Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Publicity and More Submission Calls

Beyond the Press Release: 10 Exciting Book Buzz Ideas That Will Take You to the Topoffers
10 foolproof – yet practical – ideas you can use to get publicity for yourbook. The ideas can be used for all types of books, whether they have been availablefor weeks, months or even years, to generate free media exposure.To get the free special report, go to

THE EARLY ONSET PROJECT SUBMISSIONS AND CONTEST ANNOUNCEMENT (No Entry Fee)The Early Onset Project seeks true stories about persons with early-onsetAlzheimer’s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s or early-onset dementia develops in a personwho is younger than age 65. Entries should be compelling slice-of-life stories that show how early-onsetAlzheimer’s or a related dementia has affected you or someone close to you. Authorsof stories selected for the collection will receive a free copy of the publication.No other payment will be made. Stories submitted for The Early Onset Project areautomatically entered into a contest. First Prize - $100Second Prize - $50Third Prize – $25Honorable Mention – $10 For a sample story and more information, please visit the Early Onset Project pageon my website at

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Getting In…to College
Release Date: October 2008 There are over 3 million graduating high school seniors each year and more than half of them apply to college. These days, colleges are deluged with applications and the college application process has become the most traumatic thing that most of theses students and their parents have ever experienced. There are many books published on how to get into college. Our book will be one of the only ones out there that provides emotional, not tactical, support.Our market for this book is 10th, 11th, and 12th graders and their parents, meaning a target audience of more than five million kids and at least that many parents the day we publish. Chapters will include the following topics:• Do I Want to Go to College?• Parental Pressure • Self Image• Competing with Friends• Regrets over Past Grades/Performance• SATs and ACTs – Living through Them• Sports and Coaches• Great Essays• Waiting• Waitlisted and Deferred• Disappointments• Preparing to Leave the NestStories must be true (non-fiction), written in first person, and 1,000 words or less. Stories should make readers laugh, cry or sigh, and be positive, universal and non-controversial. Also, the "point" or "message" should be evident without preaching. No essays, commentaries, tributes, philosophical or biographical pieces will be accepted. Please refer to other Chicken Soup books to better understand our story-telling style.You may submit more than one story. For each story selected, a 50-word biography will be included about the contributor and a permission fee of $200 per story will be paid within 30 days upon publicationPlease submit stories through our website at The tentative submission deadline is April 30, 2008, but please note that this deadline may adjust, so the sooner, the better!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Class Favorite

Today, I interview Taylor Morris, author of the new tween novel, "Class Favorite." Taylor talks about writing for the tween market - what a tween is - and if working at a magazine helped with her book writing career.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m from Texas, I love Mexican food, I’m a horrible gift-giver, and I live in New York City. I wrote my first novel in fourth grade (12 pages, handwritten, double-spaced), a romance about fellow classmates Bill and Becca. It was an instant best seller in my class. Now I write tween books—which means my stories are set in junior high—for Simon & Schuster’s MIX line.

Tell us about your tween novel, "Class Favorite."
It’s about a girl named Sara, who goes pretty much unnoticed at her junior high until her mother sends her a gift on Valentine’s Day for horribly embarrassing reasons. Suddenly, everyone finds out about it, and now everyone knows who she is. Instead of wallowing in unwanted attention, she tries to turn her notoriety in her favor…with mixed results.

You were an editor for Jump Magazine, is this how you became interested in writing for the younger tween set, or have you always been interested in that genre?
I’ve always been interested in it. I guess I just had the voice for it. In a writing workshop at Emerson College, where I graduated, I submitted a short story set in high school. The class loved it, but everyone had written serious stories about death and longing and such. I felt immature for writing what I did, so the next week I turned in something really dark and serious—and had a miserable time writing it. The class was not impressed. Someone asked, “Why don’t you write stuff like you did last week? That was really good.” I vowed never to go back, and I haven’t. I guess it’s a matter of knowing your strengths, and also doing what you enjoy.

"Tween" is a relatively new term. Is there any difference between the pre-pubescent books of when I was growing up (70's) and the Tween classification now?
To be honest, I didn’t read a lot of books when I was younger. I know! It’s horrible! I did read a couple of Judy Blume books, which I loved—Blubber, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. The one book that really made me fall in love with reading was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I don’t know why—my upbringing resembled the Judy Blume books far more than anything Hinton wrote. Maybe that’s what I liked about it. But I’m not sure how different the genre is today, other than we have the handy name “tween” instead of calling it—ack!—children’s.

You've written both non-fiction articles and a non-fiction book for tweens and now a novel. Tell us about switching from non-fiction to fiction and how that works for you?
I much prefer writing fiction—that way I don’t have to bother too much about fact-checking, gathering sources and interview subjects, transcribing…. I just sit down and write! It’s much easier for me, and much more fun. I haven’t even tried to write a non-fiction article in a long time. Again, I think my strengths lie in fiction, so I’m not as interested anymore in doing something I don’t think I’m great at.

