Writing Life


Writing can be such a lonely profession. We’re not seeking sympathy, however, for many of us prefer it that way. But, then comes the day when we actually have to reach out as a writer (face to face, that is!)–to our readers, to our target market to sell our book,  or perhaps even to other writers for help.

I used to find this entire process quite intimidating and draining, but I’ve learned some things over my writing life that have really helped me connect with others in a way that’s not too daunting for introverts like myself. And, I have to say, the benefits have paid off handsomely.

Here are some tips I’ve discovered for connecting with…

1. Readers: One thing that really helps when connecting with readers is to make sure that you call the shots as to where you will be speaking to or meeting with them. If you don’t like speaking to large crowds, then arrange for a smaller group in a more intimate setting, like a library, bookstore, or coffee shop. I find speaking with small groups and being able to do Q&A is actually a lot of fun, and it helps your readers to get to know you better than if you were hundreds of feet away at a podium.

Get creative and develop some form of activities, crafts, games, and so forth that may work with your book’s theme. If none of these ideas would be appropriate, then design a time where you can do a couple of readings from your book, along with a discussion session or even workshop. This takes some of the pressure off you to “perform” and gets your readers more involved with your book.

2. Target market: It’s easy to “hide” behind the internet nowadays when it comes to book or self-promotion. I’m not knocking this, because blogging and promoting through various other online venues can be quite effective. All I’m saying is, don’t stop there! A great way to connect with your target market is through book signings, on-site promotional events, or, again, workshops. And, these can be as low-key or extravagant as your personality dictates.

I would not do well in a huge arena trying to sell my book to everyone who passes by. But having a book signing where my target market gathers or teaming up with a local radio station to do on-site promos is perfect for me. You may not reach the masses this way, but again, people have a chance to talk to you, get to know you a little, and through this you have a better chance of selling them on your book.

3. Other writers: Most writers attend writers conferences to talk with publishers or agents, but I’ve found it quite helpful to use these opportunities to get to know other writers as well. To make the most out of this experience, however, you probably need to step out of your comfort zone a little. If you’ve noticed at conferences, many people tend to sit at the exact same tables in the cafe meal after meal after meal. Your job is to not do this. Purposely sit in a different spot each time, seeking out people you don’t know.

Also, be sure to come with a ton of business cards. Sure, give them out to potential publishers or agents, but also hand them out to other writers. You never know when you’re going to need to pick someone’s brain over something, and it’s nice to be able to break the ice with “I met you at Writers R Us conference last year…” As you talk with writers, ask what genre they write, who they write for if they’ve been published, and how they got their big break. You’ll be amazed at the chain of networking that can come just from asking the right questions. Definitely don’t spend your whole conversation talking about yourself!

Other great places to network with other writers are, of course, writers groups, critique groups, local author events (libraries often hold these), and local writing workshops and seminars. But keep in mind, your main goal is not only to make friends, which will naturally be a byproduct of your efforts, but also to find writers who can walk with you on your journey. Some of these writers will be more experienced, which will be wonderful, because perhaps they will be willing to help mentor you. Others may not be as experienced as you, in which case you can be the one offering helpful tips and encouragement. And some may be exactly where you are, which is also good because you can navigate the waters together.

And, believe it not, like it or not, this is something we as writers need. There are times when it’s good to be holed up in your office pounding on the keyboard. But, there are also times when we need to poke our heads out and find others to connect with. I hope some of these ideas help in knowing where and how to make these vital connections.

I’m writing to you poolside from a hotel in Scottsdale, AZ. My family drove down from Colorado last Friday to watch my high school sophomore run in the Nike SW Cross Regional XC race–an annual post-season event for his very talented cross country team. We decided to turn his race into a family vacation this year and stay in the warmth until the kids have to return to school next week.

So, what’s the point of this story, and what does it have to do with writing? Well, the catch is, while I’d love to just hang out at the pool all day, or play volleyball with my daughter, or watch SpongeBob with my seven-year-old, as usual, I have work to do. I promised myself, as always, that I wasn’t going to work over vacation. But, as always, I have no choice. Deadlines loom, and somehow or another, the work must get done.

So instead of a happy-go-lucky, carefree vacation, I’m spending my time trying to achieve a balance between working and spending fun, quality time with my family. I try hard to avoid having my kids’ (and my own, for that matter) memories of our vacations include me always having laptop or pad of paper within reach.

Since I’ve in no way yet mastered this dilemma, I’d really enjoy hearing from some of you who’ve been able to win the struggle of being a writer on vacation. In the meantime, here are some ideas I’m toying with at the moment:

1. Set aside a definite, particular time every day for work. This way, everyone will know what times are off-limits for Mom and can work around my schedule accordingly. But, what if something we’ve already planned ends up interfering with this allotted time?

