Wednesday, May 31, 2006

 

Another way to read our blog

I'm a blog addict, but yikes, it can be hard to keep track of all my favorite places. Many moons ago I discovered Bloglines. Once I set up my (free!) account, I subscribed to all my favorite blogs and haunts, including the Post's Page Six, Miss Snark, Chocolate and Zucchini, and Romenesko. One stop shopping ... gotta love it.

Oh yeah, and if you'd like to subscribe to our blog, just plug in our web address, hit subscribe, et voila!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

 

Renegade Writer Q&A: Stephanie Dickison

Stephanie has published over 400 non-fiction pieces, including articles, interviews, essays, columns, profiles, features, and reviews.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your writing career? How (and when) did you get started as a freelance writer?

A. I have been a freelance writer for about a decade now. I started out doing book reviews because at that time, I was reading about 10 a month and wanted the opportunity to tell people about the great stuff that I was reading. I had also noticed that there were a lot of poorly written reviews and wanted a chance to try and engage and invigorate people about books again. I was working two jobs at the time, but always found time to write, which I knew meant that this was significant.

I then moved onto feature writing for magazines and newspapers. It was here where I found my calling. I was still reviewing books and enjoying that process, but writing about people, places and events was a dream come true. My first published feature article was for Fitness Business Canada. It was fantastic -- a page long and they printed it word for word. It was an unusual piece for them because it was funny and not at all the usual business-to-business pieces -- I was thrilled, though I quickly learned that all assignments would not be so easy-breezy.

I have always been curious about the world around me, but it never occurred to me that writing would be a viable career for that. I was still working a full and part-time job, but would stay up late working on a piece. This was excellent training for working to deadline and on quick turnaround.

I was enjoying the writing process so much that I went to night school and took courses on writing for magazines, editing and creative writing. While it was exhausting, it was further proof that this was something I wanted to invest my time, energy and money in.

I continued writing for magazines and newspapers and still reviewed books, but was making so little money that I continued to work full-time in offices. It paid the rent and afforded me not only groceries, but time in the evenings to query and write as much as time allowed.

I compare this time when you first meet someone and begin dating. All of a sudden, you have the energy to stay up late, and though you are completely exhausted all of the time, you are also exhilarated.

Q. What's the best piece of writing advice you've gotten? The worst?

A. Reading about writing is the best education you can get, along with going to classes to further your knowledge -- but considering time and money, books, magazines and the internet are probably the most practical.

I read what writers think, read and practice and then take what I think aligns with my beliefs and give it a whirl. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but you won't know unless you try, so I usually try it. I tried Julia Cameron's Morning Pages, writing before bed, writing 5 pages and a million other things until I found something that worked -- Carol See's 1000 words a day. This works for me and I almost always exceed it, but it is a number that I'm comfortable with. Writers have particular habits and not everything works for all of us -- my fiancé loves writing in cafes and I like the comfort of my desk, as I am often referencing papers and books as I go along.

I think that we end up writing like our heroes, either in subject matter or style. My contemporary writing heroes are Susan Orlean, Steve Martin and Joan Didion. Chuck Klosterman for music writing and Dorothy Parker and Sylvia Plath as all-time greats. I write solely non-fiction so these people loom large in my daily life.

The fantastic books I've read over the years also have made an impression and while I cannot remember all of the advice I have picked up, it has remained, I'm certain.

I read something once that said that no one cares whether you write or not. I realized that this is true, but what is more important is that I care whether I do or not. And I do. More than anything.

Q. What's the most renegade thing you've done in your career, and how did it pan out?

A. I became a specialist in various areas quickly, so that I could query magazines and newspapers with confidence. I chose areas that were of interest and then wrote about nothing but for as long as I could muster -- books, music, food, popular culture, design, the arts. This is how I managed to publish over 400 non-fiction pieces, including articles, interviews, essays, columns, profiles, features, and reviews in a considerably short time.

I have written numerous articles for magazines and newspapers, including The Toronto Star, Toronto Life, The Writer, Numb, The Dalhousie Review, New England Theatre Review, Hypergraphia, Surface & Symbol, Paste, Washington Asia Press Newspaper, Ascent and RicePaper.

