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Right Writing News, March 31, 2005, Issue #017
March 31, 2005
Welcome to the seventeenth issue. It highlights a best-selling author's writing life, numerous writing articles and some new links to check. This publication appears monthly. If you are reading this issue forwarded from someone, be sure and use the link below to get your own free subscription.
If you like what you see here, please forward this copy and use this link to subscribe.
Table of Contents1)Weaving Through The Gray Areas--Stephen Bransford By W. Terry Whalin
2) Still Blogging Between Right Writing News
3) The Feast or Famine Syndrome By Kelly James-Enger
4) Writing Like There's No Tomorrow By Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
5) Energy Management For Writers By Scott Jeffrey
6) The Non-Scene -- Causes and Cures By Thomas B. Sawyer
7) The IRS Versus Vanity Publishing By Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D.
8) Write Less and Earn More With Spin-Offs By Karen O'Connor
9) Scribbling For Fun And Profit By Stephen Coonts
10) New Links to Check
Weaving Through The Gray Areas--Stephen Bransford
By W. Terry WhalinAs an Arizona State University student, Bransford had driven himself to exhaustion. This married student with a two-year-old son maintained a straight A average with 18 units besides working 40 hours a week. Suddenly during his fifth anniversary dinner, something snapped.
Sitting at the supper table, Bransford suffered what he now understands was a nervous breakdown. He leaped from the table and wandered around his house. As he walked past a mirror, Stephen thought his face looked contorted and twisted out of shape. "Who is that?" Bransford yelled at the image.
"I heard my own voice echoing like it was shouted through a long tube," Stephen said. "I heard my wife and son the same way. Going to a hospital, they gave me tranquilizers which I refused take. I believed in prayer not medicine."
In spite of his collapsing world, his life remained focused on Christ. After returning home, Stephen fell asleep. Then he took a detour from sanity and woke up. "I was forced return to the hospital and take the pills--for me it was like a defeat for God. I believed God could answer my situation only through prayer."
When to take medicine and when to only pray isn't clear-cut from Scripture. Between them is a gray area. Throughout his life, Bransford has grappled with the gray areas of life and learned there are no easy answers--only lessons in the sovereignty of God.
After initially taking the tranquilizer, Stephen rebelled. Positioning the pills on his apartment floor, he got down on his knees and prayed desperately, "God, you be my pill. Take this hell away. I'll do anything or go through anything but don't let me be maintained by this substance." He quit taking the medicine every four hours.
That night, Bransford ejected from bed, every muscle twitching. His thoughts whirling out of control. He relented, took a pill and kept taking them for three more months. After six months of therapy, Bransford finally was able to stop taking the tranquilizers.
At one of the lowest points in his recovery process, Stephen turned his TV to a Christian station. Always before he had despised Christian television, now the face of tele-evangelist Oral Roberts loomed into his living room. "We need to believe God for a miracle," Oral was saying. "Today--right now--he can touch your life wherever you are. Let's pray..."
Stephen bowed his head and prayed along with Roberts. He was encouraged by the compassion he felt in Oral's prayer. During the evening, Stephen remembered another time Oral Roberts had touched his life--in his childhood.
People--many wearing their Sunday best--pressed into a coliseum in Portland, Oregon. Ten-year-old Stephen sat beside his parents and intently watched the service. Oral Roberts' booming voice held the crowd spellbound. As the healing service concluded, Oral moved to the edge of the platform. The crowd pressed forward to receive a touch and anointing from Roberts. Some in wheelchairs. Others on crutches. Others in bandages. During the service, some were healed and walked for the first time in days or years. Others returned in their wheel chairs. One by one, Roberts patiently touched the sick and prayed for their infirmities. Stephen remembered this demonstration of compassion in his own time of need.
"I was raised to believe in divine healings," Stephen says. Years later during his nervous breakdown, Bransford tuned his television and saw Oral Roberts. He didn't receive divine healing but found much needed encouragement. Again he grappled with gray areas of Christianity. When did God heal and when did the Lord say no?
"I have come to see it was God's desire for me to accept his healing hand through science," Stephen says. Unable to locate a qualified Christian therapist at the time of his breakdown. Bransford turned to a secular psychiatrist. He feared his days of faith were over. But after a year of therapy, Bransford discovered his faith had matured instead of losing ground. During the second year, he looked around at the other patients. "I was the only one who had gotten well," Bransford recalls. "The difference was God and his guidance for my life. The other patients had discarded their faith."
After his recovery, as a television producer Stephen had the opportunity to interview Roberts in Tulsa about building the City of Faith.
"Why did you stop your ministry of compassion and touching people?" Stephen asked.
With a sigh and weary look on his face, Roberts admitted he couldn't predict which people God would heal. "One man cannot touch all those people," Roberts said. "I had deep feelings of pain seeing so many people go away sick. Others would be inexplicably healed through miracles. This inability to predict along with the call to minister wore me out. Television permitted me to touch many more suffering people and fulfill my calling to people who suffer," Roberts said to Bransford.
