Monday, April 12, 2010


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Sunday, April 11, 2010


The Muffin FTP Blogger Migration

I knew this would happen sooner or later. Blogger is no longer supporting FTP blogs, which is what The Muffin is. Their reason is "FTP remains a significant drain on our ability to improve Blogger: only 5% of active blogs are published via FTP--yet the percentage of our engineering resources devoted to supporting FTP vastly exceeds that."

So we have to "migrate" the blog to a Blogger-managed URL, which we will be attempting this Monday, April 12.

This news isn't sitting well with FTP bloggers. Imagine publishing a blog for years on your own server, hosting (owning) your own files and posts on your own server, and then having to move your entire blog to a new URL, and losing the ability to control your property. It's like owning your own home and having someone say that you have to pick up and move your house to another location with another address, and all of a sudden you're renting it, instead of owning it.

Not to mention the complications! The Muffin has four years worth of posts, high traffic, SEO, and links to our URL. Now, all The Muffin's posts will have to be redirected to a new URL. I can't imagine this will run smoothly. And what happens to our RSS feed, our traffic to our site, and everything else? I'm not tech savvy enough to wrap my head around this and I'm disappointed in Blogger/Google for making this decision.

Another truly sad part about this is it affects users in China. China's "Great Fire Wall" blocks their ability to use Blogger blogs, and their only way around it was by using FTP blogs.

Ugh. The list of grievances is long. The comments at the bottom of this post explain some of the other concerns FTP bloggers have with the migration.

Over the next couple of days we'll be working out the kinks, so please bear with us.

As with anything, change is always scary but it forces us to move forward. Sometimes situations we view as negative in the beginning can have positive results in the long run. Who knows? Perhaps we'll migrate to their host and find it has more functionality, or perhaps we'll move to Wordpress like we've always wanted to do, and this is just the first step that will propel us toward our goals. We'll just have to see what happens as we dig in. Wish us luck!

Saturday, April 10, 2010


The Professor and Other Writings - A Review

The Professor and Other Writings is a collection of seven essays by author and professor, Terry Castle. As she wrote in the ‘Author’s Note’ at the front of the book, some of the pieces had been previously published, and in this book, appear in the order in which they were written. Castle added, “Having labored in the dusty groves of academe for over twenty years, I felt---as a new millennium unfolded---a desire to write more directly and personally than had previously been the case.”

Intriguing photos serve to introduce, as well as illustrate the theme of each autobiographical essay. Castle unveils her perspectives on love, family, relationships and sexuality, all accompanied by her wicked wit. Nothing has been held back, especially in the title essay, ‘The Professor’, in which she relates her relationship with a female professor. There were times when reading through the book was overwhelming, with the sheer amount of scholarly information that backed personal details.

One essay, ‘Courage, Mon Amie’, is a fascinating study of the author’s obsession (or ‘war fixation’, as she puts it) with military history, inspired by her desire to find the gravesite of her great-uncle, who died during WWI. As British-born Castle makes the rounds of France and Belgium, you’re drawn into her search. There are detailed descriptions of the cemetery, trenches, tiny museums, and other military haunts she visits, sometimes alone, other times with a relative. While it may be off-putting to some readers, the author’s passion for war and its trappings is phenomenal, especially as she struggles (as many of us did back in 2002) with myriad emotions in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Another essay, ‘Home Alone’, deals with America’s captivation with design (or shelter) magazines, and the desire to create a space, some sort of secured home of one’s own. Castle admits her own ‘shelter-lit addiction’, relishing in flea market finds and eagerness to get her hands on the latest mag candy. She asserts that it “is all about consumption, luxury goods, and the pipe dreams of upward mobility” that drives one to seek this decorative nirvana. Enhancing her dead-on commentary are quotes from American interior design experts Elsie de Wolfe and Mario Praz, and those from the publishing staff of some of the magazines mentioned in this piece. This essay was a much easier read than the one above.

In conclusion, if essay collections laced with scholarly insights and biting humor are your cup of tea, then you’ll want to give The Professor and Other Writings a look.

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Friday, April 09, 2010


Friday Speak Out!: Why to be a Writer, Guest Post by Amy O'Neil

‘Why’ to be a Writer

by Amy O'Neil

Look on the internet and you will find a million different sites talking about ‘how to draw’, but how many of them discuss the all important question of why to draw? The same goes for writing.

