Recent Work By Anne Walls

Santa Monica, CA July 20, 2010—

The Writers Junction along with WordHustler and The Nervous Breakdown are pleased to announce the 24-Hour Literary Marathon this Saturday, July 24 from 9:00 am through 9:00 am Sunday, July 25.

This creative celebration of prose readings, poetry performance, stand-up comedy, music, panels and more will star some of the literary, entertainment, and music world’s best and brightest. There are a few spots still open, so if you’d like to perform please email [email protected]

Jose Rivera, Academy Award nominated screenwriter for The Motorcycle Diaries, will premiere an excerpt from his debut novel and Jillian Lauren, New York Times Best-Selling author of Some Girls: My Life in a Harem will read from her work.

Most of us are starving for success, but there are some people who take their obsessions to a whole other level. Training a carefully-honed eye on the secret world of eating disorders, author Lisa deNikolits delves into the sensitive topic of beauty in her well-received novel, THE HUNGRY MIRROR.

WordHustler sat down with deNikolits to talk fame, fashion, and being famished. This savvy South-African-turned-Canadian author has done an amazing job of churning out many projects while still maintaining her other career as an art director for top fashion magazines. Read on to find out how this talented writer is taking the fashion world- and the world at large- by storm!

WordHustler: You have an amazing and eclectic background from growing up in multiple countries, working as a writer and an art director in the fashion magazine world…what do you consider your first big break, writing-wise?

Lisa deNikolits: My first big break came, oddly enough, in the form of a rejection letter from Carolyn Jackson, the managing editor of a publishing house in Toronto. With characteristic generosity of spirit, she pointed me in the direction of Inanna, and The Hungry Mirror came to be as a result. My second big break would of course be the offer by Luciana Ricciutelli and Inanna to publish the book.

WH: You’ve written a few short story collections and some other novels- what made you decide you HAD to write this book in particular?

LD: If anything, it was The Hungry Mirror who made the decision for me! The Hungry Mirror wanted to be written and it was insistent. There were times when I wished it hadn’t “chosen” me as its conduit, because it was a tough book to write and the writing spanned a very long time. But I feel the book explores a number of important and controversial social and mental  health issues, and I am very pleased to be the author.

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WH: When drawing from your experiences in the fashion world, do you find it difficult to disguise people you actually know? Or do you make the characters amalgams of many people?

LD: All amalgams, absolutely! I borrow bits and pieces shamelessly from everywhere, from everyone and I create character collages. And in return, I am quite happy for anyone to borrow anything from me! The only real difficulty I have encountered so far is when people misinterpreting themselves to be the basis for a fictional character. Then it’s awkward to have to say well actually that character originated from my imaginings – meanwhile a lot has been revealed that might better have been left unsaid.

WH: What for you is the most challenging part of writing? Realistic-sounding dialogue? Educating/getting your message across without sacrificing story?

LD: I struggle with tenses. I start off writing in the past tense, I swing into the present, then veer into the future. When I go back and tackle a first draft, I am dismayed by the mess I have created. It can be hard to untangle mixed up tenses, like trying to fix bad knitting. I also need to learn more about the intricacies and rules of punctuation.

WH: You are doing a fantastic job of marketing yourself and your book. What advice can you give other writers looking to promote and market themselves?

LD: Thank you for the kind words! Yes, the marketing is going very well and while I would love to take credit, all kudos go to my publisher, friends and family. The support and generosity of their time, their enthusiasm, their help and encouragement have just been incredible.

For my part, I worked hard to set up a number of social networking infrastructures but that was really just like mailing out a lot of invites; the party is a great success because people show up and bring their passion and energy.

Other key points to successful marketing would be; start thinking about this early on in the process, leave no stone unturned, do a lot of research, make a lot of lists, keep knocking on doors.

WH: What are a few of your favorite books out there today (besides your own, of course! 😉 )?

LD: Two of my favourite women authors are Edeet Ravel: Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth, Ten Thousand Lovers, Wall of Light, Look for Me, and Annie Proulx: Close Range: Wyoming Stories, Bad Dirt, and of course, The Shipping News.

I love Harry Crews: Body, The Gospel Singer, Feast of Snakes. In terms of recently published books, I’ve been enjoying a number of Inanna’s books – Butterfly Tears by Zoë S Roy, Women’s Spirituality by Johanna S. Stuckey, First Voices (An Aboriginal Womens’ Reader), edited by Patricia A. Monture and Patricia D. McGuire, Truth and Other Fictions by Eva Tihanyi. I thoroughly enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and I am halfway through Linden MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man.

WH: What is your preferred writing method? Do you have a certain writing spot/technique?

LD: I used to write longhand but then I got tired of inputting all the copy. So I switched to writing on my iMac, and I sit at my Hungarian grandfather’s old dining table which is set high on wooden blocks, to accommodate my red retro step chair stool with polished red vinyl seat. It is an unusual setup but one that works for me! It’s all quite elevated and precarious!

WH: How do you best balance your fiction writing with your art direction commitments?

LD: I squeeze time! I can fit a lot into a day! And when I feel start to feel a bit sorry for myself, trying to do all these things, I remind myself of all the mothers out there who have to juggle more than I could even imagine, and it’s not like they can take a break whenever they feel like it. So, it’s all a matter of perspective.

WH: What are three things you’d advise aspiring writers to do?

LD: Read style manuals. Attend writing workshops. Print your work out and read it a aloud.

WH: What are three things you’d advise aspiring writers to NEVER do?

LD: Never give up.  Never stop reading with the intent to learn. Never write an entire 220,000 word manuscript as internal narrative (I learned this one the hard way!).

WH: Do you think WordHustler is a valuable resource in helping writers successfully get their work out there, professionally and effectively?

LD: Yes I do think WordHustler is a valuable resource. Finding one’s way through the maze of agents and publishers can be much more daunting than writing the book. So when you say: “Bottom line: you’re a writer. You should be spending your time writing.” Well, I just love that!

She’s a savvy writer, indeed. Saving time with all the paperwork so you can get back to writing is WordHustler‘s goal for you. Use our helpful Advanced Search Wizard in the Markets section to help you target the perfect agents, publications, and publishers for your work, or submit your wonderful writing to any of our thousands of writing contests!

WordHustler wants to help you get your work out to the world quickly, efficiently, and successfully. So what are you waiting for! Destiny is only a click away!

Life is all about taking chances: meeting the right person, landing the right job, etc. For Brendan Deneen, a series of strategic maneuvers and a few lucky moves have paid off. He’s now an editor at Thomas Dunne Books and is in the enviable position of not only acquiring fantastic books, but also developing book ideas that are destined for the big screen (as well as a bookshelf near you)!

WordHustler had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Deneen in his offices in New York’s famous Flatiron Building. How did this talented, savvy Hollywood-turned-publishing industry insider get so lucky? Read on to find out!

WordHustler: Thanks for sitting down with us, Brendan! How did you get your start in the industry?

Brendan Deneen: I moved to New York to be a writer and an actor circa 1997. I did that for 3 years while working a day job at an investment bank. Then I produced a couple of short films that I wrote and directed. Eventually, I started temping. The temp agency was looking to place people in permanent jobs and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing to work at a literary agency. I thought maybe I could get an agent out of it. They didn’t tell me the name of the company but gave me an address and said I’d be interviewing to be the assistant of a literary agent. It turned out to be the William Morris Agency. I got hired and was older than your average assistant since I was 28. I worked there for a year but then the department changed after WMA bought another agency out and I eventually left.

I went on Mediabistro.com in 2001 and saw an ad for a film company hiring in NY and again, no specific company was named but they wanted someone who was interested in books. I faxed my resume over and was Number 19 of 20 people who was interviewed at Scott Rudin Productions for a Story Editor position. I had to write coverage overnight. It was interesting because it was a manuscript that two executives at Rudin’s liked but Scott himself didn’t like it. I didn’t like the book either and said that. They liked the fact that I had an opinion so they hired me.

I worked there for 2 years as a Story Editor. It was an awesome job. I was a book-to-film guy, which meant I was tracking the book world, doing notes on books and scripts, etc.

WH: And this was the beginning of the book-to-film craze, or at least when it started to really blossom, right?

More... BD: Well, I don’t know, I think it comes in phases. Money will run out and Hollywood will shut down all the New York literary offices and then money will come back and they’ll be like: “Why don’t we have a book scout?!”

So after a couple years at Rudin’s, I outgrew the position and they sensed that, so they recommended me over to Dimension Films. They were looking for a book scout, so I was hired.

Dimension does a lot of horror, which I like, and genre stuff. It was an amazing 2 years working under Andrew Rona. Then the Disney divorce happened and I started working for both Bob and Harvey Weinstein, at both Dimension Films and the Weinstein Company, for another 2 years.

WH: What was your favorite thing you worked on when you were there?

BD: I did a lot of work on 1408. I brought in a book for Harvey called PANIC, which is in development now. I also did a lot of work on OUTLANDER, but they kind of buried it. It came out in like 2 theaters. I worked on FANBOYS, too, which I really liked.

At the time, I was the only creative exec working for both Bob and Harvey, which I thought would protect me if there was a falling out.  But of course there was. This was 2007 and I was looking for a film job in NYC and couldn’t find one. I had some amazing offers in LA but I didn’t want to uproot my family.  So, I became a literary and film manager. I put together a client list and represented writers for both publishing and film. I did that for two and a half years and and was also producing TV and films. Then the economy, being what it was, made it very tough to make a living as a manager since the spec market dried up and book advances were getting smaller and smaller.

Then in December, I got the opportunity to come work as an editor at St. Martin’s Press. I started in January.

WH: What position have you filled here and why is it a great fit for you?

BD: It’s a great fit here at Thomas Dunne Books (a division of St. Martin’s). I get to work with authors and they’re okay with the fact that I have movies and television shows in development. I’m also also interested in creating an sort of in-house packaging company here.

I’m a writer and I’m constantly coming up with ideas. But I’m never going to be able to write them all, so what I’d like to do is write short synopses of ideas and then take them to agents and say, “Let’s attach a writer. They work for hire, we pay them an advance like normal and a royalty rate.”

WH: That’s what Alloy (a media conglomerate that produces the Gossip Girl series, among others) is doing.

BD: Exactly. So, I come up with the idea, pay a writer to write it and they keep their name on it but we (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press) keep the commercial property so we can turn around and sell it to film, sell the merchandising, etc.

WH: So, all of the book projects are hopefully going to be films as well?

BD: That’s the plan.

WH: What kind of projects are you creating?

BD: Everything. I’m developing a YA series called PARADIGM SHIFTERS that’s a scavenger hunt-type story.

WH: Are you more drawn to the YA stuff?

BD: I like everything. I’m developing a horror novel called THE CHRYSALIS, which is THE SHINING meets ALIEN. The third one is called IMPASSE, which is a thriller based on THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. It’s inspired by a true story that one of my best friends heard over a campfire. It’s a crazy story about a guy who’s left to die in the wilderness. I’m setting it in Alaska.

WH: So, you are basically in a position here at Thomas Dunne that doesn’t really exist many places, especially in established publishing houses, right?

BD: Penguin has a guy who’s doing the same type of job and he was in many ways the inspiration for me to do this.

Random House Films also exists, but I have a bit of a different take on how to do it. Here at Thomas Dunne I’m also doing the normal editorial stuff, i.e. receiving books from agents, reading them and buying some. I just bought a book, actually. But what’s different from normal protocol is that I’m also reverse-engineering.

WH: That’s how the Hollywood studios work too- they’re buying from agents AND creating in-house content and then hiring writers.

BD: Exactly.  And that reminds me a story from when I was an executive at Dimension. I was submitted a book of horror short stories. My assistant, Vince Mitchell, read it first and flagged a story called “Vacation” by Matthew Costello. I read it and said, “You’re right, this is a movie.” I brought it to the heads of the company and they passed. I was really disappointed because I really believed in my heart that there was a movie there.

I couldn’t let it go so I got in touch with the author and said to him, “My assistant and I love this. We’re both writers — will you let us option this and we’ll adapt it for you.” He agreed, so Vince and I adapted it. We were very close to making it happen – we had an A-list horror director attached, we had a major agent repping us, but as often happens in Hollywood, it never came together.

So five years later, when I got here to St. Martin’s, I called Matt and said, “Now I’m an editor – would you consider writing a novel based on our screenplay, which of course is based on your short story?” And he said yes.

WH: Did you expand the story a lot in the screenplay?

BD: Yes. Now he’s writing and it’s all come full circle.

WH: What draws you to a fiction book?

BD: Everyone thinks of me as a genre guy — horror, sci-fi, and I do love that stuff but it’s not only what I want. I want to do literary stuff, noir and thrillers.

WH: What’s NOT your thing?

BD: I don’t like stuff that is typical. I don’t like old school horror or stereotypical slasher stuff. I’m just not interested. I like super high concept, elevated genre. Smart like Michael Chabon-type literary genre material. I want literary stuff, I don’t just want monsters and zombies, even though I love that stuff. I want the next CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES and whoever the next Charlie Huston is.

