The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Book Review

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I'd never heard of Henrietta Lacks, pictured on the book cover, before I picked up Rebecca Skloot's wonderful book. Chances are, you haven't either. But you may have heard of HeLa cells or at the very least, information about medical research to find a polio vaccine or cure for cancer. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, you finally meet the women behind HeLa cells, “the first immortal cells ever grown in a laboratory,” as well as her family and key medical researchers.

The author first learned of HeLa when she was 16, and she soon grew fascinated by the story of Henrietta, an African-American woman, and her cells from a cervical cancer tumor. These cells have not only helped develop the polio vaccine and made important discoveries in fighting cancer, they've also led to advancements in gene mapping and in vitro fertilization.

What fascinated Skloot even more than HeLa cells and their contribution to scientific research is the story of Henrietta and her family. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1950s with cervical cancer. Doctors took a sample of her tumor without her knowledge or her family’s consent before she died.

The HeLa cells are still alive today and have multiplied into weighing more than 50 million metric tons—“as much as the Empire State Building.” Her family knew nothing about her cells being alive and helping modern medicine until the 1970s when doctors called her husband and children for research without informed consent.

By the time Skloot met Henrietta’s family members in the late 1990s and started interviewing them for her book, many of them, including her grown children, trusted no one, especially Caucasian reporters who wanted to know about Henrietta’s cancer cells. But because Skloot cared so much about Henrietta's story and knew it like her own, Henrietta's relatives started to trust her and share important information with her.

Besides introducing readers to Henrietta Lacks, her husband, and her children, Skloot skillfully informs readers about cell research and medical discoveries. Skloot also writes about the ethical issues, court cases, and laws surrounding these cells and other cell lines from patients, who didn’t realize that doctors were using them for research and making money from them. She takes a complex issue and writes about it so anyone can understand the science, medicine, and law. But more importantly, she intersperses the often heartbreaking personal story of Henrietta among the scientific fact.

The most captivating chapters of this book are the real stories of the Lacks family’s struggles. For example, Skloot befriends Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was preschool age when her mother died. Deborah was on a quest for almost 30 years to find out what happened to her mother. All Deborah wanted was for her mother to get the recognition she deserved.

In one especially touching scene, Skloot writes about Henrietta Lacks Day on October 11, 1996 in Atlanta during a conference at the Morehouse School of Medicine. Dr. Roland Pattillo organized the first ever HeLa Cancer Control Symposium; and Deborah , her father, and her siblings attended.

Deborah spoke to the conference attendees and said, “When Dr. Pattillo called me, it all became real. For years, it seem to be a dream. . .Can this about our mother be true?. . .No one from the medical field took the time.”

If you are interested in biology and medical research, you won’t want to miss this book. But even more, if you are interested in human stories and how we are all connected to one another, then read this book and share it with others.

Review by Margo L. Dill,, Follow me on Twitter:

Rebecca Skloot photo credit: Manda Townsend
Read More »

Interview with Stacy Post - Runner Up in the Fall 2009

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mother. Librarian. Writer. Native Hoosier. Now, Stacy Post can add "WOW! Contest Runner Up" to the list of words that describe her.
As a Mother's Day gift, Stacy's children surprised her with a whirlwind gift: a flying lesson. Ever since, Stacy has been floating on air; earning a pilot's license is on her "bucket list."
Stacy majored in English at Purdue University and received a Master's Degree in Library Science from Indiana University. For the past ten years, she's worked in public libraries.
Stacy's publishing credits include the Purdue Exponent, Skylark, Haiku Headlines, and the Indianapolis Star.
Check out Stacy's story, Twist in the Wind, and then join us for a discussion about flying, expectations, story development, and writing.
WOW: Stacy, welcome to The Muffin. Congratulations on Runner Up honors in the Fall 2009 Flash Fiction contest. In Twist in the Wind, the parents establish a negative tone with the young girl. How does that parental tone affect their child and her future decisions?
Stacy: I was interested in telling a life story in a short amount of words. So I put the parental conflict in early to motivate the character. (It wouldn't be much of a story if she played her parent's negative thoughts in her head like a broken record.) I wanted a character that could move beyond early labels and find happiness.
WOW: Your character certainly broke away from the preconceived notions of her parents and took flight on her own. For me, and perhaps for other readers, flying evokes a feeling of freedom in addition to a feeling of hesitation or uncertainty. What's the fascination with flying, both in your personal life and in your story?
Stacy: In my early twenties, my great uncle took me flying in his small plane over the Gulf of Mexico. When he let me try the yoke . . . that was the moment I put flying lessons on my bucket list.
Presently, we live within a few miles of a county airport. Small planes buzz over the house on fair weather days. I hear this often while writing at my desk. It's neat to know when it is a good day for flying.
In the story, I felt that flying was another form of exhilaration for the character to experience and the plane represented the body well. Her childhood joy was defined in a way she reasonably could express it.
WOW: I'm still visualizing flying a small plane over the Gulf. Beautiful view, I imagine! What a fantastic opportunity! You were able to build a dream based on experience. Why is it imperative for parents to listen to children's dreams?
Stacy: When children share their dreams, I think it's important for parents to listen, to honor those dreams and to help guide those dreams to realistic ends. Not everyone can be a professional ballerina, but everyone certainly can enjoy, appreciate and express a passion for dancing.
WOW: Exactly! My parents supported my dreams and told me I could do anything I put my mind to. I always wanted to be a lawyer, but eventually I followed in their footsteps and became a teacher and writer. Living life to the fullest is one theme your story addresses. Why do you think so many people forget to experience life?
Stacy: Many people don't see beyond the day to day because of responsibilities and obligations. It's easy to get lost in the routine of it all. I think bucket lists are important. Opportunities arise, but if you aren't looking for the potential, they can slip away. For example, if the plane buzzing over my house hadn't happened, I don't think I would've ever had the discussion with my family that I'd like to fly again.
WOW: Good point! I'm sitting down with my husband tonight so we can create our bucket lists. Having that discussion is such an important idea. Stacy, you shared your list with your family and your children gave you the gift of flying lessons for Mother's Day. How did that experience tie into Twist in the Wind?
Stacy: I live a pretty ordinary life as a mom, librarian, wife and writer. Flying ups the stakes. In a small plane, which seriously feels like flying in a tin can, the ride can invigorate or exacerbate your senses. I absolutely love the stomach-trembling sensation of being in the air. It lifts my spirits and changes my perspective.
When you're flying a small plane, your focus has to be directly on the action of flying. There isn't time for distracting thoughts. I felt that was good for my character. There's also so much room in the sky, it'd be hard to knock anything over. And since my character was somewhat clumsy, I wanted to give her plenty of space.
WOW: Character development - and staying true to a character - builds rapport with readers. Such an important lesson for writers to learn! Let's talk about your day job. You work as a librarian in a public library system. What's your favorite genre?
Stacy: That's like asking a mother to pick a favorite child! I read voraciously and eclectically so that I can help many readers find books to enjoy. I worked as a children's librarian for many years, so children's literature will always have a special place in my heart. For my personal enjoyment, I'm a moody reader, in that I might be in a mystery mood one week or a romantic mood the next. Right now, I'm deep into southern fiction with sassy leading ladies.
WOW: Selecting one genre would be difficult for me, too! My reading selections vary with what's happening in my life. My writing process tends to follow that same course. Let's talk about your writing process.
Stacy: Usually a character pesters me. He or she has a secret to reveal. So I follow that character on paper for a while. Sometimes it ends with a flash piece. Sometimes it's a short story. And several times, it's developed into a full-blown novel.
Since I have a day job, I have to manage my writing time efficiently. I'd like to say I write everyday, but it's more like five days a week right now. If I can squeeze in an hour or two in the mornings, or an hour or two in the evenings, I can churn out a decent word count. (I've given up a lot of television to achieve this.)
Revision is a big part of my process too. I like for stories, especially short stories and flash pieces, to sit for a month or two before I go back and revise. Having fresh eyes helps me see the errors. But I'm always thinking about a story or a character, wondering how they'd manage this obstacle or what they'd say or do in a given circumstance.
WOW: Revising work takes practice and a certain openness from a writer to let go of words or entire scenes. What advice would you offer to someone who is considering jumping into the world of flash fiction?
Stacy: Read flash fiction. There are great stories being written right now, available online and in anthologies. Take a workshop and educate yourself on what it is. If you have an idea for a story, see if it can be told in a thousand words or less. It's the perfect medium for tinkering. The WOW! contest offers critiques. It's a great opportunity to see if your story can succeed in the short form. Try it! You might like it.
WOW: Great advice, Stacy! Flash fiction teaches a lot about the craft of storytelling. And, WOW!s critique option helps writers see potential pitfalls and areas that need definition or fine-tuning. What projects are you currently working on that you'd like to share with our readers?
Stacy: February was a great month. I published a poem and two flash fiction stories. I have another short fiction story coming out in the spring issue of Rose & Thorn journal. I'm currently wrapping up a sequel to a middle grade ghost story novel. And, like most writers, I'm sending out stories, poems, queries and gathering rejections. I'm in search of an agent too. It's all a part of the process. I've been blessed to final in this contest. Thank you, WOW!
WOW: Thank you, Stacy, for participating and placing in the contest. If you'd like additional information about Stacy or her work, you can visit her blog or read other works of poetry and flash fiction.
Interview conducted by LuAnn Schindler. Follow LuAnn on Twitter - @luannschindler or visit her website:
Read More »

