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Right Writing News, June 2, 2007, Issue #27
June 02, 2007

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Play A Special Audio Message from Terry Whalin

Table of Contents

1) Ask Your Questions
Free Teleseminar on Tuesday, June 5th
By W. Terry Whalin

2) Writing As A Gift
By Jenna Glatzer

3) The Healing Power of Fiction
By Kristi Holl

4) Six Things Your Publicist Won't Tell You
By Fern Reiss

5) One Life At A Time
By W. Terry Whalin

6) Why Authors Take Chances
By Laura Backes

Ask Your Questions

Free Teleseminar on Tuesday, June 5th

By W. Terry Whalin

For the last several years, I've been on the road about once a month teaching at various writers conferences. If you look at my schedule for this year, I'll be at a number of forthcoming events including three conferences this month.

I know it takes time and financial resources to attend a writer's conference and isn't available for everyone.  I've collected several of my resources and bundled them into a three-CD audio set called Editor Reveals Book Proposal Secrets.  This product is available and you can learn about it on the website but I wanted to do something more to launch it into the marketplace.

Editor Reveals Book Proposal Secrets is different content from my Book Proposals That Sell yet related because it is another tool to help your submission stand out and receive positive attention.

Whether you've heard me teach at a writer's conference or not, do you have a question about the creation of book proposals or the publishing process? I'd love for you to ask that question and have created a place for you to do it. Go to and register for my free live teleseminar next Tuesday, June 5th.  If you are away from your computer, you can call into the teleseminar on your phone or if you are near a computer, you can listen to the free webcast.  I'm eager to receive your questions and the contents of the teleseminar will answer your questions.

It's almost impossible for the average writer to get an editor on the telephone--and if they do get the editor or the agent, they are probably making the wrong impression (a negative one). Why? The bulk of publishing doesn’t involve an oral pitch to an editor but comes from your written materials--your actual manuscript and your book proposal. Yes, you have appointments at writer's conferences where you give a short oral pitch, but in the end, it will be the words you've written on the page which will make the difference between receiving a book contract or a rejection letter.

As an additional incentive for you (and  others) to register for the free teleseminar, on the confirmation page (where you receive the phone number for the teleseminar and the website for the webcast), you will receive a link to a free hour-long workshop that I taught called Straight Talk from the Editor. This workshop material relates to my new audio product.

I hope to speak to you during the live teleseminar.

Writing As A Gift

By Jenna Glatzer

"What am I supposed to give Anthony as a wedding gift?" I asked Kristin, my bridesmaid and person-who-was-married. "I mean, what kinds of things do brides give their grooms? I was thinking of hiring someone to clean the house before we left for the honeymoon so we'd come back to a spotless house. Is that a good wedding gift?"

"Um, no," she said gently, so as not to make me feel like an idiot. "It should be something personal. Like, you could paint him a picture, or make a scrapbook, or write him a poem..."

A poem? Why, I had at least a dozen poems I'd written about him that he'd never seen. And if I wrote a few more, I'd have a whole chapbook!

That's exactly what I did. Over the next couple of months, I wrote more poems. I wrote the final one the day before our wedding, capturing my feelings on the eve of our marriage. Then I printed them out, three-hole-punched them, made a cardstock cover, and tied the pages together with ribbon.

On our wedding day, I took him aside after our ceremony and read him the last poem. It was a perfect gift.

But you don't have to wait for such a monumental occasion to use writing as a gift. One of my friends writes children's books and illustrates them, then gives them to her grandkids on their birthdays. A successful greeting card publisher started out her business because she used to write original cards for all of her family and friends-- they loved them so much that they encouraged her to offer her sentiments to the masses.

I've also "donated" personal essays to anthologies, just so I could give the book as a gift to the person the essay was about. I wrote a love letter to Anthony and sent it off to be published in the anthology Love Letters of a Lifetime, then gave it to him for Valentine's Day.

A poem I wrote for my grandmother was made into a plaque by the James Lawrence Company. A poem to my mother was made into a plaque as well, which I gave her for Mother's Day.

For my bridal shower, a family friend gave me two journals: one for Anthony, one for me. On the card, she wrote her instructions: We were to write in our journals every day, and exchange them on our first anniversary.

Your words don't have to be published to be gifts. You can design your own prints, cards, banners, and books on your computer, or go truly hand-made and pick up a pack of construction paper and markers.

