7 Common mistakes to avoid when writing a personal essay

I have been writing personal essays for the past 10 years or so and have suffered through rejections, but have had quite a few successes. Most of what I’ve written has eventually gotten published. Based on my experiences I’ve come up with a list of common mistakes writers should avoid when trying to get a personal essay published.

  1. Not changing your strategy when an essay is rejected

I wrote an essay about how I met my husband, who sat quietly three pews behind me in church for years until he got the nerve to approach me, and thought it was the perfect piece for the “Modern Love” column in The New York Times. About a month after submitting it, I got the standard rejection e-mail. (At the time, I didn’t know that “Modern Love” receives thousands of submissions a year. Only 52 are published.) I shortened the essay and sent it to Chicken Soup for the Soul and it was accepted. Later, an inspirational literary journal, Finding Mr. Right, published the essay too. I’m glad I didn’t give up after The New York Times rejection.

  1. Starting too slowly

It seems practical to start an essay in chronological order, or to set the scene through exposition, but that might not be the most interesting approach. Consider beginning the essay in the middle of the story with action or compelling dialogue. Here’s an example:

“I wish all the black people would go back to Africa.”

With those words, my idyllic world was shattered. My innocence was lost.

That’s how I began my essay, “The World I Didn’t Know Existed,” with a quote from one of my elementary school classmates. The essay is about my first encounter with racism. The essay is published in Black Lives Have Always Mattered, A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Personal Narratives.

  1. Holding back

If you play it safe and keep your essay on the surface, you may not be giving your reader something to grab onto, something he or she can identify with. When I wrote my essay, “Praying on the Job,” which was published in an inspirational anthology called The Book of Hope I went into some detail about how my husband’s job loss affected not only our financial situation, but our marriage. It was painful to dig deep, but also cathartic, and something readers could relate to.

  1. Writing a diary entry

A personal essay is more than a running log of what’s transpired in your life during a certain period of time. That won’t keep the reader’s interest. You also don’t want to use the essay format as an opportunity to vent. Be sure to provide a universal truth, so that the reader is given something to reflect on.

  1. Taking a trip to nowhere

A good essay, like a piece of good fiction, takes the reader on a journey. You, the writer are in a different place by the end of your essay. In “Trust Yourself,” which I had published in The Northwestern Magazine, I began as an insecure Sunday school teacher to first and second graders, but through a friendship with one of my little students, I developed confidence that the kids were benefiting from my being their teacher.

  1. Writing large

You may have a lot to say, but you may want to bite off only a chunk at a time. A personal essay is not a biography. It is not all encompassing, covering decades of your life. It is actually a snapshot in time. Choose focused events to make a larger point.

  1. Thinking that you don’t need feedback

I have my sister read over just about every essay I write. If there is something unclear or confusing, she lets me know. Feedback is critical. After I’ve written an essay and revised it more than a dozen times, there could be problems with it that I just can’t see anymore because I’m too close to what I’ve written.

By avoiding these and other pitfalls, you could be further on your way to producing essays you be proud of while at the same time, increasing your rate of publishing acceptance.

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing, Publishing, Creative Nonfiction, essays, anthology | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Writers could take a cue from The Poetry Fox

When I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference a few months ago, I didn’t expect to encounter a furry creature with a tale at the book expo, banging away at the keys of a manual typewriter. I also didn’t know that he had a cult following.

The Poetry Fox has been making the rounds of literary festivals, conference, and art shows. Give him a word and in a jiffy, he’ll write a poem, stamp it, sign it, read it, and then give it to you.

I don’t know his motivation, but he is getting the general public interested in the literary world. There is something refreshing about street poetry, where poets create works on the spot. Could writers take a cue from The Poetry Fox and create snappy short stories on the spot for the public?

 

Posted in Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

My essay is featured on the new Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast and how writers can raise their profile by having a podcast

Chicken

The editors at Chicken Soup for the Soul have informed me that they have just started a series of inspirational podcasts to promote their books. Chicken Soup for the Soul’s publisher, Amy Newmark, will discuss a different Chicken Soup for the Soul book each day and highlight one story that appears in that book.

My essay, “Short Distance Romance,” which was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game has been chosen to play a role. My story is on the website now under “Wow Wednesday,” and will continue to be available on the Podbean app—which is available for free from the app store—once it airs. It was neat hearing Ms. Newmark talk about me and my story. The podcasts are six or seven minutes long and provide entertaining stories as well as great advice and easy-to-implement tips for improving your life.

For writers, podcasting is fast becoming another medium for storytelling and bringing attention to published works. It can drive traffic to your website. There is tremendous power in being in a listener’s ear as well as before their eyes with the written word. It is also a way to introduce your writing to people who aren’t avid readers. They can listen to you while they’re driving, exercising, doing housework. They can listen to you while they’re multitasking.

We’ve all heard that creating videos is important for writers to grow their online presence—book trailers and author interviews are examples. For writers who don’t feel comfortable on camera, podcasting can be the right avenue. I understand that podcasting equipment is affordable and simple to use. The newer line of USB microphones and software are inexpensive.

Podcasting does require content production and a commitment of time in order to be successful. For writers, it could be worth pursuing.

Posted in anthology, Creative Nonfiction, essays, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A day of celebration for small presses

Pulitzer

The winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced this week. The prize for poetry goes to Tyehimba Jess for the book, Olio. The book is described as astoundingly innovative, combining poems, songs, historical facts, fiction, interviews and tables to create a chorus of compelling voices — all singing praises for the countless African American performers whose contributions to minstrel shows of the late 1800s have been largely undocumented.

The book was published by a small poetry press in Seattle–Wave Books, surprising to many on the book publishing industry. Small presses, or independent presses, as they are often called, make up about half of the book publishing industry market. Many focus on fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Since the profit margin can be thin, small presses can be narrowly focused and driven by other motivations, including reaching niches that mainstream publishers ignore.

Small presses are a potential outlet for novelists and writers of other genres to get published, but they are often overlooked in favor of the big publishers. Writers don’t support small presses as much as they should by purchasing the literature they produce. That’s a shame. I had the opportunity to talk with dozens of editors and publishers at small presses while at the AWP Conference Bookfair in February and seek out publishing opportunities with them.

NewPages.com, a website of literary news and information, has an extensive list of small presses and calls for submission worth checking out.

 

 

Posted in Book Reading, Creative Nonfiction, poetry, Publishing, Pulitzer, Uncategorized, Writing, writing conference | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Publication news! My essay is featured in a new anthology

The Book of Hope Cover Image

My essay, “Praying on the Job,” has been published in The Book of Hope: 31 True Stories of People who didn’t Give Up. I hope my story, of the struggle of my husband and me during his period of unemployment, will inspire readers to persevere through difficulties.

Here is the description of the anthology on Amazon.com. “In this priceless collection of true stories experienced by everyday people, readers get to share in the angst, the grief, the frustration, and fears of the writers. This collection of 31 stories proves there is always hope no matter how negative our situation might be. Sometimes just knowing someone else has walked your path opens the doors and windows so new ideas and solutions can flow. This book can bring comfort, inspiration and guidance to those suffering from life’s challenges. These stories can help make walking such paths the adventures they can be.”

Posted in anthology, Creative Nonfiction, essays, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Five things I learned at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Washington, D.C.

walter-mosley-and-lisa

With bestselling author Walter Mosley

Last week I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, better known as AWP. It is the largest literary conference in North America. This year it was held at the convention center in Washington, D.C., and hosted 550 events, 2,000 presenters and more than 800 presses, literary journals, and literary organizations from around the world at the book fair.

This was my third time attending the conference. I learn new things each time. Here are 5 things I learned this year.

  1. It’s a good idea to put your photo on your business card.

During a panel discussion titled, “Agents and Editors and Publishers, Oh My! Demistifying the Business Side of Writing and Publishing,” an agent pointed out that she meets hundreds of eager writers at conferences who hand her business cards, but when she gets back home, she may not be able to match the business card with the person she met. A photo business card will likely jog her memory.

  1. It makes sense to smuggle your own food into the conference.

At a food stand set up in the center of the book expo in the convention center, I paid $10.00 for a medium-sized bowl of pineapple chicken and another $5.00 for a large bottle of diet coke. Talk about sticker shock! I got smart quickly. Since I was staying with my sister, who lives in the D.C. area, I was able to raid her refrigerator and pack a ham and cheese sandwich, some fruit, snacks and my own beverage. This cost me nothing and sis was happy that I helped to empty out her fridge.