I found myself asking this question today, right before I was about to embark on a commission for four large drawings.

I found a few vague answers, such as “We draw to express our creativity and expose it to the world”.

But today these answers didn't really satisfy. What is your creativity, why do you want to expose it, and why does the world need to be exposed to it? What does it ultimately achieve?

Is this just a stock phrase that merely sounds like it could be answering the question, or is it the truth of why to draw?

In our present times we have access to people’s talents, skills, stories and creations in the billions over the internet. We are literally swamped with exceptional and puzzling works of the mind, and not always in a good way. Can your work really contribute anything meaningful? Is the reason to create really ‘to add something to the world’? Or is it to feel like your existence is necessary?

It's a hard pill to swallow when you consider that the world would be okay if you weren't here, that literature would still be great and that art would continue to shock and delight. Films would still be moving and extraordinary, food would still be delicious, music would still sound wonderful, the earth would still spin.

So is it important that you draw, or write?

For me, today, the truth was no.

Is it essential for our already overwhelming culture?
Chances are slim.

So why do it? It's the same question as why bother existing. We exist because we exist. Existence is not necessary but it's a gift.

To be able to be here and taste delicious food, and read wonderful books, and watch breathtaking films and have complicated relationships is a one-hundred percent bonus.

Why draw or write? It is part of the gift. You do it because you can, because you're here and you have thoughts and opinions and were born into this tiny slither of time and place that nobody else was. And for some reason you fell into it; it happened, like when a flash of colour catches your eye.

So when you sit down to do that very important piece of writing today, or that ‘essential’ work of art, remember why you’re doing it. I mean, why you're really doing it.

Perhaps it’s because when you were a child you had an idea, and you decided to put it on paper because it seemed fun and natural, not because you were driven by adult fantasies of self-importance.

It is a gift. All you need to do is relish it.

Photograph courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt.

* * *

Amy O'Neil has a BA in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art and Design, which she completed in 2007. Since then she has been taking private commissions for drawings from photographs, but has found her interests have turned more towards short fiction writing. Her stories have been placed in several small competitions, as well as being recently short-listed for the Fish Short Story Prize. You can contact her at amygraceATgooglemailDOTcom.


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


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Thursday, April 08, 2010


An Interview with Demand Studios Editor, Robyn Galbos

We are lucky to have Robyn Galbos from Demand Studios with us today to answer some questions we've received about becoming a writer for them. She has provided some tips for applying and writing articles and information about some of the new Demand Studios programs, so let's get started!

WOW: Hi, Robyn. Thank you for taking time out to talk with The Muffin about writing for Demand Studios. What kind of writers are Demand Studios looking for? Specific genres? Certain experience or college degrees?

Robyn: Demand Studios is looking for all kinds of writers with a variety of backgrounds and interests. We are primarily looking for people with solid researching and reporting skills, and ideal candidates have had their work published in print or online. During the application process, writers must upload a résumé and a writing sample; the stronger the writing sample, the more likely the writer will be accepted.

WOW: So, writers can use their knowledge they gain from hobbies and other careers to write articles and make extra money on Demand Studios. What are two or three tips you can give writers who are applying for positions?

Robyn: First, take the application process as seriously as you would for a full-time position. Because this is an independent contractor position, sometimes writers think that they don't need to try as hard. Upload a recent résumé that highlights your writing experience and any expertise you may have. Proofread your résumé for typos. Typos in a résumé are a red flag when you're applying for a writing position.

Second, put your best foot forward with your writing sample. Take time to research the sites for which you are applying to write, and take note of the voice and tone of the writing. Attach writing samples that would fit well on those sites. If you don't have published work, try writing an article in the style of eHow, LIVESTRONG, Garden Guides or any other site you're interested in. Be sure to submit original work as your writing sample, however, and remember to proofread your submission for typos as well.

WOW: Thanks for the tips, Robyn. Many writers can write 400- to 500-word articles quickly; and therefore, they write several Demand Studios articles a day in a short amount of time. What are some tips for writing Demand Studios articles in a timely manner?

