From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Writers Market Game Plan

So I picked up a copy of Writers Market a couple weeks ago, and I've been having way too much fun going through it. There are so many possible venues for publication it can be intimidating. Like, super intimidating. Not only are there the traditional literary magazines for all our short stories, but there's also a magazine for Christian truckers if I decided I wanted to write something for that venue.

So as I've been going through I've thought of a strategy I want to try and use with this book. See, while I have my own big projects that I'm working on (i.e. novel, screenplay, or short stories) I also think it would be a great idea to start pitching articles to magazines and trying to work on getting some publication credits that way. I think it would be great to have articles in all sorts of different magazines.

So what I'm thinking of doing is this: I am going to make a list of 10 or 15 magazines to start. I'll go through Writers Market and find 10 magazines I think would be fun to write for. Then I'll start going down that list, doing some research, reading some past articles and seeing if I would be a good fit. With smart phones, I can do that research anywhere I have a spare minute. Once I've decided on a magazine I'll work on crafting an article and a pitch and send that off. Then I'll just keep going down the list and see what happens!

Basically I want to use Writers Market as idea inspiration. I feel like tailoring a pitch or story to specific magazines is a good way to come up with ideas in the first place. Researching a magazine and reading past articles can easily be the catalyst for your own great article and story ideas.

Anyway, that's my little idea for the day. Do you guys use Writers Market in any way?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The President and the Helper Boy

The four of us gather in the "secret" attic room behind the wall of my bedroom in our old California house. I am ten or eleven, my sister Becca is nine, sister Rachel is seven, and poor little brother Jordan is five or six. We are in this room because when you have a secret attic chamber behind your bedroom wall in an old California house, why would you have club meetings anywhere else?

This is the opening meeting, as most of them are. (I had lots of ideas and no follow-through). This club was of course, my idea. Also I am the oldest, so I am the President. I am always the President.

Rachel is vice-president. It bothers me just a teensy bit that she's the vice-president because she's not the next in line age-wise, but Becca likes taking notes, so she's the secretary. I always make her the secretary. 

"And you're the Helper Boy," I say to Jordan.

"But I'm always the Helper Boy."

"We need a Helper Boy," I say. I made the title up just for him, because he wanted to be included and my knowledge of actual professional titles had been exhausted. "Go get chairs."

That is the Helper Boys main duty. Going downstairs and hauling four of the plastic white picnic chairs up to our meeting room. Apparently it's a good idea to give that task to the five year old.

My sisters and I wait patiently while the Helper Boy lugs the chairs from the front porch through the kitchen up the stairs and into our secret attic room. When all the chairs have been brought up we sit in a circle and Becca takes out our club notebook. There are a few torn out pages in the front of the notebook from previous false starts, but today I'm confident--as I always am--that this idea will stick. My clubs are always a strange mix of things. Like selling lemonade and our old beanie babies on the street and making a website about endangered species. We spend most the time talking about club names.

"I'm hungry," says Rachel.

I look at the Helper Boy. "Go get us some snacks," I say.

For his sake, it's a good thing my clubs never lasted more than a day.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Smart You vs. Dumb You

We as modern writers have a lot of wide-ranging things on our list of responsibilities. We pitch to editors, interact on social media, blog, query agents, submit to literary magazines, do different types of marketing and publicity. And of course, we write.

Some of these activities take a lot of brain power. Particularly the actual writing. But we all have days when we feel like we're in a mental fog, and are just too exhausted or stressed or sick to do anything that requires a lot of mental effort. However, if we sort and prioritize our time effectively, we can be productive both on the days when we feel smart as well as the days when we're feeling...not so smart.

Take advantage of Smart Days (or even just average days) to get a lot of writing done. That is the most important thing, obviously. You also want to be on the top of your game when you're writing an agent query or magazine article pitch.

Keep in mind, too, that you can set things up to make things easier for yourself when you're having a Dumb Day. If you keep a list of blog topics then if you're having a day when you're brain just isn't working right you have a list to fall back on.

And if you have a pitch or query already written, then the heavy lifting is done and you can send out pitches and queries even when you're feeling squeezed. Other things you can do on not-so-smart days include scheduling things up for social media (looking up funny cat pictures might be just the right activity for Dumb Days anyway). You can read and comment on blogs and let other peoples smarts lift you up a bit.

Hopefully these ideas can help you keep some momentum even on doldrums days. Any other ideas for things you can make progress on when the mental juices aren't flowing?

Write on!

Sarah Allen

(image source)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Can Books Compete With Television?

A few days ago well-known indie-author and blogger Hugh Howey wrote a post about how and if authors can compete with TV in this modern screen-obsessed age. I thought I'd add a few thoughts to the subject and see if we can brainstorm some ways to pull people's attention away from their screens long enough to read our books. Hugh Howey argues that it's a bad move to rely on the few people who will read no matter what rather than trying to expand our readership, and I'm inclined to agree. We all want to reach as many people as we can, right? And a lot of those people are watching TV.

