Friday, November 30, 2007

Write Nonfiction in November Comes to an End

The month has come to an end. I hope you’ve risen to my Write Nonfiction in November challenge and finished your nonfiction writing project. Depending upon where you live, you might still have a few hours left to do so. As with NaNoWriMo, if you have finished, you can now take some time to edit, polish and fine tune your manuscript. That’s what I’ll be doing during December.

On that note, I’m going to write about editing once more. Actually, I’m going to write about writing.

Recently, I’ve edited several projects that had my hair bristling. I found myself totally frustrated and wanting to ask my clients why they didn’t write more clearly. To be more explicit, I wanted to yell, “Write simply! Write what you mean! Don’t make it so complicated!” I had to spend huge amounts of time – and their money -- trying to make sense of their sentences, which were written in amazingly convoluted ways and with the most absurdly odd word choices.

From this experience, I wan to offer this advice: As you write, rewrite and edit, keep this in mind the fact that most readers don’t want to struggle to understand what you are writing. They want to read your sentences once - - not two or three or four times -- and comprehend your point. They don’t have a need for you to impress them with your amazing use of the English language, especially if that use leaves them wondering what you are trying to say. If you have a good vocabulary, use it, but write as you would speak. If you aren’t sure if your writing is easily read, read it aloud. Does it sound like you? Would anyone speak the way you’ve written? Does what you have written really make any sense? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, rewrite for clarity and simplicity. If you aren’t sure, ask someone who knows nothing about your subject to read a page or two of your manuscript. Then ask them if they understood what you wrote. You can even ask them a few pointed questions to be sure they really got your message. If they didn’t, clearly you need to go back and try again – this time more simply. Believe me, your readers (and your editor) will thank you.

My pet peeve -- passive writing -- gets activated almost every time I work on a client’s manuscript. Turning passive writing into active writing takes up about 75 percent or more of my time as an editor. It costs my clients a lot of money. So, here’s my last piece of advice: Learn how to write an active sentence. This means getting rid of any form of the verb “to be” whenever possible. Occasionally, the verbs “is,” “are,” “were,” and “was” do sneak into even the best writer’s work (even mine), but if you can avoid them, you’ll end up with much stronger – and more active – writing. Sometime you can substitute another verb and change a passive sentence into an active one, but, more often than not, accomplishing this requires a full sentence rewrite.

Thanks for joining me for Write Nonfiction in November. I’ve been told that maybe the San Francisco Writers Conference will get behind this idea and turn it into a real contest like NaNoWriMo at some time in the future. If so, it might not happen during November but some other month instead. If you want to know what's happening on that front, you'll surely hear about it on my web site, Between now and next year, if anyone feels the need for some writing, editing, ghostwriting, or writing coaching services, you can find me at (which takes you to, because CopyWright Communications is – There’s that dirty little verb! – a division of Pure Spirit Creations). You also can e-mail me at If you mention this blog or the Write Nonfiction in November challenge in your e-mail, I’ll give you a 20 percent discount on the first four hours of services rendered.

Happy nonfiction writing! Thanks for joining me for the past 30 days! Good luck!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Of Time Lines, Platforms, Niche Craft, Too Many Ideas, and Getting in the Game

I’m back from my meeting with my agents. Actually, I only met with one; the other wasn’t feeling well. We went for a lovely lunch at a nice restaurant. He brought all the materials I had sent to him, and we ate and talked for almost two and a half hours.

We never really did discuss time lines, though. I think the gist of that subject basically came down to the fact that he said someone else said you need a five-year plan. I’ve been at this longer than five years, but I haven’t had a plan for that long. So, I guess the advice for nonfiction writers comes down to: Create a five-year promotional plan that gets you from where you are now to the top of a very large platform in that amount of time. At least, that’s what I took away from that little bit of our conversation.

I asked what I should be doing to develop a platform that would make it possible for him to market that one book project he sent me off to promote. He looked over my recent accomplishments and liked the fact that I’ve landed myself a spot as a regular guest on a podcast that has over 38,000 listeners per month. (I’ll be on nine or 10 shows in the next year!) He liked what I have been doing to promote myself on the Internet and was impressed (I think) with the growing amount of traffic to my web site. He suggested I do more of whatever I’ve been doing on that front (posting lots of articles to article directories), and that I get out and do much a lot more speaking. (Why was I not surprised?)

We looked at all of my recent work and projects, my old book proposals, my more current book proposals (including the one they didn’t get sold), and then discussed how they all fit together. Basically, we tried to see how we could fit them into a niche that would be uniquely mine. I know about niche craft, but it was nice to see how I could begin to take my booklets and some other book ideas I have and begin to place them all together into a similar form for the same market. My agent has been telling me for over a year that I have the unique opportunity to really take over a particular niche if I try, and I can see how I could begin to do that through really focused promotion. Actually, many of the nonfiction projects I’ve been working on do fit together into a niche, because they have come out of my efforts to promote one or two major projects. In the course of our conversation, I began to see how I could produce a line of booklets with corresponding courses, audio programs, and such. And he suggested I do just that – and go out and use that as the foundation for my efforts to increase the number of speaking engagements I have per year.

I had hoped to come away with a better idea of where to focus my attention – on this book or that one, but instead I came away with more ideas. Some of those ideas fit my niche and some don’t. You see, I write about Jewish spirituality primarily, and, more specifically, Jewish spirituality for women. However, I have some ideas and projects with a more secular nature. These stem from my focus on Judaism, but they apply to a broader audience. So, it becomes hard to know where to focus first. Do I build outward from my small market, or do I circle back from the larger one? It’s best to do the former, my agent and I agree, but some of my ideas, I believe, deserve a bigger audience.

And there are the other book ideas…the ones that fall totally outside the realm of my niche. The ones that I’m sure could be big sellers if only I could get my agent or another agent or a publisher to just take a chance on them. But, like so many other nonfiction writers, I’m left working on my platform, chipping away at that time line, knocking off one more item on my plan, crafting my niche, honing my ideas, and wondering when the time will be right, when my time will come.

It’s hard to play small when you really want to play big. And it’s hard to sit on the sidelines waiting for the coach (an agent or publisher) to tell you its time to get into the game when you really want to run onto the field now and show everyone that you can score a goal. In the game of nonfiction publishing, however, it seems that until you are a Barry Bonds, Michael Jordan, David Beckham, Payton Manning (or James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham, Danielle Steele, or Nicholas Sparks) – someone with a huge fan base, you’ll be sitting bench.

To end this blog on a positive note, I’d like to invite you all to purchase Elle Newmark’s novel, Bones of the Dead, at and then go to her party, which is still going strong, at Her promotion of her virtual book launch party got her seven (yes, seven) e-mails from agents and a contract from William Morris (with talk of foreign and movie rights) and made her novel an bestseller in two categories. She forevermore can call herself a bestselling author and her book a bestselling book. While you’re at the party, check out the party favors I’m offering. You can download my free Abracadabra! The Kabbalah of Conscious Creation Workbook. And e-mail me for a free recipe from my (hopefully) soon-to-be-published Jewish celebrity cookbook (it’s being considered by a publishing house right now). You also can help me get it published by preordering it; you’ll find out about that when you get your free recipe. And, last but not least, you can e-mail me for a coupon good for 20% off 5 hours of editing, writing, ghostwriting, and writing coaching services (a $75 value). Plus, there are lots of other great party favors being offered at the party. Anyway, what Elle accomplished serves as an inspiration to me. It doesn’t matter that she writes fiction; we nonfiction writers can take her lead and accomplish the same thing she did.

Last blog tomorrow….hope you’re finished with your project! If not, get writing. You don’t have much longer.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Research vs. Procrastination and I'm Off to See The Agents, The Wonderful Agents of Mine (Sung to the Wizard of Oz)

Tomorrow, I'm off to see my agents in San Francisco We are supposed to discuss "time lines." I guess that means how long I have to promote myself and my work before they can help me get this next project of mine off and running. If you recall, my agent did not manage to sell one of my projects, and her husband sent me off to promote another one. They said I was "antsy" when I asked if I could find another agent who might take the project on immediately and suggested this meeting. I guess we also will take a look at where I am going, how I am going to get there and how they will help me. Those are my words. I want and need that from them. Anyway, that's tomorrow's agenda, and I'm a little nervous. I don't often get a chance to spend time with them. I enjoy their company and value their time, but I'm always a little afraid of doing something "wrong." Just my stuff... I'll let you know how the meeting goes.

Here's another short bit of news: I finished the first draft of my Write Nonfiction in November project. In fact, I sent it off to my agents, along with a bunch of other stuff. It needs some work, but it's not half bad. I think I told you that its a booklet based on a four-part teleseminar series I taught. I plan to sell it at the back of the room when I teach or speak and on line as well. I'll produce it as an e-book, too.