2. Wait for everyone else’s moments of downtime to sneak in some work. This is actually what I’m doing now, but, what if my four other family members’ downtimes don’t always coincide?

3. Don’t worry about it; just enjoy my vacation, and work nonstop when I get home. Possible, but then I’d have all the stress of hitting all my deadlines once I return home, which of course, would make my vacation stressful simply thinking about it!

I apologize for whining, but you can see my dilemma–and why I need your help! I also apologize that this isn’t much of an instructional post–actually, I’m hoping to learn from you! Managing the writing life isn’t always easy. Freelancing can be tough because you ten to always be on the clock–no matter how hard you try not to. But, on the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for being able to work in your bathing suit next to a pool if you wish. I doubt that I would trade it for anything!

Until next week when I’ve returned home and hopefully, everything’s returned to normal.

Happy Labor Day!

Perhaps it’s appropriate that I’m blogging on Labor Day, since it seems nowadays I need national holidays to get caught up on my work! Unfortunately, I tend to use vacation time (or what should be vacation time) quite a bit lately to make sure I stay ahead of writing and editing deadlines. But for me, a simply change of venue, especially if there’s a beach involved, is all the vacation I need! Enter the writing retreat.

Before I completely understood what writing retreats were, I likened them to writing conferences. But they are very different in a number of ways.

For one, at a conference, you usually don’t have much, if any, time to actually write. The workshop schedule keeps everyone quite busy, and often there are so many people that it’s hard to find a quiet space to get away and work. But a writing retreat is ALL about the writing. There may or may not be any workshops or actual teaching time, and each retreat is limited to a small number of people. And, the environment is conducive to alone time–just you, your imagination, and your pad and pen (or iPad!).

The writing retreat is much more like a vacation than a conference could ever hope to be. You will seldom find a retreat in the middle of a big city (I haven’t actually heard of any), but rather tucked away in the mountains, overlooking a coast, or in a quaint, historic town (think bed-and-breakfast properties). The idea is to submerge the writer in tranquility and a natural environment that stirs the imagination and calms the soul. Unlike a frenzied conference, the feel is serene and slower paced.

Another difference is the cast of characters you’ll discover at a retreat versus a conference. Conferences are full of agents, editors, publishers, and speakers who can teach you everything from proper grammar to platforms. Retreats usually have none of these, but instead have writing coaches, mentors, and facilitators to guide group exercises and discussions.

Writing retreats range from a weekend to two weeks or more. Some are only for individuals, while others are open to hosting writing groups. (Retreats make a great getaway for critique groups, by the way!) Some retreats are self-guided, meaning they basically just provide a bedroom and a house (or lodge) for you to work in, and you’re on your own; others have scheduled events and meeting times for group  work, mentoring, or on-your-own writing each day. Finally, retreats may be general–open to any genre or niche, while others are specialized due to the coaching and mentoring available. For instance, so far I’ve discovered retreats that focus on: dissertations, poetry, screen plays, fiction, business writing, and those for women only.

So, think of a writing retreat as being able to take a vacation but not feel guilty about having extra work pile up when you get home! Retreats are perfect if you need a quiet getaway for a few days, if you’re stuck on your book and need professional help to jump start it, or if you need to be with other writers who can help you brainstorm ideas.

And, if you have the money and an adventurous spirit, you may want to travel outside the U.S. to help boost your creativity. There are plenty of retreats in France, England, Italy, and more exotic spots like Bali. Whatever setting you need to get you in the “write” frame of mind, there’s probably a writing retreat available!

If you’re looking for guided instruction during your retreat, one place to check out is the Elizabeth Ayres Writing Center:  www.creativewritingcenter.com.

If you need to get into character for your next historical fiction book, look into this retreat at a historic farmhouse overlooking the James River in Virginia: www.porcheswritingretreat.com.

For a list of various retreats by region (U.S. only), try: www.retreatsforwriters.com.

By the way, if you still want to find a conference, be sure to take a look at my Writers’ Resources page for an updated list of writers’ conferences through the end of 2011.

Let’s face it: No one enjoys getting rejected. Writers certainly can attest to this. But the key to handling those unwanted rejection letters–via email or snail mail–is all in our attitude. We can either view them as another nail in our writing coffin, in which case we may get discouraged enough to stop writing altogether, or we can try to ” find the silver lining,” “turn those lemons into lemonade, or “see the glass as half full, not half empty”–whichever cliche you prefer.

