Nov 22
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Self-Publishing: Six Things You Really Need

Self-publishing? That is great news. Of course you want a professional-looking book you are proud to give or sell, and that others will take seriously. Below are the absolute must-haves that you will have to pay for if you want your book to be successful and stocked in libraries, bookstores, gift shops, and other places. These are investments in your book--and I guarantee you will not be sorry. If your self publisher offers these things ala carte, BUY the following:

1.An ISBN number. Without this unique number on your book, bookstores can't order your book and Amazon can't sell it. Cost about $100. If you choose a self-publishing company this cost is often included in the price. ISBN stands for "International Standard Book Number." You can see ISBNs on other books; they're beneath the bar code on the back cover. The bar code comes with the ISBN.

Nov 09
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How to Get Paid for Writing

Get a reputation as a writer who asks for payment, and you will get paid. Simple as that. Hard to do sometimes, because feelings can be involved. Women writers in particular cheat themselves because of feelings. Writing is a business and you have expertise and should be paid for it.

I hope that by now every writer asks to be paid for writing articles, requests an advance when negotiating a book contract, and at the very least prices his or her e-book at a princely 99 cents.
Sep 19
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"Publicity is King"

"In the end, publicity is king. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors. If selected as a Tate author, you'll enjoy extremely reduced rates with Key Marketing. Key is a top NY Times level publicity firm and you'll be at the very highest level of traditional publishing! Key Marketing will book your personal appearances, book signings, and media spots.

"Tate Publishing does not charge a fee for publishing and absorbs all the cost of production and distribution of a book (nearly $30,000 per title). However, we do require any author who signs with us to have full-time professional book marketing and publicist representation. You are simply required to pay a refundable retainer for this publicist. The retainer will be refunded to the author at the sale of the 1,000th copy of the book sold in distribution.  All of that information will be explained to you thoroughly if in fact your book is accepted for publication.

Key Marketing's Gold package: $5,500 for 3 months of national publicity. $20,000-$25,000 for one year's publicity; contract is renewable each year. Key's Silver Package: $4,170 for six weeks of regional publicity. Key's Bronze Package: $3,300 for one month of local publicity.

Sound yummy? Ready to sign? Maybe you don't know:
  • Tate accepts most books for publication.
  • No business can "absorb" $30K of expense without expecting a return; or it wouldn't be in business long, would it?
  • Key Marketing is an arm of Tate Publishing, located in Mustang, Oklahoma.
  • Key Marketing has four employees.
  • Tate will not itemize for you what their "$30K" expenses are.
  • Tate makes you buy all your own books for handselling and prices them high, such as $23.99 for a paperback.
  • It is next to impossible to sell 1,000 copies of a book by a first-timer through distribution. Even 250 is pretty much unattainable.
  • If you hire your own publicist instead of using Key Marketing, Tate won't publish your book.
  • You can book your own appearances and book signings for nothing.
  • Money should flow TOWARD the writer, not AWAY from the writer.
  • Publicity is not king. A really good book is king. Without a really good book, publicity is a waste.
See consumer complaints about Tate here. The website Preditors and Editors does not recommend it.
Sep 16
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Tips for Writing Dialogue

Writing dialogue presents a terrific challenge in that no two conversations are alike, even if the words are the same, and no two people are alike, and the words used are only half of it. Crafting good dialogue is part of the art of characterization. Eavesdrop on or watch any conversation you can. You will notice:

a. speech patterns, regional accents, vocabulary and slang, speech impediments, volume. Re "accents": One hint of an accent (incorrectly known as "dialect") goes a long, long way. Do not write at length using misspellings ("Ah cain't make head ner tail o' whatcha' all talkin' 'bout, brutha"); it's hard to read. Your reader will soon give up. Use such things as a spice, not a meal. Better: "I can't make head ner tail of what you're talking about, brother."

b. nonverbal portions of conversations: hand gestures, scratching an itch, punching fist in hand, eye-rolling, "air quotes," and so on.

c. About half the time, people don't talk back-and-forth as much as they talk "across" each other, impressionistically: Person A: "So, how's your husband these days?" Person B: "I can't believe how fast the laundry's piling up."

d. Note the proportions of time taken up by the speakers. Half and half, or does one person talk far more than the other?