Robyn: The simplest answer is "write what you know." The more you venture into topics that are not your area of expertise, the more time you will take to research and write the articles. If you know a topic, you likely know where to find the most credible references. A word of caution: Even though you know a topic, resist the urge to write off the top of your head without researching. We require references for every article, and facts must be verifiable by the copy editors.

I also recommend that writers master one format before moving on to others. Once you understand the guidelines and nuances for a particular format, you get in a rhythm and can work a lot faster.

Finally, really take the time to familiarize yourself with all of the Demand Studios guidelines. This will help save time on rewrite requests.

WOW: More great tips. It seems like if writers take time at the beginning to learn about the templates and different types of articles, they will work quicker and more accurately in a few months. Demand Studios allows writers to suggest articles they would like to write. Please explain to us how this process works. Are these articles paid the same rates as articles that Demand Studios assigns?

Robyn: Writers may create their own assignments in Demand Studios, and approved articles are paid on a revenue-share basis. We are looking for titles that revolve around a topical theme while remaining evergreen. For example, articles around filing your tax returns are perfect in the early part of the year.

WOW: Sometimes, Demand Studios editors have to send articles back to writers to fix. What are some of the most common reasons why writers get their work sent back to them?

Robyn: Every article that is submitted through the Demand Studios publishing tools is edited and fact-checked by a copy editor, and we consider rewrites to be a natural part of the editorial process. Copy editors look at articles with the eye of a reader. If there are questions about clarity or facts, the editor may need to ask the writer some questions.

The most common reasons for rewrites are unverifiable facts, guideline violations, unclear sentence structure, or vague statements. An editor may also send an article back if the article does not directly answer the question put forth in the title or is not specific enough to address the title accurately. Writers who study the guidelines, do research, and cite their sources likely will receive fewer rewrite requests.

WOW: So, copy editors and writers work together to make the articles as clear and accurate as possible. That makes perfect sense! Many Demand Studios writers make an average of $15 an article, but there are ways to make between $20 and $80 an article. Please explain how writers can make more money per article and about your new specialty writers program.

Robyn: Demand Studios has several levels of special assignments that we reserve for our best writers: that is, writers who consistently deliver high-quality articles written according to all applicable guidelines. These higher-paying opportunities are for Demand Media sites and for our partner sites and include premium assignments for our copy editors. We regularly review our creator base and look for these standout performers.

WOW: It's nice to hear that hard work is rewarded, and there are chances to move up in the company while writing for Demand Studios. Demand Studios periodically has the program "Write for a Cause." What is this program and how does it work? When will you be offering it again?

Robyn: Demand Studios partnered with First Book in December to donate new books to children across the country, and the program was such a hit that we revived it for two weeks in mid-March. For every eight Demand Studios articles published during the program, Demand Media donates one book to a child in need. Thanks to our writers and copy editors, we have been able to donate a total of 26,639 books to kids so far. I can't say for certain when we'll offer the program again, but I can say it's been a huge success, and I look forward to the next round.

WOW: 26,639 books--that is awesome! I'm sure writers enjoy "Write for a Cause," and are also looking forward to the next round. In 2010, Demand Studios started awarding one $1,000 grant to one of your writers each month for creative projects. How does a writer apply for one of these grants, and do you have any information on what types of projects or applications are receiving the grants?

Robyn: Demand Studios contributors who have been with us for more than three months can apply for a grant. Eligible projects include works of fiction, non-fiction, essay collections, plays, screenplays, short films/videos, and feature length films/videos. Applications and supporting materials are accepted electronically at We accept submissions from the 1st through 7th of every month.

The first grant was awarded to Demand Studios writer Dan Antony for the completion of his project, "Beeg Mec," a book that tells the story of the rise of a restaurant and the fall of a government. We post all of the winners on our blog, so you can check out the winners there.

WOW: Thank you, Robyn, for taking time out to explain Demand Studios to The Muffin readers and any interested writers! If Demand Studios sounds like something you would want to check out, just click here.

interview conducted by Margo L. Dill,

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010


AutoCrit: A Helpful Tool for Editing Flash Fiction

I stumbled across the AutoCrit site today and found it to be a helpful tool for editing your flash fiction stories. The free version allows you to paste a story of under 800 words into a text box, where you have the option of selecting reports on three categories: Overused Words, Repeated Phrases, and Sentence Length Variations. These categories are crucial to analyze when crafting a flash piece.

