Does Your Writing Remind You of Anyone Else's?

Monday, May 31, 2010
I love to read. My bookshelves heave from the weight of books. My first reading influence was Michael Bond with his Paddington Bear books.
When I first started taking fiction writing classes decades ago, I was reading a lot of Lorrie Moore, Deborah Eisenberg and Tom Perrotta. I love their spunky styles. I like how one can tease out deep meaning from their works.
I would love to say my writing is similar to theirs, but I've been writing a novel that doesn't seem willing to be influenced by the folks I want it to be influenced by. An infusion of Lorrie Moore here, a dabble of Tom Perrotta there.
So, every once in a while, when I get asked "If someone were to read my fiction, who would my writing be reminiscent of?" I draw a blank. I mean maybe my style is Eisenberg-esque, but I can't see it.
When reviewing books and reading the promotional material, I recognize when the marketers are trying to position a book: if you like this New York Times bestselling author, then you will love this debut novel.
Obviously, to understand an unknown (read: debut novelist) it becomes important to build upon something we already are familiar with. But how do you determine that? Is it from what books have influenced you and whose style might pepper your own? Or is it from reading someone reading your work and telling you that it reminds them of X writer?
I don't know about you, but I think I'm missing that essential piece of being a writer.... The piece which enables me to read my own writing and determine whose writing it is most like. I can read someone else's writing and sense influences, but I cannot do the same with my own writing. (It's the holiday weekend, my brain seems to be turning to there a term that refers to all this writerly influence?!)

What about you? Can you read different writers, differentiating the common styles? Can you turn your discerning eye upon your own writing?If so, is this something you've trained yourself to do? Or is it something you have always been able to do?

Elizabeth King Humphrey, a writer and creativity coach, writes The Write Elizabeth blog.
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Why Should I Read This Blog?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

You ask yourself, "Why should I read this blog?  I think a quote from an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic and literary critic says it best. "I want stories to startle and engage me within the first few sentences, and in their middle to widen or deepen or sharpen my knowledge of human activity, and to end by giving me a sensation of completed statement." -John Updike-.

A blog should be similar to a story, it needs to inform, entertain or deepen. These simple tips should help.

·         Don’t use big words
·         Be an artist
·         Power in the written work 
  1. Don't use big words and long sentences to show the readers how smart you are. They will soon tire of opening the dictionary continually. The reader (tongue in cheek) may say, "I'm reading a story (blog, novel, article, or essay) and the dictionary at the same time."
  2. Writers are artists. The painter uses a brush, the photographer uses a camera, the woodcarver uses a knife, and the writer uses the keyboard to create something from nothing, to breath life into their work. 
  3. Writers have a lot of power in their fingertips. The written word is very powerful it can entertain, inspire, anger and educate. The written word changes lives. 
Writers possess an acute sense of awareness and a vivid, colorful imagination. Use these qualities often and use them well. Always think of your audience when writing. Reach out to them-- touch them in some way--evoke a reaction.
Have fun and strengthen your descriptions with this writing exercise from Creative Writing. Choose from one of three scenarios: Describe a landscape as seen by an old woman whose horrible old husband has just died, describe a lake as seen by a young man who has just murdered someone, or describe a landscape as seen by a bird.
Leave your scenario in the comments.
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Writing Articles with Unique Slants: A Nonfiction Writing Exercise

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Last week, WOW! team member Jodi Webb wrote an excellent blog post about getting your query noticed. If you missed it, check it out here. Today, I thought I'd continue the theme of queries with a writing exercise about creating unique article slants. (Hopefully, light bulbs will be going off above your heads soon!) I recently gave this writing prompt to my children's writers online class I teach for WOW! Here's the prompt:

An editor whom you've worked with before wrote an email to several writers and asked for someone to come up with a unique article idea to teach children water safety rules for the summer. She explained it's a topic that's been covered many times during past years in the magazine, but the managing editor thinks it's important to remind kids (and new readers) the importance of water safety in the summer. She invites you to turn in a query for an article with a different slant on water safety. The best idea/query will get the contract for the article.

I talk with my students about how important it is to cover subjects that have been written about excessively but that some readers new to the age group or magazine haven't read about before. I've been to conferences where editors talk about how they still need articles about Abraham Lincoln or George Washington (a subject that's been covered time and time again), but they need an article for kids with a new slant. I imagine the same is true for a magazine like Good Housekeeping--the editors still need articles about tips for saving money or household cleaning secrets, but the article slant needs to be new and original.

One of the best ways to think of new article slants is to just engage in old-time brainstorming techniques of lists or word webs or brain maps. I like to put my subject, such as water safety, in a circle in the middle of the paper, and then create branches off the center with any idea that pops into my mind whether it's been done before or not. I keep going until I get an idea that is new or fresh or important and then write my query. As a matter of fact, I did this very exercise for the next WOW! issue on fiction writing and came up with an article about dialogue tags, which Angela accepted and will be in the July/August issue.

If the above writing prompt doesn't fit your genre or freelance writing career, you can substitute almost any topic for water safety and get your creative wheels moving. Here's wishing you have many light bulbs go off this weekend!

post by Margo L. Dill,
photo by thomasbrightbill
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Friday Speak Out: "Marketing With What You’ve Got: Learning to Use Technology to Jumpstart Your Book’s Success," Guest Post by Michele Howe

Friday, May 28, 2010
Marketing With What You’ve Got:
Learning to Use Technology to Jumpstart Your Book’s Success

by Michele Howe

Becoming active on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can quickly render an author feeling overwhelmed, defeated, and somewhat hopeless. Why is this? Simply, it’s the age-old trap of making comparisons. One author’s speaking/writing/publishing platform compared to the next; one author’s sales numbers compared to the next, or one author’s three signed book contracts compared to the next (or more specifically, to yours). As soon as any of us begins to make comparisons, we’ve made the biggest mistake ever. Our job, our personal mission, is to write and work and market according to our best ability.

Easier said than done, I know. After a brief period of lamenting all that I couldn’t do (or didn’t have the resources to utilize), I started looking at FaceBook/blogging/enewsletters/websites from a different angle. Once I did, it changed everything. Instead of focusing on what I lacked in comparison to bigger name authors, I decided to watch and learn.

The Essentials

Facebook -- First, I set up my Facebook account for sharing and updating primarily work related information with family/friends/colleagues/readers and anyone interested in my writing/reviewing/books. Second, I added a “fan page” for my new book project; Burdens Do a Body Good. Here, I posted all current book information/media exposure/quotes from the book/quotes from the book’s endorsers/reviews and anything remotely related to this specific project.

Twitter – This is a simple device to open and use. It’s important to link this marketing tool with others such as Facebook. Your “tweets” are very short, pithy updates that alert your followers of what you’re up to at the moment.

Linked In – A good place for your business profile and to continue building and connecting with others in your field.

Blog – I use, it’s free, it’s pretty straightforward to get started, and they have excellent customer care when you’re setting up a blog for the first time. This is also your “home base” to situate any/all your work related information.

