books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, August 29, 2010


New writers get a lot of pressure to start a blog. With good reasons:

1)     It’s a free website.
Most writers don’t need any other website. A free blog allows up to ten pages of content, and you can even post a link to your “buy” pages at Amazon if you have books to sell.

2)     You become Googlable.
With a generic name like Anne Allen, I was a needle in the search engine haystack until I started blogging. Now a search of my name brings up dozens of pages of entries—most of which actually refer to me. (Anne R. Allen the stockbroker, I apologize.)

3)     You can leave comments/follow other blogs
I have a lot of followers who don’t leave comments because Blogger insists you post “anonymously” if you don’t have a blog ID. Some email me, but they don’t get to join in the discussion. But with your own blog, you become a member of the club, with easy-commenting privileges. And I don’t know about other platforms, but has a “dashboard” that provides links to the latest updates of all the blogs you follow.

4)     You get to network with other writers and readers.
This is the biggest benefit of all. If you need a reminder of the importance of networking, read how Roni at Fiction Groupie  landed her agent last week. Woo-hoo, Roni!!

5) Blogtours are the new booksignings. If you already have a blog network you’re more likely to be invited to guest blog when you have a book to promote. (More on blogtours from the wonderful YA writer Janice Hardy who will be guestblogging for me October 10th. Stay tuned.)

BUT, and this is a big BUT—blogging takes a humongous chunk out of your writing time. Bloggers are usually advised to post every day. AND run contests and giveaways to bring in more followers. AND post on all their followers’ blogs. AND generally let the blog run their lives.

Which makes bloggers carry a little wad of guilt around any time they’re doing something else—like nurturing offspring, earning a living, or actually working on a manuscript. How many blogposts have you read recently that consisted of apologies for not blogging?

So I’d like to take this opportunity to say YOU DON’T NEED TO BLOG EVERY DAY. If you want to do a daily blog, and it’s not taking away from your creative work, that’s great. But if you’re just starting out, I recommend a once-a-week blog like this one, or even once-a-month. Hey, blog only on national holidays or months ending in “R.” The most important thing is to be consistent.

Several years ago, there was a movement of self-styled “slow bloggers,” who modeled their movement on Alice Walker’s “slow food” movement (the opposite of McBurgerish “fast food.”) The point was quality over quantity.

Thanks much to writer/translator Lee Robertson who brought the term to my attention after we exchanged comments on Tawna Fenske’s blog. Lee pointed out a number of slow, quiet bloggers are suddenly making announcements they’ve found representation or a publisher, while the rest of us are frantically tweeting, blogging, myfacing etc. and letting our real work languish.

This started a discussion with Lee, who wrote to me in an email, “I see a danger for young writers, especially—they start to think it's all about the blog. It isn't. A blog is like frosting on top of the cake. It's not the main deal.” 

She sent me a link to the Slow Blogger Manifesto written in 2006 by a tech consultant named Todd Sieling, who wrote “Slow Blogging is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly.” He urged people to write a few thoughtful, well researched posts a month rather than daily blabber. A number of influential journalists, technicians, and academics joined his movement. It built steam until mid-2008, when it merited an article in the New York Times One slow blogger quoted in the NYT article put her philosophy this way: “Blog to reflect, Tweet to connect.”

And the late, great Miss Snark was all for it. In spite of all the pressure to “build platform,” she advised young writers to always put their writing first,

“Your job is to write…
Blogging is not writing.
Looking at MySpace is not writing.
Friending on Facebook is not writing.
Posting chapters and feverishly checking for comments, then obsessing about comments, and parsing out the hidden meaning of comments like "this blog is great. Have you enlarged your penis yet?" is not writing.

…There's a lot to be said for sitting down with your ownself and writing. Nothing, literally NOTHING replaces that. Focus. You're wasting time.”

The Recession seems to have stalled the slow blog movement along with everything else. We’re all in panic mode, trying to work as hard as we can. But what I see is a lot of bloggers who start off with once-or twice-a-day fanfare, then drift into frequent apologies-for-having-a-life, then fade to erratic monthly “remember me’s?” followed by a burnout notice or worse--a pathetic, neglected spam-attractor hanging in cyberspace.  