So, I dug out an old story and pasted it into text box here:

I clicked the "Overused Words" button and clicked "Analyze." The next screen shows a list of typically overused words with red check marks pertaining to your story, as well as suggestions for how many words to remove.

I definitely used "that" too many times--which is a common mistake *that* (delete!) I see a lot in flash fiction, and a bad habit of mine. In most cases, you can safely remove "that"--it doesn't add anything to the sentence--and will help trim your word count.

The AutoCrit said my use of "ly adverbs" was "Excellent," as was my use of "could," "it/there," and "maybe." Other interesting areas are the use of generic descriptions (I got a "Nice one" response), the use of feel/feeling/felt (I got a "Yay"), initial conjunction ("Well done"), and initial ing ("Nice work"). The comments are encouraging and are all wonderful helpers to fix passive voice problems.

Beneath the checklist is your highlighted text with culprits displayed in blue. Drag your cursor over the text and copy-paste it into your MS Word program--you'll notice the blue text copies as well. At least it did with mine.

You can only select one option at a time but you can hit the back button after you've read the results and your text will still be there. Then you can select one of the other options, such as "Repeated Phrases" and "Sentence Length."

Repeated Phrases: This page shows all phrases which repeat within 100 words in highlighted blue text. If you are using a repeated phrase for emphasis it can be very powerful, but remember it should contribute something to the story, so use them carefully. When in doubt, leave it out--especially in flash. It will only eat your word count.

Sentence Length: This page gives you a list of the beginning of each sentence and how many words it contains. It's important to vary your sentence length because similar-length sentences can be dull to read.

The AutoCrit site offers further services to those that subscribe for a fee. I haven't tried their paid services, so I can't offer a review. Their "Members Only" reports include other editing tools such as: Dialogue Tags, First Words, Names and Pronouns, Cliche Finder, Redundancy Finder, Homonym Highlighter, Readability Suite, and Pacing Monitor.

But I found their free online tool to be quite helpful in trimming unnecessary words and a good reminder to really check your story for any issues you might have missed. So if you're preparing to enter the WOW! Women On Writing Flash Fiction Contest, you may want to test your story with this helpful little tool before you hit the send button.

Happy writing!

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Martha Katzeff, Fall '09 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up

Martha Katzeff is very excited to have her first submission to a WOW! contest be among the top ten finalists. She has been writing for several years and takes classes at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. She wrote an essay for Masters Cycling called “My Clown Bike” about her hot pink bicycle and recently had a piece of flash fiction titled “The Farm” published in 365 Tomorrows. Martha swims competitively with a Masters Swim team and wrote an essay about being a slow competitor called “Life in the Slow Lane” for the USMS website. She is married with two grown children, lives in the Bronx and likes to knit, read and travel.

interviewed by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on placing as one of the Runners Up in our Fall 2009 Flash Fiction contest! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Martha: I have a good friend who is also a relatively new writer and we're both always looking for contests to test our skills and storytelling abilities. I like the challenge of competing against other writers in a contest. It levels the playing field.

WOW: Could you tell us a little about your story and what encouraged the idea behind “Get a Fresh Killed Chicken?"

Martha: I initially entered a contest open only to Bronx writers and I wrote a memoir about shopping with my grandmother and mother. When I didn't win that contest, I re-wrote the story as fiction, throwing in a little bit of a speculative fiction/ghost story twist to it.

WOW: Great idea to play around with the story—it worked out well for you. Since you've taken several writing classes, we'd love to know which ones have been your favorites and why?

Martha: My favorite writing classes have been through Gotham Writers' Workshops. I started with Science Fiction I and moved to Science Fiction II which I've taken a few times (online). The instructor for most of the classes has been Michaela Roessener—the author of several wonderful science fiction/fantasy novels. She's very encouraging and loved the idea that one of her homework assignments morphed into this prize winning story!

Science Fiction (or speculative fiction as it's called now) allows me to express my outrageous opinons through fiction in a way that mainstream fiction does not. In sci fi, there are unlimited worlds and experiences to write about.

WOW: It's always interesting to learn about other people's writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Martha: I'll probably get into trouble for this, but I do most of my writing at work. Whether for better or worse, I have a low stress job with lots of down time. (I will absolutely not divulge where I work!) Sometimes I write on Sunday while my husband is watching some sporting event. I like the distraction—it helps me think. I wish I did have favorite tools or habits that get me going. I'd write more. That's why I like taking classes—it’s good impetus to keep going.

