My Connection between Food and Legacy

Landis-headshotMy Connection between Food and Legacy 

Written by KJ Landis

I came to be a writer, a blogger, a wellness coach, and a passionate motivator, through food. If this sounds a little strange to you, try living through it.

Three and a half years ago, I was an overweight marathon runner, aerobics instructor, and spin instructor. I had joint pain, plantar fasciitis, back aches, high cholesterol, and more complaints about my lack of rest than Lucille Ball (may she rest in peace). I was trying to out run my problems, and I gained weight steadily year in and year out. I was so busy exercising and eating foods to increase pain and inflammation that I could not focus on my real goals in life.

What did I want my unique imprint on the world to be? When I left the earth, what legacy and gifts would I leave behind? I believe that we are energy and we share energy. I truly feel that our energy shifts and morphs, and we have the capacity to share love, joy, and our wisdoms with others here and beyond. I was so wrapped up in food, my shape, and my physicality that I could not see beyond that and get to the real point of my existence. I was stuck. I was middle aged and didn’t know what to do in order to chase after my real dreams in this lifetime.

My turning point came at a low desperate moment of realism, and I had my big WHY whisper the truth in my left ear. Then, with a wellness coach I met by accident (although nothing happens by accident), I found my way back home, to me. After losing 50 pounds of fat in 60 days, I became my most authentic self, my superior self. People began asking me for help. How could I say no? My gifts began to emerge. I began teaching and coaching everywhere!

I then discovered through relentless, non-biased research, anti-cancer healing therapies that are food based. These therapies have been around for more than a hundred years. The irony is, the same foods I was eating for fat loss, vitality, and strength, are found in these therapies. They are outlined in my book, Superior Self: Reaching Superior Health For A Superior Self. In the book I also cover how to build a tribe of support, how to seek inspiration, and where to turn to for motivation while making lifestyle changes for the better.

Remember, my friends, it was not about the food. It was about the legacy, the special imprint I wanted to share with the world when I float away some day. But, I had to clear the air in order to do that. What do you have to do to now in order to create a clean slate for creating your legacy upon the earth? Whatever is holding you back, take a few moments to take stock of that and attend to the tasks that have to be done. Make a list. The time is now. You are reading this. It is a good thing!

SnackFoods Recipe for Flax Crackers, Protein Snacks

Simple and elegant way to snack and get omega 3-6-9 fats balanced in the diet. I eat raw nut butters daily to amp up my raw fats. If you eat peanuts, make sure you roast them because they are actually a legume, not a nut. They need to be processed with heat to keep one from passing gas or having digestive issues. Other tree nuts and nut butters are best raw. Coconut butter is just the meat of the coconut ground up like peanut or almond butter. High, healthy dietary fats keep us full longer and we may not feel cravings for junk food or processed carbs or refined sugar. Try it! See what happens! The creative juices will flow!

One bag Foods Alive raw flax crackers, any variety
Jar of your favorite raw nut butter
Jar of no added sugar preserves
Or cook down your own fruit and add a little xyla and lemon, until thick.
Spread on crackers.

Raw nut butters: Purchase at Whole foods, Trader Joe’s, Andronico’s, or visit my website, “Foods I Live By” page–click description for best prices.

Foods Alive raw flax crackers can be found on my website, “Foods I Live By” page–click description for best prices.


Raw nut butters: whole foods, trader joes, andronicos, or my website, foods i live by page, click description for best prices.

Foods alive raw flax crackers can be found on my website on foods I live by page and link on the description button for the best prices.

Blessings, KJ Landis



The Women’s National Book Association is pleased to announce the winners of WNBA’s Third Annual Writing Competition.

San Francisco Chapter Members Who Placed

vickiDeArmon Vicki DeArmon works as the Events & Marketing Director for Copperfield’s Books in San Francisco’s North Bay, booking authors for events. In the wee hours, she writes. Her passion is reading and writing fiction. Right now she’s working on a collection of short stories, She Let Go Their Hands, depicting families riding the roller coaster of addiction. Her story from this collection entitled “Hydroplaning” placed second in the 2015 Women’s National Book Association annual writing contest for Fiction. And there’s a comic novel brewing called Tilting: The Nearly True Story of a Small Book Publishing Empire that draws from the years she spent running Foghorn Press in San Francisco in the 1990s. This year, she’s been honored to read at Litquake, to attend Lit Camp 2015 and to be chosen as one of a cast of 13 selected to read pieces at this year’s Listen to Your Mother event in San Francisco. Her blog ( is a humorous attempt to consolidate three aspects of her being: writing, motherhood, and co-dependence.

