Category Archives: Author Tips

Writing jobs you might not know about

A blog I follow on Tumblr (phantasmagoricwicca) posted an infograph from The Write Life Magazine that I truly love, because it illustrates something that a lot of people don’t know: you can make a living off of writing by working jobs that you might not know exist. From ghost-writing to copy-writing to technical writing, there are many ways that you can follow the dream of writing even if you haven’t been able to get your novel out onto paper. Writing is an important skill used by virtually every industry out there — all you need is to know where to look! So, to help out any aspiring writers out there who also need to make some cash, take a look below (or click this link here to view the original).

“You know that you love to write, and doing that and getting paid sounds pretty dreamy. But writing isn’t limited to novel writing or journalism – there’s a whole host of writing jobs that are creative, pay well, and you might not know about yet. Here are 9 careers in writing to find out more about. (Forward it to all of the English majors you know, they’ll thank you for it!)”

9 Writing Jobs You Might Not Know Exist, from The Write Life Magazine

9 Writing Jobs You Might Not Know Exist, from The Write Life Magazine

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Filed under Author Tips, Inspiration and Prompts, Writing

Crafting the perfect book submission

'Piles of Books' by ollily/Flickr

‘Piles of Books’ by ollily/Flickr

When seeking publication, it is easy to feel as though everything is out of your control. After all, everything is out of your control — as a writer, the only thing that you control is your writing (and even that is an arguable point). But we can all agree that it’s true that whether or not a publishing house picks up your book is completely out of your hands. Or is it?

In reality, there are a lot of things that you can do to increase the likelihood that a publisher will want to pick up your book for publication. And it really boils down to a pretty simple idea: if you want a press to publish your book, it helps if you’ve done most of the work for them. What follows below is a step-by-step guide to helping a publisher want to publish your book, based off of my own experience as a published author who has worked for two (and a half) publishers over the past few years.

