Archive for October, 2009

Writer Mama Success Rhythms: October Thoughts

By Christina KatzChristina Katz and daughter
Last month I drew tips from positive examples I’ve seen lately from people I know pretty well, namely, my former students. This month, I’m going to (carefully) point out some of the mistakes I see other writers making that none of us want to repeat.
Craft: A person I really like recently wrote a book that I cannot read because it’s not well written. I have tried on several uninterrupted occasions to plow through this book and I just can’t get through it even though I am genuinely interested in the topic. What a disappointment for both of us.
Would you tell your friends a book was well-written if it wasn’t? I’m sure you wouldn’t. There is no question that I want to support people I know and like who accomplish a task as huge as writing a book and getting it published. But when a person produces a poorly written book, I have a conflict. I can’t put my name behind this person’s book as a “well-written book” if I can’t even force myself to finish it.
So, here’s a lesson for all of us about professional responsibility. If you are going to write a book, don’t expect the editors at the publishing house to make it a well-written book. It’s the writer’s responsibility. Always.
Are there any exceptions? I can’t think of any. The quality of your writing should always come first. High quality writing should be your most important priority, no matter what genre you are writing.
Pitching: This may seem obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway: different genres of writing are pitched in different ways. For example, nonfiction and fiction books are not written or pitched in the same way. A nonfiction book is pre-planned to fill a niche and then a proposal is written to sell the (future) book. Whereas a (first) novel is written in advance and the pitch is fashioned around selling the completed manuscript with the assumption that changes can be made, if needed.
So, it stands to reason that if you want to become skillful at any one genre, you should plan to stick with that genre for a period of time. I’ve been focusing on nonfiction writing for over a decade now and I feel happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish in this genre. Nonfiction is a lot more creative than most people realize, not to mention all the creativity that goes into the work of nonfiction platform development.
The moral of this story is: if you want to succeed, stick with one genre and stay with it for the long haul and THEN branch out after you have achieved success in one groove. You’ll learn valuable lessons about yourself as a writer that will carry over into other genres of writing as well.
Platform Building:
When it comes to platform building, only one type of writer is in big trouble. And that’s the kind of writer who thinks that he or she is exempt or too good for self-promotion. I feel sad when I encounter this attitude (but don’t think it stops me from telling that person that they are not exempt) because really what the person is saying is, “I am the exception.” That kind of thinking never got anybody anywhere and it’s certainly counter-productive for writers. The message is getting out: writers need to learn basic self-promotion. Believe it.
Professional Development: One of the primary thrusts of professional development for writers, in my mind, is to get them out of isolation, away from dreams of grandeur and beyond fantasies of being discovered. There’s nothing like a little dose of reality to put a writer’s feet back on the ground where actual concrete steps can then be taken. Because writing careers are not “dreams that come true” (with all due respect to Walt Disney). Successful writing careers are the hard-won result of years of sustained hard work. And that’s good news because it means that success is available to anyone who is willing to put herself through the paces, find her success rhythms, and keep reaching those concrete goals.
Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she started her platform “for fun” seven years ago and ended up on Good Morning America. She teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.

Blog Tour Interview with Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, Author of Thirsty, A Novel

Okay, so this is really, really fun!

Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'KeeffeYou may already have heard me mention (about a hundred times) how happy I am to see my friend and former Columbia College Chicago classmate, Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, out on tour with her newly-published hardcover debut novel, Thirsty.

But here are few things you may not know…I’m being mysterious now.

Kristin and I have known each other for a wicked long time. Like since 1992. That’s seventeen years, people!

Kristin drafted one of the scenes for Thirsty, all those years ago in a class on writing historical fiction we took at CCC taught by Wade Roberts. (That class was a blast by the way. Thanks, Wade.)

I played a role in helping to get Thirsty into print. You can read the story in Kristin’s words over at Editor Unleashed, if you like.

I think Thirsty is a terrific book. In fact, if you examine the cover, you’ll see that I have high praise for the book. But don’t take my word for it (clearly I am biased), check out what Meryl K. Evans has to say about the book instead. She writes a darn good review, too.

Or, you can find recommendations in the November/December issue of Writer’s Digest from Jordan Rosenfeld (on stands now), read the opening line over at Poet’s & Writers, read the first chapter in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, or watch the book trailer.

And now, without further ado, here’s some of Kristin’s thoughts on the writing process:

What inspired you to write Thirsty?

