Structure: The Secret Weapon to Help You Achieve Your Goals

By Nita Sweeney

I’d been running for five and a half hours through the rural countryside surrounding Xenia, Ohio. My tired legs were intermittently cramping and the bottoms of my feet ached. I’d run out of catchy songs to sing to myself and all the mantras I’d been chanting sounded stale. The trees lining the rails to trails which had looked beautiful earlier that morning closed in. I thought I might suffocate. I was right on schedule, twenty-three miles into my third full marathon. “I really want this to be over,” I thought. “But I still have to get back to the car.”

My next thought made me laugh, “This is just like writing!”

Throwing in the towel would be a relief – for a while. In this marathon, I could easily stop at the next water station and ask the EMTs to haul me back to town. With writing, I could start fresh on a new, more interesting, more marketable writing project. That’s what I’ve done with every other book I’ve begun.

While I’m still looking for the right publisher for my recently re-titled memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, I have some great prospects and the book placed as a semi-finalist and finalist in two contests. Even if traditional publishing doesn’t pan out, I can self-publish. This process is exhausting, but also exciting – just like the final miles of a very long race. It’s no time to quit even though I’m really really tired and everything hurts.

So, I remembered what I know how to do: continue. Just now. Just here. This moment. Feel your feet (even if they hurt). Do one thing and then the next. Right foot. Left foot. Just keep going.

But how does someone who continues to have depressive episodes so crippling they make it difficult to get out of bed some days achieve her goals?

Structure!

In running, I found a training plan and followed it. I joined a group. I took a running class. I signed up for a race. I logged miles using online tools. I told everyone I knew. And, I ran.

With writing, the following similar structures work for me:

1) Classes and Workshops.
In my case, a writing instructor suggested I enter every contest that fit my book. As a result, my book is on the short-list for a big award. Other students might offer helpful suggestions as well. In either case, these people help you do what might not occur to you, what might seem too difficult, or what you might think is a waste of time and money.

2) A deadline.
The final days of a contest or publisher’s reading period is often enough to spark me into action. It’s that pressure cooker effect. There’s no time for perfectionism. I just have to get it done.

3) Tracking Tools.
I love querytracker.net and Submittable. Real numbers don’t lie. I can see my submissions and percentages. The geeky part of me loves this. Plus, Submittable recognizes people who collect the most rejections in a month. Anything like that helps.

4) Accountability Partners.
I tell a friend I’m going to do something. I tell my little writing group. I tell my husband or my neighbor. I tell the regulars at the coffee shop where I write. Eventually, one of them will ask about my goal. I don’t want to let either of us down.

5) Online Groups.
These are a different breed of accountability partners. But be careful with this. Choose wisely. I’m in a secret Facebook group for artists collecting rejection letters. If I’m not entering, I have no rejections to report. Telling these kind strangers is oddly satisfying.

But here’s the true secret. At some point, these external structures become internal. They light a fire inside me and I’m surprised to find myself motivated to attempt things I would never have done before. Magic? Perhaps. But I’ll take it.

After all, I finished that marathon in Xenia and I will publish this book. You have my promise.

What is your marathon? What kind of structure do you need to meet your goal? What will help you not give up? I’d love to hear about it. I want to cheer you to the finish.

Nita Sweeney’s articles and essays have appeared in magazines, journals, and books including Buddhist America, Dog World, Dog Fancy, Writer’s Journal, Country Living, Pitkin Review and in several newspapers and newsletters. She writes the blog, BumGlue and publishes a monthly e-newsletter, Write Now Newsletter, which features a short essay, a schedule of the classes she teaches, and a list of central Ohio writing events. Her forth-coming memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, was short-listed for the 2018 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award. She was recently interviewed for the radio show and podcast Word Carver. When she’s not writing, Nita is running and racing. She has run three full marathons, twenty-six half marathons (in eighteen states), and more than sixty shorter races. Nita lives in central Ohio with her husband and biggest fan, Ed, and her future running partner, the yellow Labrador puppy, Scarlet (aka #ninetyninepercentgooddog).

How to Make Book Signing Events More Engaging

By Bridgitte Jackson-Buckley, author of The Gift of Crisis​ (October 2018)

A few weeks ago there was a book signing event I was incredibly excited to attend. The author recently published a beautifully illustrated informational book, and it was on social media the author would be on book tour at local bookstore. Happily, I put the date of the signing on my calendar, told the kids about it, and decided on my outfit beforehand. Again, I was totally excited to go!

The day of the event, I made preparations to arrive early. My normal modus operandi is to arrive 20 minutes before event start time, hoping I will get lucky with last minute parking and seating. Not this time. I made sure we left home with ample time to deal with L.A. traffic and L.A. parking.

When we arrived at the bookstore, it was packed! There were so many people standing around, looking for seats and buying the author’s book. There were women, men, and children of various ages and ethnicity, the bookstore owners, and friends and family of the author. It was so exciting! There was high energy, anticipation, and good chatter amongst those of us simply waiting to see her, the author.