The other crazy thing I did was contribute to books, most of which are coming out this year. I had never done anything this big before, so I didn't know what to expect and I certainly didn't feel completely qualified, but I was passionate and I believe this made up for my inexperience. I have contributed essays to many books, including Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence (September 2006) and Cannibal (2006), along with entries in the upcoming academic reference books, Facts on File Companion to the American Novel (April 2006), Compendium of 20th Century Novelists and Novels (2007) and Dictionary of Literary Biography (2006).

And lastly, I wrote a book about popular music that no one has ever done before. I am still awaiting an agent and publisher, but I believe that it is a great idea and that it will find a good home. It took five years from start to finish and I had to quit my job to complete it, which was scary, but I had to do it, and that's how I think writers get through the incredibly tough times. We just have to, and somehow we find a way.

Q. I see you do music writing. I think a lot of our subscribers would like to break into that area. How does one get started?

A. Like most people trying to get a foot in the door, I started writing CD reviews and doing interviews for small publications. I think it is extremely difficult to make it big in this arena because there are so many outlets for music writing and so many people that want to write about it. I wrote a book about music but don't write about it much anymore because it's hard to get on staff or do more than one piece for a magazine. I still dream of working with SPIN, Rolling Stone and The Village Voice, but these days I'm usually writing about writing or food. However, it is almost always with my earphones on, rockin' out on my office chair.

Q. If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

A. I wouldn't change a thing. The path I took is how I got to where I am today, and I am grateful for my life. To get to write every day? This is the life people spend all day in their cubicle trying to plan an escape for. I left working a day job in December to complete my book and to be able to take on bigger assignments and markets and while some days are busier than I could have ever imagined, I am thrilled to be making my way in this world typing my thoughts and observations. I am also lucky to have the love and support of my friends, family and the sexy man I love and live with.

Q. What are your favorite resources for writers (online or off)?

A. I started reviewing for The Writer magazine because I was a fan. It is a fantastic read and resource. There is a reason they have lasted since 1887!!

I read a lot of writing books. My favourites won't necessarily be yours, but I promise that if you delve into the writing section at your library and local bookstore, you will find something (and someone!) that speaks to you. Of course, if you haven't read Renegade Writers, please do. I read it when it first came out and have recommended it a number of times.

I sign up for a lot of writing newsletters because I don't use the internet for much outside of research, so this is the way that I keep up. I like Moira Allen's Writing World, but there are tons out there. Just type in "Writing Newsletter" to Google and you'll find yourself missing dinner, your favourite TV show and blowing off a night out before you know it. Tee hee. It is time-consuming, for sure.

Q. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

A. Thank you for this opportunity to share my experience with your readers. I hope that my words show that the passion for writing can be enough. That, and sitting and writing each and every day.

Friday, May 26, 2006

 

Shy and introverted? Listen up!

There are some good tips over at the Never Eat Alone blog this a.m. about overcoming shyness in social situations. Like the author, I'm in the "dread going but glad I went" camp -- even for stuff like vacations! I'm criminally shy at heart but over the years I've learned to work with my hermit tendencies. People are always surprised when I confess how nervous and shy I get around people I don't know too well, but I guess that just means my coping skills work pretty darn well.

Other tips I'll add to Mark Goulston's:

* Everyone else in the room is too busy worrying about themselves to pay you too much attention -- unless you're Britney Spears with a drink in one hand and a baby in another. When I remind myself of this, it really helps take the pressure off.

* Pretend you're the person whose job it is to put other people at ease. In other words, "act as if." When you focus your attention on helping someone find their way to the crudites, you don't have time to worry if you're looking like a fool.

* We'd worry less about what others think of us if we knew how little they actually thought about us. Think about it -- do you go to a social event and fret over other the other people there as much as you fret over yourself?

So, how do you cope with shyness?

 

Are you a Renegade?

