Archive for October, 2013

31 Queries in 31 Days: #28-31

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Striving to finish up the 31 Queries in 31 Days project:

28) Submitted a proposal for a job via Elance, writing a custom poem for a client.

29) Submitted a proposal for a job via Elance, converting children’s stories into publishable short stories for a collection to raise funds for a charity.

30) Submitted a short story to Cricket magazine (one of my favorite magazines as a child).

31) Proposed a product name for a new style of boots, posted by a client on ODesk.com.

And that’s it! And just before midnight, too!

31 Queries in 31 Days: #26 and #27

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Let’s see if I can get this done today… cruising towards the end of the 31 Queries in 31 Days project:

26) Submitted five poems to Found Poetry Review (so excited to find this outlet; I’ve been writing found poetry for years).

27) Submitted five poems to Poetry East.

Ten More Tips for Poets

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Poetry in ink with spatter

Last week I shared my take on an old handout that I found my filing cabinet titled “Facts Every Poet Should Know.” I promised that at a later time I would share my own thoughts on what poets should now, so here is my list.

1) Be wary of scam artists. Let’s face it, there are possibly millions of poet in the world, and many people who would like to take advantage of them. The most important guideline to keep in mind is that, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of poetry anthology sites that publish any poem, provided the poets will pony up $50 or more to pre-order a copy. Be wary of self-proclaimed “agents” who request upfront fees just to review your work or offer writing advice. Agents earn their money from a commission on sales and should not request a dime until they’ve made a sale. Be wary of companies preying on self-publishing authors with excessive prices for editing, book preparation and marketing services. To weed out the worst offenders in the above categories, visit Preditors & Editors as well as WinningWriters.com.

2) Read extensively. Just like it’s important for a musician to listen to music or for an artist to study works of art, it’s essential that poets read poetry. Read not just poetry but other sorts of writing, as well, because the more you expose yourself to, the more you learn about what works and what you’d like to emulate.

3) Pay attention to line breaks. Unless you are writing in a form which dictates when a line will end, you should use line breaks to direct the reader’s attention. Consider the end of a line to be a very short pause, like half a comma, as the eye drops down to the next line. While it is tempting to break lines solely for visual reasons (such as making each line roughly the same length) or to break according to grammatical phrases, I’d encourage you to read your poems aloud and listen to exactly what the line breaks do to the poem. You may find that changing line breaks can turn a drab poem into a fab poem.

4) Know your markets. Before you submit any work to a publication, read a sample issue or two. If the magazine frequently publishes theme issues, drop a quick, professional e-mail to the editor to ask about the upcoming themes. That way you can send your work that has the best chance of being accepted by that publication.

5) Follow the rules, and then break them. If you are writing a form poem, remember to use what Shakespeare called a “prosp’rous departure from form.” This meant he would throw in a couple extra syllables or skip a rhyme if it added to the piece’s impact. If you’re writing in form, stick to the form as much as possible, but look for ways to change it up, because  that can often raise a poem above the mere adherence to form and into true artistry.

6) Kill your babies. Of course, I don’t literally mean to harm your offspring, but you need to keep an open mind when it comes to revising your poem, even if that means cutting a line you love. For the sake of the poem, you might find  a certain line doesn’t belong, or actually detracts from the rest of the poem. But take heart: you can always keep an “outcasts” file where you stick phrases and lines cut from earlier works. I once used such an orphan as the title for another poem, solving two problems.

7) Write what is hardest to say. This was particularly good advice I learned from my grad school instructors. Often we dance around the truth, or we take two or three stanzas to get to the meat of what it is that we really want to say. That’s fine for a first draft, but when you revise, be prepared to cut those intro paragraphs in order to get to the real emotional heart of your poem.

In the same vein, many poets stop poems before they truly reach what they need to write about. In the revision process, it can be helpful to push yourself further and see where that takes you.

8 ) Avoid clichés. This is true for any writing, but for some reason it tends to come up more often in poetry. Perhaps that is because most poets know to avoid using the hackneyed phrases themselves, but they still fall back on overused ideas and phrases. If something sounds too familiar, change it.

