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From the President
Welcome to all the new members and subscribers who have discovered SPAWN this month!
This month’s issue is about getting organized. If you’re a writer, digital artist, or business owner, your computer is undoubtedly an important tool of your trade. Understanding how to save, find, and back up your files is not optional anymore.
In this day and age, defending your lack of basic skills by saying, "I’m not good with computers" is a cop out. And yet I still hear it all the time. It’s not 1989 anymore, folks. Computers are not some "newfangled" thing. You never hear a carpenter say, "I’m not good with hammers." Editors and other business colleagues are not likely to accept excuses like, "I can’t find the file."
If you are still "losing" files or taking hours to complete basic tasks, take a training class. Part of being a professional is investing in professional development. The creative marketplace is competitive. You can’t be a productive writer or artist if you have no idea how your computer works.
Getting organized is a challenge for me. Things are not convenient, plans change at a moment’s notice, and the editor always wants a final fact check just as another article is due or a fiction idea is on the verge of escaping my brain due to lack of attention. Did I invoice for that last article? Maybe. Will I annoy the editor if I ask? Yes. When did I turn it in, what was the word count, when will it be available for reprint sales? I gave it such a clever name—what was it again?
Yes, my office is the Oscar of the Felix and Oscar “Odd Couple.” I don’t want to turn into Felix, but there has to be a better way to work than how I’m doing it now. Luckily, there are others who are further along the organizational trail than I am and they are willing to pass along their best ideas for getting and staying organized.
George Angus shares the basics of lists, folders, and contacts. Jeff Howe explains Duotrope and Query Tracker—invaluable tools for finding markets for fiction and non- and for following up on where the story is, when the editor got it, when to check on it, and when to move on to the next editor on the list. Everything in one place? Amazing!
Lorie Lewis Ham has written five mystery books. How does she keep her characters in character? Her article explains how to remember who is friends with whom, where they live, how far the grocery store is from the main character’s house, and more.
Let this be the year when we organize our thoughts, ideas, and paperwork. Let this be the year we have more work because of it. And please, let it be easier than we think! Good luck to all the Oscars in the group. May the Felix be with you.
— Sandy, Editor, SPAWNews, firstname.lastname@example.org
Join SPAWN at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (LATFB) is billed as the nation’s largest public literary festival, attracting around 140,000 people last year.
It wasn’t always this big, and some of us here at SPAWN remember its beginnings. The LATFB launched in 1996, the same year that SPAWN did. SPAWN has had a presence at this now-gigantic event almost every year since.
The LATFB will be held at the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles again this year on April 20 and 21, 2013. SPAWN has secured two booths to accommodate our members. The fee for selling your books from our booth is $203 per day. (Three titles per member, only.)
We are also offering those who can’t attend the LATFB the opportunity to display a copy of their book(s) in the SPAWN booth for $20 each title. For an additional $37, members can list their books in the SPAWN Catalog of Member’s Books and Services, which will serve as the brochure for all participants. Everyone visiting the SPAWN booth will walk away with one of our beautiful full-color print catalogs. The absolute deadline for having your book included in the SPAWN Catalog of Member’s Books and Services is February 15, 2013. (Yes, it’s a short deadline this year. So don’t procrastinate.)
Visit http://www.spawn.org/latfb.htm to read about all of your options, and to sign up.
The LATFB opportunity is open to members only. If your SPAWN membership has expired or you haven’t joined yet, this is a good time to take care of business. If you want a major bookselling opportunity and incredible exposure for your book, sign up to join us in the SPAWN booth—first come, first served. Learn more about the LATFB here: http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks
SPAWN Market Update
by Patricia Fry
This month we feature several writing and screenwriting contests, links to over 50 book promotion ideas, paying markets, new publishers to consider, and resources galore; for example, Amazon’s sales rankings are exposed. Study this issue of the SPAWN Market Update and you could earn or save three or more times the cost of your initial membership fee.
Join this month by going to www.spawn.org and click on Join/Renew.