The author sat in a corner of the bookstore behind the signing table, and watched patrons buy her book and fill seats. Once all the seats were taken, adults stood in corners and children squeezed in between chairs on the floor. When the bookstore owner walked out in front of the audience to introduce the author, you could have heard a pin drop. Silent anticipation filled the space. We were waiting for her. I was waiting for her. The bookstore owner eloquently introduced the author.

With my shoes off, one copy of her book on my lap, my son seated cross-legged on the floor and my daughter leaning against the wall, I watched her move to the front of the audience.

‘Speak! Tell us! Tell us! Give us the backstory! Tell us how you decided upon this creative project! What was your inspiration? Process? Moments of doubt? Unexpected creative surprises?! Speak!’ I thought.

And so it began!

The author stepped in front of the audience and we applauded. She was delighted to see so many diverse faces in support of the book. So were we! She read a few passages from the book (very nice!), took three questions (all that were asked), including one from me, did a sample drawing illustration of how she created the figures in the book, and…30 minutes later, that was it.

Wait.

What about everything else?

I wanted to know so much more about…I don’t know…whatever else I didn’t know!

It’s an incredible undertaking to write a book, to illustrate a book, to market a book and to sell a book. There was a lot of effort made and work put in, on her part, to bring this project to completion. As book readers, one can only imagine; as book authors, we know how much work is involved. I thought she would talk about something behind the scenes, or tell us something we would like to know but didn’t know we wanted to know. I thought it would be engaging, informative, and at minimum exciting.

However, it was… anti-climactic.

Let’s be clear. I’m not saying I went to the signing merely to be entertained. Seeing that most in attendance already purchased the book, the notion of selling the book at the event was redundant. Most people held 2–3 copies of the book! And the line for the cash register was still long.

I couldn’t help but wonder what else could have been done at the book signing in lieu of what is usually done.

With so many in attendance this was another opportunity to be creative and fun, and maybe do something unique. This was the type of signing I would imagine all authors want, an event filled with people who (mostly) all have bought your book! So why not celebrate with the audience? Why not just have fun with the audience since you’ve met the goal?

While I am not a marketing expert, or event planner, I thought perhaps some of the following could have made the event more engaging:

  1. An audience tally of their favorite chapter, scene, character, etc.
  2. Tips for brilliant social media marketing (This is how the author got the book deal!).
  3. A contest, or giveaway for the person who traveled the farthest distance to attend.
  4. Have audience members read a favorite passage in the book and tell why it’s their favorite.
  5. Select three members of the audience to tell their favorite “word of mouth” recommendation for your book. How do they describe your book to someone who has not read it?
  6. Spread the love. Talk about two of your favorite books (perhaps similar to your book) that audience members may not know about.

Despite my feeling that the event fell short, I have to say the author did not. She was gracious, kind and took the time to speak briefly with every single person who waited in line for her to sign the book. There was so much light in her eyes while she interacted with children and adults and thanked them for attending. There is nothing worse that meeting someone you admire and feel blown off by them. I can tell that each person who attended felt they were seen by author and given the gift of her time and attention.

It was apparent the audience, regardless of the perspective in which they attended the signing (as a book reader or fellow author) was excited for her, and for the book.

Bridgitte Jackson Buckley is a freelance writer, author and ghostwriter whose focus includes spirituality, transformational documentaries, and in-depth interviews. She is a former contributor to General Religion on the National circuit of Examiner.com as the National Spirituality Examiner. She’s interviewed many New Thought luminaries including Eckhart Tolle, Iyanla Vanzant, Deepak Chopra, and Elizabeth Gilbert. As a freelance writer, she has written online articles for Examiner, Tiny Buddha, Recreate Your Life Story, Thrive Global, Medium, Gaia and Patheos’ Spirituality Itself. She is a fluent Spanish speaker and has traveled extensively throughout Central America including Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Additional travels also include Hong Kong, Malaysia and (her favorite adventure) Thailand. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, three children and Miniature Schnauzer.

Dear Writers: Is an Epistolary Book Right for You?

By Gina L. Mulligan, author, Remember the Ladies; From Across the Room; and Dear Friend

If you lived in the late 1700s, you drank corn whiskey, spun your own cloth, and spent your evenings in the glow of candlelight reading an epistolary novel. If the term epistolary is unfamiliar, you’re not alone. An epistolary novel is a story told through letters, and though it’s not common today, it was the most popular novel format throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. In fact, epistolary novelist Samuel Richardson was the Stephen King of his day. Since its heyday, the epistolary format really hasn’t really made a come-back. But there are a few that made it big like The Color Purple, The Guernsey Potato Peel Society, Carrie, Dracula, and 84 Charing Cross Lane. If you’ve only seen the movies, you’re missing out!

Like many writers, I’m fascinated by letters. They’re a voyeuristic peek behind the curtain and so I decided to try writing an epistolary novel. A few years after I started, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I discovered first-hand the healing power of letters so I founded Girls Love Mail, a charity dedicated to giving hand-written letters to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. My epistolary novel was published, From Across the Room (Five Star 2016); Girls Love Mail has distributed over 120,000 hand-written letters; and the charity published a collection of 100 letters called Dear Friend; Letters of Encouragement, Humor and Love for Women with Breast Cancer (Chronicle Books 2017). I’m now a letter expert. So, what does an epistolary book require? Is the style right for you?