9) Nothing is too small or too large to write about. You can find inspiration anywhere, so don’t sit around waiting for the “big idea” to hit you. Take a walk around the neighborhood and make note of what you see. What are your neighbors doing? What does the sky look like? What thoughts emerge, based on what you see? Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m on the move.

10) Be bold. Take chances. Learn. Stretch yourself. Be it subject matter or form, be willing to try new things and see where it leads you.


I would be happy to hear anybody’s thoughts on this list, as well as suggestions for other things that poets need to know. Did I leave anything out?

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31 Queries in 31 Days: #23-25

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Here I am again, close to the end of the month, but I’m determined to pull out a success in the 31 Queries in 31 Days project.

23) Submitted two poems to Hoot Review.

24) Submitted four poems to Literary Mama.

25) Submitted five poems to Paper Darts.

Updates: I received a rejection from “The Georgia Review” as well as from “Fabula Argentea,” which came with comments.

November Writing Challenges

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

For a couple of years, I’ve participated in the National Novel Writing Month’s challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. This year, I’d like to take on two different challenges, instead.

The first is called Project Reutsway. Sponsored by Reuts Publications, it’s an intriguing writing challenge. Each weekly, participants will be given a literary challenge to mash-up two different styles, which they have to complete in three days. Judges will offer commentary, and the weekly winners will be announced on the Reuts blog. At the end of the month, 10-20 winning submissions will be published in a collection with part of the proceeds going to the green charity, Reading Tree/Discover Books, which promotes literacy in the US by keeping books out of landfills, funding library sustainability, providing books to low-income families and more.

Sounds like a great creative challenge that will keep me on my toes, so I’m looking forward to it.

”Project


In addition to the Project REUTSway challenge, I’m going to be participating in Nina Amir’s Nonfiction Writers Rise to the Challenge During NaNonFiWriMo (National Non-Fiction Writer’s Month). This is an idea spearheaded by writer Nina Amir, who is asking non-fiction writers to set their own goals to complete a non-fiction project of any length in November: ranging from an article to a book.

For my project, I will be pulling together the essays and poetry for my new book, “Now with Kung Fu Action Grip.” This, as you might already know, will focus on writings about my son, whose online nickname is Kung Fu Panda.

That book is one of the final perks I need to put together for the Indiegogo campaign I ran this past April, Get the Ringbearer to Illinois, which secured funding for me and KFP to attend a wedding where he had been asked to be the ringbearer.

I like the idea of doing both of these challenges, since one will spur me to write some new material, while the other will help me focus on finishing up a promised perk.

What about you? Are you participating in any writing challenges in November?

Facts Every Poet Needs to Know

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

I’ve been going through papers in my filing cabinet, and I came across a handout called “FACTS EVERY POET NEEDS TO KNOW.” No author or publication is listed, and on the back is a relatively outmoded listing of poetry markets, including mailing addresses but no web site information. The list includes such established literary journals as Carolina Quarterly alongside less expected magazines, such as Cat Fancy and the United Methodist Reporter. I no longer remember where I acquired this handout, but it’s folded in thirds and likely came tucked into an envelope along with some other writing-related book or magazine purchase.

The handout has both good and (in my opinion) quirky/bad advice. Without quoting it in its entirety, I’ll share the main points and my take on them.