Ask the Book Doctor:
About Staying Organized with Manuscript Submissions
By Bobbie Christmas
For this column I depart from the usual Q & A and revert to a story I told in my book titled Ask the Book Doctor. Here goes:
Many years ago, I was asked to read and evaluate submissions to a fledgling literary agency that needed help with its volume of mail. Each week I picked up a loaded box of that week’s submissions, sometimes as many as sixty in a week, and I was not the only evaluator. I was told my job was to find any reason whatsoever to reject each submission. If I could find no reason to reject it, or if I had a reason to recommend it, I could then pass it along to the agent in charge. The sad news is that I often found reason to reject submissions from the moment I opened the envelope. For example, if the submission did not follow standard manuscript format, I rejected it without reading it.
Think about it. I was not an agent, just a reader/evaluator. The agent saw only a small percentage of the submissions, and she accepted an even smaller percentage of those. We both looked for reasons to reject, before looking for reasons to accept each submission.
One day I opened a letter to the agency that said, “Please place this critically revised synopsis with my materials and disregard my earlier summary. Apologies for the inconvenience.” I shook my head in wonder. I looked at the huge box of materials before me and thought about all the materials I had already evaluated and either rejected or passed on to the agent. How on earth could I find a specific submission and put missing or revised parts together?
Please, never make the same error. It marks you as disorganized and unpredictable and puts agents and readers in an impossible bind. Here is the response I prepared to send:
“The volume of mail that comes into [agency name deleted] is overwhelming. The agency uses several first readers. I am but one of them, and I received your note requesting that we place your revised synopsis with your materials and disregard the earlier summary. We cannot go through hundreds of submissions on the desks of several first readers to put a revised synopsis together with earlier materials. It would take hours to find a specific submission after it was received, and it could be in any number of locations. It also could have already been evaluated and could be with the agent or in the mail back to you.
“My advice: Always be sure you send all the materials at the same time and that they are as ready as they can be, before you send them.
“If you would like to resubmit your materials, along with your revised synopsis, perhaps one of the readers will like the newer version well enough to recommend it to the agency.
“I hope this information helps you with your submission to [name of agency] as well as future agencies.”
Before I sent that note, however, I was interrupted and had to do something else. When I returned to my editing desk, guess what I found was the very next submission I was supposed to evaluate. You guessed it. I was able to do as the writer requested and put the new synopsis in with the submission. The writer was lucky. I hope he or she bought a lottery ticket, too.
Writers have to do so much more than write. We have to write, rewrite, edit, revise, submit, or self-publish, and we must keep track of all our files, processes, and materials. I can’t begin to list all the things we must keep organized, but I will say this: if you plan to submit manuscripts to agents or publishers, do your research carefully. Find out exactly what the agent or publisher wants in a submission. Each one has different guidelines.
Here are some of the things that various agents and publishers may want: your brief bio; your full resume; the reason why you are the best person to write the book; your list of publishing credits; a brief synopsis; a two-page synopsis; a chapter-by-chapter outline; a book proposal; the first chapter; a sample chapter other than the first chapter; three sample chapters; the completed manuscript; a query letter; a cover letter; total word count; a photo of yourself; a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE); a self-addressed, stamped postcard; and more. Some receive submissions only through their websites or through e-mail addresses; others want submissions only through the post office.
Once you gather all the guidelines and details for each of your chosen potential agents or publishers, print them or save them to a file. When you are ready to submit to a specific agent or publisher, go down that agent’s or publisher’s list and check off each item, to be sure you have included it, before you hit Send or seal the envelope.
Those same lists of guidelines also act as your tracking sheet. Add the date that you made your submission, so you can stay organized and know when and to whom you submitted your book. You can also write down the result of each submission, if indeed you hear back from anyone.
What? You might not hear back? I found it to be true. It appears that courtesy has gone by the wayside, as the volume of submissions increase. Fewer publishers or agents take the time to respond anymore, if not in the positive. If any person or company does give you any encouragement or feedback, even if it is a rejection, save the information. It’s a rarity.