I'm assuming you made connections while at Jump. How difficult do you believe it is for someone to break into the tween or young adult book market for someone who doesn't have any connections to the publishing world - what do you recommend writers do to break in?
I didn’t know a soul in book publishing, and sent out a blind query letter to agents. I did have experience in magazines, but I later asked my agent if that had made a difference, and he simply shrugged his shoulders. “It’s really about the book you’re submitting,” he said. I got my very first magazine byline, though, in a small magazine in San Clemente, CA. At the time I had zero experience, but since it was a small publication the owner agreed to let me start by writing restaurant reviews—my paycheck was the free meals. So, my advice is the start small and local if possible, work for cheap, but write as if it’s the New Yorker. One clip always leads to the next, even if you’re working your way to a different genre. The key is persistence.

Is the tween writing something you would like to stay in for awhile, or do you have ideas for other types of writing?
I love writing for tweens—they’re a great audience to write for, very open and interested in solid, good stories that relate to their lives. I love the genre, and the furthest I plan to venture from it is the teen genre. So, instead of writing a story set in junior high, I might write a story set in high school.

Do you read other tween authors? Do you think you model your writing after any? Who is your favorite?
I feel that reading other writers in my genre is part of my job. I love Jenny Han’s book “Shug,” anything by Rachel Cohn, and I idolize Meg Cabot. She is the queen of all things teen and tween. I try not to model myself after anyone, and just write what’s inside me.

What's next for you?
My next book is due out in October of this year, and it’s called “Total Knockout: Tale of an Ex Class President.” It’s a brand-new book that has nothing to do with my first book. It’s got boxing, politics and a little bit of love in it, and I’m so excited for everyone to read it!

Taylor's website:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Another Writing Contest & an Essay Outlet

Peace Writing Annual International Writing Awards Reminder: Deadline for Submissions Extended to February 1, 2008 Offered annually by Peace and Justice Studies Association and Omni: Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology, for unpublished books. PeaceWriting encourages writing about war and international nonviolent peacemaking and peacemakers. PeaceWriting seeks book manuscripts about the causes, consequences, and solutions to violence and war, and about the ideas and practices of nonviolent peacemaking and the lives of nonviolent peacemakers. Three categories: Nonfiction Prose (history, political science, memoirs); Imaginative Literature (novels, plays, collections of short stories, collections of poetry, collections of short plays); and Works for Young People. Open to any writer. The entry deadline has been extended until February 1, 2008. Prize: $500 in each category. For more information, contact Mr. Dick Bennett 2582 Jimmie, Fayetteville AR 72703-3420. (479)442-4600. E-mail: Website:

Chicken Soup Book Call for Submissions: Just in time for the 2008 national conventions, our two "We The People" books mix politics and soul (yes, it's possible) for Republicans and Democrats.
Next, our new "Ultimate" series debuts in September 2008 with the first three titles featuring our favorite four-legged companions; dogs, cats, and horses. This new series will include full-color photos, great stories, and must-know info on each topic.
Although the deadline for material on these titles is March 15, 2008, we appreciate submissions coming in early.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm Bursting With the News

When I was a child, my mother belonged to the "Book of the Month Club," and we had a library in our own home. The first "big" book I read was "Jonathon Livingston Seagull," but it wasn't long before I developed my mother's passion for horror and true crime.
We came from the state that produced the setting for "In Cold Blood," but the first true crime novel I remember reading was "Helter Skelter." I followed that up with Capote's book that started the genre.
When I began my freelance career, the only thing that would draw me to a full time newspaper staff position was covering cops and courts.
It's always been my dream to write a true crime novel.
This year, I will get that chance. I've been in negotiation for over a month with Trails Books to write a true crime anthology of murders in Kansas.
This week, the deal was accepted by both parties and was signed and sealed. Hopefully, the final signed contract, along with my advance, will be delivered soon as well.
The book, "Blood on the Prairie: Shocking Kansas Murders," (due September '09), will include the BTK case and while I have to have the final outline approved by the editor, most likely the Richard Grissom, John Robinson and Lizabeth Wilson - a case that made me so incredibly sad as a child because I empathized with this little girl walking home from the neighborhood pool and suddenly vanishing. I even wrote about it in my diary and kept newspaper clippings on the case.
Of course, the book wouldn't be complete without the Clutter family murders, the case that inspired Capote to write "In Cold Blood," but I've already confirmed with my publisher they don't expect a Pulitzer. :)
How did I find the publisher?
Well, although I had written a book proposal several suggesting a round up of notorious cases on both sides of the state line in Kansas City, I was no longer shopping that proposal, after several agents and small regional publishers told me they didn't think such a book would sell.
Trails Books, however, published a book called "Got Murder?" a book on killings in Wisconsin - which includes the stories of Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer and the hatchet murders of Frank Lloyd Wright's lover. The book is considered successful for the small, Madison based publisher and is currently enjoying a second printing.
With BTK in the news and the Clutter murders still one of the most infamous cases in history, the Trails decided that Kansas would be a good place to look at next.
They posted for a writer on the jobs board of ASJA, an organization of which I'm a member and a collegue who knows my interest and experience in investigative crime reporting contacted me.
Unfortunately, my book proposal from years ago is still in a file cabinet at the back of a storage locker 300 miles away in KC, but I drew from my memory and an evening of Internet research and put another, shorter proposal together. The editor contacted me that very evening and the publisher and I began negotiations within a week. The holidays slowed the process down, but we finally reached an agreement and I signed the contract last week.
The one tip I can give to people is that if you don't have an agent and are negotiating a book contract on your own, make sure you either know what you're doing, or enlist help. I asked another colleague with contract experience to help me and he found several points I wouldn't have caught in the contract that could have left me either legally vulnerable or with less than I ended up with (you can only get what you want if you ask).
Also, conduct a lot of research on your prospective publisher.
The other lesson is to use networking to your full advantage. My business background taught me to do this early on in my freelance career and it has helped me time and time again.
Now, wish me luck. I have a lot of research and work to do - my writer's studio will be a welcome work place to get it accomplished.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pooch Photo Contest