  1. Copyright your poems to protect them from infringement. The author advises poets to put a copyright notice on each poem, as follows: © 1990 Author’s Name (The date used is a hint, I suppose, at how long ago I acquired this sheet). The truth is, this is not necessary, since your work is considered copyrighted the minute you write it, without further action. You can register the copyright for an entire manuscript, if desired, by going through the U.S. Copyright Office. However, since it costs $35 per document, it’s better to send a complete collection than to send individual poems. Again, it’s not necessary in order to defend your work in court, provided you can prove in some other way that the work is yours. Moreover, if you include a copyright notification on a poem submission, it will immediately paint you an amateur. After all, by doing so, you are implying that the potential editor is likely to steal your work!
  2. Always follow submission guidelines. This remains good advice: to always read guidelines carefully and understand that different publishers have different rules.
  3. Unless specifically requested, a cover letter is not necessary. Again, I concur. I rarely look at cover letters until AFTER I have made a decision about a work for Wild Violet. However, I do prefer that submissions include a biographical paragraph, which is stated in our guidelines. That makes my work easier when I do opt to publish a poem.
  4. No matter how much a poem is rewritten, it can usually be improved. I completely agree. Like Walt Whitman, who spent his whole life reworking his collection, Leaves of Grass, I constantly revisit old works. If you do the same thing, it’s probably a good practice to date each draft of a poem, so that you can easily track changes in the future. If you work primarily on a computer, you might save each substantially different new version as a separate file name, i.e. DogPoem.v1, DogPoem.v2, DogPoem.v3. Why keep different versions? Because sometimes wordings included in previous drafts may be useful to reinstate or to put in a new poem.
  5. Don’t expect to make a living writing poetry. Sadly, I’d also agree with this statement. I take exception to the author’s advice, though, to “enter as many contests as you can afford.” Although you can count the contest fees as a business expense, think about it like buying a lottery ticket: The likelihood of contests paying off is rather remote. You might actually be better off investing that money towards promoting your craft in other ways, such as buying advertising for your self-published poetry chapbook. A more practical way to make a living through poetry would be to pursue an educational path that would allow you to teach either poetry workshops or classes (or become successful enough as a published poet to be able to secure speaker’s fees — again, a very remote possibility).
  6. There is nothing arrogant about displaying your poetry, whether in the form of a book, a magazine, a framed display or some other art form. The anonymous author of this list says that “Modesty will get you nothing but obscurity,” but I can’t imagine how s/he imagined this point would help promote your poetry. Sure, hanging a framed copy of your poem in your home or office would make a few associates aware of your work, but it’s unlikely to lead to a major awareness of your writing. Perhaps if you have an artist friend who would be willing to sell illustrated poems at craft shows, you might increase your audience, but few people can follow through on such ideas. Personally, I think it’s a little tacky and desperate to hang a framed work of your own poetry in your home or office. A better idea might be to create framed works to give to friends and family as gifts, and let them decide whether to hang them.
  7. A thesaurus is a poet’s best friend. The author suggests using a thesaurus to “increase your word power” and also suggests a rhyming dictionary. I have mixed feelings about this advice, since some of my earliest teenage poems were what I’ve termed “thesaurus poems.” To write them, I thought about a feeling or other words I wanted to include in the poem, and then perused a thesaurus to make a list of words I could use. The resulting poems were cerebral and obscure, and to this day I’m not sure if even I totally understand them. A thesaurus can be useful, however, to find the right word, and I recommend bookmarking both Thesaurus.com and the rhyming dictionary Rhymezone.com.
  8. Punctuation is necessary and important! The author states that the majority of poems can benefit from the proper use of punctuation and even suggests purchasing a handbook on grammar and punctuation. I’d say to take or leave this advice. While using a period to end a thought can be useful, many poets choose to let line breaks substitute for commas, mostly for aesthetic effect. I agree that most poems require at least minimal punctuation, but the exact use still falls in the hands of the poet.
  9. The most common writing error is the improper use of “its” and “it’s.” The author states that “its” is possessive,” while “it’s” is a contraction for “it is.” While I agree this is a common error, I don’t feel it’s enough of a problem to warrant its own bullet point on a list like this.
  10. A long, self-addressed, stamped envelope is a welcome sight to an editor. This is, of course, true for all mailed submissions and inquiries. Many editors won’t reply if you do not include a SASE. Nowadays, most literary magazines accept submissions online via either e-mail or a submission service like Submittable, making SASE’s unnecessary. So if you are pinching every penny, save the postage money and submit online.

Overall, the list remains fairly useful, if a bit quixotic. In a future post, I’ll share my own tips for poets.

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31 Queries in 31 Days: #21 and #22

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Yesterday I was busy putting together Wild Violet, but today I’m back to working on the 31 Queries in 31 Days project:

21) Submitted a proposal via Elance for a job doing a creative rewrite of a folktales book.

22) Submitted a proposal via Elance for a job editing and formatting a comedy book.

31 Queries in 31 Days: #15-20

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

I’m trying to get caught up with the 31 Queries in 31 Days project:

15) Submitted a flash fiction piece to Fast Fiction.

16) Submitted a flash fiction piece to Every Day Fiction.

17) Submitted a flash fiction piece to Fabula Argentea.

18) Submitted poetry to Silver Blade.

