Sunday, October 25, 2009

Start All Over - A Writer's Journey with D. Kai Wilson-Viola

Today I’m pleased to welcome D. Kai Wilson-Viola to Writers in Business. She writes about writing, blogging, freelancing, artwork, supporting friends, publication, studying for a Creative Writing degree and more, whilst keeping her sense of humor, her wits about her and her purse always within sight.

The following post is from Kai’s blog, Work Back to Now and is something many of us experience in our writing journey.

Late last year, very quietly, I retired from writing. My last story sold about six months after – and only because I wanted to find out if I was right to quit.

Actually, that’s wrong. I’ll phrase it a bit more accurately.

I’ve always thought of my writing as water. It’s essential to life, refreshing, can poison, and be very bad for you in high doses, but it can heal. It can support, or it can turn on you. Elementally, I’m more at home with water than anything else. And water, with pigment is ink. If writing is water, imagination is pigment.
Up until last summer, writing was the ‘thing’ I did.

It was my ‘thing and the whole of the thing’ as Terry Pratchett would put it, but nevertheless, I had no reason to claim to be a writer, other than it was something I did. Writers are one of the luckiest – and overburdened – careers in the world. You need no qualifications to get into the ‘club’ – which is why, increasingly professional organisations expect writers to actually pay their dues by getting publication credits. Basically, you can say ‘I’m a writer’ – and bash out some words, and that’s it. I had nothing to show for it though, and I began to feel like a fraud.

That’s one of the worst feelings in the world – it creeps into you – insidious, and sickens you. It makes the water you’re drawing from that well brackish and bitter. Every word I typed, just for emails felt like a betrayal. The pigment I was adding wasn’t ’settling’ right, and in turn my pens clogged up (I know, I’m taking this metaphor WAAAY far). I even stopped journaling for a while.

For those of us that live and breathe our stories – those that pour our lives into writing, for those that dabble - anyone that writes for the joy of it, whether it’s once a year at the Nanowrimo, or daily, butt so far into the seat that it’s memory foamed to your rear end, it’s hard to explain. People think that writing is just sitting down and bashing out words.

And they’re right – that’s part of it. Another part of it entirely is being so drawn into it as a craft, that you can’t help yourself – giving in wholly and fully, till you’re a shell, and everything that you are is contained in the novel or story, essay or poem you’re working on (and thank god writers have stupidly good regenerative powers).

I’ve been telling people for so long that I’m a writer – that it’s all I can do to stop the noise and clamour in my head, that I’ve forgotten how to be anything else. But even then, in the last few years, I’ve burned out, and forgotten how to *be* a writer. I was going through the motions – like a relationship that everyone knows should have ended long ago, and is just a soulless shard of the passion it once contained – or a friendship that’s grown apart. I thought I’d grown apart from my writing.

Turns out – I hadn’t. One of the major aspects of head injury, of any kind, is disassociation – part of it is fear, because if you can *see* where you excelled and can’t do it anymore, where does that leave you? Another part of it is inability and tiredness – I barely cope with the ‘immediate’ around me, let alone anything else, so writing took a back burner. I worked on pieces for Uni (I’m two years through a three year degree in Creative Writing and Psychology) but…there was nothing there. It had caved in, or sealed, and I thought that was it.

It’s not.

It’s just the beginning again. I forgot the joy of finding untapped sweet spots, where it’s so pressurised and solid that stories gush free from underneath my feet – I forgot that if my stories are water, there are rivers, streams, estuaries, feeding back to the sea. And that it’s fine to bathe in them – it’s acceptable to dream, and revel and remember everything again. It’s a bit of a pain that it’s gone at the moment, but it’s OK.

I decided, because this is a fairly common ‘complaint’ of writers, and because I’m able to, that I’d blog this. So…start all over.

Take my hand, I promise I won’t let you drown; the water’s cold, and you might get a couple of stains in places you never thought of before, but it’s too much fun to miss. And you never know what those stains might invoke for you….

