Tablo—Writers and Readers Unite

I don’t live under a rock, but I had not heard of Tablo until last week.

YouTube is to video sharing as Tablo is to content and story sharing. It’s an online publishing platform and marketplace where authors—like me—can write and post stories, assign tags, affix covers, and connect with thousands of readers. Indeed, every day more than a million words are published on Tablo by authors around the world.

Tablo Publishing

Readers can discover new, interesting, upcoming writers to follow and leave “likes” and/or comments about certain writing projects.

Tablo offers an easy-to-use BookMaker widget. By simply dragging and dropping a document into  the Tablo frame, it instantly turns your work into a publishable eBook. Authors can then publish their books with a single click on Tablo and its applications, on the iBooks Store, on Amazon and other major booksellers. And yes, Tablo assigns ISBNs, validates and packages eBook files, distributes content and manages royalties. The only thing the author needs to do is write a book, select a book cover, publish, and drink a cold Margarita while relaxing on a shady porch.

So last week, I saw a post about Tablo’s flash fiction contest. With a nice $500 purse, I decided to give it a try. I created a Tablo account, selected one of six writing prompts, and uploaded my 494 words to my bookshelf. To my surprise, over one hundred people read it and thirteen people voted for it. As a writer, I love for people to read my work, and on Tablo, people are actually reading my work. Yay!DANCINGDAYS3

I chose the writing prompt: Suddenly, every radio station in the world turns to white noise and a voice reads out a single name.

I immediately thought about old radio hour shows. I started humming some Big Band tunes, which reminded me of my mother-in-law, who adored Swing music. And that memory made me think about her last days at the assisted living facility. And so I crafted a flash fiction story based on the prompt and titled it, “Dancing Days.”

To read it, please click over to Tablo (https://tablo.io/amber-nagle/dancing-days), and if you like the story, please leave me a “like” vote. And if you follow me on Tablo, I’ll follow back.

I’ve enjoyed the Tablo experience of discovering interesting writers. It’s more than a publishing and sharing platform, it’s a community—a community where writers and readers can congregate, connect, and unite. What a brilliant idea! This one’s a winner, folks!

Why Authors Need Literary Agents

A few years ago, after I had collected about twenty-five stories for my anthology, Project Keepsake, I began looking for a publisher. I crafted a killer query letter and sent it out to about twenty publishers I selected from the pages of my thick Writers Market guide.

“Sorry, we’re going to pass on your project,” most of the replies noted. Other publishers said, “We only review works by agented authors with strong platforms.”

I had a pretty strong platform, but I did not have an agent. So, I shifted gears and began looking for a literary agent—not just any literary agent, I wanted a literary agent with Mary Tyler Moore spunk.

I got no after no, and then, I heard back from Jeanie Loiacono (www.loiaconoliteraryagency.com).

“I really love this and think I can find a publisher for it,” she said. “How long will it take for you to collect enough stories about keepsakes to fill an entire book?”

She was kind, interested, and experienced. After I collected the other stories, I sent her my draft manuscript, and she sent a contract outlining her services and compensation. I signed it.

Jeanie Loiacono

Jeanie Loiacono is a literary agent. Visit her website at www.loiaconoliteraryagency.com.

My friends and family members didn’t understand why I needed a literary agent, and so I found myself frequently explaining the role of literary agents in the world of writing, publishing, and selling books. In case you are wondering, here are a few things literary agents do.