  1. If you didn’t win the writing contest you entered, you can always apply again.

I’ve applied for several first-time author contests. None have named me the winner so far. Several of those independent presses and associations that sponsor the contests were represented by the publishers and editors at the AWP Book Fair. They told me to feel free to apply again because they use different judges every contest cycle. One press also told me that sometimes people apply the following year and win.

  1. If you’re not paying attention, you could miss a hidden treasure.

I was walking through the book fair near the back of the room where a small African American publisher I had talked to earlier in the day was located. The publisher remembered me and beckoned me over. He pointed to a man dressed in black, seated at the exhibit table, hunched over, checking his smart phone. It was the bestselling novelist and crime fiction writer, Walter Mosley. I’ve seen the movie starring Denzel Washington, based on his novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, and read one of his novels with members of my book club. It was thrilling to meet him. I asked him if he would take a picture with me and he said in his charming way, “Only if you’ll put your arm around me. Of course, I obliged.

  1. If you’re looking for an independent press to publish your manuscript, the book fair is the place to be.

I was eager to see the books of an independent press I was considering sending my manuscript to. I was horrified when I saw that the books are designed in square dimensions, not rectangular dimensions like most books. Stopping by the table of another press, I was able to quiz the representative about their efforts to market their books. I was able to hold the books and see the quality of the paper, design, and binding. Coincidentally, one of the authors was at the table, autographing copies of his novel, when I walked up. He told me all about his publishing experience with that press. I was impressed with their operation and walked away pleased.

Next year’s conference will be in Tampa, Florida. I’m not sure yet if I’ll attend, but if I do, I’m sure there’ll be lots of tips to pick up there too!

Posted in Manuscript, Publishing, Writing, writing conference | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Hidden Figures” inspires me in my effort to get my novel published

22hidden-master768

I recently went to the Showcase Cinema to see Hidden Figures, the phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. In addition to the women’s empowerment theme that I was looking forward to, I was interested in seeing the setting because the story took place in the city where I went to college, Hampton, Virginia.

The movie featured actress Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson. Known as “human computers,” they were among the brightest minds of their generation.

They were teaching math in the segregated south when they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II when America’s aeronautics industry washidden-figures-2nd-picture in dire need of expertise. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills. Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts. They were kept in the Langley Air Force Base all-black “West Computing” Group, and relegated to “colored only” bathrooms and couldn’t even pour themselves a cup of coffee from the same coffee pot, etc.. Yet, they had confidence and were assertive, playing critical roles in the space program.

I left the theater walking a little taller than when I entered and thinking about the challenges these women faced. The treatment they got from their peers and supervisors was sanctioned by society and the law. Since seeing the movie and reading the book, I’ve been sending out a revised version of my manuscript to literary agents.  At times it’s discouraging. Not that I am in anyway comparing the magnitude of the challenges they faced with mine, but I do I ask myself, “what would Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary do?” They would surely persevere. They wouldn’t give up. They would push on past the rejections, until they got the novel published.

 

 

Posted in Manuscript, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Writers: Make That Christmas Newsletter Work for You

CHRISTMAS NEWSLETTERUgh! The Christmas newsletters. You know what I’m talking about. They start arriving in mid-December, oozing with hubris and pretention about Biff’s missionary work with a just-discovered indigenous civilization in Belize, and six-year-old Kennedy’s corporate start-up whose shares are now being traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

But as writers we shouldn’t dread the annoying missives, but embrace them by putting our own twistCHRISTMAS NEWSLETTER TEMPLATE on them. The Christmas newsletter doesn’t have to be a generic highlight reel of the past year’s accomplishments, but can focus on literary successes, serving as a marketing tool to raise our profile.

Starting with January, look back at your calendar of activities, your speaking engagements, publishing successes, book readings, seminars, workshops, conferences. Details of these can be fleshed out to create a newsletter that your fans will love reading. You can find useful tips online for writing a Christmas newsletter.Mailbox

Email it or post it as an open letter on facebook, Linkedin, or other social networking sites to enhance your platform and build an audience with people new to your work. Doing this could make the holidays a little merrier and those Christmas newsletters that arrive in the mail a little more palatable.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Holiday bazaars are a wonderful venue for writers

booksDuring the weekend, I was a vendor at the holiday bazaar at my church. I rented a table and sold copies of anthologies I’ve been published in: Finding Mr. Right, More Christmas Moments, Inspire Forgiveness, and a few other volumes that fall into the inspirational category.

The wife of the retired pastor came by my table and was surprised when I told her that I was selling the books for $10 apiece. She thought I’d charge much more.

But I didn’t want to sell them to make a profit. By selling them for the amount I had to pay to purchase them, I was able to keep the price reasonable and get my words of inspiration into the hands of more people. That was my primary interest, through my writing, giving hope to people who are facing challenges.

A secondary benefit was that participating as a vendor helped me build an audience. me-and-booksEven though I’ve been a member of that church for more than 12 years, at least half a dozen people walked up to me and expressed surprise, saying they didn’t know I was a writer. When I told them about my novel, several asked when it would be coming out. Whenever I do get it published, I’ll have a group of supporters ready to purchase it.

In addition, some of the shoppers told me about opportunities to be a vendor at other events, which could serve as a vehicle for getting a whole new audience interested in my work.

So, writers, the next time the holidays come around, look into becoming a vendor. It could raise your profile in ways you didn’t imagine.

Posted in anthology, Book signing, Creative Nonfiction, essays, holiday bazaar, Manuscript, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Panelists at mystery novel conference explain why a Smart phone can put them in a panic

I find it ironic that writers whose job it is to frighten their readers or at least make their pulses quicken with their plot twists and suspenseful moments sometimes find themselves facing the same emotional and physiological moments when dealing with crafting their mysteries and crime fiction.

dead-crow-logoWhile attending panel discussions at Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference, held recently on the campus of Wesleyan University, I was surprised to discover that some writers experience anxiety over technology. They are so afraid to deal with technology that they either avoid it by setting their novels in the pre-1985 era or they have whatever gadget the main character is using sabotaged by the end of the first page.

One crime novelist said that’s why it’s not unheard of for a main character who’s standing in an alley, looking down at a lifeless body to drop his or her cell phone in a puddle and then have the cell phone end up in a dumpster. “Because if you can Google everything,” she said, “the investigation can easily be solved.”

chris-with-the-dogThis got me wondering how mystery and thriller author Chris Knopf felt. He’s best known for his Sam Acquillo series. At the conference I attended his talk, titled “Writing Mysteries in the Age of Google.” He suggested that authors use technology in their stories as they would in real life. “If you’re going to be realistic, it has to be a seamless and a natural part of your story,” he said. “Don’t use a particular brand. Otherwise your books will only last a couple of years.” He said that Google is not something to be avoided, but embraced in degrees. “You have to deal with Google when the character is chris-knopf-book-coverresearching. I use Google for the basics and then I go talk to people. The same goes for my characters.” Knopf said that voicemail can be used as a device central to your plot. “I integrate voicemail into the story,” he said. “The dead man’s last words in a voicemail trigger the story.”

And I’m sure I’m not the only writer who thinks she can pick up hints on writing crime and law enforcement scenes from watching television. However, Knopf said, “Don’t rely on it. It doesn’t translate. I have a forensic analyst I consult. Everybody has to have a geek these days.”

And, of course, social media is too big to ignore, as are drones. “You don’t have to have a drone creep up to a house in a rural area,” he said. “New York can send a drone. They can be as tiny as a bug. They can fire weapons, shoot you with poison. There’s a lot of drama possible with drones.”

Posted in Book Reading, Manuscript, Uncategorized, writing conference | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

I had a surprisingly good time at Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference

keynote-photo-cropped

I’m not a mystery writer. I registered for Mysterium: The Mystery Novel Conference held at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, because two of my friends had planned to go—one who’s written a mystery novel and another who’s planning to work on one—and I wanted to spend time with them because I don’t see them very often. Their plans fell through and I thought about skipping it, but I had already paid the $100 registration.

Before the speakers arrived, I heard fascinating snippets of conversation from people around me in which they talked about the cozy mysteries they’ll have coming out in the fall, the deadlines they’re facing and the lure of procrastination.

During the keynote, conference host and novelist Amy Bloom (pictured left) interviewed award-winning detective novelist Laura Lippman.

Lippman talked about the importance of place in her novels. “I love books that have a strong sense of place,” she said. “Place to me is integral. I don’t understand stories where there is no place.”

Lippman’s “place” is Baltimore. She worked for a number of years at the Baltimore Sun, alongside her father, and talked about writing books that take place in Baltimore and the Baltimore suburbs.

She said she especially finds inspiration when writing stories that she sets in the suburbs. “I write dark stories there,” she said. “This reflects my thoughts about the suburbs.”