Okay, a short post on research vs. procrastination (as per Linda's request). Here's my take on this subject, for whatever it's worth. It's very easy for a nonfiction writer to waste away the hours doing research, especially on the Internet. I have often found a whole day gone by without noticing as I've read surfed around the net reading all sorts of things that seem related to my topic. If you've got time to spare, this poses no problem. If you have a deadline or, like me, have few hours in the day to work, this does not serve you. So, Google your subject and try to find the websites that look most promising. Follow your best leads and links. Give yourself a time frame within which you have to quite researching -- 2-3 hours or whatever you can spare -- and then begin writing.

Use this same principle when reading for research. Tons of books have been published on most subjects. You could read for years. Pick the best few books, or the most recent few books, or the books by the most-well-known experts, and then call it quits.

I prefer conducting interviews over reading books, because I don't have enough hours in my day to read as many books as would be necessary to do extensive research. I read a few books or parts of books, and then I start interviewing the authors or other experts. They can tell me what I need to know in a lot less time than it would take to read their whole book. Plus, they answer my questions specifically. Be cautious about spending too much time interview, though. This can become a trap as well. You can spend all your time talking to experts and never get around to writing.

Then, of course, you simply need to know when to stop researching and start writing. Ask yourself, "Am I just procrastinating and putting off writing? Do I have enough research to begin writing?"

I always err on the side of doing too much research, and I don't recommend this. It makes writing more difficult. I think it might be better to research just enough, begin writing, and then go back and do extra research to fill in gaps. The way I do it, I end up having to distill pages and pages of research or interview transcripts into just a few paragraphs of copy. However, an overabundance of research does give you excess material for more articles, books, essays, etc.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Many Varied Forms of Nonfiction

The I received a request to write about the different forms of nonfiction. I teach this – at least in terms of article forms – in my “Writing for Publication” teleseminar and class, but I’ll give it a go here as well in shortened form and without telling you how to structure any of these articles or books.

First, of course, we have the news article. You can find a news story in any newspaper. Most newspaper articles are written in the classic “inverted pyramid” form, which means it begins with the most important facts and ends with the least important ones. News stories are comprised of all facts and no opinion. They can be slanted by presentation of facts, but they are supposed to be unslanted (written in a way that offers no opinion) and neutral. That said, I’ve read some wonderfully slanted news stories. Here’s an interesting fact: The reason the most important facts are at the top and not at the bottom of the article is due not only to the fact that they make up the crux of the story but because if that particular day’s edition happens to be crammed full of news, the story can be cut by full column inches from the bottom without worry. They just delete the least important paragraphs from the bottom up. Most news stories cover the 5 W’s and 1 H – who, what, where, when, why, and how – and they often manage to give readers those details in the first paragraph or two.

Feature stories often arise out of news stories. In a newspaper, these would be more in depth coverage of a news story. In other words, the reporter or journalist takes the basic facts and digs deeper, looking for more meaning and information. Often a feature story will deal with one aspect of a news story, an issue, a problem, etc. The story might take the form of a trend piece, or it might focus on one individual, thus becoming a profile article, or it might be a general feature about a certain subject. General features, trend stories, profiles often are found in magazines, since feature articles are the name of the game in magazine journalism. (I should know, since that’s my specialty.) You could take a news story and write a book about that news story in much the same way you write a feature article -- only longer.

How-to articles, a favorite of mine, offer readers advice on – you guessed it – how to do something, such as lose weight, find a mate, sell a house, make money, or change jobs. These stories represent a staple in the magazine industry. E-zine directories also love how-to articles. Many books on the market today are how-to books.

Essays appear commonly in magazines, but they can be found in some newspapers, too. These articles are based on personal experience; however, the writer then broadens the subject so it applies to a wider audience. I love writing essays. They are slice of life pieces with an educational twist. If you learned something from an event that happened to you, teach others what you learned. Essays require little to no research or interviews, making them quick and easy to write – another reason I like to write them.

If you prefer to voice your opinion, you can write an opinion piece. Newspapers love to publish these on their op ed pages. These are short opinionated essays on a subject you feel strongly about.

Narrative nonfiction has become a big deal these days. It’s like literary journalism or a nonfiction novel. The writer writes a story based on facts or goes out and conducts interviews and then writes a novel based on those interviews. All the information in the novel is true and factual – none of it is made up.

Other nonfiction books are based either on interviews (with experts, people who have had a common experience, etc.), research, or the author’s expertise. As such, they are factual rather than fictional.

Then, you have the autobiography, a book written about your whole life.

A biography is a book written about someone else’s whole life.

A memoir is a book written about a period of time in your own life.

An anthology is a compilation of essays or articles written by many people.

Most nonfiction writers aspire to write a book. So, maybe this blog seems a bit off base, but my college professor once told me that if I could write an article, I could write a book. He said, "Each chapter in a book is like one article. You just write one article after another." So, if you haven't ever written a book, you might want to try your hand at writing a few articles first.

(If I missed any article or book forms, I’m sorry. Drop me a note. I'll write about it tomorrow.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Benefits of Attending a Writers Conference

Today I'd like to encourage you to attend a writers conference if at all possible. I know these can be expensive, but I feel they are well worth the money and the time.

Given that I live in Northern California, for the last three years I've attended the San Francisco Writers Conference. When I lived in New York, I had the opportunity to attend a variety of different conferences in Manhattan. Each time I've attended a conference I've left with loads of great information on writing, getting published, the publishing industry, publishing trends, and promoting myself and my writing projects.

Conferences are a great place to hobnob with other writers and to learn what they are doing to help themselves obtain an agent or sell their work to publishing houses. As nonfiction writers, networking with other nonfiction writers who are building their platforms can help us find places to speak and think of unique ways to make ourselves known in our own marketplaces.

Conference usually feature expert speakers who offer advice on building platforms, promoting our books, self-publishing, writing query letters and proposals, gaining Internet exposure, building readership, getting an agent, approaching a publishing house, pitching our work, writing for publications, and much more. In addition, many of the sessions are led by agents and editors at publishing houses, so you get to hear from publishing professionals first hand.

In addition, at conferences you get the chance to meet agents and publisher face to face. Many conferences feature sessions during which you can pitch your book idea directly to agents and editors. For instance, at the San Francisco Writers Conference, every year I have participated in their "Speed Dating for Agents" session. I get three minutes to pitch an agent before moving on to another. Some years I've pitched to as many as 10 agents! The interested agents give me their contact information, and I then follow up with a proposal. Also, I can send them the requested information an envelope that indicates that they did, indeed, request it, which means my work doesn't disappear into a slush pile. It may get read sooner; thus, I may get a reply sooner. In addition, the conference normally provides attendees with contact information for all the agents and editors participating in the conference, so you can pitch to them by query letter and at least mention that you were at the conference.

Then, of course, you might have the opportunity to talk to an agent or editor in the bar or in the lobby of the hotel where the conference is being held. Or you might meet another writer who gives you a lead on the perfect publisher for your book.

You just never know what will happen at a writers conference, but I can assure you that whatever happens it will be good and it will further your writing career.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Need for a Professional Editor

Okay, so I know that at least Linda is still reading this blog. (Thanks, Linda, for giving me reason to keep blogging! And congratulations on writing 45,000 words of fiction and finishing your nonfiction proposal all in less than 30 days. You deserve more than just a gold star!)

Linda has asked me to go back to the topic of editing and clarify an important point – the need for professional editing. I offered a bunch of tips of self-editing your work, and I mentioned that I happen to be a fairly good editor of my own work. However, I did not mean to imply that it isn’t a good idea to get professional editing help for your nonfiction projects. In fact, I highly recommend hiring a professional editor, especially if you are going to be self-publishing your work.

You can edit your work numerous times and still miss content issues and serious grammatical mistakes. Because you know your topic so well and are so close to your work, after you’ve edited your project a certain number of times your eyes can no longer see even the most glaring errors – not to mention the smaller ones. A fresh set of eyes on your work always proves helpful, and a set of eyes that are honed to look for anything concerning grammar and punctuation, content, structure, and flow of a book can be invaluable.

Believe me, I realize that hiring a professional editor represents an expensive undertaking. (I know what people pay me to edit their books -- and what they pay other editors that charge more than I do. Plus, I need a good fiction editor for my novel, and I haven't yet been able to afford one.) So, I’d love to be able to tell those of you who can’t afford to hire a professional editor like myself that it’s enough to find a good friend who was an English major in college to give your work a read through, but I can’t in good conscience do that. It’s true that finding a few good readers for feedback and a bit of editing helps. Don’t ever turn down the offer, but distinguish between “readers” and “professional editors.”

I’m editing a project right now that my client told me was edited twice before. She actually paid two people – one who said she was an editor and one who was a school teacher (I’m not sure if she is an English teacher or not) – to read her manuscript. She was amazed when I sent the first chapter back to her. The other two “editors” hadn’t corrected even half of what I corrected. They had left all her passive sentences (those using any derivation of the verb “to be”) without even mentioning that the book consisted of only about 15% active sentences. (Passive sentences are boring to read because they create weak and uninteresting writing.) These two people also were very familiar with the subject of her book, and, therefore, didn’t notice when she wrote about something without fully explaining it in a way that anyone – even someone not familiar with the subject – would understand. (I read every book I edit as if I know nothing about the subject at all, even if I know something about it. And I assume the reader knows less than I do. In this way, I help the writer fill in content gaps, or questions that might have been left in the readers’ minds. You can’t do this for yourself, nor can someone else who knows your subject really well – unless they are trained to do so.)

