It’s that time again! Last year I wrote about what my students wanted to read, and this year I’m back to give you an update.

I spoke with only the most eager of readers to compile this advice – readers of non-fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, paranormal – you name it, they read it. Surprisingly, many of them gave me the same items on their “want” list. Keep in mind, they may be juniors in high school, but they read widely. Some are devoted to young adult literature, but many read books geared towards adults.

So, without further ado – I give you their advice.

1. Share your experiences

This advice is from non-fiction and fiction readers alike. They want the truth – the REAL truth – and they want it in book form. When I asked if they were hoping to relate to the characters, the answers were mixed. Some wanted to get their hands on new experiences. Others were hoping to validate their own. Either way, give them the truth – the whole, ugly truth – and don't sugar-coat it.

2. Revise your villains

Readers are tired of cliché villains. You know the type: pure evil, driven by malice, with no qualms about killing everyone around them. Instead, they want antagonists who are morally gray. Make sure they are good in some ways, but bad in others. Students want to like portions of their personality, but loathe some of their decisions.  Keep the villains real – especially in fantasy.

3. Create morally ambiguous protagonists

While this may seem contrary to what a protagonist should be, that’s what the students want. They are tired of the perfect hero and heroine. Give them someone with questionable morals who we can still root for. Create believable, fallible heroes.  Again – move away from the cliché.

4. Get rid of the weak woman

My romance and fantasy readers were adamant on this one:  Bring on those strong women! They are tired of romance novels that portray women as the weak one in the relationship.  One student advised, too, that sometimes the women will start “cool and strong and interesting,” but become weak once the male takes over. So, keep those women consistently strong.

5. Cool it on the crazy names

As one student so aptly put it, “Why does every character have some weird name like Opal Windstorm? It’s okay to name your protagonist “Cathy.”’ While it can be fun to come up with a name of which no one has ever heard, the readers may be tired of it. Something to consider the next time we start making up names.

6. Every relationship doesn’t have to end in romance

“It’s like salt,” one student said. “We all like a little salt, but once you’ve had too much, you feel sick.” In short, not every relationship has to end in romance. They’d like to see men and women be friends without it crossing over into a romantic relationship. “One romance is okay,” said another student, “but leave it at that. Stop match-making all of the characters.”

There you have it!  No matter your genre, these pieces of advice are all worthy of consideration.  Hopefully their advice will inspire your writing!

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.

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Friday, February 16, 2018


Friday Speak Out!: Fear and the New Writer

by Tiffany Connolly

Fear is a dichotomous entity; it grips my resolve and simultaneously propels me in the right direction. As a “new” woman writer, fear of being judged, being boring, or of creating meaningless discourse is what holds me back from really putting myself out there.

I put “new” in quotation marks because I have successfully engaged in multiple forms of writing my entire life, but only now am I beginning to put effort into introducing my writing to an audience and to hopefully turning writing into a full-time career.

Combatting my self-doubt is a conscious effort that involves being present and mindful of my fear. Fear can hold a special place in the drive toward success; It gives me the determination to produce meaningful content, to seek the right audience and to focus my tenacity in the right direction. I am beginning to learn to use my fear as a catalyst to finding success and not letting it drown me in negative inner dialogue or writing apathy. Grappling with fear and self-doubt requires me to open up to its potential and appreciate it for what it’s worth, without letting it control me. I do my best not to become enveloped in my fear but to be mindful of it; a watcher of my own diffidence. In this way I can analyze its source and question its outcome; inevitably coming to the realization that what I should fear most is not writing, not going public with my words.

My first step in battling this inner turmoil is to join with a group of writers like myself. As a mom to a two year old, fear isn’t the only thing holding me back, it’s lack of time. I’ve begun replacing the phrase, “I don’t have time for (insert any activity here)”, with “(said activity) isn’t a priority” in all areas of my life; with health, work, family, creativity, etc. In essence, that means I am saying that when I don’t have time to write, I am saying that “writing is not a priority”. Well, writing is a priority. And fear can be a heavy beast, but when we harness it and direct it in a positive direction, we become unstoppable.

* * *
Tiffany Connolly is a freelance writer, educator and mother to an inquisitive and rambunctious toddler. She runs an online community of writer-moms, Scribble ‘n Scribe, whose mission is to inspire and encourage moms to carve out time to hone their craft ( Tiffany graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Art History where she contributed to the school’s newspaper, The Daily Bruin and received her Master’s in Education from Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. She currently teaches high school English in Truckee, CA, where she moonlights as a bass player in an all-girl 90’s cover band.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Thursday, February 15, 2018


The Good, the Bad and the Really, Really Ugly

I'm going to start in the middle and work my way out. (Did you really expect me to do something in a traditional way? Really?)

In January I got a brilliant suggestion from J. Glenn. I was in a rut with a manuscript--I was using the coulda-woulda-shoulda excuses instead of actually getting off my scared and cellulite-ridden rump and doing something like working on it so I could submit it. ("It" is my manuscript. Certainly, I need to work on my rear end, but where would I submit it?)

I needed to be held accountable.

If you'd like to read the post, here it is.

J. Glenn encouraged  prodded shoved me into being part of an accountability group. I threw the idea out... and nine writers took the bait. We planned on beginning in February. I got help from a tech-savvy friend--they insisted a Google site would be easy to set up and would serve our needs.

Well, it wasn't. I sweated (not just figuratively) as I went through the same steps for each writer as I created a page for each of them. You'd think doing something over and over would result in me being able to do it without my hand being held... but you underestimate my level of nincompoopness when it comes to computers. Eventually it was ready to roll out.