Mysterium is billed as a celebration of readers and writers, combining pleasure, instruction from writers, intellectual stimulation and great fun. This description is accurate. I thought I would feel out of place not only because I was alone, but because my writing focuses on general fiction, essays, and journalism—not mystery or crime writing. But once I took my seat at the keynote presentation, I felt at ease and the discussions were applicable to my own writing.

 

Posted in Writing, writing conference | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I heard from the editors of the New York Times today and the news wasn’t good. Or was it?

The New York Times website states that the editors of the “Modern Love” column feature, which appears in the Sunday edition of the newspaper are looking for deeply personal essays about contemporary relationships. Ideally, essays spring from some central dilemma the writer has faced in his or her life.

I thought an essay I wrote about a challenge my husband and I faced after we introduced a pet into our household would have wowed the editors enough to accept it for publication. However, I got a generic rejection e-mail this afternoon.

Initially, I felt disappointed. But then I reminded myself that the New York Times is the nation’s newspaper of record. The Sunday paper has a circulation of 1.4 million. The editors probably get hundreds of submissions to the “Modern Love” column every week, which makes the odds of getting published very low.

And then, of course there is the comforting cliché that when one door closes another opens. A few years ago, I sent a different essay to “Modern Love.” It was called short-distance-romance and got rejected, I turned around and sent it to Chicken Soup for the Soul and it got accepted. The essay has a much longer shelf life in Chicken Soul because it’s in a book, as opposed to being on a sheet of news print. So sometimes an initial rejection isn’t a bad thing.

So what has been your experience? Has an initial rejection led you to submit the same work to another outlet, leading to satisfaction with the placement?

Posted in essays, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The results on my poll about self-publishing might surprise you

Last week on this blog I posed a question to find out if people thought that self-publishing was a viable option for getting published and getting a decent level of interest from readers. It turns out that most people responding to my poll don’t feel that self-publishing has the stigma that it once did and that maintaining creative control is an important benefit of self-publishing.

Poll Results

What would make you decide to self-publish your novel

Answer Votes Percent
The desire to maintain editorial and artistic control 40%  
The idea that self-published books are now as respected as traditionally published books 40%  
The desire to get the book published on a quicker timetable 20%  
Lack of interest from agents and/or publishers 0%  
Posted in Self-publishing, Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Maybe self-publishing is the way to go

When I was invited to participate in yesterday’s Local Author Book Fair hosted by the Brookline Public Library in Brookline, Massachusetts, I had visions of readers standing in line, waiting to purchase copies of the anthologies that include my essays. Oh, how naïve I was! It didn’t turn out that way.

The weather was beautiful, sunny, in the mid 70s. We authors–about a half-dozen of us–set up our books on the tables we were assigned on the library lawn.

logodrdeedeesmI sold just three books, benefiting from the generosity of members of my church. The one author whose table got lots of attention was Dr. Oneeka Williams, a surgeon, and creator of the Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo series of children’s books. It seems that on nice Saturday afternoons, a lot of young moms and dads like to bring the kids to the library. The Dee Dee Dynamo table was, therefore, in a target-rich environment.

faint-promise-of-rainAs I introduced myself to the other exhibitors during the event, I began to realize that they all had one thing in common—they were all self-published. I’ve been hesitant to self-publish my novel. I figured that the reading world wouldn’t take me seriously. But after conversations with the two authors at the table next to me–Anjali Mitter Duva, author of Faint Promise of Rain, and Connie Hertzberg Mayo, author of The Island of Worthy Boys—I’m beginning to think about reconsidering.

the-island-of-worthy-boys

The artwork for both of their books is gorgeous. I understand that the company that published them did arrange a book tour. And even though they’ve had to do just about all of the marketing for their novels, in the current traditional publishing climate authors have to do much of the promotion and marketing themselves anyway.

So what do you think? Is self-publishing worth considering?

Posted in anthology, Book signing, Publishing, Self-publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Writers: Here’s a ‘novel’ way to market your book

Book readers live an average of two years longer that those who don’t read at all. That’s the finding of a study out of Yale University. Researchers examined the reading habits of 3,635 people over the age of 50 and found that the ones who read up to 3 ½  hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow up. This was even after variables, such as health, education, and income, were taken into account.

It’s not clear why there’s the “reading advantage,” but researchers suggest delving into novels promotes cognitive processes, such as empathy and emotional intelligence, which can boost longevity.

So the next time you give a book talk, speech, or book launch use the line, “Read my novel. It could add years to your life!” It could make your book sales increase dramatically.

Posted in Book Reading, Book signing, Bookstore, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Anthology featuring my essay is now available on Amazon.com

Finding Mr. Right, an anthology featuring one of my essays, “Short Distance Romance,” is now available on the publisher’s website, as well as on amazon.com. It will be available on Kindle later in the year. Here’s the description of the book: Whether the quest for a soul mate is currently a work in progress or a happily done deal, this breezy beach read featuring the true stories of 20 accomplished authors will resonate with women of any age who have ever loved, lost and loved again.

Posted in anthology, Creative Nonfiction, essays, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , | 1 Comment

26 Amazing Writing Residencies You Can Apply for

I dream of a quiet place completely free from distraction where I can take nature walks, rest, and work on my novel, essays, and other writings. One day I’ll get there, when I can take the time off from work and cover the cost. Meanwhile, here’s a list of writing residencies you may find of interest. Pictured above is a photo from the Breadloaf Writers Conference in Vermont, one that I hope to attend in the future.

Posted in Coaching, Manuscript, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing, writing residency | Tagged , | Leave a comment

News from the editors of “Finding Mr. Right” anthology, featuring my essay

What do personality makeovers, church pews and Prince William have in common? Each of these elements figures into the true storylines of our top three essayists. First Place winner Karen Cole, Second Place winner Lisa Braxton, and Third Place winner Mehk Vijayaragavan took time for short interviews with the editors this week and their replies can be found at https://findingmrrightsite.wordpress.com/

Posted in Creative Nonfiction, essays, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , | 1 Comment

If only I had one of those wireless activity wristbands for my writing routine

I’ve been into fitness for a long time. Over the years I’ve taken aerobics—both conventional and step—kickbox karate, indoor cycling, earned my diploma in ice skating from the Bay State Skating School, and played tennis and racquetball. So when my co-workers encouraged me to try the Fitbit® wireless activity band, I didn’t hesitate.

The Fitbit is a high-performance wristband that gives automatic, continuous heart Fitbit Charge Imagerate and activity tracking right on your wrist. You can see your heart rate all day and during workouts to get more accurate calorie burn, reach target workout intensity and maximize training time. It tracks steps, distance, floors climbed and sleep quality and syncs to a smartphone and computer so you can monitor your trends and get the motivation you need to push yourself further—every step, every beat, every day.

I have found that by merely wearing the Fitbit, I make more of an effort to reach my 10,000 steps a day, walking further at work to the copy machine and coffee break room. I now take the stairs when I could easily hop in the elevator.

If I had a Fitbit for writing, I could track my word count per day. Let’s say I established the goal of writing 750 words. I could check my Fitbit toward the end of the day and if I’m falling short of my goal, I could set aside time before going to bed to get my words in, similar to how I walk the corridors of my condo complex some late evenings to squeeze in more steps.

My co-workers and I participate in something called “Workweek Hustle.” We Trophysynchronize our Fitbits and participate in a contest to see who completes the most steps by the end of the week. The winner is bestowed a trophy (I’ve won it several times so far and have proudly pictured it here!). It’s a good-natured competition. No one takes it too seriously. (Did I mention that I’ve won it several times?) But it is a reminder that we are all in this together and if I want to surge ahead of my opponents and be the winner, then I need to push myself a little more.

In the “Fitbit for Writers” the Workweek Hustle would take the form of a writing group. A half dozen of us writers would sync our Fitbits, sharing our disappointments when our manuscripts are rejected, and cheering each other on when we have publishing successes. The “Fitbit for Writers” could encourage a friendly competition with my peers over daily word count, completion of stories, and number of manuscript submissions made to literary agents, literary presses, anthologies, and journals.

Fitbit has helped improve my workout routine and if the company decides to one day retool its product and create a writer’s version, it could help me get my unpublished manuscript on the bookstore shelves with the other novels. Meanwhile, I’m thinking that I need to push myself away from the computer and walk a couple of laps around the condo complex. My Fitbit is telling me that co-worker Karen is on my heels, only 450 steps behind me. And Amanda is about to pull into first place. We’ve been neck and neck for days. I’d better get to stepping!