Daily Habits to Incorporate

Check your sites – Every morning, I do a brief check on my main sites (FB, Linked In, blog, journalist enews requests, and two email accounts). I quickly answer emails/requests/queries, and then move on.

Promote all current work regularly – I keep that ongoing (and always changing) marketing list next to my computer and give it a brief read every day to make sure I’m on time/on target with any upcoming book deadlines.

Help someone out – Almost everyday on FB, some other writer will ask for help and I offer that help when I can. Often when perusing the journalists callouts for information, I’ll frequently see something another writer can speak to better than I can and I pass that request on to them immediately.

Keep tabs on what’s effective and what’s not – As I look down my marketing list, I can quickly identify those areas that are not working for me. When I write to a number of editors but get no response, that’s the clue I need to change my approach.

Be willing to try new things – Refuse to say no to a new opportunity without giving it ample thought and consideration. Don’t see the obstacles, see the possibilities.

Look ahead – Just when I think I’ve exhausted all I can do to market my work, I think some more. Here are some specific angles that get me jumpstarted when I’m fresh out of ideas. Think local. Think state. Think national. Think online. Think in print. Think in person.

* * *

Michele Howe is the author of ten books for women and has published over 1200 articles, reviews, and curriculum to more than 100 different publications. Her articles and reviews have been published in Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Christianity Today, Focus on the Family and many other publications. Michele’s newest title, Still Going It Alone, was released last year. After having undergone four shoulder surgeries, Michele saw the need for an upcoming women’s inspirational health-related book co-authored with her orthopedic surgeon, titled, Burdens Do a Body Good: Meeting Life’s Challenges with Strength (and Soul), released May 2010. Michele also writes a parenting column at

Read more about Michele at


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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Pick Up the Pace: Establishing Rhythm in Fiction

Thursday, May 27, 2010
Anton Chekhov wrote: "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

Solid advice, especially for fiction writers. It doesn't matter if you write flash, short stories, or novels, establishing rhythm and setting the pace from the first word on the page will involve readers and progress the story.

In fact, Chekhov advised new writers to toss the early pages of a draft. Why? Because too many writers fail to get to the point. Instead, they offer backstory overload and unnecessary narrative.

The result? Underdeveloped pacing. Lack of rhythm. No flow.

Pacing reveals necessary details. Unloading an info dump in the opening pages not only turns off readers, it kills the story. Four common pacing error ruin a story. Is your fiction guilty of committing these pacing sins?
  1. Info dump. Writers spend too much time listing minute details that do not advance the plot. Instead, writers need to reveal details that show character motivation. The "why did she do that" answers make a stronger impact.
  2. Missing in action. Many stories begin with paragraphs (or pages, in some cases) that give background information. Readers need to be on the same page as the main character, as far as knowledge is concerned, but that does not mean readers need to be inundated with background information. Instead, cut to the action. That's the heart of the story.
  3. Top-notch material. Once you've completed a draft, make sure every word counts. Does your draft suffer from adverb overload? Do adjectives paint a vivid picture? Do all scenes advance action? If not, grab the red pen and start cutting.
  4. Sentence structure. Writers, especially beginners, develop writing patterns. Look at each sentence. Are they all the same length? Do they sound similar? Does rhythm vary? If not, rewrite sentences. Vary length. Vary beginnings. Use fragments or single word responses for effect.

Pacing moves readers through the story. Compare it to Goldilocks and The Three Bears. If pacing is too slow, readers grow bored. If rhythm is too fast, readers feel like they're bouncing off the pages of your work. But when the flow is right, readers are engaged.

And that's the ultimate goal!

by LuAnn Schindler. Visit LuAnn's Writing on the Wall

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Organize Your Social-Networking Life

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Anyone who’s overwhelmed by social networking, raise your hand.

I know my hand’s in the air!

I'm on facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, I have a blog, and I recently signed up for Digg and Stumble Upon. I joined a site called LiveMocha to learn Chinese and realized afterwards that even that came with its own international social network.

It’s important for writers to learn social networking tools and skills because it helps us connect to a writing community and market ourselves as writers. But it can be very time consuming, a little confusing and sometimes overwhelming. Not only do you have to maintain your own sites and profiles, but you have to read other people’s posts and status updates, comment on them and find other ways to interact online.

Who has time to do all of that?? Although I enjoy social networking, I often become so engrossed in it that I don’t realize two or three hours have gone by.

I have found a very useful tool that has helped me by allowing me to organize all of my social networking venues on one screen…which saves so much time. With all of them on one screen, I don’t have to keep switching from site to site to post and/or search for new information. It’s all there in one glance of my computer.

iGoogle is Google’s customizable homepage on which you can add all of your favorite social networking tools and RSS feeds as well as other applications like news and games. I have Twitter, facebook and Blogger lined up beside each other at the top of the page, followed by the RSS feeds of major blogs I follow. It’s great! It saves so much time and I'm staying better informed of the happenings of other writers, agents and editors.

Here’s a short video by Google explaining how easy it is to use iGoogle:

If you check out iGoogle and like what you see, you can start organizing your social-networking life today!

What are some other methods you’ve used to organize your social networks?

Written by: Anne Greenawalt is blogging, facebooking and tweeting.
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Get Your Article Query Noticed

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Remember preparing for the dreaded job interview? The first impression. It seems everyone from your Great Aunt Martha to the dry cleaner had advice—and most of it included the handshake. Firm. Confident. Not sweaty. Because if the interview was the first impression, the handshake was the beginning of the first impression. A lot of pressure for a handshake but…

As a freelance writer you can work for an editor for years without every meeting them in person(or these days without even talking to them on the telephone). Instead of job interviews we have queries—one written page to say “Hire me!” In place of the handshake we have the article title.

Be honest. How much time and thought do you put into your article titles? Sure, you craft a great idea and format, find sources, toot your horn with clips and experience, compliment the magazine and/or editor. I used to slap in any title that popped into my head as I was typing up the query. Then I realized that in a flood of queries, titles are easy for editors to remember. Titles can say I’m professional, I pay attention to details, I know your magazine. A lot of pressure for a title but…

This is where research comes in handy. You did research the market, didn’t you? Try to use a similar format to past articles—every magazine has their favorite title type.

Article Quote – Use a source quote or an especially good phrase from your article, usually the first paragraph. For instance, if you were writing an article on job interviews and used the first paragraph of this article your title could be “A Lot of Pressure for a Handshake”.

Number – Many magazines like “number” titles: “Five Ways to Organize Your Life”, “Six Fun Car Games”, “Three Things to Do with Avocados”.

Funny – Especially if your article has a tinge of humor to it carry that theme through to your title. An essay on capturing a bat in my house was titled “Living in a Bat House” as opposed to the more straight forward, but less fun “The Day I Captured a Bat in My House”.

– Don’t carry alliteration for more than three words and don’t feel all the words in the title have to match: “Delectable Desserts”, “Help with Heart Health”, “Doggie Disasters in Your Garden”.