Telling the Story

Fiction or non, because letters are first-person expressions of beliefs and feelings, readers organically develop a quick and deep understanding of characters. Think how much we know from a simple “My Dearest Rebecca,” versus, “Hey Dude.” Letters also have built-in pacing. Short or unfinished letters create a page-turner. To slow down important moments, a longer, intricate exchange or multiple letters with different points of view do the trick. Even setting and plot are advanced because a letter naturally demands some level of description.

That said, not every story works in this format. Maybe you have wonderful World War II letters from your grandfather or you love writing letters yourself. You need to ask yourself if the story (true or not) is enhanced by using letters. To make this call, try sorting them by story arc, not date. Do you see the story you want to tell within the context of the letters? Or will you need a fair amount of narrative commentary to explain what’s going on? The best epistolary stories are the ones where the format itself is either imperative or greatly improves the narrative. For examples, look at The Shirley Letters: From the California Gold Mines (non-fiction), and Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn (fiction).

Telling the Reader

Second, you need patience. The pivotal challenge for this format is how to get information to your reader in a way that isn’t forced. Unlike a narrative, you have to know which characters to tell what. If you’ve already told one character, then how do you share it with another without boring the reader? Language is also a big consideration. Would your character write in the same style to a friend as he would his mother? And if letters are going back and forth, how important is the timing of the letters? It’s a giant puzzle. To save time and your sanity, I recommend a very detailed outline of your characters, their part in the story, and their motivations for writing letters. You’ll also want to resolve if you only want to use letters. For example, Dracula has diary entries interspersed with the letters. It’s a wonderful technique to go deeper into the thoughts of the characters.

Finally, you’ll need many draft readers who will be honest with you and let you know if the story is making sense. No friends and family for this. You need the hard truth.

It’s comforting to know that classic epistolary works are still studied in Literature classes, and a few modern authors have experimented with the traditional epistle by creating stories from blog entries, emails, and text messages. These create a wonderful record of our current culture. The ongoing fascination with letters continues because they connect us with our past and provide a means of recording our society with in-depth perspectives and first-hand accounts. They also ideal in helping writers develop story pacing and unique characters.

Overall, trying this format is a great exercise and will only improve your writing. So go for it. We may not live in the 1700s, but Lord Byron’s words still resonates today. He wrote, “Letter writing is the only device combining solitude with good company.”

Gina L. Mulligan is a veteran freelance journalist and the author of two historical novels; REMEMBER THE LADIES and FROM ACROSS THE ROOM, and the non-fiction DEAR FRIEND; Letters of Encouragement, Humor, and Love for Women with Breast Cancer. After her own diagnosis, Gina founded Girls Love Mail, a national charity that collects handwritten letters of for women with breast cancer. Since the formation in 2011, the charity has sent out over 140,000 letters across the country. Gina has been featured on The NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, The Steve Harvey Show, People.com, Today.com, and Woman’s Day Magazine.

Narrative Arc – Your story needs a shape

By Louise Nayer, author of  Poised for Retirement: Moving from Anxiety to Zen (2017)

As a poet for many years, I didn’t obsess about “narrative arc” —though there was a beginning, middle and end to my poems that I tinkered with constantly.

When I moved to prose — plot, character transformation, tying it all together — the denouement — was new territory for me and very difficult. I didn’t even like the term “narrative arc” that everyone was throwing around. Why do I have to prove growth? Change? Don’t people stay the same? Or if the writing is good, isn’t that enough? Life is not neat. It’s messy, often very messy. I didn’t want Pollyanna endings. Why do I need arc?

When I sent out a piece to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The Panic,” about an accident that severely burned my parents when I was four and my later panic attacks, it was rejected. I decided to go back and change the ending with some words thrown in about how we all accepted our new, reconstructed family and became more compassionate people. Bingo, the article was published.

I’ve gotten more skilled at thinking about the arc — about the obstacles in the way and about transformation. We tend to gravitate toward characters that learn from the past and are resilient, despite the hard knocks of life. Resilience gives us hope that we, too, learn from our suffering and have a story to tell, a legacy to leave.

In memoir, especially, no one likes a whiny voice. However, memoirs are often written about terribly painful events. The writing needs to go deeply into the pain of a scene or moment in order for the book to work. But the author also needs to have a new perspective, a lesson learned, and an acceptance of pain, death, and separation and, yes, often a reminder that love and deep connections to others heal us.

So what is arc?

First, a character wants something and has a desire. Adair Lara, who wrote a wonderful piece “Key Elements of Writing a Memoir”, named it the “desire line.” Sometimes that’s hard to figure out, and that’s okay. In the new memoir I’m writing, at first I thought my nineteen year old self wanted love (which of course everyone wants), but as I wrote for a couple of years, I realized what I wanted first was to break away from my parents. I then went back and revised some scenes with that in mind. The desire must propel the book forward. Readers want to root for you—hoping you will find independence, or love, or a missing parent or sibling, or make it to base camp of Everest!