If you want to get fancy, you can hire an artist to make you a cover or design your work for you. Finding them couldn't be simpler: try Googling "illustrators," "graphic designers," or "artists" and see for yourself!

You may write and self-publish your family history as a gift for all your relatives and future generations. Print-on-demand companies make this an affordable option if you shop around and do away with the "extras."

You may use a program like Greetings Workshop to design a calendar. You can insert your own photos and poems or short sentiments, and even write in your own imaginative holidays.

Write your own romance, starring you and your significant other, as an anniversary gift. (Could be a short story, or a novella if you're feeling ambitious!)

Write a story to be read every Christmas as a new family tradition.

Write an inspirational poem for a relative who's in the hospital.

Write a limerick to stick in your daughter's lunchbox.

At the local printer, a personalization shop, or several places online, you can have your words made up into a t-shirt, mug, poster, bumper sticker, magnet, or plaque.

It's wonderful to find that strangers enjoy your published words, but it can be even nicer to find that your words can light up your children's eyes, or your spouse's, or your parents'. A gift of your talent and your heart is generous, and more meaningful than anything you could get at the local mega-mall. Spend some time today writing for someone you love.

Reprinted with permission.

Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of, where writers can get a free list of more than 180 agents who are open to new writers! She is also the author of Outwitting Writer's Block and Other Problems of the Pen and other books for writers, which you can read about at: if you want to make her day.

The Healing Power of Fiction

Kristi Holl

At one point in my life when I grappled with a deep loss, I sank into a writer's block of monumental proportions. Friends and family had gone back about their business, and I ached at the quietness of the house. I couldn't focus on a grocery list, much less my novel-in-progress. Once, as I faced another empty evening, I glanced at the overcrowded shelves in the hallway.

My gaze fell on treasured childhood books that dated back forty years: The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, Little Women, Blue Willow, Anne of Green Gables. I held my breath. Something stirred within, some sense of recognition. By doing no more than reading the titles, a sense of peace washed over me. I wasn't alone after all. My best friends were right there--waiting patiently between the covers of books--just as they had been all my life.

Take Me Away!

Many of us grew up escaping into fiction because it was a world that was safe. A book wasn't going to hurt us. In a book, we could find a world better than the one we lived in. As I talk to writers, I'm astounded at the numbers who grew up deprived of love (and often abused.) Others from "normal" homes, who had to deal with tragedy and hardship, also learned to escape into books. Madeleine L'Engle, author of Newbery winner A Wrinkle in Time, said it this way: "I tried to heal my fear with stories, stories which gave me courage, stories which affirmed that ultimately love is stronger than hate. . . Story was in no way an evasion of life, but a way of living life creatively instead of fearfully."

If you're a writer who has experienced a deep loss and you find your emotions frozen and fingers unable to write, I suggest you rediscover the healing power of fiction. It's free; you find it between the covers of a book instead of in a pill bottle. Think back to the stories that comforted you as a child. Chances are you still have those books in a box somewhere, a box you've carted from house to house for a lifetime. Get them out. Dust them off. (Or hunt down cherished titles at the library or used book stores online.)

Healing in the Mind

What kinds of fiction are most healing? Stories of triumph and love, of loss and recovery, of family and belonging--stories with imaginary worlds that are sometimes more real than your own home. These stories give you a place to escape your pain, at least for a brief time. (Note: Not just any book will do. You need more than mere distraction, which can be had by reading a suspense thriller.) You need stories that feed you, restore you, and begin to heal your wounded spirit. Re-entering the world of best-loved childhood fiction pulls you into a setting with people you love and remember, a nurturing place. Choosing to heal begins in our thoughts, and lost in your fictional world you can absorb thoughts that once again bring you moments of joy. How can you not laugh at Jo March cutting off and selling her hair, "her one beauty"? Or Anne (with an "e") dying her red hair green?

It's true that when your loss is very fresh it is difficult to focus enough to read. In that case, work into it slowly. For example, watching four hours of Anne of Green Gables on public television was enough to propel me into re-reading the whole series. It is still revisiting favorite fictional friends. Then, when the grief has settled down (or settled in), try again to focus on the books. There is a richness in the words and details that transports you into their world for a time. These details of home and clothing and scenery may be present in the movie too, but images on a screen change quickly, and we catch no more than glimpses and impressions. Reading--and reading slowly--allows you to savor the details. And odd as it might sound, it's drinking in the details where healing actually begins.