Renate Stendhal WNBA-SF Chapter Renate Stendhal, Ph.D. is the author of the award-winning photobiography “Gertrude Stein: In Words and Pictures” (Algonquin, 1994). She is a German-born, Paris-educated writer and writing coach in the San Francisco Bay Area. In Paris, she worked as a cultural correspondent and translated works by Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, Susan Griffin, Audre Lorde et al into German. Her multimedia show “In the Beginning…of the End,” toured throughout Europe in the ‘80s and was produced as an award-winning film by the Canadian Film Board. Her essays appeared in many international magazines. Among her publications are “Lesbian Marriage: A Love & Sex Forever Kit” (New Leaf, 2014,, co-authored with her life companion Kim Chernin, and “True Secrets of Lesbian Desire” (North Atlantic, 2003). Her memoir entitled “Kiss me Again. She Did. placed second in the 2015 Women’s National Book Association annual writing contest for Creative Non-Fiction. Renate also works in private practice as a relationship expert and coach for couples and individuals. Her Gertrude Stein blog “Why Do Something If It Can Be Done” is at Her cultural reviews are on She blogs for Epochalips Magazine and the Huffington Post.

First Place Winners

Poetry: Diana Whitney  “Curiosity”

Fiction: Allison Har-zvi “If You’re Ready”

Creative Non-Fiction/Memoir: Diane Kraynak “Science Project”

Second and Third Place, Honorable Mention


Second Place: Sarah Wohlbach “Words [in transit]“

Third Place: M. Detrick  ”The Light-Lust of Trees”

Hon. Mention: Tanya Ko Hong ”Comfort Woman”


Second Place: Vicki DeArmon ”Hydroplaning”

Third Place: Kathleen Spiivak ”Moths”

Hon. Mention: Kristen MacKenzie “Cold Comfort”

Creative Non-Fiction

Second Place:  Renate Stendhal “Kiss me Again. She Did.”

Third Place: Juanita Martin “The Only Child”

Honorable Mention: L. Loomis “Ghost House”

First Place Winners will receive a $250 cash prize and publication in the Bookwoman, the official publication of the Women’s National Book Association, with 11 chapters nationwide. All other winners will be published on the WNBA website.

Thank you for your submissions! Proceeds from the contest help support scholarships for writing conferences and other professional development trainings.

Thank you to the 2015 Writing Competition judges!

Poetry Judge: Ellen Bass, an accomplished author, her most recent book of poetry is Like a Beggar

Fiction Judge: Michelle Hoover teaches writing at Boston University and Grub Street. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications.

Creative Non-Fiction/Memoir Judge: Deirdre Bair, author of several titles, she received a National Book Award for Samuel Beckett: A Biography

The WNBA Annual Writing Competition Chairperson is Joan Gelfand, Poetry Editor for the “J.”, Development Chair of the WNBA and regular blogger for The Huffington Post.

Click Here for Press Release


Burnita Bluitt -Featured Member Interview

Written by Catharine Bramkamp

Burnita Bluitt -Featured Member Interview Burnita Bluitt’s debut novel, Quiver of the Pure Heart was not only a labor of love, but one of, well, labor.

Her road to publication is one many of us have traveled, and if you have not, Burnita’s experience may help with your own publishing decisions.  

“I decided to self-publish my novel and being a novice, I thought hiring a vanity press publisher was the only way to go. After spending what I felt was an adequate amount of time making an informed decision, doing a cross comparative analysis, and seeking Oprah’s advice, my mind was made up.

“Around the time of my decision, O Magazine published an article on self-publishing and recommended four subsidy publishers (where authors pay to have their book printed and distributed). I was so excited when I saw that one of the subsidy publishers I’d been considering was on that short list. It was as if an oracle had spoken directly to me, because if you can’t trust Oprah . . . well, you know.