Also, distinguish between “editors” and “proofreaders.” After all the editing is complete, you need a good proofreader to catch any typos, misspellings, extra spaces, etc, but your proofreader shouldn’t be making grammatical changes. I edited a book for a client who then hired a proofreader who thought she was an editor. He let her go through the whole book and change every “he” and “she” to “he/she.” She also changed how I was using commas in a series, so the usage no longer was consistent throughout the book.

So, by all means learn how to be a good editor of your own work. And when you can edit your work no more, hire a professional editor. And when that editor completes the job, hire a good proofreader.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

After-Turkey-Day-and-Travel, Pre-Big-Work-Week Blahs

Okay...I admit it. I don't feel like blogging today. I don't feel like writing today.

I've been working on my new booklet, but it's been slow going. I should have gotten a lot more done than I have. I've stuck with it for several hours, however, and at least I've gotten something done. Sometimes as a nonfiction writer you can only say for the work you've done , "I persevered. I stayed in front of the computer, and I wrote. I don't know if what I wrote is good, but I put one word after the other." That I did. (Remember NaNoWriMo is NOT about good writing; it's just about writing 50,000 words. I haven't even asked you to write a certain number of words. I've just challenged you to write and finish a project this month.)

Here's the deal: I'm jet lagged. I flew all the way across the country and back in four days. My body is sore from sitting so much (six hours on a plane plus an hour and a half in a car to get to and from the airport and two hours waiting to board the plane). And now I'm sitting again, this time in front of my computer.

I've got a big work week ahead of me, plus I've got lots of things to handle for my children. On top of that, my husband and I have some stress factors to deal with concerning his employment situation. All in all, I'd like to just crawl into a hole rather than write a blog or a booklet. I love my clients, but at this moment, I don't feel like editing either. I want to sleep or read or watch TV or stare into space. I want to do anything but write.

In addition, I can't think of one interesting subject to write about at this particular moment. I wouldn't say I've got writer's block. I could write if I knew what to write about. I've got idea block.

I keep wondering if anyone is reading this blog anymore...If you are, why don't you send along a comment asking me to cover a specific topic? That would be helpful. I've got one more week to go, and, actually, I'd love to write about something important to you (if it's a subject I feel competent to cover) rather than something I think might be important or helpful to you.

That's it for today, folks. I'm just not inspired. It's one of those days. We all have them. At least I tried. I sat down. I wrote something. (I did work on my Write Nonfiction in November writing project, which I really need to do more work on if I'm to finish it in the next week. This blog has become my Write Nonfiction in November writing project...I guess I'll be able to say I completed that. I know I missed a few days, but I did blog almost all month. Well, I do have a week to go...and I do want to finish that booklet, so off I go to write a bit more.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Interviewing Intensive: The Basics Every Nonfiction Writer Should Know About Conducting an Interview

My journalism training included just a little bit of information on how to conduct interviews. However, interviews represent an essential part of what I do as both a journalist and as an author. I use interviews every time I write an article for which I need expert sources to quote and every time I write a book or booklet for which I need to research a subject and choose to go directly to expert sources for information. Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks and rules that I’d like to share with you here today.

First, if you are interviewing several sources for an article or for a book project, it’s best, if possible, to start with a source who can provide you with a general overview of your subject. With this overview, you can then begin to hone your questions down to more specific ones, which you can direct to sources with more specific knowledge. In fact, your first source may be able to direct you to these other expert sources.

Second, if you are looking for sources, there are services on line that can help you. (I’m not at home at the moment, so I don’t have access to my files; and I don’t have good Internet access – just enough to post this blog, but you can look on line for public relations services that help you find the experts you need.) For example, I am listed with, or The Yearbook of Experts. Journalists can access this list for free. Or begin asking people who know something about your subject for suggestions on who you might interview. If you begin putting out feelers, before long, you will find yourself with some useful interview sources.

Third, always write out your list of questions before you conduct an interview. I like to set up the questions in an order that follows the order I think my article might follow (or my chapter, booklet, etc.) Later, if you choose to transcribe your tape of the interview, you can edit the transcript, writing your copy as you do so. This makes the writing go much faster. I often do this when writing articles.

Fourth, I always tape my interviews and type while I conduct them. In many states, you are required by law to tell someone you interview over the phone that you are, indeed, tape recording them. So, be sure you are aware of the laws in your state, or simply make it a practice to tell all your interview subjects that you are taping them before you begin the interview. I type even when I interview someone in person. (I bring along my laptop.) This gives me a partial transcript (I go back and complete the transcript later.) and ensures that I get as many quotes down on paper as possible, and that I do so as accurately as possible. I can write pretty quickly, but my writing is sloppy, and even I often can’t read what I’ve written under the best of circumstances.

Fifth, when an expert source tells you something “off the record,” which means you can’t use the information they just told you, it’s off the record…unless they tell you it’s off the record after they tell you. That said, I honor their request that the information be off the record no matter when they say those specific words. I want them to trust me and to allow me to come back to them again, if I need them as a source again. I might go to another source and try to get them to give me the same information on the record.

Sixth, don’t change quotes. However, I often ask people if they’d like me to correct their grammar. No one likes to sound stupid, and my articles sound better with expert sources that use correct grammar. Most people prefer to have their quotes “cleaned up.”

Seventh, don’t quote someone out of context.

Eighth, don’t misquote anyone ever.

Ninth, at the beginning of an interview, always get the basics handled: get the correct spelling of the person’s name, their title, their address, etc. Doing this at the beginning is a great ice breaker. Plus, this ensures that you don’t forget to do sp at the end.

Tenth, treat the interview like a conversation, if possible. Take some time at the beginning to explain why you are interviewing them or to remind them of why you are writing the article or what your book is about. Ask them what the weather is like where they live. Do whatever you can to make your source feel comfortable and to relieve yourself of your own nerves.

Eleventh, it’s best to avoid agreeing to have your sources read what you’ve written, although they often ask to do so. You don’t want them to change their minds about what they’ve said once they read their words. If you must agree, let them read only their quotes and not the whole article, chapter, book, etc. If they want to read the whole piece to understand the context within which their quote is being used, make sure they understand that they have no say over your manuscript. They cannot edit or change it. Nor can they edit or change their quotes (unless it’s for the better).

Twelfth, remember to send your sources a thank you note and a copy of the finished product.

The best interviews I’ve conducted are the ones when my interview sources actually thank me for interviewing them when we are finished. Yes, that actually happens occasionally. Sometimes they find the subject interesting and enjoy the opportunity to think about it and discuss it with me. At these times, when I hang up the phone, I feel very grateful for the people who have agreed to let me interview them, have given me their time and have been willing to share their thoughts and expertise with me, and for the fact that my job as a nonfiction writer offers me the opportunity to interview such knowledgeable people on such fascinating subjects.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Writing Booklets vs. Books

I’ve gotten quite infatuated with writing short booklets rather than books. I came upon this form of nonfiction writing when a friend of mine shared with me what she had learned in a class about speaking and promotion for writers. (Surprise, surprise. We’re back on that subject again, but only briefly.) The man who taught the class suggested that speakers should have something to sell at the back of the room (of course), and he suggested selling booklets. These short (often only 28-pages) little books can be printed at your local Office Depot or Kinko’s, since they are simply copied, stapled and folded. This man’s version didn’t involve a color cover, just cover stock.

I set out to produce one of these when I got frustrated by my inability to get one of my book projects sold to a publisher. I pulled one section of the book-to-be out of the manuscript and published it myself as a booklet, which I called From Empty Practice to Meaning-Full and Spirit-Full Prayers and Rituals…In 7 Simple Steps. Unwilling to wait for a publisher to pick up another book project about which I felt quite passionate, this past year I produced a second booklet, Abracadabra! The Kabbalah of Conscious Creation (10 Mystical Steps to Manifesting Your Dreams and Desires). My Write Nonfiction in November project involves writing a third booklet, again from a book project; while promoting this project I taught a four-part teleseminar based on several chapters in the book. I am now taking my class scripts and putting them into a booklet called The Priestess Practice.

I like this form of publication for several reasons. First, I can revise my booklets as often as I like. I don’t publish very many of them at a time, so if I want to make changes, it’s no problem. I make the changes on my computer and then run a disc down to Kinkos. The next day, I have new booklets. Abracadabra! has already grown by eight pages, and I’m about to revise it once again. When I’m done, it will have grown by at least another eight pages. One day it will be large enough for me to actually get self-published in another form, but in the meantime I can continue selling it when I speak and on my web site, which allows me to promote prior the book being complete.

Second, I really believe that people prefer to read short books. A booklet simply is a short book – a quick and easy read. With the busy lifestyle most of us read today, this published form appeals to many people. In fact, I recently saw a series of booklets on sale in Border’s, which looked just like the ones my friends teacher suggested producing. They were short and simple with no spine – just copied and stapled. (And they were self-published). The fact that Border’s had them featured at the check out convinced me that production and sales of booklets would soon be on the rise.

