Here I blog about writing, editing, reading, books, submissions, freelancing, getting published (and rejected), journalism, revisions, life after the MFA, teaching writing, and living the writer's life. Welcome. BUT -- if you are a writer: Write first, read blogs second.




Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- August 28, 2015 Edition

> Can I use that quote in my book or article? Do I need permission? What about paraphrasing? What is "Fair Use" anyway? Brad Frazer breaks it down at Jane Friedman's blog.

> I'm constantly asked where I find submission information. Here are just a few standards (all free): the Classifieds at Poets & Writers, at The Review Review, at New Pages, at Writing Career. Slightly more specialized: Calls for Submissions at Literary Mama. This is a good time of year to check these out, as many journals that have been closed over the summer will soon reopen to subs. 

> If you use Duotrope (another place to find submission calls and deadlines), you may have noticed that in celebration of their tenth anniversary, they recently rolled out some new features (member subscriber site).


> Have you heard of Patreon? A way to generate on-going monthly funding for artists of all kinds. Apparently already popular in Europe, this is perhaps of interest to writers who aren't looking to crowdfund just one specific project.

> Lots of folks are talking about Jill Talbot's new memoir, The Way We Weren't -- as I will in a future post; meanwhile, here's an interview with her at The Rumpus.

> What would you do if a (paid) researcher on Ariana Huffington's staff emailed you for the source of a study you quoted in an article, which his boss wants to use in an upcoming book? Would you explain that tracking down studies is part of a journalist's skill set, and therefore worth compensation? Journalist Laura Lipton did

> On occasion, I like to point readers to other blogs that also publish a link round-up. Electric Lit offers "Midweek Links: Literary Links From Around the Web."


Have a great weekend!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reading in Small Chunks, Taking in Big Wisdom from Abigail Thomas's New Memoir

I've been a fan of Abigail Thomas since I first read her memoir A Three Dog Life (2006), and then immediately looked back and read her previous memoir, Safekeeping, which broke so many memoir writing "rules" when it first appeared in 2000.

I also appreciate what Thomas puts up on her website as craft advice and writing exercises that have helped many creative nonfiction writers. I've sent a bunch of students over there, and the result is always that they come back to me with some version of, "I tried X, and wrote something I never thought about before…" usually followed by some excited version of what they plan to do with their new material, and newly acquired skill or craft idea.

I dove into her newest memoir, What Comes Next and How to Like it (2015) months ago, then it was lost (along with a few other just-started-reading books) to the clutter of my office, and when it resurfaced a few weeks ago, I brought  it to the beach. That was the perfect environment for a book in segmented form; some chapters were no more than a single sentence, others ran for a handful of pages. I typically love such quilted work.

But selfishly, I found myself wishing this time to have not quite so many stops and starts. Thomas is able to build such depth and momentum in each richly constructed short section that I simply craved for each one to keep going, on and on. Though when I considered that so many of the mini-chapters could have been entire books in themselves, I realized perhaps that only further cemented Thomas's wisdom and skill in terms of structure, organization, and presentation. What's left out matters so much. Leave the readers wanting more, always!

Most of the time when I read, I have nearby a pad of tiny sticky page markers. I use them to bookmark lines I keep returning to, passages I want to read again and again to try to figure out the writer's craft decisions, or just places where the prose sounds lovely or says something interesting which I want to share with someone, sometime.

Here are a few:

In "Bad Memory," when writing about growing older and gaining weight: "…it looks as if I have an open umbrella concealed under my skirt. How did that happen? I think, oh well, I was young once and slender and pretty and I made the most of it. It's somebody else's turn now."

(I might simply say, "Ditto" but that would make me look old.)

In "Sleeping With Dogs," on why, at approaching 70ish, she prefers being single, and the company of dogs: "Lots of people on my somewhat leaky boat are on the lookout for a human companion. Not me. I have learned to love the inside of my own head. There isn't much I'd rather say then think."