Folks, July 1 is coming up fast, and we want to make sure you get your chance at 500 buckaroos and assorted swag by entering our publisher's "Ultimate Renegade" Freelance Writer Contest.

Entering the contest costs nothing -- well, except time. One "Ultimate Renegade" and two runners up will be chosen. The Ultimate Renegade will win:

* $500 cash
* Free entry into Linda Formichelli's Eight-Week Write for Magazines E-Course, including one-on-one consultation time with Linda.
* A Signed Special Second Edition Copy of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success.
* A signed copy of Linda and Diana's new book, The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock, coming out this fall.
* A complete set of Marion Street Press books for writers and word lovers.
* A cool gold-plated pen and pencil set.

The two runners up will win the same package, except the cash.

How do you enter?

Write a quick essay about your renegade writer lifestyle, including info about rules you've broken and how breaking those rules helped your career. Feel free to mention broken rules from The Renegade Writer, or rules not found in the book. Email your essay and your snail mail address to Renegade Writer publisher Ed Avis at edavis@marionstreetpress.com. Then get back to your renegade writing ways!

The deadline is July 1, 2006. Winners will be announced September 1, 2006.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

 

20 agents you may want to avoid

During my morning dose of snark, I learned that our friend Jenna's site Absolute Write had been shuttered. Seems that one Barbara Bauer took offense being included in a list of the 20 worst literary agents on Absolute Write's watercooler board.

Check out Bauer's website here. The author matching form was especially humorous. Yeah, I'm sure Penguin, Viking, and Workman are finding hot new authors by filling out web forms. Not.

Technorati Tag:
Barbara Bauer

Monday, May 22, 2006

 

Blog Rec: Scott H Young

Linda wrote a reported essay in a recent issue of Women's Health about being a self-help junkie. I'm one, too, and have been one since I was a tot. (My mother claims she found my first list of personal goals when I was around six or seven. I'm sure many of the goals involved candy or cute boys.) Today I devour books on goal-setting, time management, etc., and the Internet -- specifically blogs -- has given me even more reading material.

Thanks to Lifehacker, I found Scott H. Young's blog, where he talks about all my favorite subjects ... goalsetting, eliminating bad habits (who me? procrastinate?), developing self-discipline, and more. I especially liked his post called "The Smallest Step." Even more impressive: Scott is still in high school. Enjoy!

 

New E-course Session

I've been getting so many inquiries from writers who missed the start date of my May 1 eight-week e-course on getting published in magazines that I've decided to start another session on Monday, June 5. I may be going on a week-long writing-related trip in mid-June, in which case I'd extend the course dates by one week to make up for it.

Previous students have landed assignments in Woman's Day, Michigan Out-of-Doors, Pizza Today, MyBusiness, Body & Brain, and other magazines. C'mon, what are you waiting for?

 

Talk to me, baby.

**Update** Due to a family emergency, we've had to reschedule the chat. Keep an eye on our blog for the new date. Thanks! ***

On Wednesday, May 24, from 10 pm to 12 am ET, Diana and I will be the guest authors at The Writer's Chatroom. Join us in the chatroom and ask your pressing questions about writing for magazines. We suggest you ask:

* Where can we buy a copy of The Renegade Writer -- right now?
* What's your PayPal address so we can send you money?
* Would you like a foot massage?

We hope to see you there!

Friday, May 19, 2006

 

Canyon Ranch anyone?

Linda and I will be at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA, the weekend of June 9-10. Oy, this job sometimes -- it's going to be tough to wrench ourselves away from our computers so that we can spend the weekend conducting writing workshops at one of the best health spas in the world. Sigh. We'll have to console ourselves with deep tissue massages from twin blonds named Thor and Sven.

If you'd like to join us, call Canyon Ranch Resort Reservations: 800-742-9000.

 

Instant query -- just add words

Here's an excerpt from The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock, which is to be published in November:

QUESTION: Should I buy some query writing software to give me an edge?

ANSWER: Hey, we're all about saving time when it comes to writing queries, so we checked out a Web site that sells "Instant Query Letter Software." The word "instant" really appealed to us, because we don't want to spend even one second working when we could be out striking fear into the hearts of baristas everywhere.

