Friday Links: Letting the World Influence Your Writing

TGIF! I hope you’re all in the process of checking in with your goals for the year, as I discussed yesterday. The new quarter kicks off tomorrow, so you’ve got a nice low-key weekend in order to ramp up for whatever you plan to tackle next. As for me, I’m excited to be attending BinderCon LA this weekend, where I’ll be taking pitches and attending some of the panels. Give a wave if you see me there!

Meanwhile, I’ve got a great assortment of links for you this week, and I’m just going to dive right in with those. Quite a few of them focus on ways to open up and let the world and its influences into your writing process. I hope they provide some inspiration. Have a terrific weekend, and happy writing!

If Fiction Changes the World, It’s Going to Be YA – A look at how young adult fiction has been addressing politics, culture, and current events.

The Other Side of the Desk: What I Learned as a Writer Editing a Lit Mag – Some outside perspective on writing and submissions from someone straddling two worlds.

7 Tips for Donating Old Books without Being a Jerk – Some good advice for the next time you prune your shelves.

April 2017 Reader (and Volunteer) Sign-Ups! – Sign up now to participate in the next round of Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon on April 29th.

Jami Attenberg: ‘I wanted to see if there were other happy endings for single women’ – The author talks about her new book and her wish to create a different type of independent heroine.

Ploughshares’ Emerging Writer’s Contest – Guidelines for entering the contest, which has a May 15, 2017 deadline.

Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories – For anyone in or soon to visit the LA area, this new exhibit on Butler and her legacy runs from April 8th to August 7th.

Instead of Writing, I Watched Trains – A writer shares how his form of procrastination actually helped him refill the well and get back to work.

Conference and Course Update

Greetings, all! I know it’s been on the quiet side here, with the exception of Friday Links, and I’m attempting to pull myself out of my reading/editing cave to remedy that a bit. I’m kicking off with a few small announcements today. First, we’re heading into conference season, so I’ve updated my Conference and Travel page with my schedule for the next few months. You can check in there to see what conferences I will be participating in, as well as any I’m simply attending. Please feel free to say hello if you’re going to be at one of these! I love meeting you all.

Next up, I’m pleased to announce that I once more will be teaching my webinar through Writer’s DigestConquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct the Ultimate Sales Tool. The course takes place online on June 1st, 2017, at 1pm ET. Please note that if you register ahead, you will receive an email after the live course with a link to a complete replay for your reference, and information on how to submit your synopsis to me for critique. So even if the time is not convenient for you, you might still consider signing up. I have plenty of students who register and take the class after the fact as best suits their schedule and submit their work for critique.

Book View Now with Mary Norris at AWP16

All hail the Comma Queen! Anyone who’s spent any time around me knows I have a bit of a grammar thing. I love when people use it properly, and its rampant misuse (as opposed to the occasional typo or error) makes me twitchy. So imagine my delight when The New Yorker‘s delightful Mary Norris turned out to be one of the speakers at AWP16. So for my final bit of love to that conference before I move on to the more recent LA Times Festival of Books, I offer up this excellent interview.

2016 AWP Conference & Book Fair: A Quick Roundup

As previously mentioned, I recently spent three days wandering around the Los Angeles Convention Center with some 13,000+ writers, editors, agents, booksellers, librarians, and other assorted writing-related people for the 2016 AWP Conference and Book Fair. This isn’t the normal sort of conference I attend. Mostly I go places where they stick me on a panel or have me stand behind a podium and answer questions, and then at some point I will sit across a table from a parade of writers and listen to pitches or possibly critique first pages of their work. What made AWP16 so different and so much fun (not that I don’t enjoy my normal conference experience, because I do) was that this time around I was flying somewhat under the radar. I was an attendee rather than a participant, which meant I had the opportunity to go to panels and sit in the audience and listen to what other people had to say.

Over the course of three days I sat in on some 10-12 panels on a variety of subjects, including a session on visual narrative that looked at illuminated books, graphic novels, and participatory storytelling such as gaming apps; a panel of agents discussing equality and gender on the business side of publishing; the use of film techniques to engage readers in young adult literature; ideas for harnessing the social media skills of a group of writers to provide support and cross marketing; subjects that are (or are not) taboo in young adult fiction; and a discussion of the realms of real and unreal in writing. There were conversations with writers I knew and others I had just met, and hours spent wandering the floor of the main hall where hundreds of small presses, publishers, literary mags, MFA programs, poetry chapbook authors, PR people and others had set up their tables.