No matter who in your real life dies or abandons you, the precious friends in books are always there waiting. They're stable. In a world that never stops changing, your fictional friends remain the same. And at times of grief and loss, we desperately need people we can count on. Those people can be found in your childhood books, and they provide tremendous comfort.

Truth? Or Fiction?

How can that be, since fiction (by definition) isn't real? Or ... is it? I believe that some of the greatest truths I ever read were shown to me (or voiced) by characters in novels. (Do not confuse truth with "facts.") Katherine Paterson says books "allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else's life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn't been able to see before."

These truths can be one way out of the dark and lonely tunnel of grief and the resulting writer's block. We identify with our fictional friends--and learn from them. How did Anne and Marilla handle Matthew Cuthbert's death? How did the March girls' faith get them through the loss of their sister, Beth? These (and a dozen other favorite childhood books of mine) taught me how to love, to survive, to grieve--and then to heal. It was no surprise to me that these books got me through my childhood. It was a great surprise to discover they could help me heal an adult loss as well.

Whether you write fiction for children or adults, can you think of a greater reward than that? Don't you want to write stories that someone might pick up someday when they need to visit a dear and treasured friend?
Kristi Holl is the author of 24 middle-grade novels, two nonfiction middle-grade books, and a book for writers, Writer's First Aid. You can read more about Kristi and her work at

Six Things Your Publicist Won't Tell You

By Fern Reiss

Tired of banging your head against the proverbial wall in terms of your book publicity? Ready to scrape together the cash and hire a professional to publicize your book?

Hiring a publicist could be the best thing you could do for your book. Or it could be a huge money sink with no dividends. If you’re considering hiring a publicist for your book, learn what your publicist won’t tell you. (And then check out the dozens of other articles on the web site, and sign up for the (free) Expertizing email newsletter on how to do your own publicity at

So, what six things won’t your publicist tell you?

I don’t need a license. Like literary agents, publicists aren’t required to have any sort of license, which means that no one has ‘vetted’ their credentials. Though you can go to school to study publicity, and you can join professional associations (such as PRSA), many publicists have neither educational nor professional association credentials. This doesn’t necessarily make them bad publicists—but it does mean that you must check their references carefully. The best way to get a publicist is to hire someone who comes highly recommended—by someone you know.

PR is a crap shoot. For even the best practitioners, publicity is hard to guarantee. Sometimes you hit it, and sometimes you don’t. So there’s no such thing as guaranteed publicity—and any publicist who promises you guaranteed publicity is full of it.

You can probably skip the press kit. The first thing most publicists will do for you is to prepare a press kit. They do this for two reasons: It’s an easy deliverable to produce (all you need is a jazzy folder and some glossy photographs and press materials). And it gives the publicist something tangible to point to that they’ve accomplished for the campaign.

The problem is, there’s almost no reason to do a press kit these days. (I almost never do them for my clients.) Sure, you can send them to journalists and broadcast media. But you’re often better off sending a (much cheaper) straight press release: It’s more likely to be read, and harder to lose in the pile. So if the first thing your potential publicist promises you is a press kit, think about looking elsewhere.

Radio isn’t a panacea. Publicists tend to book a lot of radio for their clients because it’s easier to get broadcast time than print space. But radio has a few disadvantages: It doesn’t have the longevity of printed publicity (It won’t turn up in a doctor’s office reception room three years later, for example). It doesn’t get passed from friend to colleague the way printed articles do. And people listen to it from their cars, making it harder for them to jot down the name of your book even if they intend to buy it. So although it’s worth doing some radio in your publicity mix, be wary of the publicist who focuses on radio to the exclusion of all else. It’s easier for the publicist—but usually not as good for the book. (The few people who have made their book bestsellers by doing hundreds of radio shows have really been on the air way more than most authors would prefer.)

Press releases need *news*. It’s easy to write a press release that does not get pick-up by the press. But if you really want your press release to get exposure, keep in mind that it needs to have a strong news angle. (“I have a new book” or “I hired a new employee” is not considered news.) Your publicist knows this—but since it’s easier to write a press release that doesn’t have a strong news hook, sometimes that’s what you’ll get. Insist that each of your press releases has a strong news angle.

Good PR is expensive. Good PR is expensive; top PR professionals get a minimum of $5000 per month, and the prices can run much, much higher And PR campaigns need to be run over a several-month period in order to be effective, so most PR professionals won’t take you on for less than six months minimum. So if you’re thinking about taking the plunge, be sure you’re prepared to spend at least $30,000.