Unfortunately, it was not as private as I thought it would be. People who were not part of the group could stumble upon it. Because we didn't want our mutual butt kicking to have an audience, Google sites wouldn't work. I had to find another way to do it.

I think (finally) we've found something that's workable. Dropbox Paper allows comments to be made. Only invitees can see the docs. There were some hiccups. For example, I could only invite a certain number of people each day when sharing documents. It took several days, which meant that for a couple of days, a writer or two did not have access to their own document. Also, when cutting and pasting the goals from the Google site into the Dropbox, I screwed up and put the wrong goal onto a writer's page. She got compliments on it--she even noted what a wonderful goal it was... but she also noted it wasn't hers.


The good part? Already I'm seeing incredible connections forming. Writers commenting, "I know an agent who deals with projects like this... I could introduce you" and "What about such-and-such series? It might help you structure your novel" and "I'd love to be your beta reader when you're ready." That's what's going on with the whole group.

And what about me? How has this group impacted me (in just a week or two)?  Well, my manuscript (from 2016) has been gathering dust for months. My first goal: check the tense consistency of the first 25 pages. (I changed the tense midway through and even though I thought I'd gone back and fixed things, I wasn't sure.) Twenty-five pages isn't much, but right now my WIP is single-spaced, so it's about half of the text.) Of course I found other minor things to fix as I checked on the tense consistency. Good news: I've checked over the first half of my manuscript, and plan on doing the rest as my next week's goal. Just the public declaration, "I'm going to ______" got me moving forward.

How about you? What big, year-long goal do you have about your writing?  Don't you want to be nudged forward?

Sioux Roslawski is a procrastinator, along with a teacher, freelance writer and dog rescuer. She's now part of a butt-kicking accountability group, so basking in procrastinating is no longer possible. If you'd like to read more of her musings, you can check out her blog.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Have a Vicarious Valentine's Day

Have you ever felt as though you've lived an entire life in a world that exists only in your imagination? Philosophers have explored the idea of two worlds, a theory with many variations, but one that basically divides the world into the realms of the abstract and concrete, or universals and specifics.

Artists play an important role in this theory, charged with building bridges to those worlds we cannot see. Art allows us to explore that invisible world without losing our way or becoming what we fear. It's where we play and experiment and figure out who we are, who we can be, or who we don't want to be. The struggles we face alone are examined through the underlying connection to the larger abstract world, and writing can be a bridge that explores the depths of compassion, empathy, hatred, and love.

A few nights ago, when I should have been grading papers, I came across David Kirby's poem "All Art is the Blues." He summed it all up in the line, "You don't have to go to jail, Johnny Cash went to jail for you, for us all."

Here's the audio version of his poem:

Today is Valentine's Day, and romance is in the air. I know this because in the past few weeks I've seen dozens of attractive couples holding hands in jewelry and matchmaking-website commercials. Love doesn't always end well, though, and books allow us to live vicariously through the mock destruction of our souls without destroying our lives. (Would you really marry a vampire knowing a beach vacation is now completely out of the question? I don't think so.) But you may want to read a sad love story, or experience the bliss of falling in love again. If so, you have many options, including Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights or Anna Karenina.

Artists push the envelope into unfamiliar and often uncomfortable territory. We lead the way through the realm of abstract ideas where we can be brave, compassionate, lovesick, or something equally thrilling or terrifying.

Which imaginary world is real to you?

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and her short story, Shirley and the Apricot Tree, was recently published in Kansas City Voices. She earned the Writing Certificate from UM-St. Louis, and her poems have been published in numerous journals. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Interview with Kathy Joyce, Summer 2017 Flash Fiction Runner Up

Today we are talking with Kathy Joyce, one of the runner's up in the Summer 2017 Flash Fiction contest. If you haven’t had the chance, make sure you read her incredible story, “Secrets of an Old Maid” and then come back over and read her interview below. 

Kathy’s Bio:

With a certain plan for her life, Kathy started serious fiction writing nineteen years ago. A couple of months later she met her husband. (...plan a wedding, have a family, adopt a few pets, renovate a house, build a business, care for aging parents...) She wrote all those years in between, as President of M. Kathleen Joyce & Associates, serving clients as an organization development consultant, facilitator, and educator.

The fiction laid fallow, but the seeds took root; they now insist on flowering. So, Kathy is pruning a domestic thriller, fertilizing a mystery, and planting other literary seeds. On especially sunny days, she propagates short stories and flash, or sows creative nonfiction. America Magazine has published her essays, and her fiction has won prizes from, Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition (forthcoming), and Pulp Literature (forthcoming).

Kathy lives in Michigan with her teenaged son and daughter, bossy poodle, and very patient husband.

WOW: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Your story was so moving and incredibly sad, but so well told. What inspired this story?

Kathy: Thank you! I loved writing this story. Years ago, I saw a newspaper article about a young couple who bought a home from two elderly sisters. They found an infant’s skeleton hidden in a box. The story stuck with me. Did one of the women have the child? Why did they leave the skeleton in the house? I always assumed that they both knew about the pregnancy, but later, I wondered.

Overlaid on this story is my family history, (which relates to the setting, not the incident). My dad’s family homesteaded in the Dakotas in the late 1800s, and that era and location has always fascinated me. Add a familial propensity for storytelling over generations, and I have so much imagination about that time and place.

WOW: I love that you based this on something you read in the newspaper as well as your family history! I can see you are a busy writer and seem to be working on quite a couple of different books right now. How do you handle these projects on top of everything else in your life?

Kathy: Honestly, this is not something that serves me well. I love spinning a yarn, letting the novel flow. That’s the fun part. But I’ve learned that the payoff writing, the part that gets you to publication, comes in revisions, which don’t enthrall me. So, I start new stories to avoid revising the ones I have! My goal for 2018 is to finish the revisions on my first two manuscripts.