  • LITERARY AGENTS SEND OUT MANUSCRIPTS TO REPUTABLE PUBLISHING HOUSES. Jeanie is well-connected in the publishing world and knows the key players at several publishing companies. Publishers open her email messages and take her endorsements seriously. She knows the people in the industry who may be interested in particular projects and doesn’t waste time sending manuscripts to publishers who won’t care.
  • LITERARY AGENTS ALLOW WRITERS TO WRITE. Before I found Jeanie, I spent hours each day researching publishers and crafting tailored query letters. Even when I wasn’t scouring the Internet or the pages of my Writers Market, my mind was preoccupied. Finding a publisher was more time consuming than I had ever imagined, and it interfered with my job as a freelance writer. Jeanie lifted the burden of finding a publisher from my shoulders and allowed me to get back to writing (and making money). Handing the task of finding a publisher to her was freeing, and a smart business decision.
  • LITERARY AGENTS SHIELD WRITERS FROM THE GLOOM OF CONSTANT REJECTION. Rejection is par for the course. Jeanie sent my manuscript to dozens of publishers, fielded the rejections and negative remarks, and continued to move forward without losing hope.
  • LITERARY AGENTS SEND PROGRESS REPORTS TO AUTHORS. Every other week, Jeanie sent me a detailed spreadsheet listing all publishers and contacts she had sent my manuscript to, along with comments and status notes. She kept me well informed during the process.
  • LITERARY AGENTS NEGOTIATE THE TERMS OF PUBLISHING CONTRACTS. I’m not a lawyer. The legal jargon of the contract was a little confusing to me, and I certainly didn’t know the going royalty schedule for first-time authors. Jeanie knew what to look for in the contract and fought for the best possible deal for me.
  • LITERARY AGENTS CELEBRATE SUCCESS WITH THE AUTHORS THEY REPRESENT. Jeanie was genuinely happy for me when she found a publisher (Native Ink Press) for Project Keepsake. She basked in the sunshine with me that day.
  • LITERARY AGENTS HELP WITH PROMOTION. Jeanie didn’t stop advocating for me and my book after she landed my book deal. She posted reviews on Amazon and other online bookseller sites. She tweeted about my book. She shared information about my events on Facebook and on her website. She wants the authors she represents to succeed, and so she helps us. She is a champion for her authors.

Sure, Jeanie and other literary agents work on commission, but what Jeanie Loiacono did for me far outweighs the meager monetary compensation she gained from my project. I had hoped Project Keepsake would skyrocket up the bestseller list and make Jeanie (and all of us involved) a small fortune, but that didn’t happen. I promoted and peddled books like a mad woman, but we didn’t make it to the Today show. Through it all, Jeanie never complained. That’s just not her nature. She continued to press forward with optimism and spunk, and that’s what makes her a great literary agent.

To learn more about Project Keepsake, visit the website at www.ProjectKeepsake.com.

The DOs and DON’Ts of Writing Critique Groups

A small group of writers and I met for the first time last month in the back room of a local restaurant and launched a writing critique group. Writer extraordinaire, Karli Land, is our facilitator.

I’ve participated in a writing critique group before when I was active in the Chattanooga Writers Guild, and so I know one of the best things a writer can do for his or her writing career is to join a good critique group. These groups are not one-size-fits-all, so you may have to try out a few before you find a group that fits.

Our critique group is made up of writers of different skill levels, both published and unpublished, working on projects in different genres. The projects range from a book about Jesus, to a historical fiction book revolving around Huguenots, to a collection of humorous stories, to a book about a little girl who goes to church camp, to a book about a defiant man who can’t stand his job, to a work of science fiction with vampire undertones.CritiqueGroup

Me? I’m trying to advance my first novel, a fictional tale that’s been floating around in my head for several years. Writing fiction doesn’t come natural to me, and so I’m hoping that attending the monthly critique group will help me stay on track and complete a manuscript by the end of the year.

Our mission is simply to help each other. We move page to page through each writer’s work and share thoughts. The writers of our group are voracious readers, and so, it is easy for each of us to read a passage and spot what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t work. The challenge is delivering to other members of the critique group honest, helpful feedback without hurting their tender feelings and crushing their confidence.

Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts from our writing critique group.

