Friday, December 21, 2007

The Shortest Day of the Year

I procrastinated this week. Writers are notorious about this and for me at least, there's probably some deep seeded psychological reason.
Most of the time I don't know why I do it, but this week I figured it out.
Today is my mom's 83rd birthday. Most of you know my mother died on February 23 this year from complications of MRSA (the Super Bug). Mom was also weakened by years of smoking.
My mom always used to tell the story about how, when she was a child, she felt very slighted for having been born on the "shortest day of the year."
That is, until her mother explained to her that the shortest day just meant the shortest day of daylight.
I saved most of my work for yesterday and today - and those of you who have tried to reach sources on the day before most people will take off for a long holiday weekend know how busy it can be trying to track down interviews.
I hardly had time to think yesterday.
I hope that the same will hold true today, as allowing myself to miss my mom today would mean it would be the longest day of the year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book Publicity Course

Get the scoop on how to build buzz about your book from an expert:

Online book publicity workshop Feb. 4-29, 2008, helps authors build buzz Got a book coming out you want to hype? Has your publisher’s publicist moved on toother projects? Do you have a book in stores that you know deserves more mediaattention than it’s getting? Are you working on a proposal that would benefit from abetter understanding of what you can do to promote your book? You need “BookPublicity 101: How to Build Book Buzz,” a dynamic online course taught by a veteranpublicist and author. Offered February 4-29, 2008, the class is taught in a forum format, with lessons andhomework assignments posted online in a private, password-protected forum. Thehighly-interactive course covers:· How to create a book publicity blueprint you’ll be excited about · The single secret most authors don’t know about generating ongoing mediaexposure· The most effective and cost-efficient publicity tactics · How to generate buzz online using virtual book tours and other techniques· Radio and TV producer hot buttons · How to bring an energizing new level of creativity to your publicity efforts Students receive instructional materials and resources and complete weeklyassignments that help them discover how easy it is to create book buzz. Studentinteraction on the forum enhances the learning experience by offering freshperspectives and new ideas for all participants while instructor guidance and inputtakes your work to the next level. A free-for-all Q&A corner lets students getanswers to questions not covered in the course materials, making this ahighly-personalized learning experience for nonfiction and fiction authors. Registration is $179; Freelance Success subscribers receive a $20 discount. The class is taught by Sandra Beckwith, a recovering award-winning publicist;publisher of the free e-zine Build Book Buzz; and author of three books, includingtwo on publicity topics. Registration is limited to 20 students. Register at; send courseinquiries to Beckwith at

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chickens Not Hatched Yet

This morning I was reminded why I don't want to shout my career news I mentioned last week before the chickens are hatched, so to speak.
Last week, on another project, I had what I thought was a great conference call for a project that would have taken me through February. I received verbal confirmation that I had the qualifications they were seeking and I was asked to make a couple of minor changes to my contract and send it back, along with a couple of writing samples so the other principles, who were not on the call, could get a feel for my work.
I received the research that was already completed and starting pouring them over.
When I didn't hear from the employers by this week, I had a little knot in my stomach, but tried to push that nagging feeling away. I sent a reminder that I still hadn't receive their signed contract and my retainer.
My confirmation came at midnight, while I slept, that for some reason, not explained to me, they were going to try to find another writer.
Poor communication on their part, I think, not to call me and explain. But it was probably poor communication on my part as well that I didn't follow up by last Friday - before I started working on the project.
So now instead of working on assignments already at hand, I will need to start marketing myself aggressively for work I had already *almost* hatched for the next month.
Don't count those chickens, writers, until the signed and dated contract is in your hot little hands.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Platforms Smatforms - A Writer Named Lisa

Today, I interview Lisa Rogak, an author of over 40 books. Her latest, "A Boy Named Shel," is a biography about Shel Silverstein, the children's book author. Lisa talks about the writing process and gives us a different perspective on how important platforms are to writers. She also talks about soaking in traits of the subjects of her books and her next book, a bio on Stephen King.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m an independent book author and magazine journalist who’s been in the business for over 25 years with over 40 books to my credit. I’ve covered everything from cat quotes to baby names to funeral food customs, though in the last few years I’ve focused on writing biographies.
Writing has provided me with a fascinating, adventurous life. I wake up each morning looking forward to discovering what new things I’ll learn that day, which is something I think that everyone should strive for. After all this time, it never ceases to fascinate me that I have been able to make my living by indulging by curiosity and asking total strangers really nosy questions…