“Unfortunately, my relationship with the publisher was a disaster and I should have abandoned ship at the first hint of trouble. I was lucky that my contract allowed me to cancel at will because:

  • Publisher would not provide ARCs
  • No pre-order option (so I could promote the book)
  • First release date passed by—with no book
  • Second release day came, but the book was listed as Out of Print on Amazon
  • When I called the company’s offices to speak directly with the CEO, the operator told me that no one worked there by that name.
  • When copies were made available, it was a version that had inconsistent formatting, typos etc. I almost needed medication when I realized my book’s condition.
  • When I finally did talk with someone in charge—I fired him. 

“While wrestling with all this, I created the marketing campaign: I had a press release distributed by fax, email, and enclosed with direct mail. It was through one of these methods that the NAACP became aware of my novel.

burnitaThe same day I fired the publisher, I was invited by the NAACP to submit fifteen copies of my book to their Los Angeles office within ten days. Great!  Except I didn’t have any way to order fifteen copies of my book. I called Ingram with hopes to order books, but they said they would only talk to a publisher. That’s when I jumped up from my fetal position and decided the publisher would need to be me.

“It took a couple days of intense work, including learning how to upload my book and cover to CreateSpace, but I made the deadline. I was not nominated for the award, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I know now that self-publishing is not rocket-science, and at the end of the day had control over the process and control over my product.

“I have been very happy with my decision to self-publish. I love the control factor, and the timeliness of self-publishing, plus the higher royalty rates. However, I can also see the benefits of traditional publishing. It is difficult trying to match the marketing machine of a traditional publisher, and that is probably the biggest drawback to self-publishing.

“Attracting a national audience creates a lot of heavy lifting for the writer. You have to be very eager and energetic to get the novel into bookstores and libraries. One bookstore refused to carry my book because I also offered it on Amazon. The bookseller told me that ‘Amazon is trying to destroy the independent bookstore and she had to draw the line.’

Self-published authors have a lot to do. For her own promotions schedule, Burnita calls Microsoft Excel her best friend. “When it comes to promotion and plans for my book, Excel brings organization into my life. I track my promotion schedule spreadsheet to see what is working and what isn’t. Since this is my debut novel, I’m throwing it all against the wall, and my spreadsheet tells me what is sticking. Columns include: planned promotion, beginning / end dates, projected versus actual costs, and effectiveness.

“After the Quiver of the Pure Heart release, I found it very difficult to balance marketing and writing diligently. I’m better at it now and I am very excited about the new novel I am working on.”

Quiver of the Pure Heart is a romantic suspense novel set in San Francisco, 1989 that looks back at the displacement of the “Harlem of the West” during the ’50s & ‘60s urban redevelopment. To learn more, visit Burnita’s website:


Spring Mixer and Annual Planning Meeting

Saturday, May 16, 2015, Spring-books2:00 – 4:00 pm 
Oakland Main Library, Meeting Room
125 14th Street, Oakland, CA  94612

Workshop 2:15 – 2:45 pm 

JK LandisIn this fun, action packed workshop, KJ Landis, member/author of Superior Self: Reaching Superior Health For A Superior Self, will help us find tools to reach our superior health. Topics include:

  • Negative thought pot
  • Paleo/primal eating
  • Guide to wellness from within
  • How to read food labels accurately
  • What good fats really do for us and much, much more!
    Healthy snacks provided!

KJ Landis, B.S. Ed., is an SF Chapter member, educator, author, life and wellness coach, mom, wife, photographer, and server. After losing 50 pounds, she relentlessly researched the latest data in non-biased clinical studies to help herself and others maintain the fat loss. Landis hosts wellness workshops, blogs, and creates videos weekly for nutritional nuggets of wisdom. More information:

Annual Planning Meeting 3:00 – 4:00 pm
A roundtable discussion to plan the coming program year! Your input is valuable as we will create a calendar of activities. We’ll introduce new officers and share opportunities for leadership. Only a team effort can produce San Francisco Chapter’s exciting new year. SF Chapter is hosting the entire WNBA National Board June 2016 as a launch for our centennial in 2017. We’d like YOU to be on our team! 