To order Ask the Book Doctor: How to Beat the Competition and Sell Your Writing, go to http://zebraeditor.com/book_ask_the_book_doctor.shtml
Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more "Ask the Book Doctor" questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.
by Patricia Fry
Publish Like the Pros, a Brief Guide to Quality Self-Publishing and an Insider’s Look at a Misunderstood Industry by Michele DeFillippo, 1106 Design (2012), Http://1106Design.com Print, e-Pub and Kindle Print: 978-0-985-4899-9-8, Paperback—79-pages $7.95
For those of you who have not heard of Michele DeFillippo, she owns 1106 Design and works with authors, publishers, business pros, coaches, consultants, and speakers. While DeFillippo established 1106 Design in 2001, she has been in the book-design business for over 30 years. Through this book, she hopes to debunk many popular myths about self-publishing and teach readers how to most effectively approach the preparation and publication of their books. She has a nice chapter on how to create the best cover for your book, for example. She offers her expertise with regard to designing the interior of your book. And she doesn’t leave out the importance of editing and proofreading, both before and after typesetting.
I particularly appreciate DeFillippo’s efforts with regard to her chapter on book distribution, pricing, and marketing. She explains, for example, that the author should treat his or her book project as a business. And this, I believe, is true whether you self-publish, go with a pay-to-publish company, or land a traditional publisher. You are the CEO of your book.
DeFillippo says on her back cover copy that she wants you to feel proud of your book and that she wants it to be good enough to sell. This is a strong motivation for her having compiled this little handbook for authors.
The Writer, Organized
by George Angus
I remember when I first started out as a freelance writer. Things seemed simple enough. I had a computer, some writing ability, and a desk. What I discovered after a fairly short time is that the more I reached out for writing opportunities, the more the paperwork ganged up on me. It soon became apparent that I’d better get my stuff together or things were going to fall through the cracks. That’s when I decided to become the organized writer.
I have always been kind of a no-clutter neat freak. Roll your eyes if you must, but it is just how I’m wired. (I’m also a morning person, so there.) In any of the office jobs I have held, my desk tended to remain clear, save whatever project was currently in the queue.
Regardless of how I arrived here, one thing I know for certain is that being an organized writer is a key component to writing success. The tips I’m about to lay out apply to writers of all kinds.
A Place to Call Your Own
First and most importantly, you need a place to write. This is your haven. This is the place that tells your mind to get into the mode. Laser-sharp focus is what you need and having a consistent venue helps you achieve that focus. Having your own writing room also allows you to organize the area to your writing advantage.
The Paper Trail
Writers tend to want something tangible in their hands and old-school writers will naturally gravitate toward file folders and cabinets. Writing will generate paper and it is to your advantage to put order to your papers. To that end, file folders and something to hold them is crucial. I like to use color folders, although it’s not a necessity. A file cabinet with file hangers is a good place to store the folders, and I use a file rack on my desk for current or frequently used folders.
A desk calendar helps me keep track of projects and I use a white board for instant visual reference. Prominently displayed projects with deadlines in bold red letters help to keep this writer on task.
The most important paper tool I have is my To-Do list. Every writing day, the first thing I do is sit down and make a list of all the things I need to do. This list becomes my scratch pad for the day and I use it to take notes and to write down phone numbers and other important info. The following day when I’m writing a new to-do list, I transfer over any tasks that were not completed the previous day. I keep these lists in a folder and refer to them often.
The “E” Factor
I may be old school, but I don’t live in a cave. Paper is important to me, but I also understand and use the technology that abounds. Some writers will go strictly electronic, and “bully for them” say I. In some ways, electronic organization is easy and in some ways the electronic factor is a nightmare.
Take e-mail, for example. For e-mail to be the most effective, you need to be organized about it from the start. The primary disadvantage of email is that there’s just too darned much of the stuff. To avoid being overwhelmed, you need to stay on top of it. You do that by organizing e-mail folders and using them consistently. As you receive emails throughout the day, delete them or put them in the correct folder. Keep anything that needs immediate attention in the inbox until completed. Don’t wait until your inbox has a thousand emails before tackling the danged thing—you’ll be sorry.
Use today’s technology to your organizing advantage. Keep your contact lists current, set reminders in your calendar program, and stay on top of your e-mail
I’ve just barely scratched the surface of becoming an organized writer. I hope these few tips will inspire you to make the commitment needed to be the very best writer you can be by being organized.