Prayer touched Stephen's life in a strong fashion when he met intercessor, Glenda Smith from Church on the Rock in Dallas. "For months, I avoided meeting this woman, because prayer had failed me. Now I leaned toward the side of medicine," Bransford admits.
His career as a writer was rising. Riders of the Long Road published by Doubleday in hardcover sold 40,000 copies and won the 1985 Texas Literary Festival Award. Yet Bransford's personal life was crumbling with a divorce. "My greatest career success was happening concurrent with the greatest defeat and tragic loss of my life," Stephen said. "When I would sit down to write, I couldn't. It wasn't writer's block because I had plenty to say but I couldn't keep going."
He moved back into television production and worked for evangelist James Robison. A friend continually mentioned Stephen's need to meet this intercessor, Glenda Smith. A medical doctor provided Smith with a little prayer room in his office because he believed in the power of intercessory prayer.
One day Stephen took the plunge and went over to meet Smith. Immediately Glenda wanted to pray for him. Smith had heard about his writing and work with different tele-evangelists. "She locked on to me and prayed into my spirit for two solid hours," Bransford said. "When I came to her, I was wounded, torn up and defeated. After she finished praying, it was like I wore a spiritual suit over my skin. I was incredibly energized for the next two days."
Bransford returned home and began the outline on another novel which included a character who interceded for the tele-evangelist. Four years later the finished book became High Places, the lead novel for Crossway Books. In High Places, Bransford uses fiction to meld together his experiences with intercessory prayer, tele-evangelism, and medicine. It forms the latest capstone in his lifelong journey to understand this dimension of the spiritual life.
He writes from the perspective of the lead character Pauline Grace, "The Prayer Steeple faced the square-shouldered medical building across the sixteenth fairway of the golf course. It seemed to her that her entire life was divided like these two buildings: prayer versus medicine, faith versus science, holiness versus sin, light versus darkness, black versus white (at least until lately when she had been forced to deal with some very difficult shades of gray)."
The gray areas of life is something Stephen Bransford has faced with a conviction that a relationship with God through Jesus Christ is the only lasting way to discover truth.
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 and his latest is Running On Ice (New Hope Publishers). His book for writers has just released called Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Write Now Publications). Find out more at: www.bookproposals.ws See more about his writing at www.right-writing.com/whalin.html. He is the Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Publishing. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.
© 2005 W. Terry Whalin
Still Blogging Between Right Writing News
By W. Terry WhalinThe Writing Life continues to find a growing audience between issues of this newsletter. I've been writing about different aspects of writing plus including links to additional information. One of the best ways to regularly read the information is to set up a free Yahoo account and add The Writing Life to the content of your news page.
Just use the button below:
The Feast or Famine Syndrome
Tips for Managing your Workload--and Your Cash Flow
By Kelly James-EngerAsk any freelancer about one of his or her biggest struggles, and chances are that one of the answers will be the ups and downs of both the workload and the income--the "feast or famine" syndrome. In other words, you're either swamped with work to the point that you're spending nights and weekends at the computer to make your deadlines--or you have so little to do that you're overcome with simultaneous boredom, malaise, and hand-wringing anxiety.
The worst times for me are the slow periods, when I have too little work to do and, in the words of Styx, "too much time on my hands." It never fails--instead of using these extra hours to my advantage, I start wasting it. I doodle, surf the net, clean my office, balance my checkbook, obsessively add up my accounts receivable, fret over the number of assignments I have, and start to worry that I'll have to give up freelancing and (horrors!) go back to work for someone else. In six years of freelancing fulltime, I've found that I need a certain amount of work to keep me focused--otherwise, I slow down and become less efficient.
As a writer, you can't always control the amount of work you have coming in, but you can control the amount of time you spend pitching ideas and marketing yourself. I know this is easier said than done. When you're swamped with assignments, it's all too easy to stop querying…only to find that a month later, you're completely caught up on your work and have no new stories coming your way. (Even as I write this column, I realize that I'm a living example of this phenomenon--between finishing up the revisions on my novel and wrapping up three big features last week, I've discovered that I have only two current assignments on my desk. Which means it's time to query.)
One of the technique I've used to try to ensure a steady stream of work is by mentally dividing assignments into three categories--work that's been completed, turned in and accepted (which means I'm awaiting payment on it); work that's been completed and turned in but hasn't been approved my the editor or client yet; and work that's "on my desk" that still has to be researched and written. If I have a certain amount in each category--say $5,000--it helps smooth out my cash flow. If I only have a couple of thousand dollars' worth of work "on my desk", however, I know I need to get cracking to line up some more assignments. Otherwise, in another month or two, I'm going to be facing a dip in my income.
Try setting a minimum dollar amount for your current assignments--that way, when you fall below that, you know it's time to beat the marketing drum. But consistent work also means consistently pitching ideas and promoting yourself. Some writers find it easier to market continually rather than sporadically. However, I've discovered that I'm more efficient if I spend a day or two each month researching and developing query ideas, and sending them off in batches. Try both approaches and use the one that works best for you.
