Category Archives: A to Z Challenge

F is for Fellowships

Who wins fellowships? Well, people who apply for them, that’s who! The competition is steep for most of them, but you will never win if you don’t apply.

What is a fellowship, you ask? Well, for my purposes, a fellowship is an opportunity to focus study on making better art. Usually this is through a monetary award. They generally ask for a work sample, and some require that applicants submit a plan for how they would spend the fellowship funds in the allotted time it covers. Sometimes there is no stipulation for how funds are to be spent, but others require that funds are not meant to be used to pay off debt, but must be spent on activities directly related to the writer’s career advancement. It can be a bit dicey as to what might qualify.

Time is money concept

There are probably thousands of fellowships out there. It is, as I said, often highly competitive, but can be a very nurturing experience, too. Some fellowships have a bit of a collegiate feel, in that you are a class of fellows, and there might be some group activities involved, like periodic meetings or a Fellowship Reading at the end of the period covered.

Many are earmarked for specific disciplines, or require residency in a geographic area. This does help to hone your search somewhat. Don’t discount anything labeled as an “Artists’ Fellowship” either, as this is often an umbrella term used for art of many disciplines, including literary arts.

There is a great list on this website, which also covers grants. Grants are similar to fellowships, but there is usually not a group activity or requirement of any meetings. You do need a good plan, including a budget, for most of them, and a primo work sample. In most of the cases I have seen, there is some kind of info session or video that can help you sculpt a successful application. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to get some feedback on your work sample before you send it.

Don’t rush a fellowship (or grant) application. If you aren’t ready, you aren’t ready. It will come around again in a year or two (sometimes they alternate years for disciplines, so read the application information carefully). Many fellowships are post-MFA, meaning you must have completed an advanced degree, and include a teaching element.

I confess, I have only applied for fellowships in book arts. This required a detailed proposal, meetings with the fellowship group over the course of a year, and a final exhibition. Some of the writing grants I have seen require no plan, only a demonstrated ability (usually indicated by published work). There are, I am sure, fellowships of nearly any type you can imagine.

One of my favorite stories is about the fellow who wanted to win the lottery. He prayed every day to win the lottery, but he never won. Finally he said, “God, why won’t you let me win the lottery?” The response was, “It would help if you bought a ticket.”

Right. So it is with fellowships and grants. Get your ticket punched. If you don’t win the first time, think of it as an exercise, as an assignment completed. You will undoubtedly learn something from each application you fill out. Go ahead, throw your hat in the ring. If you’ve had any fellowship experience, I’d love to hear about it!

E is for Early

My main mantra for book publicity is that it is never too early. It is never too early to start activities necessary to publicize your book. I know, sounds crazy, right? But there are things you can do – really valuable things – to publicize your book way before you have even written it.

Getting Up Early For Work

Okay, granted, these things won’t be literally publicizing that book. But they will help to establish you as a writer, to get acquainted with people, and to gather around you a community that will support your work. And luckily, most of this is free. What it will require, however, is time.

I’ve already talked about conferences. Those, unfortunately, are not free, and are not in the realm of things that most people can do because “someday.” But you could still make up a dreamlist of conferences that you would like to attend “someday,” and find out from others which ones they found most helpful, most worth their time and effort. Keep in mind, though, that these things can change over time – different organizers, different objectives. So don’t spend a ton of time on this unless you can go in the near future. Do consider this an investment, and try to budget the funds and time to attend one.

Then there is of course the ginormous world online. You can certainly set up any social media profiles long before you are ready to publish. You can get to know industry folks, make contacts in your genre, follow bloggers. Get tips, learn about the publishing industry, find out what people are looking for. The better they know you before you publish, the more likely they are to listen to you when you are ready. But honestly, don’t align yourself with people just in case they come in handy someday. That will show through rather quickly. Social media is about building community, and whatever your role, you should be a supportive part of that community.

Once you are ready to transition from writer to author, you will have to do a little extra work, such as setting up an Author page on Facebook, maybe, or revamping your bios, or setting up a website. And, of course, write the book. But if the community is there, you will have a giant headstart on momentum.

You can do a lot in the real world, too. If you have an active literary scene in your local community, time to plug into that. I am very lucky, because, well, I live in perhaps the most active, most supportive, most talented literary scene outside of New York City. But hear me, people, this can be a double-edged sword. I am a very small fish in a very big pond. We have National Book Award winners. We have Pushcart Prize-winners, Walt Whitman Award-winners. Heck, we even have the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. We’re lousy with fantastic writers, in all areas and genres.

And somehow, I have managed to meet a lot of great folks, and they have taken me in, and now, I feel like it is my community. It didn’t take very long, either. I did, however, come armed with a bit of a weapon – I started writing an online column in which I did profiles, reviews, and interviews with people in my state. That gave me a foot in the door, to ask for the interview, to ask for the review copy. Occasionally, I still do this, if something interests me enough, and I have time.