The Meeting Room is on the ground floor (the library’s main floor is the second). Handicapped access from the main entrance on 14th St. (ramp plus elevator) or the ground floor entrance on the building’s east side (enter through the Children’s Room, then scoot down the corridor to the Meeting Room). Parking is on street (meters & paper slips) or a nearby parking garage. Public transport: #26 bus or Lake Merritt BART station (3-4 blocks away).

RSVP on the form below so we can plan for the delicious snacks provided by KJ Landis! Bring your great ideas and energy to plan for 2015-16!

Oops! We could not locate your form.

Jeanne Powell, poet, essayist, short fiction

Written by Catharine Bramkamp

April is National Poetry Month, so we’re interviewing a member poet!

Jeanne Powell Member Jeanne Powell is an accomplished California poet whose work has been praised by Al Young, California Poet Laureate Emeritus. She writes prose poems, flash fiction and short stage plays. For ten years Jeanne hosted an acclaimed spoken word series, “Celebration of the Word.” Celebrating the word is something Jeanne has done her whole career.

“I came to the writing of poetry later in my life. In the beginning I was attracted to spoken word events because I loved the sound of words, and the images which came to mind as I listened. I was in transition from one life to another, and poetry appealed to me. I was inspired by adult moments, and the challenges of coping with those moments. 

“What helped me a lot was listening to others speak their pieces either as recitations or performances. In the beginning I did not send out poems for publication. Friends practically had to come to my home, grab poems from my notebooks and send them to prospective publishers. That’s how one of my haiku wound up in a Canadian journal, for example, and how another poem came to be published in Drumvoices Revue. When I met Essence magazine editor Susan Taylor at a reception in Oakland, I gave her a copy of MY OWN SILENCE. From that contact, two of my poems appeared in Essence. Awareness of my writing came about gradually, and probably was based more on my featured readings and the popularity of my chapbooks in the 1990s – February Voices, Cadences, and Tangerine Dance.

“Writing letters and essays came easily for me. The writing of poetry was more difficult, and I developed ability over time with a lot of trial and effort. I started with CCSF classes led by Aaron Shurin back in the day, and then attended various workshops for a while.”

WordDancing She did not name herself Word Dancer. “Another poet may have called me a word dancer, and then I embraced the term. Once I decided to use WORD DANCING as the title for my collection of flash fiction, poems, and collages, the publisher chose to make the title “dance” on the cover. I did use the title “word dancer” on my Red Room literary site, now archived. My previous nom de plume was Word Doctor.”

Poetic inspiration comes to Jeanne from a number of sources including documentaries, watching people and “experiencing the moment occurring in front of me. For instance, I will hop off a cable car to attend an art show I suddenly spy in Union Square. That’s how I discovered Jesse Fry and his beautiful love poems to his late wife. I said to him, “You don’t know me but I am going to publish you,” and so I did. Or I may pause in running errands to enjoy a street musician ‘playing real good for free,’ in the words of Joni Mitchell. Of course, I remember to put a dollar in his/her jar or basket, because we all know that musicians are working when they’re playing.”

Of course, reading, something that writers do all the time, sometimes compulsively. “People have teased me by saying I read ‘everything,’ from graffiti at bus stops to descriptions of entrees on restaurant menus. Reading is magical, and I wish all people had this opportunity and this right. Perhaps one day our nation will recognize the importance of educating its citizens. Finland, Cuba and Poland all have much higher literacy rates than the United States.”

Poetry is important. “There are times when situations leave such an impression on the artist that you as artist are able to capture the righteous indignation in ways that affect most listeners. This happened with “Stop the Loss,” my performance piece about women serving in the military, and “About That Woman,” my performance piece about double standards faced by women in political life. No matter the audience, the reaction to these poems is the same – respect for the subject and tears in the eyes of those whose personal experience is echoed in either poem. 

Carousel “When I wrote my current poem on gentrification, the one in TWO SEASONS, I was writing about an irritating personal experience made much worse by the sudden changes in my neighborhood due to “Silicon Valley North,” as some are calling it. I still am stunned by the nerve I touched. I receive an incredible response when I perform this piece. It should be mentioned that I’m not serious all the time. I love laughter. My sense of humor is reflected in essays like “My Big Adventure” and “My Worst Vacation . . . Ever” (in CAROUSEL). And then there are my haiku about Martha Stewart.

