Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Keeping Your Writing Career on Track

If you follow writing blogs, Twitter feeds, or chat sites, you no doubt read about a writer named Jacqueline who, earlier this week, essentially torpedoed her career.

I'm not going to link; the entire thing was - to coin a phrase - a complete train wreck.  But the story goes like this:

Jacqueline is a self-published author whose book was reviewed by a man named 'Al.'  Al gave Jacqueline's book a number of compliments, noting the plot and characterizations as two positive elements of the book.  However, he also pointed out that there were a number of glaring errors which, in his opinion, made the book difficult to read.

He gave it two stars.

Jacqueline was unhappy with this review, something most of us understand.  It's difficult to receive negative feedback on something you've worked hard to produce.

Unfortunately, rather than vent to her friends or eat a gallon of ice cream - or better yet, revisit her work and ask herself if any of what Al the Reviewer had to say had merit - Jacqueline went onto the site as a commenter and had such a tantrum the comment stream went viral. 

It was such a disaster. 

Now, I don't know what will happen with Jacqueline.  Charlie Sheen has demonstrated that even the most outrageous of public meltdowns may not necessarily mean a career is over.  And while at first I was disgusted by Jacqueline's behavior, by the time I read to the end of the blog's comments I was genuinely concerned about her mental stability.  I hope she gets whatever help she needs, personally and professionally.

I have a few reasons for bringing up poor Jacqueline's derailment.  These are lessons that I thought I knew already, but which were brought home by this event:
  1. Writing is really hard.  Even when you're good at it, it's something that almost always requires help.  I've talked here about the value of a good proofreader.
  2. Good editors are worth their weight in gold, and they come into the picture with the same goal as the writer:  Bring out the writer's very best work.  Don't be afraid of editing!
  3. In this 'virtual' world, it's easy for the critics to become vicious.  Hiding behind anonymous comments and shredding the work of another has become "entertainment" for some.  The solution is NOT for those capable of being hurt to get out of the game.  It's for those who egg on the wolf pack to reconnect with their humanity.
  4. Having said that, however, it's important to understand the difference between critique and criticism.  The first is intended to lead to positive changes; the second is more likely to discourage change.
  5. If you put your work out there for critique - and that's what you get - you must accept it professionally.  There were a hundred ways in which Jacqueline could have expressed her frustration with the reviewer without making her feelings public.
  6. For that matter, your response to someone who is, in fact, criticizing your work should still be professional and courteous.  There were a number of people on the comment thread who said, "I was actually going to buy her book to see if I agreed with the review.  But after reading the author's response, I think I'll pass."  So sad.
I like to think that in the end, the Three Ps of Receiving Feedback - Pleasant, Positive, Professional - will yield great dividends.

Never forget that everyone on the other side of that computer screen, e-reader, or paperback is a real person. 

Are they on board with you?  Or are they hoping you'll jump the track?

Hey!  Don't forget to post links to your stories from this week's Write Words prompts in the comments section over here! 

Image courtesy Simon Howden

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Write Words Weekend

Image courtesy of graur codrin.

"I would love to write.  I just don't know what I'd write about." 

I can't tell you how many times I've heard those words.  And for a while, I couldn't understand how someone could both 'want to write' and 'not know what to write about.'

Then I started blogging, and soon I developed a following.  Suddenly, I had readers - readers with expectations that I write well and frequently - and on more than one occasion I found myself thinking those very same words!

Every writer knows what it's like to stare at a blank screen and not know where to start.  You may even know part of what you want to write - you know your subject, for example - but the words, the ideas, just won't come.
Welcome to "Write Words Weekends."

Every Saturday morning, I'll post a few 'write words' on this site.  These words are intended to get you thinking about your stories, your message, in new ways.

These are writing prompts, but without the 'writing prompt' structure.  For example, instead of saying, "Write about a time when...," I might put up a list with the words "shoes," "understanding," and "birthday."

Then, over the weekend, imagine yourself lowering one or more of the 'write words' into your memory well.  At some point, you'll likely feel a 'tug,' and when you draw the word up again, it will come filled with a story.

The goal of "Write Words" is simple:  Get writers writing.  Sometimes the 'write word' will remind you of a person or experience.  Other times, you may already have a subject in mind - you're writing about your relationship with your father, for example - and the 'write word' "birthday" brings up a memory of a special birthday spent with your dad.  Or the first time you celebrated a birthday while you were in college.  Or that first difficult birthday of his which came after he passed away.