In April, It’s All About the Script

Monday, March 29, 2010
by Jill Earl

Novelists have NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Bloggers have NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. The start of April later this week brings the fourth annual Script Frenzy for the aspiring scriptwriter.

Script Frenzy is a free international writing event where participants are challenged to write 100 pages of scripted material in the month of April, experience not required. No prizes are offered, but every writer that finishes receives a winner's certificate and accompanying web icon to proclaim your achievement. Any type of script is eligible: screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, comic book and graphic novel scripts, adaptations of novels, radio scripts, whatever gets you scribbling.

Like its siblings above, entrants won’t be left adrift. Start with the ‘Writer’s Resources’ page to begin your pre-Frenzy prep with how-to guides and worksheets to map out your writing. Move on to the the ‘Writing Software’ page for advice on selecting the proper one for your needs. Peruse ‘Cameos’ for articles by industry experts. To get the juices flowing, hit the Plot Machine for script ideas like this one: “After waiting in line for a Wii, a near-sighted chemist must stop the space-time continuum.”

And when the Frenzy begins, don’t forget checking out the forums to network, ask questions, offer answers, see what’s up in your specific genre, discuss the latest tools of the trade, and many other activities.

There's still time to sign up. The festivities begin 12:00:01 a.m. April 1 and end no later than 11:59:59 p.m. April 30.

Script Frenzy’s tagline asks, “30 days. 100 pages. April. Are you in?”

I sure am. Let’s see how this baby turns out.
Read More »

Writing Books: For Love or Money?

Sunday, March 28, 2010
I've always been a big believer in following your passion, no matter what it is, and hopefully, the money will come later. I admit, this hasn't always worked out so well, but at least I was doing something I loved. I think this is especially true for authors.

In Seth Godin's blog post today, he wrote, "Publishing books to make a little like hanging out in a singles bar if you want to get married."

We can all smell the insincerity of a book that was published only to make money. We've seen this before with e-books that promise a wealth of information for a steep price and hardly deliver. I've been duped into purchasing many such books in hopes that they will provide the answers I seek--and I'm sure I'm not alone. So, in that sense, I suppose those authors did what they set out to do: make money. With the low overhead costs of e-books, authors who self-publish can make a profit. Just don't think it's a shortcut to making a living.

Writing a book takes a lot of time and energy with very little monetary return. There's hardly a reason to write one other than for passion. With authors getting paid a few pennies for each book sold and the responsibility of having to pay for their own publicity, it's safe to say an author must have a strong need to share their story, help someone out with their words, or simply do it for the love of writing.

Those authors who do it for love, promote their books because they believe in its message, make connections and reach out to readers, and follow up by writing more books, can hopefully make a return on their time invested. Seth Godin wrote, "The only people who should plan on making money from writing a book are people who made money on their last book. Everyone else should either be in it for passion, trust, referrals, speaking, consulting, change-making, tenure, connections or joy."

So follow your passion and do it with everything you got, and don't waste your time with shortcuts. Bring love into everything you do, and it will come back to you!
Read More »

Update on Winter '10 Flash Fiction Contest

We received a few e-mails from contestants asking when the results of the Winter '10 Flash Fiction Contest will be announced, so we're posting an update for everyone. :)

As you know, the contest closed Feb. 28th/March 1st, and we are currently in judging. First round notifications will be sent via e-mail next week--before April. If your entry passes the first round, it will be sent to our guest judge for the season. From there, we will send an e-mail notification to the Top 10 contestants requesting their bios and pics. All winners will be announced with our May e-zine issue in a feature. After winners are posted, we will send out critiques one at a time via e-mail to those that purchased one.

Thank you for your participation, and we wish you the best of luck! We're as excited as you are to find out the results. :)
Read More »

Review of Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

Friday, March 26, 2010
Reviewed by Cher'ley Grogg

Shadow Tag, written in narrative form allows the author, Louise Erdrich, to move seamlessly between characters. The novel revolves around a single family. The father Gil America, his wife Irene and their three children; 14 year old son Forian, 11 year old daughter, Riel and 6 year old son Stoney. The family is American Indian and their heritage plays a vital role in the story.

Gil is an artist who has become famous by painting a series called "Irene America". Irene and Gil met when as a young maiden she started modeling for him--they fell in love and married. His personal intimate relationship with his wife allowed him the freedom to paint her from virginal girl to sensual woman. Gil painted her in every pose imaginable, pregnant, on all fours, with the impression rape, dismemberment, death by smallpox, and in ways that only he knows what they represent.

Irene hangs on to the elusion of becoming an art historian and has an office in their basement to do work on her studies. In a bottom drawer, covered with ribbons and wrapping paper, in the very back of a file cabinet is her Red Diary. She begins to suspect that her husband is reading her diary. Once she confirms this, she uses it to manipulate him. She still has the need to write out her feelings so she buys a safe-deposit box where she keeps her true diary, the Blue Notebook.

Gil has invaded her privacy and everyday she grows more resentful; everyday she drinks more wine. The marriage goes from rocky to turbulent.
The two older children affected by their parents' stormy relationship cross boundaries that kids their age should not be crossing. The youngest, a budding artist draws many pictures of his family. His mother asks him about the "stick with a little half-moon" that he always paints at the end of her hand. With the simplicity of a first grader he answers, "the wineglass".

A few happy times appear in the novel and one evening, during one of those times Gil and Irene ran outside with their three children to play a Native American game called shadow tag. If you step on a person's shadow, you capture them. Irene felt Gil had captured her and that she had no way out.

Shadow Tag starts out as a slow read; the scenes feel stretched out a little too far. The explicit scenes and language do little to increase the pace. As the book progresses there is redemption because interest grows for the characters.

This book explores human relationships and the intricacies of a broken family. It feels as if the author has had first hand experiences with these issues.
Read More »

Exercising the Write Muscles

Thursday, March 25, 2010
I'm watching snow fall in Denver as I write this.
My family and I have been on a vacation of sorts for more than a week. I've been enjoying my childhood haunts and playing with my kids. I've had a chance to finish reading a novel and start another one. A client re-configured assignments, so I've had only e-mails to draw me near to the computer. No deadlines to interfere with my focus on fun.
While the play and fun has helped to revive some of my creativity, staying in a place that is not conducive for writing for more than a week has dulled my writing abilities.
I have always had an understanding about how important it is to write regularly, but because I write regularly, I rarely have had a chance to test that understanding.
Now I have.
My writing muscles feel sluggish. My brain feels slushy.
I'm enjoying my vacation, but writing this post is making me realize how I may have to start exercising my writing muscles before returning home.
Otherwise, I may need a to take a writing vacation once I'm back from my family vacation.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and creativity coach. When she is not on vacation, Elizabeth contributes to AOL's ParentDish, she blogs at The Write Elizabeth, delving into creativity in everyday places.
Read More »

Spring Resolutions for Writers

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Spring officially began last Saturday - somewhere around 2:10 p.m. - but it's possible that winter or the dreary doldrums still interfere with your productivity levels.