I usually don't mess with contests, but this one looks too fun!

Hallmark wants to know whohas the funniest pet photo in America -- and the wit to craft a clever"birthday" sentiment to go along with it. Today Hallmark Cards, Inc., iskicking off "YourPets," a competition in which consumers will enter petphoto birthday card designs, Hallmark will print and sell the finalists,and America will vote on the best. The winner with the most online voteswill receive a $1,000 grand prize and a trip to Hallmark.
"YourPets" is the second in a series of ongoing card competitionsHallmark introduced in November. While the first competition encouragedconsumers to design a card corresponding with Hallmark's partnership with(PRODUCT) RED -- the finalists of which currently are for sale on - - the second rendition is all about ourfavorite four-legged friends and the things they do to make us smile. In"YourPets," Hallmark is encouraging pet owners to dig through their photoalbums and submit the funniest, most endearing, cutest, silliest, or mostcreative pet photos along with a corresponding "birthday" sentiment for achance to win.
"Hallmark consumers have never been shy about sharing their ideas fornew greeting cards with us -- including sending us their funny pet photos-- and we love to hear from them," said Lindsey Roy, senior product managerat Hallmark. "In fact, we want to encourage it. With these competitions,we're giving our fans an opportunity to turn those great ideas into realHallmark cards. Even better, we want them to select the winner. We can'twait to see which one of their touching pet photos will win America'sheart."
If every dog has its day ... is today the day for your dog?
To enter the Hallmark "YourPets" competition, log on to Jan. 14 - Feb. 3, 2008. Sixty-seven finalistswill each win $250 cash, and their cards will be printed by Hallmark andsold both online at and in more than 10,000stores. The 67 finalist card designs in the pet picture contest will beselected based on:
-- Sendability (how easily the card can be sent to multiple people) -- Theme (how well it fits the funny pet birthday photo theme) -- Humor/cohesiveness of caption (how well the pet photo and writing go together) Finalists will be posted on starting March3, 2008.
The top dog
After the finalists are announced, America will choose the winner.Through an open online voting process, one Grand Prize winner will beselected whose card will be available for sale at for at least a year and may become part ofanother card collection. The Grand Prize also includes a $1,000 cash prizeand trip to Hallmark with his/her pet for a professional photo shoot andworkshop with Hallmark's creative team. Complete contest rules are postedon the Web site. No purchase is necessary.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Opportunity Dances

Today, I interview Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt, author of the new book, "You Think It's Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?" Sheri tells us how she got the inside track on this mysterious woman, as well as sharing her thoughts on platform and her views on what makes a good children's book.

Tell us about yourself.
I am an award-winning freelance writer and editor who pens features and profiles of people and places for businesses, websites and publications. I’ve written for American Profile, Family Circle, Ladies' Home Journal, The Washington Post, inflights, and lots of regional mags. I also write books and reviews.

Tell us about "You Think It's Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?"
My book is about a James Bondish tooth fairy – an “action gal” who “lives for danger and suspense” as she makes her nightly tooth hauls. She doesn’t rely on fairy dust, but on her cool high-tech gadgets. She zips along on her jet-propelled tooth board, for instance, and she uses her amazing Tooth-o-Finder, which looks like a watch, but the face shows the continents. As each kid’s tooth drops out of his or her head, the Tooth-o-Finder picks up its distinctive “ting, ting, ting” – think homing beacon – which is how the Tooth Fairy knows when and where to pick up teeth. Another cool gadget is her Spy-o-Binoculars, which she uses to scope out each kid’s house to “plan her entry.” The rest of the book shows the obstacles the Tooth Fairy has to deal with – such as pesky pets (“Cats want to swat me, squash me, squeeze me, even eat me”) – as well as things kids do themselves – such as hiding their teeth deep in their pajama pocket or in their smelly sock. Basically, the book is a night in the life of the Tooth Fairy, told from her perspective, and her instructions on where kids should place their teeth so that she can zip in and out. She does have to get around the entire planet before morn!