"Write Words" bring up stories in ways that more structured writing prompts sometimes don't.  Please understand, I'm in favor of any word, sentence, conversation, billboard, or t-shirt that inspires a writer to produce a new story!  Just add "Write Words Weekends" to your resource list when the well seems to be running a litle dry.

Here's how it will work:
  1. Look over the write words list.  Write them down on something you can see, like a large sticky note.
  2. Lower the cup of write words into your memory well. That just means "think about them for a little while."
  3. Find a memory or even a fictional story through the use of any or all of the write words and pull it up out of the well.
  4. Now write and write and write.  Write while the memory is fresh and vivid and dancing through your mind.  Don't worry about grammar, spelling, chronology, or anything beyond just drawing out that story and taking a good hard look at it.
  5. When you've landed your story, then you can start revising.  If you need help from me in editing or proofreading, well, you know where to find me.
  6. As you finish your stories, you may post links to your stories along with one or two brief sentences describing your story in the 'comments' section of the corresponding Write Words post.
  7. Readers can then click over to your website to read your story and offer positive observations and critique of your work.
  8. I hereby relinquish copyright to all posts written by Write Words contributors. Remember to add the words "copyright <your name> all rights reserved" on your own work, at your own site.
This is all about you, the writer.

Ready?  Pencils up, laptops on, memory wells open!  Your first Write Words are:

Kitchen table

Sunday afternoons



All right?  Then, ALL WRITE!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Proofreader: A Writer's BFF

She's saying, "If only you had let me proofread this
before you published it in this big, fat book."

Ten years ago, I self-published my first book, "The Accidental Gringo."  It was a little thing, maybe 115 pages, but I read and re-read every word so many times it took up encyclopedic quantities of my brain.

At one point, I thought, "You know, I bet I've got entire chapters of this thing memorized."  I was probably right, too. 

Gosh, I sure was proud of how thorough I had been fine-tuning that book.

Now, if that moment were a scene in a movie, the low strings on the soundtrack would start some ominous ostinato and everyone in the audience would brace themselves for the guy in the hockey mask to come at the poor, arrogant author with a band saw. 

(Band saw?  Maybe I should Google carpentry tools.  Or see more horror films.) 

Confident that there couldn't be even a hint of an error in my manuscript (not after all that memorizing, right?) I sent it off to the printers.  

Imagine my dismay, then, when I opened the box, pulled out a copy of my beautiful new book, and found that somewhere in the 80-page neighborhood an entire sentence had been printed twice!  

How was that possible?  I had worked so hard to guarantee that this very thing wouldn't happen!

At first I blamed the printer.  It had to be someone on their end, sabotaging my efforts!

Then I checked my own file copy, and sure enough, there it was - the punchline to an otherwise hilarious paragraph, completely un-funnied by poor editing.  As a humor writer, I was not amused.

All that reading, all that 'memorizing' had made me blind to a glaring error.  I simply did not see the duplicate sentence. 

There were other problems with the book.  The type font was cute, which meant it was amateur looking and at times made reading difficult.  There were one or two homonyms that flew under the spell-check radar.  There were even certain references that, while clear to me, were confusing to my friends.

That was when I realized that having a proofreader look over your work is absolutely essential to producing a quality product.  Whether you are planning to publish your writing yourself, or are hoping to attract the attention of an agent or publishing house, having a second or even third pair of eyes go over your manuscript can often mean the difference between grabbing your readers' interest and bringing them back for more, or being written off as an inexperienced newbie.

The good news / bad news for writers today is that there are so many options available for seeing our words in print.  It's good news, of course, because writers write to be read.  And it's bad news because it's so easy for an audience to wander away after just a few minutes or even seconds, before we writers have really had a chance to prove ourselves.

This means it's more important than ever to be open to proofreading, editing, even critique of our work.  Look at professional athletes, at the top of their game.  And right behind them, shouting instructions and offering corrections to their already nearly-flawless technique, are their coaches.

Every one of us can improve!  And writers of all backgrounds can start by letting others proofread their work.

Top image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Version of 'Swag' - A Thank You to BBC-ers

What's inside? A great big THANKS!