  1. Edit your book. This should really go without say, but it needs to be said nonetheless. If you want a publisher to take you seriously, make sure that the work you send out is the absolute best work that you can produce. Read through it multiple times to make sure that you’re not missing anything. Make sure that the concepts flow properly; make sure that there are no spelling/grammar/punctuation errors (this is a REAL turnoff for most presses); make sure that your submission is formatted correctly. This isn’t to say that your book won’t be edited once it’s picked up by a press (it most certainly will be) but it shows the editor that you took the time to fix what needs to be fixed. And hey, it’ll save them some time once the book enters the proofreading stage — when a single editor is working on 20 or 30 projects all at the same time, even saving so much as an hour’s worth of work becomes a big deal.
  2. Target your submissions. You will save yourself a lot of time, paper, postage, and headaches if you follow this one step and none of the others — target your submissions to relevant presses. If you’ve written a murder mystery, submit it to publishers of murder mysteries; you’re not going to have any luck with a publisher of textbooks. If you’ve written a textbook, veer away from publishers of popular fiction. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Duh,” but you’d be surprised at how many writers do absolutely no research on a press before submitting their work. And go on their website to see how they like their submissions formatted — some like things done differently than others, and they are usually pretty strict as to what they will consider (if they say to send the first three chapters double-spaced, send them the first three chapters double-spaced and nothing else). You do yourself no favors by submitting blind, or by blatantly going against their wishes.
  3. Do some market research. Before an editor decides to publish any book, he’s got to convince the publication committee (the people responsible for the press’s bottom line) that the book will indeed make money, or at the very list break even. A big part of this process is compiling some market research. What’s market research? Simply put, it’s data that will help a publisher predict whether or not a book is going to sell, and how many copies they can expect it to sell, and compiling this data can take a bit of time — so if you can even do some preliminary research to help the press out it can be a big boost to the likelihood of your book being picked up. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but this is the standard market research a press likes to have done before agreeing to publish something:
    • Competing Titles (similar books published by presses other than the one you are submitting to)
    • Comparable Titles (similar books published by the press you are submitting to)
    • Author Sales History (the author being you) — if you’ve written a book in the past, tell them how many copies were sold to illustrate you already have a following
    • Author Associations (what organizations you belong to that you can use to promote your book) — alumni, professional, social organizations, etc.
    • Target Audience (who is going to buy your book and why) — you want a specific target audience that is broad enough to ensure the possibility of large sales
  4. Avoid artwork if possible. If you’re submitting a photobook or a book on art history or some related topic, then feel free to disregard this step. but if your work does not directly relate to art, heed this warning: including plans for artwork with your submission can severely reduce the likelihood that your book will be published. Artwork will impact almost every step of the publishing process: it impacts layout, it impacts cost (which means they will either make less money on each copy sold, or they will have to increase the cover price, which in turn means they will likely sell fewer copies), and it quite simply adds a lot of extra work for the press. Obtaining rights, photocopying images, formatting images to the correct dimensions, ensuring artist credit is correct…having a large number of images can add hours — days of work to a book project. The presses I have worked with have turned down many, MANY projects simply because the submissions made reference to artwork. If you’re dead set on including artwork, completing the tasks below will work in your favor, but I still advise against it:
    • Send digital files of artwork, no solely physical images. Most presses prefer .TIFF files due to their higher resolution and the fact that they do not degrade with each “save”. Generally speaking, the higher the resolution (ppi, or pixels per inch) the safer you are — but around 300 ppi for photos or 1200ppi for drawings is a good estimate.
    • Accompany the submission with an “Art Log” — an excel sheet that assigns each image an identification number (ex.: Fig.1.3, where “1” corresponds to the chapter number and “3” means that it is the third image used in Chapter 1), a brief description, a size, whether or not the image is in the public domain, and where in the book the image will be used (chapter/page). The identification number in the art log should be equal to that image’s file name. You will also want to submit physical printouts of each image, marked on the back with its corresponding ID number, but make sure you send the digital files as well.
    • If you are using artwork other than your own: gaining the permissions to use the artwork ahead of time will save the press a lot of time and many headaches. If the image is not in the public domain, you will need to contact the image’s creator or the creator’s agent/representative to gain rights — and be forewarned, this often can, and does, cost money, especially for more famous works.
  5. Include a SASE. If submitting a hard copy submission, include a self addressed, stamped envelope or you might not hear anything back at all. If you expect to get your full submission back with any rejection, specifically tell them that you want it back, and include enough postage for the weight of the package or it’ll get shredded or recycled. Stamps cost money, and if a press shelled out free postage to respond to each submission they received they’d go out of business. Not only that, but it’s also the polite thing to do. Better still, tell them in your cover letter that they can notify you by email (and make sure to include your email address) — this will speed up response time greatly.

Really, that’s about all you’ve got to do to dramatically increase the odds of your book getting published. Simply put, publishers and editors are human beings, which means that on some level, they’re lazy. Doing as much work for the press as you preemptively can will make a big difference. It won’t be the only consideration (quality will always, hopefully, be top priority) but it’ll certainly help you edge out the competition; victory is in the margins.

When presented with an almost-there project that’ll take a lot of work vs. an almost-there project that’ll take almost no work, which would you go with?

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How do you force yourself to write when writing is the last thing you want to do?

Image credit Drew Coffman/Flickr.

Every writer knows that there is a love-hate relationship between the author and the act of writing. When everything is well with the world, the words flow freely: the author not only wants to write,  but also has the time, energy, and ability to make it happen. In case you aren’t aware, though, let me let you in on a little secret: things are rarely well with the world, especially the world of the writer.

All too often, different aspects of life converge in such a way as to conspire against the writer who is trying to write. After all, for most of us anyway, writing does not pay the bills. That may be what we are working towards, but it is usually not the case. And when writing doesn’t pay the bills, it can be difficult to justify spending your time working on a new story or poem or essay when you could actually be paying the bills. And when you finally are done paying the bills, family and friends demand their fair share of your time and energy. At the end of the day, do you really want to get started on that new project, or do you want to go to bed?