In my "neck of the woods" in the Nebraska Sandhills, the sun didn't shine for three months, and snow filled ditches and roadways since December 5. Finally, it's beginning to disappear and we've had two days of sun and warm temperatures.

During that time, though, the gloom and doom of grey skies cut my productivity. Did I meet all the New Year's resolutions I established? Most of them, but it's time to evaluate the goals.

It's not too late to set new goals, especially since spring just sprung a few days ago. Use these ideas to get your writing back on track:
  1. Begin a new project. Use the season as a springboard and kick off a new project. You'll feel an extra dose of satisfaction once you reach your goal. I plan to finish making PDF files of all my clips and have pertinent clips on my new website by June 1. This correlates with my second point.
  2. Devise a list of wants and priorities. Include items from your lists in your daily writing routine. Want to investigate a new subject? Schedule the time and use it wisely. Need to complete the revisions in your memoir? Add revision time to your calendar. I've written my lists and am scheduling my priorities and wishes around the days I'm scheduled to substitute teach. Writing has to be a priority or it will remain an idle notion.
  3. Increase "light" time. Since the weather is warming up, why not spend some of your writing time outside. The change of scenery, coupled with increased light (read that as a boost of Vitamin D), definitely will change your mood and attitude. One rainy days, turn on the lights instead of working in the semi-darkness. Watch productivity soar! I create rough drafts while I work in the yard. Scenes or articles play out in my mind and once inside, I head for the computer. I plan to spend one hour a day outside and outline new material while I'm drinking in the sunshine.
  4. Leave the office. A change in routine not only provides a break from the daily grind, but getting out of the office or your usual writing zone can stir emotions and generate new ideas. I'm schedule to substitute teach two to three days a week until the end of the school year, so the chance of developing new ideas is high. I plan to carry my notebook, camera, and digital voice recorder to capture important snippets. At school, something fascinating is bound to capture my attention!
  5. Rearrange your writing space. Spring cleaning starts with your writing space. Rearrange furniture, if possible. Don't forget to organize your computer files, too. A fresh start will rejuvenate your mind and your commitment to writing. I've already started my spring office cleaning. Once I've organized the clutter and ditched the unnecessaries, I plan to rearrange my writing zone.
  6. Seek inspiration. Read from other writers and remember what attracted you to writing. Hearing about how others struggle with the same frustrations makes the writing process that much easier. I use a writer's calendar and read the quote of the day first thing in the morning. It's my daily affirmation of why I write and why I can't imagine a life without sharing the written word.

Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth. It's not too late to recommit to the dusty resolutions you set nearly four months ago. Your writing - and your attitude - will thank you.

by LuAnn Schindler

Follow LuAnn on Twitter - @luannschindler or visit her website

Read More »

Interview with Pamela Allison - Fall 2009 Contest Runner Up

Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Pamela ’s Bio:
Pam Allison lives in a historic community near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband. Currently she divides her time between revising her novel manuscript, writing book and movie reviews, and submitting short stories and articles. She’s had several articles, a poem, and illustrations published. An active participant in online critique sites, Pam will attend a writer’s conference later this year. Every day she adheres to her writing schedule, looks for new markets, and researches agents. She enjoys reading, bird watching, volunteering, and spending quality time with family and friends. This year she will also graduate with a degree in Accounting.

If you have not done so already, check out Pamela's story "Ten Past Midnight" and return here for a chat with the author!

WOW!: Congratulations on placing in the Fall 2009 Flash Fiction Contest! What is the inspiration for your story?

Pam: Last year I caught a late night show. When the movie finished, I walked out of the restroom and into a deserted lobby. I’d never experienced that, because I’m a Sunday matinee kind of gal. Everything was dark except for moonlight coming through the front windows, and the only other person I saw was an employee running a sweeper over the carpet. I walked around, struck by the eeriness of it all. So I tapped into that fleeting experience as inspiration. Plus, while in college I worked briefly for a theater and the job was pretty awful, so I drew from that memory as well.

WOW!: You do set an eerie scene. I especially like the line “we leave projectors rolling to keep ourselves company” because it brings out that lonely, eeriness. What is the biggest challenge you face as a writer?

Pam: Sitting down to write is the easy part, and if I didn’t have to eat or sleep or juggle life responsibilities, I’d write nonstop. However, life sometimes pulls me away long enough that it takes a day or two to plug back into the story. I write every day, and when I can’t, it’s frustrating because momentum breakers waste time that could have otherwise been productive. Also, many people dismiss writer aspirations as being a pipe dream, so I don’t really talk about it too much. I just keep my head low and my keyboard clacking as I focus on making my professional goals a reality.

WOW!: I can definitely relate to the frustration of momentum breakers! I have to give myself little pep talks to keep going, but as soon as I start I settle right back into the rhythm again. If you could have lunch with one writer, who would it be and why?

Pam: Definitely Stephen King. I have followed his entire career, and think he’s an incredibly gifted and prolific storyteller who transcends all the labels people have tried to put on him. From everything I’ve ever read and listened to from interviews, he strikes me as a down to earth and genuinely decent human being. I respect many things he stands for and does, including his charities. So to have a chance to talk with him would be wonderful. I envy those in his life who call him friend.

WOW!: According to your bio, you will graduate with a degree in accounting this year, which I think is very interesting because accounting and creative writing are often considered to be opposites. Would you agree? Does studying accounting ever stunt your artistic creativity?

Pam: I get that a lot, and my joke is this: I’m neither a left nor a right brained person, but a whole brained individual. On a surface level they are opposites, but digging deeper you find overlap. I’ve met plenty of creative people who are highly analytical, and analytical people who are highly creative. So I think we’re all analytical and creative in our lives, just in different ways. Accounting probably helps my creativity, by doing its part to keep my mind active and challenged. Even as a kid, math, science, language and art were always my strongest subjects. Also, I’m a realist. Being a self supporting novelist is extremely hard—not impossible, but difficult. By hedging my bets, I can face whatever the future has in store for me. Which career path will win out? We’ll see.

WOW!: I like that, “a whole brained individual.” I'm glad to hear that accounting helps fuel your creativity rather than stifle it. What do you enjoy most about writing?

Pam: The enormous satisfaction I get from channeling my sometimes bizarre imagination into a tangible story. I also love getting feedback, especially from publishing professionals. I don’t shy away from constructive criticism at all, because it’s so important to hear what others say about your work. Last, I feel oddly grateful to look back and see how much my craft has improved since those first initial steps…like I’m doing something right, and that deepens my resolve.

WOW!: Accepting constructive criticism and learning how to use it to improve is, in my opinion, one of the most challenging and most important parts of being a writer.

Thank you, Pam! We hope to see more of your writing in the future!
Read More »

Script Pimp 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010
Think you got the best screenplay going? Then Script Pimp is looking for you!

Now in its 8th year, the 2010 Script P.I.M.P (Pipeline Into Motion Pictures) Competition is searching for the best stories told by the best screenwriters worldwide. Entries are judged by literary managers, producers, professional analysts and writers, and development directors from the film industry.

The competition is open to adults 18 years old or older and entries must be original. Submissions should be feature-length screenplays, and all genres, styles, lengths, etc. are welcomed. There’s no limit on number of entries allowed and simultaneous submissions are allowed (i.e. you can enter other screenwriting contests with the same script).

The deadline is May 1, 2010 and there’s a fee of $50 per entry. Submitting scripts in PDF, Final Draft (.fdr), or Microsoft Word (.doc) is preferred.

There will be four Grand Prize winners receiving $14,000 total in cash and additional prizes. Twenty finalists will receive $3,200 total in cash and additional prizes. All finalists will receive a $250 travel voucher to attend the Script Pimp Awards Ceremony July 2010 at Writers Boot Camp in Santa Monica, CA.

Complete competition guidelines are available online at the Script Pimp site. For any questions, contact Contest Director Chadwick Clough by email at or by phone at 310-401-1155.