This worked really well in the literary world, but it would likely work as well in just about any industry or community that you want to write about. If art is your thing, and you can write and aren’t afraid to ask for the interview, try it. It would work well in the business world, or for any cause that you feel strongly about. It would work well in endurance athletics, in bicycling, in child development. You just have to be genuine about your interest and have a focus for your piece. Don’t be afraid to approach people; people love to talk about what they love. Call it research.

Another way that you can get to know folks is through plain old showing up. Attend events, meet the owner of the local bookstore, get to know your librarians. This has the added bonus of gaining you a foothold if you want to approach these places about your own events in the future. Present yourself as a writer, and people will identify you as one. Don’t say, “I want to be a writer.” Just write, and make yourself one.

So in short, you can start putting yourself out there as early as you want. You don’t have to have a finished book. You don’t even have to be working on one. If you know that you want to do this, you can get started today.

I cover a whole timeline of activities for those who are further along in their journey in this article recently posted on the blog of the fabulous Molly Greene. Check it out, leave a comment here (or there) if you have a question!

D is for Distraction

Do you find yourself having trouble getting down to work sometimes? I know. Me, too. When the weather is nice, this is especially hard. However, for the past year I have had an added Distraction: my husband.

He used to work days, which was lovely, really. I got up when he left and I had the place to myself. I was much more productive that way. Now he works nights, and while he’s sleeping part of the day, when he wakes up at about 2pm he is a Big Distraction. He always wants to know what’s for dinner. Ha!

I try to get some work done in the evenings, but by the time he leaves at 6pm, I’m tired. I can’t work 12 hours a day like I used to. Even though I am not working all those 12 hours, there are these other demands, and I just can’t keep going all through the evening. So I get a good four or five hours of work in, and the rest is catch as catch can.

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But that’s not the worst of it. I could handle it fine if he were just working Monday through Friday. I do end up working a fair amount of weekends, mostly with author events, but if I don’t have a work commitment, I like my weekends to myself. Plus, most family events are on weekends.

Well, now his weekend is Monday and Tuesday. This makes for a nice relaxing Saturday for me, if I can swing not working, but come Monday, I have to get back to work. And his question is ‘well, what are we going to do today?” He wants to do something on his days off. I totally get this, as I really like to have my Sundays free. I almost never work on a Sunday.

But I can’t take off my weekend, and then take off his weekend, too. That’s just not going to work. It’s been a struggle for the past year. I am trying to at least not schedule work events or meetings on Mondays or Tuesdays, so that I can be home with him. And I try to get as much done as I can during the evenings while he’s working, or while he’s running errands or sleeping. But if he wants to go somewhere, I feel terrible saying no. We don’t do much, mind you, but if we are going to go away for a ‘weekend,’ now it is a Monday-Tuesday thing. If we are leaving on a trip, we leave on Monday instead of Friday or Saturday.

So this means I end up working a fair amount of my Saturdays, and try to slot in chores when I can. It feels like everything’s off kilter. I’m distracted from spending the time I want with him, and distracted from my work by not having enough time to get it done. Oh, and my house is a mess (oh well!). I continue to try to work out a way to get it all done, but it ain’t easy.

How about you? What are your main distractions? I remember when my kids were home – boy, the whole world stopped when my son walked in the door. He’s the kind of person who takes over a room. And school vacations – well, just forget it. And nice weather. I’ve written about that one before. There are as many distractions as there are stars in the sky. How do you handle yours?

C is for Conferences

We’ve already talked about the AWP conference being held next week in Minneapolis. But I want to go over conferences generally as well. There are, in my mind, two reasons why as an author, you should be thinking about attending conferences. (I’m talking about conventions here, too, but the terms are often used interchangeably, and to simplify I will mostly use ‘conference.’)

Hello, my name is

First, there is the basic writers’ conference. AWP is one of these, though it is also an industry (academic) conference, so combines the two. There are many, many other writers’ conferences which feature the holy grail of the writing life – meetings with agents and editors. These will also feature some breakout sessions, but the main reason people go to these is for the chance to make their pitch.

There are many types of these, from genre-specific to those geared towards certain markets (such as Christian), and they are held all over the country. One of the largest is the DFW Writers Conference in Texas (of course, right?). I’ve never been to this one, but it’s on my radar. At conferences of these type, you may have keynote or other presentations from well-known authors. But that is not the draw. Again, it’s those pitch meetings. Very often you need to sign up ahead of time for those, and certain conferences will charge for them. You need to go armed with a formal proposal, and backed up by a completed manuscript. In rare cases I’ve heard of an author pitching an idea, but this is usually for nonfiction work and most often the book was design heavy. Almost always they had some written material to offer as a sample.