WH: Do you think the vampire craze is done?

BD: I think the romance vampire stuff is still going strong but I think YA vampires are getting really old. That’s why PARADIGM SHIFTERS, that YA project I’m working on, has vampires but sort of makes fun of them.

WH: What draws you to a non-fiction book?

BD: I like narrative non-fiction, like DEVIL IN WHITE CITY. I like stories that could almost be fiction. I don’t like celebrity tell-alls, I want real stories.

WH: Why do you think Hollywood and the publishing world are converging?

BD: I think it’s always been that way. Look at the best movies: WIZARD OF OZ, GONE WITH THE WIND, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD — they’re all based on books. If you look at Best Picture winners in general, I bet more than 50% are books.

WH: You want to place a specific bet?

BD: Sure. I’ll vote 64%.

WH: Very optimistic. The answer is actually almost 26%. Turns out 21 of the 81 Best Picture winners have been based on books.

BD: D’oh!  I should stick to poker.

WH: So, what type of books are you looking for that you haven’t found yet?

BD: Because the first book I bought here was a sci-fi and the second one was a horror book, I’m going to start getting a lot of those submissions and I don’t want to be just that guy. I’d like more thrillers, more Hitchcockian thrillers- an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. Like that movie CHANGING LANES — it’s a story about a chance encounter that doesn’t get too ridiculous but is tense and taut.

WH: What is your take on the publishing industry today? In dire straights or blooming?

BD: I think it’s doing pretty well – I’ve heard that St. Martin’s had its best year ever last year. I do definitely see more e-readers around — maybe because I work in New York City. I think the price battles over the books will work themselves out. People like books in their room and bookcases. People are collectors.

WH: So you do read unsolicited submissions? What catches your eye?

BD: Yes, I look at them although I think we have a policy against accepting them. The thing that catches my eye is just a great idea. If the cover letter isn’t good, the idea will have less of a chance. But I received one with a lackluster cover letter but the author referenced Philip K. Dick, so I wanted to read it. There are some keywords that make me pay attention, Philip K. Dick being one of them.

WH: What advice can you give aspiring writers out there?

BD: Learn how to write a cover letter. Not only how to format it, but how to catch an agent’s attention. Don’t over-write, don’t make the subject line of the email a million words long. I get physical submissions too. I wrote my first novel when I was 18. I had no idea what I was doing. I tried to get a publisher with the whole query letter thing but the book was pretty bad. I wallpapered my bathroom in college with rejection letters. I wrote my second novel when I was 21. I get it. It’s hard. I’m a writer and still haven’t had a novel published, so I understand how frustrating it is.

But you still have to get out there and get an agent. You need to know your agents. It’s not just about creating a cover letter and changing the “Dear ____” line. Personalize your letter: “I know that you like ________ and I saw that you just sold this book by _____ and I read it.” If they are educated without being stalker-ish, that helps. It also really helps to know what genres the agents represent. Oh, and DON’T query via Facebook. Please.

You heard the man! Now log out of Facebook and into your WordHustler account so you can do some serious homework before querying. Look at each agency’s web page, read up on their latest deals, and really target the agent whose interests and sales match your project. Taking the time to research your potential representation makes you look prepared and makes them want to read your manuscripts!

We recommend having 10 queries out and in play at all times, so feel free to check out WordHustler’s Digital Submission Service to help manage your e-submissions. With your query letter perfected and your agents targeted, now’s the perfect time to take a gamble on yourself and WIN!


Remember in the olden days, when movies were based on nothing more than a screenwriter’s brainchildren? Now movies are based on novels, childrens’ books, even theme park rides. And which superhero is helping bridge the publishing world with the glittering stardust of Hollywood? That’s right, a hard-working, bookstore-scouring, voracious reader like one Ms. Sarah Self, literary agent at The Gersh Agency and champion of writers everywhere.

WordHustler sat down with Ms. Self to get the skinny on the convergence of Hollywood and the publishing industry, the kind of queries that hook her, and the lure of a good, old-fashioned zombie story. Read on to fill your cup with the elixir of publishing (and Hollywood) SUCCESS!

WordHustler: How did you get your start in the industry?

Sarah Self: I went to school at Northwestern University and got my start in the industry by working/interning for Lynda ObstJodie Foster, and Stacy Sher and Michael Shamberg at Jersey Films. In college I knew that this was the business I wanted to work in, so every summer I would come to LA and do internships. I did a lot of coverage and started building my resume.

Then when I graduated everyone told me I should get agency experience but didn’t think that I wanted to be an agent. I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do- maybe more in line with being a producer- I definitely knew I wanted to create. But agency experience really helps, despite what some may think. Agencies put it all together. Of course the project starts with the writer, but the agency is really the link that connects everybody. That’s where you have directors, writers, talent and they all come to an agency as the center point. It’s the perfect place to start if you’re not sure what you want to do, because you work with all the elements. So I started working at CAA for Bob Bookman, who’s the head of CAA’s Film Department and still my mentor today. He’s at the top of his game.

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WH: Going from a Hollywood agency background to working for an agent who is also involved in book publishing, were you drawn to the publishing industry?

SS: I started working for Bob as his assistant and found that it was my dream job: working with authors who are in the movies. I worked for him and became a junior agent CAA, but didn’t think I wanted to be at an agency long-term so I worked in development. But then had this moment where I looked around LA and looked around my peers and didn’t feel inspired. I found the development process to be stifling and dismal. You see the same people going after the same scripts and everybody is so reactive- no one is really taking any risks.

I started to freak out, so I decided to move to New York because I’d romanticized New York from when I worked at CAA with authors. I knew I had to shake it up. I knew that The Gersh Agency had a NYC office and didn’t have anyone doing books. WMA, Endeavor, ICM and CAA [other Hollywood agencies] already had saturated NYC book departments. So I went immediately to the company that didn’t have anyone doing it and I created my own job. If you sit and wait for your dream job to come, it never will. You have to be proactive. So I created the job and said, “Let me run your New York book department.” I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t have any clients, I had never even been a real agent. To be an agent you have to know the ins and outs of making a deal. But I just jumped into it.

WH: As one of the few book agents working in Los Angeles, do you find your job to be challenging since you’re one of the lone bridges between Hollywood and the publishing industry? Especially now that Hollywood is leaning more heavily on the publishing industry- are you over-saturated?

SS: I think every agent is probably over-saturated. We’re part of a bigger trend, which is that agents are more and more becoming producers. So the role of the producer is being diminished in the traditional sense in that it’s not just about me taking a book and sending it to producers, and them sending it to the studio and making the movie. Now I have to package the book- attach talent, directors, etc- and then give it to the studios. More often than not, I’m starting to go to manager/producers or go to agencies and package materials there. I also package internally within Gersh. I have no need to keep it internal, it’s what’s best for the client.

I think Hollywood is relying on publishing yet is also reluctant to take big steps with material from publishing unless publishing has already performed. The book ofTWILIGHT, everyone forgets, had already been optioned a couple of times before Summit finally made it. It all comes down to risk. It’s all about having an opinion and having a voice and taking a stance. If you try to like what everyone else likes, you’re going to be at the end of the trend. If you try to wait for someone to find your book and your script in their huge stack, they’re never going to find it. You have to keep pushing and keep being proactive.

WH: Do you find you have a lot of agents calling you with a tiny book that isn’t published yet and they’re trying to sell movie rights? Or do you deal with books that have already been published?

SS: I think that everything is changing. Book agents are still calling with that little book they just sold. But this amazing zombie book called BREATHERS was something that I found in Publisher’s Marketplace. It had been sold and I called the agent because I love zombies and said, “This sounds great.” She sent it to me and I loved it, so I packaged it. On the other end of the spectrum, I got a call from an agent yesterday who is sending me a small, literary difficult book. Overall, publishers don’t know what Hollywood is looking for because everyone wants to have the small, perfect Oscar nominee and no one knows what that is.

WH: What draws you to a book? Is there a particular genre you like?

SS: I love anything dark. I love horror- especially psychological horror. I love worlds and subcultures. I’m really interested in death metal, for example, or anything that’s a unique world.

WH: Do you ever find books that you love that you don’t think would translate to the screen?

SS: Yes but if I love it, I figure out how to translate it to screen.

WH: What’s the last thing you read and absolutely loved?

SS: The last thing I read that I loved is Dame Darcy’s book, which is akin to THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS, called THE HANDBOOK FOR HOT WITCHES. The parallel she makes is how to be a strong, sexy, confident woman and the parallel being that it’s a witch, not a bitch. You can be tough and be smart and do your thing and if guys call you a bitch, you’re a witch. The whole book follows the witch theme with a how-to spell guide and witchy recipes. It is so awesome. I love it. I fell in love with this book and was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, but I will sell the movie rights.” It’s all about passion.

WH: Why do you think Hollywood is moving away from generating original content and relying on remakes, sequels, and books?

SS: I think for a while representatives were getting really lazy. There were certain people in town called “The Spec Boy,” which were reps who would just go out and sell spec scripts and create this fake buzz. There were so many instances of slamming not totally ready material out there and studios were being duped into buying it because there wasn’t anything else and because it was on a “list.” So it became this “We should be buying this” herd mentality. Finally the studios looked around and said, “We have so much bad material, let’s go back to what’s always been consistently viable, which is books.” There’s also a platform to books, remakes and sequels that screenplays don’t have. That’s I think the number one thing.

But look, if there’s still great material, it gets put together. Great scripts still sell. Producers still have deals with studios, who are still making movies. But today people have to rely on platforms and branding- I know that’s a word everyone hates hearing, but that’s the way the market is going.

WH: Well put. What types of book adaptations are you looking for that you haven’t found yet?

SS: Something that’s really about a cool world, a non-fiction world or a sub culture that I might not know about yet. Whether it’s related to music, etc, I don’t care. I sold this book- it’s a great story called THE SECRET LIFE OF HOUDINI. It’s a nonfiction book written by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. It’s very clinical and dense – these guys knew everything about Houdini. They are amazing researchers. But it was a book that when I sent it to producers, people were just tuning out.

So I kept sending it and sending it for four years and finally I was like, “You know what? This isn’t working and I believe this is a movie. I’m going to change the pitch and turn this into something else.” So I changed the pitch to: “This is the next SHERLOCK HOLMES and DARK KNIGHT.” All the big superheroes have already been exploited, who’s a big international star that we haven’t done yet? Houdini. Its Robert Downey Jr, it’s Warner Brothers, it’s glossy, and there you go. Done. So I pitched it to someone at Summit Entertainment [makers of TWILIGHT], they loved it, and it sold. My point is that if you love something, you can sell it.

WH: What advice can you give aspiring writers, both prose and screen, out there?

SS: Don’t write what everybody else is writing. Just because THE HANGOVER is making a ton of money and won a Golden Globe, please don’t write something that is THE HANGOVER meets DADDY DAY CARE. By the time you write it, it will have already been done. I think Diablo [Cody, screenwriter of JUNO and Sarah’s client] is a great example in that she wrote a movie about a 16-year-old girl who gets knocked up and decides to keep the baby. If she had pitched that to any producer they would have said, “Huh? What are you talking about? No way.” But she did it anyway.

It’s true when they say: write what you know. Stick to that. Don’t try to write what people want you to write and don’t copy what’s already out there. There are so many reps tell their writers to: “Go write THE HANGOVER” and that’s so wrong. It’s all about showing that you have a voice and being provocative and being different. You have to do it as a representative and you have to do it as an actor- you have to have a different look and a different style. Look at music – it’s a perfect parallel in that you have all these one hit wonders and then you have Lady Gaga who doesn’t give a f#$% and she knows if she looks crazy and is amazing, people are going to notice her. And it’s worked! You have to get people to notice you.

When I get queries all day long, I usually hit delete. I delete them because they are really long and the writers don’t know how to craft a query and they’re boring. So I just started hitting delete. Then today actually, for the first time in a long time, there was a query that stuck out. I was going through emails and I was swamped and there was something funny in it and the title really summed up what it was going to be. You could tell this person had done their research and knew what deals I had done, too. So I wrote back: “Yeah, send it. I’ll read it.” I’m not encouraging people to send ridiculous things, but be bold. Otherwise, it all just goes by really fast and you’ll just get lost in the sea.

She speaks, we listen. So what are you waiting for? Tighten your prose, polish your query, then spend some time seeking out agents who match your aesthetics and aspirations. Targeting your submissions to agents who you’ve researched shows them you’ve put in the time and you’ve got the drive to succeed. Why not sign up for our Digital Submission System to help keep track of all those wonderful queries you’re sending out to the world?

WordHustler wants to help you find your perfect agent, editor, and writing future. Hopefully soon you’ll catch the eye of an accomplished agent like Ms. Self then be on your way to publishing (and Hollywood) success! Fingers crossed!