Third, booklets provide a quick and easy structure for producing a book. I can take an idea I have for a full-length book and write it in booklet form in just a week or two. I then have a product to sell. People get to read what I’ve written, and I get to sell my booklet. In the process, that booklet helps me promote the book I ultimately wan to sell to a publisher. That booklet also helps me show a publisher how I would deal with the subject I am proposing and that I am serious about helping promote and market my book project.

Fourth, should my book project never get published, I’ve not waited around so long that I’ve lost interest in ever writing about that subject. In the meantime, I’ve produced a piece of nonfiction writing that I have self-published, that people can read, and from which I can earn a bit of money.

And, when I go speak somewhere, I’ve got something to sell at the back of the room – like all good writers – I mean speakers – should have.

Blogger's Note: Happy Thanksgiving! No Blog tommorrow. Sorry about missing yesterday. We were delayed in several airports and didn't arrive at our destination until 2 a.m. We travel again on Friday. I'll try to post, but no promises.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Be Your Own Best Editor

I spend a lot of my time editing other people’s articles and books. However, I happen to think I work as a pretty decent editor for myself as well. However, most people don’t find it so easy to edit their own work. Here are a few tricks to help you be your own best editor as well.

The first trick involves disassociating yourself from your own writing. In other words, unattach yourself from your own words. Pretend they aren’t yours but those of some strange writer whom you’ve never met. Don’t look at your sentences or paragraphs as personal creations but as impersonal prose that must be cleaned up, polished, shortened, tightened, made more active, etc.

If you have a difficult time accomplishing this, try my second trick: Put your writing project away for as long as possible. Sometimes I have only a few hours or a day before I have to begin editing it. Other time I can close the document and not reopen it on my computer for a week or more. The longer you wait to reread your words, the less attached you will feel about them. Sometimes I’ve come back a few weeks later and read what I wrote and wondered if I was even the one who wrote the piece!

Next, edit the first time through looking for as many errors or things to improve upon as you can– grammar, passive sentences, content issues, structure, etc. With each consecutive editing, pick one issue to focus upon. For example, the next time you edit the piece, read for transitions. The next time, check for passive sentences, then for tense issues. This will help you avoid missing a particular problem in one or two areas of your piece.

My best editing tool comes into play when I need to cut words to meet a word count, which, as I’ve said, I must do quite often. Even if you haven’t exceeded a word count, go through your manuscript as if you need to cut at least 300 words or more. Look at every sentence to see how you can reduce the number of words you have used and make every word work to its utmost capacity.

Then, if you can, put the piece away for another day or two. Read it one last time, this time, aloud. This will help you catch anything you might have missed. If you don’t have time for all of these steps, use as many as possible, and then use this one.

Blogger's Note: I'll be in the air traveling tomorrow all day and will try to post a blog at some point, if possible. If I don't get to a spot where it's possible to post, look for a new blog on Wednesday. There will be no blog on Thanksgiving;I'm off for the holiday. And, I'm traveling again on Friday, but I'll try to post something when I return home. Please bear with my sporadic blogging during this holiday week. Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Nonfiction Writer Turned Speaker

Okay, so this blog isn’t really about nonfiction writing. It’s about speaking – speaking about what you write as a means of promoting yourself and your writing projects (books). I’m choosing this topic for one reason: I recently discovered that I didn’t know enough about it, and I had to go searching for information. So, I’d like to share that information with you.

As I’ve mentioned before, we nonfiction writers need to develop a platform, and we do this by either writing enough, speaking enough, teaching enough, blogging enough – doing something enough so that lots of people either know who we are or we build a big enough mailing list that we are able to promote our books successfully. In other words, we can sell our books to all these people who know us or who are on our mailing list. Speaking represents one of the most common ways for writers to build their platforms.

I realize that some writers are reclusive and may not enjoy being around large groups of people, let alone getting up in front of them and speaking to them. I also realize that some writers – including me – would rather be writing than speaking.

Now, I do enjoy speaking and teaching, but I have sometimes felt a bit out of integrity when I’ve called myself a “speaker” or “teacher” since I know that what I really am is a “writer.” I simply speak about what I write. As speaker or teacher I’m supposed to be an “expert” on whatever I’m speaking about, yet I normally feel like I know just a little bit about my subject – just the little bit I wrote about. But I guess that’s must my “stuff.” Let’s move on…

Let me get back to the point of this blog: My agent keeps asking me how much money I want to earn from my speaking. I’ve been giving him a huge, pie-in-the-sky figure, but, in fact, until recently I’ve had no idea what I could actually earn speaking. I do speak here and there and as often as I can. Many times I speak for free, and because I speak on a “spiritual” topic I tend to speak in small churches and synagogues where the pay, when there is any, is pretty low. Sometimes I speak or teach at conferences, and then I’m lucky to get my expenses paid. I do most of this for the sake of promotion. When I realized that he thought I was a bit crazy or misled in my beliefs, I decided maybe I should actually find out what I could get paid to go out and speak.

I realized, however, that no one actually talks to writers about this. To discover anything about speaking, you have to treat yourself like a speaker and join a speakers bureau or the National Speakers Association (NSA), take a class on speaking or at least begin doing research on speaking. This begins to open the doors of information.

While I did not join any such group or class, I did begin doing research and I asked a friend if I could join her mastermind group, which consisted of four or five women who focused on sharing leads and information on speaking. Prior to the first meeting, I contacted one of the other women in the group who knew me and who I knew did a lot of speaking. I asked her what she thought I should be charging for my speaking services. I was shocked when she replied, “$1,500.”

“Do you think I can even ask this of a synagogue with a small budget?” I replied.

She said, “Your fee should be $1,500. If they can’t pay you that, see what they can pay you. Ask them what their budget is. If they can’t pay you that much, accept $500. That should be your minimum payment.”

Well, that was a starting point, I thought, although I was still reeling from the first amount.

I then contacted someone I had met once who was a member of the NSA. I asked her about speaking fees, and she sent me a chart that broke speaking payment down into levels. This was most helpful and gave me something concrete to work from when it came to seriously considering what to charge. I can’t share the whole chart, since it contained a copyright, but I can tell you that the levels ranged from beginning speakers, who were unpaid, to part-time speakers, who were paid $100-850, to non-professional speakers, who were paid $1,000-2,000, to professional, full-time speakers, who were paid $4,000-9,000, to celebrity and famous speakers, who were paid between $10,000 to $25,000+.

At this point, I still speak for free and for expenses on many occasions, because I am still trying to build my platform. I speak on a regular basis at a small church where I’m paid $125 – their standard fee. However, with every addition “gig” that I put on my list of recently speaking engagements, I know that I am moving closer and closer to being able to charge more. I have now set up my own desired speaking fee schedule, and while I am willing to work within most organizations’ budgets, I do plan on earning that $1,500 (or close to it) when I go out and speak in the not too distant future.

So, now you don’t have to wonder about what to charge as a speaker. You can transform yourself from a writer into a speaker with less questions and lack of information than I experienced.

Now, if you have a fear of speaking or need help with your public speaking ability, I suggest you join Toastmasters, a speaking class, NSA, or some other group that will support you. And go out and begin speaking. I found that the best way to get over my nerves and get better at speaking was, as the Nike ads says, to just do it. That same little church has a small congregation, and they asked me to come every few months and to speak on a different topic each time. I showed up, gave it my best shot, tried different things, and eventually began to feel comfortable and confident. Now, when I go to new places to speak, that same level of comfort and confidence tends to come with me. So, if nothing else, get some experience. And ask for feedback; people are happy to tell you how to improve on your presentation. Or, ask someone to video tape you while you speak. Watching the video afterwards provides a wonderful learning tool.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Dream of Landing an Literary Agent

Whether you write nonfiction or fiction writer, you’ve probably dreamt of finding a literary representation – landing an agent. I know I did. While I did approach some publishers with my book proposals, more often than not I sent those very same proposals out to agents. It took me many years of sporadically searching (six or eight), but last year I finally got the good news: an agent wanted to represent me. It was my dream come true – and continues to be.

Sometimes friends would ask me why I bothered looking for an agent, especially since I’d have to give up a percentage of my hard earned money to that agent. The answer had two parts, although the second representing the real reason: 1) An agent can get my proposal into the hands of editors at large publishing houses that I can’t even approach and can get it noticed by editors in mid-sized publishing houses that I can approach but where I might otherwise go unnoticed. 2) I want a business partner – someone who will help me build my career, support me in my endeavors, direct me down the right path when I’m not sure which way to turn, make sure my interests are protected, and be there to celebrate with me when I succeed because that success will be partially their own as well.

I love having an agent, and actually I have benefited by being with a very small agency run by a husband and wife team, because I seem to have gotten two agents for the “price” of one. Although I don’t have constant contact with them, I know they are there when I have questions, and I love knowing that they represent me and are sending out my work. (Well, at the moment they aren’t sending out my work, but we’ll get to that in a minute.) I feel they represent “me,” not just my work, and that they believe in me as a writer and as a person. I couldn’t ask for more.