One reviewer said of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild “…it’s a woman coming out of heartbreak…with a clear view of where she has been.” We want to see that she has examined her life and also found resilience, in Strayed’s case both physically and emotionally as she walks 1000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.

But the arc needs to be earned. People don’t easily change or suddenly gain a new perspective. Most people actually stay the same and don’t want to examine their lives. Who can blame them? It’s hard work. But as writers, that’s what we do. We examine the big questions and also the minutiae of life. Characters go on a journey, often to a new land. Some of these journeys are harrowing. In Beah’s Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, he goes from an idyllic childhood to being caught up in the terror of war in Sierra Leone and doing terrible acts, to being rescued by UNICEF and brought to America. We see the pain. We see the resilience. We see the forgiveness. In Jessmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped she starts with a question about why all these men she cared about died and finds answers as she examines racism and economic struggle.

We’re cheerleaders throughout the books we read, staying up late at night wanting to make sure she got back home before her mother died, or she was able to continue to be a nurse even though she was in an accident and had to be in a wheelchair, or that despite being facially burned, she found someone who wanted to be her romantic partner.

Arc is about life’s ups and downs—what a character wants and the obstacles she faces along the way. The denouement is the climax, when things are made clear and resolved. As humans, we know that the next week can bring more obstacles or difficulties that will need to be overcome As writers, we are the puppeteers, picking and choosing—what obstacles must be faced, and what lessons will be learned on the journey.

Louise Nayer is the author of five books. Burned: A Memoir was an Oprah Great Read and won the Wisconsin Library Association Award. Her most recent book is about emotional planning for retirement: Poised for Retirement: Moving from Anxiety to Zen. She teaches through OLLI at UC Berkeley and is a member of the SF Writer’s Grotto where she teaches memoir.

The Power of YES: Why Community Matters in Your Writing Life

By Joan Gelfand, author of You Can Be a Winning Writer (July 2018)

Do you know how John Lennon fell in love with Yoko Ono?
While visiting an art gallery—Lennon himself was a sketch artist, had gone to art school and was a fixture on the London art scene as well as a famous Beatle – he saw Ono on a ladder installing her one woman art show: a huge sculpture of the word YES.

There is a children’s book called “Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You.” The book is an object lesson in teaching children the consequences of their actions with the help of a cast of lovable characters—Lowly Worm, Pig Will and Pig Won’t. Pig Will does what’s asked of him. Lo and behold, guess what? Pig Will gets the goodies. He gets to participate, have fun, and be an all-around happy guy. Pig Won’t, of course, always finds a reason to say no. You guessed it. Pig Won’t doesn’t get the goodies. Simple as this sounds, Pig Will has power.

When people see that you help out, not only because you want to build your reputation, but because you are a ‘team player,’ you are also cheerfully having a “Pig Will moment:” You are “paying it forward.”

Not all of our “Yes’s” or positive actions are immediately followed by fabulous outcomes. But haven’t you found that taking positive action—on balance—has benefited you?

The Big, Scary “Yes”
In 2004, I had quit my corporate job to write a novel, had a setback, and was just starting to establish myself as a poet. Like many writers, I was busy! I still had a daughter at home, I was running a small business, and my writing projects had projects. When a writer friend told me about WNBA, I was thrilled to meet colleagues and friends who were in the same boat! Soon after joining WNBA, members received an email. The current president was stepping down and, if someone didn’t take the reins, the chapter would fold. Wow. Okay. I was new to the group, but with the support of another member, we said “Yes,” and took on the presidency. Boy, did I get an education. I learned how to plan events, communicate to a group, and get things going. Together, we doubled our membership! Somehow, I found time in my busy life to help WNBA.

Two years later, I was asked to be the incoming National President’s Vice President. Now, that was a serious ask. It meant two years as VP, two years as President, and two years as Immediate Past President. I was loathe to take on a six year commitment. I wanted to get back to my novel. My husband strongly advised that I take the position.

Since that time, I’ve had five more books published, four of which were directly related to my leadership role in WNBA. The other one certainly took into account that I had a national platform. The point here is not about happy endings, it’s about why community matters in your writing life.

Community
Doesn’t it seem to happen that just when you are feeling stretched thin, crunched for time, and really not in the mood that opportunities to say YES! present themselves? What I want to say is that it isn’t always so obvious when the right time is to say “Yes.” Building your platform is not exactly like party planning. Sometimes you need to say YES! exactly when you would be inclined to say NO! Sometimes you make that extra effort to build your platform at exactly the time when you want to pull in your oars, hibernate, isolate and…. WRITE!

But winning writers, remember, are a breed apart. Winning writers who follow the “4 C’s” are firing on all burners; building community, working on craft, maintaining commitment, and moving forward with confidence.

A note on teams: Remember that you don’t have to go it alone. When I took on the Presidency of WNBA, I had mentors. Past presidents, executive board members, and chapter members were all sources of great inspiration and encouragement for me. YES! 