LOS ANGELES – This morning started out like any other morning. Or maybe not. When your houseguest is not only on East Coast time but also in the middle of a nasty bout of bronchial distress, the chances are slim to none that you will be asleep past 6:30 am PST. Which proved true early, so early, this fine Tuesday morning. The hacking and honking reached a crescendo somewhere around 6:37 am but my lovely out-of-towner, considerate as she is, decided that instead of torturing us both with her frequent lung-rattles, she would just take a quick shot of the Delsym cough suppressant in the cheerful orange box sitting on the bathroom counter.

Bad idea.

Very, very bad idea.

Now it should be stated that my petite guest is not only a narcotics-newbie, but also that her cold drug of choice – which was purchased by yours truly – caused the checkout lady at Target to card me. And scan my ID. And now I’m on some potential government Watch List for Meth Lab Cooks/Cold Medicine Entrepreneurs. I wonder if they have a Union.

All of this adds up to some very serious relief-in-a-bottle. My pal had previously taken a shot of the juice before bed, but taking it in the morning was a whole different experience. When she came back into the bedroom I was too awake to fall back asleep. I was awake and annoyed that I was already thinking about him. Ugh. Had he really called me “mean” as I handed him a Trader Joe’s bag full of his socks (snuck into my laundry yet again), bootleg DVDs, and sweat-stained baseball cap? Mean? Me?

More importantly, was I?

I could feel the phantom pressure of an evil hand wrapping itself around my heart, but quickly forced it aside. My fun, cheerful Houseguest was here. We had plans to hike up a beautiful mountain. The world was not ending. I could relax…right? I hoped so. I closed my eyes.

For three seconds.

When I opened them, I was walking to my computer. Sitting down at said computer. And immersing myself into the very maze of paperwork and online drama I was trying so desperately to avoid. When did it all get so complicated? Houseguest, however, stayed in bed and checked her Facebook on my laptop. And then started to get very, very loopy.

“Hey!” came the cry from the bedroom as I was tackling the meaning of the Department of Water and Power sending me a check for $82.78. There had to be some sort of catch, right? Was it a trick to see if I’d cash it and then they’d laugh uproariously while they flicked some mystical switch that caused not only my apartment to go dark but my data to be erased from all of my computers? Hmm, file this check away for a rainy, flashlight-filled day.

“Heyyyyyyy!” the repeated cry echoed from the bedroom. Whoops, I hadn’t answered.

“What’s up?” I called back.

“I feel sorta….dizzzzzzzzy…” Her voice warbled a bit, then became muffled as she shoved her head under what I could only assume were my flannel sheets and blue comforter. “I think I’m gonna…”

The sentence was never finished but an IM or some other interwebular distraction on my screen caught my eye and I was sucked back into cyber world. For the next five hours. Five. Hours. When I glanced at the time in the corner of my screen, I was extremely surprised to discover that it was already 11:46 am. So that’s why all of my office-bound friends were now online and IMing their way through the boring day.

I, on the other hand, had powered through all of my bills, a bunch of customer orders, notes on an online video edit, and had even paid my company’s city tax (PS if your company makes under $300,000 a year the city of Los Angeles cuts you a break. Do any small businesses make OVER that amount? Just wondering…). It had been a productive five hours. Surely it was time to reward myself (and Houseguest) with a caffeinated beverage and a hike to the top of Griffith Park. Right?

And then I entered the bedroom.

When I had last left her, Houseguest was cozily ensconced on one side of the queen bed, covers pulled up snugly just under her chin. Not so anymore. Somewhere in the middle of her cough-syrup haze, she had not only turned all the way upside-down in the bed, but also taken off one sock. Just one. Her half-clad feet now rested on my pillow. The covers were crumpled and shoved to the foot of the bed. Her head and shoulders, I could only assume, were somewhere underneath them.

“Um…Houseguest?” I asked tentatively, not sure if I should nudge her or set off a few fireworks. I went for the leg nudge. Nothing. A little more aggressive this time. Still nothing. I started peeling back the covers until the shrillest scream ever to emanate from a human pierced the room.

“Noooooooooo!!!!!” Houseguest screeched and pulled the covers back over her head, returning to the darkness like a recalcitrant vampire.

“Come on,” I nudged again. “Let’s go get some-” I was interrupted by the sound of an early-90’s TV show theme song blasting from the living room. It was my phone, obviously. I grabbed it, not recognizing the 973 area code.

“Hello?”

“Hello dear, it’s [Houseguest’s Mom]. What are you and my daughter up to?” The Brooklyn-accented matriarch had been an inner city Vice Principal for many years, so even her innocent-seeming questions were really demands.

“Um…” I walked back into the bedroom and was part-dismayed and part-amazed to find Houseguest had- in the 16 seconds I had been gone- mostly emerged from under the covers but was now mysteriously sprawled sideways across the bed, feet hanging off one end and one arm oddly splayed off the other. She was most definitely face down.

“She’s sorta still asleep,” I offered into the phone. “Maybe I can answer whatever ques-”

“I had to take her stepfather to the dentist- he broke a crown, don’t ask me how- and we’re all going to breakfast at the hotel and you’re meeting us here so put her on so I can- ” Houseguest’s Mom was still barking orders at me as I pulled the phone away from my ear and placed it near Sleeping Beauty’s. She sort of snarfled into the mattress and then used her closest arm to slap me. Hard.

“Ow!” I cried. “Here. It’s your mom. Talk to her.” I gently set the phone down and then backed away like the guy at the zoo who has to feed the hungry lions.

Her answer was to brush my Crackberry off the bed, sending it slamming into the wooden floor. Its awesome red case burst off it into a few different pieces and the call from 973 was most definitely lost. Houseguest made some sort of vague moaning sound and then rolled over onto her back, squinting up at me.

“Time to go hiking!” I tried. “Up and at ‘em!”

She blinked as if I had just spoken to her in whatever made-up language the blue people in AVATAR speak. I tried again.

“Coffee?”

That got her. Sort of: “I’m nagh-huash for my to eghhh…”

And then she rolled over, causing her face to smash back into the mattress. I decided to leave the room and finish my last bit of work online. As I marched back into the living room, I barked: “Get dressed! I’m ready! Let’s hit the trail!”

“Noooooooo!” came the wail from the bedroom. “I cannnnnnnn’t!”

“Yes, you can! The sun is shining! The dog needs to take a crap! Let’s go!” I sounded like my mother…except for the dog needing to crap part. I decided maybe practical advice was the way to go.

“First thing you need to do,” I called out as I resumed my position at my desk. “Is sit up!”

I heard some sort of vague shuffling, thrashing sound and then:

“Oh noooooo!”

What did she break?

“I can’t feel my feeeeeeet!” If there is a humanly possible way to slur the word “feet,” Houseguest did it.

I got up out of my desk chair and ambled back to the bedroom, standing in the doorway, staring at the puddle of Houseguest in the middle of my bed.

“What’s that, darling?” I asked, none-too-sweetly.

“My…I…I can’t hike…” she started, building to near-hysteria. “Because I can’t feel my feeeeeeeeeeeet!”

Note: as she was saying this, she was wiggling the toes of her left foot. Rapidly.

“Come on, you’re fine. Let’s go!” I got a scowl and a weak attempt at Death By Pillow-Tossing. But then, miraculously, Houseguest started to pull herself to sitting. Halfway there, though, her elbow buckled as she groaned and flopped back onto the bed.

“Oh nooooo,” she cried. “My head! My head is underwater!”

“That is impossible,” I said flatly. “You’re just hazy because of the medicine. As soon as you get some fresh-”

“Ohhhh my goddddddd,” she interrupted, hands firmly clasped over her ears as she slowly sat up again. “I…I’m dying. I think I’m dead. Everything is wobbly. I can’t….no….” And she was back down.

Fifteen minutes of convincing and cajoling later, Houseguest had somehow managed to not only pull herself to standing, but also to slap on some sweatpants and tie a pink bandana around her head. Sort of. It actually sat more sideways so that the triangle flap part dangled over one eye. It was like a muddled, vaguely dangerous pirate inhabiting the body of a witty, loquacious New Yorker. And this pirate was hungry.

“I need…” she gasped as she wove her way into the living room, grabbing onto the couch for support. “a sammich. I need….need food. Sammich.”

I stood up and stretched my back. Things popped. “Do you want me to make you a PBJ?” I asked. “Fuel for the hike?”

With a surprising burst of energy, Houseguest closed the distance between us by scurrying over to me, slamming both hands down on my shoulders.

“I…am…underwater,” she intoned, locking eyes with me. Deadly serious. “Something is WRONG with….me. I may….yes, I may be…” Her voice lowered to a whisper: “…dying.”

“I highly doubt that.” I shrugged her hands off me and turned to go to the kitchen. She flopped down into my office chair, forgetting it was on wheels.

“My brainnnnnn! I think it’s…it’s on inside-out!!!” she wailed as she rolled across the hardwood floor, not noticing the movement. Until her head met my bookshelf. “Owwww!!!!” She melted down into the chair, sliding off the seat and crumpling onto the floor in a heap. I walked over to the pile of limbs, gingerly poking at it with my toe.

“Come on,” I said, frustrated. “You took cough syrup. You’re not dying. Get up.”

A hand shot up and grabbed my leg with surprising strength. The person attached to that hand raised her head and looked at me with big, shiny eyes.

“Something is wrong with me!” Her bottom lip quivered a little. “I really think my brain is on inside-out!”

“No it’s NOT,” I exhaled, annoyed. I started walking away. “You know what? Maybe I’ll just go on a hike by myself. I’ve been trying to get you up for-”

“You’re being so meannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!” she wailed.

The word made me freeze. Mean. Me. I could see his back as he walked down the street, carrying that bag, shoulders slumped. The sun was setting and he vacillated out of shadow and light as he made his way past the burned-out buildings and away from me. I didn’t cry. And I hadn’t cried since.

Until a tear slipped off my bottom lid and down my cheek. My hand flew up to my face, surprised. Houseguest, cough syrup crazed spidermonkey that she was, had stopped moaning and was staring at my watery eyes, concerned. It was like that moment when an Alzheimer’s-ravaged relative returns to their senses, if only for a second.

“You’re not,” she said gently. “You’re not mean.”

I couldn’t speak. There was still a hand around my heart, squeezing. Hard.

“Hey,” she said, lucid. “It wasn’t your fault.”

And the hand relaxed. Stopped squeezing entirely. I could breathe again. I looked down at Houseguest, wondering of how to properly verbalize the relief and welcome weightlessness of realizing that it really wasn’t all my fault. That there could be wholeness in solitude. And that one day, I’d be ready to try it all over again.

She grinned at me and as I was about to speak, she said: “You’re meat! Baby meat food!” she erupted into giggles. “You are baaaaaaby meat food!” She had returned to Delsym land. The pink bandana was now around her neck and I noticed that she still had only one sock on.

I walked into the kitchen and started making her sandwich, enjoying the new freedom in my chest cavity. As I spread chunky peanut butter on the bread, I heard Houseguest sniggering and singing a song about “Baby Meat Food” to herself. I smiled. There was a giggling, wiggling pile of Houseguest on my living room floor. But man did I love her.

Even if she was cracked out on cough syrup.


Love the Hustle Or: How to Let Go of Your Feelings of Injustice and Have a Good Time Selling Yourself

By Shya Scanlon, Guest Columnist

On September 24th, 2005, a long-overdue one-way ticket landed me in New York City where I’d pledged to seriously pursue a writing career. I found a tiny hole in the Lower East Side, and an email I sent on October 10th reads, “I’m sitting alone in a dark apartment in the middle of one of the most intense and social cities in the world. What the hell is wrong with me?”

My schedule those days involved coming home from my job—working as a copywriter in an office on Broad Street in front of which bomb-sniffing dogs and policemen wearing bulletproof vests and carrying automatic rifles paraded all day—pouring myself a glass of single malt whiskey, and standing, not sitting, in the kitchen and typing furiously at what eventually became the collection of prose poetry called In This Alone Impulse.

The night I sent that email, like most nights that winter, I was terribly alone, I was half drunk, and I was suffering from an overwhelming mixture of both over and under exposure—close enough to my dreams to be truly frightened by them. I was, in other words, living something closely resembling the idealized image I’d half-consciously carried in my mind about the life of a writer since first wanting to become one.

When you think of the writing life, many things come to mind, both good and bad: isolation, frustration, intensity, investigation, exploration, imagination… booze. If you’re lucky, of course, these things are accompanied by publication, recognition, accolades, and the like. But I would be very surprised if many aspiring authors put things like networking or community building, or—dare I say it here?—hustling on the list. Even near the bottom. That spot is reserved for “dying of syphilis.”

More... And yet, as many writers realize, it is a hustle. Of course, fortune has always favored the bold in some way, but I’m going to project a little here and say it’s difficult not to feel like small press and online publishing has turned those words of encouragement into an unnerving reality. The literary community made possible by constant and easy online interaction is a boon to the aspiring author in many ways—this web site is a perfect example of a valuable resource that simply couldn’t have existed ten years ago. But it can also be quite insular and cliquish. I know I’m not alone in wondering, from time to time, whether we’re unwittingly creating an environment in which artists are rewarded for their social skills instead of their art.