Tell us about your new book, "A Boy Named Shel."
It's the first full-length biography of Shel Silverstein, who was best known as a children's book author, but who was quite accomplished in other areas as well. He wrote A Boy Named Sue, The Unicorn, and Sylvia's Mother, wrote one-act plays with David Mamet, drew cartoons for Playboy for several decades, and lived in five different places strewn around the country. It was like writing five books instead of just one. It was by far the hardest work I've ever done, but also the most satisfying because of the stories I heard from his friends and the things I learned from my research.

You've written over 40 books and a huge variety of topics - from writers and their cats (The Cat on my Shoulder) to sabbaticals (Time Off From Work) to cemeteries in New England (Stones and Bones). Would you say earlier in your career that it wasn't necessary for authors to be focused on one particular "platform."

I still don't think it's necessary. All you need is one good idea, a killer proposal, and the ability to prove you can write artful and descriptive prose and that you're the best person to write that book.
One thing that peeves PhDs and professors in particular is that I explain that I'm still an apprentice, always learning. I mean, I still read books on writing aimed at beginners, and I learn tons of new stuff every time. The older I get the less I know, and the more books I write, it becomes more of a mystery how I do it. I don't question, however, that'll kill it cold.
And if I don't learn something new, why bother? That's why I'm currently writing my last biography.

You seem pretty focused now on biographies. What drew you to that?
I signed with a new agent and we decided that it was best for me to write bigger books than the ones I'd been doing. I'm currently under deadline for a biography of Stephen King, and this will be my last biography. Been there, done that, it's on to my first loves: comic fiction and historical disasters.

What is the most challenging aspect of doing a biography on someone who is already deceased?
Actually, I prefer writing about dead men; more people will talk to me. Even though I tell people who I'd like to interview that I write for the subject's fans, that I'm not a Kitty Kelley, and I show them my previous books to prove my approach, they turn me down.
I HATE the word "unauthorized biography." It implies that there's something sordid, unclean about it, when the truth is that in my experience, most unauthorized biographies are good cures for insomnia!

What kinds of releases or permission did you seek from Shel's family for the book
None. I contacted them, but they didn't reply. I'm used to it. You need a thick skin to be a writer and an even thicker one to write biographies because of the almost constant rejection. I NEVER take it personally.

How do you choose the subjects of your books?
With the biographies I've written, my agent and I go through a list of possible subjects and then cull them down with a list of questions. Is there a current biography out on them? What kind of interest exists for them? Do their fans tend to read books? What are the foreign rights potential for this book? And finally, do I want to live inside their skin for a year?

How did you find your agent/publisher?
I had been with several agents, and was ready for something new, something to take me beyond the niche-y books I'd written before. My current agent told me he wouldn't work with me if I still wanted to write the smaller books, and so I decided to give him a shot. He's done so well for me -- and me for him as well (!) -- that my nickname for him is Superagent.
I've done five books with him -- biographies on Dr Atkins, Dan Brown, Barack Obama, Shel Silverstein, and Stephen King (my next biography) -- and we're sticking with St Martins for now.

Making a living writing books is quite difficult. How do you mix writing books with writing magazine articles as part of your business plan.
I primarily write books and live off the advances from the North American publishers and foreign rights my agent sells. Income from magazine and online articles is a supplement.

Where can people find your book and what's next for you?
They can get it on Amazon, ask for it at bookstores, and through my website at . I'm finishing up research for a biography on Stephen King, which will be published in the fall of 2008. Then it's on to an historical disaster and polishing two novels, one for adults and one for kids, both set in funeral homes.