So instead of intense blogging petering to burnout, I strongly advocate the return of  the Slow-But-Steady Blog. Instead of the daily “OMG what will I blog about?” panic, wait until you have a moment of “OMG I have to blog about this!” inspiration.

Another benefit to slow blogging will be that your readers won’t have to miss a bunch of your posts if they are busy with their own creative writing. If all of the brilliant people I follow cut their blogposting to once a week, I might actually get to read them—AND finish my WIP.

For those of you considering a first plunge into the blogosphere, a once-a-week or -month blog doesn’t sound so intimidating, does it?

Joining the Slow Blog movement is simple. Start a blog and announce you’re planning to post on alternate Tuesdays, on the birthdays of famous poets, when the moon is full, or whenever. Or if you already have a blog, next time you miss a few days, tell yourself you didn’t FAIL to blog; you SUCCEEDED in joining the Slow Bloggers. All you have to do is skip those boring apologies, and you’re in.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Next month (September 17-18) I’ll be attending the Central Coast Writers Conference at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, CA. It’s a great little conference, where I always learn something new.

There are still places available. And this year the keynote speaker is the awesome agent, author, and uberblogger NATHAN BRANSFORD!!!!

In honor of the conference I thought I’d re-run my list of tips on getting the most out of a writers’ conference

DON’T dress to impress. (At one conference I attended, a woman came dressed as a tree. Shedding real leaves. Don’t do this. Also, dressing as one of your characters WILL get you noticed, but not in a good way.) Wear neat but comfy clothes. The days will be long and intense.

DO wear a distinctive scarf, hat, or jacket every day that will help people remember you.

DON’T pitch your project unless you’re in a specified pitch session. I’ve seen writers pitch to agents through the bathroom stall door. Seriously. Don’t be that person.

DO offer to get an agent or editor a cup of coffee or ask how she’s enjoying the conference. Or ask what books he reads for fun. It will give you great material for your query letter.

DON’T cart around all 800 pages of your magnum opus and try to thrust it upon faculty members.

DO perfect your pitch beforehand, so you can tell an agent or editor in three sentences what your book is about. Then ask if you can query. (If you’re querying a novel or memoir, make sure to tell her if it’s complete.) If she says yes, you can put “REQUESTED” on the envelope. A big plus.

DON’T compete for faculty attention like a needy two-year old. The accolades will come when you perfect that book and get into print.

DO bring a notebook, several pens—and if you are attending a hands-on critique session workshop—a first chapter, story, or a few poems. Business cards, if you have them, will help with networking. Also, bring some protein bars and energy drinks and/or water. Your breaks may be too short to grab real food.

DON’T forget to have fun. You’re there to make friends as well as learn. One of the most important aspects of a conference is meeting fellow writers.

DO remember agents and editors are people too. As the late, great Miss Snark said “It’s like visiting the reptile house. They're as afraid of you as you are of them. Honest.”

Sunday, August 15, 2010


When you’re a beginning writer, you’re likely to get bombarded with advice from all quarters—your family, your friends, your hairdresser, and of course that know-it-all guy at work. I don’t know why, but everybody who’s ever watched a few minutes of Oprah seems to think they know all about the publishing business. But chances are pretty good they don’t. And chances are even better that whatever they may have heard is out of date. The business is in a state of rapid change

If you don’t want your heart broken in this ever-more-difficult, soul-crushing process, you need to keep those myths and outdated ideas from infecting your brain. Here are twelve things to disregard when you hear them from those well-meaning friends and relations. (Be polite, but you might be forgiven a slightly condescending smile.)