Another way to generate more work is to pitch to the clients and editors you're already working with. When you turn in an article, offer a new story idea. Call clients that you haven't worked for in a while to "touch base" and keep your name in front of them. Look for markets that you can develop ongoing relationships with--you'll spend less time trying to obtain writing assignments and more time actually doing them.
Send Me the Money!
While developing a steadier stream of work can also mean a more constant cash flow, unfortunately there's no guarantee of this. Some days my mail carrier brings me nothing. Some days there are reprint checks for $60, $75, or maybe $100; other days, checks for $1000, $1200, or more. On one stellar occasion, I got two checks--one for $2700 and one for $2500--on the same day. Wonderful! Fantastic! Awesome! I had a $5,000 day! Just imagine what I could make if I had more of those days! I quickly began calculating a new set of income goals. The only problem…that's the only $5,000 day I've ever had.
Realizing that it's impossible to predict when they'll be paid, most freelancers maintain a savings account to cover them during the lean times. "Even though I make a good living, payments are so sporadic that I sometimes resort to looking under my sofa cushions for change to buy gas. Well, not really," admits freelancer Melba Newsome, of Mathews, North Carolina. "But some months I receive a lot of money from magazines while in others, nothing comes in. So, it's important to budget and plan for the lean times. I have savings but I try not to go into them. If I collect $20,000 one month, I spend the usual, keeping in mind that there the next month, I may not get any money!"
Newsome also stays on top of her outstanding invoices. "Being a freelance writer means you have to be a contract negotiator and a collection agency, as well. There's a lot of paperwork to keep up with if you want to make sure you're being paid correctly and promptly," says Newsome. "I keep good records and am not shy about calling up and saying ‘hey, where's my money?' I'm also not above crying broke saying things like ‘I can't pay my health insurance or my mortgage.' I hate doing this because they should just pay you but I've learned that the squeaky wheel gets the grease."
To keep the money rolling in, invoice work (if necessary--some magazine editors don't want invoices) as soon as it's finished or accepted by your client. Keep tabs on your accounts receivable, and follow up on unpaid invoices if you're still waiting on a check after 30 days. Look for clients that pay promptly--in my experience, corporations pay more quickly than magazines, and smaller publications pay faster than larger ones.
Finally, I use a credit card for travel and other large business-related expenses, which buys me several weeks to pay big bills. Another option is a line of credit at your local bank to help cover you during slow times. Of course, there's no substitute for having a "safety bumper" in your savings account, but focusing on maintaining a steady stream of work--and paychecks--will help alleviate your biggest cash-flow problems.
Freelance journalist Kelly James-Enger is the author of Six-Figure Freelancing (Random House Reference, 2005) and Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books, 2003.) She can be reached through her website at: www.becomebodywise.com.
© 2005 Kelly James-Enger. Used with Permission.
Writing Like There's No Tomorrow
By Barbara DeMarco-BarrettIt took a while for me to get going as a writer. It wasn't until the beginning of my junior year at a private Vermont college that I knew I wanted to write, that I was desperate, actually, to be a writer. Once that knowledge took hold, there was no reconsidering my choice. I blazed along the writing path, writing hard, reading hard, making up for lost time. My advisers encouraged me. It was all good, all promising-no matter that writing was the biggest intellectual challenge of my life.
But when I graduated, the fact that I still had not transformed into Virginia Woolf or become a New Yorker writer sent me into a writer's block as big as Grand Central Station. It lasted a year. Finally the truth sank in: Not writing wasn't bringing me any closer to being like the writers I admired or to being published, and I so missed writing. I dove back in. There was no choice. I was a writer: I was miserable when I didn't write, and I wanted to write more than I wanted to do anything else. I had to write, come what may.
The deep desire to write is all you need to begin. Its power over you is bigger than the fear of rejection. Once you accept that you are a writer, you can overcome fear. I had to.
In every aspect of life, it's easy to let fear influence our decisions. We stick with jobs we hate for fear of ending up in ones that are worse. We stay in emotionally or physically abusive relationships because we are afraid to leave. And we put off writing because there's no time, we're sure we're no good, and who are we kidding, anyway? What makes me think I'll ever make it? This way, the dream of being a writer remains just that-a dream.
Putting aside fears in love, in life, and in writing is the only way to have a shot at achieving any measure of success.
When crime novelist Andrew Vachss came on my show, he talked about never giving up. "Spectators don't win fights, and the one fighting technique I have not seen fail yet is to just keep getting up. People shouldn't be discouraged, because they can go from everybody saying that they would never be published and all of a sudden, it's done. You never know. You're punching a wall, punching a wall, your hands are bloody and broken, and then all of a sudden the wall's down, not from any one punch but from the accumulated weight of all the punches. This is not a business for people who give up easily."
Set Your Timer
Imagine a friend has come to you for help. She dreams of becoming a writer but is burdened by fears. She worries she has no talent and has nothing to say. Perhaps she worries she's taking precious time away from her family to pursue her selfish desire to write.
For fifteen minutes, write to that friend and give her hope. Dispel each of her fears, one by one, so that when she is through talking with you and revealing her heart, she will be willing to try giving the writing life her best effort. Your words need to inspire her and help her through this difficult time.