(No dogs for me, and I love the clatter of family, but when they're all away for hours or a day—I quickly retreat to that place in my head where I can think and not talk.)

In "Mindfulness," Thomas notices the gift of a broken dishwasher: "…there are always dishes in the sink anyway, and now I am going to wash them as they appear. It is a contemplative activity. Here is the Fire King golden cup from the set my daughter Jennifer gave me. Here is the big mug my daughter Catherine uses for her tea when she drops by. Here is last night's cast-iron pan with the remnants of a roast chicken…."

This last hit me personally because our dishwasher was declared too expensive to fix last October, and we've all—me, husband, both sons—have been washing dishes ever since, and though we each mildly complain about it, I've noticed similar advantages. Sometimes it keeps more than one us in the kitchen longer after a meal, talking, joking. One son says it's very calming, he likes the sounds of the water. The other plugs in his iPod and nods and sings along and shuffles a little dance at the sink. When alone, I wash slowly, steal glimpses straight ahead out through the back window, and think. Or write in my head too. Or go over beautifully crafted writing I've recently read. Which is what I did yesterday, and why I am writing about Abigail Thomas today.

p.s. If you are a visual artist as well as a writer/reader, you're really going to like What Comes Next, which also offers thoughts, misgivings, excitement, and pleasure about the author's forays into painting.

Images:  Washing dishes - Flickr/Creative Commons - Jenny Downing

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- August 14, 2015 Edition

> Seen all those ads for the James Patterson MasterClass, and automatically dismiss them? One accomplished author opened her mind, dove in, and learned a little something.

>  Some pragmatic, slightly tough-love but compassionate thoughts from writer Margarita Montimore in this long (but worth reading) post, "
Hope in Careful Doses: Or (What I Didn’t Expect on the Path to Getting an Agent)".

> If you missed the Hippocamp creative nonfiction conference last weekend, this Storify page brings you a wealth of gleaned tidbits.

> Podcast fans, listen to Jenna McGuiggan (who gave a kickass presentation on writing flash pieces at Hippocamp) chat with host Sara Blackthorne on "In Her Room: Women Writers on Life, Craft, and Changing the World" (episode # 21).

Also at Hippocamp (and I promise I'll stop talking about it soon), one of the highlights of Jane Friedman's closing keynote on the possible future of publishing was this fascinating four minute video, putting into perspective the speed at which the world is changing in terms of information, knowledge, publishing, and more. You might think, yeah, I know all that, but I doubt you'll be bored, and will almost certainly learn a few new things. 

> If you plan to head to any conference soon, consider these tips from Allison Williams for getting the most out of it.

> Advice from four successful literary agents for memoir writers seeking representation.

> Finally, more wisdom from agents, this time via the tweet stream for the hilarious hashtag #KillAQueryin5Words


Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Publishing Industry Interview with Adam Boretz – BookLife & PW Select Editor

Back in April, at the conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), I fell into conversation with Bryan Kinney, a representative of BookLife, which is a still-newish enterprise of Publishers Weekly. The intent, as he explained it, was to make it easier, seamless, and more open for "indie authors" to submit books for possible review. Since then, I asked a bunch of nosy questions of Adam Boretz, who closely oversees BookLife, and provided me with the following answers.

Q:  For BookLife, how do you define "indie authors"? Different from self-published? Inclusive of self-pub but also comprised of traditionally published by small presses?  Hybrid presses?

A: Indie authors are self-published authors. But as the industry changes, I think definitions begin to change and there is a blurry line between a very small press and an indie author. And then there are hybrid authors and hybrid presses. Rather than get tied to a single definition, we try to embrace the self-publishing/indie community in all its stripes and colors.  

Q: What makes BookLife different from other venues where self-published authors can pay for reviews and/or submit books at no charge for possible review?