Familiarity – Take a well known book, song, or saying and give it a twist to create a memorable title. “Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue” became “Three Cheers for the Red Freshman”. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” became “Invasion of the Bulb Snatchers”. Just make sure it isn’t an overused title twist. For instance, I imagine at one time editors were drowning in titles that were twists on Nike’s “Just Do It” and the Mastercard “Priceless” line is finding its way into many article titles.

One last note: You’re probably noticing that my blog title is, well, lackluster. That’s because I’ve received advice to be straightforward with blog post titles since it makes search engines easier to find your article.

One last, last note: Even if you come up with a great title don’t get too attached to it. Editors often change it anyway to match the issue’s theme, the space available, or a thousand other reasons. But your title did its job—it helped get you the assignment.
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Barbara Barth, author of The Unfaithful Widow, launches her blog tour!

Monday, May 24, 2010
& Book Giveaway Comments Contest!

Barbara Barth likes a lot of things: turquoise jewelry, surfing the 'net, and margaritas, to name a few. Then there are the dogs. Six at last count, five of them from local animal shelters. But who can keep it straight with all those tails wagging? This Georgia antique dealer and jewelry maker published a hobby newsletter for 13 years. After her husband died she recorded the year that followed in a series of essays. When she isn't writing you can find her at the local thrift shops or pounding another nail into the wall to hang the paintings she can't resist. The Unfaithful Widow is her first book.

Find out more about Barbara by visiting her websites:
Facebook Fan Page

The Unfaithful Widow: Fragmented Memoirs On My First Year Alone
By Barbara Barth

The Unfaithful Widow is a collection of candid essays on finding joy again after the loss of a mate. With warmth and laughter no subject is taboo. From dealing with the funeral home (Can I show you our upgraded cremation package? I looked at Miss Death, was I booking a vacation?) to dating again (He ran in the door, looked at me and said, "I've left something in the car." He never returned). Sprinkle a bevy of rescue dogs (Finally a good nights sleep with someone new in my bed.) and those questions you hate to ask (Condoms anyone?). The Unfaithful Widow is a story for anyone who has suffered loss and is determined to become their own super hero.

Genre: Memoir
Paperback: 246 pages
ISBN: 1432750755
Outskirts Press (April 2010)
Read an excerpt/purchase at
Watch the book trailer on YouTube

Book Giveaway Comments Contest!
If you received our Events Newsletter, remember, we are holding a contest to win a copy of Barbara Barth's book The Unfaithful Widow to those that comment. So, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, and enjoy the chat, and share your thoughts, and comments, at the end. We will randomly choose a winner from those who comment.

Interview by Jodi Webb

WOW: Welcome, Barbara! We're thrilled to be launching your blog tour today! The Unfaithful Widow is your debut book. Tell us a little bit about your writing history.

Barbara: Years ago I dabbled in writing and owned a hobby newsletter for thirteen years. I started collecting vintage Raggedy Ann dolls and discovered there was very little information available on this charming cloth doll. That was in 1988. I met a doll dealer at an antique show in Atlanta and we became friends. A few months later I contacted her and asked if she'd like to be involved in a newsletter I was starting about Raggedy Ann. She said absolutely. Then I contacted the family of the creator of Raggedy Ann and got them on board. The final step was an OK from Simon & Schuster, who held the rights to the books. Everything fell into place and I launched my first issue of RAGS in August 1988. The newsletter had a paid subscription following with collectors as far as Japan. It was published quarterly and had sixteen pages of articles, photos and all the Raggedy scoop of the day. I wrote an editorial each issue and wrote promotional articles for other doll newsletters and magazines. It was a lovely adventure but I was working full time and the newsletter had grown larger than I could handle. I sold it to a printer in Illinois. It was exciting to have put that community of collectors together.

WOW: How thrilling to establish your own newsletter and be able to resell it! When you were widowed, what made you turn to writing?

Barbara: I started writing out of grief to fill my lonely nights two years ago when my husband died. The writing become something fun to do. Finally I was hooked. I had to write. Writing my book became the bridge from my old life to my new life. It opened a doorway for me to meet people and have something to talk about that was uplifting.

I don't consider myself an expert on how to handle grief so I want to be sure no one thinks I am passing myself off as a specialist in that area. I do know what I went through and how I decided to handle it myself. I had flipped through a few self-help books for widows and read some online widow blogs. They were discouraging. Especially how long the sadness lasted and how dating and dealing with sex again after a caring relationship could be intimidating. I was already writing at night about the oddity of being on my own, doing all those things I never thought I'd do again. So I decided to share my experiences as a more positive viewpoint.

I joined an online dating service three months after my husband died. It was way too soon to take dating seriously, but it felt good to be out at night and have people around me. My online dating adventures did not bring me second dates but those dates brought me some unexpected surprises. The universe was speaking to me and I had to listen.

I like to think of my essays as stories shared with a good friend over a cup of tea or a great margarita. There is an intimacy in my book that I hope will encourage other women to realize they are not alone in their questions and choices on what to do next.

Through trial and error I have my own life now. My old life will always be in my heart, the sweet memories of my own husband always present, but I learned that by pushing myself to move forward I created a place of happiness where I can relax and smile. I am still waiting to see what the universe has in store for me. Moving forward and keeping an open heart is the message I want to pass along in my book. The choice on how to do it is a personal one.

WOW: So this book began as journaling. Was it difficult to present this part of your life to the world?

Barbara: Deciding to let go of my story and let someone finally read it was difficult. All my friends and my mother listened to me live the book as I talked about what I was doing. That part was easy. But looking at the words on paper made it official and I was nervous.

I was worried those who didn't know me might judge me. My essays are candid and there is always a risk when you open your heart. I lived with my husband for twenty years then we got married for the last five. Some may frown that we lived together, but it worked for us. I started dating too soon and have had eyebrows raised on that. I deal with things in an offbeat way and use humor to get me through the darkest times. Those close to me understand. I don't know if strangers will think I'm flip on such a serious subject. That's scary. I have letters to God in my book. Not deep religious essays, but chats with the man above. He's cool in my book. I wonder how that will be received.

I weighed all that and decided to let it rip. I think we all fear disapproval by others in the choices we make. Trying to survive the loss of a loved one is the hardest thing you'll ever do. It has been for me. Worrying what others think will paralyze you. I learned to laugh at myself on some of my follies. I let my friends laugh with me. It was good for my soul if it wasn't good for anything else. I hope my story will make someone else smile.

WOW: I definitely think that's a good lesson for writers to remember: "Worrying what others think will paralyze you." So, why was self-publishing the right choice for you?

Barbara: Self-publishing was the answer for me for several reasons. First, I needed something to do. I decided waiting to find an agent and then waiting for a publisher was too open ended for me. In the best of times I have no patience.