In terms of handling projects, I set goals. A lot of advice says to write every day, but getting daily words on a page is difficult with a business, a family, an elderly parent. So, I’ve expanded the definition of ‘writing’ to include making notes about stories, reading, connecting with other writers, and thinking through plotlines and characters. I let it all matter. So, I feel accomplished, even if word count doesn’t rise every day.

WOW: I can completely relate to avoiding revisions! I struggle with that myself. What is your greatest source of inspiration for your stories?

Kathy: My stories are mostly based on experiences or observations of people. I wonder about why something happened, and create a story. For personal experiences, I try to tell the story from the perspective of someone else in the situation, not me. For example, a man once asked me to buy him a loaf of bread. He had spent the last of his money on medicine, and had no food for his family. When I came out of the store with a bag of groceries, he cried. What must it have been like for him to realize his situation, and make the decision to become a beggar for his family’s sake? That question turned into a nice short story that I’m submitting now.

WOW: I love how you write stories from real experiences, but from another person’s perspective. What is your advice for new writers looking to make their way in short fiction? What is the best advice you've ever been told?

Kathy: I feel like such a new writer myself! I’m not an expert, but I can offer inspiration. First, writing short fiction has honed my writing skills so much! It is very different than writing a novel, but the revising and editing needed for short fiction benefits my longer work. It also gives me encouragement and a sense of accomplishment. I would advise any writer to try a variety of writing. Second, almost every story that I’ve had published or rewarded was rejected somewhere else first. Keep writing and keep submitting.

In the best writing class I ever took, the professor would have us write something, then say, “cut it by half,” or “add fifty words.” I still do that with my work. Once a story is ‘finished,’ I try to reduce the number of words by at least twenty-five percent. The stories always improve. Then I reduce or add words, based on submission guidelines.

WOW: What great advice that professor shared with you! And I couldn't help but notice the gardening metaphors in your bio. Do you like to garden or spend time in nature? How does that inspire you?

Kathy: As a concept, gardening is a life philosophy for me. The truth that things die and come back to life holds so much hope. Winter comes, and spring follows. Always. If plants die, there are infinite other plots to sow. That’s such a powerful idea when things seem lost or hopeless. It applies to writing too. How often do we bury a story because it’s not working, then a little idea sprouts, and soon that same dead story is blooming and growing? Same with rejection. It feels so lousy, but you plant the story somewhere else, and it thrives. I love the idea of growing words into stories, and ideas into plots and characters. Writing can be discouraging, but, in the end, like gardening, it’s lifegiving.

Thank you again Kathy for taking the time to chat with us and for your beautiful story!

Make sure you can find Kathy over at her blog and Twitter @Kathyjoycewrite and her website.

Interview by Nicole Pyles

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Monday, February 12, 2018


The Extroverted Introvert (In Other Words, A Writer)

A couple of weeks ago, this was my horoscope:

An extroverted introvert is a person who is proactively outgoing to avoid being rude though they prefer plenty of time to themselves to recharge and enjoy the hours however they please. Can you relate?

First of all, how is that a horoscope? That’s just a statement, thrown willy-nilly out into the universe.

But second of all, of course I can relate. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as an extroverted introvert until a few years ago, but as soon as I found out about this personality classification, I nodded. That’s me, all right. 

And it’s confusing, I know. I started out life as a total so-shy-I-wouldn’t-speak introvert. I became sociable and outgoing in my adolescence, an extroverted introvert (though I didn’t know it), through sheer will power and doggedness. So I know it’s possible to turn from wallflower to witty life-of-the-party. And now maybe you’re wondering so what? Who cares about extroverted introverts?

Well, perhaps you do, if you’re a writer.

It’s no surprise that many writers lean toward the introverted side of the personality scale. We tend to love introspection and prefer living in our imaginations rather than the real world. Just about every writer I know will admit to thinking up stories while fixing dinner or changing babies or driving to work…um, maybe we shouldn’t admit to that one.

The point is, writers live an interior life. Or would prefer to, if we didn’t have the outside world banging down our doors. And that can be a problem for a writer. Because these days, we have to regularly and purposefully go out those doors and engage with the world if we want to be successful in our writing careers.

This week, I participated in a Twitter party to launch the Chicken Soup for the Soul Miracles and More, and I really, really didn’t want to jump in. Wasn’t it enough that I posted the announcement on my Facebook page and blogged about it?

It was probably better than doing nothing. But I did realize the importance of spreading the word about a new release as far as the Chicken Soup publisher’s business goes, and I knew that if I jumped in, I might gain a couple of new readers and/or followers. So I put on my extroverted pants and waded in.

And I had a lot of fun. That’s the thing about us extroverted introverts. Once we get into the swing of things, we thoroughly enjoy ourselves! Or at least, I do. What starts out at a conference or a workshop or a party as me going so as not to appear rude ends up as something entirely different.

Turns out that in small doses, I like meeting people! I make new friends, and I invariably help my writing business, too. So here’s my advice to introverted introvert writers: follow the “Just for today” philosophy.

You know, like, “Just for today, I’ll go to this conference and I’ll do a little schmoozing.” Or “Just for this evening, I’ll mingle at this party with agents and editors.” Or even, “Just for this hour, I’ll talk to someone I don’t know.”

You can become an extroverted introvert, and you can even enjoy it! And best of all, after that conference, that workshop, that Twitter party, you can fall into your over-stuffed chair with a good book and a cup of tea and not speak to anyone for hours.

(Or maybe that’s just me. You do your own recharge thing, friends. You do you.)