You can visit Kai online at Work Back to Now.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

15 Commandments for Getting FREE Publicity by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

A huge retailer once said that advertising works, we just don't know how, why, or where it works best. What we do know is that advertising's less mysterious cousin, publicity, works even better. It is the more reliable relative because it is judged on its merit alone and carries the cachet of an editor's approval. It also is surrounded by the ever-magic word free. The two are easily identified as kin.

15 Commandments for Getting FREE Publicity (An excerpt from The Frugal Book Promoter) By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

1. Educate yourself: Study other press releases. Read a book like Publicity Advice & How-To Handbook, by UCLA Marketing Instructor, Rolf Gompertz, a SPAN member. Order it by calling 818-980-3576. Join publicity oriented e-groups.

2. Read, read, read: Your newspaper. Your e-zines. Even your junk mail, a wonderful newsletter put out by the Small Publishers of North America ( and one called The Publicity Hound ( My daughter found a flier from the local library in the Sunday paper stuffed between grocery coupons. It mentioned a display done by a local merchant in the library window. My second book, HARKENING: A COLLECTION OF STORIES REMEMBERED, became a super model in their lobby and I became a seminar speaker for their author series. Rubbish (and that includes SPAM) can be the goose that laid the golden egg.

3. Keep an open mind for promotion ideas: Look at the different themes in your book. There are angles there you can exploit when you're talking to editors. My first book, THIS IS THE PLACE is sort of romantic (a romance website will like it) but it is also set in Salt Lake City, the site where the winter games were played in 2002 and, though that's a reach, I found sports desks and feature editors open to it as Olympics© fervor grew and even as it waned because they were desperate for material as the zeal for the games wound down.

4. Cull contacts: Develop your Rolodex by adding quality recipients from media directories. The website has an All-in-One Directory that gives links to others such as Editor, Publisher Year Book, and Burrell's. Some partial directories on the web are free and so are your yellow pages. Ask for help from your librarian - a good research librarian is like a shark; she'll keep biting until she's got exactly what she wants.

5. Etiquette counts: Send thank-you notes to contacts after they've featured you or your book. This happens so rarely they are sure to be impressed and to pay attention to the next idea you have, even if it's just a listing in a calendar for your next book signing.

6. Partner with your publicist and publisher: Ask for help from their promotion department even if it's just for a sample press release.

7. Publicize who you are, what you do: Reviews aren't the only way to go. E-books are big news right now. Katy Walls, author of The Last Step, coordinated an anthology of recipes from authors who mention food in their books (yes, some of my family's ancient recipes from polygamist times are in it). It is a free e-book, a promotional CD, and great fodder for the local newspapers. You can download it at (click on the Free E-books tab). Use it as a cookbook and as a sample for your own e-book promotion.

Think of angles for human interest stories, not only about your book but about you as its author. Are you very young? Is writing a book a new endeavor for you? Several editors have liked the idea that I wrote my first book at an age when most are thinking of retiring, that I think of myself as an example of the fact that it is never too late to follow a dream.

8. Develop new activities to publicize: Don't do just book signings. Use your imagination for a spectacular launch. Get charities involved. Think in terms of ways to help your community.

9. Send professional photos with your release: Request guidelines from your target media. Local editors won't mind if you send homey Kodak moment--properly labeled--along with your release. Some will use it; it may pique the interest of others and they'll send out their own photographers. It's best, however, to send only professional photos to the big guys.

10. Frequency is important: The editor who ignores your first release may pay more attention to your second or twenty-fifth. She will come to view you as a source and call you when she needs to quote an expert. This can work for novels as well as nonfiction. I received a nice referral in my local newspaper because I am now an expert on prejudice, even though my book is a novel and not a how-to or self-help piece.

11. Follow Up: Shel Horowitz, author of Marketing Without Megabucks (, reports that follow-up calls boost the chances of a press release being published. Voice contact builds relationships better than any other means of communication.

12. Keep clippings: Professional publicists like Debra Gold of Gold & Company do this for their clients; you do it so you'll know what's working and what isn't.

