Category Archives: Writing Tips

Tin House to Close; Sunspot to Open

books-2158737_1920June of 2019 will see the last Tin House literary magazine roll off the presses. After twenty years publishing original fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Tin House is saying goodbye.

The move was done in the face of mounting costs associated with print publishing. Rob Spillman, the co-founder and editor, is moving on to other areas. The closing brings an end to a very long stretch of quality contributions to the literary arena.

While some new works will still be published on Tin House’s website, the loss of yet another print publication is difficult for writers. Much of the industry still gives more weight to credits in print publications, so the loss of even one magazine can be bad news.

There is a bright spot, however. Sunspot Literary Magazine is launching in January of 2019. For the first year, one print edition will be published. The magazine hopes to add additional print editions in subsequent years.

Meanwhile, digital editions are scheduled for every quarter. The founder is also considering adding frequent special editions that focus on a single author or a single category.

The magazine’s mission is to “change the world through words,” and is open to new and established authors and artists. Submissions of short stories, flash fiction, poetry, essays, art, interviews, and reviews of books, movies and galleries are being accepted through Sunspot’s Submittable portal.

This is an excellent opportunity to be heard and to enact the change you want to see.

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New Literary Journal Sunspot Open for Submissions

Sunspot Literary Journal is launching at the beginning of 2019. Submissions are already open for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and hybrid forms. (Links to their website and the submission portal are at the bottom of this blog entry.)

Words speak truth to those in power by drawing on the power of every human being. Sunspot, intent on being a force for change, hears every voice. Write a new world with words…your words.

Now accepting:

Fiction Without Boundaries

Flash fiction, poetry, shorts of every length, literary works and genre stories are welcome at Sunspot.

Essays That Expand

Send your lyric essays. Offer up thoughts that blind. If it’s unique, Sunspot wants to consider it.

Poetry

Poetry can run any number of pages. Yes, that means Sunspot will consider epic poems and stories-in-verse.

For more details about the journal, visit their website SunspotLit.com.

To submit brilliant, unique work that moves across the universe, go to their submission portal on Submittable.

Author Interview: Wendy Gilhula

Last week, I wrote about Gilhula’s debut children’s picture book, Pika Bunny and the Thunderstorm. This week, you’ll hear directly from the author!

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First, she wanted to share her journey to creating this story and the other adventures of Pika Bunny. She writes:

While tutoring math in my home in Knoxville, TN, one of my students looked around at my small downstairs and innocently asked, “So, what do you do all day before tutoring?”

I just looked at him and smiled. What I wanted to say was, “Oh, I write children’s books that no one is ever going to read.”

But I kept thinking about his question. More importantly, I kept thinking about my answer! I decided to be brave and find a professional to help me in areas where I did not feel confident. That was the best move I could have made.

So, writers, be brave! Follow your dreams. Keep working, and reach out for help when you need it.

Now, here are the rest of Gilhula’s thoughts.

How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

The advice I would give to a new writer would be some of the same advice that I gave to myself.

  1. Just write. If you have a story to tell, tell it.
  2. Show your work to someone. Notice that I didn’t say, “Share your work.” Share sounds too intimidating. But don’t hide your work in a drawer for twenty-five years like I did, either!
  3. Pay a professional to look at your work on an artistic level, for consistency, and for editing and grammar in general.
  4. Join SCBWI or start networking in your area to meet people and share experiences.
  5. You are never too old to start. (I’m 52.)

When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

After college, I was a modern dance choreographer and instructor for almost twenty years. My creative brain has always worked while I am sleeping. The minute I awoke, I already had concepts and some of the choreography. Even today, as I have been a math tutor for almost fifteen years now, I will wake up with an answer to a problem that I didn’t have time to finish the night before.

In the morning, I will have my coffee and work on the latest ideas that I have for a book or my current project. After that, it is a total break for the day as I give try to give my students my full attention.