How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I decided to take a Highlights Foundation workshop, on writing picture books, at the Foundation’s headquarters in Honesdale, PA. About a week before the workshop, I still had yet to come up with a picture book draft, which was one of the requirements. Nothing like pressure to get your muse working! So that morning I decided I wasn’t getting out of bed until I came up with a story. For some reason I got to thinking about Santa, and then my mind then traipsed through all the story characters I read about as a child. For some reason I stopped on the Tooth Fairy. Why, I wondered, was she always pictured as this winged dainty creature, when nightly hunts for teeth probably took a lot of effort? That’s how my story was born.

You've had a pretty diversified writing career, your first books were for others wanting to build a career and you've seemingly made a switch to young children's books. How did you do that?
You’re right. I started my writing career by writing newspaper articles, then magazine articles for the adult market. But then I began to itch to write books. I didn’t have the guts to write an adult book, so I approached a children’s educational publisher to see if I could wrangle myself a book project. I was willing to write anything just to get my name on a book spine! So my first three books were career guides geared to middle and high school students, for Thomson Gale. They were a lot of work, as I had to interview a lot of people working in art, law, and the military, as each chapter (six or seven in each book) highlighted a different career. I basically told kids what they could expect as far as job duties, pay, work hours, stresses, joys, etc., buoyed by quotes from my interview sources. I don’t recommend that route to other writers, and not only because of the work-for-hire arrangement, which generates no copyright or further income. Those books were hard to write because of the strict style and format requirements. Can you say “dry”?! And the editing process was excruciating. But the books had one up side: they convinced me I could tackle a book length manuscript. With that experience under my belt, I went after an opportunity to write two children’s activity books for Nomad Press, a small educational publisher, for readers nine and up. One is called “Great World War II Projects You Can Build Yourself,” the other is “Amazing Maya Inventions You Can Build Yourself.” I’m very proud of them. Hey, can I share a quote on my wall by my computer. It reads: “Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.” I think that’s so true. Really, once you decide you can do something, you find opportunities presenting themselves. So that’s why I then wrote a middle grade novel and my tooth fairy picture book. “Why not?” I asked myself. I’ve been able to write everything else I’ve tried. The novel is still unpublished, but my agent believes it will sell, and Tooth is selling very well. In fact, I’ve earned out my advance in just six months and it’s been scheduled for a second printing by Chronicle. ;-

Talk about 'platform,' the buzz word in book publishing today. How does a writer concentrate on building a platform and still concentrate on writing?
Writers have to wear a lot of hats—and they have to become masters of focus and time management. It has taken me a while to get comfortable with the marketing side of the biz, but it’s a necessity if you want your books to sell well. Specific to platform, we have to “help” people “see” us as we want to be viewed. But the word “platform” doesn’t necessarily mean expertise in an area. It might just mean that your father is the President.

If we writers can find a way to get connected to something, and have others accept us in that role, then we have a platform. Actually, I think a writer can have numerous platforms. I certainly intend to build one as a funny picture book author, but that’s not the whole of who I am or will become. I love it, actually, when people list ALL of their “platforms” in their bio. You know, like: “actress, yoga instructor, publicist, chef, and author.” I think, “What an interesting person!”

What is the single most effective marketing you do when your books come out?
I use my email tagline to promote my books. Right now my tagline even includes part of the review Tooth received from Kirkus Reviews, which is one of the pubs that librarians read before deciding what they’ll order for their libraries. I’ve had a lot of people reply to an email and say, “I didn’t know you wrote all that!” I also think e-newsletters are also very effective at reminding people that you’re out there. Too, I think collecting contact info on my writer site is good business, because the info can be used in a lot of different ways.

How do you diversify your business between writing books, writing for magazines and doing speaking, editing, etc.
I just finished writing up a marketing plan for You Think It's Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?, so any other deadlines have to work around that. I’m also actively building my school visit “platform,” because school visits can be quite lucractive. I know several authors who average a school visit every week!

What is the secret to a successful children's book?
That’s a tough question, because writing is so subjective. What I like, you may yawn over. What you like, I might think was a waste of electricity, ink, and trees. HA! But I do know one thing: kids have very short attention spans, so the dialogue has to really keep moving, and the story has to include characters that they can identify with or be enchanted by. Picture book text is helped immensely by the pictures, but a novel or chapter book must be strong enough to stand on its own. One of my favorite classics is A Wrinkle in Time. A more contemporary example is Love, Ruby Lavender.

Do you model your writing from anyone?
No. But I read a heck of a lot, so I hope the good writers are rubbing off on me!