  • DO show up.
    Everyone in the group has made a commitment to attend and help one another. Even if you haven’t written a word in a month, show up and help the other members with their projects. Writing critique groups are only as effective as their participation. Everyone wins when all members participate in the process. If you can’t attend a meeting, send an email to all members and offer your critique of their projects by phone or email.
  • DO be kind and respectful—or in other words, DON’T be an ass.
    There is no room for mean, disrespectful comments at the writing critique group sessions. Remember the Golden Rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Consider your words. Don’t say, “This part is a mess! It sucks!” Instead, start your remark by saying, “I really love this part, but I have a suggestion about this other part…” And don’t have distracting side conversations during the critique sessions. Give the other members your full attention during their critiques.
  • DO critique the works of the other members.
    Dive deeply into the other members’ projects and really try to offer assistance. You won’t help anyone if your only feedback is, “That was great. Way to go!”
  • DO offer suggestions that help.
    If you tell another writer that something is weak or doesn’t work, propose a fix or solution to the problem.
  • DON’T short change other members.
    Every member of your group is deserving of a thorough critique, even if the meeting is running long. It’s not fair to rush through the last critiques because it’s getting late. One way to address this is to determine in advance, how many minutes to spend on each critique. If five people are sitting around the table, and the meeting is an hour long, everyone can have a 10-minute critique and discussion.
  • DON’T be overly sensitive to criticism.
    Remember, everyone has different opinions about books and movies, and so the members of your group will have different opinions about your writing. The key to success is to consider everyone’s opinion, but in the end, make your own decisions about what to change and what to keep. Don’t let the criticism hurt your feelings. Shake it off and keep writing.
  • DO say thank you.
    Remember to thank everyone at the end of the session and encourage the other members to continue working on their projects and participating in the group. And don’t forget to thank the business or homeowner hosting your writing critique group.

If you have other suggestions and tips, please list them in the comments so that we can all learn.

So Long Shew

I knew the moment I glanced down at my phone and saw Coleen Brooks’ name on my caller ID this morning. I knew.

She was calling to deliver the sad news—that our buddy, Wayne Minshew, had passed away last night after a brief battle with cancer.

Coleen and I visited Wayne a few weeks after he moved his base camp from a local downtown eatery to the living room of his town home. As we sat eating sandwiches we’d purchased from Thurston’s, I shared something very personal with them. “You guys are two of my favorite people,” I said. “Really! I value our friendship more than either of you know.” I felt the need to say it out loud for the universe to hear, because something told me that time was running out.

ColeenWayneThurstons_Filtered2

Coleen Brooks and Wayne Minshew on the sidewalk in front of Thurston’s. We met often and read each other’s writings.

Wayne, Coleen, and I launched a very informal writing critique group a few years ago. They were already friends, and they welcomed me into their inner circle. Being part of their prestigious writing tribe made me feel special. We met about every other month, shared writing projects, and gossiped a bit over lunch.

Wayne always greeted me with a cheery, “Hello, Kiddo,” which is funny because I am fifty—far, far from a kid. But Wayne always made me feel like a young grasshopper—an apprentice listening and learning from the master.

“Well, Kiddo, what are you writing this week?” he would ask me. And we would discuss my assignments and projects.

BookDelivery_ColeenWayne

Coleen Brooks and Wayne Minshew in 2014 at Thurston’s in Calhoun.

He and I shared a love of writing and storytelling. He always encouraged me. In fact, Wayne was one of the first writers to contribute a story to Project Keepsake. He wrote a story about a brick. I loved it from the time he sent it to me. During my dozens of book rejections, he and Coleen encouraged me not to give up. And when the book was finally published, I couldn’t wait to meet with them and hand them their copies. The three of us sat in a booth at Thurston’s, signed each other’s books, and giggled – such a happy memory.

Wayne was always full of stories from his past.

“Have I ever told you the story of when I had to fire Chief Noc-A-Homa?” he remarked one day. I nodded my head from side-to-side, and so he treated me to the story of his terminating the screaming Indian mascot of the Atlanta Braves. I was pleasantly entertained, as always.

Wayne carved an eternal place in baseball’s history by pitching in the minor leagues then working for the Atlanta Constitution for thirteen years as the newspaper’s first beat writer for the Atlanta Braves. He later worked for the Braves for eleven years as their director of public relations and promotions. He also served as the Atlanta correspondent for The Sporting News, a prestigious publication that many referred to as The Bible of Baseball.