WOW: Too bad you can’t tell us where you work! I agree that taking writing classes is a great way to force yourself into action. Finally, is there if there was one bit of advice you could pass on to other aspiring writers, what would it be?

Martha: Don't get discouraged by negative criticism. Recently I was told that a story I'm writing isn't really Science Fiction, to which Michaela replied: give 'em the old Bronx cheer!

Ignore unhelpful critiques and keep writing!


Check back on Tuesdays for more contest winner interviews.

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Monday, April 05, 2010


My Reasons for Wanting to Win a Scholarship to Attend the Backspace Writers Conference

Recently I interviewed one of my childhood heroes for a magazine pitch. It was a thrill to visit his art studio and see decades of his work on display. He started his artist's career when a friend suggested he move from real estate development into another field. Needing some educational backing, he worked to receive his MFA.

He taught during his graduate studies, incorporating his business background and instructing his students on how to manage a career in art. The school's administration balked. He related to me that the administration told him artists need to create and not to worry about the business aspects of art. He left academia, but not before befriending many of the students he had helped.

Since that interview, I've wondered where I would be if I could have learned about the business aspects of publishing from someone like him. Echoing in my brain are inspiring and creative words from many of my MFA professors. Unfortunately, few words come to mind about navigating the business aspects of the publishing world.

Novel ideas continue to percolate in my brain. However, income-producing writing assignments hold my daily focus. For me, the day-to-day joys of writing are to learn something new each day, to converse with someone who also loves books, and to know that I can apply my backspace key liberally. But my long-term goal is to earn a living as a novelist and a writer.

While trying to publish my first novel, finding an agent has become discouraging and, regretfully, has taken a backseat. After initially enthusiastic responses from agents, I've had my novel rejected numerous times and other proposals have failed to engage anyone’s interest.

I am turning to conferences to help find caring communities to help move my agent search into the front seat while filling the gaps in my knowledge of the business of writing. In addition, I hope to find a group that can help me learn and grow as a writer, enabling me to exchange my skills as I gain experience.

With the Backspace Writers Conference, which covers craft and navigating the tricky terrain of the publishing world, I’ve found the right outlet to support my growth as a writer. By incorporating the practice of writers helping writers, Backspace’s founders have recognized the importance of building a community among writers. (As have the creators of Women On Writing!)

One of the many things that appeals to me about Backspace is the opportunity to connect with people in the publishing world and to discuss writing without the pressure to pitch. Backspace will allow me to learn what I need to present my best work and publish. This conference gives me an opportunity to speak with publishing world pros, to learn from them and to find a common ground and positive direction.

I would like to attend the Backspace Writers Conference and its Agent-Author Seminar because it is the next step in my education in the business of writing while meeting a great community of supportive publishing people.

What about you? Is there a conference you would like to attend and why?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and creativity coach. When she is not researching and trying to win scholarships to writers' conferences, Elizabeth contributes to AOL's ParentDish and she blogs at The Write Elizabeth, delving into creativity in everyday places.

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Saturday, April 03, 2010


Should Writers Specialize?

I've known since I was a young age that I wanted to be a writer. In high school and college, I wrote for my school newspapers. After working in corporate America and teaching both high school and college English and Journalism, I took the plunge into freelance writing.

Experts say "write what you know." What should I write about? Education? Writing? Cooking? Current events? I made a list of topics I felt I could successfully write about. Sure, they were fun, and my knowledge base in many of them ran deep, but I wanted to write and learn. Would I be able to write about any topic and sell a piece to a magazine or should I focus on one area and specialize?

Sure, some experts preach sticking to one area. With social networking and author branding, specializing may seem like a no-brainer. For me, specializing limits my writing style. I've been lucky. I've had investigative pieces appear in national magazines. Regional topics appeal to me and make up half of my monthly sales. And since I have experience teaching writing, I've used that knowledge to bolster sales.

What I've realized about specializing is this: writers need to find the best fit for their writing style. This month, a national glossy may want a 3,000 word article. Next month, a regional newspaper or magazine may offer you eight assignments.