Where can readers find your book and what's next for you?
You can find all of my books on the shelves of online bookstores, and you can walk into any bookstore and order them. Local bookstores/chains have my books on their shelves, as do some mega independent bookstores, like Powell’s Books in Portland, OR, but I don’t kid myself that Tooth is in every neighborhood store (yet!).

What’s next?
Getting my novel sold and writing more picture books. But I ‘d like to make most of my income in 2008 from school visits. That’s why I’m attending the ALA Winter Meeting in Philadelphia this weekend—face time with librarians is critical to getting national gigs.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A New Year with New Goals

I'm announcing some changes in KC's Write For You - mainly that I will no longer be able to post to the blog 5 times a week. My goals this year include building in areas of writing specialties, and that includes maintaining my new blog, "Going Green in the Ozarks" I'm posting there on Monday and Wednesday.
And, given the fact I still need to make a living with my writing, I'm having to split my working hours between the two blogs.
Don't worry, I'm still posting author interviews here on Tuesdays and doing at least one other helpful post for writers on Thursdays. But check back often, if I find a good job listing, I'll go ahead and make an extra post.
Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reinventing Yourself as a Writer

Almost three years ago I attended a conference that gives writers a chance at one on one meetings with editors. One of them said one of the worst things a writer can tell him is that they are a generalist.
That didn't sound good to me since I had always prided myself on being able to write on almost any subject.
Since that time, I've been trying to reinvent myself to highlight my strongest points of expertise. What did I do before getting into writing, what had I written most about? What did I want to write?
Before embarking on my writing career, I spent almost two decades working in retail and mortgage credit. I had written newsletters, training manuals, whitepapers and marketing materials. However, when I entered the world of writing, I wanted to be as far away from that life as possible.
But it's never too late to draw upon your skills. Last year, I landed a steady gig writing on the banking industry. This year, when I drew up my business plan, I sprinkled in a mix of business writing (where I have a strong background) with what I like to write - animals/pets, travel and sustainable living.
The key, I think, of not getting burned out with writing is to reinvent yourself every once in awhile. Find a new focus and go for it.
Oh, and I was encouraged when I read on a recent thread to a writers forum that some successful writers still consider themselves generalists and it doesn't hurt their careers at all.
Specializing doesn't mean we have to give up everything else, it just highlights our stregnths.

Please visit my new green blog, the place to be if you're green at going green:

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Autos or Pharmacy Writers Wanted

Specialized writers needed for auto industry or pharmacy:

Seeking Freelance Writers for seeks talented freelance writers to pitch interesting story ideas related to car buying, car ownership, and car culture. In-depth reporting for each story is required. Experience covering the auto industry is preferred, but not required. More important are top-notch reporting and writing skills, ability to meet deadlines, and a sense of personal ownership of each story submitted. Send resume and clips to

Freelance Contributor - Pharmacy Trade Publication
We are seeking writers who can research, do interviews and submit 1,500 to 3,000-word feature stories for a 5-year old pharmacy trade publication. You get a byline and are compensated $150 for each 1,500-word feature or $300 for each 3,000-word feature. Our stories are general interest in nature and not technical/scientific. They are provocative, often times controversial and always interesting. If you reply, please include writing samples.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Handling Topical Subjects During Long Book Projects

Today, I interview Maryn McKenna. Her book, "SUPERBUG: The Death and Life of Drug-Resistant Staph and the Danger of a World without Antibiotics" will not be released until 2009. Maryn talks about medical writing, as well as handling a subject that's topical right now in a book that won't be released for another year.

Please tell us about yourself.
I'm a freelance print and Web journalist specializing in infectious disease, public health and health policy. I went freelance 18 months ago after spending 20 years as a medical and science writer at four newspapers, ending as the CDC reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That experience fueled my first book, BEATING BACK THE DEVIL: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (more on that below). Now I write for a variety of national magazines and journals (SELF, More, Annals of Emergency Medicine) and also for a well-read infectious-disease website, CIDRAP News (, where I just completed a 10,000-word series on the obstacles to achieving a pandemic-flu vaccine. There is more about me at my personal website:; and I am blogging my way through the MRSA book at

Please tell us about your book, SUPERBUG: The Death and Life of Drug-Resistant Staph and the Danger of a World without Antibiotics.

The book grew out of a major feature I did last February for SELF Magazine <>. As a medical reporter, I had been tracking and writing about drug-resistant staph (generally called MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staph aureus, after one drug from the class of drugs it is resistant to) for a while.
I had noticed that most of the MRSA community outbreaks that had been written up tended to skew male: football teams, high school athletes, jail inmates, and so on. I had the sense, based on my regular reads of medical journals, that the male identification was out of date. I met Sara Austin of SELF at the Association of Health Care Journalists ( conference and proposed to her that I do a piece looking at MRSA as an under-appreciated threat to women and children. She agreed, we did the piece, and it got tremendous response plenty of reader letters, and also segments on the TODAY and Montel shows.
Based on that response, my agent Susan Raihofer and I thought there was a larger story here, and so we wrote up a quick proposal only about 20 pages, compared to the 80 pages that my first proposal took. Several publishers were interested and bid, but the book went in the end to Free Press, part of Simon & Schuster and publishers of my first book. It is due out in 2009.
The book is envisioned as a sort of biography of MRSA, something that will answer the questions: How did we get here?, How did this get so bad? and What are the obstacles to making this better? The classic form of a science book is the heroic investigator championing his discovery against all obstacles. This is not that book: There is no single hero though staph makes an intriguing villain.