Now, I’m writing this blog today to dispel a misconception about having an agent. Having an agent does not mean that your work will sell. It does not mean you will definitely get a publishing contract for your book or a large advance. I say this, because, like a lot of writers, I lived in a dream world for a while where I imagined that having an agent meant these things would happen.

It’s not wonder I did, though. I went from having no agents in 2006 to briefly having three agents in 2007. Yes, three. I was signed by the first agent in March. Just before the Book Expo America (BEA), I was signed by a second agent for a project my first agent did not want to represent; it was not something in her area of expertise and she wasn’t excited about it. In addition, I had another book project I was excited about, and the first agent agreed to have an agent in her firm represent me and the project at the BEA as well. I’m proud to say, therefore, that I had three agents representing me and my three projects at the BEA this year.

You’d think with three agents -- really good agents with great track records -- I’d have sold a book, right? Wrong.

All three projects currently are sitting on my desk waiting for me to peddle them. Well, one of them is waiting for proposal and first-two-chapters rewrite so I can then send it off to a different agent (one that handles young adult books, which my agents does not). Another is being considered by a publishing house after I sent it there myself. And the third is waiting for me to complete a proposal update and my Write Nonfiction in November project, which is something I want to enclose in the proposal package, so I can begin sending it out to small publishing houses. In other words, all my projects came home to me despite representation by a literary agent.

Now, I’m not saying agents are worthless. I’m just saying, don’t think that just because you have an agent, you will sell a book. You have to have a book idea and proposal worth selling. And you have to find the right publisher. Remember that agents most often only peddle proposals to medium to large publishing houses, because the advances from these are large enough to make it worth their while financially. Agents make their living off of the percentage they get when they sell a book (and later off a percentage of royalties – if there are any). That’s how it works. Just because these particular publishing house say “no” to your book project, however, does not mean that some other smaller publisher will feel the same way. Some really successful books have started out with smaller publishing houses (or self-published) and later when they became best-sellers the big publishing houses came along and purchased the rights to publish them.

Despite my projects coming home to me, I’m still happy to have my agents. They are just about to sit down with me and discuss my other projects and ideas, where I’m going and how they can help me get there. We’re going to evaluate how much time I need to take promoting one of my book projects before they can begin talking about it to editors at publishing houses. We’re going to take a look at what I’ve been doing to develop a platform and what else I can do to make myself more attractive to publishers. I wouldn’t be able to have these conversations with these knowledgeable, experienced and respected publishing professionals if they weren’t my agents. They see my future better than I can, and they have a better idea of what I need to do to make that future a present reality.

I highly recommend holding on to your dream of finding an agent. Just make sure your dream is an accurate one, and then make it come true with hard work, perseverance and, above all else, good ideas and good writing.

Writing in Small Time Incriments

As anyone who has been following this blog may have noticed, I fell down on the job these last two days. I blame it on having too much editing work, too much non-work stuff to handle, too many promotional projects with deadlines I had to meet, a sick kitty, and just too little time in general.

You can imagine, therefore, that not much nonfiction writing has been happening over the last few days. Actually, I've been writing this blog when I should have been working on my nonfiction project, but I won't complain...It's late (almost 1 a.m.), but I wanted to take just a minute to mention that you can get a lot of writing done in very small time increments. So, don't let lack of time stop you from getting your project done.

Yesterday I was stuck waiting for my daughter to finish her swim practice. I had planned on working on an editing project for a client while I waited, but traffic was horrendous and I ended up with only 15 minutes to work rather than an hour. Editing at that point was no longer an option. Instead, I worked on my nonfiction writing project. In 15 minutes I managed to write a whole page of copy. (I admit, I'm a fast writer. During NaNoWriMo two years ago, I would write 800 words in about 45 minutes.)

Anyway, I'm writing this short post just to encourage you to write whenever you have a few minutes. You'd be amazed at how much you can get written in a short time, and all those short writing periods add up to a finished project in the end.

That's it for tonight...or this morning.

(By the way, I wrote this in under 10 minutes.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Query Letters: E-mail or Snail Mail

Query letters represent a necessity in the world of nonfiction writing. If you want to get your writing published, you have to know how to write a query letter, and you have to, of course, send it out to the correct person. There used to be no choice about how to do the latter. You put your letter into an envelope, addressed it, put a stamp on it, took it to the post office, and mailed it. These days, in many cases you have the option of composing an e-mail instead, typing in the correct e-mail address and then simply hitting the "send" button.

I published a comment on one of my blogs from a writer who told me she had sent out an e-mailed query of just a few lines for a book project to five agents prior to sending a full-length query to more agents. I was surprised but thought she had quite a bit of gumption to approach her query in that fashion. Five lines is short. Really short. Most query letters are a page long and contain three to four paragraphs describing the book project, it's market and why the author is the right person to write the book.

I find book and article query writing a daunting task. I hate the formality of it and the supposed need to fit everything onto one page. Like this author, I have broken the rules on occasion, although I tend to go the other way. In fact, one of my book projects recently achieved consideration from a publisher with a two-page query letter that included at least two paragraphs you wouldn’t find mentioned in any query formula. I’ve never tried a five-line query to an agent or publisher, though, but it sounds a lot easier than a full-page or even a two-page query. (By the way, writing a two-page query is easier; it’s hard and time-consuming to cram everything you want to say and are supposed to say about your book project into a one page letter and still leave room for the date and your signature.)

I find sending queries to agents and publishers by e-mail much easier than sending them by snail mail. I find this especially true when proposing article idea to magazines, newsletter or e-zines. And once you know the editor, shooting off a short and witty e-mail becomes easy. E-mail is a friendlier and less formal method of communication. That doesn’t mean that I don’t approach agents and publishers – especially those I’ve never contacted before – with a fair degree of respect and formality. Yet, I can do this with a bit lighter tone.

An added benefit of e-mailed query letters comes with the response, which you get more quickly than if you sent the letter by snail mail. This is very helpful. You can wait weeks, and sometimes months, to get a snail mail (or e-mail) response to your snail mail query letter. If you aren’t sending your query out simultaneously, meaning to more than one agent, publisher or magazine at a time, this can really hold up your progress when it comes to actually getting your project published.

When sending e-mailed queries, you still have to be careful of your grammar and spelling, however. I sometimes edit for someone else who has an editorial services company, and she called me on an e-mail I sent to a new client just today. She didn’t like how I began my e-mail (too informal and not grammatically correct – even though I’ve seen this salutation used often in e-mails), and I had included a P.S. in which she noted I had a typo – one missed letter. I had forgotten to run Spellchecker. Oops. It’s easy to get lazy with e-mail and assume no one will care or notice if there is a slight mistake. Believe me, while my client, who needs an editor, might not have noticed, an agent or publisher will notice.

Personally, I’ve always wished I could simply pick up the phone and tell an agent, publisher or editor about my book project or article idea. I’ve almost never had someone turn my idea down when I told them about it in person. My query letters, on the other hand, have not enjoyed as much success.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Promote Your Book -- and Yourself -- with Online Articles

You can gain exposure for yourself and your books by using your nonfiction writing ability to write articles and “news releases” (short articles) that you post to online article directories and distribution services. You can also submit them to e-zines, which represents a more targeted approach. I’ve done this consistently for more than a year, and if you Google my name, you’ll find load of entries. Not only that, if you search for any of the many subjects about which I’ve written – all of which pertain to the books I’m trying to promote – you’ll likely find something I’ve written on that very subject.

Let’s start with e-zines. These are magazines published on the Internet. Some print magazines also have e-zines, and sometimes these carry different articles. I tend to go for the e-zines that are published only on line and that carry articles solely on topics related to my books. Therefore, you can often find my articles in or The latter pays me a little for my articles; the former does not, but it affords me its 3,000 unique visitors a day and a link to my web site. That’s great exposure and publicity, especially since my bio mentions my book or books.

As for article directories, many of these are free, and you can submit to them yourself. This can be very time consuming, however. Instead of doing this myself, I choose to use a service called (There are others out there.), which costs me $37.00 per month for unlimited article postings per month. They are sticklers about what you post – no outright promotional stuff that sounds like a press release, for instance, but they then submit it to a huge number of article directories for you. (There is some upfront work involved; you have to get a Yahoo e-mail account – or some place where the tremendous amount of posted articles will show up – yes, other people’s articles arrive in your inbox -- and give it to all the directories, which takes a lot of time. Once it is done, though, it’s quick and easy. I never even look in that Yahoo e-mail box, by the way. I have to say that the upfront work has deterred me from leaving the service and trying another. I wouldn’t want to start all over again if I came back to them!) I am happy with the number of places I find my articles published, and I seem to get a lot of web site traffic from these listings.