Joan’s new book, You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s of Successful Authors: Craft, Commitment, Community and Confidence, newly published by Mango Press, is on Amazon’s #1 Hot New Releases. The author of three poetry collections and an award-winning book of short fiction, Joan is the recipient of numerous writing awards, commendations, nominations and honors. Joan can be found writing and coaching writers at Eco-Systm co-working space in SF. http://joangelfand.com

Helpful Feedback That Actually Helps: Writing Critiques

By Bridgitte Jackson-Buckley, author of The Gift of Crisis​ (October 2018)

Discernment can be defined as “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.” This term, however, is most often associated within a spiritual context to obtain direction and understanding. But when you’re a writer, discernment is one of the most important, if not the most important factor in how you will decide who has the ability to judge well — who you will allow to give you feedback on your writing.
For the past several years, I’ve written many articles without consideration of feedback beyond the comments section. During these years, I didn’t seek out feedback for my writing due to the following concerns:

  • I was worried the feedback would be negative.
  • I didn’t know whom to ask.
  • I didn’t know how to ask.

It wasn’t until I began to write my first book when I came to understand how truly important the right feedback is to writing.
Now, I’m not referring to feedback which sugarcoats what should not be sugarcoated. I’m referring to feedback that is actually helpful, sincere, and in alignment with the highest vision for your writing.

So how do you determine whom to ask for feedback?

When I began to write the book, out of nowhere I became a part of a writing group. I wasn’t looking for a group to join, someone to write with or anything that would take more of my time away from writing. I was simply meeting friends for coffee, who just so happened to love writing as much as I do!
During coffee, my friend said, “We should do this again, maybe next week at my apartment, so we can discuss the screenplay without interruption.” The four of us agreed and we began to meet on a weekly basis to talk about screenwriting.

Since I didn’t have anything on paper in the form of a screenplay, I slowly began to share details about the book I was working on. Now, let me be clear, I have a few friends who are writers, but for some reason I have not been able to identify why I do not feel comfortable sharing my work with them. I’ve tried to understand why, but then I gave up. I decided I didn’t need to know why. The fact that I didn’t feel comfortable was reason enough. So I went with that. With regards to my writing group, these women are also friends. The difference is, I sense there is something about each of them that is settled, at ease, honest and trustworthy.

When I finally got the nerve to ask them to read one of my chapters, I was nervous. It was the first time I had ever shared something so personal, and so dear to my heart. But they were the perfect people to share it with. They each have individual and specific experience in areas of writing that I do not. But most importantly, after many candid discussions about my intention for the book and my writing, they began to understand where I was coming from.
They could then read the material and tell me if what I wrote is consistent with the overall intention of the book, if it reads true, is engaging and has flow. They are able to tell me if the story makes sense, or if I’ve somehow gotten lost in details, or have drifted off point or swayed too far in any direction.

The feedback began to feel as if we are a relationship, where each of us has a safe place to explore writing as an extension of ourselves. The space is safe, not sugarcoated safe, but honestly safe.

I can now be specific about where I am in the writing process and the kind of feedback that helps. I have trusted individuals with whom I can say, “I’m really struggling with this chapter. Could you read it and see if the ideas flow in a cohesive order?” I know the precise stage of my writing process when I need feedback: when I am just beginning and when I think I am finished! I have been able to figure out when I benefit from feedback the most, and the ways to ask for that feedback effectively.

The thing to be clear about as a writer is, there will always be someone who can give feedback. However, not all feedback is right for you. You have to take the time to use discernment to assess if the person is compatible with your writing.

If you’re running around like a “chicken with its head cut off”, asking for feedback from people who are not compatible with your writing, that’s exactly what you’ll get: feedback that is not compatible with your writing, what you’re trying to do, or the story that wants to be told through you.

Clarity around what you’re writing is about will help you to determine who is a good fit for feedback. Again, it’s not about only asking people who will tell you what you want to hear or even industry professionals. It’s about asking someone who cares about the craft, is interested in the craft, and is skilled enough to provide something concrete, something you can actually learn from.

Be clear if you trust the person giving you feedback. Pay attention to how the feedback feels in your center — “decide if the person is right about what’s wrong with your story or if they’re trying to take it in a different direction than you originally intended.”

And last, but not least, trust yourself. Trust what you are capable of doing, what you are creating and writing. The first draft may not be perfect, but with time, perseverance, and love infused into your craft and good feedback, you are well on your way to honing your absolute best instinctive writing skills.

Bridgitte Jackson Buckley is a freelance writer, author and ghostwriter whose focus includes spirituality, transformational documentaries, and in-depth interviews. She is a former contributor to General Religion on the National circuit of Examiner.com as the National Spirituality Examiner. She’s interviewed many New Thought luminaries including Eckhart Tolle, Iyanla Vanzant, Deepak Chopra, and Elizabeth Gilbert. As a freelance writer, she has written online articles for Examiner, Tiny Buddha, Recreate Your Life Story, Thrive Global, Medium, Gaia and Patheos’ Spirituality Itself. She is a fluent Spanish speaker and has traveled extensively throughout Central America including Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Additional travels also include Hong Kong, Malaysia and (her favorite adventure) Thailand. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, three children and Miniature Schnauzer.