My mother died last February 2007 from complications of MRSA, "The Super Bug." When she was diagnosed, we had never heard of it, although she probably contracted it as early as 2004. Is this why you felt it important to write the book?

I'm sorry for your loss, and I can say from even my preliminary research that there are many, many families in the same situation as yours, and so many of them feel isolated. I absolutely do feel that the staph story has been going on much longer than most people realize. The first reports of hospital-associated staph came out in the 1960s; the first medical-journal recognition that something odd and different was going on in the community came in 1999 with a small article in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, or MMWR, which is the best-read magazine you've never heard of. (It also carried the first report of the first AIDS cases to be recognized in the United States.)

Why do you think drug resistant staph didn't receive much press until late this year? My suspicions are that it was mainly only affecting elderly, but when it started showing up in schools, it garnered more attention. Do you think this had something to do with it?

Here's what I think is going on now. In many infectious-disease epidemics, there is a period of time when the disease is recognized, but considered a limited risk, usually because it affects only a discrete group. For some diseases, there comes a point where the risk group expands to the entire population and that expansion often comes as a significant shock that ripples through society. Much the same thing happened with AIDS: Originally it was thought of mainly as a disease of gay men and a few other risk groups, but in the late 1980s-early 1990s there was a moment when people realized it was also a heterosexual and broadly blood-borne risk, a sort of collective recognition of, "Oh my God, we're all in danger." I think much the same thing is happening now: People are realizing that MRSA potentially threatens themselves and their children. Not very many people cared about MRSA when it was affecting thousands of jail inmates, or causing grave skin infections in gay men who attended California sex clubs. Now that it has been shown to infect and occasionally kill average adults and children, concern and uncertainty are much more widespread.

The book is not scheduled to be released until 2009. Are you afraid some of the information may be irrelevant at that point - is this one of the major challenges facing medical journalists who write books on timely topics?

Absolutely it concerns me. This happens all the time to journalists: You start work on something, hoping that you have spotted a trend before it crests, and then events scoop you. This actually happened with my first book also: I was writing a narrative and history of the federal government's disease-detective SWAT teams, ferreting out the stories of outbreaks on which they had deployed, and in the midst of my research the international SARS epidemic sent the teams on the largest deployment in their history. I despaired at first, thinking that there would be nothing else to say when the book came out, but as it happened, that epidemic and then the spread of avian flu later that year kept the concept of "disease detectives" alive in the public mind and increased interest when the book came out. I hope the same thing will happen this time. I feel pretty confident that MRSA is not going to become a less important problem in the next 18 months.

How did you conduct your research for this book?

I work on two tracks, medical and personal. For the medical, I do my best to find every medical-journal article ever written on the topic, both past ones (using the PubMed interface to the National Library of Medicine, and new ones (using a �My NCBI� alert through PubMed). Then I try to figure out who are the most important or innovative researchers, and I try to interview them and to visit them if they'll let me. For the personal, I look for victims and victims' families. I set up Google Alerts to catch things in local newspapers, and post notices in every relevant electronic bulletin board I can find.
I have post-graduate training (through the Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowships at University of Michigan, in the social history of epidemics. I�m always looking, when I tell the story of a disease, for historical background that allows me to set the outbreak within the context of the time. Here's an example: While reporting the series on pandemic vaccines that I recently finished, I discovered that independent authorities had been calling for vast ramp-ups in flu-research funding since 1986. But what else was happening in 1986? It was the earliest days of US government response to AIDS: Rock Hudson, the celebrity who made the disease real to much of America, died in October 1985. Figuring out that context made it easier to understand why calls for expanded flu research - research that could have protected us against the current pandemic threat - had been ignored.
I also accept that I am going to run up against something totally foreign to me that I am going to have to learn in depth pretty quickly. That's happened in every big project I've done as a journalist, and I'm facing it right now with this book. It's forcing me to delve into drug development and microbiology, two subjects on which I am weak and need to get up to speed quickly!

What was the most interesting medical story you've done?