Now, can you comfort yourself this way?
Imagine you are this person. Set the timer for fifteen minutes and, using your newfound outlook, write a letter to yourself about your plans and projects as a writer.
Be as specific as possible. What sorts of projects are you interested in? What would you like to write today? What is your ultimate goal? What is your most extravagant dream? Let what you jot down run the gamut from the most realistic project to the most outrageous imaginings. It's okay to dream on paper. In fact, writing down your goals can be a vital step toward accomplishing them.
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and at 11 moved to Lansdale, just outside Philadelphia. She attended Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, where she earned a bachelor's degree. She has published fiction, poetry, articles and essays in such journals as the Los Angeles Times, The Writer, Poets & Writers, Sunset, Westways, Orange Coast Magazine and the San Jose Mercury News . Her work has been anthologized in two books: The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing (St. Martin's Press, 2003) and Conversations with Clarence Major (University Press of Mississippi, 2002). She is host of Writers on Writing, a weekly radio show that airs on KUCI-FM (88.9) and at www.kuci.org and teaches creative writing at the University of California, Irvine Extension. She lives in Corona del Mar, California, with her jazz and blues musician husband, her 10-year-old son, two tanks of fish and one cat. Her first book is Pen On Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide for Igniting the Writer Within (Harcourt/Harvest, October 2004). Her website is at: www.barbarademarcobarrett.com.
Excerpted from Pen On Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide for Igniting the Writer Within All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Energy Management for Writers:
6 Ways for Ignite Creativity
By Scott JeffreyIt's late, you're tired, and you'd rather nap than pound away at the keyboard. Your creative juices aren't flowing, but your deadline is Friday, and if you don't get your manuscript to your editor, there will be hell to pay … or at least, there will be a potential breach of contract.
You need a solution--and you need it fast.
Before you even let the words "Writer's Block" enter your consciousness, keep the following in mind: Writer's Block is a belief--if you don't accept the belief, you can't become infected with the "disease."
But I digress. Here's a bit of insight most writers are not privy to: Your degree of creativity is often correlated to your body's physiology. It's when you're energized and your hands can't keep up with your racing mind that you experience your best creativity. How do you trigger that state?
There are a number of simple things you can do to manage your energy level when you write:
1. Posture. When you're sitting in the same position for a long period of time (as writers often do), you have a tendency to drop your shoulders, collapsing your diaphragm and decreasing the oxygen to your lungs. Hence, less energy. When you notice yourself hunched over your keyboard, straighten your back and take a deep diaphragmatic breath.
2. Breathing. Try this: take a deep breath and watch what happens to your shoulders. Most likely they'll rise as you inhale. That's because most of us have forgotten how to breathe properly. Ever watch a baby breathe? Their shoulders don't move--their bellies expand and contract. This is the optimal way of breathing because it more completely fills your lungs with oxygen.
To breathe diaphragmatically, place a hand on your stomach (over your belly button) and imagine a balloon inside your stomach. Now, take a deep, steady breath, watching the balloon inflate, causing your stomach to expand. After holding your breath for a moment, slowly and steadily exhale, deflating the balloon within your belly. Repeat this three to five times and notice how you feel.
3. Hydration. Good hydration is vital to one's energy level, and what's the beverage of champions for writers? Coffee, of course. The challenge with coffee is it tends to dehydrate the body. Although we often associate caffeine with being an agent of energy, after the initial "boost" wears off, it actually depletes your energy level. The best way to hydrate is to drink lots of water. Drinking water during your writing sessions is more beneficial. (Please note: This doesn't mean you need to stop drinking coffee--just be aware of its long term effects and increase your intake of H2O.)
4. Movement. Another key to increasing your energy is to break out of your stationary writing position. The more frequently you get up, stretch and move around, the better your blood flow and the more energy you'll have. On his website, New York Times Best-Selling Author Dan Brown says that he keeps an antique hour glass on his desk and takes quick breaks every hour to do pushups, sit-ups, and some quick stretches. (He's also a big fan of gravity boots!)
5. Diet. Certain meals and snacks are energy-supplying, while others are coma-inducing. Have you ever felt like running a few miles after a steak dinner? Manage your food intake carefully and watch your blood sugar level, especially if you're writing in the morning. Sports performance specialists generally suggest eating fruit around 11 am when most people's energy tends to drop. Foods like raw nuts, granola, fruits, and vegetables are energy-enhancing. Also, eating smaller, more frequent meals will help maintain a high energy level and feed your creativity.
6. Music. Create a personal soundtrack for writing inspiration. Have you ever noticed that certain songs immediately trigger your creativity, passion or enthusiasm? Keep energy-producing songs on your computer or digital media player. Listen to these songs in a continual loop or use them for quick burst of inspiration during stretch breaks.
These guidelines will help you manage your energy level while you write. And by managing your physiology, you'll be amazed at how your writing experience is transformed.