“This balance between the personal and the universal is instinctive in part, but it can be developed by those who are willing to walk in the shoes of others, difficult though it may be. We all know of situations where writers, singers, and actors have told the stories of others, those who did not live to tell their own or who were not free to speak for themselves.

“To get published – well, that’s a different subject. Not everyone wants to go through the time-consuming business of sending out poems for consideration by periodicals, or searching for a publisher for an entire manuscript. For some the answer is to earn an MFA at a college or university that opens certain doors; others develop their own voices in their own ways. One may enter writing contests, apply for a grant to finance a writing project, set up a literary press, begin a blog, or create a web site. For me it was important to attend and participate in spoken word events; I even hosted three different series over a period of 14 years. There are many choices with today’s technology.

Or exasperated friends may come to your home and send out your poems for you, if you’re lucky.”

Visit her website to learn more and read some wonderful poems:


19th Annual Effie Lee Morris Lecture


Chris RaschkaBravo! Chris Raschka

Bravo! Chris Raschka
April 8, 2015, Wednesday

San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

5:00 pm, Reception Catered by Red Door,
Children’s Center, Mezzanine

6:00 – 8:00 pm Lecture, 
Koret Auditorium, Lower Level

a-ball-for-daisy_custom-7536d80ed799c124f3b2979acb5c7e8b9fd34c6c-s6-c30Chris Raschka, winner of the 2012 Caldecott medal for his illustrations in A Ball for Daisy, will be the special guest lecturer at the Effie Lee Morris Lecture in Children’s Literature. In 1994, he received a Caldecott Honor award for Yo? Yes! He has authored or illustrated dozens of other books for children. He was the winner of a 2006 Caldecott medal for The Hello, Goodbye Window, with text by Norman Juster. Chris Raschka was nominated for a 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award from the International Board on Books for Young People.

His lecture, “Remembering Books” will touch on how books influenced his art, changes in books today, with visuals of his work. His lecture coincides with an art exhibit in his honor!

Enjoy the exhibit, Bravo! Chris Raschka. Main Library, Jewett Gallery, now through April 19, before or after the reception and lecture.

The Effie Lee Morris Lecture features thought-provoking conversations with today’s top authors and illustrators of books for children. This annual series offers the book loving public an opportunity to enrich their understanding of how writers and artists create great works for young readers. The series is funded by The Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and the San Francisco Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association.

WNBA will sponsor a free raffle of Raschka picture books to be followed by a book signing.


Wanna Pitch your writing project to an agent/acquisitions editor?

Written by Mary E. Knippel

Mary E Knippel 9.2013 sml Attention Bay Area Writers:  Do you have a manuscript you’d like to get in front of an Agent or Acquisitions Editor? Usually, talking with a literary professional means spending hundreds of dollars by attending a writing conference which often involves traveling great distances…but you are in luck! The Women’s National Book Association-San Francisco Chapter has designed a special event to bring you and your project together with the professionals you need to know on your journey to publication. Yes, at this event you’ll be able to pitch your writing project to a room filled with agents and acquisitions editors.

WNBA-SF is hosting the 12th Annual Pitch-O-Rama (aka Meet-the-Agents & Acquisitions Editors Event) in San Francisco on Saturday, March 28, 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at the Women’s Building in the Mission District.

Feeling a little nervous about talking about your project? We realize this can be a little overwhelming. Writing is a solitary venture…talking about the work is something entirely different! We’ve got you covered….

Authors Catharine Bramkamp, Patricia V. Davis, Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, and Julia Park Tracey will be on hand to coach attendees on how to best use this rare opportunity of a face-to-face meeting with an agent/acquisitions editor.

Your “session” will be a total of six minutes with an agent/acquisitions editor. We suggest you use the first three minutes to deliver your pitch and then listen to the response from the literary professional during the next three minutes. 

Study the list of literary professionals you have the opportunity to speak to during the event. Prioritize your top picks so that you make the best use of your time.

Just a few words to remember:

Tell a good story. Talk about your project with enthusiasm, focus, and heart. Keep it short – you only have three minutes…concentrate on the best bits.

Be a good listener. The agents/acquisition editors are there to find great stuff. Your work may only need a few adjustments to be just what they are looking for.