Posted in Manuscript, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Group | Tagged | Leave a comment

Why perseverance pays off when trying to get published

At long last, my essay, “For Better, for Worse,” is being published. I say, “at long last,” because I submitted the essay to various publications for about two years and was giving up hope in finding a home for it when I heard from Whispering Angel Books.

Whispering Angel Books is dedicated to publishing uplifting and inspirational stories and poetry for its readers while donating a portion of its book sales to charities promoting physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

My essay, about finding out just after getting engaged that one of my kidneys was no longer functioning and how my then fiancé and now husband and I worked through the situation, is published in “Soul Survivors: From Trauma to Triumph,” a collection of inspiring personal essays and poems celebrating the resilience of the human spirit over pain, trauma and tragedy. A few weeks ago, the editor contacted me to show me a proof of my essay and check for accuracy my bio that will appear in the book.

The Whispering Angel website states about the collection: “These pieces, written by some of today’s most prolific writers, will touch your heart, soothe your soul, and restore your faith that you can overcome and survive life’s darkest moments, emerging with strength, courage, hope, tenacity and even beauty.” I feel honored that my essay is being included in this volume.

It took me longer than I anticipated to get the essay published, but I guess the waiting was important so that the essay could end up in the right home.

 

Posted in Creative Nonfiction, essays, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: What to Do Before Your Book Launch

I’ve never had a book direct me to put it down and take care of an important matter  before continuing to read. That is, until I came across What to Do Before Your Book Launch. The guidebook for traditionally published authors was written by M.J. Rose, an internationally bestselling author of dozens of novels and internationally bestselling novelist Randy Susan Meyers, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on a couple of occasions.

Seriously, I was reading the book and was told to put the book down THAT INSTANTBook Image and secure my domain name. I already had LisaBraxton.com—that’ the domain for this website—but I didn’t have “dot org” or the domain name that is the working title of my manuscript. I did what the book said, stopped what I was doing, and secured the other domain names.

The authors of What to Do outlined a number of other things writer need to take care of or at least be involved in because of changes going on in the publishing world.

They point out that 10,000 novels hit the shelves each year. The price of books has gone up 20%, while review space has declined 20-50%. Fewer magazines and television shows feature authors. Publishers can only support a very small percentage of the books they publish and more than half of debut authors never publish a second novel.

So what does an author do in light of these changes and shifts in the business of books and media? Take an active role in publicity and marketing of the book.

What to Do tells you how to build websites, gives pointers on taking a publicity shot and offers the pros and cons of blogging, producing a book trailer, and a newsletter.

What to Do Before Your Book Launch is a “must-read” for any writer looking to get a book published. It’s a quick read—only 88 pages—that can be referred to over and over again during the publication process.

Posted in Blog, Book Reading, Coaching, Manuscript, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Writing a novel calls for total immersion, sometimes with fruitful results

When I was a journalist in both newspapers and television, I embraced “immersion journalism,” reporting on a story by participating in it, immersing myself in the situations and the people involved.

As a result, I once climbed into firefighter turnout gear and crawled around on my stomach in a “smoky” building to search for victims using a thermal imaging camera, floated around in an icy pond until first responders threw me a rope and pulled me out, rode around with a state trooper stopping motorists for DWI one New Year’s Eve, and strapped on roller skates and took a few whirls for a story about a roller rink that had been in a community since the 1930s and was closing down.

I believe that immersion techniques also work well with novel writing. Author Heather Sellers writes about this in her book, Chapter after Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus you Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams. “If you don’t surround yourself with your book, you risk it creeping away from you—or you unintentionally creep away from it,” she says.

grilled_chicken240To avoid the drift that Sellers refers to and bring authenticity to my story, I recently borrowed from the library a copy of Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal, a cookbook written by restaurateur and Senegalese native Pierre Thiam. I was particularly interested in the recipe for Yassa Ginaar, grilled chicken with lime-onion sauce.

My unpublished novel features a Senegalese restaurant owner who makes delicious meals for the customers in the immigrant community where he lives. One of his specialties happens to be Yassa Ginaar. I thought it would be neat to prepare the recipe, just as my character would.

The recipe calls for juicing 10 limes and grating the zest from three of them. I never knew how hard it would be to peel limes. Their skin is very thin, far different from lemons. Also I had to cut up five onions, julienne style, something I had never done before.  I also had to get my hands on a habenero pepper, a tiny pepper that I had never seen before in the supermarket, but apparently has been there for quite some time.

After rubbing in the ingredients into the chicken I had to let it marinade for a few hours. Once I had my husband try it. I could tell by the look on his face that something was wrong. The taste of lime was overpowering. I had miscalculated the proportions. The meal was a disaster. I tried to save it by soaking the food in cooked white rice (my husband’s idea) but the next day the dish was as sour as it was the first. However, the effort wasn’t a total loss. I gained an appreciation for what goes into Senegalese cooking, particularly in Yaasa Ginaar. I gained more of an appreciation for the restaurateur in my novel and the effort he takes to create savory meals or the public. I kept this in mind as I revised the scene in which he prepares this (usually) tasty dish.

Posted in Manuscript, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Women’s National Book Association Boston chapter “Author’s Night” Puts Spotlight on Writers

On Thursday, May 5 at 7 p.m. five authors will have the opportunity to give short readings from their published works during “Author’s Night” at the Boston Public logo-with-color-behind-it-260x150Library. The event, to be held in the library’s Commonwealth Salon, is being hosted by the Boston Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. The event, which will showcase five members of the chapter, is free and open to the public.

Events like this, hosted across the country by writing centers, libraries, university creative writing programs, and writers unions and associations, give writers

  • A reason to step away momentarily from the isolation of the laptop
  • An avenue for introducing their work to the public
  • An opportunity to practice speaking before an audience

If you’re in the Boston area, and love the written word, check out the event May 5th. If you’re outside of Boston there’s bound to be a writing institution planning a similar kind of event.

Posted in Book Reading, Public Speaking, Publishing, Storytelling, Writing, Writing Group | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Lessons from an American Idol contestant

I’m at the hair salon and a young woman walks in who has just returned from Hollywood. She says she had a tryout on American Idol and got on the show. However, she didn’t get as far as she had hoped.

As she’s waiting for the manicurist to start her appointment, the salon owner congratulates her and asks if LOGO MICshe was disappointed. She says, “No. I learned a lot being on the show. Now I know where I need to improve.”

I liked the upbeat attitude of this young singer. She felt she’d had a victory in spite of not winning.

This same philosophy can be adopted by writers when getting feedback on their work. I recently joined a writing group that I found through meetup.com. The members include a screenwriter, horror fiction writer, poets, writers of period dramas, and bloggers.

Each week I get feedback from them on excerpts of my novel. As I check my email account on a regular basis for responses from publishers to my novel—which has included rejections or no response at all—I can feel good that the feedback I’m getting from the group will make the manuscript stronger and a more viable work for publication.

 

Posted in Manuscript, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Group | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What I learned onstage at the comedy club

I’m not a comedian. I don’t write jokes and I’m not especially funny. Yet, on a recent weeknight I was onstage before an audience of 150 people at Laugh Boston, one of Boston’s most popular comedy clubs. With a level of confidence that surprised me, I stood in front of the mike under the bright lights. As I spoke, I heard a few titters here and there, then some chuckles, then clusters of people actually laughing out loud.

I’d won over my audience. My confidence was building. What’s great about Laugh Boston is that you Laugh Bostondon’t have to be a standup comedian to get onstage. You just have to have a story that fits the designated theme and know how to tell it.

The Moth storytelling is held at Laugh Boston once a month. There’s probably a The Moth storytelling near you. Events are held in major cities all over the country and also in London, Dublin, Melbourne, and Sydney. Here’s how it works. Ten audience members per event get to come onstage and tell a 5 minute story. Then audience members who volunteer to evaluate the presentations, judge them.

THE MOTH IMAGE

In an earlier blog post, I stated that I thought The Moth offered a great opportunity for writers to practice before an audience, a “dress rehearsal” for when they would do an author reading. But I also discovered that The Moth offers writers the opportunity to find out whether what they’ve written has audience appeal.

Cat bookWhen I was called onstage I told a story I had written in essay form for an online class I’m taking with Creative Nonfiction, out of Pittsburgh. The story is about how our cat, Savannah, bit my husband, and we considered getting rid of her. The essay is just under 3,000 words. For The Moth, I boiled the story down, emphasizing the dramatic parts and then back-filling with explanation before bringing the story back to the presents and its dramatic conclusion.

From the audience response, I knew that my story was relatable. People became emotionally invested in it. So, if you’ve got an essay or piece of creative nonfiction you’ve written and want to test it on an audience, come up with a storytelling version and get onstage at The Moth.