Publishing has always been a moving target, an ever-evolving industry that changes shape at the rate of storm clouds. But some trends trumpet more loudly than others. I heard a lot of discussion and debate about diversity in all of its permutations, from the need for more diverse people working in publishing to the importance of championing varied characters in books as well as a spectrum of writers to tell their stories. There were in-depth looks at ways to promote work in this age of social media and a steady increase in competing forms of entertainment, and thoughts on how to harness some of the new forms of technology to tell stories in fresh, exciting ways. But there were also still people lugging tote bags filled with newly acquired books — paperback and hardcover alike. There were halls filled with enchanted listeners as writers read from their latest releases. I saw many aspiring writers bent over notebooks, frantically scribbling notes on advice from the pros. Some things remain forever the same.

There’s no graceful way for me to share every nugget of information I absorbed in those three days. Instead, I offer up a few links to sites and books that I heard about that might provide some inspiration or at least food for thought.

In terms of visual narrative:

Bats of the Republic by Zach Dodson – an illuminated novel that includes hand-drawn maps, letters, and other items that join with the text to tell the story.

A Life in Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley by Warren Lehrer – an illuminated novel that features 101 books ostensibly authored by the title character.

PRY novella by Tender Claws – a novella and an app that allows reader interactions designed to put you in the narrator’s experience/thoughts.

In terms of the changing face of publishing:

Literary Publishing in the 21st Century – essays by a variety of writers, editors, etc. on the future of the industry, including the effects of technology, the fight for diversity, and more.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts – home of the famed VIDA count, which holds magazines accountable for their diversity (now newly expanded to include race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, and ability).

In terms of marketing:

Tall Poppy Writers – a marketing collective started by a group of women’s fiction authors and now somewhat more broad in its scope, the purpose of which was to share social media knowledge and talents and to support each other’s book launches and careers.

Anyone interested in AWP’s annual conference and/or membership in the organization should check out their site: Association of Writers & Writing Programs.


Book View Now with Ruth Ozeki at AWP16

At the end of last week, I attended the 2016 AWP Conference & Book Fair, which was held here in Los Angeles. I’m still working on gathering my thoughts for a post about my own experiences, which were myriad and diverse, but in the meantime I thought I’d post this fascinating interview — one of many that took place over the course of the conference — with author Ruth Ozeki. She speaks about her novel A Tale for the Time Being, reflecting on the spark for the book and the ways in which world events affected her narrative. Such an interesting discussion — I hope you find it inspiring.

FYI: Where in the World Is…

I’m happy to share the addition of a new page on the site, one dedicated to keeping track of my travel schedule in terms of conferences and other events I plan to attend/participate in. Conferences and Other Travel can be found as  a drop-down link in the top navigation bar, beneath About.

The idea is not just to let you know what I’m up to, but to give you a chance to connect with me if I’m in your neck of the woods. While some events are obviously the sort that require registration, others will be more me-in-the-neighborhood, such as the LA Times Book Festival (free to attend), book signings, etc. Hope to see you around!

Writing in Public: Crafting a Professional Image

(c) Can Stock Photo/ Kesu
(c) Can Stock Photo/ Kesu

There’s a saying: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Well, writers often work in comfy sweats or their pajamas, but the underlying concept still holds true. Writing is a business like any other, and even if you can do the job in solitude, you will eventually need to create a network of colleagues and readers in order to advance your career. You want to consider your public image long before people know who you are, because the things you say and do now — whether in the real world or online — set the scene for your future.

Presenting a professional image starts before you sign onto social media. It starts with determining the image you wish to portray in all facets of your writing career, and that’s something you should think about before you have a book deal. Your professional image affects how you interact with your critique partners — even if they’re your friends, the way you portray yourself in a query letter or at a writer’s conference, and how you handle both your successes and your failures.