I also had a vision of how I wanted the book to look. I may have been the sixty-year-old widow but my story is young in spirit. I wanted the book to reflect that. The pink color on the cover expresses joy. The book is broken down by seasons. I knew how I wanted the layout to look. My book was a total art project for me. I didn't want someone to interpret their idea of what I felt. I was fortunate enough to have a sister who is a photographer and artist. She did the altered photos throughout the book and the back cover author photo. Her good friend is a commercial graphic designer. She understood what I wanted and gave me the perfect cover. I am thrilled with the look of the book. It is exactly as I dreamed.

I published doing print on demand (POD). It is different from regular self-publishing in that you don't have a basement full of boxes of books to sell. They are printed and shipped when ordered. The initial cash outlay for POD is painless. Self-publishing is expensive. I learned about this type of publishing through a course at Emory University.

Different POD companies offer different ways to handle book submission for printing which also can lower or raise the initial costs. Since I am not the best with a computer, Outskirts Press was perfect for me. I did not have to submit a print-ready file, just a word document. I was assigned an author rep to assist me. The program I chose allowed me to use my own cover design. I purchased an extra package for the illustrations.

Outskirts Press has a book pricing structure that is based on the program you choose. Some people have issues with that. I didn't. My profit per book on retail sales is low. I wanted to be as close to publishing standards as possible in approaching retail markets, so I allowed a full 50% retail discount with a return option. I can buy my own copies at wholesale prices to sell on my website.

Now that my book is published, Outskirts Press has assigned a marketing coach who sends me tips daily. I started doing my own marketing research while I was still writing and had many things in place prior to publication. My research brought me to WOW. How great is that?

I love all of this. It keeps me busy. I am meeting people. I am having fun with my book. From my view, self-publishing was the only way to go. Now if someone notices the book and wants to grab it up, I'm ready. If not, I am happily working away and would not have chosen to do anything differently.

WOW: Although it's not for everyone, it sounds like self-publishing was the right choice for you. We appreciate your detailed tips on Outskirts, too. One of our staff members published with them and were happy with the results. Your book turned out great! I really love the cover. Now, we know you're very busy with the marketing aspects of your book; are you still finding time to write?

Barbara: With six dogs, I have a wealth of material literally at my feet. Try dating and having a life with a six pack at home. My new book Covered In Fur is essays and lessons learned on living life with my dogs.

I write most days on my blogs. Five to date. If I am lucky, I'll soon have as many blogs as dogs!

WOW: Thank you, Barbara, for being so open and chatting with us today! You've been great, and we wish you the best of luck with your tour!

Readers, Barbara is having a book signing/charity event on Saturday June 26, 2010 to benefit Animal Action Rescue. If you're in the Atlanta, GA area, call Barbara at 404.326.7306 for more info, or visit the Animal Action Rescue's events page to check for updates. It will be held at Heartfield Manor Bed & Breakfast in Atlanta's Historic Inman Park: 182 Elizabeth St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30307. Reservations are necessary due to space limitations.

(Photo, right: Foxy, who has been with Barbara for fourteen years!)

Want to join Barbara on her blog tour? Check out these dates and mark your calendar! You can also snag a copy of WOW's Events Calendar HERE.

Blog Tour Dates: Come and join the fun!

May 24, 2010 Monday
Barbara will be chatting with WOW! Women On Writing at The Muffin. One lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Barbara's book!

May 25, 2010 Tuesday
Essayist Barbara Barth tells us about her love of books in the Write for a Reader feature "Because of a Book." Don't miss a chance to win her memoir The Unfaithful Widow!

May 27, 2010 Thursday
Stop by for an interesting interview with Barbara Barth about writing, dogs, grief, and her memoir The Unfaithful Widow.

June 1, 2010 Tuesday
Don't miss a visit from author Barbara Barth and a chance to win her memoir The Unfaithful Widow.

June 3, 2010 Thursday
Stop by Readaholic for a review of Barbara Barth's memoir The Unfaithful Widow.

June 7, 2010 Monday
Stop by Writer Inspired to learn about essay writing from Barbara Barth. And enter to win her memoir The Unfaithful Widow!

June 9, 2010 Wednesday
Eliza Fayle has a few questions for memoir writer Barbara Barth. Stop by and ask Barbara a question of your own! You can also read Eliza's review and enter to win a copy of The Unfaithful Widow!

June 10, 2010 Thursday
Stop by to enjoy the musings of Barbara Barth, author of the memoir The Unfaithful Widow, about her six rescue dogs (at least six at last nose count). Don't forget to enter to win your copy!

June 14, 2010 Monday
Barbara Barth, author of The Unfaithful Widow, is taking a break from her WOW blog tour today. April in Paris, a dog unlike any other is filling in for her today. Don't miss it!

June 16, 2010 Wednesday
Stop by for a review of Barbara's memoir The Unfaithful Widow and some thoughts on book titles.

June 21, 2010 Monday
Barbara Barth stops by Choices for a visit. Come ask your questions about memoir writing, self-publishing, and marketing your book!

To view all of our touring authors, check out our Events Calendar HERE.

Get involved!

If you have a blog or website and would like to host Barbara Barth or schedule a tour of your own, please email Angela and Jodi at:

And be sure to comment on this post to enter in a drawing for a copy of Barbara Barth's memoir The Unfaithful Widow! And check back in a couple of days in the comments section to see if you won!
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Seeing Clearly Now

Sunday, May 23, 2010
by Jill Earl

Last week in her e-zine, 'The Prosperous Writer', Writer Mama author Christina Katz discussed ‘clarity’, number twenty of her continuing series on ’52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers’. She mentioned some possible ways to identify the lack of clarity in your life, such as:

Felling pulled in multiple directions

Feeling burdened and/or guilty

Feeling as if you can’t please anyone, not even yourself

Ouch, ouch, and ouch. Or should I say me, me, and me?

I start to see clearly during a long-awaited retreat I did a few weeks ago. it was during that long, wonderful, restful weekend a point Christina made in her e-zine came to life for me.

“Clarity means not merely that you know what you need and want. Clarity also means that you know what you don't need and what you don't want.”

I love that. I grabbed onto that while on my retreat. As I worked on a writing project and during times of reflection, I noticed bits of clarity seeping through.

I don’t want to slog through the clutter of my life and writing anymore. Most importantly, I don’t need to.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a major purge of my place and computer, and struggle to exercise restraint at this point. Part of me wants to toss out just about everything, and while that would be freeing, it would also be reckless. I’d be in the middle of a happy dance and realize that I’ve accidentally deleted a necessary file from the computer or dumped a critical something as the trash collectors roll away. That’s small stuff I’m not willing to sweat.

The breakthrough on retreat excited me and I want to keep the momentum going. It’ll take as long as it needs to. I really want to work on this new relationship with clarity, looking forward to a lasting friendship.

You can follow Christina as she reveals each week’s quality is by signing up for the e-zine through 'The Prosperous Writer' blog here.

