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The Writer November 2017

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November 2017 • Volume 130 Number 11
Digital and other nonwriting skills helpful to the
modern writer.
Tech help
Thirty-five tech products to
revolutionize your writing.
Ghost story
Wanna break into ghostwriting? Here are our tips
for surviving the afterlife.
Goal +
deadline =
Without clear, concrete
objectives, your writing
dreams will never become
Find your
Think the magazine industry is dead? These five
editors beg to differ.
your fiction
Seven steps to a stronger
The devil knocking
When unethical jobs tempt
hungry writers.
Tweet and greet
From the Editor
Take Note
Featuring Ekta R. Garg and
Dan Sheehan.
42 Markets
Twitter pitch parties are an
easy, free way to connect with
industry professionals. Here’s
how to grab their attention in
140 characters or less.
Flash Fiction Online
This lit journal seeks sparkling
writing, evocative storytelling,
and well-developed
characters – all in less than
1,000 words.
47 Classified advertising
48 How I Write
Mike Rowe: “I’ve never had much
luck trying to please a specific
audience. I write for myself, in
the hope that enough people will
be interested and amused by the
same things that interest and
amuse me.”
Nonfiction Writers Conference
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thewritermag • The Writer | 3
Senior Editor Nicki Porter
Contributing Editor Melissa Hart
Copy Editor Toni Fitzgerald
Art Director Carolyn V. Marsden
Graphic Designer Jaron Cote
eaders, let’s be frank: I know a fair percentage of you crinkled
your nose when you saw this issue arrive in your mailbox.
The technology issue.
And perhaps few other professions are so divided on technology: It
seems half of you are merrily tweeting away, designing your own
eBooks, stocking and tweaking your author’s website like a pro. The
other half swear allegiance to pen and paper, vowing not to let social
media or newfangled gadgets waste time that could be spent on the page.
And you know what, tech haters? I get it. I do. I may be an Instagramobsessed, analytics-wielding, all-things-digital addict, but every single
one of these letters is written longhand. I tap into a deeper well when I
pick up the pen, like opening a vein; the words flow freely and emerge in
just the right order. My fingers fly too fast on the keys for my brain to
catch up, and the results are often sloppier, less precise, less smooth.
But then I take my smudged, scrawling pages to the computer. I key
in the text, revising as I go. I run it through Grammarly, a free app that
kindly corrects my erratic comma placement without judgment. When
each piece is published, I post it on social media, where my words can
find willing readers. I check its progress on Google Analytics, noting
where traffic is coming from so I can thank the kind people who sent
readers my way.
You write because you need to. Period. But you publish because you
want people to read your work, right?
Well, technology is the easiest, fastest way to match your words to
others’ eyes.
And it can do so much more: Imagine software that helps create
deeper, richer characters. Distraction blockers, so you can set aside
two Facebook-free hours to write. Journaling apps. Synonym finders.
Deadline trackers. Storyboard organizers. Yes, Virginia, there really is
an app for that.
So come on over to the dark side, tech haters. Keep those pen collections and notebook obsessions. You can still write any which way
you want to. But technology really can help you write harder, faster,
better, stronger.
Now get digi with it.
Keep writing,
Nicki Porter
Senior Editor
4 | The Writer • November 2017
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me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about,
but the inner music that words make.” —Truman Capote
The #1inchlist
Whose opinion really matters to you as a writer?
in a recent online course about
how to navigate the literary magazine
world, the instructor gave us an assignment: Cut out a 1-inch square from a
piece of paper and write the names of
all those whose opinions on our writing we valued. If we couldn’t fit all the
names on the paper, she said, we
needed to edit our list.
When I read those instructions, I
frowned. What did they mean? Was I
supposed to treat this like some sort
of acknowledgments list? Writers
used their acknowledgments to thank
everyone under the sun: spouses, parents, siblings, writing groups, editors,
agents, pets. How could I possibly fit
every name on a 1-inch square piece
of paper?
I cut out the square. I stared at it. I
looked back at the instructions.
“Make a list of people whose opinion of your writing really matters.”
I considered the statement, letting it
settle into my brain. It mattered to me
what some people thought. Those who
engaged in the craft every day. Those
who spent hours, as I did, weighing
every single word and sentence to
make sure each would offer the right
balance to a story.
If I cared so much about the opinions of writers, then did I have the
freedom to disregard the ideas of nonwriters? What if some of those nonwriters existed in close proximity to
me? What if their opinions mattered in
other issues but not in my writing?
Did I know any non-writers that
closely, people who I cared for, but who
didn’t spend much (if any) time writing?
I did, and the realization that followed startled me so much it made me
sit back and blink.
I stared at the paper again and
understood that within the edges of
that small square, I’d meted out an
immense responsibility upon people
who didn’t even know I’d thrust it in
their direction. When they didn’t take
it from me, I began carrying it for
them. The resulting burden weighed
me down for years.
sometime during high school,
my father asked me what I wanted to
do with my life. I told him I wanted to
be a writer. His immediate response:
“Writers are a dime a dozen.”
His answer cleaved my childlike
assumption that my parents would
always support me no matter what I
wanted to do. I don’t remember anything else from that conversation. His
words, however, left my confidence
I didn’t understand the practical
aspect of what he wanted to tell me:
writing, as a profession, required an
immense commitment that didn’t
always get rewarded with a proportional amount of money; paying bills
took more than the occasional and
irregular royalty check; he wanted me
to live a financially secure life.
He loved me and worried about my
future, like good parents do; after all
the effort and energy he and my
mother spent taking care of me, he
wanted to make sure I could take care
of myself.
For years afterward, anytime I tried
to talk to my parents about my writing
and they nodded with polite vagueness, I interpreted their reaction as
indifference. I didn’t try to find out
whether it could possibly be a lack of
understanding, a lack of experience
with the craft of writing. Couldn’t they
see, I wondered, that if I wrote, I did it
to express myself? To share myself
with them and everyone else?
I thought my parents didn’t care
about what I wanted. I believed every
time they said they would read my
writing and didn’t, that they did so as
an unspoken parental reprimand, to
“reject” my art. To reject a part of me.
When I got married, I assumed my
husband would read anything I wrote.
But I didn’t take into account the fact
that I married a man of science, the
polar opposite of everything creative. I
played the “what if ” game, listening to
conversations between characters and
combining words to move a reader both
with story and the beauty of language.
My husband noted facts and used
objective information, creating • The Writer | 5
solutions to make sure his patients lived.
After the first few years of our marriage, I came to another (errant) conclusion: My husband didn’t care about
my writing either.
I knew he supported the idea of me
writing. He gave me days off where I
could take a break from the kids and
disappear with my computer for a few
hours. He helped with bedtimes when
I took evening writing classes at our
community college. He just didn’t read
the products of any of those efforts.
I started blogging, using it as reverse
psychology to force me to make time
for my writing. (I thought if online
readers expected me to post, I would. It
worked.) My parents subscribed to the
blog the day it launched, but they didn’t
really read any of what I posted. It
seemed like the more I learned about
the craft, the less interested any of my
immediate family became in it.
Looking back, I realize now that
their seeming lack of interest worked
in inverse proportion to my growing
I wrote; I got better. I started making contacts through the blog with
people all across the world, and someone asked me to edit some short stories. Years earlier, I had quit my job in
a local publishing company to have my
children, so the idea of editing from
home seemed tailor-made for me.
I became a freelance editor. I started
reviewing books in a professional
capacity. And, of course, I kept writing.
i stared at the 1-inch square of
paper and read the prompt for it several times.
“Make a list of people whose opinion of your writing really matters.”
For the first time in my life, I
understood something fundamental
about writing. If my parents and my
husband didn’t write full time, why
did I claim the right to demand their
6 | The Writer • November 2017
pining interest in my work? What
right did I have to foist the burden of
validation on them?
I realized I’d braided my expectations with the threads of family love,
forcing them to intertwine. When I
looked at that small square of paper, I
understood that family love came from
a completely different spool.
Without making any phone calls
or grand, cinematic declarations, I
took back all my expectations. Actually, I grabbed them and yanked them
back. The knots formed by my distress at the perceived lack of support
came undone.
I stared at the paper again. Whose
name would go on the square? Who
would be on my “#1inchlist,” as it came
to be known in the course?
I thought about it for several minutes, and then I wrote down two names.
the first belongs to a wonderful
writer with whom I’ve formed a deep
friendship as well as editing relationship. We met when I read and
reviewed one of her first books. I
received a complimentary copy of the
book and posted my thoughts. A few
weeks after I shared my review online,
the author contacted me.
I held my breath as I opened her
email, but her polite tone put me at
ease. She liked the constructive criticism I’d offered, she said, as much for
the positive way I presented it as for
the criticism itself. Would I be interested in editing her next book?
Almost six years and nearly 20
books later, we’ve come to appreciate
and understand one another in the
way that only writers can. She’s
become a dear friend, and I’m privileged to work with her on her stories.
Her indie publishing company has
grown at an accelerated rate, and I’ve
had the pleasure of watching and participating in that growth.
In my freelance career, I’ve experienced more success as an editor than I
have as a writer. As I start pushing
myself to write at a more aggressive
rate, I hope to have the kind of prolific
career that my editing client and friend
has. Her name went first on the square
because I admire her storytelling talent
as well as her ability to build her company into a solid business.
I would like to emulate both.
the second name on the square
didn’t take much thought at all. In my
sophomore year of college, I wrote my
first (and, to date, only) novel. The
sappy-sweet love story made many
friends sigh in longing for the real-life
version to happen to any (ideally, all)
of us.
One of my friends offered to help
me revise the novel. By the time I
reached my senior year I could see
the book needed more work, so I took
her up on her offer. Sometime during
that process, I realized she was my
writing soul mate. She understood far
more about my story than I could
ever explain in words, either spoken
or written.
It was the first time I’d ever met
someone who could look at my words
on the page and understand what I
wanted from them, even if I hadn’t put
it on paper yet.
Our lives took us to different corners of the country for years, and now
we live about 30 minutes away from
one another. She’s my official editor on
all of my stories and serious writings
(including this essay). If anyone’s opinion matters, it’s most certainly hers.
the square still had some room
on it, just enough for a third name.
Looking for ideas, I went to the Facebook page for those of us taking that
ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the
¾ “The
strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” —Toni Morrison
online lit mag course. Another student
said she’d added her own name to the
square, and I turned back to my piece
of paper.
Of course, I thought. Shouldn’t my
own opinion matter? I had spent the
years writing and reading and revising
and honing. I endeavored day in and day
out in this space that is by turns abstract
and concrete all at the same time.
I wrote “me” under the other two
names, and with that, my square no longer had free space. My heart, however,
had filled with gratitude for the people
in my life. All of the people in my life:
Those who write and those who don’t.
I see those people now standing in
concentric circles around me. The ones
in the smallest circle – the people on my
#1inchlist – relate most directly to the
craft and my goals for myself. The ones
in subsequent circles matter too; they
stand by me to support and honor what
I do simply by their presence. We’re like
the rings in a tree, where each ring represents a layer of experience gained and
processed. Of wisdom earned.
Even the largest oak trees start as a
small acorn – or, in my case, a sincere
wish to write.
I’ve put my 1-inch list in a small
frame that I keep in my writing studio.
I look at it often and find it comforting, my own rabbit’s foot. It serves as a
reminder of the need for support, for
understanding, and my newfound ability to discern the difference.
—Since 2005, Ekta Garg has written and edited
about everything from healthcare to home
improvement to Hindi films, and in 2011 she joined
the “dark side” as a fiction writer and editor
(although she does still help out nonfiction
writers). She manages The Write Edge
( as well as its three
extension blogs of her weekly short fiction, her
book reviews, and her parenting adventures.
When not writing and editing, Ekta spends time
with friends (the ones other people can see) and
counts her many blessings, which include a
husband who loves her and two beautiful
daughters who astound her on a regular basis.
Dan Sheehan
Dan Sheehan, a recipient of
the 2016 Center for Fiction
Emerging Writers
Fellowship, is a journalist,
editor, and fiction
writer. Originally from
Ireland and now living in
New York City, Sheehan
currently works for LitHub
and Guernica Magazine. His
work has appeared in
publications including the
Irish Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and
Triquarterly. His debut novel, Restless Souls, will be
published in 2018 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Resisting the urge to overuse the weapon in your arsenal
that you’re most comfortable wielding at the expense of
what the story, in that moment, demands. AND HOW HAS THAT HELPED YOU AS A WRITER?
It’s usually a lesson I have to re-learn over and over in the
editing process. I’ll include a lengthy digressive passage in
which a number of characters will pretty much step out of
time, for anywhere from two to 20 pages, and do little
more that trade comic barbs or musings, because I feel
comfortable in that mode. A little of this is fine, and I’m
glad that that will always be part of how I write, but too
much smacks of treading water. The first substantive
feedback I got on my novel came from my agent and was
invaluable. He said something along the lines of “You have
an 80-page section in the center that’s great – funny and
full of heart – but it doesn’t advance the plot at all.” I’m at
the point now, I hope, that I can flag and amputate the
most pleasurable-but-superfluous parts of my writing
before they see even that sliver of daylight. Though I’m
still too undisciplined to stop myself from writing them in
the first place.
—Gabriel Packard is the associate director of the creative writing MFA
program at Hunter College in New York City and also the author of The
Painted Ocean: A Novel, published last year by Corsair/Hachette. • The Writer | 7
The devil knocking
When unethical jobs tempt hungry writers.
get being hungry for work –
remember it well. One paid gig
and – voila! – you’re a professional
writer, you’re on your way! But
some jobs bring no glory; they bring
only the sinking realization that you’ve
contributed to moral decay (OK, they
might also bring a little money). Among
many other things that the internet
unleashed (and, yes, I know it brought
good things, too, including this article
idea) is a spate of such jobs, making
their siren calls as we wait for good
news from a publisher.
Perhaps you’ve been scanning the
opportunities on various job boards.
You see ads for academic writers, companies eager to hire writers – many, in
fact – or maybe you see ads that appear
to be from individuals looking for
research and/or writing assistance.
“Great!” you think. You did plenty of
academic writing successfully in college and would enjoy learning new
things and having varied challenges –
a-hem, varied paid challenges. As for
being a research assistant, for a professor, you imagine, that would be a perfect writer’s side gig.
But just who or what is behind those
ads? Years ago, prior to beginning my
stint as a college lecturer, I responded to
such an ad with these thoughts in mind,
set up an interview, and followed the
employer’s directions – right to a student
dormitory! (When it finally became
clear that he hoped I would finish his
senior research paper for him, I skedaddled on home.) Professors draw from
their own students for research assistants; they’re unlikely to run ads for
complete unknowns. And the companies trolling for writers? Many exist to
8 | The Writer • November 2017
supply the cheating ambitions of students; in other words, they’re essay mills.
Try typing in “help writing college
essays,” and you’ll find them lurking
among the legitimate advice offerings
and in the surrounding ads. For a fee,
some anonymous co-conspirator will
take students’ research or class notes and
forge them into essays following professors’ specifications. Or, for more money,
the mill writer will tackle the research,
too. The sources? One anonymous “academic ghostwriter” admits that he (or
Students in the U.S. and
around the world buy college
application essays, freshman
compositions, bachelor’s and
master’s theses, and Ph.D.
she) gets by with the snippets offered by
Google Books and Wikipedia, a source
often disallowed by professors. “I give
the illusion of depth,” the ghost explains,
“the impression of analysis.” These
ghosts’ object is to get the job done
quickly so they can move on to the next
bid, making serious research unlikely.
Students in the U.S. and around the
world buy college application essays,
freshman compositions, bachelor’s and
master’s theses, and Ph.D. dissertations –
no job too big or small. Some of them,
found an English Ph.D. candidate who
wrote his dissertation on plagiarism,
order essays upon receiving the prof ’s
assignment – clearly, learning to
research effectively, write smoothly, and
think deeply about complex issues is not
on their agenda. As academic ghostwriter David A. Tomar puts it in his
confessional but informative “The
Ghostwriting Business,” “most people
who don’t write would rather knowingly
contract malaria than spend a week
working on an essay.” Nor can they be
bothered, it seems, to string together
passages lifted from the internet. Loathsome as that practice is, at least it represents some effort and research, however
scanty. (As an instructor, I would still fail
the paper.)
For some students, it’s plain laziness;
others resort to the mills because of poor
writing skills, whether native speakers or
not. When poor writing is the case, one
trip to an essay mill may commit them
for the duration, for what would the professor conclude when students follow a
polished piece with one of their own
error-laden efforts? And why would they
give up a succession of A’s or B’s? Tomar
reveals he has “helped” students by writing their essays over a whole semester.
The irony of the situation is that
many of these fabrication factories
proudly guarantee students “original,
plagiarism-free” products. Students
needn’t worry about plagiarism detection programs like or
about the professor recognizing the
paper from a previous semester. These
companies promise made-to-order,
single-use papers that can be accompanied by sources, outlines, and whatever
else the professor requires. (Is it wise to
trust those who help students cheat not
to cheat in turn? I wonder. One company reportedly bribed a student for
additional payment to avoid having his
name revealed to the college.)
Of course, cheating aside, another
problem with this picture is that it privileges the well-heeled, the rich students
who can afford to purchase their degrees
essay by essay. Poorer cheaters are stuck
with the free essay mills, which contain
badly written, much-used essays. Let’s
not waste too much sympathy on any ilk
of cheater, though. Imagine instead that
the affluent kids are getting original,
quality essays (and even they aren’t
always good quality). What does that do
to the students – rich, poor, and otherwise – who do their own work? How do
their essays look stacked up against
those written by professionals, if the
cheaters are lucky enough to land professional writers? What does this do to
the GPAs and the job competitiveness of
the hapless, honest students?
