Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him."
~~Aldous Huxley

Sunday, March 29, 2009

WAM! 2009

This morning I participated in a panel at the WAM! (Women, Action, Media) conference sponsored by the Center for New Words in Cambridge.

The panel, titled "Making Money From Your Writing: How to Negotiate Money and Rights with Editors," was an initiative of the Boston chapter of the National Writers Union and part of our ongoing effort to educate writers on valuing their work, knowing their rights, and getting paid for their writing.

This was our second year there. So, what exactly did we talk about? Lena was there and covered this (and some of the other panels) for her blog, the ch!cktionary. Click here to read what she had to say about it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Life on Mars" dialogue quote of the week

"When I'm done he'll be in Rikers eating bologna out of a straw."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Blogging is like having coffee with friends, only they aren't the people you would want to sit around the table with."

~~Connie Schultz, author of "And His Lovely Wife" speaking at the Nieman Conference in Boston on March 20.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

From the Nieman Conference--quick hit on memoir

Andrew Lam, a writer and a commentator on NPR's All Things Considered, spoke about writing memoir. A Vietnamese American whose father was an army general and who left Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975, said he wrote it because it was a way for him to carve out a space for himself and not be invisible in America.

During a conversation on writing about family and dealing with the inevitable fallout, Lam summed up the issue with this cautionary statement: "If there's a writer born into a family, then that family is totally screwed."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

From the Nieman Conference--talking with agents and editors

On Saturday, I spent most of the afternoon hanging out in the J-Cafe (how could I resist?) in a conversation of several writers in various stages of book development (from "I have this idea that I never talked to anyone about before" to "I submitted a proposal that was rejected" to "I am working with my agent fine tuning my proposal") with a couple of editors (Helene Atwan from Beacon Press and David Patterson from Henry Holt & Co.). The Nieman fellow who was acting as the point person for the room managed to track down an agent who later joined the conversation.

Most of the talk was about the projects that people were working on or considering. The agent and editors offered advice specific to the idea development and also in dealing with agents and editors in general. (The most helpful advice came from the editors.) Some notes from the conversation:

The most important advice was on the book proposal. It was emphasized repeatedly that the book proposal is the most important part of getting the contract. And that the book proposal should have a heavy marketing component. You need to do your homework and find similar books and also explain what differentiates your book from them (a seeming contradiction). You have to be able to explain what the market would be for your book--where would you sell it and who would buy it. And, as if that's not all, you also need to have a handle on the best way to advertise your book, including making use of your own contacts. Phew!

A recommended book for writing a proposal is Thinking Like Your Editor by Susan Rabiner. In addition to a thorough discussion of what works and why, it contains some sample proposals. You may want to also ask your agent or editor for a sample of one that was successful to them. (Note to NWU: a repository of successful book proposals submitted by members would be a useful addition to the new website.)

When looking for an agent or editor, look to books in the same genre as the one you are writing in that you admire, and read the acknowledgment pages. Also ask fellow writers and colleagues. If using a directory and approaching an agent or writer cold, do your homework and look through the books they have sold/worked on that you admire, or otherwise find a connection to them. The idea here is that when writing your query letter, you should personalize it and mention up front why you selected this agent/editor over all others. (Even if you are sending out 100 letters!)

When looking at publishers, know whether or not they work with agents. At Henry Holt, for example, they always go through agents. Beacon Press, on the other hands, does both. They have an activist agenda, so they will even approach a writer unsolicited if they think there's a project there that they want to pursue!

The publishing industry is in a state of disarray. Even over the past couple months, large houses are merging, shutting down divisions, and laying people off. Most large publishers are looking for the next blockbuster and aren't willing to take a chance on midlist titles.

With memoir, the whole thing is about the writing. There are dozens and dozens of titles out there (especially the death-in-the-family type) that the writing has to absolutely sing. So you really need to have your heart in it and be writing the type of book that you want from the outset. When looking to create interest before pitching your book, try to get excerpts or related articles in literary journals, especially. Agents and editors read them to get ideas.

Beware of agents who charge to read your manuscript. No reputable agent does that, and most editors don't work with these types of agents. Another thing to avoid is services that offer to send your query out to hundreds of agents/editors. These emails are easily identified by the recipient, and they just hit delete without reading them. (On a side note, there's a whole industry of people making money off of writers, so generally beware of anyone selling you anything related to getting your book published.)

They also echoed the advice in my earlier post about developing an online platform and presence for yourself and your book.

The agent didn't really add a lot to the conversation. Her advice was general and pretty obvious: Don't use cute stationary with color or photos, don't be overconfident and sell yourself as God's gift to the publishing industry, and don't call your agent at 4:30 in the afternoon and keep them on the phone, either rambling until you get to your point or asking the same question that you asked to day before at 4:30.

From the Nieman Conference--maximizing online opportunities

At the Nieman Conference in Boston today, Josh Benton (who either needs a new head shot or needs to shave and hit the hair gel), of Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab, spoke about how writers can maximize their presence on the Web.

Right now, there are no direct opportunities for writers to make money online. (This is not exactly true, but what he said. There are some websites that pay for articles. The trick is to find them.) And when it comes to blogging, the vast majority of writers do not directly make money from blogging. There are a couple ways to do it indirectly, though.