Still interested? Get over to Script and enter. Who knows, your script may be the next Tinseltown blockbuster! Good luck!
Read More »

Book Titles, Back Cover Copy, & Author Promotion: Tips from Susan Kendrick

Saturday, March 20, 2010
One question we get a lot is: how do I choose a winning book title? Another is: how do I write my back-cover copy/synopsis? And what are the most effective ways to market my book?

To help you answer these questions, we've invited Susan Kendrick to share her expert advice. There are some wonderful tips and how-tos in this interview that you can apply right away!

Susan Kendrick and Graham Van Dixhorn are partners at Write To Your Market, Inc. They specialize in creating bestselling book covers and business brands--book titles and subtitles, back-cover sales copy, testimonials, business names and taglines, and other pivotal branding and marketing tools. Their clients win major book awards and are featured in The New York Times, L.A. Times, and U.S.A. Today, and appear on national TV talk shows, including The Today Show. But maybe more importantly, Susan and Graham help these authors and experts package their message so that it makes a difference in the world. To learn more, visit or

WOW: Welcome to The Muffin, Susan! Thank you for taking time to share your tips with our readers today. Let's start off by finding out what you do. What services do you provide for authors?

Susan: Thanks for having us! Graham and I create bestselling book titles and subtitles, back cover positioning and sales copy, business names and taglines, media kits, and speaker materials--the tools you need to create and grow a powerful brand for you, your message, and your business.

By doing this, we provide welcome relief for authors whose job it is to be expansive on their topic. Whether you are in the idea, planning, writing, or editing stage of your book, all your focus is on creating a story or message that will speak to people. The job of your book cover, on the other hand, is to take all that you are creating and condense it to the few words that will sell your book. It's writing, but a different kind.

What Graham and I do is interview you, listen to your ideas, and explore your manuscript to capture the highlights that will make you stand out from the crowd and appeal to the people you want to influence most--your readers. You're creating this book for them; you want to make sure they "get" what's in it for them. We also help you position your book to take the lead in your market, so that you are perceived as the expert not only to your readers, but to book reviewers, the media, joint venture partners, and other decision-makers.

WOW: That's a good point and one we often forget while we're writing. We need to think about positioning our book not only for our readers but for the media as well. Another super important issue that authors often ask about is how to choose a book title. What are some things authors should consider when deciding on a working title? And what makes for a winning title?

Susan: First, understand the purpose of a good working book title.

Just as there is expert status associated with being the author of a published book, there is similar status involved in getting out there with news of your "forthcoming" book. Using a good working title to promote your book while you are writing it does several important things.

- A good working book title enables you to talk about your "forthcoming" book in a concrete way, in your emails, on your blog, on your website, in speaking presentations, and through your consulting.

- In this way, it lets you start building a loyal following for your unique ideas and approach to your topic.

- A good working title can also help you reach out to joint venture partners who will ultimately be very important to your promotion and sales efforts.

- In fact, since you are still writing the book, you have the flexibility to mention or quote these experts in your book, a great incentive for them to get behind you and your message.

What makes a winning final title and subtitle?

Use this quick-start checklist to see if your working book title measures up or if you need to either rethink or fine-tune it:

  • Your title or your subtitle contains a keyword or keywords related to your topic
  • The title is easy to say, hear, remember, and talk about
  • Your book title is clear and concise, i.e. no one who hears about it or sees it, regardless of their background, will go, "Huh?"
  • The title stands out from other books on this topic because of some unique feature or benefit
  • It is not already taken--book titles can't be copyrighted, but you don't want your book confused with another one out there
  • Experts in the area of book covers and book marketing give you a thumbs up
  • It will give you the flexibility to create a series of related books, products, and services
  • Your book title captures the attention of your target audience, which you can determine either by a focus group or online tools like Google AdWords
  • Your book title creates a defining brand that will grow your reputation and your overall business

Here are a few basic rules to keep you on track:
  1. Decide what to say, then how to say it
  2. Choose clarity over cleverness
  3. Keep it short

There are numerous strategies and techniques for creating book titles. Just a few approaches include the following:

Look to Your Book (a chapter title, for example, may yield a winning title)
Ex: How YOU Are Like Shampoo, by corporate branding expert Brenda Bence

Be a One-Word Wonder
Ex: Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

Create a Twist on a Familiar Phrase
Ex: Squeaky Green, by Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan, founders of Method cleaning products

Coin a New Term
Ex: Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Use Four-Letter Words
Ex: Mojo Mom, by Amy Tiemann
Ex: Eat This Not That, by David Zinczenko

Be the Obvious Expert
Ex: Big Book of Parenting Solutions, by Michelle Borba
Ex: The Self-Publishing Manual, by Dan Poynter

Be compelling or Controversial
Ex: The Four-Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferriss

WOW: Excellent points, Susan! You've given us a lot to think about. Now, back cover copy is also equally important because it must convey the contents of the book in such a short word count. What are some tips for writing and paring down a synopsis?

Susan: One word--positioning. Think of positioning as where your book stands in relation to three things: your readers, your market, and your competition. Then, take a more active role. Use this information to decide what you will say about your book to "position" it in the best possible light. Your back cover does not give you a lot of room to work, so get to the point and be clear, concise, and compelling. Decide what needs to be said, then decide how to say it in the most concise, compelling way possible.

Here are 7 positioning questions to get your creative juices flowing:

1. How does your book address your readers' wants, needs, hurts, hopes, or deepest desires?

2. What do your readers already know about your topic and what do you bring them that's new?

3. What differentiates you and your message from similar books already on the market--what's unique about your ideas, perspective, approach, process, focus, experience, background, etc. In other words, why you and not someone else or some other book?

4. Are you a "first" or "only" in what you bring to this subject or some aspect of this subject?

5. Do you fill an important gap in the information available on this topic? What's been missing that you address?

6. What else makes you stand out in a crowded market, or are you able to create a new niche and dominate it, right from the start?

7. And, most importantly, what will your audience get from your book that they can't get anywhere else?

Your back cover copy then becomes the foundation of your entire marketing campaign, in print and online. You'll use this copy as your website content, on your blog, in articles and press releases, proposals to distributors, pitches to the media, corporate sponsors, joint venture partners, and anyone else who might be interested in buying or selling your book or product.

WOW: Wow, it seems that if you get your back cover copy right, it can do a lot for you! So, do you design book covers as well? Or do you work with designers? How does the process work?

Susan: We do not do the design. We specialize in the words that brand and promote your book, so that even if you have a cover that is designed typographically--that is, with just that billboard look of Blink, Switch, and others--your message still comes across loud and clear. We do, however, work closely with a handful of designers we refer our clients to, and their work is very impressive.

The process is that you first develop the front cover copy--title and subtitle, series name if appropriate, high-end testimonial, and any other front cover copy. Then you take this to the book cover designer for the visual effects that make your brand really pop--on the shelf and online. Then, it's the same with the back cover, spine, and flaps of your books if a hard cover--copy then design.

For more details, you can download a free copy of our Book Cover Timeline on our home page here.

NOTE: Be aware that there is a big difference between a graphic designer and a book cover designer. Hire someone who knows the industry and understands all the subtleties of designing book covers that sell.

WOW: Marketing a book these days involves so many different elements: a website, blog, social networking, media kit, and so forth. If an author has a limited budget, where should she start? And what is the one thing she should definitely spend her money on?

Susan: That's a great question. In fact, we regularly check in with our authors to ask this same question and to see which marketing outlets are working best for them. I did a couple of recent blog posts on this because this is one thing new authors really want and need to know--what really works?

The two authors we interviewed include one who has sold over 150,000 copies of his book since 2001, and one who released and began marketing her book last summer. Overwhelmingly, the responses we get from authors in general and these two in particular are very much the same. You can see the details on our blog, but here is the list in order of results for the book that has sold 150,000 copies:

  1. Speaking
  2. Giving Away Books to Movers and Shakers
  3. Becoming Your Own Publicist
  4. Selling Books to Direct Sales/MLM companies
  5. Selling Foreign Rights of Book

Susan Berg, the author of Choose on Purpose for Twentysomethings, released her book with very good results in the first three months by also focusing on public appearances. She also credits book reviews with jumpstarting interest in her book. From a review by Library Journal, she got invited to do a national webcast with the American Marketing Association (AMA), which resulted in a Twitter group following as well as inquiries for follow-up materials and a request to be a guest blogger.