The Pitch-O-Rama Experience

by Dr. Susan Allison

On March 31, 2018, I attended my first Pitch-O-Rama sponsored by the WNBA. I loved the event, from the warm greeting at the door, to the pre-pitch coaching, from the meetings with top agents and publishers to the marketing-panel finale.

POR 2018

I was able to practice my pitch with Amanda McTigue in front of about fifteen other writers and receive constructive feedback. Amanda stressed that it didn’t have to be perfect, that I just needed to be myself, connect with the agent or publisher and talk from my heart about my book project. Great advice.

Before we all lined up and gave our pitches, we heard from each agent and editor. I especially enjoyed Laurie McLean for her kind and inspiring words, telling us to relax, let go of our nervousness and just have fun having a conversation. Andy Ross was also inspiring, energetic and encouraging. These introductions helped me take a breath and go pitch!

I pitched my book, Silver Sex: Finding Love and Passion after Sixty, to Michel Larsen, who as Brenda Knight said, “knows everything!” He really does. I love how clear and direct he is, giving me advice from getting the best agent to starting now to market my brand: “Your brand is ‘silver sex’ nothing else!” One of his best lines, “Books are promotion-driven and you must do the driving.” He is right and I am doing the work now before publishing.

I also spoke with Brenda Knight, representing Mango Media, who gave me the brilliant idea of adding “action steps” for readers at the end of each chapter, making the book more prescriptive. Agent Kristen Moeller from Waterside listened carefully to each person, smiling and nodding encouragingly. She seemed genuinely interested in my book, and took the proposal and manuscript. Finally, I spoke with Georgia Hughes who was polite and straight forward, letting me know that the book probably wasn’t a match for New World Library, but I could send my proposal to her. I liked her honest, no nonsense approach.

The marketing panel at the end of the Pitch-O-Rama gave me so many take-aways, from how to use Twitter (presented by Cathy Turney), to understanding how and when to market a book (presented by Eileen Duhne, Jim Azevedo and Brenda Knight). I so appreciate the free offers of marketing materials, especially from Jim Azevedo and Brenda Knight. All the presenters were generous of their time and resources.

Overall, the Pitch-O-rama was not only helpful, but fun, with lots of laughter, networking, good food and relevant information. As a newbie, I felt at home and am pitching the WNBA to my friends and colleagues. Go women writers! WNBA, you rock!

About the Author

Dr. Susan Allison is a transpersonal psychologist, non-fiction writer and poet and the author of five books: Conscious Divorce, Breathing Room, Empowered Healer, Our Spirits Dance, and You Don’t Have to Die to Go to Heaven. She has just completed her sixth book, Silver Sex, Finding Love and Passion after Sixty. Dr. Allison shares her own life in her books, including how to divorce amicably, how to recover from grief and loss, how to connect with departed loved ones and spirit allies, how to heal and become empowered, and how to live passionately in the silver years. She enjoys a creative life in Santa Cruz, California, and can be contacted at www.drsusanallison.com.

So You Want To Write A Book

Written By Melissa Kirk

Melissa Kirk, write a bookYou’ve felt for awhile now that you have it in you; you see all these books lining the shelves and none of them seem to bring to light the things you would like to bring to light. You know you can do it but there’s a little niggling sense of “What if I’m not good enough?” or “I don’t know how to write a book” or “I’m too busy. I’ll start writing when ______happens and I have more time.

Maybe you’ve even written an outline or a chapter or two and have contemplated sharing them with friends you trust or have gotten some feedback already and feel like it’s now or never. I think I’ve midwifed around 60 to 70 books in my career, maybe more, and I can tell you that those doubts I listed above are completely normal. I know people who’ve written 10 books who start out their eleventh one wondering if they really have it in them.

So you think you want to write a book? Stop thinking and start writing! Here are the six steps to getting a book written.

Step one: Find a topic
I know not everyone has this issue; many would-be authors have too many topics they want to write about and can’t settle on just one. But the best books are the ones that are focused and have a purpose (which we’ll go into in step two). Pick a topic. Just one.
If you’re like me, you may not have a specific topic in mind. I’ve been wanting to write a book from my heart for years but never could figure out exactly what I wanted to say in one.
What is something you could talk about forever? What do you enjoy thinking about, exploring, and participating in?

Not everything will be book-worthy, but it’s a start. Write a list of things you love or continue to think deeply about. Hobbies, topics of interest and study, experiences that have affected you, lessons you’ve learned, things your loved ones seem to appreciate about you.

Step two: Find the book’s purpose
One of the main patterns I see in book proposals is a lack of pattern: people wanting to say too much about too many disparate things without the book having a real mission or purpose. I once got a proposal that claimed that the book would answer every major human question. Needless to say, that went into the circular file.

You know that you have something to say, you know the book’s topic: now, what is your reason for writing the book? How is your reader going to use the information you’re communicating to them? How will it change someone’s life or thinking? How is your book going to contribute to the larger human dialogue?

This may seem like an overly large question, but people buy and read books to discover something new; to hear a new story, whether the book is fiction or nonfiction. The promise of the book will largely determine how many people will be drawn to read it.