Many companies insist that they offer
only offer assistance. Their sites may
include information on essay construction and citing sources. They explain
that they are providing “models” to
show students how to create their own
essays. Some even warn students against
putting their names on these “models”
and pledge fealty to university honor
codes. These advice notes and disclaimers exist to hook the unwary student and
to clothe the company’s occupation in
the gown of legitimacy. Despite one such
company’s verbiage about its legitimacy,
it sells essays to 20,000 students each
year, reports Paul Greatrix, author of
“Cheats Shouldn’t Prosper.” Think about
it: Why would a student shell out cash
for an essay-as-study-guide when the
library is full of them? And why do these
guides have to be on the students’
assigned topics? I sometimes present
model essays to students, but I certainly
wouldn’t feed them language that might
end up in their papers.
Other essay mills make no effort to
disguise their nefarious intent. Take, for example (yes, really). “Paper? Or Party? The
choice is yours…” the site boldly
announces, and “We help you play by
making your papers go away.”
It’s hard to imagine why a writer,
likely to be irate if someone stole
pieces of his or her published creation
without attribution, would be willing
to help students plagiarize, let alone
professors who – we would hope –
value education. Perhaps I’m a purist;
clearly, I’m out of touch with some contemporary thinking. Unemployed Professors says it hatched when its
founder met a teacher who “didn’t care
about her students.” (How easily some
stumble off the high road!)
Other academic ghostwriters dredge
up different rationalizations. Mill writer
and one-time professor Jennifer Sunseri
confesses that, “As a former professor,
this is the equivalent of prostitution for
me.” But “[e]thics be damned,” she concludes. “You gotta kind of look after
yourself.” Then there are the academic
ghosts who dabbled in law-related
careers – helping students cheat is,
unfortunately, legal (law and ethics
apparently being distinct categories).
James Robbins, a former lawyer, uses his
earnings to work his way through nursing school. He declares, “I’ll take their
money. It’s not like they’re going to learn
anything anyway.” Meanwhile, Charles
Parmenter, once a policeman and a lawyer, is also curiously unbothered by
assisting plagiarizers “If anybody wants
to say this is unethical – yeah, OK, but
I’m not losing any sleep over it.” Yet
another mill writer rationalizes that
“[m]ost of the people I’ve done it for
dropped out after first year.”
But casting off school isn’t routine.
Keeping Robbins company in school
are plenty of aspiring nurses who have
purchased essays – and business
majors, teachers, and principals. Our
anonymous ghostwriter draws the line
at nurses and a few others: “I stay away
from applied fields – it is my only ethical standard as a ghostwriter,” he
declares. “I will not help a nurse to
qualify on false pretenses. Who knows,
it might be my parents who find themselves in their care.”
To be clear, ghostwriting in general
is an honorable occupation; aside from
this newer version of enabling cheaters,
there’s nothing wrong with taking on a
writing job that will not feature your
name. Opportunities for legitimate
ghostwriting are numerous and varied.
Celebrities, as well as the common person, hire ghosts to write their stories.
Businesses hire ghostwriters to produce
company documents. Political figures
hire speechwriters – but in each of these
cases, the writers go into these arrangements clear-eyed. No one is hurt. However, within the academic subset of
ghostwriting, a student’s education and
their opportunity to develop ethical
sensibilities are hurt, their classmates
are hurt by being placed in a mismatched pool of writers, and employers
are eventually hurt by employees who
simply aren’t as good as they look on
paper. And, ultimately, we all are hurt.
Many of these people work their way
into high places in our increasingly
duplicitous world. And then what? Most
fields are, in one sense or another,
applied fields. They will be working for
us, peopling the jobs that surround and
serve us. Take on a writing job that
enables cheaters, and you have only
yourself to blame if your doctor, lawyer,
or financial advisor is an under-educated
boob who bought his or her degrees.
In his essay “Bringing Down the
Fire,” David Bradley calls writing “his
religion,” explaining that we – writers
and readers – come to a written work
hoping “that we’ll be touched by something, that we will feel a connection
with some source of power and energy
and understanding.” Creating work
that will do that for readers, that will
“bring down a little fire to change [his]
readers and change” himself is Bradley’s ultimate aim.
We have such an opportunity not
only to entertain but to inform,
encourage, uplift, and inspire. Why
squander it?
Gail Radley is the author of 24 books for young
people and numerous articles for adults. • The Writer | 9
Tweet and greet
Twitter pitch parties are an easy, free way to connect with industry professionals.
Here’s how to grab their attention in 140 characters or less.
To Princess Ivy Green, kisses are used as weapons and love
is a fairy tale. But one prince is desperate to prove her wrong.
Fifty percent of the reason why I favorited her pitch was
its unique premise: The concept of kisses being used as
weapons in a fantasy really hooked me. It is so important
that the idea you convey in your pitch is unique. We see
hundreds of pitches fly by in just one hour. For example, I
see a lot of werewolf, vampire, and end-of-the-world
pitches. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things
being in a book, of course. But when your pitch is one of
hundreds that read like “John finds out he’s a werewolf and
joins a pack to fight vampires,” we’re not likely to favorite it.
Not because we don’t like werewolves or vampires, but
because there are so, so many pitches that are similar.
There’s no “hook.”
witter pitching is quickly gaining traction as a
great way for writers to find editors or literary
agents. The platform is booming with pitch parties, including #PitMad, #DVPit, and #SFFPit.
Hundreds of authors have found agents – and publishing
contracts – via an online pitch.
So what makes an editor or agent sit up and take notice
when they’re scrolling through the hundreds of pitches
posted on party day?
In my work as an editorial assistant at Entangled Publishing, I’ve had the opportunity to attend several such parties. I
quickly learned what made a great pitch, a decent pitch, and
a not-so-great pitch. Here’s an example of a successful pitch
by Lindsey Duga I favorited during a #PitMad party that
will be releasing from Entangled’s teen line next year:
10 | The Writer • November 2017
So how can you make your tweet
unique? Figure out what makes your
book unique and incorporate it into
your pitch. Find a twist that no one else’s
pitch has: “John finds out he’s a werewolf and joins a pack to fight a group of
vampires that’s led by his brother.”
Another part of creating a great
pitch is giving us enough intrigue
about your characters to make us want
to read more about them. In her pitch,
Duga writes, “To Princess Ivy Green,
kisses are used as weapons and love is
a fairy tale.” That sentence made me
want to read more about Ivy. What is it
about her life that made her believe
love is a fairy tale?
The second part of the pitch does
the same thing: “But one prince is desperate to prove her wrong.” Why is he
desperate? What is it about her that
makes him want to show her she’s
wrong? Why is it so important to him
that she start believing in love?
It may not seem possible to give us
a lot of insight into your characters in a
pitch this short, but it is. Sarah Hawthorne, author of The Demon Horde
Motorcycle Club series, used her pitch
to tell readers her character was a single mom who fell in love with a dangerous biker.
“Every word you use needs to have
meaning. Instead of ‘hero,’ use a noun
that is more descriptive. In my genre,
‘biker’ or ‘ex-con’ would have more
punch than something generic like
hero,” she says.
My final reason for favoriting
Duga’s pitch was subjectivity. I was
purposefully seeking romance, and my
boss had told me she really liked books
to do with royalty. Then the author
wowed us with her manuscript, and
she ended up with a publishing contract. When I asked her what she felt
the biggest benefit of squeezing her
book into 140 characters was, she said,
“Not only do you get the opportunity
to skip the trenches of the slush pile,
you also get the chance to get a bird’s
eye view of your manuscript. What’s
the WOW factor? It helps you really
pinpoint the differentiator of your
book versus thousands of others.”
Duga’s manuscript had a ton of
other incredible things in it, like monsters, old kingdoms, and world-saving,
but she didn’t choose to focus on any of
that. If she had, I may not have stopped
for her pitch. Why? Because there were
hundreds of pitches already talking
about all of those things. Be different.
And keep in mind that just because
you don’t get a favorite doesn’t mean
there’s anything wrong with your pitch.
Sometimes the agents and editors
who’re looking for a manuscript like
yours just aren’t on the feed at that
time. However, if you’re consistently
attending Twitter pitch parties and
never get a favorite, it’s not a bad idea
to take a step back and reevaluate your
pitch. Run your pitch by writing friends
or critique partners to get their take.
“My main tip always is not to try to
include every element of your story in a
Twitter pitch because it’s virtually
impossible. (High concept pitches are a
bit easier),” says Kat Cho, who found
her agent, Beth Phelan, through
#DVPit. “Because most (if not all) Twitter pitch events let you pitch more than
once, I’d include a different key element
in each until you’ve hit every point you
want throughout the day. Agents have
said before that if they like a pitch, they
might visit the writer’s profile to see
other pitches on their timeline.”
Twitter pitching can be nervewracking. It’s hard to put yourself out
there for the whole writing world to
see and get no bites on your pitch. But
you also have nothing to lose by joining in. I know writers who were close
to giving up on their manuscripts
when they participated in a pitch party.
“After one and a half years of querying and contests, I’d nearly given up
hope of my book ever finding a home,”
says Lindsey Frydman, author of The
Heartbeat Hypothesis. “I decided to
participate in one more #PitMad
because I had nothing to lose, and
that’s how I found my amazing editor
at Entangled Publishing. Without the
contest, my manuscript would likely be
shelved instead of being available to
buy right now.”
Querying is usually a long and difficult process, but just one tweet can
mean the difference between a shelved
manuscript and a published one.
So my final piece of advice is to follow the rules, relax, and have fun.
It is a party, after all.
Judi Lauren is an editorial assistant to Lydia
Sharp at Entangled Publishing. She also works
as a freelance editor and proofreader at and specializes in YA, MG, and Adult.
She is also a two-time Pitch Wars mentor. You
can connect with her on Twitter @judi__lauren.
800-259-2592 • The Writer | 11
Digital and other
non-writing skills helpful
to the modern writer.
We don’t need much to start a story. At the minimum, a blank surface and a writing instrument.
Now, we have more options to bring stories to life, but it’s certainly not the first time writers encountered the new and shiny. We
once leapt from handwriting to using a manual – then electric –
typewriter. Looking back, that doesn’t seem as drastic a change
when you consider the speed at which the ways we create and consume content have evolved in just a decade.
Many writers of all ages readily embrace the latest tools and
technology. Others are hesitant to enter the digital landscape,
whether they fear learning a new skill or are simply comfortable
with their routine. But because so much opportunity lies in these
advances, writers seeking publication and profit must to be open to
technology – not just for letting words pour onto the page but also
for organization, production, and promotion.
12 | The Writer • November 2017
Years ago, I’d often see freelancing
friends struggle with sending an editor
a proper, openable file, usually because
they didn’t have access to Microsoft
Word or a program that could save a
file in the requested format, such as
with a “.doc” extension.
While I understand some software
could be cost-prohibitive, it’s our tool
of the trade, and not investing in the
right programs could cause frustration – and delays – on both ends if
documents were inaccessible, garbled, or had formatting lost in translation. This refusal to use the
standard programs bewildered me;
you would not typically see a professional graphic designer using a free
tool, such as Microsoft Paint. You
would not see most fine artists producing masterpieces without buying
the proper brushes, canvasses, and
paints needed for their desired result.
Of course, creating text is not as complex, physically, as digital graphic
design or tangible art, but it’s a decent
analogy. Solid craft needs the right
tools – not shortcuts.
Thankfully, today file/version compatibility is not as much of an issue –
PC users and Apple folks can finally
collaborate seamlessly, especially with
the advent of free tools like Google
Drive (which offers documents,
sheets, slides – nearly everything
you’ll find in Microsoft Office). But
these online programs present benefits
beyond cost savings.
Cory Brin, a San Diego-based
screenwriter who by day works in
quality assurance at GoFundMe, says
that technology can “keep you from
going insane.” He runs through some
hypothetical scenarios: pouring hundreds of hours into a project, just to
drop the USB drive that holds the file
in water. Getting your computer stolen. Having a file corrupted. Brin says
he experienced the latter eight years
ago while working on a short story he’d
hoped to submit to a contest.
“I had just finished it, and the next
time I opened it, the file it had been
corrupted. A week’s worth of work –
gone,” he says.
He never returned to that story and
says this wouldn’t have happened had
his work been in the cloud – where
“autosave” saves many.
“I don’t understand the magic, but it
works. I can open an existing file in my
Drive at work, write an idea down…
and then go home for the day and
open it up on my personal computer,
and the change is there. No emailing
files, no USB sticks, no floppy discs,
just freedom to write,” he says, adding
that cloud-based programs are perfect
for moments of unexpected downtime,
such as an airport delay – you just
need an internet connection to get
back to your draft.
Applications like Drive are perfect
for collaborative projects – no longer
must you email documents back and
forth or compare multiple documents
from multiple team members; it can
instead all be done in one place.
Cloud-based software increases
efficiency, accessibility, and even reliability. Consider making the switch –
or at least getting familiar with the
programs, as editors or clients may
prefer to work with you in this
With ready-made templates and dragand-drop builders, it’s easier than ever
to create a website. In the November
2016 issue of The Writer, we talked
extensively about the benefits of having a user-friendly, up-to-date author
website. The main reason, though, is
that it can serve as an online hub, a
place to be found, a place to point to
other entities, like a bookstore, social
accounts, or news articles. • The Writer | 13
It’s a good idea for writers to
become familiar with platforms such
as WordPress (WP), where knowledge
of basic HTML is helpful but not mandatory. Proficiency with WP also
holds value for those looking for freelance content work or a full-time job
with an online outlet. Also beneficial
is knowing how web hosting and
domain renewal work (because it’s
more professional and flexible to host
your own site versus using a free platform that gives you a URL, such as
Finally, it’s important to understand
how people react when they encounter
your website. User experience, often
referred to as UX, takes into account
things like navigation, readability, presentation of visual/interactive elements, accessibility, and organization.
Simply put: Visitors should not be
frustrated trying to find information
on your website.
Mandy Pennington, a director at an
internet marketing firm, explains “the
vast majority of people on this planet
start off their internet journey with a
Keep in mind that many people do
not know you exist, so they won’t be
searching for your name or book title –
instead, they may be looking for work
like yours. This is where SEO comes
in. When people Google (or Bing)
what you do, would you appear? How
can you be discovered as someone who
has what a potential reader is looking
for? Pennington says that if you do a
good job with your web content, you’re
on the right track.
“Talk about the themes [in your
work] naturally, in a contextual way,”
she explains, adding that working in
terms people may search for is important, similar to book meta data. “It’s all
about keywords. Provide valuable content and context.”
14 | The Writer • November 2017
You should
know what your
readers are
searching for,
and then build
content around
She adds that one of the greatest
benefits of SEO strategy is that “it
opens a world of possibilities for what
you can market.” This means you
should know what your readers are
searching for, and then build content
around that – for example, write blog
posts answering questions you know
readers of your genre may have.
Pennington explains how web and
SEO knowledge go hand-in-hand:
“[Writers] benefit from the basic
understanding of what makes a website
good and how people use the internet
to find things.”
Danielle Poupore, a fiction writer who
by day works in higher education marketing, reminds us that writers have
always sought ways to connect with
readers, such as at bookstores and
other appearances, even through fan
mail. “The audience has just moved,”
she says.
Social media is where you’ll likely
find a large chunk of your audience –
you probably already know that. But
establishing a presence and steady following takes time and hard work. Find
the platforms that best fit your core
audience, and focus on advancing your
skills on those. (Example: Are you a
cookbook author? You’ll find foodies
on Instagram.)
Poupore cautions against waiting
too long to dive into social media. She
says that if someone lands a book deal
and asks when they should begin
building a digital presence, she’d say, “A
year ago.” She adds that if someone is
writing now, or planning to in the
future, they should establish their
social accounts.
Also, Pennington and Poupore agree
that marketing and communications
principles have not changed but tools,
mediums, and reader expectations have.
“The key to being successful in marketing today is to remember that it’s not
about you. Think about what value you
can provide someone – before you ask
them for something,” Poupore says.
Also crucial to marketing today is
social proof: People want to see
endorsements from friends and family
members, they want to see what
they’re sharing on social. Get them
talking about you!
To boost your professional digital
presence, you must open a Facebook
business Page, which is absolutely different than a personal Profile. The
short of it is this: People “friend” a
Profile and “like” a Page. Accepting
friend requests is a manual process,
whereas “liking” Pages is passive – no
extra work required here, no “Should I
let this specific individual into my
personal space?” You could also think
of it like this: A Page is inclusive while
a profile, since we hand-approve
friends, is exclusive.
More importantly, Profiles simply
aren’t designed to support a business,
whether an individual writer, small
business, or big brand. Pennington
points out that Pages allow you to create calls to action (like an email signup), add an event or store tab, and
access analytics and advertising tools.
Pages also do not have follow limits.
One argument against Pages is the
notion of pay-to-play. It’s a misconception that posts only show up if they’re
promoted. Rather, Facebook rewards
well-maintained accounts that share
useful and relevant information and
that engage an audience. It makes
sense: Facebook wants its users to
enjoy the content they see.
I’ll be frank: Many of the people I
see complain about this have pages
with little-to-no recent activity, no
original content, and no regular interaction with their followers. Some
accounts look pretty much automated.
It is NOT just about posting. If you
engage with your fans, your Page can
perform better organically, I promise.
This is not to say promoted posts
and Facebook ad campaigns aren’t
valuable. Pennington highly suggests
allotting even a small budget, like $20
a month, to help Pages get traction,
especially until a following is built.
Poupore agrees. “People put time,
money, and resources into what they
value,” she says.
She has a stronger, more urgent reason for separating personal from professional matters, though: safety.