As a writer, I’m deeply inspired by place so I wasn’t surprised that Thirsty, the town, came to me first. I grew up in Pittsburgh’s steel-making milieu. My maternal grandparents lived in Clairton, Pennsylvania, and my grandfather worked in U.S. Steel’s Clairton Works. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and steel was everything in Pittsburgh. We talked about steel over dinner. My sisters and I chanted, “Rotten eggs, rotten eggs,” every time we took the twenty-five-minute drive from our house to our grandparents’ house and got close enough to smell the mills on the Monongahela River. And from my grandparents’ back porch, we watched flames and big puffs of steam rise from the smokestacks. Later we watched the demise of the steel industry.

Not long after I clearly saw the town of Thirsty in my head, Klara began to appear. Right away I saw the awful marriage she was in. I’m especially sensitive to women in abusive situations. When I began to see Klara both as a young girl and an old woman, I knew I was going to be writing a story with a long arc.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing the novel?

I faced two big challenges while writing Thirsty:

1)    I started my writing life as a poet so language and rhythm are important to me. I read everything I write (even emails) out loud…over and over again…until the language and rhythm of every sentence feels right. I must have read Thirsty a thousand times out loud before I felt I could let go of it. And even then…even now…given a few minutes to read out loud and rewrite…I’d probably change a few more words.

2)    Telling Klara’s story as fully as possible—including the scene in which Drago cuts off her hair—wasn’t easy. But I knew I had to. It was only fair to see the abuse as vividly as Klara lived it. Domestic violence is an experience shared by many, many women. Too many women. And it’s too easy to turn away from it in fear and shame…too easy to gloss over the most crucial, heartbreaking brutality. No woman escapes domestic violence on her own; Klara has Katherine, BenJo, and Old Man Rupert. I believe if we face it together, there’s hope.

How long did it take you to write Thirsty?

A total of about seven years. I started it in 1992 and completed a full draft as my graduate school thesis in 1996. I worked on it off and on for another three years.

How long did it take you to have it accepted for publication?

I took a circuitous, scenic route to publication. It took sixteen years from the day I wrote the first scene to the day I got the email from David Sanders at Swallow Press that said, yep, we want to publish this book. I’m a big believer in right time, right place. I always knew Thirsty would find its home; I just didn’t know when or where.

Describe your writing habits.

I do a lot of work in my head: subconsciously in my dreams and consciously when I’m walking around the world, taking care of the mundane responsibilities of life. When I write, I am very disciplined. Before I became a mom, I got up every morning before dawn and wrote (for hours and hours). Now that I have a little one, I have to be more flexible. I write before my daughter wakes up, when she naps, and after she goes to bed.

You live in Shanghai, China. What is it like promoting your first novel from halfway around the world?

Creatively cool: The fact that I live in China gets people’s attention, and attention when promoting a novel is (almost) always good.

Logistically difficult: Shanghai is twelve hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the U.S. (except during Daily Savings Time when it is thirteen hours ahead). In some ways this is good because I work when folks in the U.S. are sleeping. That means that I don’t get a lot of emails during my work hours (they pour in during U.S. daylight hours when I am sleeping), thus often I can write without too much distraction. But it works the other way as well. When I’m ready to Twitter about Thirsty (or anything else), many U.S. Twitterers are asleep. If I need to talk to my publicist or the events coordinator at a bookstore, I have to stay up until ten o’clock or eleven o’clock at night to catch them during their morning hours (and often I have to call them back around my midnight or one o’clock a.m.). Not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

You teach writing. Three things you tell students?

1)    Sit your butt down. Write.

2)    Writing begets writing.

3)    Read your work out loud.

4)    Sit your butt down. Write. (Did I say that already?)

Note: Obviously there’s more, but this is a strong first draft.

What advice can you offer to writers?

My mantra: Tell the best story you can…believe in your writing…work your arse off.

Favorite authors?

Here’s a sampling, though there are many more:

  • for language, rhythm, and soul: Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez
  • for writing about women’s lives in significant ways: Alice Walker and Toni Morrison
  • for thinking like me: Dr. Seuss and Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • for keeping me centered: Thich Nhat Han and Pema Chodron
  • for writing inspiration: Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott
  • for writing craft: Christina Katz, Wendy Burt, Sage Cohen

Favorite books?

This list changes and grows all the time, but here are a few I love: Anaïs Nin’s diaries, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Book Thief, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Odyssey, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Sula

What’s next?

A memoir about my path to love, marriage, and mamahood (definitely not the usual path). And a second novel (mum’s the word).

Learn More!