I’m not saying that receiving rejection letters will ever become fun or something you start looking forward to, but if you view them from the correct perspective, they won’t ruin your whole week–or year! So, how do you have an upbeat attitude about rejection letters? For me, it comes down to trying to view them as a learning experience.

In most cases, especially if you have sent your article or manuscript off to a large publisher, you will receive a form rejection letter without any personalization or indication of where your work fell short. There’s not a lot that can be gleaned from these letters because you have no idea why your submission wasn’t accepted. But, there are those cases where the editor will take the time to give you some feedback. Take her words to heart–if she’s taking the time to talk about your work, she’ll be telling you the truth and not just making stuff up. And don’t try to read anything into her words. Take them at face value and learn from what she’s shared with you.

If you do hear back from an editor who has a couple negative comments about your submission but offers even a glimmer of hope that you can re-submit, jump on that opportunity. Make the changes she’s requested and quickly get your new submission back to her.  In the subject line of the email or on the envelope of your submission, write “Re-submission of manuscript.” That will prompt the editorial team that your work has already been looked at once, which usually helps keep it out of the slush pile for the second time.

Also, view rejection letters as one more rung on the ladder you’re trying to climb. The more you submit manuscripts, the more rejection letters you’re going to get.  If you never want to receive a rejection letter, just don’t ever send in your work! A writer friend of mine tells a story of her early days of writing, where she won a contest at a writers conference because she had received more rejection letters that year than anyone else there.

At first glance, you may think she’s just a terrible writer. But the truth is, she also probably sent out more submissions than anyone else there. Today, nearly twenty years later, she has published over 100 (yes, that’s two zeroes!) children’s books! And—she still gets rejection letters!

It’s just like the lottery. You’ll never win if you never buy a ticket. You’ll never get rejection letters if you don’t send in your work, but you’ll also never have a chance of getting published. Look at it as a numbers game, and you’ll realize that the more you play, the better your chances of winning become.

Once you receive a rejection letter, check to see if a specific editor and direct contact information was given. This, in itself, is worth getting the letter for. If you originally sent your submission to a generic editing department at a generic address, now you have a direct “in” to the editor responsible for reviewing your future submissions.

Some people save their rejection letters for various reasons. You may or may not want to do this, but even if you don’t save them, at least make note of them. Record who rejected you, why (if you know), the date, and any contact info you have for that editor. Hopefully, you’ll want to send something else to this publisher down the road and now you may have more specific contact info on file, and you can see how long it’s been since you last sent something.

This brings me to my final point, which is, never give up on a publisher. Unless an editor says to you “don’t ever contact us again” or something to that effect, try again! Be sure you have followed all submission rules and writers’ guidelines to a tee and that your style and subject matter matches their house. Sometimes sheer persistence may win out, and your efforts will be rewarded.

Remember, rejection letters are certainly not the end of the world. Learn what you can from them, and know that it’s just part of the process of being a writer. Even the best have been rejected many, many times. And if they quit after just a handful of rejections, no one would’ve ever heard of them!

I’d like to ask my readers to help me write this next post. I’ve been thinking about the tools, gadgets, and technology that help make our writing lives easier or somehow better, or will hopefully make us more successful. Whether it’s an old-school thesaurus or children’s word book that give you that perfect word right at your fingertips or something as high-tech as the new Vook that can enhance your presentation as an author.

What is it for you that you just can’t live without? What are you hoping to be able to make the most of to take your writing to new levels? Or, maybe…what would you like to see invented? (Aside from a clone of you who writes while you go to the beach!)

Your answers may be something directly related to you putting words on a page, something that helps you organize your time or your writing space, or something that helps you with the business side of writing. Anything that makes your writing life easier!

Please leave a comment and share your discoveries!

 

Ah, it’s that time of year. The time when our thoughts turn to new beginnings, new goals, and …taxes! If you’re new to the business of writing, and if you’re trying to make the transition from hobby to business or from part-time to full-time writing, you’ll soon find–if you haven’t already–that there’s lots to learn when it comes to handling your business expenses and making the most out of your tax deductions. And, if you’re a veteran writer who’s been in business for a while, read on anyway…you might just pick up some helpful nuggets, or perhaps you can add your own two cents worth to help others. I’d love to hear about any deductions I may’ve missed. (I’m sure there’ll be some, as this is the short list!)

Before launching into specific deductions, I want to encourage any freelance writer to be sure to always keep your business expenses and revenues separated (preferably in a separate bank account) from your personal expenses and revenues. Not only does it make the accounting work much easier in the long run, but it will help you to better gauge on a regular basis how your business is doing.