The site had pages of super-hyped sales-talk with words underlined, bold, and in different colors. It's a scientifically proven fact that if a Web site makes you want to don sunglasses, the product must be good! And what if, as the site reads, "just one article of yours got published in a huge magazine that made you famous virtually overnight..."? Sign us up!

But we started cluing in to the red flags when the software creator signed her name, "Jane Doe, Successful Author (of way too many publications to list here)." Hmmm...so you can take several scrolled-down pages to tout the wonderfulness of your software, but you can't spare the space to list your creds?

We did a little research online. A Google search shows no publications by this author. Amazon.com turns up no books under that author's name. Findarticles.com finds no articles. The only thing we could find, in fact, are e-books that the author is selling through her own site. We could be wrong -- after all, not every writer is like us, bragging about her creds to all and sundry -- but it seems that if you're a well-published writer with "too many publications to list," people should be able to find your books and articles online.

But we were still enticed by the prospect of pressing a button and getting, "like magic," a "highly professional, completely irresistible query letter." Besides, we can't give the author's lack of credentials too much weight -- perhaps she is actually a shy, reclusive soul, and writes under pseudonyms like "Susan Orlean" and "Dan Brown." So we shelled out 37 bucks to try out the instant query letter software.

Here's the scoop. Sit down and get your pen out, for you are about to become rich and famous!

In short, you're asked to fill in fields with info like your name, the editor's name, the magazine and address, your credentials, the target market, a word count, rights offered, and -- hey, what's this? -- an opening statement, a description of your article, and a statement about what the reader will learn from your article. This is a far cry from the "magic" we were promised. Where is the fairy dust? Where are the elves? Where's David Copperfield?

(To be fair, the software isn't totally unhelpful: Under each field are useful tips that include such gems as "Be creative! Grab attention!" and "... make sure this is correctly spelled!")

After filling in all the fields, you press a button and -- wait for it -- the software generates a query that cobbles together all the information you put into it, with a couple of bits thrown in to connect it all together.

So, in sum, you are paying 37 dollars for the rare and unique opportunity to write your own query letter -- and not a very good one at that. What you put in goes out. If you suck -- your query sucks. Even if what you put in doesn't suck, the form leaves no room to really flesh out the idea with quotes and examples, and it certainly doesn't give you much of a chance to show your voice.

We're now 37 dollars poorer, but hey, we live (and shell out the smackers) in service to our readers. Want to show us your appreciation? Send us the 37 bucks -- we'll probably be grateful enough to share a secret that's actually worth something.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

 

Welcome, Renegades!

Welcome to the new Renegade Writer blog! This blog will be a lot like the newsletter, but with bonus rants from your humble authors. Also, instead of trying to get a bunch of info together every month for the e-newsletter, Diana and I can post what we have, when we have it. This will make the info much more timely for you. When we get wind of a contest or other opportunity you may be interested in, or when I have a new e-course about to start, or when we have other writing news to share, we can post it right away rather than waiting for the monthly newsletter.

The blog will also include Q&As with successful writers, excerpts from our books, info on our speaking engagements, writing advice, and more. Oh, and did we mention rants?

For those of you who are new to the wonderful world of Linda and Diana, here's an intro. Diana and I are the co-authors of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success and the forthcoming The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock. I've written for Family Circle, Fitness, Writer's Digest, USA Weekend, Psychology Today, Parenting, Oxygen, Men's Fitness, Women's Health, and more, and I offer an eight-week e-course on breaking into magazines. Diana writes for top national magazines including Parenting, Family Circle, SELF, Saveur, Psychology Today, Writer's Digest, The Writer, and others. In January 2006, Alpha/Penguin released Diana's third book, Psychology Today's Here to Help: Secrets of Successful Weight Loss.

Again, welcome! May many writing assignments drop into your in-box before the weekend.



 

ARCs! ARCs!

No, it's not the mating call of a California sea lion -- it's an advance reading copy of The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock! (Please disregard piles of paper and books on kitchen table.)

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