 

Posted in Book Reading, Coaching, Creative Nonfiction, Public Speaking, Storytelling, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

I Need a Support Group (and Maybe You Do Too!)

I was scanning the inbox of my Hotmail account the other day, sMusical Noteped down the ‘subject’ lines of my emails and made an abrupt stop when I saw the words I’d been waiting months to see: “2016 Nicholas Schaffner Award.” My pulse quickened. My palms got clammy. I steeled myself.

Months earlier, I’d submitted my manuscript to the Schaffner Award for Music and Literature. The contest rules specify that the award would be given to the writer of an unpublished manuscript who submits a literary work in the English language–fiction, poetry, nonfiction–that deals with the subject of music. I thought my unpublished novel, which features an African drummer and has him performing in the story, would no doubt bubble to the top of the entries.

Last month, I got an electronic newsletter from the publisher, Tim Schaffner, stating that entries came in from 22 states in all genres–poetry, short fiction, novels, memoirs. “Due to the last-minute deluge of manuscripts, we will need to extend our award winner announcement until the end of February,” the newsletter read. Twenty-two states? I tried to do a quick calculation on how many entries that would be, how many manuscripts I’d have to beat out to win.

But then I got the email the other day. I thought it was a little early to hear from the contest again since the end of February was still weeks away. I soon found out why it was early. I took a deep breath and opened the email. It didn’t have the announcement of the winner of the contest. It had the names of the six finalists and MY NAME WAS NOT AMONG THEM!!!Retreat Manuscript

After I read the email, my husband found me in bed, which is uncharacteristic for me since it was only about 6:30 p.m. After my 9 to 5 I’m usually off to the gym for boxing class or indoor cycling with a little treadmill action and free weights topped off with 10-minutes on the rowing machine.

My husband sat down next to me on the bed. Our cat, Savannah, hopped on the bed too Cat blogand took a seat. We are her entertainment.

“I’m so sorry about this, Lisa. I know it’s disappointing,” Alex said. What can I do to help?”

I had an idea. I bolted upright. “I know,” I said. “You can read my manuscript again. Maybe there’s something in the writing that I missed. Maybe one of the characters needs to be tweaked.”

He said nothing. But I was fairly sure one of his eyelids was beginning to twitch. He read all 345 pages of my novel a few months ago. Maybe he wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of spending a few more weeks with my characters all over again. Maybe he was thinking about all of the heated “discussions” we’d had about the point of view I had chosen, the colloquialisms I employed, or the voice of the male characters.

“Maybe you can join a writer’s group,” he said finally. “That way you can talk to people who are going through the same things you’re going through. It’ll kind of be like a support group.”

So here I am at the main branch library waiting for the start of a writer’s group I found on meetup.com. I’ve gotten some support already. One member of the group emailed me the name of a book designed to help writers not give up hope in the face of rejection. I’ve never been part of a writing group. I’ll let you know what I think in an upcoming blog post.

Posted in Coaching, Manuscript, Publishing, Writing | Tagged , | 5 Comments

The Sun magazine shines the spotlight on published essays

I was thrilled when my essay was published in the “Reader’s Write” section of The Sun Magazine last year in the June issue. The topic was “doors.” I just found out that there’s a women’s project being organized by a local community theater grouThe Sun Magazine Logop in Pennsylvania. The Sun magazine editors have asked for my permission to have my essay be among the ones included in the informal play audition to be held in a few weeks. This project provides not only acting roles for women but gives my essay exposure to a whole new audience. This is an unexpected, and welcomed benefit of getting my piece published.

Posted in Creative Nonfiction, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Why do I keep bumping into Andre Dubus?

He was sitting at one of those little two-seater tables, chatting with a friend in the lounge area of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center when I spotted him the other day—novelist and short story writer Andre Dubus, finalist for the National Book Award for House of Sand and Fog, which was later adapted for film and nominated for an Academy Award, Guggenheim Fellow, Oprah Book Club pick, and National Book Award finalist.

I instantly new it was him as I saw him out of the corner of my eye as I was passing by because of the hair. It’s distinctive: dark, soft waves with a swirl of grey at the center near the hairline that looked as if it could have been applied with a painter’s brush. He was sporting that rustic, Ralph Lauren look—the pointy cowboy boots, boot-cut jeans, open-collared shirt, dark, fitted blazer.

He stood up as I approached his table. I started to introduce myself, but I didn’t have to. “I know who you are.” He sounded ebullient. “You’re the novelist.”

“Yes, I am,” I replied, relieved that I didn’t have to explain myself.

He shook my hand. “Do I owe you an email?” he continued.

My mind raced back to the times I tried to get in touch with him, when I sent him updates about my manuscript. “Yes,” I said. “You probably do owe me a few emails, but that’s okay.”

I had been hanging around the convention center, waiting for a friend who was in the exhibit hall at the American Library Association mid-winter meeting. I had no idea that Dubus was one of the speakers. Before we parted, I handed him a copy of the Christmas Moments anthology that features one of my stories.

The first time I met him was about eight years ago when the nonprofit I work for invited him in for our organization-wide book club meeting. He read from House of Sand and Fog. At the time, I’d been writing short stories and hoped to write a novel. I told him so when he signed my copy of his book. He wished me luck and inscribed the book with “Good luck with your writing.”

Then, a few years later, I attended an author event at Newton Free Library to listen to him read from his memoir, Townie. Afterward, he seemed delighted when I told him that I’d completed my MFA in creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University and mentioned that he knew novelist Diane Les Bequets, one of my mentors who was running the program. He encouraged me to keep writing.

A couple of years later, not long after I’d gotten married and finished revising my novel, I showed up at Newtonville Books with my husband. I could feel the energy in the bookstore as Dubus’s fans awaited his arrival. They filled most of the seats but left a few up front. My husband and I didn’t have much choice but to sit there, front and center, with the lectern not much more than a foot away.

Dubus walked in and after he was introduced, opened a page in his story collection, Dirty Love. He adjusted his glasses, and as he was about to open his mouth to read the first line, he looked up at me and said, “I know you. We met before.”

Later, he signed my book and we had a nice chat.

Why do I keep bumping into Andre Dubus? Sometimes it’s by accident. A couple of times it was planned. When I’ve been around him I’ve wished that his stature as a novelist and memoirist could somehow rub off on me, opening doors for me in the world of publishing. But, the more realistic part of me simply enjoys the delightful and inspirational moments I’ve had with one of my favorite authors.

Posted in Book Club, Book Reading, Book signing, Bookstore, Creative Nonfiction, Public Speaking, Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Enhance your public readings with THE MOTH

When my friend, Sue, asked me to join her buddies Rudy and Amy at THE MOTH story slam, held at Laugh Boston comedy venue this week, I didn’t hesitate. As a writer who tells stories, both fictional and true on the printed page, I was curious to see how stories are told in a story slam. Moth events are held in major cities around the country. There’s also THE MOTH radio hour at a station near you.

Laugh Boston

Here’s how it works. THE MOTH provides a theme for the evening’s event. When I attended, the theme was “dedication.” People sign up after they arrive to tell their stories. Only 10 are chosen per event. They are given 5 minutes to tell their story. If they go beyond 6 minutes, they must leave the stage. One of the organizers goes table-to-table asking people to volunteer as judges.

After we got our seats and ordered drinks, and the storytelling began, it didn’t take long for me to recognize the difference between telling a story and giving a reading. Storytelling is done without notes or pages of text so that we audience members could better connect with the speaker. The storytellers were animated, gesturing with their hands and arms, physically acting out portions of their stories. They changed pitch as they spoke, paused to let the audience laugh, and got emotional as they talked. They truly connected with the audience.

Participating in a story slam may not make for better writers, but could make writers, better speakers. So many writers just aren’t that comfortable in front of a microphone.

I picked up a few other tips. Wes Hazard, a local standup comedian, was picked to tellWES HAZARD a story. His was about gastrointestinal problems that left him flat on his back in both a men’s and women’s bathroom in a comedy club venue. At the close of THE MOTH, there were clusters of people wanting to meet him and talk to him about his horrible experience. Wes was smart. He was armed with postcards with details of his upcoming comedy performances listed and his website. There’s no doubt that he used telling his story at THE MOTH to market his standup. Writers can use events like THE MOTH to increase their fan base and readership.

Sue, Amy, and I did our best to cheer on Rudy when he got on stage and told his story, which, in fact, captivated the audience. However, he didn’t get the top score from the judges. We couldn’t believe it. Some of THE MOTH staff told him as he left the stage that his story was the best. They didn’t agree with the judges. It reminds me of the responses I get from publications I send my stories to. I can get a bunch of rejections and then a publication will come along and the editor will say it’s just what she was looking for. It’s all so subjective.