As an artist, I’ve always been told that I don’t think like everyone else. When I was younger, I didn’t like that comment, because I wanted to be like everyone else. Now that I am older, I embrace the difference.

As a human being, one moment I can I feel like I’m freely walking and weaving a path between art and humanity, and the next I feel like I’m tripping on air.

From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

Since I’m just newly published, I do not have a full understanding of the industry. But I can say that money and promotion are probably the biggest challenges.

What books are you currently reading?

Currently, I am reading books by my cousin, Scott Christopher Beebe, who does not believe in editing whatsoever. His writing is exposed and raw. Some of his thoughts progress halfway down the page before you see any punctuation.

These books are not my usual choices, and not my usual choice of words (and types of adult themes). But there is something transparent and crude about how he thinks that is intriguing and sometimes haunting.

Most days I like to read books on topics that I would not typically write about, like mystery.

Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why? Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?

I gravitate to new writers of children’s picture books that aren’t getting the big publishing house launches. Those writers who must create everything to launch their own work into the world intrigue me because of their sheer passion.

Finding the discipline to keep writing can be tough. Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

Since I wake up with the actual drive, my tactics are more of getting the ideas to stop and slow down. Then I can evaluate and experiment. Not every idea is a good one on its own, but it may be the start of something that I want to pursue and explore.

Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

The next step in the Pika Bunny Learning Series is to illustrate the second book. Adrianna Allegretti is working on the illustrations now for Pika Bunny Has a Big Question. This one is due to drop in spring of 2018. It will be published by Apollo Publications.

A really different project is also underway. The illustrations for that are by Alexandria Walker. Mother’s Best is a rhyming picture book that is not part of the Pika Bunny series.

Anything else you think people should know about you, the book, or your process?

If there is a magic formula for writing, it would have to consist of investing the time and effort to write, being willing to display your soul (just a little at a time), trusting others to help you, and believing in yourself.

 

 

Interview with Jendi Reiter, Author and Cofounder of WinningWriters.com

Winning_Writers_logoToday we have a real treat. Jendi Reiter, one of the cofounders of WinningWriters.com, set aside a generous amount of time to answer some burning questions. The site and its newsletter are fantastic resources for authors of every type. It was great to be able to ask about their mission and how authors can get help just by signing up to their free newsletter.

Best of all, two of her books are currently on sale! So, after reading all about the newsletter and the great resources, you can snap up copies for yourself. Links are at the bottom of this post!

You started Winning Writers back in 2001 with Adam Cohen. Now you have quite a staff, each of whom handle different areas or programs. How do you find such great people?

Thanks for the kind words about our amazing assistant editors and judges. A great thing about being an online business is that we can work with freelancers from all over the country—or the world!

We found two of our Best Free Literary Contests database editors, including our current editor Samantha Dias, through the Western New England Editorial Freelancers’ Network. Sam is diligent, creative, detail-oriented, and proactive about brainstorming ways to improve the database. Find her on LinkedIn for your academic editing jobs, but don’t take her away from us!

Several of our past and current contest judges were prizewinners in those same contests. We invited them because they were already in tune with the contest’s aesthetic, and the skill level of their own work gave us confidence in their ability to recognize quality entries.

Others were local writer friends, such as award-winning poet Ellen LaFleche, or friends of friends—we joke that one of our babysitters is the Winning Writers HR director because she’s recommended several people we ended up hiring. Nearly everyone in Northampton is a writer or knows a writer, it seems!

Additionally, we reach out to subscribers whose work we admire, like 2017 fiction and essay judge Judy Juanita, and contacts that I’ve made through my poetry and fiction publications, like poetry contest judge Soma Mei Sheng Frazier, who was the editor of OSA Enizagam when one of my stories won their contest.

WW offers several contests every year with significant prizes. What is the thought process behind taking on so many contest programs, considering that most arts organizations offer only one?