A: BookLife is about a lot more than reviews. And while users can submit their self-published books for free Publishers Weekly review consideration, they can also find a lot of great content at BookLife that will guide them through the self-publishing process – from editing and book design to distribution and marketing. Plus, writers can get in touch with industry professionals on our Services Directory, sign up for PW Select, our marketing program for indie authors, post excerpts from your book, and a whole lot more.

Q: It looks like you have a deep well of resources to point authors to if they are looking for additional ways to develop their platform and/or market their books. Are any of those services owned and/or run by Publishers Weekly and/or its parent company, PWxyzLLC? Does PW earn income from those links, or from any business conducted through them?

A: BookLife is PW’s – and therefore PWxyz’s – website dedicated to indie authors. So the entire is site is run by PW and much of the editorial content you mention can also be found on publishersweekly.com. None of the how-to stories or features or editorial content is an income generator for PW or BookLife. And, of course, neither are reviews – which PW has never sold.

The only thing PW offers for a fee is its marketing program for self-published books, PW Select, which provides authors with an announcement listing for their titles online and in the print edition of PW. Additionally, there are some partnerships that offer authors paid services – such as showcasing self-published books at trade shows. However anything that constitutes a paid service is clearly marked as such – and the vast majority of services and content on BookLife are free.

Q: How long (word length) are BookLife reviews? Or does it vary by category?

A: All reviews on BoookLife are PW reviews. BookLife is just the conduit by which authors can submit self-published titles for PW review consideration. After submission, the review process at PW is the same for any book – as is the length of the review, which is about 150 to 200 words.

Q: Who is doing the reviewing? Regular PW reviewers? New staff / freelancers? For readers of this blog who are also book reviewers, is there a process by which to apply? Are reviewers paid?

A: The same people reviewing the newest traditionally published books for PW are reviewing self-published books for PW. PW reviews are never bylined and are written by professional book reviewers, many of whom have been writing for the magazine for years.

Q:  Do authors have a say in whether or not the reviews are put up on the site? (As pay-for-reviews sites often offer.) If not, how exactly does it work? Once the book is submitted, it's all up to BookLife editors?

A: Once a book is submitted, it is treated just like any traditionally published book. So, if a book is selected for review it will published on PW and BookLife regardless of how an author feels about his or her review. We really wanted to the process to be the same for all books – traditionally published or self-published – and the only real difference is the entry point for submitting titles.

Q: I tried some of the "Buy" buttons, and they went to Amazon. Does PW earn an affiliate commission from those sales?

A: We do not earn affiliate commission on the buy buttons on BookLife. BookLife users determine what URL their buy buttons point to; they do not default to Amazon. 

Q: Clicking on a book cover brings you not only to the BookLife review, but to a page with links to other reviews/coverage for that book, the author's website, etc. It seems like a hub authors can use as a gateway to a fuller interaction for the reader. Do authors pay for that page?  Or is that offered at no charge to authors whose books are chosen for review?

A: That is free – any and all authors can create a profile on BookLife for free and create what we call “project pages” for all their books. The idea being that an author’s BookLife page can be used as a tool for self-publishers to showcase their work, connect with other indie authors, interface with social medial, and grow their readership.

Q:  If an author submits a book, and BookLife chooses not to review it, are they notified?  How long does it take to hear back?

A: Throughout the review process – from submission to the final outcome – authors are emailed with status updates. So you are notified when we receive your book, you are notified if it is still being considered, if it is accepted, and so on. We wanted this process to be as clear as possible and make an effort to keep authors updated on the status of their submissions.

Q: Is there a particular kind of book or author that you think is best suited for BookLife?

A: We really feel that any and all indie authors writing all types of books can get a lot out of BookLife. The site’s editorial content is useful for authors writing, publishing, and marketing novels, memoirs, kids’ books, comics, and everything in between. And, any type of book can be submitted for free review consideration.

Q:  Can you point to any particular book/author now on BookLife, that is a good example of how a BookLife review/experience can benefit the author's book?