Another service can be used to submit articles all over the Internet; I can’t even begin to tell you where all your news release will go, but boy it goes. It’s called They offer a range of services, the cheapest being $200. I posted a news release there last December, and it received 82,000 hits! My web traffic increased quite a bit, and I did find part of the news release used in a newspaper article in the South. I was hoping to enroll some people in a teleseminar, however, and that didn’t happen. Lots of people I know swear by, but it isn’t cheap. I’m planning to use it to promote a teleseminar a friend of mine and I are running this January. We’ll split the cost, and see if we get some enrollment this time. Be sure when you write your release, however, that you use lots of key words, so people can find your article.

The more exposure you get online, the better when it comes to building your platform. You just never know what will come of it. I spent a year writing news releases almost every week and paying money to submit them on line or giving them away for free. I paid to have myself listed as an "expert" on, where I can post four news releases a month and have them read by journalists. I thought it was for nothing, even though I knew that I'd plastered myself all over the Internet and increased my web site visitors from an average of 500/month to between 2500 and 4000/month in a year. (My unique visitors went from an average of 300/month to an average of 2500-3000/month in a year.) Oh, some lady did mention something I'd said in a blog once and, as I said, one part of a news release ended up in a newspaper article, and there were all those pieces picked up by e-zines. But nothing big happend. The media weren't calling me as an expert for interviews.

Then, after a little more than a year, suddenly things started to happen. I was contacted by a regional magazine for an interview for an article. I was asked to do a podcast interview (for a show with 38,000 listeners/month), and it looks like I'll be asked back as a regular guest. And I received a request to participate in a virtual book launch party wehre a possible 500,000 people might see my name and face -- and download my free gifts (related to my books). Then someone asked me to write a blurb for the back of their book, and now I'm speaking with someone about writing a piece for an anthology that is closely related in subject matter to one of my book projects.

It's taken more than a year, but my platform is building a little bit at a time, and I'm becoming an "expert." So use your nofiction writing skills to promote yourself online. It's time consuming and hard work, and it costs a bit of money, but I do think it pays off in the end.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Internet as Your Promotional and PR Resource

These days publishing houses expect their authors to put up the money for most of the publicity and public relations necessary to make any book a success. That can be an expensive proposition for any author, especially since writers can’t rely on advances big enough to cover these costs. It seems the more money and effort we are expected to dish out to help sell our books, the less money and effort our publishing houses dish out to help us do so.

So, what’s a writer to do? Take advantage of the most underutilized (and free) writer’s resource out there – the Internet. Despite the fact that it’s been around long enough to have become part of a writer’s way of life, we have not yet begun using the Internet as the resource it will one day be for our publicity and PR needs. Yet, even now it can provide the cheapest publicity and PR campaign available – all from the comfort of our homes.

These days best-selling authors, like Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Jack Canfield, promote their books while sitting at home in sweats and slippers. Using their computers, telephones and podcasting and teleconferencing technology, they teach teleseminars, do radio and Internet interviews, and answering questions from readers and fans all over the world without ever leaving home.

Many authors have sent themselves to best-seller status using e-mail “blasts” – e-mailed letters asking people to purchase their books from on a particular day and offering gifts from other authors in return for doing so. This tactic works well, especially if you can get enough “partners” to agree to send your letter to their e-mail list. Usually those offering gifts will do this for you, as might some other people. If you sell between 200 and 600 books on a given day – and no other books sells more, will give you the title of best-selling author and your book the title of best seller. You can do the same thing for Of course, best-seller status does a lot for a book’s promotion, but the e-mail blast itself does the trick by telling people about your book and enticing them to purchase it.

About four years ago, San Francisco writer and bibliophile Kevin Smokler organized the first virtual book tour for an author. His idea was to link up authors with bloggers. The underpromoted authors provide the bloggers with interviews, original essays, and such and the bloggers provide book reviews and content related to the book. This idea has expanded to include author taking over weblogs for a day and giving readings, interviews and discussions via video and web-conferencing as well through online chats, discussion boards and chat-rooms. In most cases, readers and authors can interact at any time from any place. Many authors are using virtual book tours these days, but many are not.

The newest idea to hit the Internet and the publishing world comes in the form of a virtual book launch party. Not too many authors are privy to those fancy and expensive book launch parties thrown by their publishers these days, but one author decided she wanted one even if she had to throw it for herself. So, self-published novelist Elle Newmark will host the second-ever virtual book launch party on November 27th when she releases Bones of the Dead at a party to which over 500,000 guests will be invited. She’ll be asking people to purchase her book from on that day, and if they do, they’ll gain entry to the “party.” There they’ll find a plethora of “party favors” (gifts offered by her promotional partners – including me), “food for thought,” pleasant music, and other fun things that go along with the renaissance theme of her book. (I tell you what, this woman knows how to publicize her book. This weekend she was out at the Southern California Renaissance Faire handing out invitations to her virtual book launch party. We could all learn something from her. In fact, I think she plans to write a book about how to gain promotional partners and promote books in this manner.) To check out Elle and her party, go to

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about how to promote yourself and your book online using free article directories. This is important if you are doing promotion and PR for your book or if you are building a platform. I've used this method, which is not free, quite successfully. If nothing else, my name is pretty well plastered all over the Internet.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Write What You Know or Know About What You Write

I want today to give nonfiction writers a pat on the back for taking what they know and putting it down on paper. I spend a lot of time editing books written by authors who have come up with a great idea of their own, fleshed it out and put it down on paper. They may have done a lot of research or learned from a variety of teachers, but in the end they came up with a new take on the information they were given. They had the wherewithal and the gumption to take their own "invention" and run with it in the form of a book. That book may have come out of the workshops they have been teaching or the lectures they have been giving, but in the end they took what they knew and wrote a book (and possibly some articles as well). They deserve credit for that – not just for the writing but for writing what they know.

I’m not saying that fiction writers don’t do research or conduct interview or put what they know down on paper. They do. My novel was inspired by a real-life event as well as a place I knew well. One of my favorite novelists started out as a researcher and bases her stories on extensive research, but in the end fiction writers make up their stories.

In journalism school, I was constantly told to “write what you know.” I think this represents great advice, but I believe a really good nonfiction writer can write about anything. If you are good at doing research and conducting interviews, you can learn any subject well enough to understand it so you can write about it. You can become the expert on whatever you are asked to write about.

During my career as a nonfiction writer, I’ve written about life insurance tax law, ascension, same-day surgery, stepfamily dynamics, laser surgery, business, celebrities, bird migration, corporate communications, employee relations, parenting issues, marriage, allergies, the death of a pet, Jewish spirituality, nature activities, corporate community relations, legal issues… You get the idea. I wasn’t an expert on most of these subjects when I began writing about them, but I was when I finished.

So, I say, write about what you know, or know about what you write. Either way, when you know something, write about it. And then commend your self for doing so, especially if it’s your idea and you’ve written a whole book on your own unique knowingness about something.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Writing Long vs. Writing Short

My husband calls me the Queen of Verbosity. When it comes to writing (or speaking, I suppose), I’m never at a loss for words. In fact, I rarely suffer from so-called writer’s block. I’ve always got something to say – usually too much to say.

I bring this up, because I swore I would begin posting some shorter blogs. I simply cannot keep writing so much every day here and keep up with my editing work load and actually write and complete my own nonfiction project this month. However, as soon as I made this oath, the next thing I knew I had written another long blog (the one I posted last).

Yesterday, I didn’t write a blog at all. That’s really short! (I was going to write this blog yesterday, but I just didn’t get a chance).

I believe writing long serves a nonfiction writer – and probably a fiction writer as well -- more than writing short, and here’s why. I find it easier to cut and slash and tighten than to have to write more once I’ve finished. You see, if I’ve finished writing, I must have run out of things to write about. (Yes, I do sometime run out of words to put on paper.) For example, if my contract for an article requires 2,000 words and I’ve only written 1,500, I don’t want to have to write another 500 words when I’ve said all I’ve I had to say on the topic already. Those words will be forced and the content won’t be as strong. Plus, writing more might require me doing more research or conducting more interviews.

If, however, I’ve written 2,500 – a much more common problem of mine – and I only need 2,000, I can usually find at least 300 or 400 words to cut that are unnecessary, drivel, redundant, or off the point. More often than not, I can slash whole sentences or paragraphs and solve my overwriting problem. If after this process I find I have written such wonderful copy that I am still left with 100-200 words to cut, I usually can get rid of these by simply tightening sentences and paragraphs. This takes a whole lot more time, but I don’t mind. You know why? When I’m done looking at every sentence and every word in every sentence to see how I can reduce the number of words used, my copy is SO MUCH BETTER. Really.

Also, I have found that editors usually like getting a little more copy than they need. They really hate having to ask a writer to send them more copy because they didn’t get the agreed-upon amount, but they don’t mind cutting a little bit themselves if they get more than the agreed-upon amount. (I was an editor on several publications, and I can assure you that getting too little copy from a writer doesn’t ingratiate you to an editor.) And if they find themselves with some extra space in their magazine or newspaper, they are usually pleased to have an extra 200 words on hand or a sidebar that you just happened to send along. (By the way, you can sometimes earn yourself a little extra money by offering an editor a sidebar, and it might simply be those 300-400 words you just cut from your original article to meet the required word count.)

