Guest Blogger, Kelly Jarosz: Writing Workshops

It’s time for another guest blog!

Today’s guest blogger is Kelly Jarosz. Kelly and I met at the Paris Writers Workshop last June. I asked her to do a post on writing/writers workshops since she has attended quite a few and also organizes her own.

Meet Kelly…

Kelly Jarosz is a published academic writer and award-winning communications consultant who started writing creatively after moving to Switzerland in 2009. She is co-founder of the Zurich Writers Workshop and will co-teach ‘writing boot camp’ this autumn as part of WriteCon Zurich. These days you can find her in one of Zurich’s many cafes, working on a novel.

In 2010, two other American writers and I decided to stop complaining about the lack of English-language writing instruction in Zurich and create our own workshop. Since then, I’ve attended several writing conferences and organized a few myself.

An ongoing challenge for organizers is providing valuable instruction and inspiration for writers at all experience levels. The challenge for participants lies in finding the right event so the topics aren’t overwhelming or yawn-inducing. Here’s my breakdown of the typical kinds of writing workshops, and which writers would benefit most from each. Keep in mind that many writing events offer a mix of these types.

1) You’re just starting out in creative writing. Maybe you’re already a technical writer or journalist and want to expand your writing abilities. Or maybe you’ve always dabbled in creative writing for yourself and wonder if you could write something other people would enjoy.

A conference with a variety of short sessions is for you. The program will offer a combination of panel discussions, question-and-answer sessions, and workshops. The sessions will have names like, “Writing For Magazines,” or “Finding your Story,” and many will focus on how to generate ideas, from playing language games to mining your own life for literary gold. Also common are sessions about building sustainable writing habits, which is often the biggest obstacle for new writers.

These conferences are great if you have the passion for writing but are unsure whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction, or if you need a boost to get started. You should leave the conference inspired and motivated, with at least a few ideas to develop.

Example: Northwestern University’s Summer Writer’s Conference

2)  You’ve dedicated some time to learning the basics of the writing craft. Maybe you’ve started working out ideas for a story or personal essay on paper. Maybe you even have a draft, but you don’t know how to shape it into something great.

The second kind of workshop often is set up like the first, with a variety of short sessions, but they’re focused on specific aspects of the writing craft, like, “Bringing your Characters to Life,” “Writing Realistic Dialogue,” or “Point of View: Whose Story is It?”. Other times, this type of workshop is led by one instructor, who covers a variety of topics with one group of participants.

Reading examples as a group shows how an aspect of the craft plays out in published works, and in-session exercises provide techniques for developing it in your own writing. You should come away from this workshop ready to delve into learning the craft more deeply on your own and with ideas of how to develop the craft in your own work.

Example: Geneva Writers’ Group conference, Zurich Writers Workshop 2012

3) You’ve dedicated serious time to studying the writing craft, and you’re actively working on a big project: a novel, a memoir, short stories, personal essays. You’re familiar with the vocabulary of writing, and you have a good sense of what should and should not be in your piece. What you don’t know is whether readers understand the story on the page in the way you understand it in your head. You’re ready for a critque-focused workshop.

These workshops require participants to submit a 10-20 page excerpt of their work a month or so ahead of time. The majority of the workshop is dedicated to group discussion of each participant’s piece, often led by an award-winning author. This kind of workshop demands much more time from participants to prepare their own pieces and thoughtful feedback on others’ pieces.

The focused feedback received in these workshops can be invaluable for writers who need fresh sets of eyes on their work after toiling away for so long on it alone. You should leave with a list of specific revisions to be made in your piece and, best of all, an understanding of your piece’s strengths. If you especially appreciated a participant’s feedback, this is your opportunity to invite her to continue working together as critique partners after the workshop ends.

Examples: Paris Writers Workshop, ZWW 2011

Before signing up for a writing event, think about what you expect to be able to do afterwards. Then carefully read the description of the event and its sessions to see if it matches up with your expectations. Feel free to contact the workshop organizers to determine whether they offer what you’re looking for. If not, tell them. It’s likely that they’ll keep your needs in mind for future events.

Whatever your current writing needs, there’s a workshop out there for you. And if there isn’t one nearby, consider organizing one yourself!

 

Thank you for the helpful tips, Kelly!

 

Paris Writers Workshop

I had a wonderful time at the Paris Writers Workshop last week. The workshop offered writing classes that catered to all writers. I originally wanted the Novel class, but by the time I tried to sign up, it was sold out. Not wanting to give up, I searched for another class and found The Craft of Fiction had one opening. I signed up and snagged the last spot.