“[A business page] puts up a little
bit of a wall,” Poupore says, reminding
us that we often share photos of our
friends, family members, children,
pets. “You can protect the people in
your personal life, too.”
And if these reasons aren’t persuasive enough to make the switch or
learn more about Pages, know that
promoting a business/product via a
personal profile violates Facebook’s
terms of service.
Posts with visuals – whether a photo,
animated GIF, graphic, or infographic –
generally outperform text-based social
media posts. Poupore explains that
more “clutter” online means more competition for eyeballs.
“You need something that stands
out immediately and impactfully,” she
says. “People need a reason to come to
your content. It needs to look interesting to them in the moment.”
It’s about algorithms. The better
something performs, the more it will
show in a Facebook timeline, whether
a status update or a link to another
website. Gone are the days where you
needed to be a Photoshop expert. Free
tools like Canva and PicMonkey allow
you to create stunning, bold, brandrelated visuals of all shapes and sizes,
from a Facebook header or Twitter
graphic to an online ad or postcard. • The Writer | 15
While these drag-and-drop programs
may require a small learning curve,
you can get up to speed quickly. Experiment. You may surprise yourself.
Analytics help
us get to know
our audience
better – and
it’s a tool that
should be
talked about
more in the
literary world.
Without data, you can only assume
what’s working, only guess what your
readers like or where your traffic is
coming from. Analytics help us get to
know our audience better – and it’s a
tool that should be talked about more
in the literary world.
“You need to be able to get actionable feedback to make informed decisions,” Pennington says, giving an
example that if you’re getting a lot of
sales via Facebook (because you see
the most traffic to your “buy” page
comes from, you will
know to spend more time there. “Having data allows you to have a stronger
strategy…to refocus or retool what
you’re doing.”
Google Analytics, a free tool, offers
a wealth of data; it’s relatively easy to
set up and has a large knowledge base.
Facebook Insights is robust, and Twitter offers some solid stats. Your web
platform may provide basic reports.
Writers often joke that they’re not
good at numbers, but analytics also tell
a story. It’s time to make friends with
data. Stat!
a ‘real’ job.” He says this means being
transparent and having a professional
social media and web presence well
established, well ahead of time.
“Show that you already are, or that
you intend to be, a player in your writing space,” he advises. “If you don’t
look legitimate, you probably won’t see
a lot of success on your campaign. If
you don’t take the time to market yourself beyond the creation of the crowdfunding campaign, you probably won’t
see a lot of success.”
Many writers today turn to crowdfunding to help bring book-related
projects to life. However, a quick
search among completed campaigns
will show that many miss their goals;
this can be devastating for writers
using platforms that only reward fully
funded projects. This is where comfort
with digital tools can literally pay off.
Brin, from GoFundMe, explains generous and philanthropic people “want
to know your cause is going to make a
difference, that they aren’t giving you
money so you don’t have to hold down
Project management tools and group
chat programs are used widely in
agency and tech environments, and
their power can also benefit writers or
small editorial teams – and they take
tasks out of email.
Brin uses the free version of Asana
to track his ideas and progress. For
example, he creates a “task” to group
characters together, another to jot
down locations – he adds to it whenever he has a brainstorm and follows
up later.
16 | The Writer • November 2017
“There’s no space limit, so write it all
down, and then take out what you don’t
need later,” he says. “I highly recommend it, if you need to be organized.”
Tools like HootSuite, TweetDeck,
and Buffer lead to more efficient social
media management; features may
allow you to schedule posts, monitor
mentions, track engagement, and even
co-manage accounts.
Communication tools, like Slack,
are wildly popular in certain industries
for keeping connected, sharing files,
and even boosting morale. Pennington
uses it for the blog and tech conferences she organizes.
Think about where you need assistance and consider how a tool can
make your life easier.
It’s easy to see how these can work
together to help a writer find opportunities, build a platform, promote their
work, and connect with others. This
know-how is also transferable to writing-related, communication, and other
careers – a resume booster for sure.
“The best thing about the proliferation of tech is that it’s more accessible for
people to do things the right way, rather
than take shortcuts,” says Pennington.
“Don’t be afraid or intimidated. The
more comfortable we can get [with tools
and technology], the better we’ll be.”
But, above all, craft is the heart of
what we do. Brin says when it comes to
the actual writing: “If you still enjoy
the mechanical sound of an old-school
typewriter and that’s the fastest way to
churn out your manuscript, then do
that,” he says. “The hardest part of
writing is actually sitting down and
doing it, so don’t cheat yourself there.
Do what’s best for you.”
Donna Talarico, an independent writer and content marketing consultant from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is the founder of Hippocampus
Magazine and its books and conference divisions.
Twenty tools to help fill
your digital toolbox
Here are a few of the tools and resources mentioned within this article, as well as a
few extras. Most are free or low-cost, while others have premium versions or add-on
features for a reasonable investment.
Cloud-based software for
Free, collaborative file storage system with
Microsoft Office-like capabilities for creating
documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
Accessible on any device via an internet
DROPBOX: Free file storage/sharing service.
Excellent for sharing large files, such as high-res
photos or lengthy documents.
BOX: Offers similar file storage/sharing capabilities
as Dropbox, but more geared toward business users.
ONEDRIVE: Microsoft’s version of Google Drive.
Free for all Microsoft account holders.
5. SLACK: Combines email and instant messaging
into one streamlined communication service, with
the aim of “fewer meetings, less internal email,
all your tools integrated.” Designed primarily for
team collaborations, though some individual users
find it useful for idea storage and organization.
6. EVERNOTE: Have an idea on the go? Jot it down
with Evernote, which organizes and archives all
your notes across multiple devices.
7. ASANA: Project management software designed
to help users assign, prioritize, and track tasks.
8. TRELLO: Project management app that transforms
to-do lists into visual “cards” that can be
categorized, prioritized, color-coded, or searched.
9. ITTT (IF THIS THEN THAT): Allows users to create
“applets,” or rules, for sites or apps they utilize
every day. ITTT can be a savior for research; for
example, it can automatically create spreadsheets
with recent news stories about your topics.
Design and media
10. CANVA: Free design program ideal for creating
social media graphics. Can also be used for
invitations, book flyers, or other design projects.
11. PICMONKEY: Free online photo-editing software.
12. PIKTOCHART: Online app that allows users to
easily create infographics.
images designated by photographers as free for
use under a Creative Commons license, though the
original creator must be credited upon usage.
Social media management
14. TWEETDECK: Manage multiple accounts with this
Twitter-owned management app. Users can also
schedule tweets, reply to mentions, track specific
events or hashtags, and more.
15. HOOTSUITE: Allows users to schedule social
media posts, track mentions on multiple platforms,
and access analytics.
16. BUFFER: Similar to HootSuite, this tool allows
users to manage multiple social media platforms at
once and schedule posts in advance.
Online tutorials & other
learning opportunities
17. LYNDA: A popular database of online courses on a
variety of topics, from marketing tips to Google
18. COURESRA: Founded by Stanford professors, this
site collaborates with universities to offer courses and
specializations in a wealth of subjects.
19. SKILLSHARE: Website that boasts thousands of
free classes in creative-minded topics.
20. WORDCAMPS: Live, in-person, and affordable
educational events dedicated to WordPress; hosted
in locations all over the country throughout the year. • The Writer | 17
Thirty-five tech products to
revolutionize your writing.
The mechanics of writing have evolved over the centuries. From using pen and
ink to pecking away on a typewriter to fingers flying over computer keyboards,
the process has gotten easier. Writers are now more productive than ever.
When I first started writing seriously back in the late ‘80s, it was all pen and
paper until I got my fancy Brother EM-630 stand-alone word processing
machine – similar to a typewriter, with a minuscule text preview window and a
rudimentary ability to make corrections before printing. Then, in the mid-’90s, I
got my first computer and was able to type away, making corrections with the
flick of a key (although the software back then was not as user-friendly, and my
dot-matrix printer was far from optimal).
Now PCs and Macs have made our jobs so much easier and faster. Although
Microsoft Word is the standard software for word processing, it also has its
drawbacks. Writing a novel using Word gets messy and cumbersome when trying to piece your chapters together into a cohesive work.
So – although some of you still swear by pen and paper or your beloved
typewriter – for those who prefer more choices and flexibility, there is a
wealth of software available that improves efficiency, facilitates organization,
helps with story and development, and lets a writer tailor her process to her
own tastes.
Here’s what we’ve found that might make your writing process easier, more
effective, and possibly even more fun.
18 | The Writer • November 2017
Word processing software geared to
novelists and screenwriters. Has the capability to organize scenes and chapters,
compile, and save all research and description documents in one place. Can also convert files to different formats.
COST: $40 for PC, $45 for macOS
BEST FOR: Novelists and screenwriters
who want to have all documents in one
place, and easily organize and revise
their writing.
Word processing software and writing
organizer. Currently only available for
macOS and Apple mobile products.
COST: Mac app - $44.99;
iPhone and iPad app - $24.99
BEST FOR: Apple fans who want to have
their writing and documents in one place,
and easily organize and revise their writing.
Writing software advertised as “the
convergence of organization and creativity.” Includes word processing, integrated
outlining, the ability to save and organize
notes and research, and story development tools.
COST: $99.95
BEST FOR: Writers who want to write
their stories/novels, organize, and save
research all in one place.
Writing software for screenplays,
stage plays, and teleplays. Includes over
100 templates as well as options for collaboration and alternate dialogue.
COST: From $99 to $249
BEST FOR: Screenwriters and playwrights.
Story development tool that addresses both
story analysis and creation.
COST: $129 to $159
BEST FOR: Writers who want to sharpen
their story structure and get help with character interactions.
Story and character development software for screenplays. Can customize with
genre-specific add-ons.
COST: $179
BEST FOR: Screenwriters who want specific storyline development and help in keeping up with plot, structure, and characters.
Novel and screenplay writing software
that includes word processing, the ability to
organize chapters and scenes, and a process
to outline your story using notecards. Formats and compiles final manuscript. Currently only available for Macs, iPhones, and
iPads; users can also work from the cloud.
COST: $59
BEST FOR: Apple users who travel often or
appreciate a more visual-minded way to
organize their work.
Novel-writing software that includes
word processing, the ability to organize
your manuscript, and tools for creating outlines, synopses, and story notecards. Also
includes a function that will read your manuscript out loud. Note: For Windows only.
COST: Free
BEST FOR: Writers who want to organize
their manuscripts with a user-friendly
Story development software that turns your screenplay
ideas into an outline.
COST: $39.95 to $99.95
BEST FOR: Screenwriters who
want to easily develop and outline their story.
Outlining software that
displays graphics of your story
outline in a timeline view, map
form, index cards, and traditional outline format. (Only for
Windows at this time).
COST: $99.95
BEST FOR: Fiction writers, playwrights, and screenwriters who
want to see the “big picture.”
10 • The Writer | 19
Grammar and
word usage
A collection of writing tools that lets
you quickly and easily access synonyms,
definitions, alliteration, rhyming words, and
phrases. Includes the only electronic version
of The Synonym Finder and the only alliteration dictionary on the market. Can also capture and manage .mp3 audio files.
COST: Monthly license $9.95, annual
license $99.95, 2-year license $149.95
BEST FOR: Poets, songwriters, and writers
who want quick access to a multitude of
words and phrases.
Dictation software that
lets you dictate documents and
control your computer using
voice commands. Includes functions for creating and sending
emails, posting on social media,
and searching the web.
COST: $74.99 to $400, depending on the technical level needed
BEST FOR: Writers who want
to increase productivity by working hands-free.
Character development
software that enables you to
explore the psychology of your
characters and determine how
your characters interact and fit
together in your story. Includes
archetypal themes for creating
believable characters.
COST: $39.95 to $99.95
BEST FOR: Writers who want
help creating complex and realistic characters.
Software that inspects grammar and
contextual spelling. With a premium subscription, Grammarly checks style, businessor academic-specific issues, and sentence
structure; offers content-based vocabulary
improvements; and detects plagiarism.
COST: Free for basic; Monthly subscription
BEST FOR: Writers who want to make sure
they’re always putting their best grammatical foot forward.
Speech recognition and
dictation software that allows
users to convert voice to text on
any website or word processing
software. Supports forty different languages. Can also be used
as a virtual assistant to complete tasks, find answers to
questions, send emails, access
websites, schedule reminders,
and control your PC. (Only for
Windows at this time.)
COST: Six-month license $29,
annual license $39, 3-year
license $79 (a free “lite” option
is also available)
BEST FOR: Writers who want a
less-expensive dictation and virtual assistant option to maximize productivity.
Online thesaurus and dictionary,
which include 150,000 words and 120,000
meanings. Also provides word maps to
show linguistic connections.
COST: $2.95 per month or $19.95 per year
BEST FOR: Writers who want to find just
the right word quickly.
20 | The Writer • November 2017
Website for creation,
organization, and sharing of
character attributes and descriptions. Allows the user to include
images for characters and link
character relationships.
COST: Free for up to 100
BEST FOR: Writers who want
to organize their character profiles and don’t need extensive
tools for development.
Academic writing software that includes academic
phrases and templates, reference material import, imitative
learning, and text recycling from
your previous documents.
COST: $37.50
BEST FOR: Academic writers,
professors, or students.
Journaling software that allows
for easy export and sync
between devices in addition to
the capability to add images,
recordings, and video to entries.
Note: WINJOURNAL only available through third-party sellers.
COST: $39.95 to $99.95
BEST FOR: Writers and bloggers who want to journal on
multiple devices and include
sounds, images, and videos.
Journaling software
that includes optional writerspecific add-ons to provide
focus and inspiration for your
writing. Users can customize
their journal to reflect their life
and needs. Available online or
as a Windows download.
COST: $49.95 for Windows
download and $27 per year for
the online version
BEST FOR: Writers and bloggers who want to easily journal thoughts while having
access to writing prompts, tips,
and inspiration.
A system to organize notes and
thought processes. Allows notes to be
moved, arranged, stacked, and connected.
COST: $14.99
BEST FOR: Writers who want more efficiency in keeping and organizing notes,
especially those who have complex characters and/or plot.
Creates “mind maps” of ideas,
organizes notes, transforms diagrams, and
provides structure for your writing. Facilitates
communication of concepts and knowledge,
and includes a “Presentation Manager,”
which easily exports existing ideas and
images into professional presentations.
COST: $39.95
BEST FOR: Writers who want to effectively
organize their ideas and prepare refined
presentations for conferences or workshops.
Software for organizing paperwork, such as bills, invoices, expenses, and
other related documents.
COST: $22.97 (on Amazon) to $69.99
BEST FOR: Freelancers who want to digitally organize financial documents for their
writing business.
3 • The Writer | 21
Software that helps
writers create relevant content to
boost internet exposure. Provides
analytics of readers and markets
to allow for narrowed focus.
COST: $19 to $29 per month, or
$69 to download
BEST FOR: Fiction authors and
screenwriters who want to better target their audiences and
market accordingly.
An editing tool for creative writers to use after the
first draft has been completed.
Will help identify a list of issues
for review, such as repeated and
redundant words and phrases,
suspect punctuation list, misused words, and even profanity
usage. Can be purchased as an
insert for Microsoft Word or as
a standalone version.
COST: $67 stand-alone; $77 for
use with Word
BEST FOR: Writers who want
to perform a first-pass edit of
their draft.
22 | The Writer • November 2017
An interactive database that
provides 101 techniques and
samples of dialogue for different situations. (At press time,
Great Dialogue Software was
for Windows only).
COST: $19.95
BEST FOR: Writers who want
examples and techniques for
writing believable dialogue.
eBook creation
User-friendly, open-source eBook
creation software that offers both a userfriendly “what you see is what you get”
(WYSIWYG) interface and code-based
COST: Free
BEST FOR: Writers who want to create an
eBook without having formatting/coding
User-friendly software that creates
various types of eBooks, video/audio projects, magazines, educational materials, picture books, and photo albums. Includes
photo rendering. Can also translate your
project into different languages.
COST: Free
BEST FOR: Writers who want to easily create and publish eBooks and other video and
audio projects.
User-friendly creation software for
eBooks, magazines, guides, reports, educational materials, galleries, and presentations.
COST: $12.95 for standard; $19.95 for pro
BEST FOR: Writers who want to upload
projects to the web with password protection, create trial periods for their readers,
and promote author branding.
Bare-bones word processing software (for Windows).
COST: Free
BEST FOR: Writers who just
want to get the words onto the
page with little distraction.
Word processing software with
many of the features of Microsoft Word, including templates.
COST: Free
BEST FOR: Writers who want
a less-expensive word processor option.
Word processing software with built-in grammatical
and usage/sentence structure
suggestions aimed at simplifying and tightening your writing.
Highlights passive verbs,
unwieldy sentences, adverbs, or
unnecessary complicated words.
COST: $19.99 for Windows and
Mac; free web-based app
BEST FOR: Writers who want
to edit their work for maximum
comprehension and clarity.
Distraction blockers
Software that enables you to
instantly block access to specific websites
and applications, with a strong, irreversible
“Force Mode” to prevent users from
bypassing the blacklisted sites. Also allows
users to only block sites for certain
amounts of time and provides analytical
data to show how much time users spend
on each site or app.
COST: $9 per month, $29 per year, $119
BEST FOR: Writers who severely struggle
with social media or web-browsing distractions.
Text-to-screen word processor
that lets writers get their ideas down. The
program takes over your computer’s entire
screen to avoid distractions. Also includes
spellcheck, auto-save, some formatting,
alarms, and goal-setting targets. Not
intended for the editing/revision process.
COST: Free (though requests a tip)
BEST FOR: Writers who want to block out
online distractions but also want the ability
to bypass.