Not to say self-promotion is always and only met with praise. As a natural and healthy response to the saturation of social media—and the sometimes devious advertisement deals that support the platform—people are becoming, to use appropriately reductive marketing jargon, savvy consumers, and this means you’re bound to attract some whistle-blowers if what you’re doing seems inauthentic or overtly self-promotional.

Like, say, writing an article that thinly disguises a goal of self-promotion with “thoughtful consideration” of the “larger issues at stake.”

So there are the self-promoters—people who seem to take to this system quite naturally (If you haven’t thought about Tao Lin yet while reading this, you obviously haven’t heard of him)—and there are the whistle-blowers. But there are also many writers who resent the fact that they’re increasingly expected to hustle. Is this what we signed up for?

No one my age signed up for developing a readership through blogging for the simple reason that blogging didn’t exist when I was cobbling together my fantasy writer’s life. Someone growing up today, on the other hand, might naturally incorporate such activities into their vision. But that doesn’t help me.

What helps me is to conceive of the activities a bit differently. To use the same kind of attitudes and insights that inspire normal, non-literary pursuits like “introducing friends to one another,” and “throwing parties,” and “streaking through densely populated urban areas at noon.” In our hyper-mediated environment, there’s a kind of blurring of lines that occurs, and to see it clearly you have to take a step back. Does the writing life end when you put down the pen? Close your eyes and concentrate on that fantasy you once had. Get up from the awesome imaginary desk and walk out of the room. Leave your apartment and walk down the street. Ring your friend’s buzzer and say you’re there for dinner. Hang out. Chat.

I don’t think there’s any way around the fact that we’re competing for attention with an increasing number of authors—more and more of whom are starting out as “savvy consumers” who know their way around networking technology. People who read and/or use this site are likely among them. But if you’re still feeling uncomfortable with your new role as writer, marketer, promoter and salesman of your work, it might help to take a simple look around at how you conduct yourself in other parts of your life—things you do even without thinking about it—give them a fancy word like “tactics” and incorporate them into an even fancier word: “strategy.”

Currently, if someone is familiar with my name, chances are good that the phrase “Forecast 42” isn’t far from it in their mind. The 42 Project brought together a host of literature enthusiasts in a co-publishing venture that I think most people found fun, and not a few found inspiring enough to begin similar projects of their own. To be sure, it also caused some backlash here and there from people who turned their noses up at the undeniable stench of self-promotion. And yes, I had my moments of doubt along the way, too. Was it anything more than a stunt? Well, it really didn’t involve anything unfamiliar to anyone who’s planned a party big enough to merit inviting people they don’t really know. Similarly, I met a lot of interesting people in the process, and formed deeper connections with those who I already knew.

I’ll soon be organizing a book release event for In This Alone Impulse, and for it I’m gathering as many writers as I can, each of who will read a brief excerpt of the work. I can’t say I haven’t considered the fact that this will ensure that the audience is at least as large as the number of writers I can involve—and I’m sure a few people will smell a scheme. But the idea began with an authentic interest in bringing people together, in throwing an interesting party, and in full frontal nudity. I think people will get it, and if all goes well, I’ll organize similar “group readings” in a few other cites across the country. It’s a small but significant twist on the standard reading—enough, hopefully, to make it into something memorable and valuable for all people involved.

It’s a long way from the dark apartment in which the poems were created. But because I love the poems, I want them to enjoy a little exposure. And because I love people, I want to introduce them to these poems. Am I selling myself? Sure. But if I didn’t try to build a readership or share what I love, I’d be selling myself short.

Shya Scanlon’s work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Guernica Magazine, Opium Magazine, and others. His book of prose poetry, IN THIS ALONE IMPULSE, was published by Noemi Press in January, 2010.

In 2009, his novel FORECAST was serialized online across 42 journals and literary blogs as part of the Forecast 42 Project. Forecast will be published by Flatmancrooked in spring, 2010. He received his MFA from Brown University, where he was awarded the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. Please visit him at www.shyascanlon.com

You heard him, WordHustlers! Shya has perfected the art of hustling his way to success. Why not submit to our Literary Storm Novel Contest and win the chance to be published by Shya’s publishers, Flatmancrooked? Get your work out there and market yourself with passion, panache, and wit. We know you’ve got it in you. And we’re here to help.


Ladies and gentlemen of the court, all rise for the noble and knowledgeable Danielle Chiotti, literary agent at Upstart Crow Literary and esteemed judge of WordHustler’s Literary Storm Novel Contest (NEWSFLASH: due to popular demand, we’ve extended the deadline to February 26, 2010! You’ve still got time to submit!). Danielle is passionate about great writing, finding amazing new clients, and helping writers succeed in the publishing industry.

Luckily for us, Danielle made time in her busy schedule to sit down and discuss what draws her to different books, how important the query letter really is, and how she plucks talented writers out of the slush pile. Will you be the next gifted scribe to catch her eye?

Read the interview to find out, then polish those manuscripts and send them out!

WordHustler: How did you get your start in the publishing industry?

Danielle Chiotti: Completely by accident, actually. I graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, and spent a year waitressing before I basically stumbled into a job doing reader’s reports for a small literary agency. A few months later, they asked me if I wanted to come in and learn about being an agent. I had no idea what that meant, but I thought, “Oh, why not?” I’ve been working in publishing ever since.

WH: You’ve worked all over the publishing industry, at places like Kensington Publishing and Adams Media. What is the main difference between editing and agenting, and why did you decide to make the switch?

DC: Literary agents have a lot more autonomy than editors do; we’re not beholden to a certain set of parameters for publishing a book. I loved my work as an editor, but there were always so many rules about what I could and could not acquire, depending on the needs of the publisher. As an agent, I can truly sign the projects I love–in any area I choose.

WH: What draws you to a fiction book? Non-fiction?

More... DC: Goodness. The obvious answer for each of these questions is: Good writing!

For fiction, it’s really all about the voice. I’m drawn to stories in which the voice grabs you in the first line and doesn’t let go. The three main narrators of Kathryn Stockett’s THE HELP, for example, just blew me away. I also read Elizabeth Strout’s OLIVE KITTERIDGE over the holidays, and I just can’t stop thinking about Olive. Such a complex, flawed, and interesting character. Of course, plot is also important in fiction, but most of all, I look for characters who are so interesting and unique that they could be telling me about something really boring–like wallpaper– and I’d be positively riveted. I also tend to favor strong, flawed female characters, and fish-out-of-water stories.

For nonfiction, I tend toward narrative that explores a previously unexplored topic, or that brings a fresh take to a perennial topic. For example, Michael Chabon’s MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS is certainly well-trod territory, as far as “dad lit” goes, but so beautifully and heartbreakingly written that the topic doesn’t feel stale. I also adore food memoir.

WH: You also represent a fair amount of YA authors. Do you think the YA world is more challenging than the adult world?

DC: I think each has its challenges, and I don’t want to say that one is more difficult than the other. What I will say is that since YA has been the category “du jour” for so long, it’s getting crowded, and the competition is fierce.

WH: Who are a few of your favorite authors out there today? (Obviously you can include people you rep…it’s only fair!)

DC: Of course all of the authors I represent are my favorite authors! They are an enormously talented group of people. I’m honored to be working with them, and I’m always thrilled to read what they’re working on next.

My reading tastes range far and wide. Anyone who has read my profile on the Upstart Crow site knows of my undying devotion to E.B. White and CHARLOTTE’S WEB, which is pretty much the book that started it all for me. I’ve read Michael Chabon’s THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH so many times that the pages are falling out. I think I mentioned earlier that I adore food memoir, and so I’m a devoted fan of Ruth Reichl and all of her books, especially COMFORT ME WITH APPLES. I’ve also always had a soft spot for retired romance author LaVyrle Spencer; I used to steal her novels from my mother’s bookshelf and sneak them into my room!

WH: What types of books are you looking for that you haven’t found yet?

DC: A book with a kick-ass zombie heroine–think BREATHERS, only with a female protagonist. I keep putting it out there on Twitter, but no one has risen to meet my challenge yet!

WH: What’s your take on the publishing industry today? In dire straights or blooming? Both? Neither?

DC: There’s been much debate on the state of the publishing industry today, lots of doomsday speculation about the death of publishing, and even some heated debates about the role of literary agents in an author’s career, especially with the growth in popularity of e-books and the like.

I tend to think that much of the online chatter is just that: chatter. Publishing has proven itself time and time again to be a resilient industry, and though there have certainly been some dark days in the recent past, I’m always amazed by the ability of the industry to pick itself up, dust itself off, readjust, and thrive.

No matter how the content is published in the future, publishers will always be looking for talented authors, and thus authors will always need an advocate to help them navigate the publishing process and think about the trajectory of their career in the long term. So I guess that’s a long way of saying that I remain optimistic about the future of publishing, in whatever form it may take.

WH: Let’s get into the nitty-gritty: what percentage of authors that you decide to represent come from the unsolicited submissions?

DC: Oh, are you going to make me do math? No fun! The truth is, the bulk of my current client list has come from unsolicited submissions. I rely very heavily on my unsolicited submissions to find talent, and I give them very serious consideration. I’ve found (and signed and sold) some absolutely amazing writers as a result.

WH: How important is the query letter? Do you want any sample pages or does the query make enough of a first impression?

DC: Every agent seems to have a different take on query letters. For me, a clearly-written, professional query letter is incredibly important. That said, it’s nearly impossible to gauge a project’s true worth from a query letter. So at Upstart Crow, we’ve made it part of our submissions policy that writers are invited to send along the first 20 pages of their manuscript with their query letter. For more information and a complete set of submissions guidelines, visit here.

WH: What are three things in a query that make you want to read more?

DC: Ah, this is an interesting question. I know that most writers would prefer that I answer in absolutes, but the more queries I read and consider, the more convinced I become that queries are not at all a black and white issue. But in an effort to be specific, the three things in a query letter than make me want to read more are:

1. A concise summary of the book.

2. A unique/compelling premise.

3. An indication that the writer as thoroughly researched my areas of interest/background and feels we’d be a good match. It’s pretty easy to tell when a writer hasn’t done their homework and doesn’t really know a lot about the agency or my specific interests as an agent.

But if I can be totally honest here, reading a query or sample pages is kind of like going on a blind date–it’s all about the spark. When I read a query and sample pages, I’m not only looking for the elements I listed above, I’m looking to feel a connection to the writing, the story, and most of all–the characters. Call me a hopeless romantic, but when I read a query or sample pages, I’m looking to fall in love at first sight.

WH: What are three things that let you know this project/writer isn’t for you?

DC: 1. A query that tries to be too flashy/stylish, but that leaves me with too many unanswered questions about the story. It’s best to be concise and up front about the story in your query letter, and to summarize it to the best of your ability.

2. Unoriginal or “copycat” ideas that are riding a current trend (vampires, for instance!).

3. Anything that is in the mystery/thriller category, or poetry or short stories.

WH: What advice can you give aspiring writers out there?

DC: Writing your novel and then querying agents is a long process, but you have to keep the faith that something will happen for you. Be persistent and constantly dedicated to your craft!

Don’t ever stop reading, don’t ever stop asking questions, don’t ever stop striving to push your writing to the next level. Complacency is the enemy of any writer.

Also, while Internet is a great resource–for networking, researching and the like–I find that many writers are using it for a diversion these days. If you’re spending more time on writing websites, message boards, and Twitter than you are on your own writing, you should set aside time to unplug and get back into it.

WH: Do you think WordHustler helps writers successfully get their work out there and into your hands, professionally and effectively?

DC: Of course I do! It’s a most excellent resource for writers. Good luck, and write well!

We find the judge GUILTY of having amazing taste and publishing wisdom to spare! So you heard her, Hustlers- polish those manuscripts, perfect those queries, and work on getting your projects 100% up to snuff. Then send them out digitally via our brand-spankin’ new Digital Submission System which helps you find contact info and track all of your submissions in one easy place.

Yes, we said ALL of your submissions because everyone knows that getting published is a numbers game. Aim to have ten submissions out and in play at ALL TIMES. Doing this ensures that writing success is just within reach. Don’t forget to submit your novel to our Literary Storm Novel Contest as well! Danielle could very well decide your manuscript is a real WINNER! All hail the judge!

Have you ever wanted to sit a literary agent down and ask them all those burning questions bouncing around in your brain: How important is the query? What kind of books get you excited? How many author clients do you REALLY find in the slush pile?

So have we. And so we did. Enter Adriann Ranta, newly-arrived agent at Wolf Literary Services who has spent years shepherding writers through the editing and agenting processes. Adriann handled all the hard-hitting writing questions we dished out, and even asked for seconds.

Read on to discover what Adriann considers the best kind of query letters, what she thinks about YA books, and why she loves the word “percussive.” Then it’ll be time to get an agent for yourself! Success never tasted so good!

WordHustler: How did you get your start in the publishing industry?