Got clarity? Umm, I’m getting there.
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All About Editors and Agents: Tips from Andrea Campbell

Saturday, May 22, 2010
One of the most challenging aspects of being a writer is not writing (that's the fun part!) it's finding a home for our work. Even when we think we've found the perfect fit--a publisher or agent who accepts the type of material we're submitting--we still receive rejections. Why? Perhaps we haven't targeted the right person, maybe it's a timing issue or lack of market need, maybe we just haven't built up our platforms enough to attract an agent's attention, or maybe we simply don't know enough about our product to market it properly. And sometimes, it's just downright baffling!

So to help us figure out how we can better target agents and editors, we've invited WOW! instructor Andrea Campbell to answer our questions on the subject and questions about her upcoming course The Gatekeepers: All About Agents and Editors--Getting them, Working with them, and Growing as a Career Author, which starts Monday, June 7th. If you're interested in learning all about agents and editors from a pro who will personally guide you through the process, there's still time to sign up. Visit our Classroom Page for full curriculum details.

Andrea is the author of twelve traditionally published nonfiction books on a variety of topics including forensic science, criminal law, primatology and entertaining using interactive games, among others. Her latest book is the 2nd edition of Legal Ease: A Guide to Criminal Law, Evidence and Procedure, which as just been updated and fashioned into a college law textbook. Her next book, a historical-biography about the world's first detective, will be released later this year with Overlook Press.

Andrea is a member of several professional organizations and stays current with book business. Her classes always offer students much more than they thought they'd get. One of her students got a "very good deal," and, according to Publisher's Lunch, a $100,000-plus contract. We ask Andrea about that student in this interview.

WOW: Welcome, Andrea! Let's start by talking about your upcoming e-course, The Gatekeepers. Who should take your class on agents and editors? Is it only for authors?

Andrea: Angela, thanks for having me. The Gatekeepers e-class was set up specifically for authors, but it will also apply to advanced writers who have a book idea that has gone through some considered thought. It is tightly focused on a writer's interests in terms of obtaining publication and it addresses their needs toward that end--but the class also provides evergreen information, useful for furthering an author's career.

WOW: Why is it important for authors to learn about the publishing business?

Andrea: If you were going to start a small business, say, dressmaking, you would go seek out a workspace, purchase work equipment, set up accounting, secure your business name, find a supplier for your fabrics and such, and make sure your patterns were current and in fashion before you hired additional workers. You also don't want to set up your shop next to someone else's dress shop unless you want your business drained off. Why would anyone go into publishing without learning the industry? This is a business after all and the more professional you are, the more realistic you are about the industry, the better your odds of succeeding.

WOW: I like that analogy! And you're so right. It always surprises me though how often aspiring authors jump into the business without learning all about it. It just creates more work in the long run, and this is already a slow industry!

In week two of your course, you cover an author's platform. What are some key points authors should consider when creating a plan for their platform?

Andrea: Platform is really about positioning. And it is not something that can be created in a month or two of effort. Platform is what you bring to the table. Here is the publisher at this meeting and he is looking to invest a lot of money into an author. He thinks to himself that it would be best to work with someone who already has customers, or at least interested readers and potential buyers for the product. If you can say, "I have a blog in my subject area that nets 20,000 visitors a month," or "I have a newsletter that goes out to 10,000 subscribers," "I have a radio show that airs on Friday nights that gets the best _________ (fantasy, romance, whatever) writers in the business," and so forth. These desirable entities do not spring up overnight but take concentrated effort and planning.

WOW: Having an established audience is definitely attractive to publishers. You also cover getting an agent or editor in your class. How can an author craft a query that will catch an agent or editor's attention?

Andrea: The name of the game is knowing your product, being able to describe it in an intriguing manner, having relevant credentials, and keeping your professional letter to one page or a page and a half. That's no little feat.

WOW: What are some things an author shouldn't do when crafting her query? Are there any big "don'ts" to avoid?

Andrea: Don't say your mother/friend/writing teacher, etc. loved it. Who cares? Don't use a generic "Dear Editor" greeting. Don't fail to mention pertinent awards. Don't fail to know your audience. Know the difference between audience and market. Don't do things that will label you a novice.

WOW: Those are great tips! I know agents usually specialize in certain genres or subjects. How can authors find the right agent to target before sending her query?

Andrea: A huge part of The Gatekeepers is marketing. And that marketing component means many different things. We figure out what sells. We figure out who buys what you write. We figure out what agents like and don't like. And that's just the beginning. It's research. There are a lot of websites that carry this information, but you have to dig it up and make sure it's current.

WOW: That's true; the industry is always changing and it's important to keep current. In your course description you say that "a lot of what you'll learn is not clearly visible." Can you explain this concept to our readers?

Andrea: One thing we do is discuss what readers want. If you don't know how your book benefits your targeted reader, it's probably a vanity effort and you have not gone beyond first-level thinking. There is a psychology to sales, and we learn to tap into that psychology. To find not only the universal message but to find your exact reader and why they should buy your book.

WOW: That's very helpful! So what do you ultimately hope students will learn from taking your course?

Andrea: I don't hold out hope. I am a difficult taskmaster. If you are not doing the work, it's obvious. I suggest that students clear their plates. I will read your assignments, tell you where you've erred, and expect you to learn from it. We have a chat every week that allows students live sessions to brainstorm and ask questions. There are no vagaries, so hope is not an option. It's do this or don't move forward. It's as easy as that.

WOW: You are a "difficult taskmaster!" I love that. It produces results. Tell us a little about your student who received what Publisher's Lunch calls a "very good deal"--a $100k+ advance. That's amazing! You must be very proud!

Andrea: Jeannie Ralston wrote, The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming. In fact, we chose the title in class and the publisher kept it, which is quite a coup today.

Jeannie had a great experience to share but couldn't find her focus. She had left a flourishing writer-editor career in New York, to begin a life in rural Texas as a lavender farmer because that is what Robb, her husband, yearned for. They had visited Provence, in France, and her husband wanted to settle down in the country--so a deal was struck--she'd move to Texas if Robb would agree it was time to have children. But her National Geographic photographer husband was still taking photo assignments to exotic places and guess who had the farm and the kids? Jeannie not only discovered her "muster" but also became the largest lavender farmer in the southwest, Hill County Lavender. It is really a transformative story for anyone who dreams of another life.

WOW: That's an amazing story! Both the deal and the book! Thank you, Andrea, for sharing your tips with us today. Do you have any parting words of wisdom for our authors-in-waiting?

Andrea: If you want to succeed in this hard-knock business you need the foundation and knowledge of how to be a professional first. I once heard an agent say, "Ideas are hard, we can teach anyone to write, but content is still king." Thinking is hard, if it weren't we would all do it longer than five minutes.


Readers, if you're interested in learning more about getting an agent or editor from a pro, remember, Andrea's The Gatekeepers: All About Agents and Editors--Getting them, Working with them, and Growing as a Career Author starts next Monday, June 7, 2010. It runs for 4 weeks. Visit the classroom page to view what you'll be learning week by week. Enroll today to reserve your spot. Happy writing!
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Metaphors Are Fun, Creative and Therapeutic

Friday, May 21, 2010
Lenny: Hey, maybe there is no cabin. Maybe it's one of them metaphorical things.
Carl: Oh yeah, yeah. Like maybe, the cabin is the place inside each of us, created by our goodwill and teamwork.
Lenny: Nah, they said there would be sandwiches.