More often than not, I want to go to bed.

The simple truth is that writing is work — it is a job like any other job (whether a first, second, third, or fourth job it doesn’t matter). If you ever want to get anything done, you need to get things done. But how do you actually force yourself to get things done? My methods have varied over the years, but I recently found some strategies that Gina Barreca, author of the best-selling They used to Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted (and preface writer to my book Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer), uses to force herself into the groove: emotional blackmail and guilt.

“Some writing is its own reward: I have permission to write this post only because I finished the three letters of recommendations which have been staring up at me with their big, sad eyes every morning as I approach my desk. The letters and their neatly addressed envelopes been eying me like stray kittens: ‘Please! We’re orphans! Help!’ I sent them all to good homes and that means I can now play with my own work.

‘How does the guilt and emotional blackmail part work?’ asked one aspiring writer during the book-signing part of Saturday’s events. She liked the bribes idea, but was worried that I  might have sent myself to bed without dinner. Or a beverage. Assuring her that deprivation of food was never permitted in my household, I explained that the emotional blackmail I wielded was a dangerous weapon. It was something best done by professionals in a closed setting and probably should be used by amateurs only in a controlled situation.

Emotional blackmail as a tool for writing should be saved for those moments when nothing else works.

If guilt is an emotional response and blackmail is an exchange, I suppose I’m proposing a combination of both. ‘If you don’t finish this article/essay/book,’ I tell myself, ‘You know you’re going to be miserable.’

And then I make sure it happens: Either I finish it, or I’m miserable.” — From Barreca’s blog, Snow White Doesn’t Live Here Anymore on Psychology Today

I know these strategies work because I’ve used them before — as someone raised in a Roman Catholic household, guilt is especially useful in getting me to do things. And emotional blackmail? My mother had that bit down pat by the time I was four. I was raised by these methods, molded by them…if anything can get me to sit down and write, its this. It may be just what the doctor ordered to get your writing back on track!

You can view Barreca’s full post here.

How do you deal with writer’s block? How do you force yourself to write when it’s really the last thing you want to do?

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An introduction to Vanity Presses: what they are and how to avoid them

“Mirrors” by Mark Santa Ana/Flickr. Playing off of the word vanity, of course.

The promise of publication is one of the most enticing promises to an aspiring author (beaten only, perhaps, by the promise of fame and riches). But the promise of publication can also be one of the most dangerous promises for an author to stumble upon — a verifiable sirens call — because it is ofttimes a promise offered by the prostitutes of the publishing world: or, as the rest of the world calls them, vanity presses.

A vanity press is a press that preys upon the author struggling to make his dream of being published a reality. Vanity presses usually present themselves as a company that would like to help you make your dreams come true: they tell you that they see merit in your work, that you deserve to be published, and that they can make that happen. There is a catch, though: they can’t do it for free.

While they can come in a variety of forms, there are two common business models behind these presses. The first deals with single-author books: the author must pay for the entire editing process — editing, printing, distributing, marketing, and any of a slew of other “services” that they claim to offer. This is the primary way that the press will make their money — not by selling your book to any audience, but by selling you their services. The second model involves anthologies of multiple authors, where there is usually no charge for editing and printing. This model almost seems legitimate, until you realize that the primary way that the press makes money off of these books is by selling copies of them to the authors themselves (or, as an added profit, to the friends and families of the authors) at an extremely marked up price.

Hence, the term vanity press: they are presses that cash in on the vanity of aspiring authors who just want to see their names in print, and who will gladly jump at the opportunity, even if it involves shelling out cold hard cash for a book that they will never see any profits from.

But the worst part of it is, in my mind, that these presses will publish anything. In the case of an anthology, you can find some pretty decent poetry paired up with poetry reminiscent of the limericks scrawled on the bathroom stall at the local A&P. That is, perhaps, the biggest ego crusher the unsuspecting author who is thrilled with his first publication will face when he receives his $30 copy — while his work might have been good enough to place in an actual publication, he finds it next to poetry that looks and sounds like something a cat threw up.