13. Evaluate: One year after your first release, add up the column inches. Measure the number of inches any paper gave you free including headlines and pictures. If the piece is three columns wide and each column of your story is six inches long, that is 18 column inches. How much does that newspaper charge per inch for their ads? Multiply the column inches by that rate to know what the piece is worth in advertising dollars. Now add 20% for the additional trust the reader puts in editorial material.

14. Set goals: You now have a total of what your year's efforts have reaped. New publicist-authors should set a goal to increase that amount by 100% in the next year. If you already have a track record, aim for 20%.

15: Observe progress: Publicity is like planting bulbs. It proliferates even when you aren't trying very hard. By watching for unintended results, you learn how to make them happen in the future.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T. For a little over 2 cents a day THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER assures your book the best possible start in life. Full of nitty gritty how-tos for getting nearly free publicity, Carolyn Howard-Johnson shares her professional experience as well as practical tips gleaned from the successes of her own book campaigns. She is a former publicist for a New York PR firm and a marketing instructor for UCLA's Writers' Program. Learn more about the author at or

Sunday, October 11, 2009

L. Diane Wolfe - Overcoming Obstacles with SPUNK

Known as “Spunk On A Stick”, L. Diane Wolfe is a professional speaker & author who averages over one hundred appearances each year. She conducts seminars on promoting, leadership and goal setting. Her new book “Overcoming Obstacles With SPUNK! The Keys to Leadership & Goal-Setting” is an inspirational self-help book that explains the five Keys to success.

~Can you tell us about the five Keys and why they are important?

There are a lot of books with success formulas, but success principles are really pretty simple. If we just learn to master five basic aspects, Five Keys - developing a positive attitude, learning people skills, raising self-esteem, overcoming fears, and setting goals – then we’ll have all it takes to lead a successful, productive and fulfilling life. These Five Keys work in conjunction with one another, too. We cannot focus on just one aspect, nor is any one Key above the rest. We can’t have a good self-esteem if we allow fear to continue holding us prisoner. Or possess a positive attitude if we refuse to deal positively with other people. It’s all or nothing!
~Can these Keys be applied to all aspects of life or are they better suited for work related goals?

All aspects! Human beings need goals to survive – they motivate us and force us to grow and change. (“Where there is not vision, the people perish.” – Proverbs 29:18) We need goals in all areas of our life, and the Five Keys help us to accomplish those dreams. Again, success principles are very universal.

~As a member of the National Speakers Association, you travel the East Coast for seminars. When traveling, have you found a good system to keep track of your business expenses?

I keep a small notebook in the car for mileage and I am very diligent in writing down each business-related excursion. Any expense – from buying a coffee to hotel rooms – I save the receipt and organize upon my return. (I am an uber-organized person – I have lists for my lists!) I’ve had several years of accounting and really enjoy it, so I stay on top of recording monthly expenses and income. I’ve never used a computer program, either. I created my own ledger instead, and even my accountant says it is scary organized!

~When you approach a bookstore to schedule a promotional event, are they usually receptive? Can you share one tip with us on how to make this a positive experience?

Yes! Now in my home state, Barnes & Noble prefers multi-author events, although I’ve done numerous solo appearances elsewhere. Borders also seems gun-shy to do events right now, but everyone else is very receptive.

My one tip – make the event fun for the manager and staff as well! I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard the staff tell me that most authors ignore them. Involve those working while you are in the store – take photos of them, talk with them, give them bookmarks… And be sure to send a thank you card – most authors forget this as well. Even if you don’t move many books, if you were a joy to work with, the store will welcome you back anytime!

Over the years, though, bookstores have become less ideal for authors. A bookstore really is the worst way to move books! I still make store appearances, but I’ve found far greater success as far as book sales at my speaking engagements.