The use of metaphors enriches a writer's story. Metaphors are the cherry on top of a banana split. Some people eat the cherry first, but many save it until last. The metaphorical cherry is the very last tantalizing bite of a delightful desert.

Hugh Laurie is the king of TV medical metaphors. "The liver is a cruise ship taking in water. As it starts to sink, it sends out an SOS. Only instead of radio waves, it uses enzymes. The more enzymes in the blood, the worse the liver is. But once the ship has sunk, there's no more SOS. You think the liver's fine, but it's already at the bottom of the sea." (Dr. Gregory House in the "Locked In" episode of House, M.D.)

The website Metaphorology speaks of some psychologists who have been using the term "metaphor therapy," and they help patients choose better metaphors. For example, a dentist who felt timid, and was unable to express himself in a group was likened to soft clay.

With the therapist's guidance, he questioned this metaphorical view, and replaced it by seeing the clay harden into something else. Steel was the new metaphor he decided on; battleship steel, to be specific, and he even imagined the rivets in it. Within days, he went to a convention with hundreds of other dentists, and when an issue came up that was important to him, he spoke up. He never did this before, not even in a small group.

Metaphors speak for themselves. Aristotle describes a metaphor: Those words are most pleasant which give us new knowledge. Strange words have no meaning for us; common terms we know already. It is metaphor, which gives us most of this pleasure. (Aristotle's work on persuasion the Rhetoric)

In other words, metaphors should strike up a memory, bring a smile, or add depth. A tool that is well used by many writers and overused by others. An overused metaphor is eating sugar by the spoonfuls. The sweetness coats the tongue and causes gagging sensations.

Try one of these exercises and post your results in the comments section. Describe yourself using a metaphor. Describe your weather using a metaphor. Describe the dearest person/thing in your life right now, this minute, using a metaphor.

Photo of Lenny
Photo of House
Photo of Banana Split
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Swimming in Words: Sometimes It's OK to Break the Rules

Thursday, May 20, 2010
I have signed up for my third summer as a volunteer stroke and turn judge for my children's swim team. Recently, I went to the mandatory meeting, was handed a print out of several pages of the league's rules and regulations. As soon as the meeting started, my brain promptly switched gears to focus on the rules and regulations of creative writing.
In writing, we are often told to follow the rules. To send a pitch, include this. For a letter of introduction, include that. You'll look like an amateur if you do this; a pro if you don't. Write what you know. Don't use flashback. Use flashback. (I think you get my point!)
Writers in school or in their profession often start with the edges where we dare not cross over. The more comfort one can draw from the rules and the structure, often the more freedom one feels to break the rules. Sticking a toe over the edge. Testing the waters.
When in graduate school, one of my professors was Stan Colbert, who often regaled his classes with his experiences as an agent. Colbert explains that he represented Jack Kerouac, who came to the Sterling Lord agent with a 120-foot scroll that was his early manuscript for "On the Road."
Yes, a scroll. Even in the 1950s, I'm pretty sure "submit manuscript on a scroll" was not in the how-to manuals on succeeding as a writer.
During my revision, I have sometimes tried to capture the rules--following them to try to tease forth the best revision I can. For example, in the early part of the novel, I've been told not to use a flashback. But with each revision (and I've now lost count which revision this is), I've yet to find a strong way to explain one character's current state without slipping in some flashbacks.
When talking to a friend about this, she dropped the names of some books that use flashbacks. Published books. Books that ran the gauntlet and still saw publication without following all the rules.
So, for swimmers and writers alike, my point is: follow the rules, as much as you're able. But, as you grow and become stronger and more confident, there is some wiggle room.

What rules do you feel like breaking today?

Elizabeth King Humphrey, a writer and creativity coach, is in the midst of the 2010 WordCount Blogathon at The Write Elizabeth.
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The Fear of Submitting My Manuscripts

Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Each day on my calendar, I list the writing tasks and goals I would like to accomplish. I'm hardly ever able to complete everything I have planned--this is either because there's no possible way a human being could finish all those tasks, or I spend to much time on e-mail, or I play with my dogs and watch reality TV. Okay, so maybe it's a combination of all three. It doesn't bother me too much because I do accomplish a lot, and I can usually catch up on the weekends. But the one thing I've noticed is that I always put off a certain task-until it's too late at night and I'm too tired to do what is required. That task is sending out my creative work to agents and editors. And I'm trying to figure out why this is.

Currently, I have three projects--a YA novel and two picture book manuscripts--that are ready to be submitted. I have submitted the YA novel to a few agents and received rejections. Then I had a brilliant idea (or at least I think so) about one of my character's motivations, so I am in the process of changing a few things in the manuscript. But still, all in all, these three are ready to go, and I am now more excited about the YA novel with my new change. And almost every day on that list of things to do, I write something like: "Find agents that accept picture books." or "Look into the editors I met at the November conference." But did I do this at all last week? NOPE. Did I do it this week yet? NOPE.

It's not like I did nothing --I've written articles, book reviews, blogs, part of a synopsis (talk about procrastinating--these things are horrible to write), revised a picture book manuscript, and more. But I always put sending out my manuscripts at the bottom of my list, which I hardly ever get to. WHY?

Do I fear rejection? Well, I guess we all do to a certain extent. But I've had enough of it over the last ten years to know that it only hurts for a little bit before my optimistic attitude wins out, and I recover. Do I hate researching the editors and agents? Frankly--yes, whenever I read a blog post or interview with an agent or editor, I think: What she's looking for is exactly what I'm writing. She'll accept my manuscript for sure. And then when I see the rejection, I think: Maybe I need to work on my reading comprehension skills because obviously she wasn't looking for my work at all. Or maybe I just hate sending out my work because it takes the time away from actual writing, and there's no guarantee that the time I just spent sending out my work will pay off.

So, what should I do about this problem--since if I never send out work, I will never accomplish my goals? I know what I should do. I should put sending out my work at the top of the list, unless I have a deadline for something else. OR Make it a goal to send to one agent or editor each day. That's what I should do. But first I have to get over this mental block. I hope by sharing this with you today, that's the first step. Anyone else have these kinds of problems? It's not writers' block--it's sending-out-your-work block.

post written by Margo L. Dill,
photo by Pink Moose
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Book Review: Brava, Valentine written by Adriana Trigiani

Monday, May 17, 2010

Brava, Valentine debuted at #7 on the New York Times Bestseller List in February 2010. The second book in a three-part series by Adriana Trigiani, Brava, Valentine reintroduces the Angelini and Roncalli families, a colorful cast of supporting characters. Action takes place in Italy, New York City, and Buenos Aires ~ each presenting a backdrop of beautiful scenery and intricate storytelling.