This is where you can ask friends or colleagues you trust whether the promise of your book feels compelling to them and, if not, what’s missing.

Step three: Develop an organizational structure
Much has been written on how best to organize a book, so I won’t go into it too much here. Suffice to say: the book should have an organizational structure. It should be obvious why one chapter or section comes after the previous one. Unless that’s your schtick, books should not be train-of-thought.

Organize the information in such a way that the reader will be able to absorb it easily. If it’s too hard to read, you risk losing readers.

Step four: Write!
This is where the rubber meets the road. Write. Every writer has a different method for keeping the momentum going: writing the same time every day, writing a certain number of hours a day, binge writing, writing meticulously by rewriting over and over, doing a brain dump, or going away on a writer’s retreat. But however you do it: write.

If you’ve been blocked for years and want a push to get the thing done, consider joining a writing group such as “Shut up and Write!” (on meetup.com) or forming one yourself. It can be helpful to have accountability with other writers.

Step five: Edit!
When you’re done with your manuscript and have hopefully gone through and revised it at least once, it’s time to spring it on the world, or at least on a handful of people.

I’m biased in that I think it’s very helpful to have a professional editor go over your manuscript. Friends, even if they’re writers, will often be less than honest if you ask them to edit or provide feedback on your book. But if you pay someone to look it over, you’ll be more likely to get good information that will make your book better.

There are two main kinds of editors: copyeditors and developmental editors, though these categories can often overlap. In publishing houses, most often a manuscript gets a developmental editing pass and a copyediting pass, and finally, a proofreading pass when the book has been designed, in order to catch errors that have slipped through.

Developmental editors will work more with the concepts, organization, writing tone, topical focus, and other larger issues. Copyeditors will usually look for the details such as grammatical and spelling errors. Both types of editing are important.

Editorial help can be found online at places like Mediabistro. Jane Friedman has a good article on how to find freelance editors.

Step six: Develop your publishing plan
These days, there are many ways to publish your book that go beyond sending it in to publishing houses and hoping for the best, although many would-be writers still feel like getting published by a publishing company is preferable to self-publishing.

Getting published is more likely, though not guaranteed, to get your book out into the hands of more readers simply because most publishing companies have a distribution network and a process to pitch books to book buyers in major retail outlets. However, getting published in this way does not guarantee your book will be a bestseller.

The hidden secret of book publishing is: Success is mostly based on how hard the author is willing to work to sell themselves (and their book).

 Self-publishing is another option that is becoming less stigmatized these days. Here’s an article from Jane Friedman again with more details on self-publishing options.

How you choose to publish will largely be based on the topic of your book, how much control you want over the end product, and whether you want to share any profits with the publisher (Authors may get as little as 10 percent of the net profits from their book sales, based on the final cover price, less retailer discounts).

Many writers seem to be embracing the idea of pitching the book to publishing companies and then exploring other options if publishers don’t seem interested (or if the deals they get offered aren’t very good).

Either way, if you wish to have a successful book, you’re going to have to work to promote yourself and your product. There’s no real way around that.

What you do with the book after the manuscript is finalized will, obviously, depend on whether you plan to publish it yourself or pitch it to a house. If you’re pitching it, you’ll need to develop a book proposal. If not, you’ll need to research ways to self-publish.

One warning: I caution against ever paying another company to publish your book. If you want to self-publish, which means having someone design the pages and the cover, you can easily find freelancers to do that work. So-called “vanity presses” usually rely on hoodwinking would-be authors into paying for services that may be substandard.

Happy writing!

Melissa Kirk is a freelance editor with 18 years of experience in nonfiction book publishing. As a career editor, she has worked at Ronin Publishing, Chronicle Books, Wiley/Jossey-Bass, and New Harbinger Publications. She is the founder of Words to Honey Editing and Publishing Services.

Pitch-O-Rama 2018: Highlights

Written by Sharon McElhone

POR 2018 highlightsThe looming question since the Great Recession, the invention of Kindle, and the highjacking of content by corporate giants like Amazon and Google has always been, can the publishing industry survive the onslaught? For about a decade, a dark cloud has hovered over newspapers, writers, agents, editors, and publishers alike as they found it increasingly difficult to make money in an industry that was already difficult to survive in in the first place. Times have been bleak for writers and all their affiliates, but lately it feels like the purpose of the writer is being re-established.

On March 31st, writers, agents, publishers, and editors found less darkness and instead a renewed sense of optimism. The environment was cheery as people congregated inside the iconic Women’s Building on 18th Avenue in San Francisco. Pitch-O-Rama 2018, which ran from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., didn’t disappoint. The venue sold out. The intimate space filled up with both new and long time professionals, both women and men in the writing industry. It felt like a dawn of sorts, as if all the chaos and confusion caused by the past upheavals had finally settled and professionals in the industry had a sense of how to move forward again. The great feeling of community emanated all morning.

POR 2018 highlights 

The morning started off with coffee and a pre-pitch coaching session led by WNBA members, Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, Mary E. Knippel, and Amanda McTigue. The pre-pitch coaching session allowed writers to practice their pitches before meeting with agents, editors, and publishers. Small group break-outs in an intimate setting helped ease jitters before the actual pitch sessions began.