 

Posted in Book Reading, Coaching, Public Speaking, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Tis the Season to Reflect on Publishing Successes

I’ve been feeling a little down this holiday season. I spent the past year revising my unpublished novel, had a former co-worker who runs an editing service proofread and copyedit it and have been sending it out to agents. So far, I’ve gotten a few rejections, some advice for tweaking it, but no nibbles.

But I have to remind myself of the successes I’ve had this year. I was honored when the ladies of GBS-NCNW asked me to speak at their membership tea in September. I read “Short LISA PHOTO READINGDistance Romance,” about how I met my husband in the most unlikely place. The story was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game.

Not long after that, I got some good news from the Editor of The Northwestern, my alumni magazine, that they would publish my essay, “Trust Yourself,” about volunteering at my church and my friendship with one of my little first graders.

As the holiday season got underway, I got good news again. And again. And again. Writer’s Digest magazine gave me an Writers Digesthonorable mention in its 84th annual writing competition. The mention was for an essay I wrote centering on a troubling medical diagnosis I received.

Grace Publishing, a publisher of Christian publications, accepted my essay, “Sunshine for Christmas,” and included it in it More Christmas Moments anthology.

Forgiveness Book ImageI had sent an essay I titled, “The World I Didn’t Know Existed,” to Inspire Christian Writers earlier in the year. Just in time for Christmas, Inspire Forgiveness was published, including my essay.

There was a time when I struggled to get short pieces published, but that’s beginning to change. I need to remind myself of this as I go through the process of seeking a literary agent to represent me.

Posted in Blog, Book Reading, Book signing, Publishing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Looking to promote your writing? Take a cue from Mariah Carey

Without fail, starting the day after Thanksgiving, until the end of the year I think of Mariah Carey. In fact, I can’t get her off my mind. It’s not because of her stunning five-octave voice or the ups and downs of her personal life. It’s because I can’t walk into a department store, supermarket, auto repair shop, or hair salon without hearing, All I Want for Christmas Is You. It becomes a continuous loop in my head that doesn’t come to a stop until New Year’s Day.

I do love the song. It’s one of my holiday favorites and because of it, I, along with thousands upon thousands of other people think of Mariah during the holiday season.

Good for Mariah.

Recording a holiday album is smart marketing for performers. It means that every holiday season, whether the artists have produced something during the year or not, the buying public will think of them. Keeping oneself in the minds of consumers is Christmas Moments Imageimportant for writers too. This holiday season, an essay I wrote, “Sunshine for Christmas,” was published in an anthology by Grace Publishing, More Christmas Moments. It’s a lovely collection of heartwarming stories. I am selling copies this year and plan to make them available at holiday craft fairs in the future.

Christmas stories, like Christmas songs, never get old. Getting published in anthologies that have a seasonal tie-in is a way that writers can maintain their profile with the public. Thanks for the tip, Mariah!

Posted in Book Reading, Book signing, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Top 7 Holiday Gift Ideas for Writers

Planning to shop for the writers on your holiday list? Are you a writer putting together your wish list? Here is my list of the top 7 gifts for writers:

Literary Action Figures–Writers can sit at their desk under the watchful Jane Austeneye of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Sherlock Holmes, Oscar Wilde, or any of the other literary action figures on the market. My favorite is Jane Austen, one of the greatest English novelists. Despite living a largely sheltered life, she skillfully captured the subtleties of human interaction and her works are more popular than ever.

Noise-canceling Headphones–They can block up to 90 percent of outside Noise canceling headphonesnoise. They have a comfortable over-ear design and sliding headband to fit any head size. They can block out barking dogs, howling cats, annoying spouses, and anyone and anything else that can break a writer’s concentration.

Weekend Hotel Stay–Okay. The Bellagio may be out of reach or the Bellagioubiquitous slot machines too distracting, but a weekend stay at a hotel can give a writer the space and tranquility needed to increase that daily word count. And when the writer needs a breather, there’s always the hotel pool or gym.

Electric Pencil Sharpener–For old school writers like me, who rely on the Ticonderoga No. 2 and a legal pad to work on that first draft, an electric pencil sharpener is an ideal gift. These days, they can be operated by battery and/or electricity. Either way, they sharpen pencils to a fine point.

Booklight–There’s nothing worse than when I’m visiting family or friendsBooklight for an extended stay and their lighting is not set up with the writer in mind. When I get the urge to write on these occasions, the dim lighting in the guest bedroom leads to frustration. I sometimes end up writing in the guest bathroom, which, for some reason, people tend to light more brightly. The rechargeable booklight takes care of this issue. It attaches to almost anything, and provides bright, white light.

Massage therapy–Hunkered over a laptop, notebook, or desk for hours on Massageend can leave a writer’s back muscles tired. What better way to relieve the tension than with the gift of a massage. Day spas provide gift cards for a menu of massages, including deep tissue and heated stone.

Coffee House Gift Cards–A Coffee house is a favorite hangout for a writer.Coffeehouse The writer gets out of the house to craft that story, all the while tapping into the energy of the coffee house patrons and inhaling the full-bodied aroma of a cup of java.

How about you? What gifts for the writer would you add to this list?

Posted in Blog, Manuscript, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Writers: Make That Christmas Newsletter Work for You

CHRISTMAS NEWSLETTERUgh! The Christmas newsletters. You know what I’m talking about. They start arriving in mid-December, oozing with hubris and pretention about Biff’s missionary work with a just-discovered indigenous civilization in Belize, and six-year-old Kennedy’s corporate start-up whose shares are now being traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

But as writers we shouldn’t dread the annoying missives, but embrace them by putting our own twistCHRISTMAS NEWSLETTER TEMPLATE on them. The Christmas newsletter doesn’t have to be a generic highlight reel of the past year’s accomplishments, but can focus on literary successes, serving as a marketing tool to raise our profile.

Starting with January, look back at your calendar of activities, your speaking engagements, publishing successes, book readings, seminars, workshops, conferences. Details of these can be fleshed out to create a newsletter that your fans will love reading. You can find useful tips online for writing a Christmas newsletter.Mailbox

Email it or post it as an open letter on facebook, Linkedin, or other social networking sites to enhance your platform and build an audience with people new to your work. Doing this could make the holidays a little merrier and those Christmas newsletters that arrive in the mail a little more palatable.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My reading at the ladies’ tea

LISA PHOTO READING

I spent Sunday afternoon with the ladies of the Greater Boston Section of NCNW. They held their annual membership tea at The Jonathan Belcher House in Randolph, Massachusetts, a lovely building on the National Register of Historic Places, which is GROUP SHOTavailable to the public for meetings, wedding receptions, birthday parties and other occasions. The ladies showcased my good friend Bithyah Israel, the founder of City Strings United, an organization that enriches the lives of young people through cello lessons. She sang a solo, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” They also had me read my story, “Short Distance Romance” from Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game. Greater Boston Section of NCNW is a voluntary nonprofit membership organization helping to improve the quality of life for women, their families and communities. One of the board members paid me a beautiful compliment after my reading. She said the reading was special because it was the first time she’d been read to since she was a child.

Posted in Book Reading, Book signing, Creative Nonfiction, Public Speaking, Publishing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Publishing News: Read my essay in Northwestern magazine

Lisa and Qu'AmereMy essay, Trust Yourself,” appears in the fall 2015 issue of Northwestern, the alumni magazine of Northwestern University. It’s about my friendship years ago, with one of my first grade Sunday School students. Since that period of time, that student, Qu’Amere, has done quite well. He’s now an adult. He graduated from college this year and has become a preschool teacher. We stay in contact. When I was back in my hometown, Bridgeport, Connecticut, over the Christmas holiday, he stopped in to say hello.

Posted in Creative Nonfiction, Publishing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Make the Most of a Writer’s Conference

Let’s say you’ve paid your registration fee and made your travels plans for an upcoming writer’s conference. You want to make sure the conference is worth your investment.

Allison Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor for the online nonfiction blog, Brevity, and the author of Get Published in Literary Magazines, coming in September from Coriander Press. Read her latest blog post below and how to make the most of a writer’s conference.

Making the Most of A Writing Conference

by Allison K Williams

You’re going to a writers’ conference! With workshops and panels and book sales and a lot of strangers and oh dear god what if none of them like me? What if all the workshops are too advanced, or too basic, and I have no idea what the Liminal Space Outside the Academy: A Feminist Perspective Through The Work of Dickinson and Gay As Realized In Graphic Novels panel is talking about? Am I too old? Am I too young? What if I haven’t had anything published yet?