Writing Conference Success: Create High-Impact Bios & Cover Letters

Mary Andonian and kids

By Mary Andonian
Many people will go into a conference empty-handed, but not you. I have two good reasons why you should walk into the conference armed with business cards and proposal packages (thinly disguised as inexpensive paper folders). First, these items will build your credibility and boost your professional demeanor. Second, at best you’ll get your proposal in the hands of editors and agents for their long flight home, and at worst you’ll be in the enviable position to immediately mail follow-up materials.
Two important elements that will go into your proposal package are your bio and cover letter.
Your bio page can be made up in any number of ways. You can use a more traditional resume approach, listing all of your writing credits in chronological order, along with relevant educational background, and so on.
Or you may opt for the author’s book flap approach, where you write your bio the way you would like it to be seen on the back cover of your book.
One author I know lists her writing credits, but includes next to each credit a full color photo representing each credit. I used her approach for my last proposal package and ended up using visual icons representing the Contra Costa Times Newspapers (two of my essays were printed in this newspaper) and both an Institute of Children’s Literature logo and a Willamette Writers logo (for my education and involvement in these institutions, respectively).
When it was all said and done, my bio page looked pretty impressive.
Cover Letter
Your cover letter is really a one-page query letter you would send in lieu of meeting your agent or editor. It should be addressed to the agent or editor to whom you’ll pitch, along with her complete (and accurate) company title/imprint, address and phone number.
Your salutation should be addressed to Ms. [Last Name], unless you have met the person before.
The first paragraph should be a one-sentence summary of the book you’re trying to pitch.
The second and possibly third paragraphs should describe your book by first stating the need for such a book and then by telling why your book is the perfect solution to that need.
The last few paragraphs talk about you.
Why are you the perfect person to write this book?
What have you done that’s note-worthy, and why would people buy from you?
This is where you will talk about your platform, if you have one. If you don’t have paid writing credits, then highlight other achievements, such as (relevant) degrees completed or awards won.
Even non-relevant degrees might work if you spin them right: “I have an M.B.A. with an emphasis in Marketing, a skill set that will come in handy after my book has sold.”
Remember: Every interaction should close the sale or advance the sale, so close your letter with an offer to send more: “May I send you the entire manuscript? Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.”

Mary Andonian is former agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers conference, one of the largest writing events in North America. In past years, she was also program coordinator and co-chair. Mary is represented by the Reece Halsey North Literary Agency and is a monthly columnist for the hit e-zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. She has completed two book: Mind Chatter: Stories from the Squirrel Cage and Bitsy’s Labyrinth and is currently at work on her first screenplay, a romantic comedy. Mary is the mother of two girls and is the Brownie Girl Scouts leader for Troop 1102. Please visit her at:

Fit To Write Tips: Remember the Good Stuff

By Kelly James-EngerKelly James Enger and son
Remember when that story you worked so hard on got killed? When an editor rejected your pitch after you spent hours on it? I bet you do. But what about the high notes of your writing career? They may be harder to recall.
That’s why I suggest you start an Inspiration File. Mine includes notes, cards, letters, and emails I’ve collected over nine years. There’s a note from an editor thanking me for a “great job” on one of my first stories, fan letters from readers of my novel, and a congratulations card from my husband when I sold my first book.
If I’m struggling with freelancing or having doubts about my choice of career, I take a look through my Inspiration File to focus on my accomplishments instead of my rejections. I suggest you do the same.
Don’t focus on how far you have to go-instead, celebrate the distance you’ve already come.
Author, speaker, and consultant Kelly James-Enger is a certified personal trainer and the author of books including Small Changes, Big Results: A 12-Week Action Plan to a Better Life (with Ellie Krieger, R.D.). Her book, Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money, is aimed at novice freelancers; Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money helps experienced writers boost their bottom lines. Visit for free articles about freelancing and more information about her.

News Writer Mamas Can Use: A Roundup From My Inbox

Hiya mamas,

I’ve been a bit scarce since the conclusion of The Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway. But never fear because I’m gearing up for our second annual December Sell-a-bration! Not to mention all this other cool stuff that has landed in my Inbox lately that I’d like to share with you. Please feel free to grab and share any news in this post!

Sell-A-Brate Your Year Right Here In December 2009

Remember last year? I invited my students to share their success stories each day in December. Talk about inspirational! So, naturally, we’re doing it again.

If you missed the good stuff last year, click here to bring up all the posts. Happy getting inspired!

I hope you’ll start thinking about your 2009 success stories for this year’s round-up. More to come…

Wendy Burt Thomas Offers Inexpensive Query Feedback for Aspiring Authors

Trying to get your book published?