One way is through advertising and sales. Google AdSense won't do it, not in any significant way. But if your blog covers a narrow, specific niche, then you could sell targeted ads directly. And, conversely, if you develop a wide audience and create a persona, you could sell T-shirts and other paraphernalia. (It could happen.)

But the best way that writers can use the Web to their financial advantage is as a marketing tool. Create a dynamic website or a blog that you update regularly. Also maximize social networking sites (i.e., Facebook and Twitter) and even start your own Wikipedia entry. (All your activities should feed off of each other--that way you can maximize your visibility without spending every waking hour on this project.)

To make the most of your blog, you have to generate traffic to it. The No. 1 way is to update it often. Ideally every day, but no longer than twice a week. Otherwise readers will lose interest. Then, integrate into the blogosphere (the modern version of networking). Find other blogs that cover a similar beat or topic, and be a good neighbor. Leave comments and ideally link back to your own blog. (Or sign your comments with the name of your blog.) These other bloggers will find you and return the favor. Their readers will do likewise. Also think "keywords" when titling your blog and the individual posts. This is where the action is for Google searches. Put as many links as possible within your posts.

What do you do with this blog? Use it to market yourself. Before you even start a blog, think about who you are. (In a panel on Friday, Marci Alboher and Dennis Palumbo talked about creating your own brand. Think about the image you want to project or what you want people to call you. Refer to yourself that way and act as if that is who you are. In therapist's terms [Palumbo is a former writer, current therapist], this is known as modeling your behavior. To the rest of us, it's akin to fake it until you make it. You become the image you envision.)

While no one will pay you for writing your blog, you can use it to increase visibility for your work, create a buzz for your book before it comes out and create a base of buyers for the book. You can also parlay your blog into speaking engagements and other opportunities.

There is one caveat. Whatever you do, whether website or blog, don't do it halfway. Invest the time to do it right, as a lackadaisical presence is worse than no presence at all.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun."
~~Mary Lou Cook

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Life on Mars" dialogue quote of the week

"You're like the cherry tomato on the end of a kabob stick."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"A frontier is never a place; it is a time and a way of life."
~~Hal Borland

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Nonprofit journalism a la Mother Jones

Mother Jones is proving to be a test case for nonprofit journalism, according to the New York Times.

As newspapers and magazines suffer from declining subscriptions and advertising, the corporate, for-profit model is proving untenable (shrinking profits will do that, after all). Without the pressure of EPS, the nonprofit model, which relies on not just traditional revenue streams but also endowments, may be a better-suited model for the journalism industry.

Of course, the nonprofit model is not without its own problems. Sources of funding are shrinking due to the pesky stock market crisis, and there does have to be a firewall between the donors and the editorial board. The same consideration exists in traditional media, but the appearance of influence is even greater with endowments. If one entity is footing a substantial portion of the bill, the question is in the air, whether it's justifiable or not. It is probably one of the most frequently asked questions about the Christian Science Monitor, for example, is it a "real," independent newspaper? They have successfully answered the question, though, and I suppose if other newspapers and magazines go that route they will navigate it as well. And, of course, if it becomes a more widespread model and less of a rarity, it will become more accepted.

In short, it's all about finding a revenue stream to replace advertising and being able to provide quality journalism (well-written and sourced with original reporting--in case you need a definition). And, of course, whether enough people are interested in reading it and supporting it is probably the real bottom line.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"Life on Mars" quote of the week

"I'm gonna punch you in the face so hard they'll find your smirk down on Canal Street."

Dirty deeds done dirt cheap...or pricey, depending on your mood

Breaking up may not be so hard to do, especially if you plan it right. If your significant other suggests drinks at Sonsie's on Newbury Street, he or she may not be planning on being significant for much longer--at least to you. That's according to Meredith Goldstein of the Boston Globe. Just in case you need the pictorial, Boston.com is happy to oblige.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

So, who really got dissed?

The newspaper industry, that's who.

Last night, Letterman did his regular local news bit and noted the byline from a story.

Some blogger (Aaron Barnhart), looking for something to do, looked up the reporter to get her reaction to getting insulted by Letterman. I don't know, it didn't seem insulting to me. She didn't seem to think so either.

As it turned out, she had just been laid off.

So, ignoring the fact she didn't think she was insulted (why let a silly thing like the facts stand in the way of a good story), he went with " 'Small Town News' journalist dissed by Letterman was laid off last week."

He missed the bigger picture. What are the odds that she'd be laid off? Not really that huge, these days.

Kids and Texting

There was a study in England published in the Journal of Developmental Psychology about the effect that texting has on children's language development. According to BBC News, it's actually positive. Fears that kids won't learn real words or will mistakenly use text shorthand in real writing is apparently unfounded. In fact, being exposed to texting is a language-rich activity and makes them more comfortable with the written word. Even if they write it "wrd." Of course, if you could write off their phone bill as an education expense, you'd be all set!

Monday, March 2, 2009

"And that's...the rest of the story"

Radio is a little quieter with the death of Paul Harvey on Saturday. (Read his obit from the Chicago Tribune here.)