So march out and hire that publicist. But be sure you have realistic expectations—and that you know what you’re buying.


Fern Reiss, CEO of, is the author of The Publishing Game book and workshop series. She only takes three publicity clients each year, but her Workshops can teach you how to get more media attention for your book and business; they take place at the Ritz Carlton Hotels in Boston on September 25 and NYC on September 18. To learn more, sign up for Fern’s free Expertizing email newsletter at

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One Life At A Time

By W. Terry Whalin

Can your writing make a difference in someone’s life today?

There are many different types of writing. Some magazine articles are known as “service” articles because they highlight a particular service to the reader. Other articles are “how-to” articles and help the reader know how to do a particular task. Personal experience magazine articles are another popular format where you tell your personal experience and the reader gains insight from your own personal journey. Actually there are seven or eight different types of magazine articles (depending on which book you read). Notice how each time I talked about the article I was focused on the reader? It’s a common failure for new writers not to focus on the audience for their article.

The bulk of my writing has been in the spiritual/ religious/ Christian marketplace. It’s my area of expertise and where I’ve found opportunity for my writing. At times I wander out of this arena—with an article in some place like Writer’s Digest or my how-to material in Book Proposals That Sell (which is universal for any type of book writing).  I could write in other areas of the marketplace but I’ve decided to focus on the spiritual aspects and this aspect is where I have the greatest passion for my writing. Passion will often determine where you do your best work.  If you don’t have passion for a particular idea or writing project, it’s difficult to complete it—possible but difficult.

Writing is often a solitary task where we sit with our pen and paper or computer screen and simply pour out our words.  It’s rare that I receive a letter from someone who has read one of my books (at times forwarded from the publisher). It’s even rarer that I receive feedback from a magazine article that I’ve written and how it’s impacted someone’s life.

While the feedback from readers is terrific and appreciated, there is also some joy in the unknown and how that unknown can affect people. Several months ago, I received an email that asked if I was the “Terry Whalin” who went to Indiana University and went into Wycliffe Bible Translators (where I spent 17 years).  I replied to the email because I was that person.  The writer was someone I went to college with over 30 years ago and had lost contact.

Two years ago, this guy was in Rwanda visiting some Wycliffe missionaries and saw a book with my name on it. It stirred him to contact me. Ironically I wrote this book many years ago and is still in print and widely used around the world.  Because of this lost then newfound connection, I met face-to-face with this old friend in New York City. We are back in touch from that old writing project.

What’s ahead for you today in your writing life? Whether you write one page or many pages, get it into the market. It affects readers one life at a time.

W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books. See more about his writing at Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.

© 2007 W. Terry Whalin

Get Into O Magazine by Susan Harrow

Why Top Authors Take Chances

By Laura Backes

In an editorial several years ago, I described a tree house in the backyard of a local restaurant. I wrote, "The entire structure has been pieced together from recycled lumber, much of which still bears the paint, logos or posters of the original walls from whence it came. The generous platform is ringed by a sturdy fence that includes branches of the tree itself, random two-by-fours, wooden signs, and even a pair of moose antlers. The 'house' is more of a lean-to, tall enough for kids (but not adults) to stand up inside, with a screened door and two screened windows positioned so occupants can easily spy on the diners below or out over the adjacent parking lot. A green padded bench that looks like it had once belonged in a diner adequately furnishes the space. Underneath the tree house hangs a rope swing, from which kids can fling themselves into a thick layer of hay on the grass."

Fast forward to this summer. The restaurant revamped their backyard, including the tree house. The railing now consists of uniform boards about three inches apart. The house is reached not by a ladder and trapdoor, but via a bona fide staircase. The screen door is gone, the windows are covered in glass, and several of the tree's branches have been pruned back to discourage climbing. But the worst part, according to my 10-year-old, is that the rope swing has disappeared. Matthew declared the whole structure "boring." In today's world, kids have far less freedom than in previous generations. Their lives are more controlled–sometimes because of parents' fears of an increasingly dangerous society, but often because we've somehow come to believe that to grow into successful adults, children's activities must be channeled, scheduled and programmed from infancy.