I think it was meant to be. 😉

Here are a few things I’ve learned from attending the PWW:
1. I learned to drink wine…the right away. (I’m not kidding. They taught us how during the opening ceremony. It’s all about using your senses, not just in drinking wine, but also in writing.)
2. I learned that getting your writing critiqued by other writers is a gift.
Remember: they’re not there to attack you. They’re there to help you.
3. Networking is fun. You’ll be surprised at who you’ll meet. I met a fellow-blogger who I have been following for months. Her blog is called: Becoming Madame.

4. Dialogue isn’t just about the quotes.
5. Traditional Publishing is hard, but it’s not impossible. Hang in there.
6. Self-Publishing is a lot of work, but it can be worth it.
7. Reading a chapter of your book to a group of strangers is exhilarating. If you get a chance to do it, do it. It’s good practice for when you go on book tours.

8. If you really want to be a writer—keep writing, and don’t give up.

The main reason why I wanted to attend the PWW was because I wanted to get my first novel critiqued by a group of writers. I’ve only shared my story with a few people, so I wanted to see what strangers thought of the way I wrote and what I wrote. Although we only covered part of the story, I can apply what I’ve learned throughout the novel.

You’re probably saying I could’ve simply joined a writers group or went to a local workshop, and that’s true. But I had other reasons why I also wanted to go to Paris. If you’ve read my other posts, then you know what they are. No need to bore you again with the details.

Now that I’ve been to a Writers Conference and recently to a Writers Workshop, I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot from both experiences. I recommend both for different reasons.

If you’re deciding between the two, here’s a tip for you:
If you have a polished manuscript and are ready to find an Agent, I suggest you attend a Writers Conference.
If you’ve got a story that is still a work in progress, I suggest you attend a Writers Workshop.

For those of you who are looking for a Writers Workshop, I recommend the Paris Writers Workshop. Writing and Paris go hand in hand. If you need inspiration, The City of Light is the place for you.

Cheers!

Business Card Design for Your Pledge

As a writer, having a business card is important. If you want to network with editors, literary agents and other writers, and be taken seriously, having a professional looking business card can help you. This is one of the many things I learned from attending a Writers Conference a couple of years ago. When you’re part of a huge crowd and you’re all trying to network with agents and editors, you need a way to stand out and be remembered. A business card can do just that.

What you need on your card:
Your name
Title (specify your genre)
Phone number
Website (your blog, etc.)
Your picture (This is optional. It’s mainly for when you attend a Writers Conference. The picture will help agents and editors remember you, since they meet so many writers).

There are quite a few websites online where you can pick a design and print your cards for a low price, but they won’t be unique and memorable, unless you have it custom designed.

I was a Graphic Designer for 10 years, before I became a stay-at-home mom a couple of years ago. And because I know how important it is to have a business card, I am offering a special deal to all you writers out there.

I have 6 days left to raise enough funds for my writing project, Poetry for Paris. Poetry for Paris means so much to me, and I could really use your help. So, I am willing to offer an extra perk — I will design your business card for your pledge.

What this means:
If you pledge $100 in the next 5 days, I will write you a poem, mail you a copy of the movie Midnight in Paris, plus, the soundtrack (a value of about $25) AND if you NEED a business card, I will design yours for free. I’m only offering this extra perk to bloggers and writers, so you won’t see it featured on my Poetry for Paris page.

Business card design:
If you pledge $100, and would like to take advantage of my business card design offer, simply email me at: coreympanergo@gmail.com and let me know.

What happens after you send me an email?
I will need your business card information (name, email, phone, website, etc.)
If you have a logo you would like me to use, please email it to me.
I will get back to you within 48 hours or less with 2 designs to choose from.
You will have 3 rounds of tweaks (if needed) and then I will email you the final files, which you will need in order to get them printed.

NOTE:
I am not designing logos. I am only designing the layout of the business cards.

This special deal is only good for the next 5 days! Claim your perks now and let me help you for helping me.

A HUGE thank you to those who have already pledged!

Pledge here.

Why We Don’t Give Up

So you’ve sent out dozens of query letters, sent out partials, received rejection letters, attended writers conferences, and still—no representation. Do you stop trying? 

I met a writer at a conference last year that told me he’s been attending the same conference for years, trying to sell his book idea to agents and editors and have not succeeded. It’s not an easy task and yet he still keeps trying.