Wayne’s soulful, autobiographical narratives from his career glorified the game of baseball and delivered interesting insights into the lives and personalities of many of the boys of summer. He knew all of them.

“I was there that night, you know,” he announced one day. “Everybody knew that Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was going to hit the 715th homer that night. Well, everyone except maybe Hank. I don’t know if he knew it. He was humble. A class act—just a class act.”

Wayne waited to witness history that night so he could write about it. But he told me that the words wouldn’t come that evening. He stared at a blank piece of paper and panicked a bit. He finally typed out something and turned it in. The newspaper placed it on the front page.

WayneMinshew_Young

Young Wayne Minshew – a baseball man through-and-through.

Back then, Wayne formed relationships with everyone connected with baseball, including players of the other teams. At the end of the day, he produced some of the best sports articles in history by observing the game up close and personal and pounding the keys on a portable typewriter with a deadline breathing down his neck.

He was honored a few years ago by being included in a book titled, Keepers of the Game: When the Baseball Beat was the Best Job on the Paper (Dennis D’Agostino). Wayne’s story was chapter nineteen. He was proud to be in that book with other members of an elite sportswriting fraternity including Ross Newhan, Hal McCoy, Murray Chass, Peter Gammons, and Bill Madden.

“Yeah, I knew Ted Turner,” he said to me one day after I inquired. He told me three or four stories from his memory about the eccentric founder of Cable News Network (CNN) and once owner of the Atlanta Braves.

“Ted was such an interesting character.  When Ted first bought the club, he’d call me twice a week at home. I remember one night he called and said, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m about to watch a movie on TV.’ He said, ‘What movie?’ and I said,  ‘The Longest Yard .’ He said, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to see that one. What channel is it on?’ And I said, ‘Yours.'”

“Ted Turner paid someone to pick up pitcher Pascual Perez and bring him to the ball games after that incident in the early eighties where Perez missed a game start because he got lost on I-285,” he laughed. 

The stories rolled off his tongue.

“I learned my first swear word at the ballpark. The big one,” he told me one time. “I brought it home, and my mom forbade me to go back to the ballpark. I often wonder which direction my life would have taken had I not disobeyed her, because I kept going to the ballpark.”

He often told me about his mother’s last days before Alzheimer’s claimed her life.

“She had not known me for a while, but that last day, my brother and I went to see her together,” he recalled. “She said, ‘There are my two boys.’ That moment was such a gift.”

The man was a repository of golden stories from his golden life.

“Did you see the Braves last night,” I asked him during my last visit just a few days ago at Morning Pointe in Calhoun.

“Yes,” he said and his face lit up. “I don’t think its going to be a great year for them, but that was a great game. They are building a new team this year. You have to do that sometimes. We’ll see.”

And then Wayne and I watched an old black and white Western together and tried to figure out who the beautiful, young actress was the main cowboy was interested in. We still had not figured it out when the nurse brought him his lunch —chicken and dumplings his sister-in-law had made for him.

“Who was your favorite cowboy?” I asked him.

“Of all time?”

“Yeah, out of all the cowboys, who was your all time favorite?”

“Well, that’s a good question. Maybe Gene Autry,” he finally said. “Roy Rogers was just too fancy for me.”

Wayne wasn’t a fancy kind of guy. He was one of us—down-to-earth, authentic, and genuinely sweet. He was Calhoun’s Harper Lee—our local resident writer who everyone in town knew and loved and protected. Our community embraced him until the very end.

His passing hurts. I’ll miss his smile and his kindness and his concern for others. I’ll miss reading his columns and hearing his stories. I’ll miss seeing him at Thurston’s. I’ll miss his phone calls. I’ll miss his calling me “Kiddo.” I’ll miss my friend.

Somehow, Coleen and I will carry on without him. That’s what Wayne would have wanted us to do—continue writing, meeting, reading each other’s work, laughing, gossiping, and loving one another.

I’ll close with a joke Wayne would have appreciated.

Two old men had been best friends for years, and they both lived to their early nineties, when one of them suddenly fell deathly ill. His friend came to visit him on his deathbed, and they reminisced about their long friendship. The friend said, “Listen, when you die, do me a favor. I want to know if there’s baseball in heaven.”