Adriann Ranta: I graduated with my obligatory, directionless liberal arts degree having no idea what I wanted to do with books, but knowing I had to do something with them since they’re all I’ve really felt passionately about. After considering and quickly declining a phone sex job as an outlet for creativity, I got a job at The Editorial Department, the oldest freelance editing firm in the country, based in Tucson, AZ.

I worked as their managing editor of Between the Lines, gathering info and interviewing professionals in the industry. Eventually, I moved to New York and through a variety of internships, assistant positions, and odd jobs found that agenting is the niche that most suits me.

WH: What’s the main difference between editing and agenting, and why did you decide to make the switch?

AR: I really enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit of agenting. There’s a huge amount of flexibility in what an agent decides to take on, and it’s heavily based on individual sensibilities and gut. An agent is present in most every aspect of publication (from line-editing a rough manuscript to cover consultation and publicity) so it feels impossible to have a boring day.

Then there’s the chance to “discover” breathtaking new books, meet some of the warmest, most passionate people in an industry devoted to something I love, and championing authors through a difficult and unpredictable career. I still enjoy the editing process, but I find agenting more varied and eventful.

WH: What draws you to a fiction book? Non-fiction?

AR: With both, voice is very important to me. There are a lot of aspects of a manuscript that can be fixed through the editing process, but voice seems to be one of those things that you either have or you don’t. If the writing itself is boring, stilted, awkward, unrealistic, or self-conscious I don’t care what it’s about, I can’t read it.

I personally enjoy edgier books with quirky, unique protagonists. I love spunky, fresh narrators that show a different view of the world we see every day. I have a hard time with fantasy with no rooting in the real world.

An engaging voice is crucial in trade non-fiction, and a bizarre topic, new perspective, or unique credibility usually hooks me.

WH: You also represent a fair amount of YA authors. Do you think the YA world is more challenging than the adult world?

AR: The only aspect I find challenging is the misconception that YA is a dumbed-down version of an adult book. The tendency to underestimate what teenagers are capable of reading is especially frustrating. The market for YA, however, has shown to be a thriving genre with tons of exciting new voices.

WH: Who are a few of your favorite authors out there today?

AR: Ugh, I have always struggled with this question! I adore Tana French‘s police procedurals, I absolutely devoured Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER over the course of a recent weekend, and currently can’t put down Stieg Larsson‘s bestselling series. Also Sherman Alexie, Tom Robbins, Junot Diaz, and tons more.

WH: What’s your take on the publishing industry today? In dire straits or blooming? Both? Neither?

AR: I think that publishing is economizing just like other businesses are-neither dire straits nor blooming. I’m interested to see where we go with ebooks (Nathan Bransford recently made an interesting post about this), though I personally can’t imagine ever foregoing a physical, bound book for an electronic one. It’s depressing to think about a world without bookstores everywhere, but the people I speak to are just trying to be informed and flexible.

WH: Let’s get into the nitty-gritty: what percentage of authors that you decide to represent come from the unsolicited submissions?

AR: Since I’m just starting to build my list at Wolf Literary, I’m relying a lot on the slush pile at the moment. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that I’ll start getting roped into mass emailed submissions rather than personalized, researched queries, so that percentage will get a bit grimmer.

WH: How important is the query letter? Do you want any sample pages or does the query make enough of a first impression?

AR: The query letter is indescribably important! We do ask for the first 50 pages of the manuscript, but if the query letter doesn’t exhibit the author’s skill as a writer or the hook of the manuscript, there’s no reason to read beyond that pitch letter. The query letter should be the apex of an author’s writing skill.

WH: What are three things in a query that make you want to read more?

AR: One of my authors used the word “percussive” in his query letter, which was the absolute perfect, most thought out word choice. So:

1)      Clever, elegant word choice
2)      Clear, engaging, succinct prose
3)      Research into agency guidelines and individual tastes

WH: What are three things that let you know this project/writer isn’t for you?

AR: 1)      Lack of professionalism (typos, pink stationary, head shots, scorpions set in acrylic resin…)
2)      No research into how we’d prefer to accept queries or what my interests are
3)      Obsessive emails/phone calls/faxes/smoke signals beyond just “checking in”

WH: What advice can you give aspiring writers out there?

AR: The representation process is very subjective, which makes personalization and research incredibly important. Sending a manuscript to an agent that pointedly doesn’t represent your genre is a waste of everyone’s time. Be patient, be persistent, be positive-just like any other professional relationship, sometimes random timing is everything. (That was unintentionally alliterative.)

WH: Shameless plug alert: do you think WordHustler helps writers successfully get their work out there and into your hands, professionally and effectively?

AR: I’m a huge fan of any vehicle that helps writers and agents find each other.

You heard it here first, Hustlers. Adriann accepts queries via email, which means you can sign up for our brand new Digital Submission System and be able to access Wolf Literary Services’ contact info and track your submission to them, all in one organized place: WordHustler. Sign up today!

Who is more passionate than a mother about her children? Only a mother who is also a writer! Meet Corin Wiser, mother, wife, and successful author of the book Matters of the Heart: A Guide to Living and Loving Your Teen Years. As Corin puts it, her book “offers simple and straightforward tools to help the reader connect with her inner voice, or ‘internal guidance system,’ and to overcome negative influences on the way to reaching her full potential.”

Well, it’s definitely working. After publishing her book, Corin has seen it snapped up by mothers and daughters everywhere! A series of workshops have sprung up to accompany the book, and it’s even been embraced as required reading in some forward-thinking schools! Not bad for a mama with something to say, huh?

WordHustler sat down with Corin to get her opinion on what to do when the drive to write overtakes you, how to market yourself as a new author, and why sometimes breakfast for dinner is the best solution. Read on to find out more about this amazing mother/writer!

WordHustler: You have a background as a speaker and have your Masters in Education- what made you decide you HAD to write this book?

Corin Wiser: That’s precisely how I felt – I felt that I HAD to write this book. A few years ago, I was drawn to my old journals, journals that I’d kept since I was nine years old. I sat on my bedroom floor for two days and just read, reconnecting with my younger self. What I discovered in those journals was a young adolescent who had a pretty good childhood, but who also experienced self-doubt and insecurity, feelings of uncertainty and insignificance, and plenty of unanswered questions and regrettable mistakes. Looking back, I wish I’d had a roadmap – a guidebook – to help me discover and focus on the things that really mattered to me, and to help me develop the strength and courage to live by those things.

More... As the mother of three daughters, I realized that I had a responsibility to help them on their own imminent journey through the challenging teenage years. And so I began writing what was originally intended as a book for my three daughters, Rebecca and Leah (12 ½ year-old twins) and 8 ½ year-old Hannah. Several months into my writing, I realized that I simply had to share my message with as many teen girls as possible, and that realization fueled my passion even further! I felt inspired and “guided” in my writing, and I loved every minute of it! The result was Matters of the Heart: A Guide to Living and Loving Your Teen Years.

Looking back now, I can clearly see what was taking place. I believe that we all have a deep-rooted need to contribute and to leave the world a better place than we found it. Some of us become aware of this need and live a life filled with meaning and purpose. Some of us go through life searching and searching, not really understanding why we don’t feel fulfilled. But the moment we connect with this need and commit to contributing to others, we feel purposeful and joyful, even when things don’t go our way. And that’s what writing Matters of the Heart became for me: my purpose and my contribution.

WH: How long did it take you to write this book? Then how long until you decided to publish it?

CW: I’ll never forget the day I started to write… I honestly had no idea that what I was writing would eventually become a book, and that I would publish it! I just started writing and, as strange as it sounds, the words literally began to flow through me. I became so immersed in my writing that I had time for very little else. I took my daughters to school, came back home, and did nothing but write until it was time to pick them up from school. I skipped meals – eating them and preparing them (thank goodness my family had grown accustomed to eating breakfast for dinner!), and I sometimes went days without speaking to close friends and family. I just wrote – six days a week.  At that pace, I was able to complete the book in about five months.

Then it was time to edit… My husband is an amazing editor, and he was committed to helping me get my message out there. After he had edited the book, I sent the manuscript to Joyce Sweeney, an acclaimed author and editor. Joyce was tremendously helpful in pointing out things that my husband and I had overlooked. Once the final edits were complete, I sent the manuscript to the publishing firm that, from day one, I had envisioned publishing my book. I had seen it in my mind’s eye, and I was absolutely certain they would publish Matters of the Heart, so when I received their very polite rejection letter several months later, I was absolutely crushed! I consulted with a friend of mine, a successful author who had become my mentor, and discussed the self-publishing option. And the rest is history!

WH: Do you see this book as part of a series? Are you interested in bringing this message to different groups like teenage boys, etc?

CW: Even as I was writing Matters of the Heart, I knew that my next book would be written from the perspective of Nicki, the book’s fictional teenage character. You know, it’s amazing to me that any time I speak to an audience of teen girls, they always ask about Nicki. They want to know whether she’s real or fictional. I think my audience connects better with the book’s message when it’s presented from the perspective of a teen girl. I’d love for Nicki to “write” the next book, but she hasn’t started that one yet! I’ve been asked by a number of people to write a Matters of the Heart book for teenage boys, and while I know that boys would benefit tremendously from the book’s message, I’m not sure I’m the right messenger. Put it this way, I’ve been blessed with three daughters for a reason – I was meant to write a book for teen girls!

WH: What for you is the most challenging part of writing a book for teens? Convincing prose? Educating without talking down to kids? Etc?

CW: Matters of the Heart was initially intended for my three daughters, as a guidebook for them, and so my voice was the voice of a mother offering advice to her daughters. Once I made the decision to share this book with as many teen girls as possible, I became more aware of the importance of not speaking down to my audience – of speaking from a place of honesty and integrity, without sounding too preachy. After all, I wanted my message not only to be read but to be heard.

What’s interesting is that I think I was able to accomplish that by presenting two distinct voices in my book – mine and Nicki’s. Mine is the voice of the caring, loving adult who made her share of mistakes as a teen. Nicki’s is the voice of a 16-year-old girl who openly shares her struggles but who is still a good role model – someone the readers can learn from.  Incorporating Nicki helped me to create a balance between the “motherly” voice and the teen voice with which teen girls can easily relate.

But the book was not intended to “sound” like the teenage girls portrayed in the media. I wanted to speak to teen girls based on who they can become, not on how they’re perceived by the media. And keeping it real (literally) is what I think allowed me to create more convincing prose: For the most part, every story in the book is a true story – something I experienced first-hand (or someone close to me experienced first-hand).

WH: You are doing a fantastic job of marketing yourself and your book since self-publishing it last year, especially in conjunction with all the workshops you teach. What advice do you have for other writers out there who are looking to market themselves?

CW: Networking is a must. Being out there in the community, getting involved with groups that share similar interests, and volunteering to speak at a variety of events is always helpful. You’ll never know with whom you’ll eventually connect. Just recently, my twin daughters were asked to speak to a group of women about the work they’re doing for the Give a Girl a Chance organization. I was there to hear my daughters speak, and at some point someone mentioned that I had written a book for teen girls. After the talk, a woman walked up to me and took down my contact information. She was the very same person who put me in touch with WordHustler!

I’ve discovered that teens benefit greatly from reading my book within a group setting, where topics can be discussed and insights shared. Consequently, I’ve begun conducting as many workshops as possible for schools and mother-daughter groups. Actually, doing these workshops is really what it’s about for me. I love seeing someone’s face light up when they have an “aha” experience! Last year, through The Ophelia Project, I gave a talk at several Tampa schools. One of these schools decided to incorporate Matters of the Heart into their middle school curriculum this Fall.

Another school, in Puerto Rico, made my book required summer reading for their middle school girls. I recently had an opportunity to visit with these girls and to discuss, in a group setting, what they gained from reading the book. It was an awesome experience for me! My dream is to continue marketing the book through my workshops so that it’s read by girls in a group setting and by mother-daughter groups all around the country!

WH: What are a few of your favorite books out there today (besides your own, of course!)?

CW: I love to read – and I frequently find myself reading several books at a time. I just finished reading The Rabbi and the CEO, by Thomas D. Zweifel, Ph.D. and Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin, an excellent book on leadership. I’m also re-reading The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. And I’ll never get tired of reading Og Mandino‘s books.

WH: What is your preferred writing method? Do you have a certain writing spot/technique?

CW: I rely quite a bit on my laptop (a gift from my husband to encourage my writing!) and I do best when I can write in a peaceful, natural setting with few outside distractions. What’s interesting, though (and I’m sure other writers have experienced this) is that most of my ideas come to me in the middle of the night. When I wrote Matters of the Heart, I kept a journal on my nightstand and jotted down ideas that came to me during the night. It’s as though my mind takes a break at night, allowing my more creative nature to emerge. I love the steady flow of ideas, and I welcome it, even if it means not sleeping very much!

WH: What are three things you’d advise aspiring writers to do?