Cathy C. Hall is a kidlit author and humor writer and extroverted introvert. See her latest story in Chicken Soup for the Soul's Miracles and More, "God of the Little Things." And if you have interesting stories, go check out the Chicken Soup topics for this year. Maybe she'll see you at the next Twitter par-tay!  (Or come visit Cathy at her blog where she's sorta the life of the party every day.)

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Sunday, February 11, 2018


Interview with Judith Sornberger, 2nd Place Creative Non-Fiction Essay Winner

Today, we welcome Judith Sornberger, who won second place in the Quarter 1 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest. Her winning essay, "White Crane Spreads Her Wings," can be read here if you haven't had a chance yet!

Judith is a poet, essayist, and memoirist whose newest poetry collection Practicing the World is forthcoming in 2018 from CavanKerry Press. Her most recent book, a memoir, is The Accidental Pilgrim: Finding God and His Mother in Tuscany from Shanti Arts Publications. She has one other full-length poetry collection Open Heart (Calyx Books) and five poetry chapbooks, most recently Wal-Mart Orchid, winner of the Helen Kay Prize (Evening Street Press). Sornberger has fallen passionately in love with practicing Tai Chi. She thanks her teacher Karen Meyers for her wise and gentle instruction and for encouraging her to become certified to teach Tai Chi, which she hopes to do in 2018. Judith has taught writing in a wide variety of venues, including prisons, community colleges, arts and community centers, and universities. She is professor emerita of Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, where she created the Women’s Studies Program and taught for 25 years. She lives on the side of a mountain in north-central Pennsylvania, where her nearest neighbors are deer, birds, bobcats, and bears.

WOW: Judith, congratulations on your 2nd place win for your essay,  "White Crane Spreads Her Wings." What made you want to write about Tai Chi? 

Judith: For me, both writing and practicing Tai Chi are meditative practices, so once I resumed taking classes, after a hiatus of many years, I found myself linking the two. Both drop me into deep interior spaces.

As a writer, I’m also intrigued and delighted by the language of Tai Chi, which is quite poetic, suggesting connections between the energy of human life and movement and the energies of the natural world and our sister creatures. When I “stand like a tree,” for instance, I feel myself rooted in the earth even as the crown of my head (in the words of my teacher) lifts skyward “like the leader on a pine tree.”

Other movements, like parting the clouds, swallows skim the lake, and wild dove spreads its wings, suggest a direct, physical link between ourselves and the world around us, even if we are inside a Tai Chi studio. This linking reminds me of the use of metaphor in writing.

I began recording the names of some of my favorite Tai Chi movements in my journal and eventually wanted to do more with them. That’s how I began my essay—by playing with these names and quoting my teacher.

WOW: Yes, I really love the way you connected the two. What an awesome idea. Why was this a good subject for a creative non-fiction essay?

Judith: I appreciate the creative nonfiction essay’s malleability and have admired the way that other writers have developed it as a hybrid form, introducing poetic riffs among narrative passages. In this essay, I wanted to work lyrical bits of writing into more prosy segments as a way of representing the way Tai Chi finds its way into my life—in small bits here and there.

WOW: It looks like you also write poetry and have had success getting poems published and winning awards. What are a couple tips you can give to our poetry writers out there?

Judith: I’m guessing you mean tips about publishing. It helps to pay attention to where some of your favorite poets—ones whose work you particularly resonate with—publish their work (journals, book presses, etc.). Read sample issues of these journals and books from these presses to see if you feel like your poems might fit with the editors’ aesthetics.

It’s always helped me to network with other poets—sometimes in a poetry group (sharing and critiquing our work) and sometimes with individual poets, long distance. In addition to helping each other improve our poems through suggested revisions, we are good resources for one another, providing ideas and opinions about possible markets for our work. For instance, my poet friend Alison Townsend worked with me on my poetry book manuscript Practicing the World and later suggested I send it to CavanKerry Press since she thought it would fit well into their list. And it’s turned out that CavanKerry is publishing the book this spring.

My final “tip” would be to try to be impervious to rejection, which is much easier said than done, I know. Most writers receive rejections on a regular basis. I certainly do. But I try to always have a lot of poems and essays out there making the rounds so that one rejection doesn’t bottom me out.

WOW: That is some great advice, especially about having the support system. You also have done some teaching of writing in various places. What is a writing lesson you hope all students learn from you?

Judith: That the best teachers are poems, essays, and books of all kinds. Reading widely and deeply is not only rewarding in itself, but it’s also a way of growing one’s writing. Someone once said (or wrote), that if you admire a certain quality in a writer’s work—Virginia Woolf’s narrative structure, Barbara Crooker’s lush translations of quotidian moments into poems, Mary Oliver’s intense focus on the smallest of nature’s creatures—you are probably capable of doing something like what they do. The object isn’t to copy their work, of course. But being able to understand what a writer is doing technically may indicate that you can do something like it. I can’t swear that it works that way, but it seems a hopeful, and possibly helpful, notion.

Having said all that, I have been enormously blessed in my teachers and continue to be in the teachers of online courses that I continue to take, such as those offered by Women on Writing. I hope that I have passed on to my students a thirst for learning. In Tai Chi, for instance, you might learn the Sun Form in just a few months, but you return to it again and again in your classes, even over a period of years, to go deeper into the practice and to learn the subtleties of breath and movement. As in Tai Chi, there is always something new to learn about writing and its possibilities

WOW: All of what you said is so true. Just this past week, we have had a few posts on the importance of reading when you are a writer. So, what are you currently working on? What's next for you?