Be yourself! Relax and have fun! This is an amazing opportunity to network with other writers and learn about their writing process.

About Mary E. Knippel: Writer Unleashed and the founder of The Unleashed Homemaker(tm), helps women who have been silent too long to unleash their voices, to polish their words so that they sparkle and shine from the start, to rewrite their stories and go from making dinner to making a difference. Using her skills as a free-lance writer, speaker, editor and mentor, Mary encourages everyone, especially reluctant writers, to unleash their inner writer and express themselves with fun and flair. Mary’s book, THE SECRET ARTIST – Give Yourself Permission to Let Your Creativity Shine (Simple Abundance Press) chronicles her breast cancer experience along with encouraging readers to tell their own story through writing prompts at the end of every chapter.

Interview with Author Martha Conway

Interview by Catharine Bramkamp

Martha Conway Martha Conway’s newest novel, THIEVING FOREST, recently won the North American Book Award for Best Historical Fiction. Which is, of course, pretty impressive. She is also an instructor for Stanford’s Online Writer’s Studio. As an instructor and writer she balances between three identities and is qualified to share what that means.

We’ll start with her life as an on-line instructor:

“I started teaching at OWS (Online Writer’s Studio) after speaking with one of the lead instructors about the program and I got an idea for a class I’d like to teach—something I wish I’d been taught when I was first learning how to write novels. A few weeks later I pitched the idea to the creative writing team. They liked it, so that’s how I started. My class is a novel-writing class structured around character, and how developing all your characters (not just your protagonist) before you begin writing can really help pull the story along: plot development, climax, denoument—everything.”

A novelist really has two jobs (you were wondering about that third identity weren’t you): creating the work and promoting the work. One of the tools Martha uses to promote her books is Twitter.

“I love twitter. I’m a big fan. I met Frances Caballo, a social media expert who specializes in social media for writers, at the San Francisco Writers Conference last year, and she helped me put together a social media plan that included Twitter.

“Before that, I had avoided going on social media sites because I saw this as a procrastination device (another pull pulling me away from writing). But Frances helped me understand the value and fun of Twitter. I try to tweet two or three times a day every week, but only one of those per week will be about my own book. The rest are about friends’ books, writing tidbits, interesting articles I’ve found (mostly about writing), and anything else I think my followers might be interested in. It’s mostly about finding a tribe and supporting them. I can get behind that in a way that I can’t get behind endless self-promotion.

“Have I sold books on Twitter? Yes, definitely, but maybe not very many—it’s impossible to quantify. But I enjoy it and I like the people I’ve met there. It’s like a cocktail party where you can just vanish if you want to and reappear a few hours later. That suits my idea of socializing!

“I like writing better than anything else—especially after the difficult first draft is over and you have some material to work with. But teaching keeps me thinking about writing, and it keeps me sharp.

Thieving Forest-by Martha Conway “I started taking notes for Thieving Forest in 2006, but I think I was starting to think about it even in 2004. My daughter was then in preschool, and we used to listen to a Lisa Loeb CD—she’s an indie rocker but made a collection of children’s songs. One song was her rendition of “Oh Susanna,” and I remember thinking, ‘what if Susanna cried not for sorrow but for joy?’ It took me about six years to write. I recently came across a note I made to myself early on: Write about a large family and their dynamics. The upfront research took a long time, but I loved doing it. And I found that doing ongoing research was a gateway for me to get back into the spirit of the book when I was feeling weary or uninspired.”

One feature of living the life creative is the constant pull between wanting to write and really NOT wanting to write.

“I think that the best way to combat these disparate pulls is to make writing a habit. The habit could be daily for a certain number of hours or until you reach a certain word count. Maybe you have a full time job and can only write on Thursday evenings and over the weekend. Whatever it is, decide on it and be firm with yourself.

“If writing is a habit, you don’t give yourself the choice about whether or not to write: You just do it because it’s Tuesday morning. That takes lack of inspiration, lack of sleep, lack of ideas, confusion, indecision, and every other excuse out of the picture. And those are the excuses that pull you in the direction of not writing.

“The key to sticking with all this is to make writing a habit, and yes, to have fun. I think that this always comes through in a novel, when a writer is having fun.”