A: Sure. We here from authors all the time about how BookLife has helped their careers. One particular author that comes to mind is Keith Wayne McCoy, the authorof The Travelers. He emailed us shortly after his review ran to let us know that an agent called him asking for information about film rights for the book after reading the review. This is why we do BookLife.


Images: Megaphone -- Flickr/Creative Commons, Paul Brigham; Book pile -- Flickr/Creative Commons, 72006245@N05. Others courtesy BookLife.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- August 7, 2015 Edition

> Still need some summer reading? The Atlantic's list (all with links) of "100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism" is the ticket. Many of the pieces straddle lines between straight journalism, long-form nonfiction, literary journalism, creative nonfiction, and personal essay. The mix ranges from The New Yorker ("This Old Man," by Roger Angell), to Modern Farmer ("The Abstinence Method").

> This is by far the best, most interesting, nuanced argument I've read yet in favor of not only reading Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, but also considering what the book's (draft's?) existence suggests about the writer Lee might have become had it been published when first written. I wasn't at all surprised that the byline on this insightful commentary was Ursula K. Le Guin. (And if you missed it, check out Le Guin's speech upbraiding the publishing industry at her recent National Book Foundation awards dinner.)

> Now that the 500-plus panels, presentations, and readings for the 2016 AWP conference have been announced (alas, both of the proposals I was included on did not make the cut from the 1900+ submitted), you can peruse the full list of accepted events at your leisure, leaving you plenty of time to plan for next April in Los Angeles.


> The Essay Prize asked 28 top contemporary essayists to each select their top 10 essays of all time.


> Fiction writers may want to bookmark Now Novel's "151 Must-Visit Writing Websites."

> BookFox has gathered "The Top 20 Places to Submit Flash Fiction" (under 1000 words), ranked by number of website visitors.


> Want to get the hang of Persiscope? Writer/blogger Estelle Erasmus offers some basic guidelines for a quick start.


> Should major traditional publishing houses be able to bar their authors from giving endorsement blurbs to self-published, indie, hybrid, and/or POD books? Brooke Warner, of SheWrites.com and SheWrites Press, weighs in, emphatically.


> If your weekend plans include HippoCamp15, the conference for creative nonfiction writers in Lancaster, PA, please say hello. I'll be around, giving a presentation Saturday afternoon, on a panel on Sunday morning, and otherwise listening, mingling, and hanging about.

> Finally, have a few laughs at the funny/not-funny #ThingsNotToSayToAWriter, which trended last week on Twitter.
Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons - USDAGov

Monday, August 3, 2015

Guest Blogger Lisa Alber on Hope After (Traditional Publishing) Rejection

I came to know  Lisa Alber when she was a participant in my online *I Should Be Writing!* Boot Camp, and later as a private coaching client. She is the author of Kilmoon, an atmospheric mystery set in Ireland, which was a Rosebud Award finalist for best debut novel. About a year after publishing Kilmoon with a hybrid publisher, she landed a two-book deal with Midnight Ink Books for new mysteries in the series slated for August 2016 and August 2017. Before all that, Lisa took workshops with New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth George and received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant. She is also a Walden Fellowship recipient and Pushcart Prize nominee. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Please welcome Lisa Alber.

Anyone can become an author these days. It’s as simple as signing up for Kindle Direct Publishing or any other self-publishing service. That said, most of us dream of “getting published," and by that I mean landing a literary agent and then a traditional publisher that pays an advance, and produces and markets your book at its expense, not yours.

To all you aspiring novelists who despair of getting published: I’m here to tell you that there’s hope after rejection from literary agents and traditional publishers. Most of all, I’m here to tell you that no matter where you start, you can progress—move up the publishing ladder, so to speak.

I spent many years holding out for The Agent and The Deal. When I finally landed The Agent, I was still rejected everywhere she submitted my novel manuscript. How could that be? Was the agent not a great salesperson? Was my manuscript not as polished as I’d (we’d!) thought?