Something for everybody! We’re always tweaking our contest offerings in response to perceived demand and the gaps we see in the marketplace. The free Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest is fun to judge, generates signups for our email list, and originally also had a scam-busting mission. (The vanity contest that inspired it has since gone out of business—we must be powerful!) There aren’t many contests for parody and humor poems, and the few that exist tend to prefer G-rated light verse that isn’t super original, in my opinion.

Everyone loves a good general-interest poetry and prose contest, so those are consistent earners for us, with over a thousand entries apiece in a good year. The North Street Book Prize for self-published books is meant to signal-boost great books that don’t have the insider connections and marketing budget to compete with major publishers in the marketplace.

Self-published, indie, and print-on-demand (POD) books are often at a disadvantage or straight-up ineligible for prestigious literary prizes. Meanwhile, the book awards programs that do welcome indies have large fees and frequently no cash prize—what are you paying for? We believe indie authors deserve better.

Your section on Contests and Services to Avoid is set up for very good reasons. I have noticed that a number of good organizations are suddenly demanding that authors who submit–whether they win, place, or are simply part of the ones who never make any short- or longlist–give them rights to publish part or all of their work. Often these nonprofits claim that the publications will help support the organization and their contests. What do you think of this approach, when it is taken by an otherwise respectable organization?

I am completely against this approach. No author should have to sign away their intellectual property merely for the privilege of entering a contest. If you don’t win or get published, the work you submitted to the contest is stuck in limbo—you can’t try to make money off it elsewhere, on the off chance that this contest will someday use it. At that point the contest starts to look like a scam to acquire a lot of free work from authors, instead of paying freelancers to contribute to their website or journal.

I especially dislike this trend when the contest advertises itself as “free” up front, and the rights grab is hidden in the long list of rules. I always push back against this when contest sponsors ask to be listed in the database, and I’m happy to report that sometimes they change the rules.

What, in your opinion, is the best part of heritage (i.e., traditional) publishing today?

Access to major distribution and marketing channels is an important advantage that will continue as long as reviewers, booksellers, and other gatekeepers persist in their prejudice against print-on-demand and self-published books.

Best part of the indie route?

More control over the content and book design. Not having to shop your manuscript around for years to an agent or traditional publisher.

What do you enjoy most about working on WW?

People send me free books! I get paid (more or less) to read interesting poetry and prose and to think critically about what makes it work, or not work. This is good for my development as a writer. I also love the opportunity to connect with writers and editors around the world.

What part would you like to see become easier, or larger, or farther-reaching?

We would like to see a more diverse entry pool for all of our contests. Except for the book prize, they’re all judged anonymously, but white ladies somehow end up in the majority in our winners’ lists. We’re working on our outreach to minority writers’ communities, as well as inviting judges from different backgrounds to join our contest staff.

What exciting things are in the pipeline for WW?

By popular demand, we’re adding two new categories to our 2018 North Street Book Prize for self-published books: poetry and children’s picture books. The other categories are creative nonfiction/memoir, literary fiction, and commercial/genre fiction.

Our 2018 final judge for the Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest will be Dennis Norris II. He is a 2017 MacDowell Colony Fellow, fiction editor of Apogee Journal, and co-host of the podcast Food 4 Thot, a brilliant (NSFW) series with four multiethnic gay poets discussing literature and their love lives.

Jendi Reiter is the co-founder of WinningWriters.com, an online resource site for creative writers, named one of the “101 Best Websites for Writers” (Writer’s Digest, 2015-2016) and one of the “100 Best Websites for Writers” (The Write Life, 2016).

TN C 11 02Jendi’s award-winning books include the poetry collection Bullies in Love (Little Red Tree Publishing) and the novel Two Natures (Saddle Road Press), the spiritual coming-of-age story of a NYC fashion photographer during the 1990s AIDS crisis. Two Natures is on sale for 99 cents in Kindle and iBooks editions through October 15, 2017.