Judith: I’m working on revamping a poetry book manuscript called The Long Habit of Bowing.
I’m also working on a collection of essays about women and their desks, tentatively titled A Desk of One’s Own. In these essays, I weave together stories of the desks of some famous women writers—such as Louisa May Alcott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton—with stories of my own desks and the desks of my ancestors, mentors, and friends. The desks become lenses for examining the lives and writings of these women.

WOW: That sounds really interesting. We will have to keep our eyes open for both of those. Thank you, Judith, and best of luck to you!

Judith: Thank you for this opportunity. It’s actually given me an idea about writing an essay on Tai Chi and writing!

Saturday, February 10, 2018


Reviews - the Book Building Blocks

How many books will I sell if I do a WOW! Women on Writing Book Blog Tour?

I wish I could easily answer this question, because it's one I am asked quite often. It reminds me of the chicken and egg question of old. Especially with Amazon and how the entire Amazon process works, you aren't going to sell books until you have high ranking reviews, but how do you get high ranking reviews if you haven't sold any copies? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? or should I say the sales or the reviews?

Here's where a WOW! Women on Writing Book Blog Tour comes into play. We get your book into the hands of readers and reviewers. Truthfully, you may not sell any copies during your WOW! tour. It's also impossible to track how many copies you sell as a result of the tour. There's not a simple math problem saying "Spend $350 on a WOW! tour and sell $500 worth of books", but I can say for certain that successful authors have turned to us for tours again and again because we get their books into the hands of readers. Their name as an author as well as the title of their latest book get shared on social media and become popular. Our readers review the books on their blogs but also on Amazon and Goodreads. It's these reviews and reviewers that help build a solid foundation for future sales.

Whether you've publishes with a small press, self published, or used one of the large presses, you can benefit from more reviews. A WOW! tour is one of the easiest way to get these reviews. We do a lot of the work for you. But don't take my word for it. Here's what Karen Jones Gowen said to a group of fellow authors on Facebook:

Has anyone else tried WOW Women on Writing for blog tours? 

I used them for my novel Afraid of Everything, and thought 
Crystal Otto was fantastic. I highly recommend them and her!

Eric Trant responded to the above post saying:

Ditto. This is my third tour. Great way to launch. (referring to Risen)

and he went on to say:
Yall contact me directly if you have any questions or need references
 for Crystal and WoW. Also, GUYS, don't let the name fool you. 
Women on Writing is open to men, too. 
I've had nothing but great experiences with them.

David Kalish had this to say:

I had a positive experience with the WOW blog tour Crystal arranged for my novel 
The Opposite of Everything. She stayed on top of everything, 
as friendly and organized, and gave me solid blog 
exposure at what I thought was a reasonable price

B. Lynn Goodwin recently wrote on her FB Author Page:

Fun to be on this tour!  (for her book Never Too Late)

We've had plenty of authors return to us with each book they've published. And I'd like to add that you don't have to be a female author to benefit from WOW! Women on Writing and our connections. David Berner and Eric Trant are both working on new books that will touring with us this year!

Drop us a note (at ) and let us know what you loved about your book blog tour with WOW! or let us know what you're working on and how we can help you this year! Let WOW! be part of your book and your success; together we can build a solid foundation with reviews!

Crystal is a council secretary and musician at her church, birth mother, babywearing cloth diapering mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, five young children (Carmen 10, Andre 9, Breccan 4, Delphine 2, and baby Eudora, two dogs, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.

You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff here, and at her personal blog - Crystal is dedicated to turning life's lemons into lemonade!

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Thursday, February 08, 2018


Why is Beginning Your Novel So Hard?

Talk to almost any novelist, and we all complain about the same thing: We have rewritten the beginning of our novels countless times and are still obsessing over them. And I'm not only talking about the first sentence. I'm focusing on the first few pages, or even first chapter. It's hard. But then again, beginning anything is hard--right? Beginning that diet or exercise program...beginning a new career...beginning to clean out the garage. So it's only natural that since writing takes so much skill and talent, getting the beginning of a novel just right is extremely difficult.

But you can do it!

What I've been noticing lately about novels I critique and my own work-in-progress is the two problems of deciding what is the inciting incident for this character's life and how to work in the backstory. These are old problems. These are issues that writers have had for years. These are topics we've already written blog posts about. And yet, it's still hard. Right? At least, it is for me and it seems to be for some of my fellow writers.

So what can we do?

Read other books. Sue suggested in yesterday's blog post several tips you can learn from reading other authors. Paying attention to where in the story published authors begin and work in the backstory will help you with your own decisions.

Find other writers to discuss this problem. I think this is one of the most important things you can do for your writing. You need to discuss in-person or online (with Skype or Google Hangouts) your work with other writers who will give you honest feedback.

Remember backstory is overrated. You only have to reveal enough backstory about your characters for readers to understand the story up to that point. And in the beginning, what readers really need to understand is the current major problem in the novel--not the other 100 problems your character had before this story started. Pay attention to what your reader really needs to know at each point in your novel and leave the rest of the backstory out.

Compare the inciting incident to something in your life. Even if you're writing a fantasy novel, your character is experiencing a problem that is similar to either something in your life or someone you know or read about. In your novel, is your character lost and trying to find their way home? So, in your own life, when you've been lost, what was the inciting incident that started this problem of being lost? A thunderstorm that made you miss a turn? Bad directions from someone who didn't want you to show up on time? Or...? Each problem in your life has had an inciting incident. Think about what started that real-life problem and then your character's inciting incident will be more clear.

Give yourself a break. I said it above, and I will say it again: Beginning anything is hard. It's even hard to sometimes sit down and begin the writing session! But you are doing it, and you will do it. Just be aware that it's difficult and work hard to overcome this.