Danger comes in many forms, from a stranger encountered on the way to school (who may be a neighbor out walking his dog, but you never know), to free time not filled with "enriching" activities. But, in my opinion, kids need a little danger in their lives. They need to test their boundaries, to learn how to climb a ladder and squeeze through a trapdoor. They need to hurl themselves into a pile of hay and learn it's best not to land on your face. If grown-ups clean up their world too much, kids will never learn how to push themselves. They'll never have the satisfaction of trying things that are a little scary, a little off their parents' radar, and accomplishing something that belongs just to them.

One of the few places kids can still push their limits is with books. It's possible to step outside your safe life with a story, or try new ideas on for size. But many adults want to clean up their kids' reading choices as well. I know parents who abhor Barbara Park's perennially popular Junie B. Jones chapter books because the spirited Junie isn't a good role model, or won't read Winnie the Pooh because Christopher Robin can't spell very well. I also know a lot of authors who are afraid to write books that are slightly subversive because they worry editors won't publish them. But for every parent who insists on only "safe" reading for their child (and it's every parent's right to do so), there are at least two parents who believe it's okay for kids to wade into the danger zone through fiction. I'm not advocating murder mysteries for preschoolers here, just books that might be considered slightly uncivilized, or more entertaining than educational. Let's look at some popular examples:

When I first saw Walter, the Farting Dog by William Kozwinkle and Glenn Murray, illustrated by Audrey Colman (a picture book whose plot needs no explanation), I was worried that children's publishing might be sinking a little too low. But as it started winning awards and spawning sequels, I changed my opinion. Let's face it: farting makes kids laugh. And if your child finds this book hysterical, you should be glad. In order to get the joke, kids need to know that noisy bodily functions are considered impolite. Laughing about them is one of the perks of childhood. Don't worry, they'll outgrow it.

A picture book coming out this December that's already creating a buzz is 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. The heroine utters such statements as "I had an idea to staple my brother’s hair to his pillow. I am not allowed to use the stapler anymore." She also glues her brother's bunny slippers to the floor, and shows Joey Whipple her underpants. Both big No's. This ingenious story should satisfy two camps of parents; those who want kids to see consequences for inappropriate behavior, and those who don't mind letting their kids live vicariously through a curious, mischievous character. A pop-up book due out later this month from three publishing powerhouses–Maurice Sendak, Arthur Yorinks and Matthew Reinhart–lets young children face the monsters hiding in their closets and come out on top. In Mommy?, a young boy wanders into a haunted house looking for his mother and encounters creatures like a goblin, a mummy, and Frankenstein. Instead of running scared, the boy pulls pranks on each monster, deflating their power and showing how humor conquers fear every time.

Speaking of scary, if you haven't read any of the enormously popular Series of Unfortunate Events middle grade novels by Lemony Snicket, do so. With titles like The Bad Beginning, The Miserable Mill, and The Penultimate Peril, and cautions from the author such as, “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book,” these are clearly stories where adults dare not tread. But children brave enough to venture between the covers will find hilarious plots full of nail-biting twists. The intelligent Baudelaire orphans have unusual skills (Violet for inventing, Klaus for reading and researching, and baby Sunny for biting) that make them admirable heroes.

Lauren Myracle enters the private world of teen girl talk in her young adult novels TTYL and TTFN. The titles alone might raise some parents' suspicions because unless they're well-versed at IM (instant messaging), they won't know what the abbreviations stand for. In fact, the entire novels consist of conversations between three high school girls written in emails, text-messaging and IM's, using the standard computer shorthand that includes abbreviated spelling and quirky syntax. If you're not an IMer yourself, you'll find the books somewhat difficult to read. But you and I aren't the target audience here. And though the format might keep adults from examining the books too closely, the plots are standard upper young adult fare–relationships, family trauma, peer pressure, even drugs and alcohol–handled in a believable manner that conveys growth of character by the end of each story.

As an author, if you're inspired to delve into the slightly dangerous, dark or subversive corners of childhood with your books, feel free to do so. Don't limit yourself to all that's bright, safe and up to code. Allow kids places where they can wander away from their parents' watchful eyes and have an adventure. If the adventure's in a book, they'll always come home safe and sound. And if you're still not convinced, consider this: In the backyard of the restaurant, the tree house now sits empty. But the books I've described above are flying off the shelves.

About the Author: Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers. For more information about writing children's books, including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much more, visit Children's Book Insider's home on the web at

Copyright 2007, Children's Book Insider, LLC.
Reprinted with permission.

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