WOW: Those are great suggestions. What about a "squeeze page?" What is it, and do you think this type of marketing is still effective?

Susan: Absolutely! It is the first thing I look for when we are asked to do a critique & consultation of an author's website. Also called a "name-capture," this technique is a way to get visitors to your website to give you their name and contact information in exchange for something you give them. This can be a free excerpt from your book or some other useful or interesting download related to your topic or area of expertise.

The point is that when you have someone's email address, you can stay in touch with them about what you offer that may interest them. People visit websites to learn something. In any kind of advertising, it usually takes repeated exposure to an offer before someone makes a buying decision. We've talked to authors and experts who boast about how many visitors they get each month. It's right there in their web stats. That's great, but you want to know who these people are and how to stay in touch with them so that they become fans and repeat buyers over time. The right name-capture offer will do this for you.

WOW: That makes sense! You really have a gift for explaining things in easy-to-understand language. :) So what are some current trends you've noticed in your field?

Susan: Here are two trends--one that is good for your book and one that is not so good. The bad news first. We see people who fall in love with their working titles. They say things like, "This title has a lot of meaning for me. It's been in my head for a long time and is so much a part of who I am and what is most meaningful about my book."

That's OK, but often these titles-of-the-heart do not speak to anyone but the author. Your book cover and your book title especially are your packaging, your brand, the one chance you have to hit a nerve and get someone to give you a look. Make sure your title speaks to the need, desires, and hopes of the readers and the world at large. You can use your pet phrase somewhere in your marketing, but maybe just not at the title. Love is blind. Don't fall in love with the first title that occurs to you.

This brings us to the good news. Another trend is that we see more and more authors testing their titles. This is a great way to get real-world feedback, outside of your own personal preferences. There are several good ways to test a book title. One, of course, is Google Adwords. And, it's possible to do this without costing a lot. [Editor's note: try the Google Adwords Keyword research tool to see what people are searching for and how popular those searches are--it's free!] We use Adwords a lot, and are very strategic about using the ad variation tool to get useful feedback very quickly. Another way to test your title, or your subtitle--or any major headlines, for that matter--is to test two different versions to your own or someone else's list. We give a detailed outline of how to do this on our blog as well.

WOW: Thank you, Susan, for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your tips with us today! You've helped me, and I'm sure our readers, understand so much about the process of creating titles, book cover copy, and positioning. Do you have any parting advice for our women authors?

Susan: Yes. Make use of all the credibility, experience, expertise, and support you already have in place. In so many areas, women tend to assume that there is so much more they can be doing to create success and they tend to dismiss or overlook the systems and highly productive relationships they already have in place. You'd be surprised how much of a business base and marketing platform you already have in place if you simply start seeing it that way.

WOW: Very true! So how can our readers get in touch with you and find out more about your services?

Susan: Please email Graham and me at info[at]WriteToYourMarket[dot]com or call us toll-free at 1-888-634-4120. Again, look around the articles on our blog at and pick up a copy of our free Book Cover Timeline. We are happy to answer questions and help authors and experts wherever they are in the book cover or book marketing process, so we really look forward to hearing from you.

You can also hear more about when to start your book cover and why at, where you can also get your own copy of our complete learning system, "Cover That Book: Insider Secrets for Writing and Designing a Bestselling Book cover." This comes with three special bonuses, including a complimentary 30-minute consultation with us about your book or even your idea for a book and how you can package that book to sell.
Read More »

Friday Speak Out!: "Where Do Writers Go For Inspiration?" Guest Post by Anna Miller

Friday, March 19, 2010

Where Do Writers Go For Inspiration?

by Anna Miller

Writing has been my profession for a while now, but it has always been a passion for as long as I can remember. From school essays to writing short stories and poems for the school magazine and local book club, I would take part in all of them with an enthusiasm that my friends considered somewhat unnatural – they were not the bookish kind and did not understand the intensity I showed towards my paperback friends. I was never at a loss for words when asked to write, I always had something to write about, and long or short, I always loved the result of my creative expression. In short, I was my biggest fan and I had never heard of writer’s block let alone experienced it.

Well, that sure changed when I started writing for a living--I found that in a few years’ time, there were many times when I became disillusioned with writing and other times when I just could not pen a single sentence without hating it. In the old days, it would have been the equivalent of crumpled sheets of paper lying strewn around my writing table, but today, it’s more a case of banging the keyboard when you’re frustrated at the words not flowing freely. Every writer has faced this situation more than once during their careers – they’re stuck in a rut and short of inspiration, and cannot write even though they want to. So where do they go for inspiration?

In my experience, I’ve found that the following things work when you’re looking to rejuvenate your creativity and breathe a whiff of fresh air into your writing:

Broadening your horizons: When you expand your repertoire of activities, you grow as a writer because you learn much more about life than when confined to your desk and computer all day long. The first time I felt a mental block, I took a break from work and went out to sign up for tennis lessons. A few hours of this game every day, and I felt like a new person. I didn’t switch on my notebook for a week, not until I felt I was ready to write again. This time, the words were at my command and ready to do my bidding. So when you feel you need inspiration, just look around for other things that interest you. You’ll be back in the saddle sooner than you think.

Write about something else: If inspiration is what is lacking, try changing the subject you normally write about. If technology is your cup of tea, switch to coffee for a change and take on health or education or anything else you feel passionate or know about. Alternatively, start a personal blog where you can write about anything and everything that interests you. The point is that you must not write for your career’s sake; instead, you must write for your own. When you feel your confidence returning after a few well-written pieces, you’re ready to get back to writing as a profession.

Take time off: And finally, it’s best to just take time off from work to go do your own thing when you feel the dearth of inspiration. You’re probably just overworked and your brain is too tired to think anymore. So what you really need is some rest and rejuvenation, after which you’ll be good to go once again.

Image courtesy of

* * *

Anna Miller is a staff writer for degree online. A native Houstonian, deep in the heart of Texas, she brings a friendliness and informality to her writing that makes it accessible to individuals of diverse backgrounds. With a background in print journalism she enjoys bringing her loyal readers innovative articles and resources which are both rigorously researched but informally presented. She welcomes your comments at her email id:


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!

Read More »

Slow down!

Thursday, March 18, 2010
Recently I noticed that I have been on a fast track and can't seem to slow down. It's as if I am on fast forward. I don't know how many people also feel this way, but I think I have learned a lesson over the past few days.

I recently came down sick with a horrible virus. It really knocked me for a huge loop. I couldn't believe it. I literally have had to stop and rest. Mind you I don't like to rest, I am the one that feels I have to keep going and keep doing no matter the situation.

This brought me to another thought about my writing. I am driven when it comes to deadlines. As long as I know when something is due and I know that there is a set time to get something completed by, I can make the deadline; however, I have noticed that if I don't slow down enough, I tend to make a ton of mistakes. This has not only shown up in my personal life and at work but in my writing as well.

My paragraphs are way out of whack and my sentence structure is awful. It made me realize that I am rushing things a little too much and that I really need to slow down. I need to take the time to make sure that everything is right and what is asked of me in my writing. So, then it is time for me to slow down. I need to make a difference in how I do things. It won't be easy, but it will be worth it in the long run.

I have made myself a list of how I will make a difference in my writing by slowing down.

1) Make sure I have done the research on the subject and have a clear understanding of it.

2) Take the time to build each paragraph accordingly, making sure that each paragraph flows properly and creates a good valid point for the readers.

3) Read through the entire article more than once. Make the necessary corrections as I am reading through the article to make sure that it flows properly for my readers.

4) Read through the article once again checking for any additional spelling errors or sentence issues.

5) Double check research information, make sure I am passing along the correct information. This is highly important. Not only to me but to my readers; I want to make sure they are getting the correct information on the subject.

Through these steps I am hoping that I can make a difference in my writing, my life and the things that I hope to accomplish.