e. nonverbal portions of oral communication, such as laughter, hooting, Bronx cheer, making the sound of vomiting,  yawning, "Eh?", "Huh?", whistles, and so on.

f. A huge percentage of conversation is "canned" or pre-fabricated phrases: "How are you?" "Fine, and you?" "I'm hangin' in there." Unless there is a reason to include those pre-fab greeting exchanges, don't put them in. Also frequently appearing in conversation are quotations, cliches and advice. Some people often say "It's a dog-eat-dog world," or "As my father always said," or "Garbage in, garbage out,"and so on.

g. People who are acquainted rarely address each other by name except as a strategy, often a selling strategy. Nervous writers do this to make sure the readers know who is speaking. Most of the time if dialogue is between two people we know who is speaking (the more so if their speech patterns are correctly differentiated). We do not say to a co-worker "Good morning, Susan. Say, Susan! What happened after I left last night?" "Marsha, you are just the person I wanted to talk to. You won't believe it, Marsha!" "Susan! Wait! There's a dead mouse beneath my desk! Susan, call maintenance!" "Oh my God, Marsha, I will call right now!"

h. People have pet words and phrases. Some always say "Okey-dokey." Some employ a word or phrase over and over, such as "bizarre," or "twee" or "inappropriate behavior."

Use dialogue only when it's important to do precisely that. Perfunctory or tangential exchanges can be deleted or rendered as indirect dialogue. "She told him she'd waited for the tow truck for an hour."

Okay, now you are educated!

Sep 08
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"Stress Management for Poets": Light Verse Advice

Stress Management for Poets

by Christopher Scribner

If words do not exactly rhyme

there at the end of every . . . uh . . . line,

and lilting, light alliteration

forces wit’s obliteration,

poets’ coffers will be less full,

and writing verse becomes more stressful.
When poets start to feel depressed,

how might that mood best be addressed?

A quick shift in meter is clearly what’s needed –

a palpable change, almost tactile;

But don’t truncate your trochees or squeeze your spondees,

and, for heaven’s sake, don’t tear a dactyl!

Use some light tripping feet; make your stanzas replete

with the happy, care-free anapestic;

if that makes you feel worse,
then try writing free verse

and ignore the whole stressed-and-unstressed shtick.

(This poem was first published in
LIGHT: A Quarterly of Light Verse, #25, 1999. Reprinted with author permission.)
Sep 05
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Earning an M.F.A. Online

Growth in online education is healthy for creative writers. When I say I teach in Lindenwood University's online Master of Fine Arts in Writing program (just named by as one of the top ten in the nation), I am often asked:

How do you teach online? We have a dedicated course site open only to enrolled students, and the syllabus, assignments, and workshop discussions are posted there.

Do you ever meet with your students in person? No. But the consolation is that online courses attract students from everywhere: Virginia, Mississippi, California. This wakes up the locals who write "Billikens" or "Lambert" expecting all readers to know what those are.

How does an online workshop work? Students post the current drafts of their projects, and the instructor and all other students post constructive comments and discuss those too. I also personally email each student to discuss issues specific to his or her work.

What do you teach? Advanced Creative Nonfiction, Personal Essay and Memoir, and Poetry Workshop. Other faculty teach fiction writing, prose poetry, narrative journalism, and more.

How good is online instruction? For creative writing, online instruction is excellent, because we communicate only in writing. We have a textbook and get into deep group discussions via a discussion board.

How good is an online M.F.A.?Lindenwood's online M.F.A. program is strictly monitored by an accrediting agency, our faculty is tops, and online courses require serious personal discipline; always good training for writers. Because an online class is open 24/7, students don't have to excuse themselves because their niece's birthday party is on a class night.

Aug 18
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Why You Wanna Use Good Grammar

"Is it correct now to write, 'If a writer writes, then they--'?"

"No. It should be 'If a writer writes, then he or she--'."

"That's awkward. And that's not the way we talk."

"True. But it's the way we write."

"What if I use the second person instead? Like, 'If you write, then you--'"

"That's okay. But writers using the second person because they aren't sure of the rules of the language--that's a problem."

"You know, the rules are changing more toward the way people talk. I'm not writing a college paper. It's a casual article for a newsletter."