The answer is probably a combination of the two, plus a third factor: the fickleness of the business. Alas, unsurprisingly, that agent relationship didn’t work out and neither did the next two agents.

I grew horribly depressed. I gave up on the mystery manuscript many times during this ten-year period. I tried my hand at writing thrillers and women’s fiction with sucky results. The rejections continued to rack up and with them arrived the insidious self-doubts.

There came a point in my journey when I needed to shite (how’s that for being polite?) or get off the pot. I could no longer wait for the powers that be to deem my story acceptable. Who gets published and who doesn’t seemed like a crapshoot.

In fact, given that you have a publishable novel, it is a crapshoot. Assuming that you’ve intensively studied your craft, gathered outside feedback to further improve your storytelling, and revised and polished to within an inch of your life, your novel is probably as good as any debut novel out there. All you need is for your manuscript to land on the perfect agent’s desk at the perfect time and for about a million other random things to line up perfectly too. Easy peasy. (Not.)

Also, keep in mind that you can’t predict what publishers are looking for or what types of novels they already have on their lists.

When I distanced myself from the rollercoaster that is querying and pitching and pining, I saw what was in my heart. The heart knows things that the mind doesn’t. Mine told me that my writing, my story, had merit. It took awhile for me to shake off the rejections, but I’m so glad I did.

All we can control is ourselves. So I decided to leap, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The trick these days is to get our feet in the publishing door. From there, who knows what may happen?

So how did I poke my feet in? An acquaintance asked me to join her fledgling publishing enterprise, and I said yes. Muskrat Press is a hybrid/self-publishing LLC. A cooperative, I guess you’d call it. (There are many of these around nowadays.) Three of us debut authors supported each other on the way to publication. Professional editing, professional cover art—the whole deal.

The whole deal also included plenty of marketing and publicity. Goodreads giveaways, Twitter and Facebook virtual book parties, guest blogging, you name it. I was even a blogger on The Debutante Ball, a well-established blog for debut authors. I worked my fanny off to give my debut novel Kilmoon the best entrée into the world that I could. I organized a fantastic launch party at an Irish pub complete with a signature cocktail called the Kilmoon Sour (yum!). I landed a coveted guest post spot on the premiere mystery writers blog, Jungle Red Writers. I went to conferences such as Left Coast Crime and participated in debut author breakfasts and panels. It was all quite exhausting but so worth it.

Here’s one of the biggest and best things I learned from that experience: Most readers don’t care where their books come from. It’s mainly your fellow writers who care. I have a friend who also began with self-publishing. She told me that the most dismissive people were—hold on to your hats here—aspiring novelists! Yes, those who only had their eyes on The Agent and The Deal.

Another friend started off as a novelist-for-hire. (Sometimes in-house editors come up with ideas and hire novelists to write them.) All readers see are the authors’ names on the covers. Like I said, They don’t care. Now this friend has a thriving career writing books based on her own ideas.

The long and short of it is that if I were still holding out for The Agent and The Deal, I probably wouldn’t be published yet. Now, a year after publication—guess what?—I do have a traditional two-book deal and a fabulous agent!

And that, my friends, is how it can start. And it’s a perfectly fine way to start.

Once upon a time, I had a writing teacher who used to say that the people who get (traditionally) published are the people who don’t give up. In this new era of Amazon and ebooks and indies, I’d say that the people who get (traditionally) published are the ones who don’t give up and who keep their options open about how to get a foot in the door.

Start somewhere. You’ll see. Because if it can happen for me, it can happen for you.

Note from Lisa R.: Lisa Alber will check back to answer any questions and converse, via comments. What does your writing journey look like right now? How do you keep your hopes up in the face of rejection?

To keep up with Lisa Alber’s antics, follow her on Facebook and Twitter. 


Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- July 24, 2015 Edition

> Weary of those "writers under 30/40" lists? So was Claire Fuller, debut novelist at 48, who helped form Prime Writers.