Good news: we’re all welcome. Conferences are a great chance to meet and talk with writers of all ages and stages. Most conferences have purple-haired college kids, blue-haired seniors, and a variety of pantsuits, piercings, ties and tattoos in between.

I’ve just returned from the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference in Lancaster, PA. There were some terrific panels (none of them used the word ‘liminal’) on publishing and being a debut author and literary citizenship. It turns out the key to getting ahead as an author is pretty much the key to everything else–work hard, be nice to people, and don’t tweet “Buy My Book!” every hour because everyone else will mute you. Lee Gutkind opened his keynote with a story about a bat in the dining room and getting trapped in an elevator on his way to said dining room (both true), and Jane Friedman showed a fantastic video about the huge increase in available information in her keynote on the state of publishing.

Some thoughts on how to make the most of attending a writing conference.

Before you go:

1) Arrange to stay onsite if you possibly can. Yes, conference hotels are often expensive (join the hotel points club for free wifi), but the ability to run upstairs and change your shoes or grab a jacket between panels is priceless. If budget’s an issue, see if you can get a roommate–most conferences have a message board to share rides and rooms. When your day starts at 8AM and the last reading finishes at 11PM, it’s nice to have a last glass of wine and hit the elevator instead of the pavement.

2) If you have an author website, update it. Make sure your links aren’t broken and that your most current work is represented. If you have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, check your page from a friend’s account and see what shows up first. Any embarrassing pictures? Is your top post a rant? Clean up your social media. You’ll be friend-ing/following a bunch of new people, and you want to give a strong first impression. What if an agent loves your query in a workshop and clicks over during a break? Be you online, but be the best you.

3) Pack comfy shoes, layers and a jacket. Most convention centers and big hotels are freezing, especially first thing in the morning. Dress code at most conferences is Casual Friday–professional but comfortable. Keep the quirky in the accessories unless your book is a Cat Lady Manifesto.

Always gather around the buffet table.

4) Get on Twitter. Specifically Twitter. If you don’t have it and you don’t “get it,” sign up and have a twentysomething help you figure it out (your teenager is on Snapchat and you won’t need that one). Find out what the conference hashtag is and follow it. Even if you never tweet again, Twitter is where people are commenting on the panels, making dinner plans, and announcing schedule updates. It’s worth it to be in the loop. (Check out the #Hippocamp15 feed here.)

When you’re there: 1) Go to everything. It’s worth getting up early, it’s worth staying out late. Sleep when you go home. That said,

2) Don’t be afraid to bail. If you’re exhausted and can’t focus, slip upstairs to your hotel room and take a power nap. If you’re overwhelmed by crowds, find a corner to eat your lunch in. Chances are another shy writer will join you.

3) Talk to people first. Don’t wait for an invitation. As the Victorians said about fellow houseguests, “The roof constitutes an introduction.” It’s OK to sidle up to a conversation in progress, make some smiley eye contact and start listening. Sit next to someone you don’t know at every meal. When in doubt, start with “How were your workshops today?” And the best follow-up question ever: “What do you write?”

4) Volunteer. If there’s a chance to be read or heard, jump on it. There’s always a pause before the first person volunteers–fill that pause. After the first person it will be a scrimmage and not everyone will get a turn.

Corollary: Ask good questions. Before popping up to the mic or raising your hand during the Q&A, ask yourself, “Will this be relevant to at least half the room?” If your question is “I’m writing a memoir about my mother, do you want to buy it?” phrase it as, “What topics are you seeing in memoir right now, and what are you looking for? Are there a lot of parent-child stories?”

When you get home: 1) Follow up. Everyone whose card you took, send them an email saying how nice it was to meet them, and/or connect through your preferred social media. If you’ve got free time, send out a few links to articles you think would interest specific people. Start building your literary citizenship by being useful and kind.

2) Keep the energy going. Register the domain for that blog idea you talked about. Query that agent who seemed really nice. Ask someone to be your writing buddy.

And of course, write write write.

See you at the next conference!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Seville is a writer’s paradise

DSCN4273

On a recent trip to Spain, I included stays in Barcelona, Seville, Malaga, and a day trip to Tangier, Morocco. Of all of these places, the one that got me feeling the most inspired creatively was Seville. Spain’s fourth largest city buzzes with art festivals, breathtaking architecture, flamenco dancing, hand-stitched shawls and lovely ladies’ fans.

Even the air is inspirational, filled with the fragrance of orange trees, jacaranda, and myrtle. The author, James Michener, wrote that Seville doesn’t have ambience, it is, ambience. While taking aDSCN4268 cruise down the Guadalquivir River, I thought of the literature Seville has inspired, including the opera Carmen. Strolling around this city, it’s easy to imagine finding a corner table in a coffee shop, opening up the laptop and creating stories.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What the Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference taught me about acquiring an agent

LITERARY MAGAZINESI’ve had a number of short stories and essays published in literary magazines. In addition to the satisfaction of getting my work placed in well-respected publications, it’s been a way for me to build my list of publishing credits. However, until I attended the 2015 Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference in Pittsburgh, I had no idea that getting published in a literary publication could draw the attention of an agent.

“Editors and agents read them. They study them,” said Lee Gutkind, speaking at the conference. Gutkind has been recognized by Vanity Fair as “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” and is the founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction, literary magazine and editor of more than 25 books.

“We will publish a piece in Creative Nonfiction and then an agent contacts us and says, ‘Can you give me the contact information on this writer? I wonder if they’re thinking about writing a book.’ ” Gutknd said.

In doing some further research on this, I found an interesting article in The Review Review, in which literary agent Nat Sobel said he found his client, Wiley Cash, upon reading Cash’s story in Crab Orchard Review. Sobol went on to say in the article that his agency reads 175 literary magazines on a regular basis.

I never would have imagined literary agents reading literary publications looking for clients, but it’s good to know that literary magazines are an avenue for us in pursuit of representation.

Posted in Creative Nonfiction, Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Acclaimed photographer’s story is an inspiration to struggling writers

I recently went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to an exhibition of the work of Gordon Parks, one of the most celebrated photographers of all time. The exhibition’s 42 photographs were from a series originally meant to accompany a Life magazine photo essay, but for unknown reasons, the story was never published.

In 1948, Parks was the first African American photographerimages family hired by Life magazine. The images for the unpublished photo essay depict the realities of life under segregation in 1950. Parks returned to his hometown, Fort Scott, Kansas, and then other Midwestern cities to track down and photograph each of his childhood classmates.

The experience of mining his childhood memories and the work on the “Back to Fort Scott,” seemed to have inspired him to write The Learning Tree in Life magazine cover1963, his best-selling novel about growing up poor in Kansas.

Once completed, Parks’ Fort Scott photo essay never appeared in Life. Most of the photos were never before on view until this exhibition at the Boston MFA. The reason remains a mystery, although the U.S. entry into the Korean War that summer had a major impact on the content of its pages for some time. The magazine’s editors did try to resuscitate the story early in April of 1951 only to have it passed over by the news of President Truman’s firing of General Douglas MacArthur.

The story of what happened to this photo essay all those years ago should resonate with us who work hard to have our stories published, only to have them passed over for unknown reasons. But, as in the case of Gordon Parks’ photo essay, that doesn’t mean that the creative work won’t eventually find its audience.

Posted in Photography, Publishing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons Learned at the Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference: Never Underestimate the Power of a Literary Journal

Some years ago I had my first piece of fiction published in Snake Nation Review, a literary journal published by a Georgia arts organization with a readership of about 6,000. I’ve since had pieces published in Vermont Literary Review, Clockhouse Review and others with readerships that size or less. Nobody I know has ever heard of any of these. When I go to book expos at writing conferences, I don’t see any representatives from the journals I’ve been published in. The publications are too small and funding too low for the organizations to fly someone to a conference. Lately I’ve had second thoughts about even mentioning them in my author bio when I submit work.

However, when I attended the Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference in CNF55 Literary JournalPittsburgh last weekend, I learned that there’s power in getting published in literary journals.

Lee Gutkind, known as the “Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” moderated a panel about getting published. He said that editors and agents actually read literary journals. He said Creative Nonfiction literary journal will publish a piece and then sometimes an agent will contact the journal to find out how to contact the writer, wondering if the writer is interesting in writing a book. I was surprised. I had no idea that editors and agents looked at literary journals. I thought the only people who looked at or read literary journals were the writers who got published in them.

It was also mentioned that for writers aspiring to get an academic position, getting published in literary journals can be helpful.

Posted in Creative Nonfiction, Manuscript, Publishing, Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Why Get an Agent?