CW: First, I’d advise them to just start writing. Don’t postpone writing for a calmer or more “inspired” day. It’s easy to put things off; but if this is your passion, then go for it now! I would also encourage them to connect with other successful writers – learn from them! Ask about and read about their trials and errors; grab what speaks to you and let go of what doesn’t. And following this, I would encourage writers to discover and stay connected with their own unique voice, especially when writing a book that reveals elements of their own personal lives. Although Matters of the Heart is a self-help book written for teen girls, with a fictional teen character, the book is an accurate reflection of who I am, of my values, and of my vision for teen girls.

WH: What are three things you’d advise aspiring writers to NEVER do?

CW: Never force the writing process. Let it flow and come from a place of inspiration. Although I believe that one should not wait for conditions to be perfect before beginning to write, I also believe that it’s important not to force the process. Be committed to writing regularly and consistently but also know that there will be days, months, or even years where you may need to take a break from your writing. Never be afraid to express through your writing what feels right to you, even if you think it won’t have a mass appeal. And finally – and I know it’s been said before by other authors, but I’ll say it again – never, never, never give up. No matter what.

WH: Do you think WordHustler is a valuable resource in helping writers successfully get their work out there, professionally and effectively?

CW: Absolutely. I only wish WordHustler had been around to guide me on my journey. As a first-time published author, a true novice, I could certainly have used your help! Yes, I was committed to getting my book published, but WordHustler‘s resources and support would certainly have made the process smoother and more effective. Maybe my next book?

Listen to Mama, all you WordHustlers! She knows what’s up. Is your book ready to be criqitued by editorial maven Joyce Sweeney? What’s that? You’d like to WIN a free critique from Joyce? Well y0u still have time to enter WordHustler’s Literary Storm Novel Contest– the deadline is January 25th and besides a manuscript critique from Joyce, you can also win a chance to be published by Flatmancrooked, as well as Barnes and Noble gift certificates! Now THAT’S something to write home about! Enter TODAY!

So you think you’ve been writing “forever?” Dan Jenkins, sports journalist and novelist, may have you beat– he’s been writing for over SIXTY years. Successful at just about everything, he has tried his hand at columns for Sports Illustrated and Golf Digest, non-fiction golf retrospectives, and hilarious sports novels.  Jenkins’ writing features his signature wit and sly observations.

WordHustler sat down with this sports writing legend to learn about his start in the industry and his adventures over the years. The real question is: how has Jenkins managed to stay on top of his game for so long? The answer: dedication, hard work, and…Twitter.

Read on to learn how you can score a touchdown for your writing career, with Dan Jenkins as your coach.

WordHustler: You have a journalism background, and have spent time writing for Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Playboy…what do you consider your first big break, writing-wise?

Dan Jenkins: My first big break was getting hired by Blackie Sherrod at the Fort Worth Press a month before I finished high school. For the school paper, the Paschal Pantherette, I’d written what I thought was a hilarious parody of a columnist on the rival paper in town, the Star-Telegram. Blackie read it and hired me.

The Press was an afternoon paper. They existed in those days. I worked at the press while getting a degree at TCU. Which means I went to college with a by-line. My first good journalism tip came from Blackie, who said about writing for a p.m. paper, “See how many paragraphs you can go before you put the score in.” Next big break, of course, was enticing Sports Illustrated to hire me. I like to say that I chose them. Sold them four or five freelance pieces. One day the editor called and asked if I’d like to join the staff in New York. I said, “Let me think about it for two seconds.” Big Town Gotham had always been my goal.

WH: You retired from journalism in 1985 to devote yourself full-time to novel-writing (while still maintaining a Golf Digest column). Why did you decide to change paths?

DJ: I still write on deadline for Golf Digest. The fact is, I’ve never had the luxury of just writing books. Always juggled two careers. And why not? It’s what I do, and what I love doing. If I’m proud of anything, it’s that I’ve been able to do the only thing I ever wanted to do since I was a kid and loved to read newspapers and magazines.

WH: You’re basically the John Updike of sports writing, with your lovable Billy Clyde Puckett series of books chock full of humor and wit that span multiple decades. What would you say is the biggest difference between the publishing industry today and the industry when you first started publishing novels in the 1970s?

DJ: Updike? I was rooting for Dostoyevsky, maybe. I write what I’ve known and observed and experienced and stolen shamelessly from my friends. Never been to war, so I can’t write that. But I’ve spent a large part of my life in press boxes, locker rooms, taverns, restaurants, and journalism newsrooms.

The biggest change in book publishing, as far as I can tell, is everybody wants a blockbuster written by a guaranteed best-seller or a celebrity, even if the book isn’t worth a sh*t. Taste no longer counts.

WH: You’ve also written non-fiction books, like “Jenkins at the Majors- Sixty Years of the World’s Best Golf Writing.” Was it a nice change of pace to put your non-fiction pieces together? Were you asked to write the book or did you come up with the collection of essays yourself?

DJ: My non-fiction stuff has sometimes been my idea, and sometimes my publisher or agent’s idea. You do them knowing full well that collections don’t sell, but the material deserves the permanence of hardcover.

WH: You have been very smart about evolving with the times- you even Tweeted from the US Open this year– how did that come about?

DJ: You want the truth about my tweets? The closing dates for Digest were too late for my deadline essays in 2009, so the editors asked if I would tweet the U.S. and British Opens as things happened. I said sure. It worked out so well, they asked me to do the PGA, which I did. It’s fun.

As a journalist on deadline my whole life, I’d learned to “write to fit.” In fact, in my 24 years at Sports Illustrated I would always know my word count and try to nail it exactly, never going too long because if you give an editor choices, he will invariably cut the wrong things. It’s no trouble for me to think in 140 characters. I’m not sure it’s writing, but it’s fun.

WH: What are a few of your favorite books out there today?

DJ: I have heroes I read. Mostly, Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, Vince Flynn, Lee Child. I read so much for research, I want to be entertained. And of course I read friends, and my daughter [Editor’s note: noted journalist and author Sally Jenkins], who long ago became the best writer in the family.

WH: What is your preferred writing method? Do you have a certain writing spot or technique?

DJ: I went most of my life on manual typewriters, but finally joined the computer world about 20 years ago.
But one thing you have to guard against is writing too long—because it’s so easy to correct. I used to be a 16-hour a day workaholic. Now I get tired. One day I realized that anything I wrote after, say, 3 in the afternoon had to be redone. It read like some stranger had slipped into my office. Now I’m generally at my best in the mornings.

WH: How do you best balance writing with your family life/other interests?

DJ: Writing has always been part of everything I do. My lovely wife and kids understood this from the beginning. Sure, vacations with no work at times, and holidays, but I always seem to be working on SOMETHING. My youngest son, Danny, was once asked by a friend what it was like to grow up in New York City with us for parents. He said, “They went to Elaine’s every night, then came home and went to Europe.”

WH: Do you find similarities between the game of golf and writing? Has being a life-long golfer helped your writing (besides giving you excellent material, of course)?

DJ: No sport is worthwhile if it doesn’t have a literature. Golf has a wonderful literature. Happy to be a part of it. Football, too. As for golf, I think having been a decent competitive golfer in my youth has helped me write about the game more incisively, but the intelligent writer can handle any subject. It requires study and caring and, at times, the sudden desire to caretake a subject.

WH: What are three things you’d advise aspiring writers to do?

DJ: Be well-read and learn from what you read. Study the ones you consider to be the masters. My hero as a sportswriter, although he was really an essayist, was John Lardner. Not Ring, but his son, John. Newsweek column, New Yorker pieces, etc. Best there ever was. Other heroes of mine were Red Smith, of course, and S.J. Perelman, and Raymond Chandler. Mostly the humorists. Finally, if you want to write, WRITE. Don’t just talk about it. Get a job on a newspaper, if there are any left.

WH: What are three things you’d advise aspiring writers to NEVER do?

DJ: I have my own rules, and some I borrow from Elmore Leonard. Never start a piece with a quote. Learn to establish your voice without using “I.” Give credit all your sources. Listen. Listen. Listen. And don’t try to force-feed an anecdote into a piece when it doesn’t belong just because YOU are fascinated with it. Save it for when it DOES work.

But the best Elmore Leonard quote is this: “If it sounds like writing, I re-write it.”

Spoken like a true champ. So take Dan’s advice and get out there and make your voice heard, Hustlers! Why not submit your work to any of WordHustler’s over 300 publications dedicated to sports & collectibles? Simply click the “Sports/Collectibles” tag on the Publications page and a world of opportunity will appear before you. Keep your eye on the prize and your heart in the game! Keep on Hustlin!

Written by Guest Columnist: James Kaelan

When Opium 8 came out earlier this year, I was both excited and jealous. With a very simple technology-graduating layers of black ink, printed over white text, that degrades when exposed to UV radiation-the cover of the Infinity Issue promises to reveal a story over the course of 1,000 years, with one new word appearing every century. Opium got a lot of press out of that, and rightfully. The concept was very advanced, but the execution was simple. The cover might seem like a gimmick, but that’s a delimiting perspective. Books need to get people excited.

Flatmancrooked Publishing, which I co-own with Elijah Jenkins and Deena Drewis, and which is releasing my debut book, We’re Getting On, has a project in the works that aims to redefine how books get promoted in the 21st Century. For most publishers, an author tour is a loss leader. The cost to send a writer from city to city (airfare, hotels, handlers, rental cars) outweighs the monetary gains accrued from book sales during the tour.

Accordingly, most publishers have dispensed with tours-or they make the author foot the bill. But Flatmancrooked believes engaging directly with an audience is a major key to the success of a title. Therefore, the more people we can reach, the better. How, though, can a small company afford to send an author on a trip across the country? It’s simple: Make the tour as exciting as the book itself.

For the Zero Emission Book Project, Flatmancrooked has partnered with Goldest Egg, a PR firm in Brooklyn, to help attract sponsors who will fund a transnational book tour-by bicycle. This isn’t the normal way one tours a book, but neither is this an ordinary book. We’re Getting On offsets all of its production emissions. How, you ask? Firstly, it’s printed on 100% post-consumer material. But the really exciting feature is its cover. Porridge Papers in Lincoln, Nebraska has created a special paper containing spruce seeds. If you plant the book in the ground, it will turn into a tree.

In keeping with this zero emission theme, the Zero Emission Book tour won’t add any carbon to the atmosphere. As I ride my bike across the country, I’ll be supported by an electric vehicle carrying supplies. Any extraneous emissions created we’ll nullify by purchasing carbon offset credits from CarbonFund.org.

We’re building energy around the Zero Emission Book Project with a multi-lateral promotional operation. For the new authors reading this article who might be interested in how we developed the concept, I want to give a breakdown of the campaign’s infrastructure.

1. The design of the first edition of a book should correspond to the book’s theme. We’re Getting On follows a group of twenty-somethings who leave the city and move into the desert-where they intend to abandon technology completely. Last spring we thought, how cool would it be if the book itself could offset its carbon emissions? After a bunch of research we commissioned Porridge Papers to develop a paper for us containing tree seeds so that the book-which came from a tree-if planted, would turn back into a tree. We’re biased, of course, but that seems like a pretty cool metaphor.

2. The book tour must correspond thematically with both the book’s content and its design. We’re Getting On, the Zero Emission Book, will be toured by bicycle. To maintain the integrity of creating no net production carbon footprint, we can’t very well fly from city to city to give readings and parties. We have to go overland. The bicycle is the greenest transport vehicle, save for an electric car recharged with renewable energy. So I’ll be riding my bike, and an electric support car will follow me, carrying my food and clothes. As an added bonus, in each of the ten cities on the tour I’ll plant a book at a school or library.

3. Document the book tour. Because a bike ride across the country is an inherently exciting narrative, we will have a documentary crew chronicling the lead up to the tour, and then the tour itself. The final product will be a feature film that we’ll show at film festivals around the globe.

4. Let your audience help facilitate the success of the book. Because we’re going to need a lot of help to make this tour a success, we’re inviting people to join the tour in a number of ways. People can ride a leg of the tour, provide couches for our crew to sleep on (and maybe some eggs to eat), or simply show up to readings and events along the route.

5. Maintain a broad web presence. Every author knows now that she needs to be on Facebook and Twitter, but if possible, she should run an autonomous site for her books. For the Zero Emission Book Project, we’ve developed www.zeroemissionbook.com, where fans can read updates, and then throughout the tour, a daily tour blog I’ll be writing from the road. From the site you can follow the project on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, and see trailers for the forthcoming documentary (like the official trailer you can see on YouTube HERE).

For too long book promotion has been a semi-passive activity. A lot of publishers (though by no means all) have expected their good work to sell, just because it’s good. In the 1950s perhaps that was a viable business model, but new authors and houses have to be extremely proactive. It’s good to have a lot of Facebook friends, but unless you can get them excited about what you’re working on, it won’t do much good. If the Zero Emission Book Project sounds exciting to you and you want to be a part of it, send me an email, or find me on Facebook.

James Kaelan is the Managing Editor of Flatmancrooked Publishing and a lecturer at Pepperdine University. He writes criticism for TheMillions.com, and his fiction is appearing this fall in Monkeybicycle and Avery, as well as at Opium Magazine. His first book, We’re Getting On, comes out next September from Flatmancrooked.