There are many possible reasons as to why he hasn’t gotten signed. He could have an excellent story, but his query letter is poor. Or have a great story, but not a sellable one. Or have a great plot, but it’s not well written, or not edited, or he’s been pitching to the wrong agents and editors or his book is simply not ready, or we can go on speculating.

The truth is, we don’t know why he hasn’t gotten signed. But this goes for a lot of us who have patiently held on to our manuscripts for weeks, months, or even years, and have sent out queries and prayed for the perfect agent to give us that phone call that will change our lives forever and sign us and make us millionaires or best sellers, or whatever else we dream of being. In the end, we are writers who want to get published. We want our stories to make it, just like the rest of them.

But how long are we willing to wait…

Before we move on and decide that maybe the manuscript we have now is not meant to be our first book?
Before we move on and write our next story?
Before we say that maybe we don’t want to wait for a Literary Agent to dictate when we will be published authors.
Before we say that our story is good and that maybe self-publishing is the way to go.
Before we say that this is our dream, therefore it is up to us to make it real.
Before we give up.

But you see, we don’t give up. Our stories exist because we were called to write them. Something, somewhere gave us the idea and it was our job to write it down. And we did. There is a reason for that, and that’s why we are here still trying.

The thought of landing a Literary Agent can sometimes be frustrating and discouraging. The thought of self-publishing can be daunting and overwhelming, so what do we do? The reality is, we wrote a book. A book we believe in, and we want it published someday, somehow, somewhere.

And now, we must ask ourselves:
Do we want to be traditionally published or do we want to self-publish?
Do we want to control our destiny or wait for a star to fall?

I say we continue to research, network, educate ourselves, and know our options.

And while we wait to see our name in lights…we keep writing.

Why It’s Important to Know Your Genre

Around this time last year, I attended my very first Writers Conference.

There were two questions I got asked a lot. One was, “What genre do you write?” and “What is your book about?”

For this post, I’ll talk about genre. I’ll save the second question for my next post.

A Writers conference is a great way to network and meet writers, editors, authors, and agents. It is inevitable that someone at some point will ask you about your genre and your book. Knowing your answers to these questions will put you a step ahead.

Before attending the conference, I did some research on my own regarding genres. I knew it was important. For one, you can’t approach a Literary Agent without knowing your genre. Approaching an agent who represents romance when you have a thriller will only waste your time and theirs.

It was interesting to have met quite a few fiction writers who came to the conference wanting to land an agent, who didn’t know their genres and who didn’t even have finished manuscripts. They wandered around aimlessly not knowing how to approach an agent.

NOTE: If you plan on pitching to an agent or an editor and you write fiction, make sure you have a finished manuscript and know your genre.

If you’re unsure about where your book belongs to, AgentQuery has a great list of genres and descriptions.

There are many reasons why knowing your genre is important. For one, it can help you market your book. Some people search by genres when they go online to find books they’re interested in, like romance, thriller, chick lit, fantasy, etc. Same when they visit bookstores.

If you don’t know your genre and need help figuring it out, here are some tips:

Think of it this way—if you were to walk into a bookstore, what aisle would you find your book in? Check Amazon.com and see how books are categorized. Go to your local bookstore and check out the signs and sections. Where would you see your book?

So, what’s your genre?

An Interview with Dina Silver, Author of One Pink Line

Here it is, as promised, my interview with a self-published author.

I discovered Dina’s book, One Pink Lineon Amazon.com and was very impressed with the rave reviews. I knew I had to interview her. Dina was kind enough to let me do just that.

See below.

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I’ve been working as a writer in the ad industry for about 15 years, and I’ve always wanted to write more than headlines and direct mail pieces. Before I wrote my first book, I started writing it as a screenplay, but decided to convert it to a novel somewhere along the way.

What inspired you to write One Pink Line?
One Pink Line is inspired by the story of a friend of mine. Once she told me about herself and her family, I was so touched by what a wonderful and touching young life she had lived, that I immediately asked her if I could write about it.

If you were to tell us about your book in one sentence, what would it be?
A great love story.

How long did it take you to write your novel?
About three months to write, and about seven months to edit.

Who read your book before it got published? Are you part of a Writer’s Group?
I am not part of a writer’s group. I hired a local editor, and had a few friends and family members read the manuscript. Some read it more than once.

Is your book only available electronically or do you also have printed copies?
Printed copies are available through Amazon.