What is the one thing you've learned from writing biographies?
When you write a biography and delve that deeply into another person’s life, it’s impossible not to take on some of their quirks. While some biographers may consciously don the persona of their subject from the start, mine crept up on me until one day I discovered I was living like them. I didn’t set out to do this deliberately, it’s part of the organic process of absorbing so much information about a person that it’s impossible not to start living his life. And it’s particularly jarring when that individual was highly complex and charismatic.
A few months into writing the Atkins bio, I started eating like a caveman – lots of red meat, the rarer the better – while also began baking lots of carb-laden sweets to balance things out. When I researched the biography of Dan Brown, I was inspired to keep going in all areas of my life regardless of the odds. After all, the reception to his first three novels was so discouraging that although he had his doubts about writing a fourth, he continued anyway. If he had given up, The Da Vinci Code would have never been published.
Shel Silverstein, the subject of my third biography, was off in so many creative directions – art, music, theatre, literature – and lived in so many different places that I was exhausted most of the time I was researching his life. I crashed and burned more than a few times. When I mentioned this to one of his friends in an interview, he laughed. “No one could keep up with Shel,” he said. After each manuscript was handed in, I fully expected to slip back into my own life and leave the borrowed ones behind. I’m still waiting. Instead, I retain pieces of each man in my life. To this day, I still bake like a fiend, keep going even when the odds are overwhelmingly against me, and juggle several different creative pursuits, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.
I like to write about writers. They fascinate me because I like to see what makes them tick, and how their work reveals themselves, usually unwittingly. Also, since I’ve been writing for more than 25 years, I learn new things from their own work habits. They also inspire me to branch out into new areas and styles of writing.
I've also become curious about the link that three of my subjects -- Shel, Dan & Steve -- have to music. All were/are musical, and this is my original training; I was supposed to be a classical pianist and go to Juilliard, but as you can tell from my wide variety of book subjects, I'm not very good at concentrating on just one subject. But I still play and perform locally, and music has played a big part in the lives of these three writers.
There have been several books on writers and alcohol; maybe I'll have to write one on writers and music...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Story Ideas

On Friday, I saw a news story that was literally breaking on a health issue. Health isn't my area of expertise, but this subject has to do with the antibiotic resistant staph infection, MRSA. Since my mom died of complications from bacterial pneumonia caused by MRSA, this is a subject I'm very interested in.
By Saturday, I had thought of 3 angles and 3 non-competing outlets for this story. The queries are going out today.
This idea came from one news story and I hope results in at least one story. Where do you get your story ideas? And when you get them, do you try to find different angles to the story?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Common Language

Sometimes you just need the support of your writing buddies.
Yesterday, I had some news about my career. I'm not ready to share it publicly here or on my writers forum, but needed to tell someone, so I relied on family and a couple of my writing friends to cheer me on.
I called my husband on his cell all day - no answer.
When I finally did reach him, he didn't even say "Congratulations."
He did bring me home a pizza and some wings for a celebration dinner until we can get someplace with more options.
But people in the non-writing world just don't understand what makes us tick.
That's why I'm so appreciative of my writing buddy, Heather. She got it. She not only said, "Congratulations," but told me she was proud of me.
Thanks for the pat on the back, Heather. My writing buddy is what I love about the freelance life today.

Stay tuned, because when I can, I will shout out the news here, too!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Business Writer Wanted

I must have had a brain burp yesterday and forgot to post! It's that time of year when we all have too much on our plate.
Here's one for someone who really gets into business writing.

Part-Time Business Writer/Editor - Write business articles based on global business / economy / and other topics of the day for global business expert, John A. Caslione. Must be detail oriented and have experience in writing articles that would likely be picked up for national / International business magazines. Work as an independent contractor from your home office. Please submit resume to: Linda Coughlin, Marketing Manager at:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Today, I interview Chelsea Lowe, author of "The Everything Health Guide to OCD." Chelsea talks about being an expert on a condition she also has - and writing about it, her first book contract and the books she loves to read.

Tell us about yourself.
Everyone's favorite question--and one of the hardest to answer! Well...let's see: I've been writing pretty much all my life. Not just self-help: personal essays, verse, fiction, features and songs. I grew up in two families—my mother's and my father's. I live in the Northeast with my fella and am older than most "Chelsea"s.