  1. Writers make big money. How many times do you hear “You’re a writer! Will you still talk to me when you’re rich and famous?” Tell them to rest easy. It's not likely to be a problem. Even “successful” writers need day jobs these days. Royalties and advances are shrinking at an amazing rate. Yes, J.K. Rowling is richer than the Queen, and Stephen King could buy the entire state of Maine. They are superstars. Of course you (and hairdresser) can fantasize you’ll become a superstar too—we all do—but the odds are mighty slim. 
  1. Genre fiction is easy to write. People will tell you to start out with something “easy” like a romance/mystery/kid’s book. Don’t even try. If you don’t love a genre and read it voraciously, you’ll never write it well enough to publish.
  1. Never write for free.  Professional freelancers will tell you this with the ferocity of union organizers, and they are absolutely right…when they’re speaking to seasoned journalists (although even they aren’t getting paid much these days.) But it’s a long way from writing your first essay to publishing in the New York Times. During your learning process, writing for free is good practice and a great way to get your name out there. Consider you’re being paid in clips and platform-building. And the truth is, if you write literary fiction or poetry, you may never be paid for it. (Most literary writers make their living by teaching.) But the lack of paying markets doesn’t mean your work doesn’t deserve an audience. Plus, it’s important to remember that literary agents work for free a lot of the time—sometimes for years when they’re getting started, just like writers
  1. Don’t waste time on short fiction, because you won’t make any money on it. You won’t make much money on long fiction either (see above.) Working on short fiction is the best way to hone your skills. Publishing it makes you more attractive to agents and gives your self-confidence a boost. And it’s a whole lot easier to publish a short story than a novel. There are thousands of literary magazines and contests in the US, but only six major book publishing houses.
  1. Don’t reveal your plot, because somebody will steal it. Everybody’s got a story. It’s how you write it that matters. Since the copyright law reforms of the 1970s, copyrighting your work before it’s published (especially a first draft) has been the mark of a paranoid amateur. It’s copyrighted as soon as you type it onto your hard drive. (And BTW, you can’t copyright a title.)
I should note this is not true of loglines,  If you have an especially high-concept, unique, and marketable idea—like the you’re the first guy who thought of “snakes on a plane”—you might feel more secure if you copyright it—but do NOT mention this when you’re querying.

  1. With talent like yours, you don’t have to jump through all those hoops.  The old saw about 10% inspiration/90% perspiration is 100% true. Talent without skill is useless. That means skill at writing AND hoop-jumping. Learn the rules and follow them or nobody will ever find out about that talent of yours.
  1. Spelling and grammar don’t matter: it’s creativity that counts. When you’re seven, maybe. Words are your tools. If you can’t use them properly, nobody’s going to hire you for the job.
  1. Be extra creative so you’ll stand out.  Don’t write with animated emoticons, invent a new genre, or try to bring back the papyrus scroll. At least not when you’re a newbie. Follow genre and word count guidelines and the three-act structure, or you won’t get read. Publishing is a very stodgy business and if you don’t follow the rules, you won’t get in the door.
  1. Don’t read other writers’ work or you’ll imitate them. Reading widely is essential to the growth of your craft. The more you read, the better your own work will be. If you imitate a bit when you’re a beginner, no harm done. Your own voice will emerge.
  1. The sadder your personal history, the more publishers will be moved to buy your book. In spite of what you’ve seen on Oprah, readers are not likely to be interested in your personal tragedies, unless you write beautifully and have something new to say that will benefit THEM.
  1. Sell yourself. Show them you’re confident! Confidence combined with cluelessness will not help your career—unless you’re Will Ferrell. In publishing, tooting your own horn is more likely to make you the butt of #queryfail snark on Twitter or land you in  Slushpile Hell. So when the office know-it-all claims you’re “not trying” unless you query with lines like, “my poignant and exquisitely-written memoir will be bigger than the Twilight and Harry Potter books combined,” smile politely and change the subject to his impending mortgage foreclosure.
  1. You wrote a whole book! It deserves to be published. Almost all successful writers have a few practice books hidden away somewhere. Getting something published—especially book length fiction—is like getting to Carnegie Hall. It takes practice, practice, practice. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Deadline Looms for Literary Lab's “Notes from Underground” Contest

Literary Lab is running a fun contest to lure the most creative writers out there for their next anthology.  But the submissions close on Sunday, August 15th!

Here’s what you do—send them 5 pages of your most creative stuff—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, even art, and they’ll choose 25 of the most talented among us to get 10 pages (count them, ten!) in their next anthology. So cutting-edge writers out there, here’s your chance to shine! Info at

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Las Friday, Dorchester Publishing announced it is ceasing publication of paper books and going to e-publishing only. This means that as of Monday morning, their authors will be out of print—but still under contract. Their work will be primarily sold as e-books, but they’ll only get the tiny royalty rate contracted for paperbacks.