Happy writing everyone!
Read More »

Books and Water: Combining our greatest resources

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When The Muffin sought reviewers to write about "Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization" by Steven Solomon (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers; $27.99; ISBN 9780060548308) I jumped at the chance.
Why would I want to dive into more than 500 pages about water?
Sure, I appreciate a good non-fiction read. But wouldn't a book on water be, well, ahem, a little dry? Admittedly, "Water" may not always be the most riveting read, in places trickling a little slowly.
However, Solomon understands the global and historical importance of water--how our planet with 70 percent water sets us apart from our solar system neighbors. He takes such a regular and taken-for-granted resource and, in a well-researched and well-written book, brings his readers along for an epic ride.
Solomon, a respected journalist, has succeeded in tackling a serious book about an amazing substance that affects all of us, no matter how much of your daily intact you actually drink or where you live. And water has impacted societies from the earliest times--and continues to do so.
Divided into four parts, Solomon takes his readers from the ancient times, explaining the importance of water and irrigation for early civilization. He incorporates the importance of water in early trade and the age of discovery. Water plays a role in the industrial society, giving way to the rise of our international focus. The fourth section, with the lens developed throughout the previous sections, brings readers into the "The Age of Scarcity." Solomon also addresses the politics of water in the twenty-first century.
One of my favorite parts of the book is Solomon's consideration of the importance of sanitation and clean water. England in 1858 was not the cleanest place to live and 25,000 Londoners had died from two cholera epidemics in the previous 10 years. Clean water was at a premium and, that summer, the heat and stench increased, giving rise to "The Great Stink." The stench succeeded where years of politicking had failed forcing Parliament to pass legislation (in 18 days) to "construct a proper sanitary sewerage system befitting the world's leading city."
Solomon writes: "Throughout history, water's life-giving indispensability had always been double-edged. On the one side, drinking two to three quarts of clean freshwater daily sustained each person's existence.... Yet simultaneously, drinking contaminated water and exposure to stagnant water bearing an infiltrating army of diseases also was the main source of human illness, abbreviated life spans, and physical miseries."
Those words may seem obvious to some, it is that accessibility coupled with the historical intricacies that makes this book so fascinating to read.
While the book may not be for everyone, I can see this book flying off shelves and becoming required reading in academic settings (perhaps an environmental studies course or two).
If you desire a captivating and accessible work about something we often take for granted, you should add this one to the top of your reading list.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and creativity coach. When she is not drinking the recommended daily allowance of water, she contributes to AOL's ParentDish, she blogs at The Write Elizabeth, delving into creativity in everyday places.
Read More »

James Tipton--Third Place Winner in the Fall 2009 Flash Fiction Contest

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

You might recognize James Tipton since this is the THIRD time he has placed in the WOW! flash fiction contests. You'll want to make sure and read his third place winner, "Getting to the Bottom of the Girl in the
Blue-Jean Cut-Offs."

Here's some information about James in case you haven't met him before:

James Tipton lives in the tropical mountains of central Mexico where he writes short poems and short fiction. He is also a columnist for and Associate Editor of El Ojo del Lago and El Ojo del Mar, monthly magazines published in Mexico for the English-speaking community. He is also book review editor for Mexico Connect, the largest online source for “all things Mexico”. He has published more than 1,000 short stories, poems, articles, and reviews in North American magazines, including Esquire, The Nation, Christian Science Monitor, American Literary Review, and Field.

His book of poems Letters from a Stranger (with a Foreword by Isabel Allende) won the Colorado Book Award in 1999.

His most recent collections of short poetry are published in bilingual (Spanish and English) editions: Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village/Lavando platos en el antiguo pueblo and All the Horses of Heaven/Todos los Caballos del Paraíso. He is currently completing a collection of short stories set in Mexico, Three Tamales for the Señor.

Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village is available through Bread & Butter Press/1150 S. Glencoe/Denver, CO 80246, $10.95 plus $3.00 shipping & handling. All the Horses of Heaven is available through, $12.95 plus $4.00 shipping & handling.

WOW: Congratulations on your third time placing in the WOW! flash fiction contests. What makes you enter your work into contests?
James: Well, I do not feel particularly competitive, but I do find the WOW! contests fun and also stimulating. Having a deadline, which I keep track of, makes me sit down and do something.
WOW: We're glad you find the contests fun, and the deadline works for you! Where did you get the idea for "Getting to the Bottom of the Girl in the Blue-Jean Cut-Offs?"
James: I lived for many years in western Colorado, and I often saw interesting young Indian women. I also knew many men over the years who had never seemed to be able to "settle down" into a reasonably secure and reasonably well-paying position, partly because of their own characters and partly because of the changing academic world. Women often seem to have a stronger sense of reality. In my story, the man wants to "get to the bottom of the girl in the blue-jean cut-offs;" but of course, what he really wants to do is get to "the bottom of himself," but he does not realize that.
WOW: I love the title, and your "twist" makes it a great flash fiction piece. What are the themes you like to explore in your work?

James: I write a lot about male-female relationships, and I try not to bias my stories and themes--at least looking over a lot of them---either way. Lurking inside of every relationship is the possibility of huge personal growth. We no longer look for God or spiritual meaning in old religious documents or in building churches with ever higher spires. In our own time, we look for God or spiritual meaning in relationships. The person in front of us is the church that we must enter, even kneel down before. Lots of writers are working with this theme...for example, the Canadian writer Leonard Cohen (the song/poem "Suzanne," for example: "who takes you down to her place by the river; or the song/poem "Light as the Breeze" where: "she stands before you naked" and then something like "it don't matter how you worship/as long as you're/down on your knees.). I've always enjoyed the company of women a lot more than the company of men, so I may have some bias there after all.
WOW: You're certainly fitting right in at WOW! (smiles) Do you like to focus more on your characters in your work, your setting, or your plot?

James: I always focus more on the characters, and any plot I have is largely "character-driven". I do use settings toward revealing character. I have lots of stories set in Mexico, for example. Both characters and actual people reveal themselves in foreign or at least unfamiliar settings. How they respond to those settings tells us a lot about their characters. In one aspect, they are "setting-driven" characters, or "situation-driven" characters might be another related idea. I'm trying to finish a collection of short stories, Three Tamales for the Senor, set in Mexico, in which these ideas are working.
WOW: What a great title, and I'm sure it is a fantastic collection. We know you can sure write a short story! Tell us a little about your writing routine.

James: I often go days and days at a time writing something, often for hours. I do this partly because I write a column each month; I write a book review each month for another magazine; and I write various pieces I have promised to still other magazines. Then, for fun, I work on stories and poems, particularly short poems of late. I usually write in the mornings and in the evenings.
WOW: It sounds like you are keeping busy with all your writing responsibilities. What are you currently working on? Any more contest entries in the future?

James: I'll probably try some contests in the future, perhaps even a WOW! contest. I really thought I would receive first prize this time because I had worked so hard on that story, "Getting to the Bottom of the Girl in the Blue-Jean Cutoffs," honing it and honing it--so that when I finally sent it, I thought I had it perfect. I also have a collection of poetry, in both English and Spanish, about finished, titled To Love for a Thousand Years, as well as that collection of short stories I already talked about.

WOW: Best of luck to you in the future, James, with all your writing projects.

Interview by Margo L. Dill,
Read More »

The March 15 Blog That Probably Shows Up On March 16

Monday, March 15, 2010
Time. It seems like I never have enough hours in the day. I'm sure many of you feel the same way. Luckily, I have the opportunity to freelance full time. I tried to juggle freelancing with a full-time teaching position, but the results were less than spectacular. I was lucky if I queried five or six publications a year. Now, I query five or six a week!

It's exciting, yes, but sometimes it still feels like I'm running the marathon, trying to fit as many writing opportunities into the day as I possibly can.

In theory, you should have received this e-mail diatribe on March 15. In actuality, it will "probably" end up with a March 16 date, depending where you reside. Is that a problem? Not necessarily. But, for me, the woman-writer-perfectionist, it is a problem.

Basically, I overscheduled myself today. As writers, it's probably happened to all of us at some point. We think we can squeeze in one more interview and get those notes transcribed before we begin dinner preparations. Or we focus on completing the page of fiction or a line of a poem before we fold the laundry.

Sometimes, in the rush for manufacturing as much writing as possible, we forget to breathe. Sometimes, we forget to realize that we may miss a deadline and actually learn from it.