Believe me, I know the feeling. My first publication was at the hands of a vanity press.

Under the premise of “scouring the internet for the best new online poetry,” this particular press told me that they wanted to publish one of my poems that I had posted on a poetry forum. As a twelve year old, I was thrilled, and I gladly signed the contract and ordered two copies (one for my grandmother, of course). And when my copy arrived only a month later, I was virtually ecstatic — they chose my poem to be the first poem in the book. My poem was the introduction to a wonderful literary endeavor.

And then I found out that my uncle had also had a poem accepted for the same book, and when I flipped through his pages I was dismayed to find that his poem opened the book, and that mine was actually nowhere to be found. That was when I realized that I had been gypped. It was a crushing blow that left me unable to send any of my work out for years (which is actually fine by me, because the angst-ridden poetry from my tween years was — I do not exaggerate — god-awful).

But I do have to say that I’m (sort of) thankful for the experience, because it has made me a more careful writer. Because of my experience with a vanity press, I now don’t send anything out as a submission to a press that looks anything other than professional. I no longer let my eagerness to have work published overwhelm my own sense of common sense.

I do want to say, as a quick aside, that for some people a vanity press is a perfectly legitimate business endeavor. If you truly only want to be able to say that you have had a book published, and don’t mind the fact that you will never receive any money or real gratification from the endeavor, then by all means go for it. For some, that’s enough.  Most writers, though, would benefit from some quick rules that help them differentiate a vanity press from the more legitimate presses.

  1. They Charge a Fee: A vanity press will generally require the author to pay for the cost of reading, editing, and producing the book, and will then charge exorbitant prices for copies of it.
  2. Lack of Scrutiny: A vanity press will publish truly anything. They’ll gladly publish the novel that you slaved over for years, that is actually almost ready to be published by a bigger name publisher, and in the same fell swoop publish a photobook of various piles of dog feces.
  3. Lack of Profit: As you are the press’s primary source of income, you can pretty much say goodbye to any thoughts of receiving an advance or royalties for your book. If the press does sell to people apart from you, they’re generally going to keep any of that extra profit for themselves.

I do want to draw some distinctions between vanity presses and do it yourself publishing, though, because they can be very similar. While DIY publishing is completely paid for by the author, the author also keeps all of the profits (apart from printing costs). And while some DIY publishing projects have been astronomically horrendous, there have actually been a good number of very successful books published and printed entirely by the authors — no publishing house involved. While DIY publishing isn’t for everyone, it is a viable option, and it is certainly a better choice than a vanity press if an author ever wants to potential to earn profits from their work.

Here is a handy chart from The Open Publishing Guide illustrating the differences between a vanity press and the DIY publishing model:

Self-Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing

Image credit to The Open Publishing Guide

What about you? Have you ever had any experience with a vanity press? Have you ever been swayed to sign away your rights and the potential of future profit just to have something published in your name? How did you recover from the blow of knowing that you were duped (or have you yet to recover)?

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The twelve types of clients you’ll work with as a freelancer

Image credit: Jack Knight/Freelanceswitch

“Client Breed #10: The Doormat Client”               Image credit: Jack Knight/Freelance Switch

I found this great post by Jack Knight over at Freelance Switch that takes a look at the 12 major “Breeds” of clients that a freelancer is likely to face on the job. While the original post focuses on freelance web- or tech- developers, the client breeds carry over into virtually every field that makes use of freelancers: landscapers, photographers, and especially writers.

For example, Client Breed #1: The Low-Tech Client “looks confused and disoriented when discussing anything high-tech, calls rather than emails, wants everything to be faxed.” As a freelance writer, I’d equate this client to the those literary journals and magazines that don’t accept electronic submissions, or to those newspaper editors who call you to walk through their edits to your article instead of marking them in an email. There’s nothing wrong with these clients, but they tend to make things more complicated — and definitely less convenient — than they really need to be.