For writers who do choose to specialize - and for writers in general - here are a few ideas to break out of your niche and find new homes for your work:

  • Branch out. Think about the subtopics associated with your specialization area. Under those topics, you'll find even more subtopics, and eventually you'll have a huge cluster of possible articles.
  • Consider the opposite. If you primarily write for women, tailor an article on the same subject toward men. Write for adults? Why not focus on teens or tweens?
  • Find common bond. I once had a writing teacher who said you should be able to write about any topic for any publication if your writing is strong. Look at a topic and consider how it can fit the editorial needs of a magazine or publication you've never queried before.
  • Renew interests. Even writers need to renew their interest in a topic. Are there conferences or classes you can attend that offer new insight? Sign up and learn all you can. Not only may you find new writing ideas, you may also find that you'd like to write a different style of article.
  • Understand trends.Use trends to boost timely sales. Look at trends and find a correlation between them and your area of expertise.

Determine if specializing will be best for your writing career. Discover what fits your style. Decide what writing goals drive your freelance business.

And then, write.

by LuAnn Schindler

Visit LuAnn's website or follow her on Twitter @luannschindler.

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Classes Starting Next Week!

We have a few classes starting next week (Monday and Tuesday). There's still some available spots if you'd like to participate. :)

April 5, 2010 (Monday):

Instructor: Mary MacRae Warren
Duration: 4 Weeks
This course will explore the importance of branding to authors and help you pull together your brand--whether you're established or just starting out in your writing career. At the end of the class you will have a portfolio and campaign to market your writing.
Visit the classroom for complete details and curriculum

Instructor: Christina Hamlett
Duration: 6 weeks
This 6-week class provides an overview of the techniques and formatting requirements to develop an original screenplay. The lectures and assignments cover character development, dialogue, genre, structure, pacing, budget, and marketability. All materials submitted are critiqued by a professional screenplay consultant and learners are free to ask as many questions as they'd like about how to turn a story idea into a commercial, pitch-ready script.
Visit the classroom for complete details and curriculum

Instructor: Christina Hamlett
Duration: 6 weeks
Since the time of the Ancient Greeks, the live theater experience has satisfied an audience's need for entertainment that is immediate, intimate and accessible to all ages and levels of society. Whether performed in an outdoor courtyard, on a vintage stage, in a school auditorium, or above the din of an urban coffeehouse, a play is an ever-evolving and timeless art form that derives its energy from both sides of the footlights. Unlike a novel or film which is financed and produced only once, a theater script undergoes a new transformation with each change of cast and each change of venue. Even the passage of time itself impacts how a theatrical story will resonate with successive generations, giving new definition and perspective to old ideas or providing a yardstick of how far we've come from social mores that were once held as truth.

In this class, you'll be learning what makes a play successful...and how to write one yourself! Each module consists of a lecture and writing assignment, as well as interviews, websites and anecdotes. Ideally, it should only take one week to complete each exercise. The final assignment will be the writing and submission of an original 15-minute one-act play, which will be professionally critiqued for its adherence to all of the principles addressed in class.
Visit the classroom for complete details and curriculum

Instructor: Andrea Campbell
Duration: 8 weeks
Let me show you through my intense, 8-week-long workshop how to get a nonfiction book proposal ready for publishers. This is your opportunity to gain a serious business advantage over other writers who will try to wing it. And even if your first book doesn't sell, you will have the skills and the template to apply to other ideas and projects. You may even come up with more ideas for more books as you work through this course.

And my workshop is different. I keep the classes small so you receive a lot of individual attention: class size is limited to 10 students. In addition, you will have e-mail feedback on all assignments. Another thing I do in my workshops is to have weekly chat sessions. Yes, every Thursday night, we will meet online to ask questions, discuss lesson plans, and talk about additional information or details that you might have missed. Chats are an important tool for learning (and camaraderie) and why shouldn't we work together to leverage our knowledge? And to make it worth your while, you will also receive additional materials to help illustrate important points from the lesson plans or that you can use to aid you in staying abreast of what is happening in the publishing industry.