In other words, these writers will be paid an 8%-10% royalty on books they could have put on Amazon themselves for a 70% royalty.

Perhaps a moment of silence is in order for our colleagues at Dorchester, which has been publishing mass market paperbacks for nearly forty years. Much of their sales staff have been let go, too.

This is yet another in a series of aftershocks from the Kindle/e-reader quake that’s been rocking the publishing business for the last year.

The reason Dorchester has made this move is simple: e-books are selling and paperbacks aren’t. Publisher’s Weekly says shelf space for mass market paperbacks in supermarkets and other non-bookstore outlets is constantly shrinking, and J.A. Konrath reports only about 20% of the paperbacks printed are actually selling.

The Recession had already put Dorchester on shaky ground, according to agent Kristin Nelson, who says she’s been moving her Dorchester authors to more stable companies over the past few months. But the boom in e-book sales seems to have made their decision for them. Dorchester will still produce some paper books for their own book club and plans to offer print copies of a few of their highest selling titles, but that won’t help most of their writers.

So what does this mean to the aspiring author—other than you should be really happy you’re unpublished and don’t have a contract with Dorchester? Should you give up your quest for the agent/traditional publishing contract and self-publish electronically to avoid all this heartbreak?

My gut feeling is—no. It seems to me this is a time when you need an agent more than ever. The more upheaval there is in the business, the more you’ll want the help of somebody who knows the ropes. The anybody-can-do-it e-book world will be even more competitive than the paper book world and—at least for now—traditional publishers still provide the best promotion and distribution.

Plus, I think once the novelty of the Kindle/iPad revolution wears off, paper books will still represent a big part of the market. Not everybody is jumping into Kindle-land.

And hey--we’ll all need something to read when the e-reader is on the fritz. A whole lot of things can go wrong with gadgets. This week’s New Yorker shows a sunbathing woman who has just dropped her Kindle in the swimming pool. Ouch. Plus there will be glitches and viruses and those long hours on hold when you’re trying to get through to the incomprehensible tech guy in India. Also, recessions don’t last forever. The market for books should pick up again like everything else.

But there’s no getting around the fact the publishing world is in crisis and fewer writers are making a living at it.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up the dream. But we’ll all have to work harder to make our work stand out—and present ourselves in the most professional way possible.

It helps to remember two things:

  1. Publishing is a business. Editors aren’t high school English teachers judging manuscripts on literary merit. They’re looking for business investments. All publishers care about is acquiring books that will sell as many copies as possible. According to how-to-get-published guru Nicola Martin, they call selling books “shifting units” (how’s that for a buzz-kill term?) They won’t invest in your “unit” if you don’t come across as a skilled, reliable source of many units to come. 
  1. Amateurs need not apply. There might have been a time when you could dash off a manuscript as a lark and sell it, even though you didn’t intend to write as a career. But these days, publishers don’t want to pay for the work of an amateur writer any more than you want to pay for the work of an amateur mechanic, plumber or hairdresser.
 That means it’s now equally as important to learn the rules of the publishing business as it is to learn to write a great sentence. An aspiring author needs to come across as a savvy professional—even though the bulk of your pay may come from just the one sentence: “You want fries with that?”

The Dorchester authors don’t deserve what’s happening to them, and we can only hope they’ll be able to negotiate better royalty rates or be allowed out of their contracts. And in that, the ones with agents will be way better off. So I’d say don’t self-Kindle your unrepresented work yet.

But talk to me after a few more bombshells and aftershocks, and I may have a different opinion.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Two more chances to study with Catherine Ryan Hyde

Catherine Ryan Hyde, who wrote PAY IT FORWARD (and 14 other fantastic novels, one of which was nominated for a British Book Award) has been offering workshops this summer for a small, select group of writers. The next two still have a few places available.

On August 14th and 15th, she will hold a two-day workshop devoted to perfecting your query and pitch technique. You’ll learn the art of the verbal pitch and get at least an hour and a half devoted to your own query and synopsis.

On August 28th and 29th, she’s offering a workshop for beginning and intermediate writers who want to do some intensive work on all aspects of fiction writing. All proceeds from this workshop go to the environmental protection group, Landwatch.