Some aspects of being professional might seem obvious. We’ve all seen the writer on Twitter who phrases something poorly or offers up an unpopular opinion and finds themselves in a fast-escalating situation because they refuse to apologize or back out gracefully. There might be name-calling and other rude behavior that’s easily pegged as unprofessional. But what about the less obvious aspects of the job? Here are a few things to consider when you’re fashioning your own professional demeanor.

Treat writing as a job, not a hobby. If you reach the stage where you’re sending out queries, you need to present yourself in a professional, business-like manner.

  • Have your own email address using your own name. There’s no reason to use your joint family email account with your spouse’s name in the From: field. Save that for personal communications, and get yourself a gmail or yahoo address that’s just for you.
  • Do your research. Send submissions per an agency’s guidelines. Be sure they’re looking for the sort of material you’re querying. If you’re cutting and pasting your query letter, double check that you’ve updated both the email address and the name of the agent before you hit send. Don’t forget to proofread.
  • Be sure to follow up with an agent if you receive an offer of representation from someone else, and either thank them for their consideration or ask if they can decide on your material within a reasonable window (depending how soon you need to respond to your existing offer). Don’t leave an agent to read your work a few weeks down the line only to discover it’s no longer available for representation.
  • Keep in mind that a writing career can span decades and you are building a community. You may work with a person down the line who initially rejects you, so maintain good relationships even if you’re not teaming up right now.

Use common sense at public events. If you’re attending readings, conferences, lectures, or any other event where you’ll be representing yourself as a writer, keep your business hat on, even if you’re there with friends and being social.

  • If there’s alcohol, don’t over do it. You don’t want to lose control of your actions or what you’re saying.
  • Be prepared to network. Have business cards with you that include your website and email address, and keep a small notebook and a pen or pencil handy.
  • Be aware of any behavioral guidelines set down by the organizing body, and be sure you adhere to them.
  • Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself if harassed or put in a vulnerable position. Part of being professional is holding other professionals to the same standard.
(c) Can Stock Photo/ marish
(c) Can Stock Photo/ marish

Approach social media as if dealing with a group of gossipy teenagers. Understand that as nice and intelligent as everyone might seem, there will always be a few people out there looking to get the dirt, to start an argument simply to gain a higher profile, or just to be mean.

  • Keep the business details of your business to yourself. I don’t mean you shouldn’t announce when you’ve signed a book deal, but be careful not to discuss it before you know it’s finalized. If you’re unsure what’s safe to disclose, you’re better off not sharing it. But you can always talk to your agent or editor to find out when certain information — that you’ve sold the book, what your cover art looks like, your release date, etc. — can go public.
  • Never talk about the who/what/where while things are still in play. When your agent has your manuscript out on submission or is negotiating a deal, you should never discuss the process online: not which agents or which imprints or how you think it’s going. It’s tempting to get excited and want to provide updates, but editors can go online, too, and you don’t want to inadvertently weaken your agent’s ability to negotiate by giving away vital information. So keep it off your blog and Facebook and Twitter.

Remember that the internet rarely differentiates between your private and professional selves. Once you put yourself out there wearing your writer’s hat and people get to know you, it will become impossible to have personal moments online except in spaces you lock down. Take precautions to stay safe.

  • Consider maintaining a friends-and-family-only Facebook page separate from your author page, with security settings that keep anyone else from seeing your photos and vacation chatter. Only “friend” a small, select group of people. This will give you a place to engage with those you love without worrying about policing yourself.
  • Be careful about announcing easily identifiable information about yourself on the internet, such as landmarks near your house, your day job, or where your kids attend school. Most people are lovely and will respect your privacy, but stalkers do exist and you don’t need to be a best-selling author or hugely famous to have someone decide they want to follow you in real life.
  • If you will be traveling for personal reasons — as in, not a conference or book signing, etc. — wait until after the trip to share with your readers/fans. Don’t talk the trip up ahead of time, or announce where you’ll be.

And yes, the internet is forever. Or at least close enough. Things you say and regret, even if you delete them, have a habit of turning up when you least expect it.