A blanket of snow covers a small Italian village on the wedding day of Valentine's grandmother, Teodora. The wedding comes off without a hitch, but the antics afterward during the reception, and later at the Inn, provide a hilarious glimpse into a family's hierarchy and secrets.

Valentine must brace herself to run the Angelini Shoe Company by herself, but Teodora insists that Valentine's brother, Alfred, join forces with his sister to keep the family business afloat.

Valentine longs to be with Gianluca, the son of Dominic, who is marrying Teodora. The sexy Italian tries to woo Valentine, but she's a career girl at heart and returns to NYC to contemplate a new line of shoes. Together with company employee June and best friend Gabriel, Valentine works to develop her line.

By chance, she discovers another branch of her family lives in Buenos Aires and makes shoes and creates a scandal within her family. A surprise visit from Gianluca disrupts Valentine's business trip, and he tells her she needs to do some soul searching and decide what she ultimately wants from life.

Brava, Valentine is pure romance filled with sensual love letters and long-distance romance. Trigiani nails characters, giving a sense that these characters could be your family or best friend. Most readers will easily relate to several of the subplots and undertones, including the struggle between love and career and family hierarchy and how inlaws are treated.

Multiple pop culture references may date the book, and sometimes, those references make some of the storyline comparisons feel forced.

Otherwise, Brava, Valentine is a sexy and fun romance that shows that a strong, independent woman can still find love.
Review by WOW! Columnist/blogger LuAnn Schindler. Follow LuAnn on Twitter @luannschindler or visit her website
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Creating Dynamic Characters: A Writing Exercise

Sunday, May 16, 2010

By: Anne Greenawalt

Writers know that creating strong, memorable characters is one of the most (if not the most) important part of writing a story. In a blog post earlier this month, I wrote about how to create dynamic characters in five easy steps. And now, as promised, I am following-up with a character-creation writing exercise.

This is one of my favorite writing exercises and benefits writers of every age and writing level. I learned this exercise as an undergraduate. I have lead several creative writing workshops for students ranging in age from nine to 18 who also benefited from it. Adult writers have also told me they find this exercise useful, so I hope you will, too.

The Character List

First, consider the character you’d like to develop. Next, grab a piece of paper, or open a blank word document, and jot down an answer or description that matches each of the categories below. Feel free to add your own categories to this list.

· Character’s name and age
· Hair color and style
· Nose shape and size
· Most noticeable feature
· Type of clothing
· Body type
· Education
· Occupation
· Describe a scar or tattoo
· Describe character’s voice
· List a phrase your character often says
· Favorite food
· Least favorite food
· Favorite past time
· Worst nightmare
· Best childhood memory
· Most embarrassing moment
· Life goal
· Describe best friendDescribe worst enemy

The Character Scenario

Now, using this new information, you can write a short one-page story about your character. Here is the scenario – your character boards a plane going to _________ (insert location of your choice). As your character settles into her/his/it’s seat, her/his/it’s worst enemy sits in the seat beside her/him/it. What happens? If you get on a roll and want to write more than a page, that’s fine.

The exercise will help you see and hear your character, learn your character’s thoughts, see your character’s actions and how your character interacts with others. These are all key elements to creating a great character. It’s important for a writer to know her/his characters inside and out. You should know your characters’ birthdays, what their parents were like, how many times they have seen the Shrek movies. It’s useful for you, as the writer, to know this information even if it is not a part of your story or novel.

Other Character-Creation Exercises

Still need more help getting to know your characters? The character interview is another great method for developing your character. First, imagine you are your character. Next, have friends, family or writing group members interview you. You have to answer each of their questions from the perspective of your character.

Do you have any other character-creation exercises you find helpful? Please share! We’d love to hear them.

When Anne Greenawalt ( was in second grade, she used to write letters to herself pretending to be her story characters.
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Mom's Networking Rules

Saturday, May 15, 2010
Networking. It’s a scary word. It brings to mind wandering around a room filled with strangers who are a lot more successful than you exchanging business cards and trying to remember their names. I’m not good at that sort of thing. Which is why I never networked. Or so I thought.

In the past few months I’ve been reaping the benefits of expanding my “network” even though I haven’t been in one room filled with strangers. Turns out I learned the basics of networking from my mom, an elementary school teacher, when I was five. And I can boil it down to two words: Be nice.

That’s it.

Be nice to people and sometimes it comes back to you in a good way. Of course sometimes you never hear from that person again but hey, did it kill you to be nice to them for 5, 10, 20 minutes? I’m sure your mom also taught you the “be nice” rules but here’s a refresher:

1.Chat -- Yes, work in that you’re a writer but don’t make this a 15 minutes monologue on the type of writing you do. Also talk about their job, where you were on vacation, regular stuff.

2.Compliment -- Not “You are the greatest writer ever!” Dial it back a bit, only say it if you really mean it and remember, it doesn’t always have to be about writing. You can compliment their onion dip.

3.Gossip -- As in, don’t. The anonymous world of the Internet has loosened all our inner censors a bit. But I lived in a small town(and the world of publishing is a small town) so live by my mom’s words, “You never know who people are related to.” The people you meet might not share grandparents but they might share a book, an old boss, or a favorite lunch spot.

4.Help -- Don’t just help when the voice in the back of your head says, “Someday this person could really help me.” Help people to be nice. In the immediate world it makes you(and them)happy. Focus on that. Help doesn’t have to be big. They don’t expect you to find them an agent. Link to a good blog, pass on a good market to a fellow writer, stuff some envelopes for your local writer’s conference.

5.Don’t Just be Nice to the Popular Kids -- Or the “kids” that have published books. It’s tempting to focus your nice campaign on the people with more successful careers than you but being nice has many paybacks. Sometimes you just make a new friend to support you as you struggle to be one of those “popular kids”. Remember the high school cliques? Don’t allow yourself to fall into that either. Don’t surround yourself with YA writers if you write YA. Sometimes a paranormal or romance writer can offer a fresh perspective.

6.Remember It Isn’t Always About You -- Or in this case, writing. You can be nice to someone totally unrelated to the writing world in a totally un-writing way and find a few months down the road that they’ve recommended you for a writing job. They remembered you because you were nice.

So listen to what your mom told you. It’s a totally painless way for even the shyest writer to network. Sometimes nice guys(and gals)finish first!
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Women’s Writing Associations: They're Out There

Friday, May 14, 2010
by Jill Earl

In searching for writing organizations geared towards women, I came across a few based in the U.S. and abroad, with interests ranging from playwriting to journalism. Check them below.

International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG)
Uses writing to empower all women, regardless of their writing expertise. Benefits include the Network Journal, reduced fees for IWWG events, and a literary agent list. They have two major events: "Remember the Magic", a week-long conference at Brown University; and the New York-based "Big Apple Workshop: Meet the Editors", which takes place twice a year over a weekend.

American News Women Club (ANWC)
Expands the advancement of women in the media professions. Members represent newspapers, radio and television, publishing companies, independent authors, online publications, public relations firms, corporations, academic institutions, and government. Members have access to club facilities; professional development workshops and seminars; Shop Talk, the monthly newsletter; the annual "Helen Thomas Award" Benefit Gala; monthly networking events; parties; embassy visits and more.