Well…I could go on…but I won’t. I’ll honor my oath. Except that I wanted to tell you… (You also have to know when to stop writing – when you (and your manuscript) are done. That’s an important thing for a nonfiction writer to learn.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Articles are Nonfiction, Too

I focus so much of my time on editing my client's nonfiction books and on writing and promoting my own nonfiction book projects that I sometimes forget that I'm trained as a magazine journalist. I still love writing articles, though, and I often use my skills as a journalist. I love to query magazines with ideas and to get assignments. I enjoy conducting the interviews and then taking the information I've compiled and putting it together into a cohesive and interesting article. And I enjoy seeing it in print, not just on the screen of my computer.

I use my journalism skills in other ways as well, including every time I promote myself on the Internet by posting free "news releases" to e-zine directories. I do this a few times a month. While it's good for business, I get a lot more satisfaction out of writing an article that appears in good old fashioned print and for which I receive a big fat check.

There's nothing like writing an essay or an article, submitting it to a magazine or newspaper and then opening up that publication to find your story published there -- hopefully word for word -- with your byline showing off the fact that you wrote every one of those words. And then to get paid for doing what you love...well, that's even better.

And there are so many different types of articles to choose from. Profiles, news stories, trend pieces, human interest articles, personal essays, and opinion pieces -- take your pick. Depending upon what you like to write about, you can surely find one or two article forms that you'll enjoy using and numerous magazines, newspapers, trade journals, or e-zines that will be happy to have you write for them.

If you aren't concerned about pay, of if you are looking to promote yourself or you other work (such as your nonfiction book), writing for the numerous e-zines provides great exposure. If you're just starting out as a writer and need bylines and clips to prove that you can write and meet deadlines and article specifications, try writing for small or regional publications. They usually like "free" writers, and working for them can be a fun way to become a nonfiction freelance writer. Additionally, you might try writing for trade journals published on your area of expertise.

As I said, I interned every summer in high school and in college without pay. I ended up with some great clips that helped me land my first few jobs after graduation.

I teach Writing for Publication classes that expose attendees to a variety of article forms. As a magazine journalist, however, I love writing profiles of interesting people and human interest articles. I also love to pen a good essay, which is an article form I did not learn in college. Essays fit my lifestyle these days; I'm usually very short on time, and they don't require me to do any research or interviews nor are do they have to be too long. My life experience is enough fodder to fill several pages with type since I've lots to say about what happens to me, why it happens to me and what others can learn from what happens to me. Getting paid for essays is fun. I write something off the top of my head and someone pays me for it. What could be better?

And as long as I didn't make it up, it's still nonfiction. (Ah...Those of you writing memoirs remember that.)

So, if you are trying to figure out what to write this month, try an article. It's doable in a month, that's for sure. Pick a topic and a form, then do whatever research is necessary, and start writing. You can easily finish an article in the days left in November.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to work on MY writing project...which, between writing this blog and my other blog and editing a book for a client, seems to be falling by the wayside. And I am determined to finish it before the end of the month.

(Okay...I technically wrote twice today, since yesterday's blog was written after midnight this morning. I guess that makes up for technically missing Tuesday. If nothing else, I'm writing lots of nonfiction in this blog, that's for sure!)

My New Attitude About Self-publishing

Today’s blog will have to be short. It’s actually already tomorrow, so I’ve officially missed today’s (yesterday’s) blog. Whatever. It’s 12:40 a.m., and I’m ready for bed.

I never wanted to self-publish my work. As I’ve waited for query after query to be answered by agents and publishers, and years have gone by with my projects unwritten and unpublished, friends and acquaintances have asked me, “Why don’t you just self-publish?”

“I don’t want to.”

Sounds like a simple enough answer, right? Well, I didn’t. But then I went ahead a produced a few booklets (short books) to sell at the back of the room when I was speaking. Of course, I was speaking on the topics of the book I was trying to get published, so the booklets were like mini versions of these books. And why was I speaking on these topics? To build a platform. I didn’t see these booklets as self-publishing ventures, but they were.

Recently my friend, Karen, got all excited about e-book publishing. She got me on board and I did some research and realized that it’s pretty simple. And pretty cheap, too, compared to what I pay at Kinko’s, my personal publishing house. (Michael, the night manager there is my publisher; he seems pretty vested in my success.)

It wasn’t until I got that bee in my bonnet that I wrote about yesterday, however, that my attitude about self-publishing really changed. When I decided that I just wanted to start writing again, when I decided that I was tired of wondering who the heck I was and to be who I knew I was, and to write, it dawned on me: If no one reads what I write, what the sense in writing?

I’ve always wanted to help others through my writing. How can I do that if they can’t read my writing?

I could be sitting her until doomsday waiting for an agent to sell my book to a publisher or for a publisher to buy my book from me. I’m better off going ahead and publishing my book any old way I can. Then at least someone might read it. At least they’ll have a chance to read it.

And, get this…here’s the really great part. If I sell enough books, a publisher might actually come looking for me! Yes, that’s right. If I can prove that my book will sell, the publishers will be knocking on my door for a change!

Plus, in the process of selling the book and promoting the books through talks, workshops, teleseminars, articles, etc., I develop – you guessed it – a platform. (Yes, I am back to being a promoter and a marketer.)

I remember now my agent’s husband telling me to go out and promote one of my booklets, which I want to expand into a book. He told me to come back in six months or more when I had done a good job of this. As part of my promotion he suggested that I go ahead and expand the booklet into a book and sell it any form I could – in a binder for $20, as an e-book, as a self-published book on – and in any way I could – back-of –the-room sales, through my web site, special promotions, etc. Funny…at the time I was just annoyed that he wouldn’t peddle the book to publishing houses for me right then and there. Now, I see that I can write the book (be a writer) and publish it (so people can read what I write), and in the process I might actually accomplish that platform he wants or convince a publisher the book will be worth its time and money. And, I might make a lot more money off that book in the process than I might waiting for my royalty checks from a publishing house. (Not to mention that my agent will take a cut out of those checks before I ever see them.)

So, when someone asks me why I don’t self –publish my writing, my answer now will be, “Why don’t I? But I do! Every chance I get.”

(And you should, too.)

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Nonfiction Writer's Identity Crisis

I promised to tell you about my writer’s identity crisis. I’m not sure that fiction writers suffer from this affliction, but I’m fairly sure that many nonfiction writers suffer along with me.

All indicators point to me being a writer, but some days I’m not sure that is who I am.

I have a literary agent – two actually, since my agent’s husband is also an agent. That must mean I’m a writer, right? Actually, I had three agents representing three book projects of mine at the Book Expo America this past year. So, I must be a writer.

I don’t have any books published by publishing houses, but I did have one book contract for about a year, but the book never was published. (That’s a long story not worth going into here…) I have several short books, or booklets, that I’ve self-published. So, I must be a writer.

As I’ve already shared, I have a degree in magazine journalism, and I’ve written for more than 40 different magazines, newsletters and newspapers. I’ve also written for a variety of e-zines, and I’ve had three essays published in three anthologies. So, I must be a writer.

I also work as a freelance non-fiction book editor and coach. I guess that makes me an editor more so than a writer, but it at least shows that I know something about writing. I’ve had several jobs as a magazine editor as well.

So, what’s the problem, you ask? It’s obvious that I’m a writer, you say? Why am I having an identity crisis? Because I spend about 75 percent of my time, if not more, peddling myself as an expert speaker and a teacher or writing news releases and press releases (free articles) and posting them on line or sending them out to the media promoting myself as an expert. These days, I spend very little time, if any writing articles for pay or writing books. (No wonder I wanted to start the Write Nonfiction in November challenge. I needed the challenge myself so I would actually WRITE something.)

Why? Because to become a published author – to have a publisher actually accept one of my book proposals and offer me a contract – I have to have a “platform.” No, not a wooden box or stage to stand on, but a speaking platform from which I can sell my books. I have to be perceived as the expert in my “field,” and I have to become well-known to many people. I have to be able to help market my books through “back of the room sales” at lectures, workshops and talks that are attended by hundreds, if not thousands, of attendees. I have to become a regular guest on radio and television talk shows, so I get lots of media exposure and can tell lots of people about my book. I have to be featured in national magazines or in magazines that pertain to my field of expertise. I have to find creative ways to build a big mailing list or e-mail list to which I can market my book, thus helping sell them over time.

If you still harbor the belief that a publishing house will market and publicize your book for you, think again. While they might do so on a small scale, in today's publishing world, this job has fallen onto the nonfiction writer's shoulders.

Today’s publishing environment demands that we nonfiction writers become expert marketers and publicists -- of ourselves and of our books. If we can’t prove to publishing houses that we can wear these hats as well as our writer’s hats, we can kiss our dreams of that publishing contract goodbye. (Here’s where some of us might want to consider moving over to the fiction side of writing, where none of this platform business applies…)

So, am I a writer or am a marketing and publicity pro? Am I a writer or an expert speaker and media source? Am I a writer or a PR wiz? Mostly these days, I’m the latter in all cases. And that doesn't leave me feeling much like a writer.