Writer's block? Never heard of it…
Scott Jeffrey is the author of Journey To the Impossible, Designing an Extraordinary Life. Currently Scott coaches entrepreneurs, CEOs, entertainers, and leaders in all areas of life toward achieving better results in less time with greater fulfillment. He lives in New York City. This article is adapted from the 10-CD audio program, Everything you Need to Know to Become a Best-Selling Author by Scott Jeffrey and Dr. X.
The Non-Scene -- Causes And Cures
By Thomas B. SawyerThe scene in which all of the characters are in agreement with each other.
The scene inserted solely for the purpose of exposition, of passing along information to the audience.
The scene that is basically "mechanical" in the sense that its excuse for being there -- its purpose -- is to establish a certain fact, or to get this or that character from Point A to Point B for plot purposes.
The scene that merely platforms a story-element or clue without achieving anything else. Without adding anything new, or advancing inter-character conflicts.
The scene containing no dramatic or comedic value.
The scene that fails to entertain.
All of these are what we describe in television as non-scenes. And I mark them as such in scripts that I'm editing. They're dull, amateurish, and not acceptable.
They also have something else in common: If whatever they accomplish is essential to your story, they can almost always be incorporated into other, more interesting scenes.
It's worth repeating here that among the most important of the many self-editing questions you need to ask yourself is -- where is the heat in each scene? Where's the tension in each moment? Where is the conflict? Where's the edge? What's going on in this transaction -- beyond the transaction itself? Again, the heat need not be in what they're talking about or otherwise acting out, but rather in the subtext, a topic discussed more fully in Chapter Six.
Further, each scene should pass the writer's "What does it accomplish?" test. Does it move the story to another place? Does it expose another side of one or more of the characters?
If the answer is no, it's telling you to rethink it.
Non-scenes are what cause your audience to dial out. The good news is -- the condition is fixable. In ways suggested earlier in this book, as well as others you'll figure out for yourself. Sometimes the solution will be to eliminate the scene, or to combine it with another. Or -- to find another layer, another level further beneath the surface of one or more of your characters -- one that provides the needed spark that will bring the scene to life.
But first, you need to recognize when you've committed a non-scene, to set your own detector to begin flashing when the problem shows up.
The toughest scene to write so that it won't be a non-scene is, as mentioned earlier, the love scene. The scene between two people who agree with each other. Because on the face of it, it doesn't have conflict, ergo it has no drama. Ergo it has no entertainment value. Even if it's gussied up with literal eroticism, or with jokes -- unless the humor -- or the acrobatics, contain some conflict.
Examine the earlier-referenced opening of Preston Sturges' film, Christmas in July, and you'll see one of the very best examples of how to make such a moment work. I think you will also be impressed by how much, in terms of subtle exposition, Sturges shows us about the couple -- and how quickly he sketches it in -- without being on-the-nose.
What continues to astonish me, in novels, television shows, and in so many big-or-small budget movies, is how often edges are missing from scenes, or even from entire stories. One of the liberating benefits of the VCR and DVD is that if a movie viewed at home fails to grab us in -- say -- the first fifteen or twenty minutes, we can -- and do -- bail out with less hesitation than if we'd laid out nine or ten dollars per theater ticket - plus overpriced candy and popcorn. Or popped for a pricey, over-hyped hardcover book that turns out to be unreadable.
Obviously, considering the number of such novels that are published, and films released, containing long, uninteresting, non-confrontational scenes, there are quite a few successful professionals out there who seem to disagree with me about the need for consistent, ever-present conflict as the tool for grabbing -- and then holding onto -- the audience. Are they wrong? I believe they are. Would their work be more effective, more involving, if they did agree? I know it would.
Or -- could it be -- they simply don't know any better…?
Next time you encounter a piece that fails to engage you because it lacks edge, or story, or compelling characters, I suggest that you question it in at least the following terms: How could the author have made it better? How, if you were given the opportunity of rewriting or editing the material, could you have made it better?
It seems a near-universal truth that it's far easier to learn from bad stuff than from good. The good -- novels, short stories, plays, movies -- seem to transport us into their world, taking us along on their ride, anesthetizing most of our critical faculties. At least until we revisit them.
And than there are those rare jewels -- the really good ones -- that get better as, with each encounter, we bring something new to the table. In my own experience, re-reading Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby at ten or fifteen-year intervals has been like reading a fresh, ever-better book each time.
The good ones accomplish what we, as writers, hope to do.
Novelist, screenwriter, playwright Thomas B. Sawyer was Head Writer/Producer-Showrunner of the hit series, Murder, She Wrote, for which he wrote 24 episodes. Tom has written 9 network TV pilots, 100 episodes, and has been Writer/Showrunner or Story Editor on 15 network series. He wrote, directed & produced the cult film comedy, Alice Goodbody, is co-librettist/lyricist of Jack, an opera about John F. Kennedy that has been performed to acclaim in the US and Europe. He is co-creator of Storybase software. The bestselling mystery/thriller, The Sixteenth Man, is his first novel. Both his latest book, Fiction Writing Demystified: Techniques That Will Make You a More Successful Writer, and Storybase are Writer's Digest Book Club Selections. His next thriller, No Place To Run, will be published in 2005. Mr. Sawyer has been nominated for an Edgar and an Emmy. Tom, his wife Holly, and cats live in Malibu, California. You can learn more at his website: www.ThomasBSawyer.com or his site for writers: www.storybase.net.