WW Newsletter: Thanks for your interest in Winning Writers! Sign up for the free monthly e-newsletter to receive access to The Best Free Literary Contest database, and join 96,000 Twitter followers.

 

Guest Post: Writing and Travel Boost Brain Power

Here’s a great guest post from Rita Robinson, an author and journalist.

Writing and Travel Boost Brain Power

Rita Robinson

Lone Horse Rider

 

Lightening flashed, thunder roared, and unrelenting rain bombarded our 21-foot RV as we crept along at about 20 miles per hour on I-40 near Nashville, Tennessee. We could barely see the windshield wipers slapping across the front window, and finally took an off-ramp toward a crowded Flying J truck stop.

Andy, my husband, squeezed our small RV in among the big rigs jammed side-by-side at the truck stop, while a steady stream of other trucks parked along the adjoining road, and the parking lots of nearby churches. The truck stop, without electricity and using generators, kept everything, except the gas pumps working, as it became the hub of activity for all who parked vehicles in the area.

Portions of I-40, a main interstate highway for cross-country truckers, eventually flooded, causing closures, during the news-making, and record-breaking torrential storms in May of 2010 in Tennessee.

Once the sun shown three days later, and the sweet smell of grass and spring flowers permeated the air, a mélange of people gathered outside the station’s restaurant chatting and shaking hands as if all had known each other forever. We felt rejuvenated, and ready to continue our trip.

Stimulate Writing by Breaking Routines

Such is the stuff of travel and also writing. We change our routines or plans, and consider it part of the travel or writing experience. Not that routines are bad, but it’s good to break them once in a while.

A few times traveling, with tornado warnings ahead of us, we’ve changed routes. We had once driven through a town hit by a tornado and had seen an RV like ours that had been thrown on top of a barn.

These types of experiences make us acutely aware of our surroundings, feelings, motivations, and the idea that we’re not always in charge. As writers, Andy and I know that writing also leads to adventures.

Change and Surprise Boosts the Brain’s Power

We’re at our best when we surprise ourselves with what we put on the page. Writing transports us, as if on a magic carpet, to places of delight, anxiety, fright, awe, insight, imagery, depth, spectacle, and unanticipated adventures, virtual or real. As Robert Frost said, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

“Traveling new places, meeting different people and taking part in variety of lifestyles, including foods, shops, noises, and cultures, stimulates cellular connections and promotes brain resilience, so important to the health of your brain,” says Paul D. Nussbaum, Ph.D., Brain Health Center,  and Clinical Neuropsychologist and Adjunct Professor of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Could this be why so many noted writers have also been travelers, or vice versa? Consider Mark Twain’s, The Innocents Abroad. He wrote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Out of Our Comfort Zones

It does not take traveling great distances to jazz up the writing mind. Changing minor routines at home can give the brain’s neurons a kick in the synapses. Sitting in a different chair than usual; eating something never tried before; walking backward; changing the writing location, maybe from a customary desk to the kitchen table; sitting on the floor to write; or writing by hand on a tablet, removes our comfort zone and fires up the brain.

Published writers have composed in coffee shops, bus terminals, airplanes, on couches in front of TVs, sitting beneath cherry trees, at the beach, in prisons, and just about any place the imagination can travel.

Emily Dickinson wrote in an attic, Ben Franklin in a bathtub, and several have written in bed, including Marcel Proust (Remembrance of Things Past) and Barbara Cartland, prolific writer of conservative romance novels.

The editor-in-chief of a newspaper where I once worked knew about the beauty of making minor changes to jazz up a place. About every six months he would stomp out of his glassed-in office with, “OK, time to change our desks around.” We grumbled, since most had piles of other work to do. All, however, pitched in to push and shove desks and chairs to new locations with new views, and across from someone different. It worked, and we laughed at the feel of that kick in the synapsis.