Tell us about your book, The Everything Health Guide to OCD.
It's a self-help title and includes a lot of stuff you don't necessarily see in other books on this subject. It's got a lot of information.

Is this a formulated book, like the "Idiots" or "Dummies"
series? If so, how did you land a contract for it?
Yes; it's part of the "Everything Health" series from Adams Media.

Tell us how you came up with the idea and found your agent/publisher?
Actually, at the time, I was tired of writing about OCD! But I'm a big one for tossing my hat into the ring. I heard, through the American Society of Journalists and Authors, that Adams Media was looking for an author for a guide to adult OCD. The person who posted the listing was kind enough to put me in touch with her agent. I told the agent I did a lot of mental-health writing and had numerous clips about OCD. After submitting the clips, I had to provide several versions of a table of contents and a five-thousand-word sample chapter before getting the go-ahead.

The reason I had so many clips in the first place was the TV show "Monk"! "Monk" came out shortly after I was diagnosed with OCD. (I'd had it for years, but believed I was simply phobic. I thought OCD meant you had to count ceiling tiles or cracks in the sidewalk. Which can be true, but is by no means an inclusive definition!) All of a sudden, there was a character who, in many ways, was almost my double. The next best thing to shouting from the rooftops was writing about "Monk" for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Daily News and TV Guide.

How did you turn a subject that could be dry into fascinating reading?

Well, I don't know if I made it fascinating! But if so, there are a few reasons:

1) OCD doesn't need a book to make it interesting! It's intriguing all by itself. It's a neurological condition (not, as once believed, a neurosis) that can make otherwise "normal" people behave--and, certainly, think--in very strange ways.

2) The book has as much humor as the publisher felt comfortable including. (They didn't want to be seen as taking a serious subject lightly.) People who have this condition often are bright and creative (she said modestly!), and able to see their own peculiarities quite clearly, even if it's sometimes hard to do anything about them.

3) I also included material I haven't seen in other books on this subject, such as a chapter on physical health problems that can go along with OCD. For instance, if you over wash, you could be at higher risk for eczema. Nothing scary, though. I wouldn't do that to my fellow worriers!

There are sections for health professionals, employers and friends and family members who do not necessarily have OCD, but care about someone who does. I included material about work and travel, kids and seniors. There's also information for couples. In some cases, only one member has the condition—but, surprisingly often, both do.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
Definitely writing 85,000 words (304 pages) in about ten weeks! It was over the Thanksgiving-to-New Year's holidays, too.
Also, negotiating the contract. It was my first experience with a book contract, of course, and I wanted the job. But I also wanted to feel good about what I was doing.

What worked for you on this project?
Having a technical reviewer. Because I didn't have a lot of time to complete the actual writing, having a very knowledgeable person giving my work the once-over reassured me a lot. She gave me some really good suggestions, too.
Also: asking smart, knowledgeable people for ideas. My friend Mark Maynard, who also has OCD, came up with "What Can This Condition Be Good For?" That became a chapter. My fella, Dave, gave me some good ones, as well, especially about living with a person who has OCD.
And, as a person who has OCD, I knew a lot of things another writer might not. For example, that in-person support groups can be problematic because, often, they meet in hospitals or churches--two sites that can cause anxiety, even for people who don't have OCD, but especially for some people who do.
Finally: not procrastinating! (I wouldn't have had the time, anyway.) Asking myself, whenever I got stuck, What do you want to tell your readers about OCD?

How did you conduct your research?
I had some wonderful, wonderful books to read. This was not uncharted territory. I was also able to draw on my own experiences, and found a lot of terrific material online—things like users groups, blogs, online support organizations.

What types of books do you like to read?
For enjoyment, I read mostly books by older or expired authors. I'm too jealous of the young ones!
My favorites are:

Home Country, by Ernie Pyle
The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce
and, strange as this may sound, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. He was an awesome writer!
I also like reading Andy Rooney. And--again, I know this is totally weird—looking through the dictionary.

My favorite novels are:

Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis
Ordinary People, by Judith Guest
Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk
How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler
Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerny
The Accidental Tourist (and others), by Ann Tyler
Being There, by Jerzy Kosinsky
Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

I know I've included a few authors who are alive and not very old. But when I discovered them, they must have seemed so!