The IRS versus Vanity Publishing
By Dennis E. HensleyMany frustrated writers have fallen prey to the wooing praise of a vanity publisher. A vanity publisher is a printing company that will design a cover and print copies of any person's book-length manuscript. Although a writer could have this done for about $500 at any hometown print shop, vanity publishers charge from $3,000 to $15,000 for such services. The reason for the extra charge is because they claim to offer publicity and distribution to go along with the printing. But that's a scam, a real con job.
Here are the facts: the large book store chains, such as Waldenbooks and B. Dalton's, never, never, never stock vanity books on their shelves. Thus, there is no distribution for the book and it is doomed to obscurity before it even gets released. Furthermore, 85% of the newspapers in America will not print reviews of vanity published books (although they will allow you to buy ads for your book). Worst of all, almost all public libraries have a policy of not buying and not shelving vanity books unless they are written by a local author (and even then some libraries refuse to accept them).
As bad as all that is, it is not the whole story. The money a person "invests" (and consequently loses) in having a vanity book published is not tax deductible. The writer has to "eat" the loss personally. This has been a consistent ruling by the IRS and it has been endorsed by the courts.
In 1975 a woman named Fannie Hawkins paid $3,000 to Vantage Press to have her 56-page poetry book Within the Heart of a Woman published. Including giveaway copies that went to friends, relatives and neighbors, only 350 books were distributed. Fannie lost all her money, so she claimed a $3,096 tax deduction that year as a "business expense" for the cost of publishing and mailing her book. She said she had a right to this deduction because she had spent the money as a way of trying to make a profit as an author.
The IRS disallowed the deduction because Fannie had no evidence to prove that she was in the business of earning cash as a writer -- no legitimate book contracts, no royalty earnings, no bylines in major periodicals. The IRS said that paying Vantage to publish her poems was an extension of Fannie's "hobby."
Fannie appealed the ruling and took it to court. She claimed that she had written occasional articles for her local newspaper, so that qualified her as a professional writer. She also said that she "worked daily" for many months composing the poems for her book.
On March 21, 1979, the court ruled against Fannie Hawkins. The judge noted that Fannie was not a regular contributor to the newspaper, nor was she paid a set salary or established freelance fee. Thus, she was an amateur, not a professional writer. Furthermore, the judge stated that writing 56 short poems did not require day long work for many weeks. Fannie was ordered to pay her adjusted 1975 back taxes without the $3,096 deduction.
In an earlier case, Barnett Vs. the Tax Commissioner, the court ruled that a writer was someone who could prove "continuity and regularity" of writing activity done for the express purpose of making a profit. Vanity publishing did not qualify under this definition.
So, my word of advice to you about vanity publishing remains the same: have nothing to do with it. It's a losing venture!
Dr. Dennis E. Hensley is the author of 44 books and more than 3,000 feature articles. He is a recipient of the Indiana University "Award for Teaching Excellence" and the "Dorothy Hamilton Memorial Writing Award." He has been a writer in residence or guest professor at more than 60 colleges and universities. He is a professor of English at Taylor University Fort Wayne, where he serves as director of the professional writing major and also the author of such writing books as How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It (Random House) and Alpha Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours (Macmillan).
Write Less Earn More With Spin-Offs
By Karen O'ConnorI remember the day I completed my book on horse careers. I was free at last. I decided to take a week off, sleep late, read a novel, have lunch with a friend, prune my roses, and clean out the office clutter.
As I reached that last item on my list, however, I took another look. I had a file drawer full of research from my previous non-fiction books and magazine articles. I suddenly saw the 'gold' in them thar pages! There was enough material to keep me writing articles for children and adults for months. I had actually shoved aside potential income without realizing it.
I decided on the spot to devote a few hours each week to creating something new out of the gold I had discovered. I remember the excitement I felt when I pulled out a copy of the first article I sold, "A Trail of Tips For First-Time Campers." Next, I ran into the notes I had taken while writing a book on women in literature. And there was a file filled with ideas that had overflowed from articles I had written on parenting for Marriage and Family Living.
Soon I created a habit that I still indulge--making money from spin-offs. If you've allowed your published articles to collect mildew instead of money, then read on, and I'll show you how to write less and earn more.
• Set a goal to create one or more spin-offs per month.
Original article: "How to Hook Your Kids On Books"
Potential spin-offs: "Raise A Reader"
"Books You and Your Kids Will Love"
"Build a Home Library"
• Create a calendar file (in a notebook or on the computer) . Use it to keep track of the titles of spin-offs you write each week or month.
Spin-offs for January 2004:
1-7 Loving Over the Long Haul: Secrets of Successful Marriages
1-8 Developing a Heart of Gratitude—Regardless of the Circumstances
• List the juvenile and adult publications you wish to write for in a log (notebook or computer file). Include publication name, age group, type of article wanted, word count and payment.
Cricket ages 9-14 travel/adventure/biography 200-1500 $.25/word
• Plan your spin-offs. Use down-time to think of ways to use the same material in fresh ways.