Psst! Flatmancrooked doesn’t only devise brilliant book marketing campaigns, they also hold some righteous writing contests. Check out the Flatmancrooked Poetry Prize, judged by the brilliant Mary Karr and featuring over $1,000 in prize money. Submit your poems by January 31st, 2010 to join the Flatmancrooked revolution! Click HERE for more details and keep on WordHustlin!

We all know writing can be tough. So every once in a while, you probably surf around the Interwebs, looking for funny sites to distract yourself from your cursor blinking on your blank Word doc. Maybe in one of those comedic searches you’ve even run into a much-loved site called Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves. Maybe you’ve chuckled at a huge black terrier stuffed into a squirrel costume, or a chihuahua dressed as a turkey. And maybe, just maybe, you laughed.

Well prepare to chuckle again- WordHustler turned the mastermind behind this hilarious site, writer Duncan Birmingham, loose on WordHustlerInk to interview his most challenging subject yet: himself. Birmingham is a successful screenwriter who managed to turn his popular blog into an even-more popular humor book published by Random House! How did he do it? What’s the secret? And, most importantly, how did they get those boxing gloves on that pit bull?

WordHustler Duncan: Duncan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell our readers how this book deal came about?

Real Duncan: Sure, Duncan. I spent three years slaving away on a novel nobody would publish. A year later I started a blog with photos of pets dressed in sombreros and R-rated captions and I got a book deal within the month.

WHD: Why pets?

RD: Mailer, DeLillo, Roth; they’ve all focused on the human condition in America. I thought it was time that a writer was brave enough to tackle the pet condition in a post 9/11 America.

WHD: Oh boy, is this really going to be that kind of interview? Seriously, what made you start this blog?

RD: I’d gotten a couple holidays cards with the family pet all dressed-up in antlers or a Santa’s hat and just looking like they wanted to bite someone’s face off. Those are the only holiday cards I keep on my fridge all year long. I found similar photos on the internet, came up with a title that made me laugh and started a tumblr site-which is very easy even for a Luddite like me-where I linked to the photos and did little captions. Pretty soon people were sending me their own pet photos.

WHD: What kind of pet do you have?

RD: Currently, none. I’m allergic to cats but am ramping up to get my first dog. I’m researching breeds now. I have to be content to dress up my friends’ pets for now.

WHD: But you hate dressing up pets?


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RD: Wrong! I love it. The Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves ethos is that I like to poke fun, but deep down I know that pets who are dressed-up, toted around in baby backpacks, married off and groomed into ninja turtles are probably the most beloved pets of all. When looking for the perfect photo submission, the term I use is “over-loved.”

WHD: Do you think a blog is a good way to get a book agent’s or a publisher’s attention?

RD: It depends on the type of book. My book deal came around the same time as a few other blog-to-book deals (This Is Why You’re Fat, F*ck You Penguin) and so my blog got a lot of attention in these articles proclaiming the death knell of publishing. So certainly for a concept that is humor-based and doesn’t have a lot of text or has an interactive element, the blog is a great way to get attention. Otherwise, I think a blog can be helpful as a way to build a fan base and get your name out there. Certainly there are many examples for non-fiction writers getting traction for their work from their blogs. For fiction writers, it seems a little trickier.

WHD: What was the process for you?

RD: It all happened very fast. Most of the photos are submissions that were emailed to me, but a few were photos I sought out on a Flickr or pet sites and requested the owner let me use. Some people heard the title and shut me down cold, but most had a sense of humor about it, were excited to show off their pets and were very sweet and encouraging about the whole endeavor. So basically, I combed through hundreds of photos and weeded out the best 160 for the book. The tough part was resisting posting a lot of them on the blog first cause they’re just so good you can’t wait to show them off.

When it came time to caption the photos, I read lots of Vice Do’s and Don’ts , dug up my The Far Side collections for inspiration and tried to think of each photograph like a one-panel cartoon. Some of the captions are omniscient narrator, but most are the pets speaking with emotions that range from suicidal to sardonic. I’m a method writer, so I was sleeping on the floor and crawling around on all fours for weeks while writing this thing.

WHD: You write for film and TV as your day job. Is there a Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves movie in the works?

RD: It’s very hush-hush, but yes I do have a script that’s kind of The Incredible Journey meets The Night Porter-type thing with tons of franchise tie-in potential. We’re out to talent now. I’m legally obligated to keep quiet, but let’s just say we’re hoping to get a certain leading man whose name rhymes with Dom Grooze. Arrggh, I’m such a blabbermouth.

Well this blabbermouth sure seems to be full of good info! Thanks to Duncan for the spectacular introspection required to delve into the depths of one’s own soul. What are you doing to market your own work in an original and attention-getting way? Take some time to not only perfect your projects, but your writing personality, because that’s what really catches that agent or editor’s eye.

But, as we all know, writing has gone to the dogs. :)


Remember that over-achieving kid in your high school class who was on the varsity basketball team, President of the Student Body, AND played a mean guitar solo in the talent show? That’s J.E. Fishman…only in the publishing world. He’s been an accomplished editor at Doubleday, owned his own literary agency, and is a published non-fiction author. Did we mention he has a few novels and a screenplay in the pipeline?

But the best thing about J.E. is that he’s willing to share his experiences to help aspiring writers out there learn the lessons he has accumulated over his many years in the business. WordHustler sat down with J.E. to discuss how fast the industry moves, how much moxie it takes to survive, and why no one owes you a read. Hint: make sure you grab your reader from the start!

Read on to learn from J.E.’s heartaches, triumphs, and vision. You won’t be sorry!

WordHustler: You’ve been involved in pretty much every aspect of the publishing industry, from editor to agent to author. How long have you been writing?

J.E. Fishman: Like anyone who aspires to be published, in some sense I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote stories as a kid.  Wherever I go – walking down the street, driving in the car – I see stories.  Recently, I was getting rid of an old office computer and had to laboriously wipe the hard drive clean one file at a time.  It was full of reading notes, book ideas – most important, story ideas.

WH: When you were an editor at Doubleday, which types of books/authors did you work with?

JEF: The books ran the gamut of non-fiction, from the equestrian library to true crime, business, sports, narrative non-fiction.  When I left Doubleday, I had a lot of credibility with journalists, so I ended up specializing in narrative non-fiction, though I agented the occasional novel.

WH: What is the main difference between being an editor now and when you were one?

JEF: I’m not sure.  When I was coming up, the industry was already beginning to consolidate and become more corporate.  My guess is that today, at the big houses, editors are even more buried in process, giving them less time just to think.  In the old days, if a respected editor really believed in a book, he or she might be able to drive the acquisition process.  Now, it seems, a greater part of the process is out of the editor’s hands.  It’s a team decision and everyone gets a vote.  Also, when I was an editor Amazon didn’t exist, e-books didn’t exist.  Now they’re having a huge impact on the business.

WH: Then you opened your own agency- had you been amassing talent when you were editing that you represented in your agency? What inspired you to make the switch?

JEF: I did take a few authors whom I’d edited as my early clients, but amassing talent would be an overstatement.  It was only a few people.  The reason I left was I was feeling ground down by the corporate thing.  It has its good and bad points, but I couldn’t see myself doing it forever.  Plus, it seemed like editors were spending more and more time selling the books on their lists to all the other departments in the house.  I figured: if I’m going to be a salesman, I may as well be trading on my own account, so to speak.

WH: Then another switch- from agenting to writing. Do you think a lot of agents are also writers? Did you feel it important to your writing career to spend your time doing just that and not repping other writers?

JEF: I don’t think a lot of agents are also writers – certainly not the successful agents.  Good agents are big fans of writing, though.  And some good fiction agents are great editors.  Everyone in book publishing, I think, lives for the act of discovery, as all readers do.  Successful agents are very good at communicating their enthusiasm in those discoveries to others.  As for writing exclusively, yeah, for me it’s important to have immersion in the writing process.  Agenting is difficult.  I don’t think an agent is doing much justice to his or her clients if he’s off working on his own stuff half the day.

WH: What are you working on right now?

JEF: I’ll probably be doing some revisions on my first novel, PRIMACY, which I hope will be ready for sale soon.  I’m working on two more novels and a screenplay, all on spec.  One of the novels, CADAVER BLUES, is being serialized on the web right now.  I also write essays – hate the word blog – for TheNervousBreakdown.com.

WH: Who are a few of your favorite authors out there today?

JEF: I read really eclectically.  Among living authors, I’m still a big fan of Philip Roth, after all these years, Pat Conroy (though I haven’t read his latest), E.L. Doctorow, Richard Price, Junot Diaz – you don’t need me to tell you, but these guys can all really write.  I’m sure I’m leaving a bunch out, and my women friends say I don’t read enough women.  They’re certainly right.

In thrillers and mysteries, Dennis Lehane is very good.  C.J. BoxJanet Evanovich is fun.  There’s a woman!  Elmore Leonard. Daniel SilvaJames Lee BurkeHarlan Coban.  I’m sure I’m leaving out someone important.  My favorite writer of all time is probably Saul Bellow – no longer living, of course.  But there are so many others.  I find flaws in much of what I read, because clean story telling is much harder than it appears, but there’s a lot of talent out there.

WH: If you could put on your psychic hat, what trends do you see making a splash soon? Or is following trends a waste of time?

JEF: The only thing I’d say about trends is that they seem to be shorter and shorter lived.  Some genre catches fire and then everyone chases it so manically that the quality declines and people get bored.  If I could predict trends – if anyone could – they’d be a lot richer.  As a writer, I don’t think you can chase it.  I had an agent recently ask me to write a novel that emulates Lee Childs, whose Jack Reacher series is fun and hot right now.

But – setting aside the issue of whether I could just order this stuff up from my brain – by the time you get the book finished, it’s likely that the world has moved on.  You just have to follow your muse, I think, and hope for the best.  That said, I think it’s most important to understand existing story forms and be creative within those forms rather than try to defy them.  It sounds boring to say so, but there will always be demand, I think, for great stories with beginning, middle and end.  Making it fresh within that is the hard part, and it has to come from authenticity, not chasing trends.

WH: What’s your overall take on publishing today? In dire straights or blooming and flourishing?

JEF: I think book publishers in general are facing significant challenges going forward.  Bill Gates said people overestimate the effects technology will have going two years out and underestimate their effects ten years out.  There will always be authors and stories, but the book publishing business will probably look much different in another decade or two.  Publishers will have to find new ways to add value or they’ll be gradually disintermediated.  It’s a scary time for them, and yet the big ones have to figure out how to change while making their quarterly numbers and carrying big overhead.  Like much of the media, their business is changing rapidly.  The same could be said of bookstores.  A big part of the growth is electronic, and that will only accelerate going forward.

WH: To return to your editing/agenting roots for a moment: how important is the query vs. the sample pages?

JEF: On and off, I’ve attended a high-level writing workshop in Philadelphia the last couple years called the Rittenhouse Writer’s Group.  Before I started, I hadn’t done a writing workshop since I was just out of college – certainly long before I went into book publishing.  Now the thing is, people go to these workshops and you’re obligated to read everyone’s stuff, no matter how good or bad, no matter whether they’ve grabbed the reader by the lapels on Page One or have sauntered up to the reader and finally got around to their story on Page Twelve.  The thing you can lose sight of in that environment is that all writers, in a sense, are in the entertainment business.

Editors, agents, publishers – at least in the fiction area — all in the entertainment business.  So when writers ask for advice with regard to getting an agent, I remind them of this single truism: no one out there owes you a read.  No one.  You have to grab their attention.  In the realm of non-fiction, the query letter may be more important than the sample pages – because if the author’s concept and credentials are strong, an agent can always find them a writer to do the proposal.  In fiction, you’re going to live and die on those first ten sample pages.  But it’s all important.  Agents are so pressed for time.  It’s easy to shout, “Next!”

WH: What are the main things in a query letter that make agents/editors want to read more?

JEF: For non-fiction: credentials, concept, a platform for promotion.  For fiction: consistency between the demands of the genre and the ambition of the writer, originality, and some sense that there’s an authorial voice there.

WH: What are the main things that let agents/editors know this project/writer isn’t for them?

JEF: In my opinion there are really only two things.  First, is this a genre in which I’m working?  An agent who has no interest in science fiction isn’t going to look at a science fiction manuscript.  Period.  Second, does it capture my imagination?  People – even editors and agents – read with their gut.  If they like it, they’ll ask themselves whether they can come up with a coherent pitch that has a chance of succeeding, based largely on their experience in the market over the past year.  If they don’t like it, they can come up with ways to rationalize why, but the bottom line will always be a matter of taste.  Presuming, of course, that the writer was able to string sentences together.  A certain level of competence is expected.

WH: Do you think with the rise of digital publishing that there’s a difference between hard copy queries and e-queries? Does one seem more disposable/less serious than the other?