For me, writing is a 24/7/365 career. I'm constantly assessing situations and considering story angles. Does it mean I'm planted in front of my computer 24/7? No. I take a daily breaks, and sometimes, family duty requires an extended break.

I choose to write as much as I possibly can. Occasionally, I overextend myself or I don't take into account how a gloomy day (we haven't had a full day of sunshine in three months and we had 90 days with temperatures below 30) affects my productivity.

Writers need to find a balance between time and projects. Since I've been freelancing, I've discovered that balance exists some days, but other times, the writing table is tilted in favor of putting pen to paper, filling it with exciting words and phrases. I may begin at 7 AM. I may sleep in until 9 and start by 10. I may work two hours, take a break, make lunch, hang out with my husband, and return to the office at 9 PM and write until the early morning hours.

Bottom line: find a balance between obligations - both personal and professional. Make time work in your favor.

My husband's asleep now, and I have moved my laptop back to the confines of the office, where I won't hear the drone of his snoring. You see, before I lay me down to sleep tonight, I have another story that's brewing, and I'm afraid if I don't take time to get those thoughts on the computer hard drive, my brain's hard drive may forget the material by morning. That's something I'm not willing to lose.

Do I worry that I'm not getting enough sleep? Sometimes, yes.

But a power nap tomorrow afternoon will revitalize my energy and guide me toward the keyboard, where I make magic happen.

By LuAnn Schindler
Visit LuAnn's Writing on the Wall at or follow LuAnn on Twitter - @luannschindler
Read More »

Prompts on the Brain

Saturday, March 13, 2010
By Jill Earl

Here’s are a selection of prompts to try, courtesy of A Working Writer’s Daily Planner 2010.

For this first one, ‘Travel’, you begin by cutting out pictures from the travel section of a newspaper such as the New York Times. Lay them out and imagine a trip for your character. Write about what they did and saw, anything that comes to mind---and if the character has left anything behind at home. Perhaps having your character get away from it all can help you get away from that writer’s block.

Next up, ‘Mirror Image’. Think about the kind of life you’d have if you had a double, not a biological twin. What would they be like? What kind of life would they lead? Write a scene where you meet them. What if you had a third self, one you wouldn’t want? Last thing---how about all three of you going out for lunch?

Here’s the last one. Find a story that intrigues or fascinates you. Try writing yourself into it as a character. Oh, the places you could go with this one! (Thanks, Dr. Seuss!)

So if you find yourself hitting a wall in your writing, think about using prompts. Perhaps having ‘prompts on the brain’ can help keep your writing fresh.

And keep those submissions going!
Read More »

Friday Speak Out!: "From Almost Famous . . . To the Cutting-room Floor," Guest Post by Dallas Nicole Woodburn

Friday, March 12, 2010

by Dallas Nicole Woodburn

Soon, my face will be on that big screen, I thought, as the plush theater seats steadily filled around me for the red-carpet premiere. I’ll be famous!

Okay, almost famous. Or, maybe, recognizable. Possibly. Around campus.

“Why are you here, dear?” asked the Versace-dressed woman beside me in the center-aisle VIP second-row seats.

I tried, but failed, to hide my smile. “I’m in The Movie,” I said, excitement overwhelming any small dose of humility I possessed.

Okay, so maybe movie isn’t the right word. It was more of a short film; a documentary to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the University of Southern California, where I was a freshman majoring in Creative Writing. As a student with two published books to my name (first editions still available!) they interviewed me twice, for more than an hour each time, asking all sorts of questions: Why did you choose USC? Do you like the writing program? If you see Pete Carroll, will you get his autograph for me?

I spoke about the energy and school spirit on campus, how President Sample (who had come across my second book) wrote me a personal letter welcoming me to the university, and I mentioned I was looking forward to having T.C. Boyle, one of my favorite authors, as a professor in upcoming years. I was thoughtful, I was eloquent, I was charming. “You’re a natural,” the cameraman told me.

Now. The lights went down. I patiently fidgeted through each big-screen interview, until suddenly my face appeared, as huge as Dan Brown’s advance check.

“I’m sooooo excited about having T.C. Boyle as a professor!” On-Screen Me gushed.

The camera cut to Professor Boyle, looking as Hollywood as ever in his trademark red Converse high-tops, a suit-jacket over a black T-shirt, and sunglasses hanging from a bead Zen-like necklace. “I think I provide an inspiration for them,” he said. He paused, then added the punchline – and punch to my stomach: “Because they think, if he can do it, anybody can!”

He laughed.

I cringed.

I waited for the film to return to me – this time Calm Me, regaining face with a more poised comment – but soon the closing music swelled, the credits rolled, the lights came up, and it was Over. Finished. My starring role was reduced to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line that made me seem like a teeny-bopper with a crush. Meanwhile, my two hours – minus eight seconds – of brilliant interview lay on the digital-age equivalent of the cutting room floor. I might be “a natural,” but I decided, then and there, to stick with screenwriting.

* * *

“If you're writing screenplays, STOP IT!” Ray Bradbury exclaimed, his voice filling the packed auditorium. “Hollywood’s full of $#*&!”

The audience roared, but his words made me shrink. If the great Ray Bradbury has trouble selling scripts, surely I’m full of $#*& for thinking I can.

And yet, here I was nine months later at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, teaching a workshop for young writers – and also slipping into the highly acclaimed Walter Dallenbach’s screenwriting workshop whenever I got a chance. Here, I joined a group of two-dozen other Hollywood hopefuls to read our screenplays aloud for “flow,” all of us dreaming that our script will become the next Sundance surprise.

“I was walking in downtown L.A. last week,” Walter told us, “and I randomly asked ten people what problem they were having with their screenplay. Of those ten people, only two gave me strange looks and said they weren’t working on a screenplay – the remaining eight of them launched into detailed descriptions of their plot holes and character troubles.” A few people laughed. “I’m not joking,” Walter insisted. “Hollywood’s full of $#*&&% screenwriters!”

* * *

The final night of the Santa Barbara conference, T.C. Boyle – wearing his trademark ensemble of red high-top Converse sneakers and T-shirt/suit jacket – read a sneak snippet from his latest book. Incredibly, the guy still doesn’t know who I am, even aft er I sent him a copy of my book, introduced myself at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and cornered him in the English department elevator, where I lamely stammered “Y-y-yes” when he asked what floor I wanted.

Even though a number of his novels have been made into feature films, Boyle echoed Bradbury’s comments, saying: “I don’t fool around with screenplays. I sell the rights and let Hollywood deal with it.”

Later, T.C. – who had been introduced by his full name, Thomas Coraghessan Boyle – signed books. I joined the long line of eager fans, hoping he hadn’t yet gotten a restraining order against me for stalking. Fifteen minutes later, I was staring at my nervous reflection in Boyle’s mirrored sunglasses, while he read my name from the sticky-note placed on the book’s title page to speed up the process. “Dallas . . .” he said, the syllables rolling slowly off his tongue, as if perhaps I was indeed vaguely familiar, then noticed my “Young Writers Program Faculty” name-tag. “How were the kids?” he asked, gesturing to it with his pen.

“I had a lit agent talk to them yesterday,” I said, trying to coolly, and finally, make a memorable impression. “He told the class he’s interested in anything – fiction, nonfiction, thrillers, romance. Anything except science fiction or fantasy. Then, he went around the room and asked each kid, one by one, what kind of book they’re working on, and, one by one, they told him, ‘Fantasy. Science fiction. Fantasy. . .’ Nothing but science fiction and fantasy, all twenty-four of them!”

The moment stretched seemingly as long as a Peter Jackson movie, and then . . . he laughed. Thomas Coraghessan Boyle laughed.

“You’re a natural,” T.C. said. I beamed, even though I knew the compliment was pure Hollywood: full of $#*&.

* * *

Dallas Woodburn, 22, is the author of two collections of short stories and a forthcoming novel. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in the literary magazines Monkeybicycle, Arcadia Journal, Cicada, The Newport Review, and flashquake, among others. She has also written articles for Family Circle, Writer's Digest, Motherwords, and The Los Angeles Times. Find out more about her nonprofit literacy foundation and youth publishing company at and


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!