Do you have any tips for beginning a novel (or memoir or short story, etc)? We would love to hear them below! 

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. To take her novel writing course, which starts the first Friday in March, please see the details here. To find out more about her, please see her website:

Chapter one photo above by Kate Ter Haar on

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Wednesday, February 07, 2018


Reading to Write

Earlier this week, I was fiddling around on Twitter when I came across this graphic. February is Love of Reading Month. How great is that if you are a writer? Most of us love to read.

Many writers stick to reading the types of books they write and that is important. Reading new books in your area helps you see what is being published. You’ll note changes in the market and what the competition is publishing.

But to develop your skills as a writer, reading different types of books can help you hone different writing skills.

Want to brush up on dialog? Read graphic novels. Sure there’s some narrative thrown in there but graphic novel dialog is short and to the point. Characters don’t have the opportunity to ramble. What they say has to drive the story forward. I just finished Hereville by Barry Deutsch. The setting is an Orthodox community and the hero is a tween girl.

What about characterization? I often spend too much time on how my character looks instead of how she looks at the world. That's the shallowest and easiest way to characterize. One of the best writers I know at slipping these details in oh so subtly is fantasy author Sharon Shinn.  I know how her characters in spite of the fact that she doesn't expend numerous words in telling me.

Do you need to study world building? Then read science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction. Note: If you’re going to opt for historical fiction, pick a book set in a time and place that isn’t well known. Writers who tackle these books learn how to introduce readers to complex worlds that they previously didn’t know anything about. Margaret Rogerson did an excellent job of this in An Enchantment of Ravens.

Do you have troubles with dramatic action scenes? It can be tricky to build tension, relate all the proper action, and write a scene that is long enough to truly shine. Susan Brockmann is excellent at this whether the scene involves using explosives to get into a safe room or a hand-to-hand fight with a serial killer.

Do you find that readers can almost always tell what is going to happen next in your story? Then pick up a mystery. Mystery writers are experts at planting clues in subtle ways while also scattering about red herring. I’ve been brushing up on cozies and have a whole host waiting for me at the library including Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett and Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley.

Then there’s also the skill of layering everything - set up, hook, plot, pacing, setting, 3 attempts, character building and more. Picture books are a great tool to learn how it all fits together because most of these books do it in 32 pages. Two great examples are After the Fall by Dan Santat and the nonfiction Fallingwater by Marc Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker.

One of the great things about being a writer is that we can brush up on our skills by doing something we love to do. Pick up a book and study your craft while also celebrating your Love of Reading.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins March 12th, 2018.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Meet First Place Flash Fiction Winner, Ezzy Languzzi

Ezzy Languzzi is a Latinx writer of speculative short fiction and contemporary MG/YA. Her fantasy short story “Naranjas Inmortales” appeared in Strange California: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction. Her second story to be accepted for publication, ‘Viva La Muñeca,’ will appear in the Upper Rubber Boot Books anthology titled Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up to No Good. She’s an MFA candidate in Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing at Emerson College and a 2017 Las Dos Brujas Writers Workshop participant. Her contemporary MG novel Where Hazard Meets Newhope was chosen as a finalist in the 2016 Pitch América competition. Ezzy holds a M.Ed. in School Counseling and B.S. in Public Administration. She lives in MA with her husband, son, and two crazy Labradoodles. Only her mother calls her Esmeralda.

Connect with her online:
Twitter: @EzzyLanguzzi
Instagram: @ezzylanguzzi

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Summer 2017 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Ezzy: Thank you! I can't even express how happy and surprised I was when the announcement email arrived in my inbox. I happened to be on a field trip and was sitting with colleagues at the time. They were so happy for me. Many learned for the first time that I write. To think that I almost didn't submit my story. Seeing that entries would be anonymized and judged on merit, only, gave me the courage I needed. From my experience, it's not uncommon for writers to lack confidence or fear rejection. It's human nature. It's also something I've been working to overcome. We don't know what we're capable of until we try.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, "Los Espantos?"

Ezzy: Experiences I had in the neighborhood where I grew up in Southern California influenced my writing of Los Espantos. My community experienced terrible gang violence during the late seventies. When I was in the fourth grade my family was nearly killed in a drive-by shooting. That incident led to my sisters and I not being able to step foot in our home for several days, due to trauma. A few years later, my father's barber shop was set on fire by the neighborhood gang. I was sixteen when I watched my family's livelihood burn to the ground in the middle of the night. Not a day of my childhood passed that I didn't dream of one day "escaping" to a safer community. I recognized the value of pursuing an education from a young age, because it would provide me with access to a professional career. There were times that I doubted my ability to achieve my goals, but I persevered. Even writing the answer to this question I remember the terrible feeling of being trapped and bidding my time with an eye toward the future. It's when I started writing that I examined my life and made a midlife career change. I returned to school for a graduate degree in school counseling, so that I could be the resource I'd needed most as a child.

WOW: You've been through a lot, and are a true success story.  Thank you for sharing your experiences. What key elements do you think make a great piece of flash fiction?

Ezzy: A great piece of flash fiction should tell a story. It's a moment in time that reveals a characters' dreams, wants, desires, while evoking a sense of place. It should have a beginning, middle, and end. Writing flash is an exercise in discerning the utility of every word used. In a lot of ways, flash fiction is more difficult to write than a short story. I think it's a wonderful way to learn how to tighten one's writing. I liken flash pieces to morsels that can be written anytime, anyplace. For example, I wrote "Los Espantos" using the Notes application on my iPhone. It started as a fleeting memory and over time developed into a story of unrealized dreams and loss.