Client Breed #3: The Hands-On Client has a very specific picture in his mind as to how a story or article is supposed to come out — so specific that he is happy to twist your work so that it fits his pre-casted mold. When working with this client you’ll see lots of red ink, and the final product that makes it into print will likely look very different from what you originally set out to write.

Client Breed #8: The Always-Urgent Client assigns an article to you and is shocked — appalled — when you don’t have it back to him fully polished within the hour. And don’t even think about asking for more time after they’ve set their Draconian deadline; you won’t get it.

These are just a few of the clients that Knight mentions in his amazingly apt original post. I don’t want to give it all away — go take a look at it for yourself.

Have you had the pleasure (or displeasure) of working with any of these “client breeds”? Are there any missing from the list? Which ones are your favorite to work with; which ones your least?

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Does having your work cited excite you?

A friend forwarded me an email today from the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day program, and I was thrilled to find that another friend (and former professor of mine), Gina Barreca, was quoted as a part of the e-blast.

I forwarded the message to her, thinking she might get a kick out of it. At the same time, I thought that she would be much less excited about having her work quoted — it happens to her so often — than if I had had my own work quoted. The email she shot back to me was one of pure ecstasy. It was as though this moment was the crowning achievement of long and (might I add) extremely successful career.

I’m glad to see that she hasn’t lost the excitement that comes with learning that someone else has read, and helped to disseminate, your work. It gives me hope.

I was filled with the same excitement the day I found that one of my essays had been quoted in someone’s blog (you can find the link here, if you’re so inclined). I can’t even begin to imagine how exciting it would be to be quoted by such an authority as the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and in a program that reaches thousands of participants each day.

In all honesty, I’d be thrilled just to find that somebody had quoted one of my poems on the wall of a dirty bathroom stall. (If anyone here has read any of my work, and would like to do me the honor, I’d be forever in your debt. The skankier the stall, the better. If you do it, and send me a photo, I might even send you a signed copy of my book haha.)

Can you understand Barreca’s excitement? Have you ever found any of your work to have been quoted somewhere? What did it feel like? Do you think you’ll ever get tired of the feeling?

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Last Impressions: what your email signature says about you

The creator of this graph sampled her email inbox for signatures and arranged them according to levels of familiarity and naturality.

The creator of this graph sampled her email inbox for signatures and arranged them according to levels of familiarity and naturality. Image from Liz Danzico.

So today I found myself wondering about email signatures for some reason. After doing some googling around, I realized I wasn’t the only person who put some added thought into those two or three words that precede my name when I’m writing an email.

This graph arranges email “signatures” based on levels of familiarity (between the author and recipient) and naturality (whether or not the pattern of speech comes across as natural or stiff). And, although based solely upon the creator’s own email inbox, it looks like a pretty spot-on analysis of the more popular email sign-offs.

From the original blog post:

Forget what you’ve heard about first impressions; it’s the last impressions that count. Last impressions — whether they’re with customer service, an online shopping experience, or a blind date — are the ones we remember. They’re the ones that keep us coming back. But there’s one kind of final impression that people seem to forget.

The closing line of email — that line that you write before you type your name — has been all but forgotten. Go take a look at your inbox: you might be astonished at how little attention people pay to the closing lines when writing email. This underrated rhetorical device is so frequently disregarded that many people have the gall to use an automatic closing line attached to their email signature file.

Closing lines vary from the highly self-conscious (“My warmest regards,”) to the impersonal sig file to the charmless (“Best,”).

I have to say, I lean towards “All best,” in most situations, simply because it sounds natural and is versatile — it can be formal in certain situations and informal in others. Although, I have to disagree with the notion that “Best” is a charmless sign-off. Personal preference and all.

What’s your experience with email signatures? What’s your go to sign-off? Have you given much thought to the idea that the last few words of your message could change the entire tone of your email or letter? This blog post is going to give me a lot to think about the next time I need to send out a resume or submission letter.

All best,

Tim

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