While toddlers nap, while waiting in orthodontist’s office, in the evenings, on weekends.
• Write and track them in your log.
Original article: "Earn Your Summer Fun"
Completed spin-offs for January 2004:
1-7 "Put Extra Cash In Your Pocket This Summer"
8-15 "Six Summer Jobs YOU Can Do"
So much for the record-keeping details. Now for the fun--coming up with spin-offs. Start by looking through your previously published articles or books. Sit back and play with the ideas. Look at your notes. Make a list of catchy titles. Approach a new audience with the same information. Here are some examples from my SOLD file.
Original Article: "Innovative Grandparenting"
Spin-offs: "Welcome To the Grandparents' Club"
"When Parenting and Grandparenting Styles Collide"
"Grandparenting Across the Miles"
Focus on a single point, stick to the magazine's required word count. Include a slide or photo to boost the chance of a sale.
If a submission is rejected, simply send it to the next similar magazine on your list. (For example, Clubhouse and Crusader are both religious magazines for kids 8-12). Most children’s magazine editors do not require a query letter, but if they do, be sure to send one before submitting the finished piece.
With the original material on hand, you may be able to complete a spin-off in a few hours or less. Payment ranges from $20 to $200 (sometimes more, depending on the magazine), so you can see the potential for extra income if you write in volume. Editors are always in the market for sharp, informative pieces for young people and adults on a wide variety of subjects.
Below are some samples of spin-offs I wrote for the juvenile market based on two of my books, Entertaining and How to Make Money published by Franklin Watts.
Article Title Publication
"How to Throw a Great Winter Party" Reflection
"Share Yourself and Earn Money Too" Discovery
"Gifts you Can Make Without Help" Kindergartener
"How to Be a Guest at Your Own Party" Young Miss (now YM)
"Neighborhood Nature Walks" The Vine
"Happiness is Having a Hobby" Rainbow
"Earn Your Summer Fun" Crusader
There's no end to it. So what are we waiting for? Lunch with a friend? Pruning our roses? Reading that long-awaited novel? Not now. We’re too busy--writing less and earning more--from spin-offs.
Here's seven steps to successful spin-offs:
1. Think BIG. Open your eyes to the possibilities. Fashion many articles from one idea.
2. Take a risk. Write for an audience or a magazine new to you, or focus on an age group you haven't considered before.
3. Find a new slant. From an article on finding a hobby to one on making money from a hobby.
4. Ask for help. If you need new or additional information, consult someone with experience.
5. Attract readers. Star with a snappy title, add a side-bar, provide real-life examples, include quotations.
6. Start a column. Write spin-offs on a favorite topic and become a regular contributor.
7. Spin, spin again. Create new articles from existing spin-offs. Then spin off those.
Karen O'Connor is a sought-after speaker and award-winning author of more than 45 books for adults and children, including the best-selling Help, Lord! I'm Having a Senior Moment (Regal Books), Getting Old Ain't For Wimps, (Harvest House) and In Step With Your Step-children (Beacon Hill). She is a wife, mother, grandmother and writing mentor for the Long Ridge Writers Group (www.longridgewritersgroup.com) and for the Christian Writers Guild (www.christianwritersguild.com). Karen is known for her wit and wisdom on the platform and in print. Visit Karen on her web site for more information: www.karenoconnor.com.
© 2005 Karen O'Connor. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Scribbling for Fun and Profit
By Stephen CoontsWhenever someone tells me they would like to write, my first question is always, What do you read? Writing is not for you unless you have spent a lifetime reading, a lifetime savoring stories. All too often, the answer I receive to my question is, "Oh, I don't have time to read. I watch TV and movies, but I would like to be a writer." The conversation usually ends there.
Writing is a craft, like playing a musical instrument or painting with oils. Every aspiring writer must acquire this craft, just as every musician must learn his or her instrument. Today some high schools and most colleges offer creative writing courses, and so do various writer's workshops. If you look around you will undoubtedly find one in your area. Some of these folks charge for their services.
Whether you take a formal course or not, most of the craft must be acquired on your own. The best place to begin is the public library, which is full of good books written by people who know how to write. Check out good books by good writers in the genre in which you are interested. Analyze their styles, see how they set up a scene, how they do dialogue, how the characters are introduced and developed, how the writer makes the names memorable or fails to do that, how the story is paced, how the action unfolds, how the conflicts develop, how the subplots are made part of the story, how the climax is handled. Analyze the scenes, find the key words which bring out the emotion of a scene, study how the writer got his effect, how he uses verbs and adverbs, try to decide why he used the key words he did. Why did the writer choose the point-of-view he used, did he shift verb tenses, why are the paragraphs where they are, why did he use action verbs in one place and "to be" verbs in another? What are the rules this good writer follows?
This stuff is not magic: it's all right there in black and white. You must dissect it and study it and think about it. And you must learn.