  • Apologize if you say something that hurts other people. Whether you phrased something badly and it was misunderstood or you genuinely did not understand what you said was offensive, apologize, and state that you’ll do your best not to make the same mistake. Everyone’s human, and most people will understand if you’re genuinely contrite.
  • Realize that there will always be things that will cause an argument online, and pick your battles. Some issues will be more important to you and you will take a stand. Others will probably still be important but maybe less of a priority. Decide what is worth fighting for and what you’re willing to walk away from, in the interest of having time to write and live your life outside of social media.
  • Avoid knee-jerk reactions. If something gets you hot under to collar, take a breath or two before you respond. You may change your mind, or you may not, but decide how you’re going to respond (or if you’re going to respond) with a clear head.


Finding Your Tribe: A Writer’s Community

Writing is a solitary activity. Even writers who work with co-authors, or who break story ideas in a group as part of a television writing staff, must eventually sit down to face that blank page on their own. Beyond the act of getting down the words, however, dwells a wealth of opportunities for writers to interact, exchange ideas and experiences, and enjoy a community of people who understand precisely what it means to wrestle an idea into shape or struggle to ramp up the tension in a scene. Fellow writers read your work and offer constructive criticism, provide insight into where you might research an obscure facet of your story, and share knowledge about the submissions and/or publishing process. Other writers provide your network of both practical information and emotional support; in short, they are your tribe.

Whenever I attend a writing conference, it strikes me anew just how important it is for writers to escape the trap of working entirely in a void. Writers who know other writers also know more about the business, have a better grasp of the publishing process, and tend to have fewer typos and plot holes in their manuscripts. That’s not to say having a writing community means automatic publication and a swift path to bestsellerdom, but it does help writers avoid the more obvious pitfalls along the way, and provides some understanding shoulders on those days when frustration overwhelms determination.

But where do you find other writers? Writing isn’t the sort of career where you necessarily meet colleagues in your office, sitting one desk over. Most writers have other jobs to pay their bills, and not everyone who goes home to a second shift writing stories discusses their ambitions around their day-job’s water cooler. So where to start?

Writing conferences and conventions that revolve around genre writing make for obvious choices, and they come in a variety of sizes and for different budgets. Go prepared to both learn things and socialize. Many events offer an introductory session for first-time attendees, but even if they don’t, you can meet people simply by speaking with the person next to you in a workshop or at a meal. Ask what they write or what they’re currently reading. In a gathering of writers, you have built-in ice breakers. You can even arrange to meet people ahead of time through Twitter using the event hashtag.

If conferences are out of your budget or if travel poses difficulties, check out opportunities in your own town or nearby. Writers’ organizations, such as Romance Writers of America (RWA), have local chapters that meet monthly to discuss their members’ achievements, hear from guest speakers, and encourage each other to reach for their goals, and can offer a ready-made tribe of writers who work in your genre. Writing classes come in all sizes and shapes — from continuing education at the local university or high school to courses offered at the community center or YMCA — and give you the chance to meet other writers in the process. If you want to find a writing group, ask your librarian or at area bookstores to see if they have information about existing meetings, or go to and see if they have a group near you.

The internet, of course, makes a wonderful resource for connecting with other writers. You don’t have to meet face-to-face in order to chat about writing with other likeminded individuals, and many writers work with critique partners or beta readers who live thousands of miles away by emailing back and forth, chatting online, making use of Skype, etc. Online classes can be less costly than those in real life, and many offer the opportunity to read and critique the work of your classmates. Some writers’ sites offer forums, such as this one at Writer’s Digest, where you can post questions, introduce yourself, and chat with other posters. Participate in the comments section of writers’ blogs — not solely to find critique partners, but to become part of the community at large by engaging and offering your own thoughts. Follow writers you admire on Twitter, as well as editors, publishing houses, and other industry accounts to learn more about the business as well as what’s happening in the wider writing community. Even if you don’t want to write a novel in a month, consider participating in NaNoWriMo and getting to know people through their local writing meet ups and extensive forums. Although not everyone will have professional aspirations, there will be plenty of published and hoping-to-publish writers in the mix. As with any social interaction, please use some caution when meeting online acquaintances for the first time in person and start off in a public place.

Building a writing community won’t happen overnight, but it’s worth making the investment of time and effort it takes to develop your personal tribe.

A few additional resources to check out:


Friday Links: Messing with Shakespeare and Other Rewrites

TGIF! I hope you’ve all had a terrific week, and that you have some excellent weekend plans lined up. I’ll be a the Writer’s Conference of Los Angeles tomorrow, and then Sunday I’ve got some more work ahead of me, but I’m also looking forward to a few hours with my TBR pile.