Divide your manuscripts into
blocks according to idea. Each block is a
separate word processing document, and
all blocks remain on the screen for easy
COST: $149
BEST FOR: Authors who work on longer
projects or manuscripts who like nonlinear
organizational structures and dislike excessive document navigation.
If you’re a writer who prefers plain old pen
and paper, more power to you. But if you’re
among the rest of us who prefer using a
modern computer, check out these tools to
save time and help you write more efficiently. Your work-in-progress may be all
the better for it.
K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She
is passionate about women’s issues, loves
noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the
word normal. Her historical novel, Life Before,
is about two women separated by a century
who discover they’ve shared a soul. Web: or @klromo. • The Writer | 23
Find your
Think the magazine industry is dead?
These five editors beg to differ.
or every hobby and interest,
there’s a magazine. Passionate
about beading? Pick up
Bead&Button. Fascinated by sustainable living? Try Permaculture Magazine. There are magazines for sailors,
costumers, historians, and hip-hop
dancers. A few years ago, I taught at a
writers’ conference and lamented the
lack of publications to which I could
submit an essay about my neighborhood’s wild turkeys. A man in camouflage stood up in the back row. “Here,”
he said, and held up a copy of Turkey
& Turkey Hunting Magazine.
We caught up with five magazine
editors to bring you the scoop on what
they love to publish, how to wow them
with a professional pitch, and why –
despite rumors to the contrary – the
magazine industry remains an exciting
force in publishing. The takeaway?
Identify your niche, find your magazine, study back issues, and pitch your
very finest stories and articles.
Founder and editor, Full Grown People
At 45, Jennifer Niesslein has heard that
the magazine industry is dying or dead
24 | The Writer • November 2017
over her entire career. “I accepted a
long time ago that magazine publishing is constantly evolving,” she says. A
writer, editor, and entrepreneur, she’s
evolved right along with it.
In 2000, she co-founded the print
and online magazine Brain, Child: The
Magazine for Thinking Mothers. Thirteen years later, she founded Full
Grown People, an online magazine of
literary personal essays that examine
what it means to be an adult. She looks
for compelling and intelligent submissions between 800 and 4,000 words
with conclusions that pack a memorable punch.
One of these is Sarah Einstein’s
“Going to Ground,” in which the
writer reflects on the current political
administration and the United States’
most vulnerable individuals, who live
in fear of harassment, physical attack,
deportation, and worse. “We’re at a
point in American history where a lot
of us are realizing that we’re living history as it happens, and it feels so normal and so not normal at the same
time,” Niesslein explains. “It’s a relief
and gift to have someone (gorgeously)
articulate her thoughts on how this
could all play out.”
Einstein is a well-published author
and essayist and a creative writing professor. But Niesslein is more interested
in the quality of the writing than a
writer’s credentials. She doesn’t look at
pitch letters. “I just want to read the
best version of the essay that the writer
can muster,” she says.
One of these essays is Tracey Lynn
Lloyd’s “True Love or Serial Killer?”
about the author’s online relationship –
and the gradual realization that she’s
been duped and has narrowly avoided
extortion. “It hits that sweet spot
between being vulnerable and being
unapologetic about who you are,”
Niesslein says.
She also adores regular contributor
Jody Mace’s work – particularly
“Shrödringer’s Horn.” “It’s a great
example of how she takes a widely
shared dilemma – how to deal with an
aging parent’s limits without destroying his quality of life – and renders an
essay unlike any other I’ve read,”
Niesslein says.
Full Grown People is a labor of love.
While she can’t pay contributors, she
hopes a virtual tip jar on the magazine’s website will eventually build
enough funds that she can compensate
writers for their essays.
“The funding’s gotten trickier for all
types of magazines,” she says. “Full
Grown People is one of many online
magazines because they’re relatively
inexpensive to start. The good news
for writers is that there’s a bigger universe of publications. The bad news –
for writers and editors both – is that it’s
tough to make money.”
Still, she believes that print magazines are viable options, as well. She
herself subscribes to The Sun, Bitch,
and True Story. “You can still run a
solid print magazine,” she says, “if
you’re offering something that no one
else offers.”
Editor-in-chief, Atlas Obscura
Atlas Obscura began in 2009 as a website where adventurous travelers could
log on and search for strange landmarks and attractions by region. Now,
the company offers a digital magazine,
a best-selling book with more titles in
the works, and a business running
international trips. “You have to do a
lot of different things all at once,” says
editor-in-chief Sommer Mathis. “If you
can do that, and do it well and in a way
that honestly reflects your brand, I
think the future of magazines is actually pretty bright.”
For Atlas Obscura Magazine, Mathis
and her staff look for stories with a
strong sense of place. “They reveal
something that’s in some way hidden
or offer our readers an opportunity to
experience a sense of wonder,” she
says. “Pitches that hit on all three of
those things are rare, so we get really
excited when they do.”
One of these is a piece by Edward
Dolnick titled “Why It Took Scientists
So Long to Figure Out Where Babies
Come From,” which begins, “Until
1875, no one in the world knew where
babies come from.”
Another favorite is Peggy O’Donnell’s
“The Politics of Pie Cutting at West
Point’s Mess Hall.” Subtitled “Why
United States Military Academy cadets
fear pastry,” the piece provides a humorous examination of why West Point
graduates have historically become
stressed when slicing up pie.
“Those are very different stories,”
Mathis explains, “but they do have
something in common: they both
revealed something truly interesting
about a topic that most people probably
take for granted as fairly commonplace.”
Editors at Atlas Obscura aren’t interested in receiving first-person travelogues or complete histories of a place
or person or object. “The completist
take isn’t the version we’d publish,” she
says. “Instead, we’re much more interested in pieces that focus on some
ultra-specific, much less obvious
aspect of a story that’s worth revisiting,
or even better, revealing.”
Co-founder and editor-in-chief,
Adventure Cats (
Two years ago, Laura Moss and Cody
Wellons found their special niche – an
online magazine featuring people who
love to explore mountains and rivers
and oceans with their cats. They cofounded Adventure Cats, a website that
shares stories of cat owners who walk
their cats on leash and travel with them.
Articles for the site run the gamut
from domestic concerns about how to
keep felines safe and why readers
should consider adopting shelter cats
to profiles of people who hike and
paddleboard and sail with their cats.
Moss often recommends Kristen
Bobst’s “Maine Coon Acts as Deaf Sailor’s Ears at Sea” and shares it on the
publication’s social media accounts.
“Kristen always brings me incredible
stories about sailing kitties, but this one
is particularly special because of the
bond that the cat and his owner share,”
she explains. “It’s a story that has an
element of surprise because not only is
the cat out there sailing, but he’s also
actually assisting his owner by serving
as his ears on the ocean. It’s a sweet
story and therefore very shareable.”
She also appreciates Richard China’s
practical and information-packed
“How to Create a Cat-Friendly Garden” (6/19/16). “It’s a wonderful piece
about how you can design your backyard to be a safe and enriching environment for your kitty,” she says. “As
you’d expect, it has a lot of information
on cat-friendly plants, but it also delves
into a lot of important details that I
think wouldn’t occur to most pet owners.” One of these details suggests the
installation of a fishpond with a net
just under the surface of the water so
that the cat isn’t able to snag a snack.
Adventure Cats built up a large following on Instagram, and that audience
gravitated toward the publication’s
website. “There’s a lot of competition
and a variety of ways to consume content, so I think it’s a matter of finding
your audience and engaging with
them,” Moss says. She points to Anna
Norris’s pitch on “catios” – outdoor
enclosures for cats. “Anna explained
that it would explain different types of
catios and how they’re easier – and less
expensive – to build than you think.”
The article “Catio Hacks that Every Cat
Owner Should Know” includes downloadable catio blueprints. “She really
went the extra mile to create original,
useful content,” Moss says. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive responses to it.”
She believes people are always going
to be interested in a stories, and magazines have an important role in storytelling. “We’re still writing great stories,
but the landscape has changed in how
we can get those stories in front of the
people who are going to read them and
love them,” she explains. “As editors
and writers, we may simply have to
experiment with new ways to find our
readers and engage with them, especially online.”
Contributing network editor, The Forward
“Social media provides unparalleled
opportunities to sit in on conversations
all around the world and gather • The Writer | 25
ries,” says Laura E. Adkins of The Forward, which provides perspectives on
international news as well as on Jewish
arts, culture, and opinion. “It’s a vital
tool in so many ways. It’s great for hearing from other freelancers about their
experiences, crafting your pitches, getting advice, and finding a home for
your work. I spend a lot of time on
Twitter and different Facebook groups
looking for conversation leaders and
those with fresh takes on tired tropes.”
Her favorite acceptance to date is
Rabbi Philip Graubart’s article “The
Holocaust Survivor Who Hated Anne
Frank,” a piece she calls “incredibly
moving.” “Great tragedies often lose
their human element when we talk and
write about them in sweeping terms,”
she explains. “This piece was raw and
uncensored, and surprisingly refreshing. It provided insight into a terrible
part of human history in a relatable,
humorous, and heartrending way.”
Adkins looks for candid and surprising perspectives. She fields numerous pitches on marriage between Jews
and non-Jews. Often, she says, queries
on this topic fall flat. Not so Rabbi
Aaron Brusso’s “A Letter to Couples of
Jewish and Non-Jewish Backgrounds.”
“An honest and beautifully written
letter from the heart to prospective
interfaith couples, penned by a Conservative rabbi, it really tackled the
divisive issue in a sensitive and insightful way,” she says. “It combined everything I’m looking for: experience,
expertise, a compelling narrative, and a
thought-provoking perspective.” Adkins advises writers to avoid overreaching in their pitches to The Forward. “If you’re pitching a piece about
Iranian foreign policy, you best either
be an Iranian foreign policy expert or
have a unique and captivating story
about what’s going on there,” she says.
Though she might reject an initial
story pitch, she urges potential contributors to keep submitting ideas. “One
rejected pitch doesn’t mean you should
26 | The Writer • November 2017
never pitch to me again,” she says.
“Take my advice on your pitch to heart,
and try again. There are many reasons
your pitch could have been rejected,
and many of them have nothing to do
with the quality of your writing.”
Deputy editor, Narratively (
“Freelancing is hard. There’s no way
around it,” says author and editor Lilly
Dancyger. “And the amount of rejection – or, worse, radio silence – can be
really discouraging. But the only
thing you can do if you want to make
it work as a freelancer is to keep
going. Keep finding stories you care
about, and keep pitching them until
someone says yes.”
Dancyger is deputy editor of Narratively, a digital publication and storytelling studio created in 2012. “We’re
always looking for that twist, that surprise element that really makes someone stand out,” she explains of the
submissions she and fellow editors
read. “For example, we’ve gotten tons
of pitches about the refugee crisis. All
important stories, but we’ve had to be
picky, to find the stories that will really
stand out so that readers don’t think
‘I’ve heard this before.’”
Stav Dimitropoulos’s “Stuck in
Limbo, These Muslim Men are Turning
to Prostitution and Grappling with
Guilt” stood out to Narratively’s editors.
“It’s about straight male refugees turning to prostitution to feed their families
at a camp, and their conflicted feelings
about it,” Dancyger says. “We felt it was
incredible and unique.”
She urges writers to submit beautifully crafted pitches that show depth of
thought. “I get so many emails where it’s
obvious that a writer has just had an
idea and sat down to immediately email
me about it, and what arrives is one
half-baked paragraph that doesn’t tell
me anything about what the finished
product will look like,” she says. “Don’t
do that. Especially with reported pieces,
take the time, do a little pre-reporting
so that you already know the story in
and out before you pitch. Some people
get bratty about not wanting to do the
work upfront, but how to you expect to
sell a story if you don’t really know anything about it yet? Do the legwork, and
then send a pitch that brings me into
the story, gives me a sense of the characters, the scenes, the cultural context,
and your ability to write.”
She urges writers to read the publications to which they hope to contribute their own work. One of her favorite
pieces for Narratively is Natalie Pattillo’s “She Killed Her Abuser Before He
Could Kill Her – Then Served 17
Years. Now She’s Taking on the System.” “I think it really embodies our
goal of putting a human face on the big
topics, really telling stories rather than
just listing facts,” she says.
Narratively also runs personal
essays, including Ariel Henley’s
“There’s a Mathematical Equation that
Proves that I’m Ugly – Or So I Learned
in my Seventh Grade Art Class.” “This
personal essay is really an extraordinary story that brings the readers into
an experience they wouldn’t have
access to otherwise,” Dancyger says. “I
want to see more like this, and fewer
that are reaching to turn every mundane interaction into an essay.”
She agrees with other editors that
the magazine industry is in flux, but it’s
by no means terminally ill.
“People love to say things are dying,”
she says. “The novel has been declared
dead dozens of times, as has journalism,
and just recently the personal essay as
well. None of these things will ever die,
they’ll just change. But it should be as
exciting as it is scary, because it means
it’s up to those of us working today to
decide what the future will look like.”
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is an
essayist and the author of two memoirs: Gringa
(Seal, 2009) and Wild Within (Lyons, 2015).
Stokkete/Shutterstock; Transfuchsian/Shutterstock
Wanna break into
Here are our tips
for surviving the
Oh, not in the eerie, see-a-form-pass-throughwalls-and-get-your-socks-scared-off sense, or in
those apparitions who leave green, gelatinous goo
all over your person after they rush through you
in the hallway.
No, I believe in a different sort of ghost,
mainly because I am one. I am a ghost who writes
material for someone else, while remaining completely invisible. Living inside my phantom presence for nearly 15 years has taught me a few
things. If you happen to believe in the same
ghosts that I do, and are, perhaps, considering a
transformation into one such specter, I’d like to
share a few tips with you about our kind of supernatural existence. • The Writer | 27
As a ghost, our first challenge is
almost always our own ego.
Many writers secretly harbor an urge
to grab a megaphone and yell, “Hey!
Look at what I can do!” There is no
need to be ashamed about these compulsions. Writers are passion-driven
individuals. But there is another distinct side to our mission. Perhaps the
author Enid Bagnold best describes a
writer’s motives:
“Who wants to become a writer?
And why? Because it’s the answer to
everything…It’s the streaming reason
for living. To note, to pin down, to
build up, to create, to be astonished at
nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let
nothing go down the drain, to make
something, to make a great flower out
of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
This apt description lends credence
to the reasons we might entertain the
idea of ghosting. Yet we must come to
terms with the fact that we can never,
ever drag out the megaphone as a
ghost. We will have to check our ego
from the start and say farewell to
those daydreams about sitting across
from Oprah.
A ghost must recognize what he
can and cannot do for a client.
A certain kind of magic happens when
a ghost is able to take a few recordings
or a mangled mess of notes and turn
them into legible copy. As our clients
begin to recognize we have turned carbon into a diamond, we may take on
supernatural qualities in their eyes. In
a flash, we become the experts on all
things writing and publishing.
This is when it’s time to be a truthbearing ghost. Most ghostwriters are
not connected in any magnificent way
to the publishing world. We simply
love words and we write. We may have
published a few books, garnered a few
contacts of our own, and have a general understanding of the business, but
we will never own the title of KnowsEverything, Understands-All King or
Queen of the Publishing World. The
industry changes daily. It’s important,
in these instances, to clarify our
28 | The Writer • November 2017
comments as either knowledge or
opinion. It’s equally beneficial to
embrace the concept that most clients
are not allergic to hearing the unpopular, but relevant, words, “I don’t know,
but I’ll try to help you find out.”
A ghost must be accomplished in
simple linguistics.
Finding your client’s voice is not only
the key to getting paid but also a way
to appropriately represent him or her
as an authority. The average adult,
native English speaker has an active
vocabulary of around 20,000 words.
Sounds like a lot, but further studies
show we use only 25 words 33 percent
of the time. So the rough material we
receive from a client is likely going to
contain a limited vocabulary. Yet one
of the first rules of writing any copy is
to avoid excessive repetition of words
or phrases unless there is a decided
reason to do so. That leaves a ghost
fishing for words right off the bat. The
key to finding a client’s true, natural
vocabulary lies in getting to know him
well enough to decide how to interchange word choices so that they
reflect his personality, environment,
and viewpoint. It is helpful to share a
meal, engage in face-to-face conversations (at least in half-hour increments),
and regularly converse by telephone
with the client.
Think of the process as similar to
learning to swim: It’s fine to start by
dipping a proverbial toe into the water,
but the only way to do laps is to fully
immerse oneself in the pool. When
you can “hear” your client’s voice in
your head, there’s an excellent chance
you’ll be able to write successfully in
his own voice.
Ghosts cannot use uniform standardized pricing for all projects.
People come in all shapes and sizes,
and the same will be true about their
submissions to you. If you only wish
to work with a highly organized set of
source materials, your projects could
be few and far between. But take
heart: There are simple ways to navi-
gate such less-organized waters. If I
happen to receive a cardboard box
filled with 1,000 sticky notes as material for a book, I am quick to tell a client there will be an hourly charge for
sorting and dissecting the information provided. This is not the same
hourly rate I charge for writing. It’s a
clerical rate.
In this way, ghosting takes on a
variety of pricing opportunities. There
are assessment fees, sorting fees, telephone billing time, transcription billing time, etc. It’s up to a ghost to
decide how to break down her workload and charge accordingly. It is still
important to remain consistent within
her schedule of specific pricings overall. Professionalism demands we
charge one client at the same hourly
rate we bill another for the same task.
The primary reason for this is a
well-known (and, in ghostwriting, a
much-coveted) aspect of marketing
called referrals. While you can advertise
as a ghostwriter through bios on blogs
or articles or by placing ads or running
a website, you’re still essentially an
invisible commodity. Rare is the client
who will agree to let the world know
you literally put the words in his
mouth, blog, or book. That means you
have no means of public recommendation or accolade. But therein lies an
interesting dynamic among clients who
hire ghosts: They often know others
who are looking for a ghost.