> Poet Jessica Piazza vowed to only submit to paying markets in 2015. At the mid-point of the year, she tallied her dollars and reflected on the process.

> Is Joan Didion "the ultimate literary celebrity"? Laura Marsh, at The New Republic, thinks so, and makes the case for why and how.

> In two weeks, I'll give a presentation and be on a panel at HippoCamp2015, a Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers (Lancaster, PA). There's still time to register, and using the code HippoFriend, you'll save $25. (Some less-than-full-conference registration options are also available upon request.) Not long ago, I interviewed conference organizer (founder/editor of Hippocampus Magazine) Donna Talarico.

> Cathy C. Hall shares some tips on getting the most from a short (in this case, three-day) writing retreat.

> At Creative Nonfiction, exploring the origins of the CNF term itself.

> The Millions takes a look at what's coming up in new nonfiction books for the balance of 2015.

> While I teach in an MFA program, I also think the degree is not for every writer; that not every good writer needs or wants one. In this account at The Millions, a non-MFA writer examines his reasons for skipping it (and the article is jammed with other interesting links, too.)

> Jessica Page Morrell discusses the need for messy emotions in writing.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Book List That's Constantly Changing, and Remains the Same

Over at Facebook, this pops up from time to time: The 10 Books That Changed Your Life. I'm often tagged to chime in, and have always conveniently "forgotten". For me that top 10 list changes year to year, sometimes month to month. What I think "changed my life" at 12 fell off the list by 20, what moved me enormously at 30 slid away when I tried to re-read it at 40. And so on. Plus – changed my life how? Which life? My reading life? My entire life? My life as a writer? 

Recently though I saw it worded slightly differently: The 10 books that have stayed with you. I interpret that as the ones I keep remembering, the ones I find myself opening at random and reading from the middle of for no reason at all, the ones that are perhaps more meaningful not because they are the finest literature ever produced, but because I read them at a time in my life when I was especially open to the story, or the writing, or both.

I've left off the true classics all writers admire and return to, and I'm probably forgetting some marvelous contemporary soon-to-be-classics, but I've limited my list to modern books I've read in the last 15 years or so—and the ones I can remember distinctly and with pleasure, and without walking over to my bookshelves. I've mixed the genres together. And I went way over 10. Hey, it's my list and I'll do what I want with it!

Living Out Loud – Anna Quindlen
The Invention of Solitude – Paul Auster
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
Mountain City – Gregory Martin
Blue Peninsula – Madge McKeithen
In Revere, In Those Days – Roland Merullo
Small Wonders – Barbara Kingsolver
The Opposite of Fate – Amy Tan
Sleepless Days – Sue Kushner Resnick
The History of Love – Nicole Krauss
Picturing the Wreck – Dani Shapiro
Expecting Adam – Martha Beck
The Dogs of Babel – Carolyn Parkhurst
Swimmer in the Secret Sea – William Kotzwinkle
Manhattan Memoir – Mary Cantwell
We Didn't Come Here for This – William B. Patrick
Making Toast – Roger Rosenblatt
A Slant of Sun – Beth Kephart
Here if You Need Me – Kate Braestrup
I Married You for Happiness – Lily Tuck
The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni
Without a Map – Meredith Hall

Eclectic, yes? Sure. I'm also sure this is incomplete, which I'll realize and clap my forehead for, as soon as I get up from where I'm sitting in my bedroom composing this post, and wander into my office and scan my bookshelves. Or tomorrow, when I read a new book and then can't stop thinking about it for a week or month or year. Or maybe this evening when I plan to read Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, who passed away yesterday (and which I somehow never read).

Do you have a list like this? One that would make no sense to anyone but you? A list of books, which although they are excellent books – probably signals as much or more about you, and who you were when you first read it, and why you keep picking it up again --  than about the book itself? I'd love to hear (especially if we have a book in common)!

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons - The Lost Gallery