If you are interested in thrillers, as I am, I suggest you study Alistair MacLean, the guy who taught a generation of thriller writers how to do it. Read When Eight Bells Toll, The Secret Ways, Bear Island, Fear is the Key. Look at John D. MacDonald. Read Ernest Gann. Study Raymond Chandler and Eric Ambler. To study a master of plot construction and characterizations, read Agatha Christie. For atmosphere you might read Georges Simenon and Rex Stout. Of course you must read the perfect stylist, the author whose style influenced everyone who came after, Hemingway. Finally, to study how a real master can mesh rich characterizations with an interesting plot and pace it properly, you might read Larry McMurtry and Amy Tan, two excellent writers doing it in English today.
The flip side of writing about what you know is the publishing reality that originality sells. To break into publishing and establish a major career, you must go boldly where no one has gone before, to steal a phrase. First novelist J.K. Rowling wrote of a boy wizard at an English public school. Original and fresh, her four novels to date have been mega-bestsellers world-wide and made her our first literary billionaire. English housewife Agatha Christie decided to write mysteries, and although she got them published, was an unnoticed pulp mystery writer until she wrote The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, in which the narrator turns out to be the killer. That plot was a stroke of genius; the book was a major bestseller. That idea led to a marvelous forty-plus year career writing mysteries, some of which contain truly dazzling, original plot twists.
The list goes on and on: Arthur Conan Doyle founded the mystery genre with A Study in Scarlet, in which he introduced Sherlock Holmes. Tom Clancy broke in with a unique tale of a Soviet submarine skipper who decided to defect to America, taking his sub with him. Amy Tan's books about a Chinese family plowed ground left fallow since the death of Pearl Buck. My first novel, Flight Of The Intruder, was the first novel of naval aviation in the modern jet age. The only one remotely similar was The Bridges at Toko-Ri, by Michener, which was about the Korean War. (It was also one of Michener's worst books.) I wrote about Vietnam. My publisher asked, "How come no one else ever wrote about naval aviation?"
"Guess they never thought of it," I replied.
One last example, which may be more myth than truth: Stephen King was a schoolteacher who wrote manuscripts at night and watched the mail for rejections, which came regularly. One day his wife rescued a manuscript from the trash and sent it to the "horror editor" at a major New York house. An editor rooting in the slush pile, where unsolicited manuscripts go to die, saw the envelope. No publishing house had a "horror editor" on their staff--the genre did not exist. Intrigued, the editor took the manuscript to his desk and began reading. The rest is history.
So the formula is originality and craft, workmanship and sweat. Lots of sweat. I like to go to big bookstores and wander through the fiction section looking at the offerings, trying to figure out what is not there. Editors will tell you that the reason a type of story isn't there is because it won't sell, which is a logical fallacy that tells us nothing. When I thought up the plot for Saucer I knew I had something. I had never seen anything remotely like it. The novel was initially rejected, of course, but years later I twisted my publishers' arm and they published it to pacify me; it was a nice hit in the states and a big hit in the U.K. I am now busy writing a sequel, for a six-figure advance.
My final piece of advice is this: Don't begin writing with the goal of getting rich. You will be deluding yourself, wasting your time. A few years ago the Writers Guild did a survey and discovered that the average published writer in America made less that $7,000 a year at the craft, hardly enough to quit the day job. Indeed, the Guild said at the time that only about 900 people in America made their living solely from writing.
The financial picture in the industry has probably improved somewhat in the last few years, but writing has never been a gold mine for most writers and never will be. Over half the people who write fiction professionally write romance novels, the "dime" novels of our generation. Romance can pay well--indeed, some of the highest-paid entertainers on earth write it--but only for daring risk-takers who eschew the standard romance formulas and create their own, then convince a publisher that their formula will sell, and it does.
Years ago publishers paid formula romance writers a flat fee of $5,000 a book. Author Tracy Jones, who writes as Tracy South, informed me that the only series romance authors paid a flat fee today are those who write for Kensington's Precious Gems line. Harlequin/Silhouette, the largest player in this marketplace, is strictly a royalty-paying publisher.
Author Jo Beverley pointed out that Romance Writers of America do periodic surveys of what different types of romances earn. Beverley said, "$20,000 a book is not at all uncommon from any type of romance when the money rolls in (definitely royalty paying!) $50,000 a book isn't rare for lead authors. $100,000 and up isn't startling for authors who don't make the top fifty of the USA TODAY list. Those that do make the list get much more."
You may wish to research the romance genre at www.rwanational.com. The Science Fiction Writers of America have a website that may help too: www.sfwa.org.
This year only three dozen people or so will have novels on the bestseller lists. You have a better chance of becoming a U.S. Senator--we have 100 of those folks. If you want to make money in your spare time, get a job at McDonald's. If you want to get rich, buy a lottery ticket.
Write because it's fun, because you enjoy the creative process. If what you write ever gets published and you make a few bucks, that will be the icing on the cake.
Stephen Coonts is the author of 13 New York Times bestsellers, the first of which was the classic flying tale, Flight Of The Intruder. Mr. Coonts and his wife, Deborah, reside in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can learn more at his website: www.stephencoonts.com.
© 2005 Stephen Coonts. Used with Permission.
New Links to Check
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