Secret shoppers often find what
they seek, but in doing so, they tend
to be thorough in their research.
Think about instances when you’ve
really admired a piece of jewelry,
automobile, or any other item that
seriously claimed your attention.
After a polite compliment, what were
your first questions to its owner?
“Where did you get that?” Or: “How
much did you pay for it?” Even
though it’s highly unlikely that any
two clients would submit identical
project materials, you’ll still need to
be able justify why her work costs
more or less than the client who sent
her to you.
No writer – ghost or not – should write
anything he or she is not willing to own.
No matter how organized
(or business-minded) a ghost
purports to be, there are going to be a
few projects that will exceed any
quoted fee.
And that’s OK. The relevant thought to
nurture, during these navigations, is
that our reputation is worth far more
than any job acquired.
We’ve all heard the negative stories
about plumbers and mechanics: “He
quoted me $300 to replace my kitchen
faucet, but the bill ended up $545! I’m
never using him again.” It’s interesting
how those NON-recommendation
stories seem to reach the ears of everyone in the mistreated, offended person’s community. But there’s always a
risk of the unforeseen calamity hidden
inside our pipes and motors. We know
that but may still feel the need to
blame the craftsman.
The same is true in ghosting. It’s
more than possible, in fact, even
probable that we will miss the mark
and underestimate time, labor, and
perceived complications within a
project once in a while. It is better to
finish the job with integrity and avoid
the risk of damaging your reputation
as a ghost.
(As a side note, I’ve received many
monetary “tips” when I have obviously
underbid a particular project. The
money might not have been what my
extra time and effort was worth, but I’ve
always considered the missing currency
as a down payment on my reputation.)
Ghosts should never attempt to
write material that goes against
their core beliefs.
This shouldn’t be confused with writing the unfamiliar: It’s quite enjoyable
to write about new topics. Ghosts are
steeped in curiosity and more than
willing to learn as they go. This singular facet of ghosting can keep the job,
as a whole, interesting year in and year
out. Since many ghosts are continually
writing out of the same client pool, a
new customer with new material can
be like a breath of fresh air.
It’s quite a different story to attempt
to write good material on a topic of
which you inherently disapprove. The
voice of your client will incessantly be
arguing with your own voice every
step of the way. There is also the added
concern that, somehow, some way, the
project’s true authorship will slip out
into the public. No writer – ghost or
not – should write anything he or she
is not willing to own.
Every ghost has his own idea of
what is permissible to flow from his
pen and what is not. Heed your own
standards. They have the right to be
non-negotiable. There is no reason to
be offensive if a project comes your
way that is not to your liking. A simple, “I’m not able to work on your project at this time,” will usually suffice. It’s
never a ghost’s job to judge what projects should or should not be let loose
into the world, only to decide which
ones we are willing to facilitate.
Finally, ghosts must
embrace patience.
I know, I know, that’s what experts
preach about all kinds of writing pursuits, but a ghost’s life is not traditional
freelancing. Picture yourself, sitting at
an elegant table, attending an afterwedding dinner. Your eyes take in the
beautiful surroundings. But after you
leave the venue, unless you are the
bride or groom, how often are you
going to think of that scenery again?
Probably not at all – unless you decide
you want to have an elegant party or
get married. At that point, recalling the
intricate floral table decorations you
haven’t thought of in years, you might
decide you have to chase down that
particular florist.
Similarly, a client’s work may not
inspire an additional client to seek you
out for long periods of time. If you’re a
beginning ghost, that could be disheartening. Practicing for free can help get
you started. It’s fairly easy to find people
who are looking for someone to write a
family history. Legacy pieces often supply the practice we need until a paying
project comes along. Patience, for some,
is not a common ability, but it’s vital to a
ghost. It takes time to build a client list
that is both stable and steady. Every client is an advertising opportunity. That
difficult client or job may just be the
one that ends up supplying you with client after client down the road.
So, yes, I believe in ghosts. Those
ghosts who not only write well but
also capture voices and tell stories
that the world would miss, if someone didn’t use his time and efforts to
cause their release. The road to invisibility has its share of curves and
bumps, but once there, it can be one
of most fulfilling forms of writing on
the planet.
So, now we’ve come to the crossroads and I need to hear your declaration. Do you believe in ghosts?
If so, I wish you all the best – even if
I’ll never see you around.
Melanie Stiles writes freelance, edits manuscripts, and is a ghostwriter. Her “Let’s Write!”
books have been well-received by the writing
community. She would love to hear from you!
Web: • The Writer | 29
It sounds simple, but given the arduous nature of writing, it’s actually distressingly difficult. Too many writers
find themselves drifting aimlessly
through their novels in a state of abeyance, living day after day with a vague
promise to finish their novel someday.
But someday doesn’t ever really come,
does it? Someday is always off in the
distance, beguiling you with its promises of more time, more money, more
peace, more focus, more energy.
That’s why I recommend a simple
motivational system: Set a challenging
goal, and then set a deadline to hold
yourself accountable. That’s one of the
most important lessons of the rollicking writing boot camp that is National
Novel Writing Month: Write 50,000
words in 30 days. To write a 50,000word novel in a month, you have to
write 1,667 words a day. You have to
banish your Inner Editor and show up
and write, on good days and bad days,
30 | The Writer • November 2017
on days you’re just feeling lazy and
uninspired, and maybe even on sick
days. Your goal of a 50,000-word novel
beckons you. Your daily word-count
needles you. In this determined practice, you learn how a novel is built not
by the grand gusting winds of inspiration or craft tips, but by the inglorious
increments of constancy.
The words goal and deadline might
not ring with any poetic allure, but
these two words are perhaps the most
important concepts in living the artistic life, ranking right up there with
inspiration and imagination. Without a
goal and a deadline, it’s easy to fool
yourself about the progress you’re
making. By focusing on the forward
motion of your story, you’re constantly
in pursuit of ideas, constantly experimenting with new ideas. The pressure
of a deadline gets you out of bed earlier in the morning. It allows you to
say “no” to that tantalizing party
invitation. It gives you permission to
turn your back on all of those nettlesome “shoulds” that prevent you from
doing what you want to do: write.
A goal and a deadline help me,
whether I’m writing a first draft or a
fifth draft, because I tend to get trapped
in an infinite task loop where I’m consistently accomplishing little actions
but making dubious progress toward
completing a novel. I do research. I tinker with the first sentence, the first
paragraph, the first chapter. I go back
and do more research. Or I get distracted by the glistening sheen of an
entirely different writing project. (New
novel ideas are always at their brightest
before the writing begins.)
I’ve concocted these writing evasions – which feel like productive writing – because I don’t truly want to deal
with the mess of the whole thing. Or I
just can’t face the crucial challenge that
I need to dive into if I’m going to bring
the story vigorously to life. “The road
to hell is paved with works-in-progress,” Philip Roth said. I want to get out
of this hell.
Goals give us direction, but a goal
without a deadline is like a class of students without a teacher – full of potential but lacking structure. If I don’t give
myself a deadline and track my progress, my novel will exist in a perpetual
state of questionable movement. (I
know because one of my novels took
10 years to finish.)
You don’t need to write 50,000
words each month, of course, but think
about what you can do each day on a
regular basis. Can you revise your
novel for an hour each day? OK, then
set a goal of 30 hours of revision in a
month, and track yourself each day.
Can you write 250 words a day? Okay,
then set a goal of 7,500 words in a
month. (Funny how 250 words each
day can add up; if you write 7,500
words a month, you’ll write 90,000
words in a year, which is a good-sized
novel.) Even a snail can travel a great
distance if it moves forward each day.
The key thing is that you can’t set a
vague goal. Without a clear goal, you’re
likely to find a million ways of talking
yourself out of committing to achievement. I think of this scene in Lewis
Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
CAT: Where are you going?
ALICE: Which way should I go?
CAT: That depends on where you
are going.
ALICE: I don’t know.
CAT: Then it doesn’t matter which
way you go.
Goals are the lighthouse that guides
the boat to shore. They’re the north
star we follow.
Even with such a system, however,
lapses are inevitable. I make a list of
obstacles that I will likely face, whether
it’s an onerous work deadline, selfdoubt, or outright boredom with my
novel, and I think about how to overcome them. After a lapse, it’s important to forgive yourself, readjust your
goals, and give yourself a fresh start so
that a bad week of writing doesn’t lead
to a bad month of writing, which then
turns into a bad year.
It’s all about designing your life
around the things you rationally want
to achieve instead of sinking into the
powerful claws of more impulsive
needs. We tend to be myopic creatures, preferring positive outcomes in
the present at the expense of future
outcomes. But our present self is doing
a disservice to our future self, who
will scream back into the dark hallows of the past: “Why didn’t you
work on our novel?” Think about
how your present self can better serve
your future self.
“A goal without a plan is a dream,”
said Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Make a
plan of dedication to obliterate the
obstacles hindering you from writing
so that you can find the gift that your
story is and bring it into the world.
Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)
and the co-founder of 100 Word Story. He
recently published a collection of 100-word stories, Fissures. This essay is excerpted from his
new book, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and
Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo. • The Writer | 31
Seven steps to a stronger story.
ome people think a story is nothing
more than plot: one thing happens,
then another, and another. Others believe
a story centers around character and
that the plot is insignificant. This plotversus-character debate is nothing new,
and both sides are both right…and
wrong. A man sitting alone with nothing
but his thoughts is not a story; it’s a
character study. Similarly, a series of
events with no character to anchor them
is nothing more than a newsreel. Story is
the intersection between character and
plot, and it takes a delicate alchemy to
hook readers and keep their attention
from page one to The End. This process
boils down to seven steps.
Step 1: Start with a character
Your book’s premise might be the
thing that first piques a reader’s interest, and the plot twists might keep that
reader turning pages, but that is not
enough. You need a character to
anchor the plot and be a window for
your reader into the story. Readers
might pick up a book because of the
premise, but they remember a book
because of the characters.
Most protagonists fall on a spectrum between two poles: the ordinary
Joe/Jane and the larger-than-life hero.
While many characters may pull traits
from both ends of this spectrum, it’s
likely that your protagonist aligns
more with one type than the other.
Keep in mind also that some characters may not fit either the ordinary
Joe/Jane or larger-than-life hero types,
but these cases are very rare and usually happen when your protagonist is
an antihero.
Your protagonist’s type sets the
tone both for the conflict in your
story and for the way your character
develops and changes. The ordinary
Joe/Jane is an everyman character
caught in extraordinary circumstances, which means he will need to
rise to the occasion and do something
heroic despite his seemingly ordinary
status. Conversely, the heroic protagonist might appear infallible and allpowerful, but she is not as perfect as
she seems, and you will need to show
her vulnerability.
While these two types might seem
like polar opposites, they are in fact on
a similar journey: Both must somehow become the opposite of what they
first appear to be. This means the
ordinary Joe/Jane must do something
extraordinary while the heroic character must show her humanness. I call
this the “Opposite Is Possible” theory
of character development, because
while you don’t need to make characters become the opposite of who they
are, you need to show that this transformation is possible.
Step 2: That character
wants something
It’s not enough to have a character at
the center of your story; you need to
make that character want something,
and not just any frivolous want, but a
deep desire that feels unattainable.
This want must also have high stakes
for the character, as though not getting
it would be a fate worse than death.
As with the character types, the
want also falls into two categories:
change or preservation. Whatever that
character’s goal – whether it is to find
true love, save the world, or obtain a
lost treasure – what she really wants is
to change or preserve something in
herself, her circumstances, or the
world around her.
Step 3: Identify your
storytelling superpower
Now you are ready to determine your
protagonist’s archetype. Every writer
has a particular character archetype
that he or she is especially good at
writing. This is your “storytelling
superpower,” and it’s important to
know what it is so you can play to
your strengths.
When you write a character that
aligns with your superpower, the
story flows more naturally because it
taps into your own core beliefs and
attitudes. In fact, you likely gravitate
toward one archetype over the others
because it resonates with you and
feels more familiar. Of course, you
can always craft a convincing character that does not share your superpower archetype, but when you know
where your own strengths lie, you can
learn to harness them even when you
are writing a character that is outside
your creative comfort zone. (Note: To
discover your storytelling superpower, you can take the quiz at
To see how the storytelling superpower works, first you need to understand the four archetypes, which come
from intersecting the protagonist’s type
(ordinary Joe/Jane vs. larger-than-life
hero) with what that character wants
(change vs. preservation), as shown in
Image 1 on page 34. The underdog is
an ordinary Joe/Jane character who
wants to change something in himself
or the world around him. The disruptor also wants to create change and is a
larger-than-life type. Similarly, the • The Writer | 33
Ordinary Joe/Jane
survivor is an everyman who seeks to
preserve something, while the protector is the heroic version of a character
with this same desire. Let’s look more
closely at each of these types.
The underdog is a seemingly “normal” character who wants to create
change in himself, his situation, or the
world. This archetype is especially
compelling and relatable because
readers see themselves in him. When
an underdog saves the day by doing
something remarkable, readers think,
“Maybe I can do that, too.” Classic
underdogs include Katniss Everdeen,
Harry Potter (at the beginning of the
series), and Marty McFly from Back
to the Future.
At their best, underdogs are
scrappy, determined, and focused on
their goals. They take initiative and
make the best of situations even when
the odds are stacked against them. At
their worst, they can be hot-heads
who make reckless choices and try
too hard to prove naysayers wrong.
Underdogs are especially compelling
in rags-to-riches “Cinderella” stories
or any narrative where you have a
David-and-Goliath “big guy versus
little guy” conflict.
34 | The Writer • November 2017
Disruptors are larger-than-life, charismatic leaders. They know what they
want and will do whatever it takes to
get it. These characters are aspirational; readers may not see themselves in disruptors, but they want to
become like them. While these protagonists do not need to have bombastic personalities to make an
impression, they are not forgettable
characters. Examples include Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice,
Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby,
and Tris Prior from Divergent.
These protagonists excel in situations where they can take the lead or
be in the limelight, but they are not
good at taking orders or working with
a team. They might even lack empathy or be downright narcissistic, especially when using their heroic abilities
for their own ends. The key to making
a disruptor likeable is to show vulnerability, and a great way to do that is to
put the character in a situation where
his exceptional skills are moot. Signature disruptor stories are epic quests,
battles against the establishment, or
“switching places” narratives where
the character is thrown into circumstances where he is no longer
True to the name, a survivor will do
whatever it takes to survive. Whether
she is stranded on a desert island, captured by an evil genius, or fighting a
terminal illness, this character’s
strength is her determination to hold
fast. Whatever the odds, this protagonist never gives up. Like they do with
the underdog, readers identify with
survivors because they see some part
of themselves reflected in these protagonists. Examples of survivor characters
are Jim Lovell from Apollo 13, Hazel
Grace Lancaster in The Fault in Our
Stars, and Anne Elliot from Persuasion.
At their best, survivors can be the
epitome of hope, but if taken to the
extreme, they can become whiny or
even the voice of doom and gloom. Be
careful not to focus so much on the
survivor’s obstacle that the character
herself fades to the background.
Remember, too, that while survivor
stories can tug at the heartstrings, if
pushed too far, those emotions can feel
manipulative. Both the character’s
struggle and the emotion must serve
your story, not the other way around.
Protectors are superheroes, even if
they don’t wear spandex and capes,
and their goal is to defend the world
and those they love in it. While disruptors want to challenge the establishment, protectors focus on
preserving the status quo and stopping any evil that threatens the people or principles they hold dear.
These characters are powerful and
loyal, and classic examples include
comic book superheroes like Superman or Batman, James Bond, or
Dwight Schrute from the television
show The Office.
The pitfall with protectors is when
they become too powerful, so make
sure you show a chink in the armor.
Readers like to root for the “good guy”
who saves the day – especially when
that character is protecting others. Just
make sure he doesn’t seem too perfect
and infallible.
Step 4: Send the character
on a journey
Once you know your character’s
archetype, the natural next step is to
send that character on a journey,
preferably one rife with conflict. Use
the strengths – and weaknesses – of
that archetype to build tension for
your protagonist. Think of it as constantly creating a worst-case scenario.
Whenever things become too comfortable for your character, ask yourself: “How can I make things worse?”
Then do it. The acronym WORST
will remind you how to build tension
in your story.
W = What does the character want?
O = What obstacles stand in her way?
R = What is she willing to risk in
order to reach that goal?
S = What’s at stake if she doesn’t
get it?
T = How does the character
transform over the course of
this journey?
The protagonist’s desire is what sets
the story in motion, and the transformation in pursuit of that goal ties it all
together at the end, but it’s the obstacles, risks, and stakes that carry the
story and sustain momentum. The
dreaded “muddle in the middle” is
where writers get stuck, but if you use
the WORST acronym you can avoid
this pitfall. Not sure what to do next?
Throw another obstacle between your
character and her goal. Is your protagonist willing to risk something huge to
get what he wants? Let him do it, then
make it go terribly wrong. No one
wants to read about happy characters
living happy lives, so whenever your
story stalls, think of a way to make
things worse for your protagonist.
Step 5: Bring your
character to life
Now it’s time to make your character
come to life on the page, and there are
four main components you should
consider: thoughts, actions, dialogue,
and appearance.
• Thoughts include anything the
protagonist might think or feel.
• Actions comprise both things your
character does and things he
chooses not to do.
• Dialogue is any conversation your
character has with someone else.
• Appearance includes any description of how he looks or seems to an
outside observer.