When the half-hour of coaching finished, writers spent the next three hours delivering pitches to the agents, editors and publishers of their choice in 6-minute time slots. It was like speed dating for writers. A pitch for a book was made, connections happened, and cards got exchanged. The morning ended with a panel discussion on marketing and craft led by WNBA president, Brenda Knight.

The WNBA sponsors this annual event for a morning full of expert advice, networking, with the potential of finding an agent, publisher, or editor for a particular body of work. Breakfast is also served. This year, in attendance were agents Lisa Abellara and Dorian Maffei of Kimberley Cameron and Associates, Michael Larsen of Larsen-Pomada, Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary, Kristen Moeller of Waterside Productions, Andy Ross, Jennifer March Soloway of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, among others. Publishers included She Writes Press, Smashwords, New World Library, and HeyDay, among others.

POR 2018: Brenda and Kate WNBA board members and volunteers make this event possible each year. The work that it takes to put on these events is no small thing: getting up at 4:30 a.m. the day of the event and the prep months beforehand. As some of us sat behind the breakfast table serving bagels and homemade apple coffee cake, attendees, both women and men, came up to say things like “Glad I came,” “A pleasant surprise,” “It felt very warm,” “and “I would like to become a member and help.” Those are the kinds of exchanges that mean something good happened that day. The publishing industry and the writer found their place again on the other side of what has been shrouded in uncertainty for far too long.

WNBA-SF board member Sharon McElhone is a journalist, columnist, and author of six books. Her articles have appeared in La Oferta, Orchard Valley Review, The Cupertino Courier, The Sunnyvale Sun, among other publications. Her column is called “Middle America-Our Engine,” and can be viewed online at La Oferta. Her fiction has appeared in The New Short Fiction Series 2012 in Los Angeles, Label Me Latina/o Spring 2015 and in the 2017 anthology Basta! She is half Ecuadorian and half Irish and lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and children. She is working on a memoir related to childcare, a novel, and a fourth collection of poems. 

South Asian Books to Celebrate Earth Day

Written by Gauri Manglik

Gauri Manglik, South Asian booksHere’s a round-up of some unique stories that remind us it’s not just Earth Day but everyday, that we need to respect the Earth and take only what we need. Reduce, Re-use and Recycle! 

Alone In the Forest: Musa, a young boy sets off from his village to the forest to collect some firewood, but gets trapped. Beautiful illustrations bring alive the forest, and the boy’s fears, but mother nature eventually helps him find a way out.

Aani and the Tree Huggers: Based on true events in north India (referred to as the Chipko Andolan), this story shares how a group of women courageously hugged trees to prevent them from being chopped. A powerful and heartwarming story of courage and standing up for our beliefs!

Crane_Boy_coverCrane Boy: This SABA Honor book shares a story about school-aged kids in Bhutan organizing the community and creating a crane festival to help make the depleting number of black-necked cranes feel at home. A beautiful story about a unique place on this earth.

Gobble You Up: Exquisite bookmaking and gorgeous illustrations come together in this book to share a Rajasthani trickster tale about a greedy jackal who decides to eat his friends up. Great for read-alouds!

Iqbal and his Ingenious Idea: When Iqbal sees his mother and baby sister coughing due to the firewood stove, he decides he must do something. He decides to work hard on his science fair project so he can use the prize money to buy a gas stove. However, his ingenuity leads to an even more sustainable solution!

Barefoot Book of Earth Tales: An engaging collection of seven tales from around the world about respecting and caring for the earth in gentle ways. Bright illustrations and fun activity pairings add to the appeal of this book!

putulandthedolphins_coverPutul and the Dolphins: A young girl is delighted one day when two friendly dolphins leap right outside her window in the monsoons! A gentle reminder about how our worlds are so interspersed and we must empathize and be respectful of nature and animals around us.

Tiger Boy: Set in the Sunderbans, one of the natural wonders of the world, this book is an insightful perspective on the dilemma a young boy faces when a tiger cub is discovered; should we focus on his studies or save the tiger cub from being poached?

water_coverWater: Beautiful illustrations by Gond artist, Subhash Vyam share a story about access to water in villages and cities, and how our lives are interconnected. He cleverly weaves in an old fable reminding all of us to only take what is our due.

Where’s the Sun: One morning, a mother and child go in search of the sun. Will they find it? Beautiful Warli illustrations take us on a journey where lively birds, quick-footed animals and busy humans meet and share the forest, the river and the mountain.

Use code EARTH15 to get a 15% discount on Kitaabworld.com‘sur Earth Day collection  (valid till April 30th 2018) 

Gauri Manglik has more than 12 years of experience as a lawyer, and she has practiced law in both India and the United States. During her legal career, she advised on various aspects of corporate and commercial laws. In 2015, she chose to follow her passion and left her legal career to start Kitaabworld. She is passionate about making South Asian culture fun and accessible for children, as well as sharing her love for diverse children’s books.

The original version of this post appeared on Kitaabworld.com and is republished here with the author’s permission.