Read More »

Young Adult Power Surge

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Young adult literature is taking the world by storm right now, and I'm so excited that I get to be a part of providing information to readers about what I like to call the "young adult power surge." I was lucky enough to guest edit the current March/April issue of WOW!, which went live TODAY. And it's all about YA! This issue is full of awesome articles about censorship issues, voice, writing nonfiction for teens, using technology to reach readers, finding inspiration for this age group, and more. You don't want to miss any of the articles if you are a YA writer, a wanna-be YA writer, or a YA reader. Just click on the link to the WOW! e-zine over to the left of this post, and you'll be taken to the issue.

Some of my friends, who are over the age of 30, love YA books and are always recommending them to me. They actually read more YA books than adult books; and when you pick up books like Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Crank by Ellen Hopkins, or City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, it's not hard to see why. Not to mention the Twilight and Harry Potter crazes--teens aren't the only ones responsible for shooting Stephenie Meyer and J. K. Rowling to stardom--adults love them, too.

What is it about this genre? Why is it so popular? Why are adults, like me, marking down the date on their calendars for the release of the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy this summer? I wish I had the magic answer, but I don't. Sometimes, I think it's because we all wish we were teenagers again, but with the knowledge we currently have. So, when we're reading these books, we picture ourselves in this turmoil and how we would get out of it with all our new-found knowledge. Other times, I think we love YA because the writers work so hard to present honest characters in unique situations, and we just fall in love with them. Could it be because these books are just plain good?

What about you? Do you love YA literature even though you're an adult? What are some of your favorites? And by all means, if you have the magic answer of why YA is so hot right now and/or why we love it so much no matter what our age, please share with us!

Happy reading and writing!
Margo L. Dill
Read More »

Straight Talk About Self Publishing: An Interview with Miles Nelson of Dog Ear Publishing

Wednesday, March 10, 2010
With traditional publishers publishing fewer titles per year because of dwindling profits and the growth of digital media, many authors are considering their publishing options.

Some writers are frustrated with the difficulty of acquiring representation by an agent, and others are unhappy with the advance, royalties, or contract terms from a traditional publishing house, and then there are others who want more control and a larger percentage of their book sales. Those writers are the ones looking into self-publishing options with one primary goal in mind: to get their books into the hands of readers.

But how do you go about self publishing your book? What do self publishers do for you?

To help you navigate these tough choices and to give you a better understanding of your options, we've invited Miles Nelson of Dog Ear Publishing to answer some of our questions on the subject. Out of all the self-publishing companies, Dog Ear Publishing is the least expensive and the most upfront with their costs and process. Their site offers excellent information to help you compare various services. Writer's Digest featured Dog Ear Publishing as a "Get Smart Self-Publishing Resource" in their March/April '09 issue.

Interview by Jodi Webb

WOW: Welcome, Miles. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today about self publishing! First, take us back to the unlikely start of your business. How do a geologist, astronomer, and graphic designer come together to create a self-publishing company?

Miles: Our bios make it sound like we came from completely different places in order to start Dog Ear Publishing. Actually, the three of us spent years in the traditional publishing and graphic arts industry. Our experiences include marketing of books for publishing companies, purchasing books for a bookstore chain, and producing books for some of the largest publishers in the country. However, in 2004 my partners and I decided to strike out on our own in the self publishing industry that, at the time, felt like the Wild West. And we've enjoyed every minute of it.

WOW: Well, if it isn't the Wild West anymore, do you think self publishing is the future of the industry?

Miles: It's difficult to predict what will happen to traditional publishing as their profits decrease and new technologies challenge their models. However, I remain comfortable in saying that the future includes both traditional and self-publishing industries. Traditional publishers, because of shrinking profits, technological advancements and amazing industry twists, will face a much more challenging future. I am confident that self publishing, including Dog Ear Publishing, will continue to grow as more authors become familiar with self publishing's strengths such as ownership of work, speed of production, and profit potential. At Dog Ear Publishing, for example, we take advantage of cutting edge technologies and industry trends. We embrace trends like e-books, and already produce e-books with four major readers--Kindle, Sony, Apple, and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

WOW: Tell us about your typical client...are certain books, topics or authors more natural for self publishing?

Miles: A typical self published author falls into one of the following general categories:
  1. The author that remains hopeful that they'll eventually be traditionally published but doesn't want to wait any longer in getting published.
  2. The author wants to maintain ownership and control over their material.
  3. The author that wants to profit from their work and isn't satisfied with the traditional publishing payment model.
I feel that any author is a good fit for Dog Ear Publishing. Our services are flexible to meet the needs of all authors.

WOW: What are the advantages of self publishing?

Miles: Advantages to self publishing include the author's maintaining control and ownership of their work. I'm always impressed with the passion an author has for their work. I'm often told that their book is their baby. An author wants the finished book to be perfect and they want it to be their own.

Another big advantage is time. Self publishing enables the author to be proactive. They decide when to publish as opposed to waiting for a traditional publisher to "accept" their manuscript. This can be very empowering to an author. By the way, self publishing doesn't shut the door on whether an author can traditionally publish. In fact, self publishing their book may even accelerate the process or even open doors that, for the most part, are completely closed to first time or unknown authors.

Self publishing is a perfect option for books with extremely limited market potential. We've done a number of books that have regional or even smaller market appeal. A traditional publisher would find this sort of book unappealing if the potential for sales is too small.

Lastly, a big advantage to self publishing is profit potential. An author choosing to self publish is like a small business owner. Many authors to a lot of work in marketing their books. As a result, many of them profit from their efforts.

WOW: Do you have a vetting process or do you accept all clients?

Miles: Generally, we accept all works from authors with a few minor exceptions. Remember, this is self publishing, the author owns the rights to their work. It isn't our place to judge whether an author should be published. We leave that to traditional publishers. By the way, it is interesting to see more and more traditional publishers getting into the self publishing market either by partnering with a self publisher or by purchasing their way into the market.

WOW: The industry is definitely reimagining itself. How much say does a Dog Ear author have about when a book is released, title and cover design, size of book, size of the run, etc.?

Miles: The author has complete control over the look of their book and the timing of their publishing date. Remember, the author owns the book. They get to decide how the book's interior and cover will look. Additionally, the author decides on the retail price. Author control and author ownership are the names of the game with Dog Ear Publishing.

WOW: Do you provide any marketing or promotion for your authors?

Miles: Dog Ear Publishing provides marketing assistance. For example, we can develop online marketing campaigns to drive traffic to an author's website. We build these websites and equip them to sell and fulfill orders. In addition to marketing, we also provide tools to assist authors profit more on each sale.

WOW: Can you tell us about some of your best-selling books or authors?

Miles: Success is all in the eye of the author. Each author has a different measure for success. In terms of sales success, I have a feeling this is what you are interested in; we published a book by Jim Johnson on treating your own rotator cuff injury. He sells thousands of books a quarter.

[Editor's note: you can see a list of their published titles here. Including a book from one of WOW's friends--Moira Allen of Writing-World.Com!]

WOW: That's impressive! I wouldn't mind selling thousands of books a quarter and keeping the majority of the profits, no less. And one final just-because-I'm-nosy question: how did you come up with the name of your company?

Miles: Our name gets a lot of attention. You "dog ear" a page of a book that you want to remember. Thankfully, we were feeling very creative the day we came up with our name. The dog on our website is named Chooch and is owned by one of my partners.

WOW: I have a feeling a lot of readers will be "dog earing" your company. And say hello to Chooch for us!

To learn more about self publishing, read these helpful articles on the Dog Ear site:
Choosing a Path: Traditional Publishing or Self-Publishing
Self-Publishing Explained
Compare Self-Publishing Companies
The Publishing Process
How to Write a Book Marketing Plan
Amazon Sales Rank Explained (Great explanation, finally!, of what those Amazon numbers mean.)

The site also has so many useful resources and sections including: "Author Kit," which contains information on pricing your book, parts of a book, and manuscript format; "Publishing Basics," which contains information on how to publish a book, how much it costs, ISBNs and barcodes, On-Demand publishing, and copyrights and permissions; and even a section for writing resources and a recommended reading list of books about self-publishing.

You can also sign up to receive a free report: The Five Things You Must Do Before Publishing.
Read More »
Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top