Where can readers find your book? What's next for you? and Target. Barnes & Noble, I assume. Also Powells and other used booksellers. Or, type the title or my name into any search engine. (I like, because you can support charities of your choice with every search. I am not affiliated with Goodsearch.)
Next, I'd like to write more books. I've discovered that I love doing this!

Monday, December 10, 2007

And This Qualifies you for What, Exactly?

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing whatsoever against stay at home moms. One of the greatest stay at home moms ever raised me. I also believe many, many stay at home moms are talented - and many are writers.
This type of posting just gets me though. It implies that writing is as easy as saying "I want to stay at home and write!"
The qualification for this job doesn't seem to be that you're a business school graduate, or have any marketing experience.

PR Writers Wanted Part Time (Comp: By project) We're very busy with our clients and need freelance writers, preferably at home moms, looking for work. If you can write with relatively quick turnaround send resume and writing samples.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Freelance Legal Reporter Needed - Houston

The Daily Court Review is Houston’s only daily business and legal newspaper, established in 1889. We’re seeking experienced freelancers to write on a variety of topics including local government, legal news and business news. Must be located within driving distance of Houston. If you would like to be considered, please send a resume and quality writing samples to

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thanks for the Mention

I have a lot of fn interviewing authors, learning about their writing habits and how they got into the biz. But I also hope interviewing them will give them some of that needed exposure - in the good sense - and help them sell maybe a few books.
So imagine my surprise when an interview gave me a little exposure this week. That's right, KC's Write For You was mentioned in the Yale University Press referencing Claudia Copquin's interview. Her book is being called the Bible of Queens.
Read more here:
Thanks, Claudia for referencing people back to KC's Write for You!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


I think this would be one fun job. Can you imagine the stories you could get out of this beat in America's UFO town?

The Roswell Daily Record in sunny New Mexico is looking for a reporter to cover the city’s police and courts beat. This position is open immediately and applicants should be able to relocate in a short period of time (on-site and working within three weeks from time of hire at the very latest). The police reporter is responsible for keeping track of high profile court cases and reporting on police events on a daily basis. Stories can range from auto accidents, house fires to drive-by shootings and other major crimes. The police reporter also covers a variety of other topics as need demands. Candidates should have strong writing skills and an eye for detailed writing. As court and crime reporting can be a sensitive beat, it’s extremely important that all details are reported accurately. Photography skills are a big plus. The position offers competitive wages, medical benefits, a gasoline allowance and compensation for travel outside the immediate area. Interested applicants should contact Andrew Poertner, editor, Roswell Daily Record, at or by fax at (505) 625-0421. No phone calls please. Applications by mail may be sent to Andrew Poertner, Roswell Daily Record, P.O. Box 1897, Roswell, NM 88202

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Queen of Queens

Today, I interview Claudia Copquin about her newly released book, The Neighborhood of Queens. Even if you're not from New York, this is a great read about one of the most fascinating neighborhoods in the country.

Tell us about yourself.
First and foremost, I'm a single parent of three fantastic daughters, two (twins) in their sophomore year of college and a thirteen year old. My family came to the United States from South America when I was seven, so I've lived the immigrant experience. Career wise, I've been freelance writing for some fifteen years now. While I've been published in The New York Times (humor essays) and a few other national pubs, mostly I've been a regional writer. My concentration has been lifestyle, parenting and bridal, but about two years ago, I became an Op-ed writer for Newsday (I also write features for them). Voicing my opinions on subjects I am passionate about is a real thrill and I'm very proud of this particular writing gig, as there are few female voices nationwide in Op-ed.

Tell us about your book, The Neighborhoods of Queens.
Renown historian Kenneth Jackson wrote the introduction for my book, which is truly an honor. Each chapter covers a neighborhood in Queens, the most diverse borough in the nation. We spared no detail and each chapter includes the neighborhood's beginnings, its architecture, its people, its peculiarities, etc. It also includes maps and detailed facts and figures pertaining to each community.