By the end of class, students will have a marketable, nonfiction book proposal package ready to send out to agents, including a query letter, along with the confidence to market his/her product.
Visit the classroom for complete details and curriculum

April 6, 2010 (Tuesday):

Instructor: Gila Green
Duration: 8 weeks
Through writing exercises and classmate and instructor feedback we will delve into the fundamentals of short fiction with a view to publishable work. We will explore a variety of craft elements including: character, plot, point of view, description, dialogue, setting, pacing, voice and theme.
Visit the classroom for complete details and curriculum


If you're interested in any of these subjects, consider taking one of these courses taught by our expert instructors! All of the classes are held online and you can work at your own pace and on your own time. You do not need to be present at any particular time (we get that question a lot), and if the instructor has a set time for online chats, you can make arrangements with her to fit your schedule. Visit:

Happy writing!

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Friday, April 02, 2010


Friday Speak Out!: "The Write Life," Guest Post by Sherri Kuhn

The Write Life

by Sherri Kuhn

I have always considered myself a writer, even when everything I wrote remained in my head. Of course, I would never have called myself a writer to anyone else. This was more of an imagined second life, nestled in my head along with the grocery list, shoes sizes for my kids, and phone numbers of my next of kin. Words have always intrigued me, especially those twisted around to create sarcastic humor and wit.

Several years ago, I decided that to actually call myself a writer, well, I would have to write. I signed up for a fiction writing class at the local community college. The eclectic group that attended this night class would have made the basis for a great short story, except I was too busy trying to read the assigned books and do the assigned writing to write it. By the end of the course, I had learned a lot about writing fiction, successfully kept from breaking into tears at the constructive criticism, and written my first real short story (which, I might add, had a surprise ending that even the professor didn’t see coming). I still, however, would not refer to myself as a writer.

Fast forward several more years, during which I did little to no writing at all. Then one day while I was working in the yard, a story just came to me so clearly that I just had to write it down. It felt so good to feel the words flow! After some editing and re-reading, I sent my essay to the local newspaper for their reader submissions column. When I heard back that my story was chosen, I was so surprised! A few months later, another story came to me and I frantically wrote it, edited it, and sent it off to the newspaper again. I got an almost immediate response from the features editor that she loved it. I still didn’t quite feel like a “real” writer, but I was getting the idea.

Now with two mini successes under my belt, I started to wonder if I could really let the writer inside me live in my daily life. Would we get along, or would she be fighting for my time? Would the other parts of my life suffer when the writing part took over? How many of “me” can there be? Would my family resent her?

I decided to start slowly. As long as I did something related to writing each day, I was making progress on merging my second life with my first. I became a fan of writing pages on Facebook. I found a few writing blogs and started following them. Since having a blog requires you to actually write, I started my own blog. I read information on writing contests, online workshops, conferences, and self-publishing. I submitted an essay to a publisher.

Now I am a writer. But then again, I always was.

* * *

Sherri Kuhn works with at-risk elementary school students, nags her two children, loves her husband, exercises once in a while, and is a newbie blogger. She has had several personal essays featured in the Contra Costa Times. Follow her observations about everyday life on her blog at


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


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Thursday, April 01, 2010


10 Ways to Help Google Find Your Site

If you've ever searched your site on Google and then sat in wonder trying to figure out what page it was on, take heart. Many site owners are wondering the same thing. Search results ping back hundreds of sites, but when you find yours showing up on page five--or worse--page fifty, you know it's time to take action. Studies have shown that 93% of web users don't look past the first page of results. So what's a website owner to do? Well, there are a few things that are out of your control: algorithms for one and competing sites for another. But you can make sure your site is armed for effective ranking and high searchability. Here's how.

1. Make sure you have an analytics system and know how to use it: first and foremost you want to make sure that you have access to your back end statistics. Why? Because they're important and because you want to know how much traffic your site is getting and where it is coming from. Also, learn how to read these reports. I would recommend considering Google analytics, it's the easiest to learn, manage, and install. [Editor's note: check out Anne-Marie Nichols's article on WOW! for step-by-step instructions on using Google Analytics: Blog Analytics 101: How to Use Google Analytics Effectively.] You'll want to monitor this data a few times a month (especially if you're knee-deep in book promotion) to see where your traffic is coming from and whether the work you are doing to send people to your site is paying off in unique visitors.