JEF: It’s all up to the preference of the agent.  Some still won’t read e-queries, but if I were still an agent, my thinking would be: why waste your time re-stuffing the envelope?  Words are words.

WH: What advice would you give aspiring writers out there?

JEF: Someone asked this of Carl Reiner once.  He said, if you’re a writer, then write!  Nothing else matters if you don’t bring your vision to the page.  You’re a painter: paint!  Malcolm Gladwell notes that excellence in any endeavor requires a ten-thousand-hour investment.  For writers, that’s not ten thousand hours dreaming about the book tour, it’s writing.

Joan Acocella observes that the single thing most successful people in the arts have in common is perseverance.  Don’t just talk about doing it, strategize doing it, worry about how the world will receive you…  It starts with product.  You want product, then produce!  Amazingly, it takes some of us a lifetime to realize this.  But most of the great writers you know are banging it out every day.

WH: Well said, Sir. So do you think WordHustler helps writers successfully get their work out there, professionally and effectively?

JEF: It sounds that way.  The brilliance of WordHustler, I think, is that it has the potential to give creative people more time to create.  If you enjoy sending queries more than writing, then you should be an agent, not a writer.  That’s why I’m a writer now.  I’m happier telling stories than making pitches.

Straight talk from a man in the know! So take J.E.’s advice and put in those hours to perfect your craft, focus on persevering even when the going is tough, and spend some time crafting your queries and projects with the za-za-zing that will grab an editor or agent’s attention right from the start.

Why not submit your masterfully-written prose to an esteemed literary agency like Writer’s House? If you want some help nailing your query letters, take a glance at our Cover Letter Clinic here! Write your best, edit your best, then do your homework so you can send your work out to the best publishing professionals out there. And WordHustler is here to help. Write on!

WordHustler is taking our writing contests to a whole new level with the debut of our Literary Storm Novel Contest (ENTER HERE). Submit the first 50 pages of your novel and you could win BIG! The details:

Official Judge: Literary Agent Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary

Grand Prize: A Complete Manuscript Critique by Joyce Sweeney, who has helped 27 people get published! (Psst: this prize is worth over $500!) as well as publication consideration from brilliant indie press Flatmancrooked!

Second and Third Prizes: Barnes and Noble Gift Certificates

NEW BONUS PRIZE: The Top Ten Entries will ALL be considered for publishing by Flatmancrooked!

Deadline: November 20th, 2009

Entry Fee: $10

What to Submit: The first 50 pages of your finished novel, along with a cover letter. Manuscript critiques are also available for an additional fee of $20. All genres of novels are accepted, including Middle Grade and Young Adult.

Go to the WordHustler Literary Storm Contest listing RIGHT HERE to enter!


About Our Prizes:

From the Upstart Crow Literary website: We believe good books matter far too much to be taken lightly, and that the careers of those books’ creators are a very serious business. That quality of long-term nurturing and author advocacy is something all of us here aim for: We work with our clients to polish their manuscripts, hone their voices, and find the best match of editor and publishing house. And then we look to what comes after that first or third or sixth book: Our authors are our partners, talents we intend to work with over long, illustrious careers.

From the Flatmancrooked site: Flatmancrooked is a semi-traditional small press that prides itself on producing beautiful books and reimagining the way those books are marketed. We tout books as art objects, and feel that first runs should be precious, limited editions. Selling massive numbers of copies of a soft-cover isn’t the future of 21st Century publishing. But printing a few hundred, gorgeous, collectible copies, and giving away a digital version free, is.

From Joyce Sweeney’s site: Fifteen years ago I started teaching writing classes and found my true calling. Even more than writing itself, I love helping and mentoring writers. I moved from five week classes to an ongoing workshop in Fort Lauderdale, where I could work with writers for as long as it took – sometimes years – to get that first book into print.

My one workshop expanded to two, and I started working with manuscripts from writers all over the country, critiquing, advising, sometimes just pulling out the old pep talk. I’m now so proud to say that 27 of the people I’ve worked with have become published authors.

Finalists and Winners will be announced by December 15th, 2009 and their names posted on WordHustlerInk. See below for Official Rules and Regulations. Good Luck, Hustlers!

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is the author of THIRSTY. She is also a happy mom, an engaging teacher who believes in “telling the best story you can…believing in your writing…and working your arse off,” a fierce advocate for the end of domestic violence, and a writer who spends as much time as possible in “writerhead.”


WordHustler
sat down with Kristin to get her advice about making sure your draft is ready to be sent out, the double-duty authors have to pull in order to get their books out there, and why chocolate + keyboard = no good. Read on to discover how to quench your own thirst for publishing success, with advice from an ingenious writer who knows how to slake (and make) it!

WordHustler: You have a varied writing background, including being published in Poets & Writers Magazine, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Baltimore ReviewSan Diego Family MagazineThe Gettysburg Review…what do you consider your first big break, writing-wise?

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe: I’m a not a big break kind of writer; I’m of the slow-grow variety. I’ve been nurturing my career poem by poem, story by story, since I was eight years old. With each piece I’ve published (and the many I’ve written but haven’t published), I’ve learned a little more about writing, my voice, what I like to write about, what I believe in, the world…and the business of selling my work. The wonderful, amazing, cumulative effect of all this is my debut novel THIRSTY.

WH: An early draft of your novel, THIRSTY, was actually your graduate thesis, correct? Had you planned on trying to get it published as a novel while still working on it as a thesis? Had you published any fiction previously?

More... KBO: I started writing THIRSTY in 1992 while working on my MFA at Columbia College Chicago. As soon as I wrote the first scene (the one in which a here-to-be-unnamed-character-so-I-don’t-give-anything-away dies in a steel mill accident), I knew THIRSTY was a novel and I knew that (eventually) it would be published.

Before THIRSTY, I hadn’t written a whole lot of fiction. A few stories here and there, but mostly I wrote poetry. That’s how I started my writing life when I was eight, and I studied poetry as an undergraduate at Indiana University (Bloomington). Fiction was a new animal for me, and I loved it! I still do.

WH: How did you end up getting published through Swallow Press? Did you have a literary agent send your book out for you, or did you approach them directly?

KBO: I did not have an agent when I made the deal with Swallow Press (Ironically I got an agent within weeks of the deal for another project I’m working on). For the publication of THIRSTY, I owe a big thanks to my good friend and writing colleague Christina Katz (a.k.a. the Writer Mama). She has been one of THIRSTY’s greatest cheerleaders since we were in grad school together at Columbia. (She was also one of THIRSTY’s first readers.)

In early 2008, Christina was at a writers’ conference in the United States. As always, she was talking up THIRSTY to fiction folks, and on this particular day, the timing was right. Someone said, “Ooh, Kristin should send the manuscript to Swallow Press. Sounds like a good fit.” I did. And voilà! A short time later I had a book deal.

A bit of advice for readers: Venture out into the writing world. Go to conferences. Take classes. Join online groups. Twitter. Schmooze. Chat. Get to know as many people as you can. Let people get to know you. Relationships with writers and editors provide a wonderful support group, and you just never know where they may lead.

WH: Valuable advice, Kristin. So how much time passed between selling THIRSTY to publication? Was it hard revising with an editor’s input?

KBO: It took a little over a year to move THIRSTY from manuscript to book, and I loved working with David Sanders, my editor at Swallow Press. He “got” THIRSTY from the very beginning so working with him was a pleasure. He made great suggestions that strengthened the novel, one in particular. When I first sent the manuscript to David, THIRSTY had a short prologue. One of the questions he asked me during the editing process was, “Do you need this?” Now, keep in mind that I’d written drafts of THIRSTY with and without the prologue, so I’d already questioned the necessity of it. Having David-a fresh, wise eye-confirm my suspicion that THIRSTY didn’t need the prologue was terrific. I cut it.

It’s important for aspiring writers and writers who have not yet published a book to realize how much of a partnership the editor/author relationship is. Yes, you wrote the book, but it is amazing to have a new eye on it when you get to the publishing stage; it truly takes the book to a new level.

WH: Many aspiring writers may think the work is over once the book is sold. Can you illuminate the post-selling, publishing and marketing process for us (the abridged version, of course. The full version could fill a whole book!)?

KBO: Today your job as an author is two-fold. Your first responsibility is writing the best story you can, polishing it, and getting it to publishable quality. Once that’s done and the manuscript is sold, your second responsibility begins: marketing. This includes everything from creating a cool website for the book to blogging to connecting with readers via both in-person and virtual events, and lots more. (Ideally you’ve been sowing the seeds for your marketing efforts while writing your book-blogging, reading and commenting on other writing blogs, freelancing, etc. A little work along the way makes the post-publishing marketing work a lot easier.)

Luckily, I love the marketing end of the business. Although I live in Shanghai, China, I traveled to the United States for the launch of THIRSTY at the end of September. I spent almost seven weeks traveling to various cities on the East Coast, reading to groups in bookstores, signing copies of THIRSTY, chatting up potential readers, doing radio interviews, Tweeting on Twitter, and blogging. I had a blast! Now I’m back in Shanghai doing everything I can online and in Asia to continue getting THIRSTY to more readers. I’m talking to reading groups in Shanghai, giving a talk at the Shanghai International Literary Festival in March, and showing up as a guest on great blogs like WordHustler.

WH: One of your other passions (besides writing, your adopted hometown of Shanghai, and your daughter, of course) is teaching. What is a common mistake you see inexperienced writers making when first starting out?

KBO: You’re absolutely right…I love to teach writing. Over the years I’ve noted a couple of common missteps:

a.    Writers sometimes talk about writing way more than they actually write; one of my mantras is “Writing begets writing.” (Repeat after me, “Writing begets writing.”) Now sshhh…and put the pen to the page!

b.   Inexperienced writers often don’t realize how many drafts it takes to produce a polished, well-written piece. They want to get it done quickly and send it out to publishers before it’s ready. My advice? Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. And then? Rewrite.

WH: What are a few of your favorite books out there today (besides your own, of course 😉 )?

KBO: I love novels that change me in some significant (but often invisible) way…ones that make me consider the world a little differently. Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss does that for me. So does Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Anne Enright’s The Gathering. Right now I’m reading Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, and even though I’m only on page 40, I suspect I’m going to be adding it to my favorites list.

WH: What is your preferred writing method? Do you have a certain writing spot/technique?

KBO: Here’s my ideal writing morning:

It’s 5:00 a.m. A bit of fuzzy light squeezes through the curtains. My husband doesn’t wake as I roll out of bed, still carrying the morning’s dream with me. I stumble to the kitchen, pour a glass of grapefruit juice and a glass of water, and stumble back to my office. I sit down at my desk, content to be in the creative state I call “Writerhead.” I open my journal, write by hand for a while, then turn on my computer and start clicking away at the keys. A few hours later with a few thousand words under my belt, I open my office door and join the rest of the world.

Of course, as a mom to an energetic, chatty, absolutely hilarious 21-month-old, my ideal writing morning doesn’t happen all that often anymore. Instead I squeeze the writing in where I can: while my daughter naps, while I have a few hours of childcare in the afternoons, in the evenings after she goes to bed.

WH: How do you best balance your fiction writing with your family life/teaching/blogging responsibilities?

KBO: Hhhhmm. Considering the fact that I…

a.    just returned home to Shanghai after almost seven weeks in the U.S.
b.   am wildly jetlagged
c.    am doing everything I can to help my toddler through her jetlag
d.   lost my childcare helper while I was in the U.S.
e.    and haven’t yet unpacked our suitcases

…I’m not so sure I’m very good at balancing much of anything at all. BUT during a normal week, I think I do all right. Family, of course, comes first. Then the writing.

WH: What are three things you’d advise aspiring writers to do?

KBO: a.   Write the best story you can.
b.   Believe in your work.
c.   Work your arse off.

WH: What are three things you’d advise aspiring writers to NEVER do?

KBO: a.  Never rush a piece of writing. (As I said before, it takes A LOT of work and many rewrites to get a piece of writing to publishable quality.)
b.  Never give up. (Remember: I’m a writer of the slow-grow variety. If I’d given up, I wouldn’t be chatting with you today.)
c.  Never leave an unwrapped chocolate bar on your keyboard in the summertime.

WH: Do you think WordHustler is a valuable resource in helping writers successfully get their work out there, professionally and effectively?

KBO: Heck, yeah! All that vital publishing information in one place, interesting authors sharing inspirational stories, and a submission service? What more can a writer ask for?

She’s a teacher, she’s a writer, she’s a blogger, and she’s RIGHT, folks. Kristin’s advice about plugging yourself while you write is valuable- so what are you waiting for? Set up your blog, get to Tweeting, and participate in some great online writing forums. Twitter is actually a very valuable tool because it gives you direct access to agents, editors, and other writers going through exactly what you struggle with (and triumph over) every day.

Also, if you’ve been working on and revising that future award-winning novel, maybe it’s time to take opportunity by the horns and submit it to the Literary Storm Novel Contest so you can be in the running to win a FREE manuscript critique AND a chance to be published by Flatmancrooked! Who knows, maybe the future is now!