Hmm, wow. There have been so many that I both was intellectually intrigued by and also felt deeply about. Just in the past few years, there was the scientist who recognized the first cases of AIDS in America, but didn't get to put his name to the observations until many years later; a woman who suffered the first described case of West Nile Virus paralysis, and who five years later is still struggling to regain her health; the World Health Organization physician who first warned the West of the dangers of the SARS epidemic and then lost his own life to the disease; the Thai village that was nearly wiped out by the 2004 tsunami but that recreated itself in a refugee camp with immense dignity and bravery.
Right now, aside from MRSA, the story that most engages me is the ongoing recovery of New Orleans. I reported from the city for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during Hurricane Katrina and as a freelancer have gone back roughly every 6 months since. Right now I am writing about the linked crises of emergency-room capacity and mental-health care.

How do you make medical and scientific topics interesting and readable for the general public?

Two things are essential. The first thing is, you have to really understand the science in order to be able to explain it in simple language without making mistakes. This does not require scientific training; it does require being willing to ask questions very patiently and thoroughly and often, at the risk of feeling stupid, until you are sure you have it right.
The second thing is, the story cannot be about the science! The story must be about people, and their experience of the problem or challenge or disease, with the science secondary. Readers are not engaged by data. Narrative is what touches their hearts.

Tell us about your awards for Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service

I've been fortunate to receive awards from both sides of the aisle, as it were. The book was named a "Best Science Book of the Year" by Amazon and a "Best Book" by the NPR program Science Friday, and an "Outstanding Academic Title" by the American Library Association. Also, I was named "Georgia Author of the Year."

Where can people find your award winning book?

Amazon! It has the deepest discount. Search for the title, or use the "Books" page on my website.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Monday, Monday

The thing I love about the freelance life this morning is when I don't feel well, I can go back to bed and see if I can feel better.
I'll be back tomorrow with another author interview.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Writers Wanted for Encyclopedia Work

Pay seems a little low to me, but might be good for someone needing a project to get them through the first half of 2008:

Writers Needed -- Literary Biography - Contract (Comp: Per article based on length, roughly equal to $20/hour) (telecommute) : (, a publishing services company, needs world literature writers to assemble hundreds of literary biography articles for an upcoming high-school-level encyclopedia. This is a freelance, contract, work-from-home position. Articles will average 2,000 words and will be drawn largely from existing encyclopedia articles. The writing task involves fitting existing material into a new article rubric; researching and writing new material as necessary; simplifying language to make it appropriate for high school readers. The encyclopedia will include biographies of both ancient and modern writers from around the world. Ideal candidate will have: *educational background in world literature, MA preferred *professional writing experience *ability to meet deadlines without fail Work starts January 21, ends early June. Workload is flexible. Writers may take on multiple articles with deadlines spread out over several months or only a few articles. If interested, please send a resume to No phone calls please. Treat the body of your email as your cover letter and include information about your work and qualifications. Qualified candidates will be contacted via email.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Magazines vs. Newspapers

This came from a job listing I had in my box this morning that gave the writers guidelines for 5280 Magazine, a local Denver publication. The difference between newspaper and magazines articles has been long debated and I found it interesting that the editor placed this in their guidelines. What do you think, do you agree?

We're looking for writers who understand the difference between newspaper and magazine writing. This is a subjective matter, of course, but it boils down to a difference both in how we approach a story and how we tell it. Newspapers (and television) typically cover the Who, What, When, and Where. That leaves us with the Why and How. Put another way, a good magazine article should answer the question "What does it mean?" Because our readers are well-informed, they may already be aware of the topic you're covering. This means that your article must offer insight that goes beyond a simple recitation of facts. For example, the dailies may be reporting that monthly home sales figures continue to soar. It's up to you to step back, put the numbers in perspective, and offer guidance to the reader who wonders whether now is the time to put his or her home on the market. Newspapers tend to rely on official sources. It's our job to also include the voices of the people whose lives are actually affected by the issues being covered. If the newspapers report that burglaries are up in a particular Denver neighborhood, it's up to us to find the victims of those crimes and to convey their experiences in a compelling way. Finally, a magazine story is told with style. Tom Wolfe once likened newspaper writers to golf announcers, whispering in the background so as to not interrupt the play. The magazine writer's aim is to craft a story that is every bit as entertaining to read as it is informative. WHAT WE EXPECT Too often, writers who are new to magazines think that they have been freed from the drudgery of old-fashioned reporting, and can now exercise their long repressed literary aspirations. Not so. Because we have longer to prepare an issue, our articles deserve to be held to an even higher standard of accuracy and professionalism than those published in the dailies. But unlike a newspaper story, which typically presents both sides of an issue and leaves the reader to draw his or her own conclusion, our writers must be able to formulate a reasoned and well-grounded reaction to the subject matter. Again, your article should answer the question "What does it mean?" Articles should be strongly organized and clearly presented. Unlike the newspaper's inverted pyramid, magazine articles have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The magazine writer has many of the novelist's tools -- dialog, description, narrative, and point of view, to name a few -- at his or her disposal. Your writing should have personality. It's worth pointing out, however, that this is not a license for self indulgence. Remember that Picasso was an accomplished traditional painter before embracing more abstract techniques. In particular, the first person should be used only when it truly advances the story. No one cares that you arrived late for your interview, or that you ordered the fish and she had the veal. Above all else, of course, your finished product must have a strong local feel.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Figuring for Six

Thanks for the two week break, and for coming back! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and that you're ready for a new year. I know I am. My year was full of the worst lows, as well as the greatest highs, and I'm just ready to see what life has to offer in 2008.
If you're like me, your writing business goals include increasing your income.
Today, I interview Marica Turner, who speaks on six-figure freelancing, as well as doing an e-newsletter. To sign up, simply go to and sign up.
Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Tell us about yourself.