19) Submitted a proposal via Elance for a short educational article on ladybugs.

20) Submitted a proposal via Elance to work with an author who’s developing a romantic novel.

31 Queries in 31 Days: #14

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

More progress on the 31 Queries in 31 Days project:

14) Submitted five poems to North American Review.

Update: I got a response from “Parenting” magazine about my query letter. While they declined it, the editor wrote a hand-written note encouraging me to pitch another idea. I’m working on generating some and will definitely follow up on this!

How to Build an Author Platform in 30 Minutes a Day

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

I tried Grammarly’s plagiarism checker free of charge because my cat thought I was ripping off his diction. Can has verb disagreement now?


Recently, an old friend, who’s a fiction author, asked for advice on how to build up his name as an author in advance of sending a fiction collection around to publishers. On a related note, I received a Facebook message from a Philadelphia-area author, asking a similar question. In the writing business, we call that building your author’s platform: in other words, building up a network of potential readers, as well as building up a sense of who you are as an author.

While I have a lot of potential growing yet to do, I’ve been actively working on building my author’s platform for a couple years now. As regular readers know, I am also a work-at-home mom, which means I have to work my writing and career-building efforts into a day already packed with child care and housework. If you follow the advice in this post, you can begin building an author’s platform in 30 minutes or less a day.

Planning App

Reminders can keep you on schedule. I know I find them invaluable. I use GTasks (Google Tasks), primarily through the app on my Droid phone. It has a simple, no-fuss interface and allows you to schedule recurring tasks, such as “Post blog entry” for every Wednesday.

Author’s Photo

Alyce Wilson with ravenTake or have someone take a decent photo of you to use for your author’s sites. Rather than just taking an Instagram selfie, opt for a camera with a timer that you can use to take a variety of shots. The best author’s photos both look professional and show something of your character. I participated in a photo shoot for a friend at Edgar Allan Poe’s Philadelphia residence. She needed to work on portraits for her photography class, and one of my favorite recent photos shows me with the statue of a raven in the background. I’m going to be seeking another photographer friend’s help soon, since I’ve lost 20 pounds since that photo was taken.


Author’s Site

If you don’t already have an author’s site, your first task should be to create one.

Alyce's Web site

Remember: a Facebook page is NOT a substitute for your own author’s site, in part because its functionality is limited and always subject to change. At minimum, an author’s site should include: a bio page that includes highlights about your writing career and relevant tidbits about you, including a contact email (you should designate one e-mail for writing correspondence, ideally one you can access readily when you’re on the move, such as with a smart phone). You can also include a page with links to your online writings and/or samples or your work (although it’s fallen out of favor to include a complete resume, for security concerns). If you have any published books for sale, include links to them.

Nowadays, it’s also important to include a blog or bulletin board, which you can update at least once a week with thoughts on your writing, personal observations, or links to interesting articles. Keep in mind that anything you post will help to form your public persona, so try to refrain from such impulsive posts as complaining about a specific reviewer, for example.

One of the best places to start an author’s site is on WordPress, which offers free hosting if you don’t already have a hosting company. You can also sign up to get your own domain (which should be either your professional name or something that connects to your writing style or genre). To do this costs only $13 a year.

I use WordPress for this blog as well as for my BelatedMommy blog and online literary magazine, Wild Violet. In addition to the large variety of templates, which allow for almost any format, I love the ability to schedule posts in advance and to incorporate plug-ins to allow readers to share posts easily or subscribe to the blog.

WordPress is the best choice for people who have some familiarity already with creating web pages and blogging. For those with fewer Web skills, check out Wix.com or Biz.nf to create a professional-looking free website. While I haven’t tried their website creator, I would also point you toward Bravesites by Bravenet.com, which offers free websites created through templates. I’ve used Bravenet’s free mailing list manager for Wild Violet for many years and have had nothing but good experiences.

Setting up your author’s site may take several days, if you stick to the 30 minutes a day goal. However, once it’s set up, you can schedule one weekly update (preferably on a weekday) that will take you 30 minutes or less to write.

Social Networking

So many social networking sites exist that it can be decide where you want to spend your time. Which ones should you utilize, and how can you avoid becoming overwhelmed?