George writes and lives in Palmer, Alaska. His writing blog is www.tumblemoose.com and he has about four years’ worth of posts hanging out there. Add a few e-books over at Amazon and you get the complete picture. He’s a big re-tweeter over at Twitter and he’d love you to follow and hang out with him.
Follow That Query!
by Jeffrey Howe
In the interest of civility, I will not show you a picture of my writing desk. The tangle of wires, piles of paper interleaved with important documents (so that’s where my passport went), and bits of flotsam give a far too accurate impression of my usual work habits.
Despite that, I can tell you within a few seconds the status of every story I’ve submitted to a market or agent in the past four years. Moreover, I find out on a daily basis when there’s a new ask from a market, or when a new agent starts taking queries. How? Here’s a hint: none of this information is on my desktop—or my laptop, for that matter. I track them via two websites I can access and update from anywhere: Duotrope and QueryTracker.
Both sites are best known—and rightly so—for their searchable databases. Duotrope covers short fiction, poetry, and non-fiction markets, while QueryTracker deals with agents and publishers of longer works. What you may not know is that each offers robust submission tracking and status update capabilities as well.
Duotrope’s submission tracker allows registered users of the site to maintain a list of their current and past submissions. You can filter your view to limit by piece, market, year submitted, and status of submission. The list itself notes the name of the market, the type and length of submission, when you sent, and how long the submission has been with that market, vs. how long they normally take to respond. When a piece is accepted or rejected, you update your records from here.
You can request a weekly e-mail update of the markets listed at Duotrope. New markets, markets closing or opening to submissions for a time, markets going out of business, and deadlines for themed asks all appear in the newsletter. You can also set up an RSS feed to get these updates as they come out, if a week is too long to wait.
QueryTracker provides project-based tracking of your agent and/or publisher queries and not-yet-querieds. Registered members can set up and track their queries for a single project; premium members can do so for any number of projects. The tabular display works from your search results in a seamless process.
You can access details for the agents or publishers on your list by simply clicking their names. As with Duotrope, an array of filters lets you limit what displays in the table by status or priority. Search capability by the name of the agent, agency, or publisher keeps longer lists manageable.
Additionally, QueryTracker enables you to create folders for grouping queries. Two folders—Hold and Top Choices—are in place by default. Beyond those, folders are yours to customize. If you wanted to review all your snail-mail queries together regardless of status or priority, you could assign each to a Snail Mail folder. If you’d like to keep all new agents together, you can set up a New Agent folder and collect your queries to them there.
You can set up reminders for particular agents/queries that QueryTracker e-mails to you. As with folders, the reason for this is entirely up to you. Do you know someone is going on leave or will be out of the country for a bit? Set a reminder date and QT will nudge you when it happens. If you’re a premium member, you can even have QueryTracker e-mail you whenever someone leaves a comment on an agent’s or publisher’s detail page.
Until the beginning of this year, Duotrope was supported by donations, but they have been forced to move to a subscription model, after five years of giving it away. Annual subs are $50, but you can also sign up for a monthly plan, if that fits your needs better. QueryTracker’s basic service level is still free, but a premium membership (which includes a number of special statistical reports as well as multiple project support) is a reasonable $25/year. Try them out! They could help you as much as they helped me.
Jeffrey Howe lives and works in the scenic Black Creek Bottoms area of St. Louis, Missouri, where he writes things that would have made his grandmother blanch, or at least blush. His short fiction has appeared in The First Line, and is available at the Untreed Reads store (http://store.untreedreads.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=6_257 ). He ruminates at his blog, Merciless Idioms (http://jeffreyhowe.wordpress.com ), while he seeks representation for his novels, the paranormal thriller Friend and his hard-boiled urban fantasy, Last Tink Standing.
Keeping Track Of Your Characters
by Lorie Lewis Ham
I have published five mystery novels so far—four are part of my gospel-singing sleuth series and the other is a stand-alone with some crossover characters. Remembering the color characters’ eyes are, their favorite color, what street they live on, what their car is like, family members, and so on, can be very hard, and at times just plain impossible! It’s kind of like being God of your own little world—too much to keep track of all in your head.