Writers often rely on some of these
elements more than others, using them
as a crutch to compensate for areas
where their writing might not be as
strong. This is where a “character compass” can help. This technique can
show you if you’re omitting or overusing any element for a long stretch in
your story.
To create a character compass, draw
a circle and bisect it vertically and horizontally, as though you are drawing
crosshairs. Label each of the axes as
shown in Image 2. Choose one scene
in your story, read through it, and
mark each axis with a dot depending
on how much of that element you use
in that passage. The more you use a
component, the closer to the edge of
the circle you should place the dot.
Once you have marked all four axes,
connect the dots and fill in the resulting shape.
This diagram shows what the compass would look like for a scene
where the protagonist is alone, having
a pensive moment. Such a scene will
be heavy on thought but have minimal action and appearance, and virtually no dialogue. To get a sense of
whether you are overusing – or omitting – one of the four components, do
this same exercise over several scenes.
Remember that in any given scene
you do not need to have a perfectly • The Writer | 35
symmetrical shape for your compass,
but if you notice one element dominates or is missing throughout a long
section, it may be a sign that you
need to rework that passage. The
character compass is a diagnostic tool
that gives you a visual representation
of what you are doing on the page so
you can be more versatile in how you
depict your characters.
Step 6: Develop your
supporting cast
Now that you have a strong grasp on
your protagonist, it’s time to shift your
attention to the supporting cast.
Notice that I don’t call them “secondary” characters or “side” characters.
represent more than one of these
archetypes. It is important to understand these types because each one
contributes to the protagonist’s journey
in a different way.
The villain’s role is perhaps the most
obvious, since he is either the primary
antagonist the protagonist must face,
or he makes another obstacle even
worse. Keep in mind that not every
story has a villain as the main antagonist. In some stories, the main antagonist might be a natural disaster (e.g.,
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger)
or dinosaurs looking for their next
meal (e.g., Michael Crichton’s Jurassic
Park), but even in those cases we often
have at least one character – an “every-
tribute can survive the games. As the
series progresses, the Capitol uses
Peeta as a pawn to manipulate Katniss
as she leads the revolution.
While the love interest might create problems for the protagonist, the
BFF (best friend forever) is there to
complement her strengths and provide qualities she might lack. Consider Hermione and Ron in the Harry
Potter series. While Harry might be
the courageous leader, Hermione has
the brains, and Ron serves as comic
relief when Harry gets into his
gloomy moods. Notice also that BFFs
often occur in pairs, leading to a
friendship triangle and creating more
opportunity for conflict. When the
While there are many different supporting characters,
five archetypes appear most often: the villain, the love interest,
the BFF or sidekick, the mentor, and the fool.
This is because your supporting cast
shouldn’t be a mere afterthought.
These characters have an important
job: to support the development of
your main character. They exist to
increase the tension or present obstacles for your protagonist, to raise the
stakes of her struggle and add new layers of complexity to the conflict she
faces. Think of that WORST acronym
as you craft your supporting cast, and
ask yourself: “How can this character
create a worst-case scenario for my
main character?”
While there are many different supporting characters, five archetypes
appear most often: the villain, the love
interest, the BFF or sidekick, the mentor, and the fool. Not all of these will
appear in every story, and in some
cases the same character might
36 | The Writer • November 2017
day villain” – who contributes to the
conflict caused by that larger antagonist. Whether you are dealing with a
supervillain who is the source of all
conflict or an everyday villain who
makes another antagonist worse, this
character’s job is to create obstacles for
your protagonist and prevent him from
getting what he wants.
In most genres, the love interest
appears as part of a subplot and serves
to escalate the central conflict. Unless
you are writing a pure romance, finding love is usually not protagonist’s
main goal. Often, the love interest
comes into the story to raise the stakes
or becomes an obstacle between the
protagonist and her goal. For instance,
the romance between Katniss and
Peeta in the Hunger Games trilogy creates complications because only one
friends inevitably disagree, the
dynamic shifts into two against one,
leaving one character – often the protagonist – to hold his own against the
others. In the Harry Potter series, this
dynamic shifts constantly throughout
the seven books.
The mentor is an important archetype, but it’s also one that writers misuse the most. It’s tempting to make this
character too perfect and all-knowing,
especially since her role is to offer
guidance, but the archetype works best
when the advisor has both flaws that
harm and knowledge that helps the
protagonist. Be careful also not to
make the moments where the mentor
imparts nuggets of wisdom too convenient, or it will feel formulaic to your
readers. If the mentor intervenes every
time there is a question or struggle, it
Does the character still want it?
Does the character get what he/she wants?
“Be careful
what you
wish for...”
of Heart”
will seem as though the protagonist
has no agency in the story. Hold back
on those mentoring moments and let
the main character figure some things
out for himself.
The fool is perhaps the oldest supporting character archetype, going
back to Shakespeare (e.g. the Fool in
King Lear and Feste in Twelfth Night)
or the chorus in the plays of ancient
Greece. We also see this archetype in
contemporary work, with Haymitch of
the Hunger Games trilogy as a perfect
example. The fool’s job is simple: to tell
the main character what she needs to
know but does not want to hear. The
fool exists to challenge the protagonist’s belief system and nudge – sometimes even shove – her in the right
direction, though she often does not
heed the fool’s words until it is too late.
Remember that the supporting cast
exists to support the protagonist’s journey. As you develop these characters,
look at how you can use them to create
obstacles for the main character or
raise the stakes of the story.
Step 7: Resolve the journey
At last we reach the climax, the grand
finale of your story. By now, you have
established your protagonist’s deepest
desires and motivations, fleshed out
your character’s journey, and introduced a supporting cast. Now all you
need to do is tie it all together. While
it might seem that there are infinite
ways to resolve your story, there are
only four possible endings. These
depend on whether the protagonist
gets what he wants, and whether he
still wants it.
If, at the climax, your protagonist is
still pursuing that same desire he had
at the beginning, then there are only
two possible ways for the story to end:
either he gets what he wants or he
doesn’t (i.e. a happy or tragic ending,
respectively). On the other hand, if,
over the course of the story, your character’s desire has changed, then the
ending will need to adjust accordingly.
For instance, the protagonist might not
reach her original goal, but that’s OK
because it’s not really what she wanted
anyway. This is the “change of heart”
ending, because somewhere along the
way the main character realizes that
her true desire is not the thing she is
chasing, so she shifts her attention to a
new goal.
The opposite scenario is when a
character does get what he wants, but
it turns out not to be what he
expected. In this case, the protagonist’s
desire changes, but the outcome of his
quest does not. I call this the “be careful what you wish for” ending, and we
are more likely to see it in short stories
and novellas than in full-length novels. Since novels have a larger scope,
this be-careful-what-you-wish-for
moment usually occurs in the middle,
where the character realizes that he
doesn’t want that original thing and
changes course. In more compressed
pieces like short fiction or fables, however, we may see this realization at the
end of the story, where the protagonist
gets what he wants but decides he does
not want it anymore.
As you can see, both character and
plot must intertwine to create a compelling story. Character is your novel’s heart and soul, and while some
plot events may be outside your protagonist’s control, the story derives
from what your character wants and
the choices she makes in pursuit of
that goal.
Gabriela Pereira is the instigator of DIY MFA
and author of DIY MFA. Discover your storytelling superpower by going to
and taking the quiz. • The Writer | 37
Flash Fiction Online
This lit journal seeks sparkling writing, evocative storytelling, and
well-developed characters – all in less than 1,000 words.
uzanne W. Vincent, editor-inchief of Flash Fiction Online,
wants submissions that make
her feel like she’s reading
“Smooth and delicious,” she says of
the pieces that delight her. “I have
three top things I want to see in a story.
I want it to make me feel something. I
want the writing to sparkle and take
my breath away. And I want to see a
complete story.”
All this in just 500 to 1,000 words.
For the past decade, Vincent and
publisher Anna Yeatts have been showcasing the best flash fiction they can
find in an online magazine available to
subscribers in e-reader format or
online as individual downloadable stories for free.
Tone, editorial content
Editors consider fantasy and science
fiction stories, as well as mainstream
and literary submissions, horror and
crime pieces, and slipstream fiction,
which they define as “a relatively new
subgenre that ‘slips’ smoothly between
speculative genres, combining, for
example, horror and high fantasy, or
science fiction and steampunk.”
They gravitate toward stories from
writers of various races and ethnicities,
religions, abilities, genders, sexual orientations, and nationalities. In July
2017, they published “Elsewhere,” by
Meera Jhala, former professor of theoretical physics.
It begins: “Mrs. Bhatia was five when
the first colony began on Mathuria. On
her birthday, her father started a savings
account in her name and began working
38 | The Writer • November 2017
Editors consider fantasy and science fiction stories,
as well as mainstream and literary submissions,
horror and crime pieces, and slipstream fiction, which
they define as “a relatively new subgenre that ‘slips’
smoothly between speculative genres, combining, for
example, horror and high fantasy, or science fiction
and steampunk.”
nights and weekends to fund it. She was
sixteen when he got lung cancer, the
year before the government mandated
the use of respirators outdoors.”
“It’s a sort of science fantasy story
with vocabulary set in India,” Yeatts
says. “It’s about an older woman trying to travel to be with her son, and
she saves her money all of her life to
get to space to meet him. It’s heartbreaking. I could taste it, feel this
world just breathing.”
In 2015, Matthew F. Amati published
“The Cratch, Thy Keeper” in Flash Fic-
Genre: Fiction.
neon-orange residue onto our jeans
before we run.”
“She’s created a really interesting
magic system that we don’t see every
day,” Yeatts explains of “Brujitas.”
“Fantasy stories are not all elves and
Reading period: Varies; see website
for updates.
Advice for potential contributors
“Short stories for the modern
ONLINE. $9.99 yearly for PDF
Length: 500-1,000 words.
Submission format: Online through
Payment: $60/story.
Contact: Suzanne W. Vincent, editor-inchief,
tion Online. The independent film company Fancy Rhino bought the rights to
make it into a short horror film.
Aimee Picchi’s horror story “Errata
to The Fugue of the Undreamable
Abyss” appears in the July 2017 issue.
“It’s a romance and a horror story with
an element of dark speculative fiction,”
Yeatts says. “I cared about the character, and the writing is stunning and
evocative and lyrical. It’s not like anything I’ve ever read before.”
“Her writing is impeccable,” Vincent adds. “Every word counts. Every
word is important, which not only
adds to the story but adds to the artistry of the piece.”
That same issue also includes “Brujitas” by Shara Concepción, who
writes, “We stand by the bird till the
old witch sighs and closes her window; till the sun dips out behind the
fence, tinging the sky with blood and
gold; till orbs of jaundiced light undulate from streetlamps; till our grandmothers shout our names from
behind their gated windows, and our
stomachs coil like chains on bikes we
do not have. We place our last Cheetos near the bird’s gaping beak, wipe
Editors at Flash Fiction Online don’t
publish novel excerpts or stories with
graphic sex or gratuitous violence.
Yeatts looks for beautifully written
pieces that make her care about the
characters. “We don’t accept character
sketches or slice-of-life vignettes,” she
says. “We want a fully developed character arc and plotline. Think about a
powerful, tiny moment that’s really
going to affect readers. Then show a
powerful change in a character.”
“It breaks my heart when someone
ends up summarizing instead of telling a story,” Vincent adds. “Simplify
your plot and conflict. Simplify the
number of characters and the complexity of the characters so that you’re
not trying to cram a 3,000-word story
into 1,000 words.”
She tells writers to keep learning
and improving, whether they’re
emerging or have 20 books to their
name. The editors maintain a YouTube channel with short videos that
define flash fiction, teach writers to
avoid story clichés, and explain how
to approach publishers professionally
with a short piece.
“A writer who quits studying is
going to stagnate very quickly,” Vincent
cautions. “Visit writing websites and
participate in critique groups. Too
many authors isolate themselves.
They’re writing in this little box, and
they don’t reach out or get support
from other writers. It’s very valuable.”
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the
author of Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and
a consultant for Creator & Collector Services.
Stories. Everywhere.
Creative writing
classes in NYC
and Online.
GOTHAMWRITERS. COM • The Writer | 39
Nonfiction Writers Conference
This online-only seminar provides the same expert advice as a standard writing
conference – without all the travel, expenses, or long lines for coffee.
og onto a teleseminar at the
Nonfiction Writers Conference, and best-selling authors,
agents, editors, and marketers
speak their secrets right into your ears.
It’s a curious experience: The online
format of this annual event gives listeners access to lectures on everything
from how to record audiobooks to how
to use Instagram as a promotional tool,
all while you’re washing the dishes,
working out at the gym, walking the
dog, or just sitting at your computer.
Founder Stephanie Chandler, a frequent speaker at traditional writing
conferences, found herself frustrated at
the dearth of workshops and panels for
nonfiction writers. “Our needs and
challenges are often very different
from those of fiction writers, and we
need to have a community,” she
explains. “We have memoir writers,
people writing business books, books
about self-development, history, science.” In 2013, she launched the Nonfiction Authors Association, with
14,000 members to date, along with an
affiliated virtual conference.
The three-day event offers live teleseminars between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Pacific. Each session is 50 minutes long
with a 10-minute break in between
sessions and an hour-long break midday. For $125, participants can listen
live via phone and Skype numbers
worldwide and participate in real-time
question and answer sessions. Those
who prefer access to session recordings
pay $225, and those who want both
recordings and transcripts pay $325.
“It’s simple and flexible,” Chandler
says. “Maybe you schedule a little time
40 | The Writer • November 2017
to attend live, and then you listen to
the recording or read the transcripts
later. I don’t think everyone wants to
sit in front of a computer for three
days. I like podcast recordings I can
take to the gym.”
What you’ll learn
She notes that often nonfiction authors
don’t view writing as a craft the way that
fiction writers do. “A lot of them are
writing books to grow their business or
share their story to make a difference,”
she says. “They don’t view themselves as
writers. They need a different type of
guidance to get their book finished.”
One seminar during the 2017 conference focused on how to establish writing routines, set goals, and create plans
in order to complete a manuscript.
Another focused on self-publishing.
Several seminars covered various
aspects of marketing. “Marketing nonfiction is different from fiction,” Chandler explains. “It’s more about platform
and audience reach than about the
writer’s skill.”
Almost all the presenters offer
downloadable handouts, and most of
these are available for free on the conference website. “Our speakers offer
content-rich presentations,” Chandler
says. “It’s not about them pushing their
businesses and services. They’re delivering value to our attendees. That’s hugely
important to me, and attendees love it.”
Featured presenters
In 2017, best-selling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin gave the opening
Nonfiction Writing Conference
DATES: May 2-4, 2018
COST: $125-$325
CONTACT: Stephanie Chandler, conference founder, 11230 Gold Express Dr.,
#310-413 Gold River, CA 95670,
keynote, and literary publicist Stephanie Barko taught a course on book
publicity in the digital age, focusing on
how to harness the power of Facebook,
Twitter, and the like. “You have to use
social media,” Chandler says. “It’s not a
fad, and it’s not going away. You don’t
have to use all the networks – just pick
one or two and do them really well.”
SheWrites founder Brooke Warner
taught a teleseminar titled “Self Publishing 101,” and Jeff Kleinman taught
“Land that Book Deal, a Literary
Agent’s Perspective.”
In 2017, Chandler launched a conference feature called “Ask a Pro.”
Attendees could sign up for a 15-minute phone consultation with a literary
agent, writing and/or marketing coach,
or other professional. “It was wildly
popular with both attendees and pros,
and we’ll do it again in 2018,” she says.
private online group where they can
discuss speakers and content. Staff
also live-tweet and share information
on Facebook.
Chandler tells first-time attendees
to take a lot of notes and ask questions.
“Try to be fully present during the
event, if possible,” she adds. “We pack a
lot of content into the three-day event,
and if you want to get the most value
possible from attending live, make sure
you’ve got the time and energy to
devote to participating. And if you
can’t do that, you can still opt for
recordings and transcripts so you can
participate on your own schedule.”
Advice for first-timers
There are numerous ways to connect
and network with fellow participants
and instructors during and after the
conference. Attendees are invited to a
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is a frequent conference presenter and an editor/consultant at Creator & Collector Services. Web: • The Writer | 41
Take a chance
Writing contests keep your mind fresh, your writing skills sharp, and
your creativity pumping. And winning could score you new readers,
notoriety, and even some extra cash. The following contests are a
small sampling of what the industry has to offer. Find more listings at
Review. Contact: The Madison Review. Email
from website.
F THE CLARION SHORT STORY PRIZE Submit unpublished works of fiction no longer than
2,400 words. Writers should be under the age of 30
or enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program; or have completed such a program within the
last two years. Submit through online submission
manager or regular mail. Deadline: Dec. 31. Entry
fee: $15. Prizes: At least $150 and publishing consultation. Contact: Clarion, c/o Pen & Anvil Press,
Information in this section is provided to
The Writer by the individual markets and
events; for more information, contact
those entities directly.
Subscribers to The Writer have online access to
information on publishers, publications,
online form or regular mail. Deadline: See web-
P.O. Box 15274, Boston, MA 02215.
site. Entry fee: £8 per story. Prizes: See website.
Contact: Bristol Short Story Prize, Unit 5.16,
Paintworks, Bath Rd., Bristol BS4 3EH, UK.
CHAPBOOK CONTEST Submit 12-20 pages of
poetry by email or regular mail. Final judge of the
competition is Heather McNaugher, poet and
conferences, contests and agents. Go to
teacher at Chatham University. Deadline: Nov. 1.
tional competition for unpublished and self-pub-
Entry fee: $20. Prizes: Publication and $1,000.
lished debut novels. Submit the first 20 pages of a
Contact: Autumn House Press, Coal Hill Review
novel (at least 50,000 words) with a 200-word syn-
Chapbook Contest, P.O. Box 5486, Pittsburgh, PA
opsis. Shortlist judge is Madeleine Milburn, Liter-
F THE BIG MOOSE PRIZE Submit unpublished
Literary, TV & Film Agency. Deadline: Nov. 1.
novel through online submission manager only.