"Then your work will be read by an editor. Don't give an editor any reason to put his or her hot little hands on it and start marking up your article. If you want your work published as you wrote it, use good grammar."
Jul 21
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With No Way Out, I Find a Way Out

My back was against the wall: a beautifully conceived project, unique but entirely do-able, and do-able only by me (among all the people on earth) except there wasn't the money.

Because of a technicality -- they had my letters of rec but had lost my application and proposal -- I didn't get the $1500 fellowship I thought was a sure thing. (No academic should ever count on "a sure thing.") "Apply again next year," they said. Except I don't wait until next year for anything anymore.

That same evening I put my proposal up on, a crowd-funding site that's like the better-known Kickstarter. Understand that I never do things like this. But I was so annoyed, it was so unfair, and -- most of all -- the project was so important and it wouldn't get done unless I did it. Within 12 hours I was fully funded. By campaign's end, thanks to some very kind and believing people, I'd raised $500 more than my goal. Of course Indiegogo takes 9 percent, and taxes on the funding are around 20-25 percent, but there was enough money for lodging for eight working days. That's how long I think it'll take me to page through 696 letters and 158 books in the Sylvia Plath archive at the University of Indiana-Bloomington.

What am I doing there? The archive was purchased from Aurelia Plath in 1977. Aurelia of course kept all of Sylvia's letters, and her personal library, art projects, and more from 1940 until Sylvia left the U.S. for good in 1959. Aurelia, a professor of business in the College of Practical Arts and Letters at Boston University, knew and taught Gregg shorthand, and wrote Gregg shorthand notes on the letters and their envelopes, and in the books. I first visited the archive last fall and saw these markings, which the archive called "unreadable," although they weren't to anybody like me, who had been forced to learn shorthand before it became obsolete. Despite the hundreds of scholars who have dug into this archive, no one had ever transcribed the shorthand. I believe Aurelia's remarks might reveal new facts and patterns.  So I was determined to go there and do this systematically.

There's a prayer that simply says "Make a way." A way was made because this one time I wasn't ashamed to ask for something I needed. I would have been more ashamed to give up.
Jul 16
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I Can Never Remember What Exposition Is

    Fiction writers at writing workshops often hear, "Get rid of the exposition." "There's too much exposition in here." "Exposition" --it can be good, but in fiction class it was always bad, and I understood the concept from examples, but never had it explained to me in a convenient nutshell.

    As often happens, the word provides its own understanding. Think of the word as "Ex-position." "Ex" means "out." So the word means "out of position." Exposition is a capsule of description or dialogue that doesn't really fit in its time and place, or fit the character. Example:

    "She thinks she's Jane Austen. You know, the famous English writer born in 1775 who wrote Sense and Sensibility and then Pride and Prejudice, and then Northanger Abbey which spoofs the Gothic novels popular at that time?"

    That's fine information in that second sentence, and all true, but it doesn't belong there. It's out of place.

    Exposition doesn't have to be factual. It can be fictional. It's an authorial intrusion: background information that has been foregrounded in a place in the narrative where it doesn't fit. The author is unsure about a choice he made, so he patches up the narrative with further information, hoping for the best.


    Jul 10
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    Exercise and the Writer

    Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud. Wittgenstein philosophized while walking. "Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow,” wrote Thoreau. Virginia Woolf wrote “Street Haunting: A London Adventure,” about her urban walks. Countless writers take regular walks, just to walk. There must be something to it.

    A google of “writers exercise” turned up only writing prompts. Writers sit and write. That’s what we do. But consider that science has proved that excessive sitting, as we do in our cubbyholes these days, not only generates health and mood problems but ruins what health you have. I could tell when a friend was doing heavy writing because his posture sagged, his neck sank into his shoulders, his gut softened and expanded and his butt took on female proportions. What you don’t want is to look like that all the time. Spinal X-rays taken in my 50s showed the lower end of a formerly perfectly good spine permanently curved to the left, and some compressed disks. Spines weren’t designed for sitting for 8, 12 or 18 hours. You have only one spine. Take care of it.

    In the absence of health insurance for writers, try a daily 20-minute or 30-minute walk or exercise break. Consider it your treat or sanity bubble. I honestly get a buzz from the oxygenation. Writers often meet for coffee or drinks. Try walking after the coffee or before the drinks. You can chat and commiserate just as much. Do you run and wonder why you're not greyhound-slim? Running burns off sugar, not fat. Walk.