Also, keep in mind that the IRS is seriously cracking down on small businesses and sole proprietorships right now (let’s face it, they need the money!), so they are looking for any reason you give them to come and audit you. Don’t give them any. Keep detailed records of every transaction, or hire someone who can do that for you. It could save you big down the road.

As mentioned, this is the short list of possible deductions if you are a freelance writer, working as a 1099:

~ Office space: You are allowed to deduct a portion of your mortgage expense (equal to the percentage of space your office occupies in your home) for your office. The only caveat here is that your office must be a dedicated space. So, if your office also functions as your family’s TV room, or you share the space with your kitchen, then you can’t deduct it.

~ Office supplies: From paper clips to computers, any and all office supplies that you need for your business are fully deductible. Hold onto all of your receipts! Those paper clip expenses add up over the course of a year!

~ Mileage: Anytime you have to travel to meet with clients, publishers, to go to writers’ conferences or workshops, to conduct research at the library, or even to purchase those supplies I just mentioned, keep track of your mileage. It is also deductible. Purchase a mileage log and keep it in your car. You’ll use it more than you think.

~ Entertainment: If you engage in working lunches with co-authors or editors, if you take an editor out to dinner as a thank-you for all his hard work on your book, or even if you use a round of golf to pitch an editor on your latest book (Of course, you may lose your editor in the process if you spend 18 holes pitching her!), these are all legitimate business, and therefore, deductible expenses. Keep all of your receipts, and write the purpose for the event on the receipt so you don’t forget. And, don’t go overboard with these, or red flags will fly with Uncle Sam.

~ Conferences/Workshops: All expenses associated with going to writers’ conferences, seminars, workshops, or other events used to further your career or business are considered deductible: meals to and from and while you’re there, travel to and from, rental car expenses, lodging, etc.

~ Educational materials: Anytime you purchase books or CDs on writing (or something similar), reference materials, subscriptions to online databases, magazines, or anything else you need to conduct your business and aid in your writing is deductible.

One more thing to note is that the IRS makes a distinction between a hobby and a business. If you’re writing is not profitable after a certain period of time (the last I checked it was three years, but this may’ve  changed), it is considered a hobby not a business and you will not be able to use your deductions. Once it does become profitable, however, you may start deducting again.

If you’re a freelance writer, you know by now that this is a tough way to make a living. But while you’re waiting for your ship to come in, so to speak, there are some good ways to supplement your income with writing gigs. Here are a few you may want to research:

1. Strive for regular income from regular clients. This may seem obvious, but I know lots of writers who are stretched into so many different markets that their income is too sporadic to make ends meet. It’s great to have multiple streams of income, but a couple of those streams should be consistent.

For instance, you could choose to write for the same magazine for a while. By doing so, the editor may ultimately ask you to become an assignment writer for them, where they call you with an idea (imagine that!). Or, you could get to know the magazine well enough that you are known as one of their regular contributing writers, which typically means a monthly paycheck.

Another avenue is to become a columnist for a local or regional magazine or newspaper. To do this, write 3-4 columns and submit them, along with a resume, to papers that do not already have the type of column you want to write. You may also want to have an additional 10 or so ideas ready and stated in your cover letter to the editor. Columns are a great way to gain name recognition and produce steady pay.

2. Provide blog or website content for others. It’s not uncommon for businesses, even other writers, to contract out their blog or website writing, strictly because they don’t have the time to keep up with it. Start with who you know, and offer to write their blog, website, or even electronic newsletter for them. Many small businesses would love to have this taken off their hands!

3. Research publications that do work-for-hire contracts instead of strictly royalty. Children’s writer, Nancy Sanders, just had an interview on a previous blog of mine regarding the benefits of work-for-hire writing. Be sure to check that out if you’re not familiar with work for hire.

To get in the door with these publishers, you’ll need to send writing samples specifically geared to their publication, along with the topics you are interested in writing for. If they believe you’re well suited for their needs, they will call you with assignments.

4. Develop writing courses. If you know how to write, you should have some topics about writing that you can teach to others. You can either develop these courses to sell them online, contract them to other writing companies who do sell online courses, or teach them yourself in person at workshops.

5. Learn about copywriting. Every business, even freelancers, need to have good ad copy written in order to promote their services. Start local or with who you know and offer to develop text for marketing brochures, fliers, websites, sales letters, and more. This is a huge market, and usually quite lucrative.

So there you have it! Five possible ways to make some extra money writing while you’re waiting on your bestseller to get recognized! Be sure to chime in if you have other ways of making money writing that’s worked for you.

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