But…I am determined to be a writer. A nonfiction writer. I set out to help people through my writing, and my writing serves no one if it goes unread. Therefore, I will write, and I will publish. Where once I said I would never self-publish (although I have on a small scale), I will if necessary.

There are so many publishing avenues available to writers today, no reason exists for us to wait around for someone to tell us we’ve proven we can be something other than a writer so they'll publish our work. Our writing should speak for itself and be published on its own merits. I, for one, am tired of waiting around for someone to decide that my platform is big enough rather than that my book idea or my writing is good enough. I'm tired of being told to be someone I'm not. I’m off to write...because writer's write. Surely in the process my identity crisis will come to an end, and I'll feel like a writer once again. I'll remember who I am -- a nonfiction writer.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Why I like Nonfiction Writing

As you know, I had dreams of being a fiction writer. My most recent foray into fiction during the 2005 NaNoWriMo event was loads of fun, and I was so excited to have agents interested in that novel. I remember running around at the San Francisco Writers Conference mumbling to myself, “I’m going to sell a novel. I’m going to be a novelist.” And I was thinking how easy it was and how much fun and how maybe fiction was the place with the action when it came to being a writer.

I guess you could chalk it up to rationalization or denial since my manuscript came back rejected and marked for major editorial work, but in returning to what I know and what I’ve being doing for so many years – nonfiction, I found myself newly in-love with my chosen writing genre. You see, getting away from nonfiction briefly gave me a new perspective and reminded me of what I enjoy about it so much.

And what is that, you want to know? (Well, even if you don’t want to know, I’m going to tell you, since that’s the subject of my blog for today.) I love nonfiction, because it allows me to explore subjects that are of interest to me and to then share what I learn with others. More specifically, as a magazine journalist and as a writer who likes to wrestle with issues in my life or subjects that excite me, I get to take this issues and subjects and research them, speak to experts about them, find answers and solutions to them, and come up with ideas and theories related to them. Then, I get to offer what I’ve learned and discovered and put to use successfully in my life to others through my writing (articles, booklets, books, and essays). This makes my work both stimulating and rewarding.

One of the best parts of my job involves interviewing experts. Often, I sit alone in my office writing. Other times, I get to talk to the most fascinating people (usually by phone). I get it in my head to pursue a certain subject, and then I get to contact some of the most interesting people. Often they are well-known people in their fields or the authors of best-selling books or simply individuals that I respect. I get to pick their brains and to learn with them. Sometimes I get to tell them my ideas and to ask them for feedback and for help figuring out if my premises are valid. And sometimes when I finish an interview with them, they thank ME for calling them and engaging them in such a thought-provoking discussion. And then I get to take the information I've gotten during the interview, mull over it, figure out what I think about it, and put it down on paper. Basically, I share with others what I have learned in the hope of helping them in some way.

In the process, my dream of being a self-help writer is realized.

As I’ve grow and changed, my interests have grown and changed with me. I get to pursue those interests through my writing. For instance, much of my writing has a spiritual bent or deals with issues of reaching full human potential. So, I’ve become a spiritual writer and a human potential writer. I get to be a writer of whatever interests me. And again, I get to share that with others and, hopefully to help them in the process.

I get to research and learn about things that interest me and that help me solve problems in my own life. Then I get to write about these subjects so I can tell others what I've learned so they benefit as well. What could be better?

I’ve learned that part of who I am is a problem solver, and through my writing I solve problems. I see a problem in my own life, such as the fact that my children changed schools many times, and I want to know how that affects them. I query a magazine about an article on this subject; they accept my query. I interview experts who tell me what affects changing schools has on children and how to counter those affects – how to make this into a positive experience. I take this information back to my family and to my children. I help them. I also put all this information into an article for the regional parenting magazine, which publishes it. I get paid and the magazine’s readership benefits from my problem and the research I did to try and solve it. I can even take that article and research and try to sell it a second time in a spin off article to a national magazine and help more parents help their children. How good is that?

I love the idea of creative thought and the Law of Attraction. I'm interested in Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah. I had an idea about how creative thought could be applied to some Kabbalistic principles. So, I began to interview some experts. And then I began to write a booklet, that I hope will one day be a book. I self-published that little booklet, and I began to teach and speak in conjunction with that little booklet, which my agent says really could one day be a book. And I've set up more interviews with more experts to discuss my idea, so I can begin expanding and improving on my little booklet and on my knowledge of this subject. Much of my time is spent learning more about a subject I love, putting into practice a theory that I came up with and that work, teaching others about this practice, writing about what I have learned, talking about what I know, etc. What could be more fun?

I think you get the idea. I love what I do. Writing nonfiction is great. I wouldn’t change my career…but I will one day go back and finish that novel just for fun.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Why and How I Became a Nonfiction Writer

I thought I’d start out on this third day of November by telling anyone reading this blog why and how I became a nonfiction writer – in case you are interested.

I’ve been a nonfiction writer since I was about 16 years old, and (I hate to admit it) I’m now 47. Actually, I had dreams of being a novelist back in high school. That’s what I thought it meant to be a “writer.” I was an avid reader, and I had been writing (and illustrating) stories since I was in middle school (maybe earlier). I had a romantic notion of spending my time penning away fabulous stories like those written by Ayn Rand and Emily Bronte. Then my mother gave me a reality check. (Mom’s are good at that.”

“Only really good writers can make a living as novelists,” she said in her practical fashion.

I suppose, in retrospect, she was right. Although, sometimes I pick up a novel and read it and wonder… In any case, it wasn’t long after she spoke those words that I decided to take a high school journalism class that set me on my career path. Taught by a real letch (he slept with several students and married two…and, yes, was thrown out of teaching position) with a knack for inspiring kids to write, he showed me that I could write articles, that I could tell stories using nonfiction and that I could influence and help people with my writing. I was hooked.

I went on to revive the school’s defunct newspaper and to become a bi-weekly school news columnist for a local newspaper. I then spent my summers doing unpaid internships for other local papers in a quest for clippings and by lines to help build a portfolio that would get me into college. Accepted by two great journalism schools, Boston University and Syracuse University, I enrolled in Syracuse’s prestigious S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications as a magazine journalism major.

There I receive a truly excellent education that thoroughly prepared me for every journalism position I accepted after graduation…although I only accepted a few. I had dream of working in Manhattan for a glossy self-help magazine, such as Self, but a few calls and attempts at getting job interviews made it crystal clear to me that I wouldn’t be pursuing that path. I was told in no uncertain terms that to land an editorial job on any such magazine required agreeing to accept a job as a receptionist first and to then work my way up from there. There was no way after four years of working hard to be an editor and a writer that I was going to answer phones and get coffee. No way.

So, I gave up on that dream and started looking for jobs elsewhere. Within about two months of college graduation, I became the managing editor (minus the title) of a regional magazine in Westchester County, NY, with 15 different editions. I worked for a crazy woman who expected perfection from this newbie right out of college. I didn’t last there for more than a few months, if that. (I can’t even remember; it was an awful experience, except that I got some great editorial experience and some super by lines.) I then got a job as an associate editor on another regional publication, this one with two editions – one for Westchester County and one for Long Island, NY. I was only responsible for Westchester County. I again got some great experience editing and also writing. My clipping file grew, and about a year and half later I took a job in Manhattan – but not for a magazine. This time I went to work for a corporation; I became the associate editor of corporate communications for The Equitable Life Assurance Society of America. This was a total change of pace. Not only did my responsibilities expand beyond editing and writing to layout and photography, but I got to travel with the CEO to Washington, D.C. and to visit other Equitable offices and to interview top lawyers and executives in the company. I also put together the company’s first employee annual report.

From my fast-paced life in New York City, one and half years later I moved to – of all places – Bartlesville, OK, to work with a corporate communications consultant who was publishing four newsletters. I became his managing editor responsible for editing all copy, writing a good bit of copy, assigning artwork, and doing the entire layout on the then-new-technology called desktop publishing. (If you want to know how the heck I landed this job…well, that’s a long story. Suffice it to say, beware when your boss sends you off to a dude ranch for a corporate communications seminar. You never know what happens.) This job lasted only a year, since my boss turned out to be almost as crazy in terms of expectations as my first boss. So, I quit and later moved to Atlanta to begin working as a full-time freelance writer. I opened my business, CopyWright Communications, which I moved 10 years later to Batavia, IL, a far-western suburb of Chicago, and then to Los Gatos, CA, where I now live and work.

And that brings us up to date! I consider myself a nonfiction writer, although I did produce that novel during NaNoWriMo two years ago – a childhood dream that I will someday still fulfill (when I have the time and the money to hire myself a good fiction editor). I write nonfiction articles for a variety of magazines – mostly local, and I write nonfiction books of my own. I also edit nonfiction books and articles for other authors. I even teach some classes and teleseminars on writing for publication.

So…that’s it for today. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you why I love nonfiction writing. And then I think I’ll tell you about my recent writer’s identity crisis.