There is a subset of these, called a Pitch Conference, one of which is being held at The Loft next November. It’s two days and it’s not cheap (over $400!). But the whole focus of this is pitching (as the name implies). There are several of these held each year. Not everyone is a fan. If you see a conference offering this new-fangled idea of query feedback, perhaps you should jump on that.

There are some writers’ conferences that are juried. You must apply to be able to attend. One of these is Bread Loaf in Vermont. The prestige of getting accepted is gilded by the reputation of former students and the number of NYC publishing houses in attendance.

The other type of conference you may consider is a targeted fan conference. For instance, the mystery genre is replete with conferences – there’s Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, Crimelandia and many other smaller ones. At this type of conference, you as an author can go and meet other writers, but the convention itself is geared towards writers and fans. So there may be panels on craft, but there will also be opportunities for fans to meet authors. I think it’s a good idea to go to one before you attend as an author – though I wouldn’t pass it up if your publisher offers to send you, simply because you haven’t been yet. These types of conferences will often allow volunteer panelists, so you can be on a panel if you choose. That’s a great way to get exposure and meet other authors.

Many of these are genre-specific – romance, mystery and fantasy and science fiction being the most popular. The fantasy/science fiction realm has raised this to an art form, with the various Cons held all over now, the largest being the San Diego Comic Con. Not just comics any more, believe me. These feature all types of entertainment – books, but also TV, movies, comics, and gaming. You will often find art sales and lots of costumes at these. Most of them include breakout sessions, a marketplace, and lots of parties. The one I go to is held here in July each year, called CONvergence. It’s four days of sessions, parties and costumes, but it also features a whole hotel floor devoted to gaming, author signings, movies and more. I go as a fan and writer, and last year I was on three fan panels. This is the largest volunteer-run convention of its type. There are large and small Cons now all over the US.

The other type of convention that authors should know about is the many industry conventions held every year for booksellers. The biggest is Book Expo America (BEA), held mostly in New York City but traveling occasionally to LA or DC. This is for members of the American Booksellers Association, and the publishing companies come out to fill the trade show floor. This convention has grown beyond its initial audience, however. They have now added a digital component and a whole day conference for bloggers. There is also the affiliated BookCon, which is billed as “the ultimate celebration of books,” which seems more like the genre fan conferences I discuss above.

There are also smaller, regional conferences held in the areas of the regional booksellers associations. The one near me is called Heartland Fall Forum, and is the convention of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association (MiBA/GLiBA). These regional shows may be a better place to start, as BEA can be a bit overwhelming for the first-time attendee.

I would discourage any author from attending one of these bookseller conventions unless your publisher sends you. There is really nothing for you to do unless you are a featured author. You can go to sessions (but many of them are geared for booksellers, with focus on inventory control, etc) and you can walk the trade floor, but you’re not going to randomly meet many fans, unless you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. The parties at BEA are legend, but you have to know where they are. And I have seen authors walking around BEA with a sandwich board, asking a question in a panel thinly disguised as a pitch for their book, and it’s just sad. These are industry professionals, and they want to meet authors with credibility. But if your publisher offers to send you, run, do not walk, because there is no better way to meet hundreds of booksellers.

There are many other smaller conventions and book festivals going on all the time. Do a quick search to check out what’s near you, and see what your budget is for travel to any that are further away. Talk to other authors, find out what their experience has been. And lastly, for any conference or convention, have a plan. If you are going to a writers’ conference, pick your pitch meetings and sessions carefully. Decide what your focus will be. If you are going to a big convention, know what your goals are, and try to have a plan of attack. I love these things, and I’ve had wonderful experiences at them. But you don’t want to be the guy with the sandwich board.

B is for Blogging

Here’s the pot calling the kettle black, the cobbler who has no shoes – whatever way you want to spell it. I am a writer who started a blog and then abandoned it for almost a year. There were, of course, extenuating circumstances, but there are certainly things I could have done differently. Like followed my own advice. Read on.

Blogging concept

To blog or not to blog? I get this question a lot. I also hear a lot from authors who tell me they have heard they must start a blog. I know that it is a good way to build an online platform. But I also know that many writers abandon their efforts after just a few months.

So how to know if this is for you? Think: about what you want to spend your time doing. How much time do you have to spend writing each day? How comfortable are you with technology? A lot of bloggers are very tech-oriented, but you don’t have to be. What do you have to say? Do you have a given topic that you are very passionate about and that has a large online community? Or are you just trying to get readers to like you and buy your book?

If your answer to some of these questions is “No” or “Not much/not very,” then perhaps your time is better spent on other activities to promote your work. A blog can be a great way to get into the writing habit or jumpstart a project, but if it’s not the type of writing you want to do, and you don’t have a lot to say about a particular topic, or have precious little writing time anyway, then move on.