How did you come up with the idea to write about the 99 neighborhoods in Queens, NY?
Actually, the project came to me! I had been writing historical New York-area name-origin features for Newsday for several years. A friend from 7th grade, believe it or not, who grew up with me in Jackson Heights, Queens, saw my byline and thought I'd be perfect for this book that her organization was working on with Yale University Press. She was able to locate me and we reunited after oh, twenty-five years or so. Part of what made this project so wonderful was being able to work with this old friend who has become an amazing, dynamic grown woman. 4). Was it tough to sell to a publisher, I would think this would be quite a narrow niche.
This book is part of a series on the five boroughs of New York. The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn was written about five years ago. So I came into the project, thankfully, with a publisher already in place. I appreciate how rare and fortunate this is...

How did you conduct the research? Were you afraid you would leave some neighborhood out, or is it commonly known there are 99 neighborhoods?
Yale University Press and Citizens for New York City, the non-profit organization working with them on the book series, already had compiled a researched list of all the neighborhoods and subneighborhoods we'd be including. And actually, during my research I discovered a few obscure areas that aren't even on the Queens map, but still considered neighborhoods by their residents! The research involved visiting the neighborhoods, scouring library books, newspaper and magazine articles, speaking with local retailers, certain residents and civic group leaders and the Internet, of course.

How long did it take you to research and what was the most challenging aspect?
I'd say it took a good two years or so to do all the research, plus more research later on in the editing process. One of the most challenging aspects, because I'm not a historian, was just getting all of the historical facts correct -- dates, names of early settlers, lineage, etc. Another challenge was being able to sift out the most relevant and interesting facts to include in each chapter. Some neighborhoods didn't really have many interesting features at all; others, like Jamaica or Long Island City, for instance, have an abundance of history and are dynamic areas in transition.

When is your best writing time?
To be able to raise my children as a single parent and work from home has been a blessing. My best writing time is during the day when everyone is in school. I write in complete silence (no music); just my thoughts and the clacking of the keyboard, with an occasional bark or two from my companion, Buddy (collie shepherd mix).

If you could be anything other than a writer, what would it be?
That's a tough one. Even as a child, I was an avid reader and secretly wanted to be a writer, although I never dared voice that dream. When I graduated from college as an English major I worked in public relations. I'm bilingual, so my most fun job in that capacity was working at Univision, the Spanish TV network, publicizing their programing and such. I may have thought of being a teacher at some point, and recently, I've thought of teaching writing. But if I had to pinpoint one thing, it would be a carreer in documentary film-making. I love the format and of course, it would involve researching, which is really my forte.

Is there a writing quirk no one knows about you (yet?)
I think over-researching can be considered a quirk. Sometimes I get too involved in the subject I'm writing about and I can't stop myself...Before I know it, I have way too many references for a topic that requires just the basics. Of course, with the Internet, one subject leads to another and before I know it I'm completely off subject and wasting a great deal of time!

Where can people find your book and what's next for you? and any other retailer you can think of. As for what's next, certainly continuing with my Newsday Op-ed column. And I have three novel ideas in my head -- it's just a matter of deciding which one to go with and then start writing. I have not tackled the novel format yet, but I have a feeling it will come naturally. Also, I'd love to research and write another non-fiction book. So there are a few exciting possibilities to mull over.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Pinball Wizard

I'm not a gamer. The only video games I've played as an adult were when our two exchange daughters lived with us and we bought an early Nintendo with Mario Brothers. We figured they could entertain themselves in the summer before school started and they had made any friends.
But as a kid, I loved going with my dad to his bowling league on Sunday nights so I could play pinball.
So when I just discovered that my 4-year-old computer had a pinball game on it, I thought, "Now I'm never going to get any work done."
It's true. I have to regulate my play, or I would be forever trying to get that ball to rack up the high score.
I've had to develop a system and you know what, I think it's actually helped my productivity. I start out the day with a game, just to get myself jazzed up and then I limit myself to 3 more games a day - in between projects - and as a reward for a completion.
The lights and sounds and scores gets my blood flowing again, much as does the afternoon walk with the dogs.
How many of you use a distraction to ramp up your creativity?