If you’re going to be anywhere near the Central Coast of California this month (blissfully cool at this time of year) these workshops offer an incredible opportunity to study one-on-one with a great American author. (And that looks great in your query letter.)

More info at Catherine’s blog on her website You can send her an email through her contact page  .

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Ever get the “OMG I’m-not-really-a-writer, why-am-I-kidding-myself” blues? Agent Nathan Bransford calls them the “Am-I-Crazies.” Most of us have been there. Rejections are pouring in. Your WIP is stalled. Your BFF has refused to listen to one more word about the unfairness of the publishing industry. After a sleepless, agonizing night, you decide you’re unworthy to call yourself a writer.

Q. So how DO you know if you’re a writer?
A. You write.

If you go off by yourself at regular intervals to create stuff using words, you’re a writer. Maybe you haven’t written anything publishable yet. Maybe you’ve written a bunch of first chapters that lead nowhere. Maybe you’ve never shown your stuff to anybody but your cat. But you’re a writer.

Some people are born to it. If you’re one of those, your early years went something like this:

·       You gave names and backstories to the characters in your coloring books.
·       You wrote a whodunit in third grade in which you killed off the assistant principal who gave you detention that time when it wasn’t even your fault.
·       You poured your adolescent angst into verses that relied heavily on rhyming the word “rain” with “pain.”
·       After your first romance ended, above the emotional agony, a tiny voice narrated in your head, “So this is what a broken heart feels like, she thought, as she trudged on leaden feet toward her empty room…”

Some of you came to it later. After taking an inspiring class, reading an extraordinary book, or experiencing something that begged to be shared in written form, strange things started to happen:

·       Both your roommates went off to a party. You weren’t invited. But you couldn’t have been happier. Time alone to write!
·       You could no longer join workplace chat about TV, because you didn’t even recognize the names of the shows. Who has time to waste on television?
·       When your friends exchanged funny stories about their kids, you chimed in with an anecdote about what your protagonist did last night.
·       Writing took on the urgency of a bodily function.

Other writers are just getting started. You’ve always loved books and wanted to write, and you’re finally getting concrete ideas for the book you know you’ve got in you. Or you’ve just set up a blog. (Yes, blogging is writing.)

·       You pretend you’re looking for jobs online, but instead you’re doing research for a story or interesting things to post about.
·       You haven’t told a soul, but you’ve kind of written three chapters and sketched out a couple of scenes that might work into a novel.
·       You used to tune out when the old lady next door droned on about her tragic life. Now you eagerly note all the details for use in future fiction.
·       Your most titillating fantasies involve books in a Barnes and Noble window with your name on the cover.

Q. Yeah but… sez you. I want to know if I’m a REAL writer—can I make a living at it?

A. If you write and you’re not a wooden puppet carved by an old Italian guy named Gepetto, you’re a real writer. Most writers don’t make a living at it. Not creative writers, anyway. (Journalists are having a hard time of it these days, too.) Only a handful of superstars can quit their day jobs. Of course every one of us hopes to be a superstar some day, and nobody should give up the dream, but there’s no point in going all either/or.

Think of it like this:  

Q. How many people play golf?
A. How many of them are Tiger Woods?

Should everybody else give up golf?

Nobody starts at the top. Every star was a clueless beginner once. Learning takes time. We have to spend years—maybe decades—taking classes, studying how-to books and blogs, joining critique groups, and learning the ins and outs of the publishing business—the way a golfer works to perfect a swing. It’s a process. A really, really long process.

So before you give in to the I’m-not-really-a-writer blues, remember:

·       If your queries are coming back with form/silent rejections, you’re a writer.
·       If your WIP is refusing to come to a satisfactory end and you kind of hate your protagonist right now, you’re a writer.
·       If your neglected spouse suggests you take up something more lucrative and less time consuming, like making a model of the Taj Mahal out of toothpicks, you’re a writer.
·       If you’re questioning your worthiness to call yourself a writer—welcome to the club.

Don’t give up because you don’t have an agent yet, or your mother-in-law calls you a slacker who “sits around on your butt all day,” or your mechanic keeps asking why you don't have the money to replace that clunker.

You’re a writer.
Go write.