Hey, Bloggy Boot Campers!  I came home from San Diego fired up to get my web site up and running, and it's finally here!  And since a big part of that enthusiasm came from YOUR encouragement and support - that's right, I saw those nice things you were Tweeting! - I wanted to send out a big Thank You, and offer you the closest thing a writer has to 'swag.'

I would be happy to look over your blog for content suggestions, or to read and offer feedback on something you've written, or do any one thing you see here at my site.  If you live in Las Vegas, that even includes speaking to your group, team, or class about writing!

Just send me an e-mail at denae@denaehandy.com, and put "BBC Swag" in the subject line.  Then tell me how I can help you with your writing or blog content, and I'll do it!

This offer ends April 15, so act quickly!  We can continue working on your project past April 15, but that's the date I'll pull this post from my site.
  • Please keep blog posts, essays, or short stories to under 1,500 words, and include them either in the body of the email or as attachments that can be opened with Microsoft Word 2010. 
  • If you're looking for line editing of a book or collection of stories, I'll do up to 5 pages - double spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman.  Send these as an attachment that can be opened with Microsoft Word 2010.
  • If you'd like content evaluation on your web site, please include any concerns you already have.
  • Copywriting services: I can provide up to 500 words of content for anything you need - a brochure, a home-page blog post, etc.  I can also proof read what you already have.
  • Speaking:  I will travel up to 30 miles from my home in NW Las Vegas, and can speak for 30 minutes on the same subject I presented at BBC.  I'll even bring that groovy power point!
  • Guest posting:  I would also be happy to do a 500 word guest post on your blog on the subject of writing, journaling, blogging, story telling, and so forth.
It was awesome meeting you all!  I can't wait to hear from you!

image courtesy Salvatore Vuono

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Does My Business Need Social Media?

What's everyone talking about?  It's time to find out!

Ask yourself this question:  When was the last time I pulled out the Yellow Pages to look for a business?

Chances are, if you need a plumber, or a caterer, or a realtor, you go looking for them on the internet.  Whether you're using big search engines like Google, or you're simply sending an e-mail to your friends, one way or another you're using Social Media to find what you're looking for.

"Social Media" is simply a term that means "How we communicate online."  And 21st century consumers who want to communicate with you are likely to do it through some form of Social Media.

For a lot of business owners, this is a daunting and perhaps overwhelming reality.  "I own a great restaurant!  People love my food!  Isn't that enough?"

Well, unless your restaurant is one of the lucky few that thrives strictly by word-of-mouth (pun not necessarily intended) then the answer is probably, "No.  It's not enough at all."  The economy is tough, competition is tight, and every customer counts.

That's where Social Media can make a huge difference in alerting potential clients to the existence of your business.  And if you're far too busy keeping that restaurant cooking to update your web site or professional Facebook accounts, then what you need is a Social Media Manager.

We do that here at DeNae Handy:PWS.  Click on the copywriting/social media tab up at the top of this page to learn more, or fill out our "Let's Get Started" form. 

Don't panic; this doesn't obligate you to anything.  It's just a good way to see if the Social Media Management services we offer will help your business grow.

Can't wait to hear from you!

Image courtesy of jscreationzs

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Just What is Professional Copywriting, Anyway?

Look through your mail.  Peruse a newspaper ad.  Read the latest updates on your favorite web site.  Ever wonder where all those words came from? 

It's likely they were written by a professional copywriter. 

Copywriters are writers who often work behind the scenes, providing the written content for everything from professional web sites to non-profit fundraising literature.

The word "copywrite" is different from "copyright;" the first has to do with actual writing, the second is about retaining the 'rights' to a given work.

So how can a copywriter help you?

Let's say you're a home builder, and a really good one at that.  You want potential home buyers or real estate developers to know about you, but while you're a master craftsman when it comes to construction, your expertise doesn't necessarily extend to creative writing.

That's where the professional copywriter comes in.  A copywriter can put together promotional literature, add content to your web site, communicate with clients - essentially add the "tell" to your "show."

Suddenly everyone knows where to find a fantastic home builder.  You're getting contract after contract!  Your name is becoming, quite literally, a household word! 

And a copywriter helped make that happen.  How?  She told them all about you!

I can't build houses.  I can't bake gourmet cupcakes.  I can't pour concrete, or landscape a golf course, or run an interior design firm.

But I can write about all of them! 

And as a professional copywriter, that's exactly what I do.