~I understand you manage an online writer’s group. Can you tell us about the group?
It’s on the social site Deviant Art. I and two other members founded it almost three years ago and we have close to 500 members now. Only a small percentage of members are active at any given time, just like any organization, but that’s probably a good thing! We have contests & exercises, and the members submit their work to the club for feedback and critiques. We’ve stressed from the beginning that it’s family-friendly and we want encouraging comments. (Which is really the definition of critiquing – to make a thing better with positive suggestions of improvement.)

L. Diane Wolfe is also the author of a young adult series of books entitled The Circle of Friends, which are available online & retail. She enjoys life with her husband and two cats in North Carolina. You can catch her on tour this fall as she makes stops in GA, NC, SC, and VA. Visit her page on Book Tour for specific locations and dates: Book Tour or visit her online at Spunk on a or The Circle of

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bookkeeping for Writers by Brigitte Thompson

Writers work in all different genres and write for a variety of media outlets. Some of us are business writers, others create romance novels and many write articles for magazines or copy for web sites. Putting words into print is our profession, but dealing with the financial aspects of our writing business can be challenging.

As an accountant, author and freelance writer, I can help. My newest title, Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers, addresses issues writers face daily such as how to deduct travel expenses, differentiate between personal and business property and claim home office deductions.

Bookkeeping is an essential part of the business of writing, especially identifying and tracking expenses. Business expenses are considered an operating cost. The more legitimate business expenses that we can document, the lower our tax payments will be.

Understanding Expenses

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that our writing expenses be ordinary and necessary in order for them to be acceptable. An ordinary expense is defined as common and accepted in our profession. A necessary expense means we need to spend this money in order to operate the business. The expenses must not be considered extravagant. They must be an essential part of doing business as a writer. It is important to differentiate between personal expenses and business expenses.

Writers are able to realize some unique deductions which may be considered personal for most other taxpayers. For example, a book on the history of California used for researching my fiction manuscript based in that state could be deductible as a writer. Other potentially deductible expenses include tickets to a ballet used to build the character of a ballerina I am writing about and an instructional DVD used to improve my public speaking skills. Most writers will call these expenses research or professional development. We need to be able to justify each expense if audited, so be sure it is legitimate and has the supporting documents to back up the claim.

Recordkeeping Options

To justify expenses, it is important to establish a system of recordkeeping that works for you. Some things need to be recorded daily, while others can be done weekly or monthly. It is imperative that you get into the habit of saving and recording everything related to your writing business. All invoices, receipts, credit card slips and bank statements are essential documentation that should be kept.

Some people find it helpful to create a system for their financial transactions using envelopes and lined paper. Transactions can be recorded on sheets of 8 ½” by 11” paper attached to the front of a large clasp envelope with supporting documentation stored inside. This system works well for many writers because it is simple to set up and only requires the purchase of paper and envelopes. However, one disadvantage of this system is that it’s hard to see at a glance how much you have spent on supplies during the year or how much you have paid for your business phone line.

If you prefer computerized bookkeeping, these transactions could be recorded on a spreadsheet and receipts could still be kept in a clasp envelope. Microsoft Excel® provides an easy-to-use program which can help organize your records. One benefit of tracking this information with a computer spreadsheet is its ability to compute. Once you learn the program, you will be able to format columns to add a range of numbers. This eliminates the chance of addition errors haunting you during an audit. Unfortunately, spreadsheets do not offer much room for detail and are not able to generate financial statements.

If you would like to go a step further, QuickBooks® is a user-friendly accounting program which generates financial statements and budgets using the data you input. Again, entering the data allows for error free calculations and, as a bonus, custom reports compile the information so you can easily determine how much was spent on shipping manuscripts during the year, for example. Trial versions of accounting software can be found online, but the cost to purchase and the time spent learning it could be a disadvantage to some writers. Receipts would still have to be kept to document your deduction.

The choice is yours. Any system that works for you is acceptable to the IRS, as long as the pertinent information is retained. Learning what to record as writing expenses as well as how to properly document each transaction is important to the success of your writing business.

Please visit my web site for more information: Bookkeeping for Writers .