Well, I’m not one of those people who knew all their life that they were destined to be a writer. Far from it, actually.

My mother was a freelance writer when I was young, but I didn’t realize that until later. All I knew was that writing came easily to her and that, apparently, I had not inherited that gene.

Fortunately, I attended a liberal arts college (Wellesley), where I had to write papers – hundreds of papers, it seemed. And over the course of three-and-a-half years, I became more adept at the process of researching and writing. When I entered the University of Michigan MBA program and began receiving A’s on my papers, it dawned on me that I had become a decent writer. From there I began to seek out opportunities to write.

I went to work in marketing at a unit of Eastman Kodak Company here in Rochester, New York, and gained some great experience writing corporate pieces. I also wrote my first book – a guide for artists and gallery owners regarding how to market their work – during that time. From there, my writing career took off and I left Kodak to be on my own. I was offered a book editing gig, then another book project, and eventually figured out how to pitch magazine editors effectively and began getting magazine assignments.

Although I now have a fairly steady stream of book and magazine assignments coming in, I’m always in search of writing tools that will help me become more efficient and proficient at writing – that is, faster and better.

I know that many writers want a magic potion to increase their income, but we all know it is a business and it takes work. What is the first step, generally, that freelancers should do?

I think anyone who’s hoping to make a decent amount of money at writing, whether on the side or as a full-time or part-time career, needs to start by assessing what they’re good at, or what their interests are.

Many writers start by pitching a million different articles to a million different editors, most of which they are not qualified to write. But if they start by looking at the industries they’ve worked in, the circles they travel in, or what they spend their days thinking about, they’ll be able to choose three or so different areas of expertise on which to build a business.

Kelly James-Enger calls these specialties in her fabulous book, Ready, Aim, Specialize, but I don’t think you necessarily have to limit yourself completely to those one or two or three areas, just use them to establish a base of business for yourself. You can expand later, once you have a track record with several editors.

For example, I started by coming up with marketing-related articles based on what I had seen and heard through the years in the field. I also pitched small business stories, again, because that’s what I knew. And editors bought them. I pitched more and they bought those, too.

Once writers have identified a handful of areas of expertise, they should start brainstorming article ideas that makes use of their knowledge base and network. And then research magazines, trade journals, or book publishers that would most likely be interested in the subject. Sure, there are thousands of possible editors you could sell the idea to, but which are most likely to buy it.

Another piece of advice I’d offer is - if you are relatively new to freelancing - to go where editors are likely to give a new writer a shot. Editors at major women’s magazines, daily newspapers, or top business publications aren’t looking to give a new writer their big break. On the contrary – they only want to deal with writers who have a solid track record in their sector. So start with trade journals and regional publications that frequently have writing assignments at-the-ready, and work your way up to the household name magazines.

Similarly, in book publishing, start by identifying agents with whom you might like to work, based on the types of books they frequently represent. Then partner with one you like in order to market your manuscript ideas to top publishers.

What is the single biggest mistake that freelancers usually make in keeping their income level lower than they would like?

Well, if I’m any guide, I’d say the biggest mistake freelancers make is assuming they can’t make more than they already are. For several years I believed my income had peaked, presumably because I had simply reached my limit in terms of the number of assignments I could take on in a year. I was content with the amount I was making, but when I heard a fellow ASJAer reveal his $200,000+ annual income, I was inspired to take another look at how I was doing business.

I started by grading all my clients based on the hourly rate I could earn from them and the quality of the relationship – clients who were difficult to work for received a lower grade. And then I stopped writing for clients who earned a D or F grade and began pursuing better-paying publications and assignments to fill my A and B ranks.

I also committed to making the most of my time, so I could get more work done in a day. And I started tracking my projects using TraxTime, to make sure I was billing in full for my time and to verify I had a good handle on how much time each assignment required.

Earlier this year I spoke on the Six-Figure Freelancing panel at ASJA in the hopes of sharing some of what I learned about boosting my writing income – I’ve managed to move from around $30,000 to close to $200,000 in a few short years. I also started writing a monthly ezine to encourage other writers who wonder how to make a six-figure living, which is available at

As you said, it takes work, but any writer can increase their income by focusing on what they know and then pitching ideas on that subject to magazines and book publishers, and keeping the funnel full of upcoming projects, so there’s never a major lull in work or revenue.