I’ve known a number of writers who’ve written books and self-published them and others who worked directly with a small press to get their book published. In these instances, the individuals didn’t bother with literary agents. At the Emily LooseCreative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference in Pittsburgh recently, Emily Loose, an independent literary agent who formerly was a senior acquisitions editor at three of the big five general trade publishing houses, Crown Publishers of Random House, the Penguin Press of Penguin Books, and Free Press of Simon and Schuster, talked about the benefits of a writer working with an agent. Of course, I expected her to speak with this point of view, but after thinking about what she said, I began to think more seriously about an agent’s worth to people like me, who are aspiring to get their first book published.

She said that there are many things that a writer can’t represent him or herself well on, for example, understanding the clauses in contracts. If a writer is missing a deadline, the agent can help the writer stay on track. She said she had a writer who went to his attic for three months to finish a book, barely saw his family the entire time and made the deadline. His book has won awards. Along the way, she found out that there was a competing book coming out, so she bumped up his deadline by three months to beat the press date of the other book .

Torie Bosch, the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University, mentioned that agents can be helpful if the writer is talented, but very difficult, the agent can help to smooth things over.

Loose mentioned that an agent’s take is 15 percent. This sounds reasonable to me based on what you get in return.

Posted in Creative Nonfiction, Manuscript, Publishing, Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

To Blog or Not to Blog: What I Learned at the Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference

I spent the weekend in Pittsburgh reconnecting with a friend of mine and while I was there we attended the Saturday portion of the Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference. At the registration table they told me that about 175 people attend from most major cities as well as a high concentration of people from the Pittsburgh area. I’ve been a subscriber to the organization’s literary magazine for CNF Registrationyears and have submitted work that unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) hasn’t been accepted for publication.

Be that as it may, I was pleased to finally meet the people who produce the literary magazines and blogs that have been a part of my life for many years.

During the morning session on how to get published, agents, authors, editors and freelance writers discussed the value of a writer having a blog. I found much of what was said useful even though I’m writing fiction. Much of the CNF Audienceadvice is transferable. Here are remarks from Jason Bittel, writer for the Species Watch column of Earthwire, Kristina Marusic, editorial assistant for Creative Nonfiction magazine and a coordinator for the annual writers’ conference, and Emily Loose, an independent literary agent, who in the past worked as an acquisitions editor for some of the top New York publishing houses. Lee Gutkind, “The Godfather of creative nonfiction” moderated.

Jason: Definitely yes. The best thing for you when you are pitching your book project is to blog. Strut your stuff.

Kristina: Having a blog is a great way to prove you can craft a compelling story. If you don’t have lots of clips, or publications, your blog can show what you can do. It’s also a great way to build a community and talk to other writers.

Emily: A blog is not time away from your work. It’s synergistic. The publishing industry wants you to make a brand for yourself. We think about the author’s brand constantly as we’re going about getting works published.

Lee: It’s not just your writing that you’re showing off in a blog, you are shamelessly showing off what you know. You are branding yourself and showing your special knowledge and skills. You’re not just a great writer, you have great evidence of all kinds of things.

So there you have it. A blog can definitely be worth your time as a writer. Hopefully this blog will offer dividends when I’m ready to shop my novel around for an agent. I’ll share more from the Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference in upcoming posts.

Posted in Blog, Creative Nonfiction, Manuscript, Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tip for the self-published author: Throw a Birthday Party

MarylouMy book club recently read the biography, Walking In Her Shoes, self-published by Boston-area actress Marylou Depeiza. It is a family story in which a secret is being kept. In addition to us enjoying a page turner, we had the added bonus of having Marylou be our guest of honor for our book discussion. She shared with us one of the ways she was able to sell a large number of books at one time.

At one of her milestone birthdays, her children decided to host a party for her. In lieu of gifts, they had the guests purchase copies of her book. Marylou said she was able to sell hundreds that way.

Posted in Book Club, Book signing, Publishing, Self-publishing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A day to celebrate independent bookstores

Independent BookstoresOn May 2, independent bookstores nationwide will be celebrating themselves and their customers in the first Independent Bookstore Day. All regional independent bookselling associations have agreed to support this event.

Throughout the day bookstores will have games and giveaways. They’ll also be selling limited edition literary merchandise, including posters, book collections, and autographed copies of local author’s books.

So visit your local independent bookstores. They’re the ones up-and-coming authors can turn to for support as they plan their book tours and author readings.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Publishing success found in the “spam” file

Lisa Allen BookBecause of technical problems, one of Lisa Allen’s email addresses does not forward to her Gmail account. After many phone calls and calling the host company for her website, the writer/photographer was able to do a temporary fix on her account. The inbox was packed with spam, but she was reluctant to do a “check all” and delete … just in case. She discovered an acceptance email from Rockport Publishers.

The book, “1000 FOOD ART & STYLING IDEAS” is a curated collection of photos, organized in categories such as color, global, indulge, chill and aerial, the chapter where you will find Lisa’s contribution. Artists were not paid for accepted submissions, but are offered a discount should they want to purchase the book directly from the publisher. However, a comprehensive index of the photographers and their contact information is included in the book. So you can be certain Lisa will be checking that web mail account more frequently!

Moral of the story? Establish a routine for checking extra email accounts! If you don’t mind bundling all of your correspondence into a single account, arrange for your author or artist website email to be forwarded to an account you visit daily.

Posted in Manuscript, Photography, Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Royal treatment at the Royall House

It was standing room at the Royall House in Medford imageimagetonight. My husband Alex and I spoke about the slave history of Boston. This is a project that he has been working on for years. I recently joined him in the research. About 75 people attended.

“When’s the book coming out?” several people said. Others said, “Your presentation really opened my mind to history in a way I’be never seen it before.”

We do hope to publish it as a book someday.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Our lecture is listed in the Boston Globe arts section

Royall House

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

How Writers Can Make the Most of National Reading Month

March is National Reading Month, when we celebrate the joy of reading. Schools all over the country are planning literacy-related activities to highlight reading in fun and unusual ways. Writers can celebrate the observance by reading to schoolchildren. Not only is this a meaningful avenue for volunteering, it provides some benefit to the writer. Here’s how you can make the most of it.

  • You’ll get to practice reading out loud: If you haven’t done a public reading in a while, reading a storybook to children will be a great warm up to reading your work before an audience.
  • You’ll get to practice public speaking: You can tell the kids about your love of reading and writing and your successes and challenges of getting published.
  • You’ll get new material for social networking posts and tweets: Reading to kids is an adventure. The conversations you’ll have with them during your reading could be interesting to your fans and followers.
  • You’ll attract new readers: The kids will likely go home and tell their parents that a “real author” came to their school that day. The adults might decide to Google you, find your web site or blog and start following you.

So let’s celebration National Reading Month. Let’s get reading and see where it takes us.

 

Posted in Book signing, Manuscript, Public Speaking, Publishing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Money prize opportunity for Boston writers

Dorothy O’Connor Contest

The second annual Dorothy O’Connor Writing Contest is for Boston-area women who have published an essay or article of interest for her community and beyond in the past year (in a newspaper or journal; in print or online). Only WNBA-Boston members can nominate, but nominees do not need to be members. The winner will receive a cash prize of $500.

All submission are due on March 14th, 2015 at news.wnbaboston@gmail.com. Please submit the following: Author’s name, date and place of publication, and the essay/article (acceptable formats: .jpeg, .pdf, .doc, .docx, .pages).

Should you have any questions or have problems acquiring the essay/article do not hesitate to contact us at news.wnbaboston@gmail.com

Posted in Publishing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Visit by award-winning poet is enriching

Jina Ortiz, co-editor of All about Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color, has a busy schedule these days promoting the highly acclaimed anthology. Over the next several weeks, she’ll be hosting book parties in Springfield, Massachusetts, New York City, Washington, D.C. and other locations.

Despite her hectic schedule, she was able to spend a recent afternoon in Newton, Massachusetts, as guest of honor at my monthly book club meeting. All about Skin features 27 stories by women of color whose short fiction has earned them a range of honors. The prose in the multicultural anthology addresses such themes as racial prejudice, the media’s portrayal of beauty, and family relationships.

During our book club discussion, Jina mentioned how fortunate she andAll About Skin co-editor Rochelle Spencer were to work with such a nice group of writers. “All the women were really, professional, cooperative and humble. We lucked out,” she said.

She said that the women were supportive of her in her own writing pursuits, have enriched her writing, and have served as a source of inspiration. A writer and poet, Jina’s work has appeared in many publications, including New Millennium Writings, Afro-Hispanic Review, and Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices.

Jina probably doesn’t know this, but my spending the afternoon with her has enriched my writing and inspired me as well. Thanks, Jina!

 

Posted in Book Club, Book signing, Publishing | Tagged , | Leave a comment