WOW: I love the idea of using the Notes app on the phone to build a story in bits and pieces. You’re currently pursuing an MFA in Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing. Could share a bit about that experience, and why you chose to pursue that path?

Ezzy: I've come by most of my writing education through books and online courses. I started with Writer's Digest online workshops a few years ago, then enrolled in a WOW! fiction workshop with Gila Green. I wanted to further develop my writing skills and began to explore an MFA, but feared the amount of time spent away from home, sitting in class and commuting. My husband was diagnosed two years ago with a rare form of blood cancer and we have a fifteen-year-old son. Because I work full-time during the day, being home is important to me. I happened upon Emerson's online MFA in Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing while searching low-residency programs and applied. I'm enrolled full-time and survived my first term this past fall. The key benefit of Emerson's program is that lessons are delivered through Canvas asynchronously, which allows me complete my schoolwork anytime. My first term I took a course in utopian, dystopian, and apocalyptic literature and a writer's workshop, where I read and critiqued others' work, while sharing my own. I've never worked so hard in my life. The program is rigorous and as much as I complained, I loved every minute of it, ending the term with an A in each class. The flexible, online format is the best fit for my lifestyle.

WOW: Congratulations on the A that you earned, and good luck with your next courses! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Ezzy. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Ezzy: Absolutely! First, it's critical to find a writer's group who can offer feedback on our work. Family and friends are wonderful first readers, but it's better to have writers critique our writing. They're better able to impartially comment on elements such as structure, plotting, point-of-view, and pacing. Second, read read read. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read classics, memoirs, genre. I read quite a bit more than I write. Third, take writing classes, enroll in workshops, read books on the craft. We learn as much, if not more, from critiquing other's work as we do from writing our own. Lastly, don't self-reject!



WOW! Women On Writing now hosts two quarterly contests: one for fiction writers and one for nonfiction writers. Click on the links below for information and entry:

Quarterly Flash Fiction Contest

Quarterly Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

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Monday, February 05, 2018


Publisher Interview: Köehler Books

Last week we launched a book tour for B. Lynn Goodwin’s memoir, Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62. Lynn is a longtime friend of WOW, owner of Writer Advice, and a manuscript coach. So when I found out her book—which is gorgeous, by the way—was published by Köehler Books, I was intrigued and wanted to learn all about them. Lynn introduced us to president and owner John Koehler, and I asked him for an interview, which you’ll read below. We asked some tough questions (including how many books they traditionally publish, how many pages they read, and even if self-publishing with a publisher was actually vanity publishing!)—some questions were from me and some from our audience of writers—and I found his answers to be candid, pragmatic, and highly informative.

WOW: John, thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. I’m always interested in business “creation stories.” What inspired you to create Köehler Books Publishing?

John: Essentially it was based on my own personal needs. I had written my first (of seven) book, Bipolar by Koehler, back in 2004 and needed to get it published. Talked to some agents but they were on a different planet and I wasn’t looking for permission. I didn’t need their permission. I was demanding the right to be heard! So I decided to do it myself.

It was a God thing for me, and I was bound and determined to publish the book so that I could help people who also suffered from bipolar syndrome. I owned a graphic design studio, so I already had editors, and I designed it myself. I studied book interior designs and the mechanics of cover design. I had to sort out the distribution and printing and ebook. Eventually I found Ingram, and all was well in my world.

WOW: What an inspirational story! I relate to the need to tell your story your way, and to have creative control. I’m sure your authors are happy you chose this direction!

You offer three publishing packages, including traditional publishing. How many traditional publishing deals get awarded per year? What are some of the key elements you are looking for?

John: We publish about 75 books a year, and of those I’d say we do about 10-12 traditional deals. I don’t really care for Traditional publishing as a publishing model. It is a bad business model. I call it faith-based publishing because we are hoping and praying for returns. But we NEED to be in it because typically it means the best top-shelf work, and it keeps us legit in the literary world. It helps us to not be labeled a “vanity press,” and keeps us connected to agents, reviewers, awards programs and more. I like all that, I just don’t like the model.

Our criteria for a traditional deal is pretty tough:

  1. An amazing and inspired story that is superbly crafted and edited
  2. Collaborative authors who have an entrepreneurial collaborative attitude
  3. A verifiable track record of sales success from previous titles
  4. A strong marketing platform and promotional plan
  5. A dedicated following of readers

We get a TON of new authors who demand to know why they don’t qualify for a traditional deal. When we share that list with them they become quiet. We don’t share it to be mean, but to show them how important it is for them to not just have a great piece of work, but to be a hugely collaborative team player who has a rocking hot social media campaign with followers galore.

WOW: In your list above, you mentioned a story that is superbly crafted and edited. How favorably do you view submissions that have been previously content-edited by a professional? There’s a strong argument for an author to do so, but are your staff editors ever put off when they disagree with a previous editor?

John: We love it when an author has taken the time and initiative to get their work polished and helped by a professional editor. The key word is “professional.” A good developmental edit can make the overall story much better, and a good copyedit can improve the craft grammatically and stylistically. That can ultimately mean not just a better story, but lower editing costs on our side. There are occasions when a crappy editor does no good, but most editors will improve the work to some degree or another. Any improvements are welcome as long as they do not change the voice and intent of the author.

WOW: In terms of what you’re looking for, there seems to be a schism between what publishers seek from “new authors,” and what actually gets sold on bookshelves. Most of the contests and open submissions for short fiction seem to favor literary pieces that prioritize experimentation over structured narrative; however, similar fiction rarely makes the bestseller lists. What are your views?

John: The Academy of Motion Pictures sometimes picks movies no one sees. The same is true in the literary world. Reviewers and hobnobbers can be snobbish about what they decide is good. In general most or them have good tastes, but they also have a tendency to put down more commercial and successful work that does not fit their worldview. This kind of hypnotic hyper-critical focus is detrimental to art in general, and literature in particular.