2. What is the one major goal for the site? Do you know what you want your site to do? If you don't, then start here and make this your #1 priority. You must have one major goal for the site (yes, you can have additional goals for it but you need to identify your #1 priority first). If your goal is to sell books then you need to be clear about this message. Why is Google going to care about this? Because part of the reason some sites don't get consistent good traffic or ranking is that their site is a mish-mash of 9 different major goals and confusing messages. If your site visitor is confused, Google will be too.

3. Keywords: I know this is a tricky area. The term "keywords" often conjures up the idea that hours of research are involved in getting the perfect set of words. Well, it make take you a few hours but it's worth it. You want to know this not only to identify what your users are searching on but also, what words Google will rank you best for. Identify first where your major searches are coming from via your back-end site statistics, then head on over to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool and see what's coming up in your market search-wise. Once you have these keywords you'll want to use them on your site. See #4.

4. Use of keywords: there is a good way to use keywords and a bad way. The good way is to use them in sentences, headers, blog posts, articles, Twitter postings. The bad way is to do keyword stuffing, which is where you stuff a blog post or intro paragraph on your site with so many keywords that not only does that paragraph not make sense, the keywords won't even get ranked in Google because there are so many of them used in a non-sensicle way. I'm not kidding. Google can spot keyword stuffers a mile away. Here's a tip if you're using keywords in a blog post--use them in your header, first paragraph and last paragraph--then sprinkle them throughout the 2nd or 3rd paragraph. Just enough to capture the traffic, but not enough to seem like you're spamming the search engine world with an overabundance of keywords.

5. Linkbait: if you're getting a lot of incoming links to your site, great! But make sure there's a good reason for people to visit. This is called linkbait. Some SEO experts use this phrase to mean capturing people through a loss leader online that brings people back to your site. They will then capture them into their funnel via a "teaser" posted somewhere online. There's nothing wrong with this as long as the teaser and the linkbait have good content, but for the purposes of this piece we're focused on the content on your site and if you're leading people back to your URL via linkbait, make sure both are substantial.

6. Have lots of content on your site: this goes back to #5--linkbait. Content, content, content. Make sure you have a blog and that it's updated at least twice weekly. If that's all the content you have on your site you're doing better than most. A blog is a great way to develop content and keep the site fresh, focused, and personal.

7. Dump flash: having flash on your site is like putting up a brick wall around your domain name and making sure no search engine can get in or see it. Now there are different types of flash and some can be searched, so check with your website people--but generally, flash is bad for the site (users don't like waiting for the flash to load or display) and search engines can't even see it.

8. Sitemap: if you don't have a sitemap, have your designer add one. Google loves sitemaps, and it's a great way to make sure all your pages are getting spidered in Google.

9. All pages should be created equal: when you look at your site stats, check and see where people are coming in (what pages they're entering your site on). You might find that most visitors aren't coming in through your home page, they're entering somewhere else. What's on the page they are entering through? If there isn't a lot of content on there you'll want to make sure to make it substantial. Remember: Google sees all your pages, so be sure that they all pass muster.

10. Twitter: if you want to get a lot of incoming links to your website then hop onto Twitter. All Twitter posts are searchable and live forever online so a) never post anything you don't want your grandmother to read and b) make sure and post often, including links back to your site when appropriate. You shouldn't put links to your site all the time, otherwise you'll just look like a spammer. A successful method to offer a good number of links without seeming too salesy is to link your blog to Twitter via Twitterfeed. Then every time you update your blog it will update Twitter, send a link back to your site and voila: another incoming link. Yep, the stuff Google loves.

A final tip for helping Google find your site is through incoming links. Google loves these and it will help your site bump up in searches. You'll want high-traffic, high-quality incoming links, so that means links from sites relevant to your own in topic and sites that are coming up high in searches. What's the best way to get links? Well, you could offer them a review copy of your book (when they review it they will likely post a link to your site) or if the site has a blog (most high-traffic sites will) then you can post comments on their blog (see my article on Social Networking on Blogs for an explanation of how this works.)

These tips might seem simple, but they work. If you've been perplexed about your site ranking and tempted to call Google and say, "Hey, where's my site??", try this. It's effective and will not just get you ranking in the short-term, but it will help you build your site's credibility for the long-term.


Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques:

For more tips from book marketing expert Penny Sansevieri, check out WOW's interview 20 Questions Answered by Penny Sansevieri, Author Marketing Guru.

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