Entry fee: £25. Prizes: £1,000 and trophy. Con-
mit up to three poems or a short story or essay
Manuscripts should be 90-1,000 pages in length.
tact: The Caledonia Novel Award, 22 Hillpark
(maximum 25 pages) during the month of January.
Open to new, emerging, and established writers.
Grove, Edinburgh, EH4 7AP, Scotland.
Submit through online submission manager. Dead-
Entry through Submittable. Deadline: Jan. 31.
line: Jan. 31. Entry fee: $20 (includes subscription
Entry fee: $25. Prizes: $1,000 and publication.
to Crazyhorse). Prizes: Publication and $2,000 and click on Writing Resources.
F = Fiction N = Nonfiction P = Poetry
C = Children’s Y = Young adult O = Other
ary Agent and Director of Madeleine Milburn
awarded in each genre. Contact: Crazyhorse,
Contact: Black Lawrence Press. editors@blackF CATHERINE DOCTOROW INNOVATIVE
Department of English, College of Charleston, 66
FICTION PRIZE Open to any U.S. writer in Eng-
George St., Charleston, SC 29424. 843-953-4470.
lish with at least three books of fiction published
CONTEST Submit one short story or creative
who has not published with Fiction Collective
nonfiction piece, max 5,000 words, or up to three
Two. Seeks “fiction considered by America’s larg-
poems. All entrants receive a copy of the 2017 edi-
est publishers too challenging, innovative, or het-
scripts between 500 and 5,000 words, but stories
tion of The Briar Cliff Review. Deadline: Nov. 1.
erodox for the commercial milieu.” Submissions
falling slightly outside this range will also be con-
Entry fee: $20. Prizes: $1,000 in each of the three
may include a collection of short stories, one or
sidered. Submit by online submissions manager or
categories and publication in the 2017 issue of The
more novellas, or a novel of any length. Transla-
regular mail. Deadline: Submissions accepted year-
Briar Cliff Review. Contact: Tricia Currans-Shee-
tions and previously published or self-published
round. Entry fee: $20. Prizes: $1,000 and publica-
han, editor, The Briar Cliff Review, 3303 Rebecca
novels and collections are ineligible. Electronic
tion in Tampa Review. Contact: Tampa Review,
St., Sioux City, IA 51104. 712-279-1651. Email
submissions only. Deadline: Nov. 1. Entry fee:
Danahy Fiction Prize, The University of Tampa,
from website.
$25. Prizes: $15,000 and publication by FC2.
401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, FL 33606. 813-253-
Contact: University of Alabama Press, P.O. Box
870380, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487. 773-702-7000.
tional short story competition for publication in
F N P DECEMBER AWARDS Submit one short
story or essay, maximum 8,000 words, or up to
an annual anthology. Open to all writers over the
age of 16. Maximum 4,000 words. Stories can be
on any theme, subject, or style, including graphic,
mit one short story, max 30 pages, through online
manager or regular mail. Prizes: $1,500 first place
verse, or genre-based (crime, science fiction, fan-
submission manager. Deadline: Nov. 1. Entry fee:
and $500 honorable mention in each category.
tasy, historical, romance, children’s, etc.) Enter via
$2. Prizes: $1,000 and publication in The Madison
Winners will also receive publication. Deadline:
42 | The Writer • November 2017
three poems. Send through online submission
See website. Entry fee: $20. Contact: Gianna
requests for alternative submission methods will
Genre. Contact: Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay
Jacobson, editor. december, P.O. Box 16130, St.
be determined on a case-by-case basis. Deadline:
Prize, Michigan State University Press, Suite 25,
Louis, MO 63105. Email from website.
Jan. 31. Entry fee: None. Prizes: Both winners will
Manly Miles Building, 1405 South Harrison Road,
receive $500, a $300 travel stipend for the NFSPS
East Lansing, MI 48823-5245. 517-355-9543.
Convention, chapbook publication, and 75 copies
of chapbook. Contact: Shirley Blackwell, CUP
unpublished story up to 6,000 words via online
Chair, P.O. Box 1352, Los Lumas, NM 87031.
submission manager or regular mail. Open to
CONTEST Submit maximum 3,000 words of
prose or five poems per entry. Guest judge Bruce
legal residents of North Carolina or members of
the North Carolina Writers’ Network and North
Hunter. Electronic and mailed entries accepted.
Carolina Literary Review subscribers with North
grand prize for general excellence in addition to
Deadline: Dec. 31. Entry fee: $25 (includes one
Carolina connections. Deadline: Feb. 15. Entry
awards for thought-provoking books and debut
year subscription). Prizes: Publication in Freefall
fee: $20; $10 for subscribers or members of the
authors. Books must be from an academic, small,
and $500/$250/$75/$25 in both poetry and fiction
North Carolina Writers’ Network. Prizes: $250
or micro press or self-published. Nominate by
categories. Contact: FreeFall c/o AWCS, @cSpace
and publication in North Carolina Literary
mail only. Deadline: Jan. 21. Entry fee: $55.
King Edward, 460, 1721, 29th Ave. SW, Calgary,
Review. Contact: Ed Southern, P.O. Box 21591,
Prizes: $2,000 grand prize. Contact: Hopewell
Alberta T2T 6T7.
Winston-Salem, NC 27120. Margaret Bauer, edi-
Publications, P.O. Box 11, Titusville, NJ 08560.
P DORSET PRIZE Submit a previously unpub-
STORY CONTEST Submit a postcard with an
lished, full-length poetry manuscript. No manda-
TIVE FICTION CONTEST Seeks “fiction con-
original story up to 500 words that relates to the
tory page count; 48 to 88 pages suggested. Submit
sidered by America’s largest publishers too
image. Fiction or nonfiction accepted. Submit by
by online submission manager or regular mail.
challenging, innovative, or heterodox for the com-
mail or online submission manager. Deadline: See
Deadline: Dec. 31. Entry fee: $28 per submission.
mercial milieu.” Submit a collection of short sto-
website. Entry fee: $20 for first entry; $5 each addi-
Prizes: $3,000 plus publication by Tupelo Press, 20
ries, one or more novellas, or a novel of any length.
tional entry. Includes 1-year subscription to Geist.
copies of the winning title, a week-long residency
Works that have previously appeared in magazines
Prizes: $500/$250/$150 and publication in Geist
at MASS MoCA, a book launch, and national dis-
or in anthologies may be included. Translations
and online. Contact: Geist Literal Literary Postcard
tribution. Contact: Tupelo Press Dorset Prize, P.O.
and previously published or self-published novels
Story Contest, Suite 210, 111 W. Hastings St., Van-
Box 1767, North Adams, MA 01247. 413-664-9611.
and collections are not eligible. Electronic submis-
couver, BC V6B 1H4, Canada. 604-681-9161.
sions only. Deadline: Nov. 1. Entry fee: $25.
Prizes: $1,500 and publication by FC2. Contact:
University of Alabama Press, P.O. Box 870380,
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487. 773-702-7000.
tests held all year round with various themes.
Word counts 1,500-20,000 and categories include
PRIZE Awarded to poets of color who have not
previously published a book-length volume of
family matters, open fiction, and short story
poetry. Submit 25-35 page manuscript through
ING CONTEST Seeking submissions of original,
award for new writers. Deadline: Varies. Entry
regular mail. Deadline: Dec. 31. Entry fee: $15.
unpublished manuscripts appropriate for infants
fee: Up to $21. Prizes: Range from $700 to $3000.
Prizes: $350, publication by Northwestern Uni-
through 5-year-olds. Works must be 600 words or
Contact: Glimmer Train Press, P.O. Box 80430,
versity Press, 15 copies of the book, and a featured
less. Deadline: Oct. 15. Entry fee: $50 before Aug.
Portland, OR 97280. 503-221-0836.
reading. Contact: Poetry and Poetics Colloquium,
31. $75 from Sept. 1 through Sept. 15. $100 after
Northwestern University Department of English,
Sept. 15. Prizes: The author of the winning manu-
University Hall 215, 1897 Sheridan Rd., Evanston,
script will have his or her book professionally illus-
IL 60208.
trated, published, and promoted by Southwest
25 pages of prose or 10 pages of poetry. All manu-
Human Development. $1,000 advance and 8% roy-
scripts are considered for publication. Submit
alties on book sales. Contact: Leslie Croy. 602- 808-
through online submission manager only during
the month of January. Deadline: Jan. 31. Entry
fee: $20. Prizes: Winners receive $1,500. First
runners-up receive $750. Also includes publica-
AWARD Open to college undergraduates only.
PRIZE Seeks the best creative nonfiction essay for
tion. Contact: The Iowa Review, 308 English-Phi-
Submit manuscript of 10 original, unpublished
annual prize. Max 6,000 words. Submit by online
losophy Building, University of Iowa, Iowa City,
poems. Each poem must be no more than 80 lines.
submission portal. Deadline: March 15. Entry
IA 52242. 319-335-0462.
Submit via online submission portal; special
fee: $22. Prizes: $1,000 and publication in Fourth • The Writer | 43
$1,000 and publication. Contact: The New Issues
SHIP Awarded annually to an American author of a
TION AND NONFICTION Submit stories or
Poetry Prize, New Issues Poetry & Prose, Western
first novel-in-progress. Submit via regular mail or
essays of up to 6,000 words via online submission
Michigan University, 1903 W. Michigan Ave.,
online submission form. Submit a two-page (maxi-
manager. Deadline: Jan. 31. Entry fee: $18
Kalamazoo, MI 49008. 269-387-8185.
mum) outline of the entire novel and the first 50
(includes one-year subscription). Prizes: $1,000 in
pages. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: $30 check
each category and publication in The Chattahoochee
or money order, payable to Wilkes University. Add
Review. Contact: The Chattahoochee Review.
$3 processing fee for online submissions. Prizes:
AWARDS Submit entries to the writing contests in
fiction, flash fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Fiction
$10,000 first place, $1,000 for second place, one
honorable mention. Contact: James Jones First
and nonfiction: submit up to 6,000 words; flash fic-
Novel Fellowship, c/o MA/MFA in Creative Writing,
Submit 1-10 unpublished poems up to 2,000
tion up to 1,000 words. Poetry: submit one to three
Wilkes University, 84 W. South St., Wilkes-Barre, PA
words total, with food as an ingredient. All styles
poems, up to a total of five pages. Submit from
welcome. Submit via regular mail or online sub-
website or post mail. Deadline: Check website.
mission manager. Deadline: March 15. Entry fee:
Entry fee: $20 per submission, with a discount
$10 for 1-6 poems; $15 for 10 poems. Prizes:
after two. Prizes: $1,000 in each category and pub-
mit up to three unpublished poems online or by
$500. All entries considered for publication. Con-
lication. Contact: New Millennium Writings.
regular mail. Deadline: Check website. Entry fee:
tact: Literal Latté Food Verse Contest, 200 E. 10th
Email from website.
$10. All entrants receive a copy of Mid-American
St., Suite 240, New York, NY 10003. 212-260-
Review. Prizes: $1,000 and publication in Mid-
5532. Email from website.
VERSE CONTEST Submit previously unpub-
American Review. Contact: Mid-American
Review, Department of English, Bowling Green
P LONG POEM PRIZE Submit a single poem or
lished poems of any length “that make an occasion
State University, Bowling Green, OH 43403.
cycle of poems, 10-20 pages. A page is up to 36
of something or simply mark one.” Open to Cana-
lines (or fewer), including breaks between stanzas.
dians or current residents of Canada. Submit from
Submit by email or regular mail. This contest runs
website. Deadline: Check website. Entry fee: $40
every other year, and the next deadline will be in
for three poems (includes subscription to The New
AWARDS Submit an unpublished story, max
2019. Deadline: Feb. 5. Entry fee: $35 CAD for
Quarterly). Prizes: $1,000 first prize; an additional
10,000 words, by regular mail or online submis-
Canadian entries, $40 U.S. for American entries.
$1,000 will be distributed at the judges’ discretion.
sion manager. All subjects and styles welcome.
Includes one-year subscription to The Malahat
All submissions considered for paid publication.
Deadline: Jan. 15. Entry fee: $10 per story or $15
Review. Prizes: Two awards of $1,000 CAD and
Contact: The Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse
for two stories. Prizes: $1,000 for first prize, $300
publication. Contact: The Malahat Review, Uni-
Contest, The New Quarterly, c/o St. Jerome’s, 290
for second, $200 for third. All entries considered
versity of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, Stn CSC, Victo-
Westmount Rd. N., Waterloo, ON N2L 3G3. 519-
for publication. Contact: Literal Latté Awards, 200
ria, B.C. V8W 2Y2, Canada. 250-721-8524.
884-8111 x28290.
E. 10th St., Suite 240, New York, NY 10003. 212-
260-5532. Email from website.
NOVEL Submit previously unpublished novel,
fiction, 1,000 to 8,000 words, or 3-5 poems totaling
novella, or collection of closely linked short sto-
FUTURE CONTEST Awards short fiction up to
10 pages or fewer by regular mail or online submis-
ries. Open to English-writing, U.S. residents who
17,000 words written by emerging sci-fi, fantasy,
sion manager. Deadline: Jan. 1. Entry fee: $15 or
have not yet published a novel. No self-published
and dark fantasy writers. The contest is open only
$16 for online (includes a copy of the prize issue).
manuscripts. Deadline: Nov. 1. Entry fee: $30.
to those who have not professionally published a
Prizes: $1,000 in both categories and publication
Prizes: $2,000 and publication by Southeast Mis-
novel or short novel, or more than one novelette,
in The Mississippi Review. Contact: Mississippi
souri State University Press. Contact: Southeast
or more than three short stories, in any medium.
Review Prize 2018, 118 College Dr. #5144, Hatties-
Missouri State University Press, Nilsen Literary
Submit by regular mail or online. Deadline:
burg, Mississippi 39406.
Prize for a First Novel, One University Plaza, MS
Quarterly. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $1,000 first
2650, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701.
prize awarded each quarter; one of these winners
also receives the $5,000 annual “Gold Award”
grand prize. Each quarter, second place receives
poetry manuscript of at least 40 pages by regular
$750 and third place receives $500. Contact: L.
mail or submission manager. Open to poets writ-
TEST) Open for all writers with no limitations on
Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest,
ing in English who have not previously published
the amount of poetry a writer has published. Mini-
7051 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028.
or self-published a full-length collection (40+
mum 40, maximum 120 pages. Most manuscripts
Joni Labaqui, contest director. 323-466-3310 ext.
pages) of poems. This year’s judge is Cathy Park
are 40-80 pages long. Submissions open Nov. 11 by
1200. Email via website.
Hong. Deadline: Dec. 30. Entry fee: $25. Prizes:
regular mail or online submission manager. Judged
44 | The Writer • November 2017
by Arthur Sze. Deadline: Dec. 31. Entry fee: $27.
R3B 1H3, Canada. 204-943-9066.
looking for works of fiction and nonfiction of any
Prizes: $3,000 and publication. Contact: Omni-
genre that may be flying under the radar. Deadline: Check website. Entry fee: $30. Prizes: 1st
dawn Open (Poetry Book Contest), Omnidawn
Publishing, 1632 Elm Ave., Richmond, CA 94805.
prize: $1,500; 1st runner-up $1,000; 2nd runner-
NON-FICTION CONTEST Submit one piece of
up $1,000. Plus an offer of a book contract with
creative nonfiction up to 6,000 words through
SFWP. Contact: SFWP, 369 Montezuma Ave.
online submission manager or by regular mail.
#350, Santa Fe, NM 87501.
Deadline: Check website. Entry fee: $40 U.S.
three poems (100 lines max for each poem), or
entries, $35 Canadian entries. $5 each additional
short fiction or creative nonfiction (max 2,500
entry. Entry fee includes a one-year subscription to
words). Send entries by email or regular mail.
PRISM international. Prizes: $1,500 grand prize,
AWARDS Over $500 will be awarded to up-and-
Deadline: Nov. 1. Entry fee: $40 for U.S. entries,
$600 runner-up, $400 second runner-up and possi-
coming writers and poets. The contest will accept
$35 CAD for Canadian entries. Entrants receive a
ble publication. Contact: Jessica Johns, PRISM
both prose (fiction and creative nonfiction up to
one-year subscription to The Malahat Review.
international, Creative Writing Program, UBC,
12,000 words) and poetry (up to 50 lines) submis-
Prizes: $1,500 in each category and publication in
Buch. E462 – 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T
sions, with first-prize winners selected in each
The Malahat Review. Contact: The Malahat
1Z1, Canada.
genre. Up to three poems per submission. Submit
Review, Open Season Awards, University of Vic-
via online submission manager. Deadline: Oct.
15, dependent on submission volume. Entry fee:
toria, P.O. Box 1700, Stn CSC, Victoria, B.C. V8W
2Y2, Canada. 250-721-8524.
$15. Prizes: Two first-prize winners (one fiction,
one poetry) will win $200 each. Minimum of two
piece of fiction up to 6,000 words. Send through
runners-up per genre will win between $25 and
online submission manager or by regular mail.