Reviewers and the Literati do not decide which books will succeed. The readers do. Individually they can’t hold a candle to big shot book people, but collectively they are absolutely brilliant and leave them all in the dust.

We have a diverse mix of genres, as you can clearly see here. Which means that with very few exceptions, we are not actively seeking out a particular genre. That is about to change very soon as we develop our Leadership imprint. Stay tuned.

WOW: That’s good to know! Do you have a list of preferred agents who contact you, or do you give equal consideration to any agency query? Do you have any advice for authors trying to evaluate which agent is most likely to get a publisher’s attention?

John: We have a lot of respect for agents, and we feel lucky to have worked with many. The vast majority are highly intelligent and have honed a superb nose for fine work. They can smell quality quickly. They can weed through hundreds of manuscripts and find the gold. We know when a legitimate (some are not) agent submits a manuscript, that we can expect a much higher level of work than the average writer. We like that.

Most agents are traditional only, but more lately are open to considering a hybrid deal, in some cases recommending that to their client if they cannot sell the manuscript. They come to us as an incubator to prepare the author for jumping into a traditional deal in their next work. That is the goal for all of our copub authors, but it ain’t easy to get there. Perhaps 10% make the jump based on book sales. For us 3000 is the magic number.

WOW: Thank you for that number—it’s a great reference! Speaking of numbers, how many words or pages do you typically give a submission, before deciding to set it aside?

John: I know agents who will not even read a manuscript if the query letter contains an error. Our submissions editors probably read on average of 20-30 pages, and then drop in to the rest of the manuscript to check for consistency, redundancy and style. I read much less for my reviews. Now if we have a piece of work we think is a potential traditional deal, we read much further, and get our exec. Editor Joe Coccaro involved.

WOW: Okay, so if an author isn’t a fit for your traditional publishing package, they might consider one of your other models. What are the major differences between your co-publishing and self-publishing models? (Is there a difference in royalties, marketing, ISBNs, pricing, etc?)

John: Self-publishing authors get all their royalties, no marketing from us, no coaching. Lower overall production costs. They get the freedom to change their meta data, do a ebook sale whenever they like, and the chance to manage their publishing in exactly the manner they want. ISBNs included. No contract just an invoice.

Co-publishing authors pay more, but they get a comprehensive marketing program that includes things like a tip sheet, cover poll, digital ARCs, foreign rights agent, significant coaching and training and management of their book. Royalty is typically at 60%. ISBNs included. It also includes a solid 4-page publishing contract that lays out what we do, what the author does, royalty rates, term, release date, etc. Sample is here. In addition we provide a comprehensive line-item invoice showing precisely what the author is paying for. Sample is here.

Self-publishing is growing, and is now about 20% of our work. When we say self-publishing it means that the author is acting as the publisher of record and has an IngramSpark account. They hire us to do the creative development, the design and editing, production and tech stuff and get it all installed on there Spark site. We still advise but since they are the publisher, we propose and they dispose.

Co-publishing is by far our most popular publishing model, with about 65% or our deals going that way. The main reasons authors choose that model is because our name is on the book as a legitimate publisher of record, we handle all details so they don’t have to, we are very collaborative, and we love working with emerging authors.

In 2016 we wrote and publishing a little book called the POCKET GUIDE TO PUBLISHING: 100 Things Authors Should Know. I offer it as a helpful guide to your writers who are on a journey.

WOW: That's super helpful! Thank you for the links to the sample contract and production invoice, and to the guide. As far as self-publishing, what are the advantages of self-publishing with a publisher? It seems like a contradiction. How does the process differ from vanity publishing?

John: I can’t speak too much as to how other publishers do it. Our mission is to aim high and act as much as possible like a bigger high-quality traditional publisher. Our standards of excellence are the same for traditional and co-publishing. We relax them more with self-publishing because we do not control the outcome as much. We are simply hired guns. But for traditional and copub, our name is on the book along with the writers, and we are ultimately responsible for the output. Therefore we take it very seriously.

Vanity publishing is such a silly term. Last I checked every author alive has a certain amount of vanity and self-interest. Over the past ten years all of the major NYC publishers have launched some kind of self-publishing fee-based division. Penguin, Simon & Schuster, etc. The reason they did is because they actually want to make money off of authors, and serve them in the best way.

Publishing is a FOR-PROFIT business. There is nothing wrong with a publishing company getting paid by the customer for creative development and/or as part of net sales royalties downstream. Back in the day only a select few authors could get published. Only the best could get an agent. And only the best agented authors were selected by publishers.

But now anyone can get published, and there are publishers who will in fact take anyone, regardless or the quality of the work and what kind of person the author is, or their marketing program. We like to say that everyone has the right to write, and I truly believe that. That is true of every art form, whether music, visual arts, dance, sculpture or writing. We have a right to express ourselves.

But (and here’s the big rub), if the artist decides to share her art with the world, then she is called to do her absolute best to perfect and polish her craft using the highest levels of literature and publishing. That is the problem: many writers do not try to create their best work, they simply want to make a mark as quickly as possible. And that does no one any favors. That is why self-publishing still has a second-class meaning for fine art writers and reviewers.

WOW: I agree, it’s best to perfect and polish your work to the highest levels of literature and publishing. Well said. Thank you, John, for riveting discussion today, and I’m sure our writers will be interested in checking out as Köehler Books a publishing option:


Interview by Angela Mackintosh, publisher of WOW! Women On Writing. She's interested in both traditional publishing and self-publishing, depending on the project.

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