Association for Women in Communications
Seeks to advance women in print and broadcast journalism, television and radio production, film, advertising, public relations, marketing, graphic design, multi-media design, and photography. Both students and professionals are welcome to join and benefits include a job board; the bimonthly Communiqué newsletter; the annual conference; and chapters.

Black Writers Alliance (accepts both women and men as members)
Supports the growth and development of young, new, emerging, and established writers by providing access to members-only forums; the annual Black Writers Reunion & Conference; contests; workshops and job referral services.

Sisters in Crime (SINC)
SINC offers networking, advice and support to mystery writers. Offers InSinC, the quarterly newsletter; regional chapters; 'The Guppies', a support and critique group for unpublished writers; and the monthly SinC Links—a digest about the mystery business.

Romance Writers of America (RWA)
One of the largest writing organizations in the world, it supports the interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. There’s an annual conference; local chapters offering a number of contests and workshops; opportunities for outreach; the Romance Writers Report, and other resources.

Society of Women Writers, Victoria Inc (SWWV)
Based in Australia, it provides women writers with information and support through monthly meetings; the Write Away newsletter; workshops and seminars; conferences; competitions and awards. Also strengthens ties between women writers in Australia and overseas.

The International Centre for Women Playwrights (ICWP)
Run entirely by volunteer playwrights, directors, performers and others, it supports female playwrights from around the world. Offers the Seasons Journal; professional development grants; monthly opportunities through The Official Playwrights of Facebook Group; and other benefits.

I'm sure there's some organizations I've missed. If you happen to know of any others , please share!
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A Storyteller's List for Nonfiction Writing

Thursday, May 13, 2010
This is my third and final post about what I learned at the latest conference I went to, which was the Missouri Writers' Guild annual conference. (For more information on this wonderful event and what to look for in a conference, please see my photo essay in the newest edition of WOW!.) Today, I thought I'd share some great information I learned about storytelling for nonfiction writers from Dick Weiss, who was an award winning writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and currently is a contributing editor for the St. Louis Beacon.

In his talk, he shared with us a storyteller's list, and he talked about the importance of including as many of these elements as possible in nonfiction writing. Some people call this "creative nonfiction", which are the types of true stories you find in anthologies such as Chicken Soup for the Soul. But you will also find these kind of stories in feature sections in newspapers and magazines. His point was in order to capture a reader's attention and keep them reading, nonfiction writers need to use these elements.

Here's the list:

  • Action: Begin a piece of writing with an action scene. He showed us an example from a New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning story titled "When Workers Die." The writer started off in the middle of the action, instead of describing the deceased workers first.
  • Scene: In any type of writing you do, you must give the reader a sense of place. Weiss said the number one thing you need to ask yourself is: "What details am I going to pick out that ring true [to this place]?" He also suggested one great way to get a sense of place is to visit and then turn on the radio to a local DJ. Listen to the way he talks and what he talks about as well as the commercials. What's important to the residents?
  • Character: Yes, nonfiction writing has characters--these are the real people you are featuring in your stories. Depending on your story, you may want to describe a person's characteristics, especially if he or she is the focus of the piece. He showed us a Philadelphia Enquirer piece where the journalist started out with a profile of an interesting guy who was important in the investigative story that followed.
  • Dialogue: This is always tricky in a nonfiction piece because contrary to some writers' beliefs, you are not supposed to make up ANY dialogue if your story is true. Even if you think you know what someone probably said--you can not put it in the story unless it is verified or documented or you heard it yourself. Weiss also pointed out that dialogue is not the same as a quote. Dialogue is happening between two or more people in real time while the action is going on. Harper Barnes, who wrote the book Never Been a Time about the 1917 East St. Louis race riots, included dialogue in his book because he read it in congressional hearing documents, and people were testifying under oath.
  • Passion: Weiss pointed out that the best stories show the passion the writer has for the subject matter. He said to ask: "Is there passion attached to it [the subject matter] somehow?" If you are having trouble finding passion for a story, start looking at the details. If you are not getting enough details, then when you interview people, keep asking them questions to go deeper into the story. Sometimes, the first answers you receive just barely skim the surface of information interviewees are willing to share.
  • Theme: Universal themes are often mentioned when writers talk about memoirs. Shorter pieces can have themes, too. Weiss said to look at the big picture and give people a "wide-angle look" as well as supplying small details about the individual and his story.
In today's newspapers and magazines, nonfiction writers are using the same elements as fiction writers--this is what readers are expecting. These elements hold a reader's attention and keep people buying print media.

If you write nonfiction, do you use these elements? Have you found storytelling elements to help your nonfiction sell?

post by Margo L. Dill,
photo by alexkerhead
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Agent Blogs: A Treat for the Revising Mind

Wednesday, May 12, 2010
On some days my writing falls short of my goals and it has been hard to jump back into the same piece the next day. But lately, I've been using a specific treat to reach my daily goal.

I'm in my third revision of my novel (it could be more, but I'm never good with numbers). I'm getting ready to hand it off to two readers (I'm sticking with the number big numbers to add!) with the hopes that by the end of summer, I'll be through another round of revisions and sending off the manuscript to a raft of agents. (Or is it a gaggle of agents?)

While I enjoy revising and taking apart work, often (just like with writing) the process stalls. I might hit a point where I'm not sure if I like the direction one character is moving. Or I lose sight of my goal of the day and, like recently, I might spend hours moving section breaks around to try to fix the issue with my page numbers. (Still unresolved.)

To reward myself for my perseverance, I've started reading agent blogs. Maybe it's a the power of my positive thinking that THIS will be the revision that helps secure an agent who WILL sell this novel. 

The blogs are like candy with a nutritional value. At first, it seemed premature to start reading the blogs. After all, I'm not done with my draft yet. 

But then I started finding voices of agents I wanted to get to know better. Their blogs are helpful, with kindness towards writers, their voices like a salve to the bruised ego of a writer. Others, just as enjoyable to read, may not seem as nice. But each blog imparts wisdom of experience and ideas that have become useful in my revision. 

Several years ago, in an earlier revision cycle, I didn't look for the blogs of those I was sending to. Now it is a pre-requisite. 

I want to learn reading recommendations, what impresses them, what writers they represent, their working style, what they like and what they don't like. But, most of all, I want to hear their writing voices to see if they are people I want to work with. And, as to why I use the blogs as a carrot? Because if I didn't think of the blogs as a treat, naturally I would spend all my time reading them...and none of my time revising my novel. 

So, are there any agents you follow on Twitter or subscribe to their blog feeds? If so, who are they? What's one piece of advice you have taken away from their blogs that you use in your own writing before you are ready to submit?

A creativity coach, Elizabeth King Humphrey contributes to AOL's ParentDish and blogs at The Write Elizabeth, delving into creativity in everyday places.
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