But first, I have links for you! I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about what makes a story. How much can you change or subtract from a work without making it into something new? If I were to give a thousand writers the same prompt, they’d come up with a thousand different stories. We go to the movies and see adaptations of novels all the time. There’s a recent resurgence of transforming fairy tales into modern novels and movies, giving the old stories a twist or simply updating them for a current (or future) setting. I’ve read a few articles about translating works, and the importance of adhering to not just the writer’s original story but the mood and feel of the language if possible, so the reader-in-translation has as much of the intended experience as can be managed.

All this of course is a lead in to the recent declaration by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that they’ll be getting 36 playwrights to rework the plays of Shakespeare into more modern, understandable language, an announcement that resulted in quite a backlash in both traditional and social media. What makes those plays Shakespeare’s work? Is it the story or the language? After all, many of those tales were reworked from old myths and history and other source material.

This week also saw the tenth anniversary of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, and the release of a new gender-switched version of the book. Many fans are excited about this, but I can’t really say I am all that worked up over the chance to read about Edward and Bella as Edythe and Beau. Does it really make it a fresh story? Someone else will have to decide.

But enough rattling on. I hope I’ve given you a few things to ponder. In the meantime, enjoy the links below, and have a wonderful, productive weekend. Happy writing!

Why We (Mostly) Stopped Messing with Shakespeare’s Language – A review of the history of rewriting the Bard, and why it’s not necessary.

Twilight Surprise – Announcing Stephenie Meyer’s gender-swapped rewrite.

A New Chapter in the World’s Oldest Story – Researchers discovered twenty additional lines to The Epic of Gilgamesh, a small piece of good news in the turmoil taking place in Iraq and Syria.

Before You Launch Your Author Website: How to Avoid Long-Term Mistakes – A few excellent tips.

Fantasy Calendar Generator – Creating a fantasy world for your novel? Use this fabulous calendar to help keep your world-building consistent.

The Writer I Was: Six Authors Look Back on their First Novels The Millions interviews six now-established authors on what it was like for them starting out.

The Uses of Orphans – Why orphans make such wonderful protagonists, and a look at a few of the more popular orphans in literature.

PSA: Write it Down

Today’s public service announcement is brought to you by conference season. This is the time of year (frankly, most of the year) when materials I’ve requested at various conferences hit my inbox at a pretty rapid rate. It’s also the time of year when I can see in black and white just how many people bothered to make note of what I asked them to send.

Here’s the thing: You’re sitting in your pitch session, maybe still a bit nervous even after successfully delivering your pitch, and suddenly I (or insert the agent/editor of your choice) open up my mouth and say I’d like to see a bit of your project. And I hand you my card and ask you to send me something. You nod seriously, maybe your mouth opens and closes a couple of times, and you thank me. Maybe you ask another question, maybe I do. But that’s basically the end of the pitch, so you stand up and gather your things, shake my hand, and head out into the wilds of the conference.

So, what didn’t happen there? You didn’t take a minute to write down what I requested. Nope. You just tucked my business card somewhere and took off. Because I asked you for something! That’s huge! The moment is going to be imprinted on your brain forever!

Except… it really isn’t. And in a day or two when you sit down to send the material, you won’t remember the specifics of my request. So you’ll check the agency website and send what we ask for in a query (which, news alert, is not what I ask for when I meet you at a pitch session). Or better yet, a month or two will pass, because you learned something good at the conference that made you go back and rework something in your manuscript. And now you want to send what I asked for, all shiny and freshly polished, but again, you can’t recall precisely what I requested. Maybe you can’t even find my business card.

This problem is so easily solved. Bring a notebook with you into the pitch. The one you’re using to write down stuff at the conference. It can be big or small or even electronic. It can be the notes app on your phone. And when an agent or editor requests chapters or pages or your manuscript, write it down. Immediately, sitting at that table. If they’re chasing you out of the room because your pitch session ran long, write it down the second you step into the hall. Include the pertinent details off the business card while you’re at it: name and email address. That way if the card goes astray, you’re still in good shape.

It takes one minute. Just do it. Your future self will thank you. And so will I.