So before we get into specific ideas I want to say one thing first of all. The most important thing. If we're going to make our books worth other peoples seriously important TV time (because it is important, I understand that) then our books have to be...well, THE SHIZ. They've gotta be absolutely the best we can make them. Our stories have to draw the reader in.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get into some specifics. Once our stories are worth turning off the TV for, how do we convince readers and TV watchers of that?

Perhaps using film elements in our marketing, i.e. making a book trailer. There are some really creative and memorable ones out there, all sorts of different styles. It could be worth checking them out and finding someone to make one for your book, or figuring out how to make your own.

People who say they hate to read, in most cases, just haven't found the type of books they like to read. This means that in order to find a larger readership for ourselves as authors, we need to spread our passion as readers. As a kid I had a chore chart and in the summer months part of that chore chart was to read for half an hour every day and I fully intend to implement the same thing when I'm raising kids. We could read whatever we wanted, we just had to read. Basically we need to influence an early start of reading wherever we can. When you're picking out birthday presents, pick books.

We also need to embrace technological innovation. And I'm not talking about print vs ebooks, because we are so past that, right? Right. What I'm talking about are all the ideas that float around about stuff like a Netflix for books, or Hugh Howey's own Pie program that aims to do things like phase out boring text books and hugely expand the types of books kids read in school, basically trying to change the gut reaction many kids have of books as "boring things." Basically what I mean is that we should keep our eyes and ears open for other peoples awesome ideas about integrating books further and further into modern tech. Because even though I don't believe books are ever going away, I also believe things will continue to change, and that if used wisely that change will be exactly the thing that saves the books.

What do you think? What are some additional ways books can keep up with television? Because in reality, that's our main competition. Not other authors. There are more than enough readers to go around, if we can convince them we're worth the time away from the screen.

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 10, 2014

5 Life Hacks for Writers

Today I thought I'd just brainstorm some simple and practical things writers can do to make their lives a little easier.

1. Keep a copy of your WIP in Google Drive. There are lots of ways to back up your work (which is vital) but keeping a copy on Google Drive is one of my favorite ways to do that. In large part because in this digital age, keeping a copy on Google Drive means that you can work on your project anywhere with an internet connection--even on your phone.

2. Keep a water bottle handy. When I spend a while sitting and writing, I always get pretty munchy. Obviously snacks are fine, but water bottle is a good way to keep from just mindlessly eating all day. I know its helped me.

3. Buy lots of fruit. Related to number 2, keeping fruit handy is a wise idea for a few reasons. When you do need a snack, it's a healthy choice. But not just that. When you're in the zone and don't want to break away for too long to make food, you can just grab an apple or banana or orange to keep you going until you're done writing.

4. Buy a memory foam mattress topper. I just did this on Saturday and it has already been a life changer. We can't use our rare and precious writing time to its full potential if we are tired and bleary. So get whatever you need to help you sleep well. Like a memory foam mattress topper.

5. Steal other peoples ideas. I don't just mean for writing. When you're trying to keep up on Twitter and Facebook but can't think of what to post, you can just repost or retweet somebody else. That's quick and easy, and also forges relationships with the people you're responding to. You can use this with blogging too. Don't steal other peoples blog posts, but if you are short on time for coming up with something to blog about, go to your blog roll and find an engaging post and write a reaction to it.

Well there's a few simple ideas. Any other life hacks I should add to the list?

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 3, 2014

Some Favorite Moments from the Oscars

The Academy Awards are a major tradition for my family. Fan-girling is like my biggest talent, and the Oscars provide plenty of opportunities for me to get my squee on. When Meryl Streep and Benedict Cumberbatch are in the same room together it's just...GAAAH.

We had some really great moments from last nights Oscars. Everything from giddy (Meryl shimmying with Pharrel Williams) to really awkward (Adele Dazeem? Seriously Travolta?)

But all in all it was a fantastic night. I adore Ellen Degeneres and she does a fantastic job as host. She is so conscious of her modern at-home audience that she really knows how to hit our happy places and sort of involve us the best she can.

Brad Pitt serving Meryl Streep pizza on a paper plate? YES PLEASE.

Benedict Cumberbatch photobombing U2? YES YES PLEASE.

And of course, the greatest fan-moment of the night and already widely acknowledged as the greatest selfie ever taken:

Overall I was pretty happy with how the awards went, even though I will never, EVER think Meryl shouldn't win. But I mean, Cate Blanchett. And I think Best Speech Award goes to Matthew Mcconaughey. I felt like he was very sincere, and very thoughtful and had some beautiful things to say. And this maybe isn't the same for everyone, but I personally really love when people thank God in their speeches. Ironically, it brings them down to earth for me and makes them relateable. I appreciate that Matthew described his successes as the result of Gods hand and nothing else.

Such a fun night. Now I gotta go work on my screenplay...

Sarah Allen
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