    I walk 30 minutes daily, or, in crummy weather, ride a recumbent bike (spine cannot tolerate upright bikes anymore). Twice a week I lift weights to get my back and core muscles to compensate for the spinal damage and let me sleep so the next day I can write.

    Jun 16
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    From "Complaining is Like Bad Breath" to Bestselling Author

    This past week the St. Louis Publishers Association brought in best-selling self-help author Will Bowen, a Kansas City minister who started a 21-day "No Complaining" campaign at his church, handing out purple rubber bracelets. When the participants caught themselves complaining the bracelet had to switch arms. “Complaining is like bad breath,” he said. Word spread about this concept and before Bowen even wrote a book he'd been on Oprah Winfrey's show. Then he decided to write a book. He told us all about it.

    After being turned down by one agent and then sucked into the scam "New York Literary Agency," he contacted the agent he wanted and got him. The book, A Complaint-Free World, became a monster bestseller--especially in China. Chinese book piracy is rampant, but Bowen's publisher undercut the six pirated editions by pricing the genuine book for less than the pirates charged, and bundling the bracelet with the book. The Chinese publishers also broadcast a weekly cartoon starring an animated Will Bowen on various positivity adventures, and booked him for a fashion shoot (he’s trim, bald and wears an earring) for Asian Harper’s Bazaar. “Now, those people are creative,” he said. “Most U.S. publishers try pretty hard but they really have no idea how to do it [marketing].” He went to Toastmasters to learn to speak, and arranges his own speaking engagements: one church per week. His intention for his new book is to sell 2.6 million copies.

    Other things Will Bowen said:

    • The joke is that the Random House-Penguin merger will create a publisher called Random Penguin.
    • “Publishers want to build on the last big thing but are very conservative about the next big thing.”
    • Hard-copy books will become extinct.
    • “Everybody has doubts, but most people won’t face the doubts.”
    • “We judge a book by how well it’s edited. There is nothing more important.”
    • An author goes through three stages with an editor. 1) “I hate you.” 2) “You might have a point there.” 3) “Thank you.”
    • “The editor is always right.”
    • The formula for success: “Success equals consistency over time.”
    • He knew an author bent on making The New York Times bestseller list. This guy, who had money, went to every bookstore he could and bought up 25,000 copies of his own book, which got him on the bestseller list.

    Bowen believes in writing down his goals each day, writing daily, and having a wish board. He wanted Maya Angelou to write a foreword for one of his books, but she is reclusive and doesn't do favors. He pasted a photo of Angelou on his wish board and told everyone he met that he wanted to meet Maya Angelou. One day he told an actual friend of Maya’s who arranged the meeting. I guess they spoke about positivity. Bowen tape-recorded what Angelou said and asked if that might become the foreword to the book, and she agreed. Thus, "foreword by Maya Angelou." That's a heck of an endorsement.

    I’m skeptical about lists and wish boards, but they can’t hurt, and increasingly I’m becoming convinced that writing is becoming a spiritual rather than professional pursuit. I know I went home from Bowen’s talk inspired, and boldly did something I’d never imagined I’d do, which I’ll blog about next.

    Jun 03
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    The Chapbook Solution

    Former student and friend, artist Tony Renner, actually prepared pocket-sized booklets of poems and handed them out free on Poem in Your Pocket Day, April 18, when we are all supposed to carry a poem around and read it to people and discuss it. Cool idea, and perhaps the future of poetry.

    Those of you who've written many poems: Have you considered making of them and marketing a nice portable chapbook? Most every poet can winnow from his or her work at least 16 or 20 very good poems (usually a maximum of 24 actual pages), and it's all the better if they have a common theme. I did this recently for a client whose chapbook came in third in a national chapbook contest just three months after the chapbook was assembled. The poems came from his full-length manuscript. The chapbook poems share a theme and are all of excellent quality.

    Those of you with completed manuscripts you're trying to publish: It feels good to have two manuscripts circulating. If you publish the chapbook first you can use the poems in your full-length book. What you probably can't do, unless all rights belong to you, is winnow a chapbook out of an already-published volume. That's recycling, anyway. You can write a new chapbook: all you need is to create 16 to 20 good poems, maybe on a theme, or maybe a poetic "cycle." That could be fun. So often, poetry is not fun. A chapbook is!