$50. Contact:
POETRY Submit three previously unpublished
Deadline: Jan. 15. Entry fee: $40 U.S. entries, $35
poems, max 15 pages total, through online sub-
Canadian entries. $5 each additional entry. Entry
mission manager. Deadline: Nov. 1. Entry fee: $2.
fee includes a one-year subscription to PRISM
Prizes: $1,000 and publication in The Madison
international. Prizes: $1,500 grand prize, $600
AWARD Submit one fiction story up to 6,000
Review. Contact: The Madison Review. Email
runner-up, $400 second runner-up and possible
words online or by regular mail. Deadline: Nov. 15.
from website.
publication. Contact: Jessica Johns, PRISM inter-
Entry fee: $10. All entrants receive a copy of Mid-
national, Creative Writing Program, UBC, Buch.
American Review. Prizes: $1,000 and publication in
E462 – 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1,
Mid-American Review. Contact: Mid-American
ER’S CONTEST Open to writers who have yet
Review, Department of English, Bowling Green
to publish a book, including chapbooks, eBooks,
State University, Bowling Green, OH 43403.
and self-published works. Fiction or nonfiction
under 6,000 words or between 3-5 pages of poetry
accepted. Submit via online submission form
CONTEST Seeks nonfiction outside realm of
starting March 1. Deadline: Check website. Entry
conventional journalism and relevant to North
ING WRITERS Open to writers who have not
fee: $24, includes a year’s subscription to Plough-
Carolinians. Open to legal residents of North Car-
yet published a book of fiction, poetry, or creative
shares. Current subscribers may submit for free.
olina or members of the NC Writers’ Network.
nonfiction with a nationally distributed press.
Prizes: The winner of each category will receive
Subjects may include reviews, travel articles, pro-
Submit fiction story up to 8,000 words through
$2,000 and publication in the winter issue of
files, interviews, historical pieces, or culture criti-
online submission manager or regular mail.
Ploughshares. Contact: Ploughshares, Emerson
cism. Submit by regular mail or through online
Deadline: Dec. 31. Entry fee: $16 and includes a
College, 120 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02116.
submission manager. Deadline: Jan. 15. Entry
one-year subscription to Boulevard. Prizes:
fee: $10 for NC Writers’ Network members, $12
$1,500 and publication in Boulevard. Contact:
for nonmembers. Prizes: $1,000/$300/$200. The
Boulevard Emerging Writers Contest, PMB 325,
winning entry will be considered for publication
6614 Clayton Rd., Richmond Heights, MO 63117.
fiction up to 10,000 words, creative nonfiction up
by Ecotone magazine. Contact: North Carolina
to 5,000 words, or 1-3 poems up to a maximum of
Writers’ Network, ATTN: Rose Post, P.O. Box
150 lines. Submit by postal mail only. Deadline:
21591, Winston-Salem, NC 27120. 336-293-8844.
Nov. 30. Entry fee: $32 per submission. Includes
in each genre and publication. Contact: Prairie
tion of poetry and social justice. Submit up to three
Fire Contests, 423-100 Arthur St., Winnipeg, MB
ARY AWARDS PROGRAM An annual contest
previously unpublished poems, no more than six
POETRY CONTEST Seeks poems at the intersec-
one-year subscription. Prizes: $1,250/$500/$250 • The Writer | 45
pages total, through online submission manager.
(includes subscription to Third Coast). Prizes:
Richmond, VA 23284.
Judged by Sonia Sanchez. Deadline: Nov. 1. Entry
$1,000 in each genre and publication. Contact:
fee: $20. Prizes: First place $500; second and third
Third Coast Contests, Western Michigan Univer-
place, $250 each. Winning poems will be published
sity, English Department, Kalamazoo, MI 49008.
P WALT WHITMAN AWARD Given to a poet
on Split This Rock’s website and in The Quarry: A
who has not published a book-length collection of
Social Justice Poetry Database. Winners will
poems. Submit 48-100 pages of poems. Online
submissions only. Deadline: Nov. 1. Entry fee:
receive free festival registration, and the first place
winner will be invited to read the winning poem at
$35. Prizes: $5,000, publication by Graywolf Press
the Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Contact: Split
all writers. Submit two copies of an unpublished
and an all-expenses-paid six-week residency at
This Rock, 1301 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 600
fiction manuscript up to 3,000 words. Deadline:
the Civitella Ranieri Center in the Umbrian
Washington, DC 20036. 202-787-5210.
Jan. 30. Entry fee: $25; $15 for North Carolina
region of Italy. Contact: Academy of American
Writers’ Network members. Prizes: $1,000 and
Poets, 75 Maiden Ln., Suite 901, New York, NY
possible publication in The Thomas Wolfe Review.
10038. Patricia Guzman, Programs Coordinator.
Contact: Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, Great
212-274-0343, ext. 13.
Smokies Writing Program, Attn: Nancy Williams,
Submit one original short story up to 7,000 words.
One University Hts., UNC Asheville, NC 28804.
Open only to writers who have not yet published
P WERGLE FLOMP HUMOR POETRY CONTEST Submit published or unpublished humor
or self-published a book of fiction. Online submissions preferred. This year’s judge is Jennifer
poem with a maximum of 250 lines through
Haigh. Deadline: Nov. 30. Entry fee: $25. Prizes:
AWARD Submit 800-word synopsis of or a one-
online submission manager. Judged by Jendi
Grand prize is $1,500, domestic airfare (up to
page proposal for an unpublished novel or cre-
Reiter and Lauren Singer. Deadline: April 1.
$500), and accommodations to attend the festival
ative/narrative nonfiction book, minimum 50,000
Entry fee: None. Prizes: $1,000 for first prize,
in New Orleans, VIP all-access festival pass for
words, in any genre or style with broad appeal,
$250 for second prize and 10 honorable mention
the next festival, public reading at a literary panel
along with first 25 pages. Submit online or via
awards of $100 each. Contact: Winning Writers,
at the next festival, and publication in Louisiana
email. Deadline: Check website. Entry fee: $25.
351 Pleasant St., PMB 222, Northampton, MA
Literature. Contact: Fiction Contest, 938 Lafayette
Prizes: $1,000. Contact: Northern Colorado
01060. 866-946-9748. Adam Cohen, president.
St., Suite 514, New Orleans, LA 70113. 504-581-
Submit to one of four divisions: nonfiction, fiction,
mit poetry, any style, up to 500 words. Submit
children’s literature, or poetry. Enter by postal mail
TEST Submit a one-act play that runs no more
short fiction up to 1,500 words. Open to all writ-
or email. Deadline: March 15. Entry fee: $5 for
than one hour in length (one act). Plays must not
ers. Submit online. Deadline: Check website.
members of the Writers-Editors Network, $10 for
have been previously produced, published, per-
Entry fee: $15 CAD for each story or poem.
nonmembers for one poem; or $10 for members
formed, or patronized in any way. Online submis-
Prizes: $500 and publication for first place; $350
for three poems or $15 for nonmembers. $10 for
sions preferred. Deadline: Nov. 1. Entry fee: $25.
for second. Contact: Vancouver Writers Fest,
members, $20 nonmembers for submissions of fic-
Prizes: Grand prize is $1,500, professional staged
202–1398 Cartwright St., Vancouver, BC V6H
tion and nonfiction and children’s story or book
reading at the next festival, VIP all-access festival
3R8. 604-681-6330.
chapter. Prizes: In each category: First place $150,
pass for two years, and publication in Bayou. The
second $100, third $75. Contact: Writers-Editors
Contest, P.O. Box A, North Stratford, NH 03590.
top nine finalists will receive a panel pass to the
festival. Contact: One-Act Play Contest, Tennes-
see Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, 938
Recognizes a rising talent who has published a
Lafayette St., Suite 514, New Orleans, LA 70113.
first novel in 2017 in the U.S. Self-published nov-
els and books available in e-formats only are not
eligible. Submit three copies by regular mail only.
to poets who have not published a book of poetry.
Deadline: Books published July through Decem-
Submit a poetry manuscript, 48-64 pages. Electronic
ber 2017: Jan. 14, 2018. Prizes: $5,000 and travel
submissions preferred. This year’s judge is Carl Phil-
CONTEST Send up to three poems in one file or
to Virginia Commonwealth University for a read-
lips. Deadline: Nov. 15. Entry fee: $25. Prizes: Pub-
a short story of up to 9,000 words. Submit previ-
ing and reception. Contact: VCU Cabell First
lication with royalties. Contact: Yale Series of
ously unpublished work through online submis-
Novelist Award, Department of English, 900 Park
Younger Poets, P.O. Box 209040, New Haven, CT
sion manager. Deadline: Jan. 15. Entry fee: $16
Ave., Hibbs Hall, Room 306, P.O. Box 842005,
46 | The Writer • November 2017
READERS should use caution when entering into any
legal contract with a literary service offering agentingtype assistance; publishers who charge, rather than
pay, an author for publication; publishers who require
a purchase before publication and contests that charge
high entrance fees. The Writer also recommends
requesting a list of references and submission
guidelines before submitting a manuscript. If you have
any concerns regarding the advertiser’s commitment
or claims, please contact the advertiser and make
certain all questions are answered to your satisfaction.
ADVERTISERS We do not accept ads from agents
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especially for first time advertisers. Examples
include—Contests: Fee requirements, prizes and if
purchase is necessary to qualify; Correspondence
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critiqued assignment, documentation if course
is accredited; Editing Services: Resumes showing
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PROFESSIONAL EDITOR, Award-winning Author
(Bantam, Berkley/Ace, others) offers extensive
critiques, respectful in-depth editing. Fiction, nonfiction, juvenile/YA. Carol Gaskin 941-377-7640.
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9971 Cabanas Ave., Tujunga CA 91042 • The Writer | 47
Mike Rowe
ou’re probably familiar
with Mike Rowe as the host
of the television shows
Dirty Jobs and Somebody’s
Gotta Do It. Or maybe you’ve heard his
recognizable voice from his work as a
television narrator. What you may not
know is that he’s also a talented writer
who quickly found an enthusiastic
audience with his podcast, The Way I
Heard It.
The podcast bills itself as “a series
of short mysteries for the curious
mind with a short attention span.” In
each episode, he deftly weaves a highly
interesting narrative in the short time
span of about five minutes. These captivating stories about notable figures,
pop culture, and history have attracted
a dedicated following. A natural storyteller, Rowe brings these narratives to
life, building suspense and intrigue
along the way. Using vivid and
descriptive prose, these tales transport
the listener on a journey that captivates from the beginning to the ultimate big reveal at the end. The Way I
Heard It continues to grow in popularity, reaching a monthly audience of
almost 2 million.
Each idea starts with a familiar subject – usually a person but sometimes
a historical event. The stories, however, are written in reverse, so that
the subject is not revealed until the
last sentence.
In other words, I try to tell the story
of something familiar in a totally unfamiliar way, usually by deconstructing a
pivotal moment in their early life, or
finding some kind of ironic parallel or
juxtaposition of past events that the
listener can relate to personally.
48 | The Writer • November 2017
I think Paul Harvey was the first one to
successfully combine biography with
mystery. He called his broadcast “The
Rest of the Story,” and once you started
listening to one, there was simply no
way you could turn the radio off before
you heard him say, “And now you
know the rest of the story!” I loved
that. I’m also inspired, from a structural standpoint, by a show called
“Black Mirror,” which is a fresh take on
“The Twilight Zone.” It’s some of the
best writing on television today and a
great example of misdirecting, but
never at the expense of fact or story.
I’ve never had much luck trying to
please a specific audience. I write for
myself, in the hope that enough people will be interested and amused by
the same things that interest and
amuse me. People who watch my
shows know that’s a recurring theme. I
work for the audience, but the minute
I treat them like my boss, the relationship falls apart.
Building suspense
In this format, the suspense is easy
because every story ends with a reveal.
The real trick is to write these in a way
that [they] offer a different experience
when you listen to them for the second
time. Also, because I record these
myself, I can do a lot vocally to drive
the story along. That’s a huge help –
knowing that I’ll be reading what I
write out loud.
I’ve never completed anything that I
would describe as finished. I’ll pick
away at a thing forever, sometimes
making it better, sometimes making it
worse. It’s really a process without
end, which is why the most important
part of my process is the deadline.
Knowing I have to record one of
these every week is the only reason
I’ve been able to write a hundred.
Otherwise, I’d still be noodling episode one.
Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based
in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Get The Writer on your favorite mobile device!
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At last!
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0 off
l tak WRUGH:U
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\RXse discoun 17
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Wrthitru 11/30/1
(see the link on our homepage,
You can't find this in print.
A transcript of “The Way I Heard It”
Private Rodman appeared to be constipated. His expression was one of perpetual concentration, punctuated from
time to time by a crooked smile that
often appeared, apropos of nothing.
His best friend on the other hand,
Private Levy, was the undisputed life of
the platoon. A consummate storyteller, Private Levy could transport his
fellow soldiers out of this godforsaken
jungle with a simple tale. Indeed, Melvin Levy’s love of a good story would
not only impact the lives of his fellow
soldiers - it would launch the careers
of Dennis Hopper and Robert Redford.
Robert Duvall and Lee Marvin. William Shatner, Peter Falk, Elizabeth
Montgomery, Jack Klugman, Carol
Burnett…the list goes on. In fact, you
could argue that shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and many other
other modern classics would have
never come to be, without the extraordinary contribution of this 20-year old
Private in the second world war.
Of the many stories told by Private
Levy though, his most impactful
unfolded beneath a palm tree, on the
bloody beach of a tiny island that most
Americans had never heard of. Private
Rodman was there that day, December
18th, 1944, along with the rest of the
platoon, hanging onto Melvin Levy’s
every word. The boys of the 511th had
spent the last week fighting their way
through the jungle, crawling through
mud, slithering under barbed wire, and
dying in record numbers. They’d lost
50% of their original compliment, and
yet, there in the midst of all that madness and mayhem stood Private Levy,
holding court under a palm tree in the
tropical heat, weaving his spell and getting laughs in a place where laughter
was not among the indigenous sounds.
Private Rodman stood off to the side
and marveled at his friends ability,
smiling his crooked smile, and looking
vaguely constipated.
Meanwhile, 600 feet above their
heads, and maybe a quarter mile to the
south, the bombardier opened the
doors of the DC-3. The payload left the
plane cleanly, and began to accelerate
with the velocity one might associate
with a 4,200 pound crate of K-rations,
dry sausages, chocolate bars, and hard
biscuits. The boys called them “Biscuit
Bombs,” and with no supply lines to rely
upon, these lifesavers floated down
from the skies with great anticipation.
Six hundred feet below, the 511th
was spellbound, as Private Levy
warmed up to the climax of his tale.
All of his stories seemed to have a surprising twist at the end, and the men
had no idea where this one headed.
For a few brief moments, the
exhausted soldiers forgot all about the
enemy that still surrounded them, as
well as their gnawing hunger. They
allowed themselves to get lost in Private Levy’s unpredictable narrative.
Four hundred feet above the beach,
the parachute on the biscuit bomb
failed to deploy. A hundred feet after
that, two tons of airborne grub reached
terminal velocity. A hundred feet later,
Private Levy uttered a surprising and
hysterical punchline. The men dissolved into fits of laughter and broke
into applause. Then, Private Levy took
a few steps toward Private Rodman,
and asked to bum a cigarette. Rodman
handed him the one he’d just lit, and
fished another out of his fatigues.
At that point, the Biscuit Bomb was
20 feet above the beach, and moving at
roughly 200 mph. A moment later, it
landed directly on Private Levy, and
that was that. The 20-year old soldier
was pulverized by a care package
meant to save his life.
And thus, the man who would
transform television, did so not by
forming a legendary studio or talent
agency - he did so by dying a few feet
in front of his best friend, in the most
ironic manner imaginable.
That evening, Private Rodman - the
only other Jew in the platoon - wrote a
eulogy for Private Levy. The next
morning, he read that eulogy to the
rest of the platoon in his rich, wellmodulated baritone. His words, carefully measured and delivered with
great deliberation, articulated the
underlying dread of living in a world
utterly beyond his understanding - a
world where certainty was simply not
for sale. A world, where a giant box of
biscuits could plummet from the heavens and decapitate your best friend.
War changes people, and Private
Rodman was forever changed by the
unlikely demise of Private Melvin Levy.
Private Rodman would retain his
crooked smile, his stilted delivery, and
that vague look of chronic constipation, but from that moment on, the die
was cast. Because Private Levy’s surreal
and gruesome passing had opened a
door through which Private Rodman
willingly walked.
A door to another dimension. A
dimension not only of sight and sound,
but of mind. That was the moment a
young Private named Rod Serling, began
his journey, into the Twilight Zone.
And that’s the way I heard it…
Courtesy of Mike Rowe. Find more of Rowe’s podcasts at
How to recognize scam
essay sites online.
Continued from page 9
“Academic writing:” This label is the biggest tipoff. Most opportunities for academic writing are
invitations to help cheaters. Exceptions include
business writing for an academic institution and
the rare situation in which a scholarly journal
seeks out an article (they usually have their editorial desks full of submissions).
Bait and switch: Many offer “help” for writers;
once you dig a little deeper, you find the help
involves writing essays for customers. One site
listed several legitimate services on the search
page: “Copywriting, Brochures, Newsletter Copywriting, Web Copywriting” – with no sign of
essays. Yet click the link, and a cartoon character
offers to write your essays for you.
Spelling, punctuation, and other errors: This
certainly bodes badly for the finished product!
But many of their clients will never know the difference. Here are a few doozies I found in a brief
search (italics mine):
“sequre site”
“Have you ever asked yourself, ‘I need help
writing an essay’?”
“…to solve any college-related problem you
“We write your essay or reaserch paper”
“help you with any scholar task”
“Plagiarism Free,” “Honest etc.:” One company
advertises itself as a “Legitimate Essay Mill.”
Shakespeare had it right: Methinks they doth protest too much! When they have to throw around
so many assurances, something starts to smell
like yesterday’s fish.—Gail Radley
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