If, indeed, you have a topic for which you know there exists a large online community, then yes, blogging may be a good way to go. But you still have to come up with content and be patient. I suggest that those starting a blog write a month’s worth of posts before they even begin. That way you will always have something ‘in the can’ and you won’t have to fret about it each time you go to post. And batch your content creation. This means sit down and write a few posts at a time. Batching content is more efficient and especially helpful when you are doing a series post.

Your posts do not have to be long. People reading online have shorter attention spans – have you heard this? A 600 word post is plenty. That’s why you might consider doing multiple part posts if you have more to say about one topic. Or simply writing about an aspect of that topic, instead of trying to cover it all in one post.

How often do you need to post? Not very often, really. Once a week is fine to start with. Yes, there are those who post every day. I honestly don’t know how they do it. Twice a week is a good frequency to aim for, especially if your community is very active. That means if you are posting twice a week, you should have 8 posts done before you launch your blog.

But how do you generate content? Well, there are lots of great mechanisms you can use. A mind map is one that I love. Think in terms of an infographic, where you ask a question and follow the rabbit hole of answers. Also, there is a great breakdown of types of topics and lists of ideas at Molly Greene’s fabulous blog. There are many other ways to get content. Look at what your comments are, and take cues from there.

Above all, be consistent in how often you post, and be sure that you are posting good content. Don’t just slap something up there to get a post up. Be sure to run a spellcheck and hey, especially if you are a writer, know that this counts. Good grammar, error-free posts and well-spoken content will get you closer to your goals.

And don’t forget the ‘community’ part of blogging, either. Visit other blogs and see what they are doing. Leave a comment, so they know you’ve been there. Don’t expect direct reciprocity, but you will likely get more visitors after visiting other blogs.

And be patient. Consistency and good content will eventually garner you an audience, if you take the time to find it. It can take a year or more for a blog to catch on. Keep at it if you decide this is really what you want to do.

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A is for AWP

Here is my first post for the April A to Z Challenge. A is for AWP, folks!

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Every year, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) meets in a different city. The Internet explodes with articles about “How to Make the Most of AWP.” All of my writer friends start talking about it about a month in advance, especially the ones who teach at colleges. It’s one of the biggest conferences out there: the estimate this year is that 10,000 people will attend.

This year will be my first time attending the conference. I have heard about it for years, and I have wanted to go for a while. Last year I was going to go but had to cancel at the last minute. This year, it is in my backyard, in Minneapolis, so I couldn’t pass that up. I’m taking the money I saved on plane fare and spending it on a hotel room, so that I can dive in and not come up for air until it’s over. I’m looking forward to it.

AWP is an industry conference but also geared highly towards the average writer. There are many more breakout sessions to attend than at other conferences I’ve been to, and the schedule is insane. I still haven’t finished going through it all. They have a nice feature where you can mark a session that interests you, and add it to your schedule. So when you’re done, you print it or send it to your phone or whatever, and then you have a handy list of everything you want to do, when it’s scheduled and where it is. Some sessions are geared towards academics, but most are simply for writers. There’s everything from How and Why to Blog to publishing companies sponsoring readings from their authors. I have several choices marked for each session time – it will come down to a game-time decision based on where I am standing, what else has come up, and what I feel like doing.

Of course, one of the fun parts of AWP is the off-site events. There are myriad parties, readings, happy hours and so much more. Everyone pulls out their A game. I’ve received about 25 event invites on FB so far, and I am having trouble deciding what I want to do. One of my issues is that I don’t want to drive. I want to park my car and leave it there – that’s the whole point of getting a hotel room. There is a good bike rental service in downtown Minneapolis, called Nice Ride, so if I really want to get to something off-site, I could probably use that.

The problem with big parties is that they are just that – big. Huge crowds of people all talking to each other is something I can’t do for days on end. I’m going to be by myself too, which makes it kind of awkward sometimes. I expect that at most events I will know people, so that’s not really a big concern. But I don’t have a pal to hang with. If push comes to shove, I can always retreat to my hotel room and actually write.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is meeting people in person that I have been communicating with for years. I am hoping to set up a time to meet with Bethanne Patrick, otherwise known as The Book Maven, as well as run into Jane Ciabattari, a past President of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). I’ve done blog posts for both of them in the past, and follow them both on several social media platforms. I also hope to meet some writers that I admire, such as Dani Shapiro.

I’ll make the bookfair my first stop, since I know several people who are exhibiting. And my attendance at AWP is not as a publishing professional: it is as a writer. So I’m going to be there first and foremost for myself. I want to get to the bookfair before it gets too crowded, before everyone gets tired out, and before they run out of copies of their latest issue. I want to visit journals that I might submit my work to, and meet the editors whenever possible. I also want some facetime with folks that I have worked with in the past.

I’m so looking forward to this! If you are on Twitter, look me up @LindaWonder and follow along as I navigate this spectacle. It starts next Wednesday!