I offer flat-rate query letter consulting. For $50, you receive:

1. A review of your first-draft, one-page query letter with suggestions/edits

2. A review of a second draft with suggestions/edits

3. Five suggestions for agents/agencies that represent your type of manuscript

Wendy Burt-Thomas is the author of two books for McGraw-Hill and The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters (January 2009, Writer’s Digest Books). Her credentials include more than 1,000 published articles, short stories, personal essays and greeting cards. She has worked as a magazine, newspaper and book editor. Learn more at Ask Wendy – The Query Queen

Call for Submissions for upcoming Anthology

Is your child easy to love, but hard to parent?  DRT Press is seeking personal essays written by parents of children with ADD, ADHD and/or other mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders for a book about the experience of parenting children with such conditions, for publication (expected) in January 2011.  Compensation includes 10 copies of the completed book and unlimited discounted copies.  Payment may be offered.  The book will be co-edited by author/editor/publisher Adrienne Ehlert Bashista, Publisher, DRT Press and Kay Marner, a freelance writer who contributes regularly to ADDitude magazine, and blogs for  Soft deadline for submissions is March 1, 2010.  For more information visit Questions may be directed to


Destination: Book Deal
Advanced Student Discussion Group
With Christina Katz
Prerequisites: 3 Previous Classes with Christina
Destination: Book Deal is a monthly 90 minute accountability group that guides members towards landing a book deal sooner rather than later. Members will check in each month and set monthly goals. Christina Katz facilitates this group by phone as a way to stay in touch with her former students and point out the shortcuts, pitfalls, and career building opportunities available to experienced writers aiming for a traditional nonfiction book deal.
Cost: $150.00 (Intro price)
Dates: January – June 2010
Days & Times of monthly calls TBA
Space is limited to 12 participants
More/register: E-mail Christina

Article Accountability Dream Team For Former Writing & Publishing the Short Stuff Students
With Christina Katz
Prerequisites: WPSS
The Article Accountability Dream Team is a monthly 90 minute accountability group that guides members towards getting more articles in print in less time than it might otherwise take going it alone. Members will check in each month and set monthly goals. Christina Katz facilitates this group by phone as a way to stay in touch with her former students and point out the shortcuts, pitfalls, and career building opportunities available to article writers, who wish to get published and profit from their writing.
Cost: $150.00 quarterly (Intro price)
Dates: January – June 2010
Days & Times of monthly calls TBA
Space is limited to 12 participants
More/register: E-mail Christina

Invest In Your Writing Career Today
& Reap Greater Rewards Tomorrow.

Busy Parent Writer: Harvest Great Ideas During Hectic Holiday Seasons

Sharon Cindrich and kids

By Sharon Miller Cindrich
Boo! No sooner have you nestled into a fall routine when the pressure of the holidays begin to creep closer — and the thought of juggling the responsibilities of seasonal family activities with your own writing deadlines can really give you the willies.
The real treat as this crescendo of activity begins to build is the season’s rich writing material that can be turned into lucrative story ideas and land you lots of juicy assignments. The trick? Be ready to harvest the ideas, experiences and tips you discover in the midst of the holiday chaos by following these simple steps.
Be ready. Carry extra pens and notebooks to the apple dunking, costume parade and pilgrim feast. Jot down your ideas or impressions before you forget them and store them in an easy-to-reference spot.
Take photos.
Despite your incredible writing style, a picture is worth a thousand words and might get you some extra attention with an editor when coupled with a query. Use the snapshots of your family’s apple picking adventure or pumpkin patch visit as credentials for your pitch.
Have fun in the name of research. Use the season as an excuse to do something you’ve always wanted to in the name of researching a story, such as: “How to throw a not-so-scary Halloween party” or “Leaf-pile jumping and other free outdoor fun for kids” or “Planning a family feast for fifty dollars or less.” Save receipts to write off expenses if you land an assignment based on your activities.
Take time to reflect. If you’re a die-hard journal-keeper, you already know the cathartic benefits of scribbling down the day’s events. But as a writer, the exercise will serve not only as release of the day’s stress, but also as a reference tool for essays, ideas and anecdotes for future assignments.  

A Smart Girl's Guide to the Internet By Sharon CindrichSharon Miller Cindrich is the mom of two, a columnist and author of E-Parenting: Keeping Up With Your Tech-Savvy Kids (Random House, 2007). Her next book, A Smart Girl’s Guide to the Internet (American Girl) debuts in September 2009. Packed with tips, quizzes, and “What would you do?” scenarios, this book helps girls become smart and safe Internet users. Learn more at

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