How do you market your book?
Honestly, I spend hours every day trying to market my book. I’m always trying to reach out to book bloggers, reviewers, and other self-published authors like myself. I have found that the “indie” book community is extremely supportive! There are so many writers like myself who have come together to help other writers gain a presence and get the word out on each other’s books.

Did you ever consider getting a Literary Agent or did you always know you wanted to self-publish? How did you decide?
I actually had an agent, and was under contract with her for a year. She was shopping around my first book, Kat Fight, and was unable to find a publisher for it. During that year, I discovered self-publishing, and did a ton of research on it that lead me to believe it was the perfect path for me. So I chose not to renew my contract with my agent, and have been absolutely thrilled with my choice. I will say that I am a complete control freak, and you almost have to be to self-publish successfully, because you do everything yourself. However, I did publish through Createspace (who I HIGHLY recommend) and they will do a bunch of the upfront work for you. But once it’s out there, you need to really work to get your book noticed…and it will be so rewarding when you do.

Describe your experience with self-publishing. How long did the whole process take?
Partnering with Createspace took about three months. But I went through them because I wanted to have paperback copies available too. If you’re strictly going the eBook route, it will take much less time.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being self-published?
The biggest advantage, as far as I’m concerned, is that you maintain the rights to your work. The other big advantage is that you can make more money per book, and you can have your book published in record time. Most traditional houses take 18 months to get your book out there.

Would you recommend self-publishing?
I would highly recommend it! However, make sure you have a perfectly edited manuscript, great cover art, and the ability to market yourself. Oh…and a good book!

Have you joined writing competitions?
I have entered One Pink Line in three competitions…results are all still pending. Cross your fingers for me!

What genre does your book belong to?
It falls under Contemporary Fiction & Women’s Fiction. 

What makes you unique as a writer? Describe your writing style.
I hope what makes me unique is my wit. I really try to write a great story with a thread of humor throughout.

Who is your favorite author, and why?
Hmm, I might have to say Jane Austen.

Define a good book.
One that I can’t put down. One that keeps me thinking about the characters as I’m trying to fall asleep.

Define a good writer.
Well, there are so many different types of writers, but I guess they all share a similar passion for storytelling. That’s what really comes through in the great ones.

What is your favorite book? What are you reading now?
Favorite book of all time is Pride & Prejudice. Right now I am reading Mockingjay (third book in the Hunger Games trilogy)

How has being a published author changed your life?
It’s been a gift. I truly believe this is what I was always meant to do.

How do you balance being a writer and a mom?
I have one beautiful boy who is in third grade, so I have lots of time to write when he’s at school.

What inspires you to write?
Great stories.

Are you working on your second book?
Yes! My second book, Kat Fight, will be out in June.

What tips can you give writers who are considering self-publishing?
Here are a few:

  • Edit, edit, edit!
  • If people you trust give you great criticism, take it
  • Hire someone to design an eye-catching, professional cover for your book
  • Get involved in social media
  • Get involved with the site Goodreads
  • Reach out to book bloggers
  • Once your book is out there being read, ask people to leave reviews for it on Amazon
  • Good luck!

Thanks Dina for giving me the opportunity to interview you. It was such a pleasure.

If you’d like to learn more about Dina Silver, visit her website.

One Pink Line is available on Amazon.com.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope my two interviews were helpful.

Literary Agents

I have always been curious about how writers get their books published. What process did they go through and how long did it take them?

Nicholas Sparks shares how he found his Literary Agent in his website. I love reading about his experience because he makes it sound so easy. Attached is a link to his site.

http://nicholassparks.com/ForWriters.asp?PageID=3

How did you find your Literary Agent? How did you get published? Are you still looking for an Agent? What has your experience been like so far?

Of course everyone has a different experience. I’m still going through mine. I’ve written a book that I love, have sent out queries, attended a Writers Conference, pitched my book and luckily got a few requests for my manuscript, but yet I’m not quite done. I am constantly trying to build my platform however way I can. Despite distractions and life’s challenges, I never stop writing.

In the perfect world, I would be writing every day—sipping espressos, sitting outside cafes with nothing but my laptop and a plethora of inspiration around me. But reality is different. I have chores and responsibilities like the rest of us. But I try. I try my best to write as if I was in a café… in Paris, people watching, when I’m really sitting on the couch watching my 2-year old daughter who I love dearly. Besides, isn’t that what writing is for? It’s for creating different scenes at different times based on your imagination. I like creating, that’s why I chose to write fiction. I prefer to write in a café in Paris on a beautiful spring day. I think I’ll stick to that for now and let my imagination run wild.