We’re on an adventure when we travel, or when we write, and being open to change and surprises not only recharges the brain, it enriches our lives.

Interview with Christopher Zoukis, Author of Federal Prison Handbook

Interview with Christopher Zoukis, prison rights advocate and author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

When it comes to those new to professional writing, I would say that you need to read what you want to write and also read a lot about how to refine your craft and market yourself. It’s hard to get going in this industry. But with a lot of time and effort, it is certainly possible to make a name for yourself. The key is in understanding the type of writing that you want to write and how to market your brand within that arena.

As for those who have been in the industry for a while, the game is changing. It used to be that if a book wasn’t published by one of the Big Six that it didn’t stand much of a chance. Now, even if a book is published by a large publishing house, it still might not stand much of a chance. New technologies and avenues of connecting with readers are the wave of the future. Harness these tools, think outside the box, and figure out how to get your expertise (or flavor of fiction) to the end user in a manner that they want. The current era is that of the hybrid author — an author both traditionally published and self-published. There is a strong argument for pursuing the hybrid path in today’s market.

When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

As a writer I feel that I’m an odd sort. I’m all on or all off. So, when I’m all on, I write like my life depends on it. I outline, create a self-imposed quota system, and muscle to the finish line. I’ve found that when working this way it is important to take time off. This is why I try to vary my tasks, and to cycle whenever I can. I go from books to articles to book reviews to interviews and so forth. I also try to build in projects that aren’t writing-related. I work out, play Ultimate Frisbee, and try to schedule a little time each evening to hang out with a friend to decompress.

One word of wisdom that I would offer aspiring book writers (and those who have already published their works) is to really think about what type of book the world really needs. I always have five books in the back of my head. They are all worthy, at least in my not-so-humble opinion. But when it comes to devoting a year of my life to something, I need to select a project that is going to succeed. So, when deciding what to do next, a writer should really think about the reader and the industry. What is missing? What do readers crave? And is there a book that readers don’t even know that they want, but won’t be able to live without once they have it? This is the book that you need to write next.

From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

Making money as a writer is a challenge. Most of us will never be New York Times bestselling authors. That’s the truth of it. So, we need to find a way to make our writing work for us and pay the bills. As a nonfiction author, one way to do this is to use your book as a business calling card, which draws attention to your primary product — which may not be your book. Writers who want to live a comfortable life need to plan on not making a whole ton of money on their books, but to structure their books and businesses in such a way that a revenue channel can be capitalized upon.

What books are you currently reading?

I tend to read a lot of school books these days due to being a graduate student at Adams State University. So, typically I’m reading a lot of business textbooks. I just finished a book on organizational behavior last week and am about to start a book on managerial finance shortly.

I also engage in a healthy amount of non-school reading. Right now I’m reading the Magisterium series of novels by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. These are phenomenal books. They remind me a lot of Harry Potter. I’m also reading Journalistic Writing by Robert M. Knight to help hone my craft a bit and Bigger Leaner Stronger by Michael Matthews to upgrade my fitness knowledge.

Finding the discipline to keep writing can be tough. Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

I try very hard to cycle my projects, because I find that I get burned out very easily. So, the best “get writing” technique that I have is to vary my projects. A close second is to outline and implement a self-imposed quota system. If I’ve outlined a 20 chapter book, then I might push myself to complete a chapter every week or two. Then, after the rough draft is down on paper, I might set a quota of polishing one chapter every week. This quota-based system helps me push myself to project completion. In this respect, I’m very business-like with my writing projects. I like to think of myself as a project manager who needs to ensure that the writing project is done on time, at an appropriate level of quality, and that it fulfills my readers’ needs.

Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

Sure. If you swing by PrisonerResource.com you can check out my Federal Prison Handbook. In this book I’ve tried to answer all of the questions that a new or seasoned federal prisoner, as well as their loved ones, may have. You can also use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon.com. This provides readers with a sample of the book prior to purchase.