Alyce's Facebook page

A Facebook page is a good idea, simply because so many people are currently on Facebook, so it can be a good way to reach people like college buddies, family members, and new fans all at once. The process of creating a page is fairly simple; just read Facebook’s guide to creating a business page. Once it’s created, remember to post something at least a week. I primarily include links to my online articles and writings, but it’s also a good idea to post polls or other interactive posts. Facebook gives your posts higher priority on people’s feeds if they have interacted with you recently.

Alyce's Twitter Page

Twitter, with its microblogging — or instant update — platform, can be a valuable tool for connecting with writers, publishers, magazines, and others. For this reason, it’s worth joining. Read through Twitter’s Getting Started Guide for some tips. My advice: download an app like Tweetdeck, which makes it easy to schedule tweets in advance. Spend a few minutes in the morning scheduling tweets, keeping in mind that, just like conversations should be 50/50 listening and talking, you should retweet other users’ tweets or share links to articles and other web content at least as much as you share or promote your own work (and probably more). You ever have that blind date with someone who talked nonstop about him or herself without letting you have a word to talk about yourself? Don’t be that person! Some authors even schedule a whole week’s worth of tweets in advance, scheduling at least four tweets per day, including both links to interesting articles and promotions for their own work. I’d highly recommend following @Mashable immediately and reading their many articles about social networking and Twitter.

LinkedIn can be a good way to connect with other writers on a professional basis. You can do this by searching for LinkedIn groups that connect to your writing specialty. Make sure you read through the recent posts to see if a given group really connects with your interests. The best advice for this site, or for similar networking communities, is to spend 99 percent of your time interacting with people on a personal basis. Offer feedback on writing when asked; participate in conversations; pose writing-related questions. These connections will then be far more interested in your writing endeavors than they would be if you simply jumped into a conversation and shouted out, “I have a new book out!” That would be annoying at a social function, and it’s just as inappropriate here. Here’s a guide to how to use LinkedIn effectively. Stop in at least once a week to read and comment on the groups where you’re a member. You can also post links to your writing via your LinkedIn feed using apps such as “AddThis”  plug-in, available for multiple browsers. I use it with the Google Chrome browser and love its easy functionality.

Other social networking sites that you might consider using include Tumblr, which is primarily a blogging/link sharing platform; Google Plus (Google+), which has become sort of the “anti-Facebook” and is therefore a way to connect with people who aren’t on Facebook; and Goodreads, which is a reader/writer site that  allows you to list and promote your own books, as well as share reviews of other books and participate in communities. If you are maintaining a blog, either a personal blog or an author’s blog, seek out writing communities. Remember, though, that you’ll only get out of it what you put into it: you need to both post and comment on other people’s posts if you want them to remember you. This is why it’s best to schedule some time once a week to actively read and post on your preferred networking sites.

Don’t feel that you need to join all of these sites. Spend your time on the sites where you feel the most comfortable and build connections. You can always add more sites later if you want to broaden your reach.

Submit Your Writing

Of course, one of the best ways to build your author’s platform is through having your work published. If you want, you can buy a membership to the excellent writing markets produced by Writer’s Digest (Writer’s Market, Poet’s Market, Novelist and Short Story Writer’s Market, for example). Keep in mind: you can write that off as a business expense on your taxes (as you can any expense related to your writing career, such as web domains or the cost of postage for submissions).

For some free markets, visit: Poets and Writers, Duotrope, Ralan.com (SF), and WritersWrite, which are among the best comprehensive free guides. You may also want to join a free mailing list or two, such as offered at FundsForWriters.com and WritingForDollars.

You might also find it useful to put a short story or a handful of poems up on Smashwords as a free ebook, which could attract new readers.

Summary

Building your author’s platform takes time. My best advice: remember that it’s a gradual process and that whatever small steps you take can help you build more connections and introduce your to more potential readers. In order to keep from getting overwhelmed, set just one major task for yourself each day. After you’ve gotten your site/blog set up and have joined the social networking sites you wish to join, set a timer to spend 30 minutes or less on the site(s) where you’re focusing your energy that day.

Over time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how opportunities start to come your way, thanks to the foundation you’ve built.


This post was sponsored by Grammarly.com, the automated proofreader and personal grammar coach.

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