Thieving Forest

“Conway’s historical novel features prose as rich as its characters … hypnotic.”  —Kirkus Reviews  
“A gripping journey [and] a powerful tale of sisterhood and survival.” —San Jose Mercury News 

Indie Bound:

Martha Conway:

Thieving Forest:

Spring 2015 WNBA-SF Chapter Newsletter

How Not to Freak Out and Get Humiliated When Pitching to Agents

by Andy Ross |

Andy Ross

Andy Ross

When it comes to rejection, I’m a real wuss. I don’t think I could ever pitch my writing to an agent. I’m amazed at how courageous writers are, and I always feel shame when I know that I have hurt someone with a rejection. In my job, I get plenty of rejection letters from editors in response to my submissions. I estimate I have received over 5000 in my few years at this job. Sometimes it seems a little like my social life in high school. 

Many of my pitches are for memoirs and novels. Here’s what I can tell you about how publishers evaluate these genres. So many of the published memoirs are driven by celebrity. These are, in reality, book-like glitzy packages, usually written by someone other than the putative author. For those of you who like that kind of book, I refer you to Kardashian Konfidential, St. Martin’s Press (2010), written by God only knows who. For the rest of us, it’s almost impossible to find a publisher for a personal memoir.

Certainly there are some examples of family memoirs that have succeeded. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls comes to mind. Or The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr. These books rise to the level of high literature. They’re the exceptions though, and I can only imagine the difficulty they must have had finding a publisher. I’ve represented some very good memoirs. Yes. As good as The Liar’s Club. I couldn’t get them published. No dishonor. Just disappointment.

Similarly with fiction. And I have written about this as well in a previous blog post. Literary fiction is especially difficult to get published for the simple reason that it rarely sells enough to be a profitable venture. Most editors evaluate 200-500 novels a year. All of them have been heavily vetted by agents. Most of them are good enough to get published. An editor may acquire 10. And the rejection is usually based on marketing, not on aesthetics. (“This book is too dark for book groups.”  —  “This book seems too quiet.”) As a result I only represent a few novels a year. Most of the greatest novelists of our time have experienced these kinds of rejections.

Some agents are nice guys and have a warm and fuzzy vibe. Others may seem dour, forbidding, arrogant, or world weary. If you are fearful of laying yourself wide open to an agent, here’s what I recommend: Don’t even try to pitch your book. It’s probably more effective sending an agent a query letter and a sample when they get back to the office. Instead, just ask them some questions. Agents know about the publishing process and the market, and you can learn a lot by having a conversation with them.

Ask them what they are looking for when they read a memoir or a novel. Ask them what turns them on and what turns them off. Ask them for advice about finding the right agent. Try to find out what agents and editors are talking about with each other. Ask them what grabs their attention in the first paragraph. The information will be invaluable. And you won’t have to suffer the indignity of a face-to-face rejection. Of course, ask them at the end if you can send them a query and submission. More than likely they will put it at the top of their queue.

Most writers who attend the conferences, most writers who pitch to agents at any conference, aren’t going to find a home with a big New York publisher. But it’s important to remember that the writing, itself, is the end, not the means. It’s the journey that counts. And a few people will reach the end and receive the gold cup. More likely though, you will slip on a banana peel ten feet from the finish line. Ah, but what a trip it’s been. How much you must have grown in the process. Writing is a profound journey of discovery. Publication, well, it’s a business transaction.

Nobody said it better than Ann Lamott in Bird by Bird. She tells us:

“…publication is not all it’s cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do — the actual act of writing — turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

Practice the techniques suggested by Andy Ross and register for Pitch-O-Rama, March 28th. Just click HERE!

About the author: Andy Ross represents authors who write books in a wide range of subjects including: narrative non-fiction, science, journalism, history, current affairs, contemporary culture, religion, children’s books and commercial and literary fiction. He is eager to work with projects in most genres as long as the subject or its treatment is smart, original, and will appeal to a wide readership. In narrative non-fiction he looks for writing with a strong voice and robust narrative arc. He likes books that tell a big story about culture and society by authors with the authority to write about their subject. For literary, commercial, and children’s fiction, he has only one requirement–a simple one–that the writing reveal the terrain of that vast and unexplored country, the human heart.