So what to do? My way of handling that, I’m afraid, is a bit old-fashioned. I use a 3 x 5 card file. Each character has his/her own card, sometimes more than one, depending on the character. Each card has the character’s name on the top and then I start listing facts about him/her.
Take my main character Alexandra Walters. Her card reads as follows:
- Alexandra Leigh Walters (wow, I totally forgot she had a middle name)
- Pepsi-Walter’s family trait
- Waist-length blonde hair
- Got 1st glass mouse on her 6th birthday from her brother Jonathon as a joke. Fear of real mice, now collects glass ones.
- Likes hockey
- Loves men in good suits
- Has regular booth at NoName Cafe
And so on—her card has developed over the series and some things I’ve dropped.
As I add new characters, I add more cards to the file. If I have a question, I pull out a card. Each place in town also has its own card, and so on. And they are all filed alphabetically.
I’ve tried moving it all over to the computer, but it just doesn’t happen, for a few good reasons—well, reasons at least. Too much work to move it all over, a card file can’t crash but a computer can, and I like pulling out the cards, holding them in my hands, scribbling new notes on them, and having them spread all over my desk while I write. It’s just a part of my process, and well, it works. And one more reason—there’s just a certain thrill to pulling out a brand-new card and creating that new character.
Another thing about my process that goes back to old-fashioned pen and paper is how I keep track of my characters and events during a story. Many years ago I went to a writer’s conference where Carol Higgins Clark was speaking and she told us what she did. I took her suggestion and it has worked well for me. I take a piece of paper and make a calendar—each day has its own area to write on and as things happen I put them on their proper date and time. As I know things that need to happen, I put those down, too.
The bottom line to this is that you have to find what works for you even if no one else does it that way. One more thing: have someone else look at your work before you send it off. He/she may see something you missed—like a car that you forgot you left in front of the café—not that I’ve ever done that!
Lorie Lewis Ham has written five mystery novels; the most recent is The Final Note—the latest in her Alexandra Walters series. You can learn more about her books at www.mysteryrat.com. Most of her time in the past two years has been spent publishing Kings River Life Magazine, http://KingsRiverLife.com, which has a strong mystery section, pets, food, and much more!
SPAWN President, Susan Daffron’s publishing company Logical Expressions, Inc. has released Kindle and EPUB editions books in the new "57 Secrets" book series (http://www.57Secrets.com). The print versions came out last month and ebook versions of titles available now are 57 Secrets for Working Smarter in Photoshop by Helen Bradley and 57 Secrets for Branding Yourself Online by Carma Spence. Susan’s book 57 Secrets for Writing a Nonfiction Book will be available in eformats later this month.
Sandra Beckwith is talking about How Do I Promote My Book in a teleseminar for the Authors and Writers Specialty Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics this month. The February 6 event is free to members and $15 for non-members. Learn more and register at http://www.nedpg.org/Meetings.asp#webinar Sandra’s next Book Publicity 101 e-course starts February 4, 2013: http://bit.ly/qOJErA. Sign up for her ezine at http://buildbookbuzz.com
M.L. Smith writes: MUFN Books announces the publication of Muffins to Slim By – Fast Low-Carb Gluten-Free Bread and Muffin Recipes to Mix & Microwave in a Mug by Em Elless. It is available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Muffins-Slim-Low-Carb-Gluten-Free-Microwave/dp/0985822422. In addition to dozens and dozens of nutritious sweet, savory, and muffin meals, this innovative cookbook introduces fruit-substitute recipes for those who crave bananas and apples, but not the high carbs. From Stuffin’ Muffins to Reuben Melts to Lemon Pillows, there is no diet or restriction here—just deeply satisfying, healthful Muffins to Slim By, ready to eat in less than five minutes. Read more at: www.MUFNBooks.com
Dallas Woodburn started a healthy, happy living blog called Day-by-Day Masterpiece at http://daybydaymasterpiece.com
Stephan Morsk’s new novella HE is set for release in March from Infinity. Penned in the style of Mailer, Fleming, and Henry Miller, this sexual exploration finds the anonymous narrator coupled with a coterie of diverse women including FBI agents, gun toting thugs, Russian sirens, and a sadomasochistic nanny.
Contests, Events and Opportunities
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