The dying man responded, “We’ve been friends for a lifetime, so yes, I’ll do this for you.” And then he died.

A few days later, the surviving friend was sleeping and he heard his friend’s ghostly voice.

“I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” the friend’s voice said. “The good news is: there’s baseball in heaven.”

“What’s the bad news?” the living friend asked.

“You’re pitching on Wednesday.”

Wayne, I know you’ll pitch a no-hitter, my friend. Love to you always!

Join Me in Celebrating Pi Day


Pi Day is this coming Saturday.

I first learned of Pi when I was in middle school. Math, up to that point, had been pretty straight forward—adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, calculating hypotenuses of triangles, etc. But then one day, the teacher drew a circle on the chalkboard and started labeling certain points around the circle. At the 3 o’clock position, she wrote “0.” At the 9 o’clock position, she wrote, “π“. When she reached 3 o’clock again, she wrote “2π.” She called it the Unit Circle and explained radians to us, as about half of my classmates began to have what best can be described as math seizures. Hands shot up left and right with questions. Eyes rolled back into heads. I heard the “thuds” of a dozen or more heads slamming into desktops. Friends gave other friends puzzled looks as if they were telepathically communicating the message, “WTF” to one another.

Pi Day is Saturday, march 14, 2015. Let's write Pi stories.

Pi Day is Saturday, march 14, 2015. Let’s write Pi stories.

I, too, was a little confused at first, but my young mind knew that math was about to get really interesting, and it did. Pi and I became fast friends that day.

Pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, which happens to be just a little over 3—3.14159265359 and it goes on and on and on. It’s a constant, meaning that for all circles of any size, Pi will always be the same.

Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th, because the date is often annotated as 3-14 or 3/14. Get it?

So here’s my Pi Day challenge for my writer friends. This week, I challenge you to write a story in exactly 314 words and post your story in my comments. Can you do it? And if you are feeling really bold, post a longer Pi story with exactly 3,141 words and post to my comments.

Come on! Let’s join the math nerds this year and celebrate Pi.

I’ll post my Pi story on Saturday, March 14, 2015. Stay tuned.

And as always, I invite you to venture over to my other website at www.ProjectKeepsake.com.

The Reality of Writing

Think you can’t learn anything from watching reality television? Think again. These six reality television shows offer lots of lessons for professional and aspiring writers.

In 2009, the ever-so-uncoordinated Steve Wozniak appeared on Dancing with the Stars, proving that with a little practice, anyone can learn to dance. With practice, anyone can learn to write.

DANCING WITH THE STARS
Airs on ABC
I’ve only watched ABC’s Dancing with the Stars once or twice, but the lesson is simple: With practice and determination, even the most uncoordinated among us can learn to do the Tango. The same is true of writing. Few of us are born with the knowledge and natural ability to sit down and compose the next bestselling novel. However, writing can be learned and improved through the simple acts of writing and revising. Want to be a better writer? Practice, just like the celebrities do on Dancing with the Stars. Work on the elements of good writing. Study great writers and their works. Never give up. And always give it your best shot.
—Lesson from Dancing with the Stars: Practice, practice, practice!

SHARK TANK
Airs on ABC
During ABC’s Shark Tank, entrepreneurs and inventors stand in front of a panel of five millionaire sharks and offer them opportunities to invest in their budding companies. Though brief, these entertaining presentations are designed to wow the sharks and entice a few of them to make strong partnership offers. Each entrepreneur’s pitch covers what their product is, how they’ve sold it to customers, their profit margins, their sales volume, and their plans for future growth.

Shark Tank pitches are similar to the pitches I send to magazine editors each and every day through query letters. I start my letters with a strong hook paragraph designed to grab an editor’s attention. I outline why my idea is a perfect fit for their magazine. I define the word count of my article, what I will include in the piece, and when I can send them the finished product. I also include a little about myself and why I am the perfect writer to write the article. My letters are both professional and entertaining.

Want to amp up your pitches to editors, agents, and publishers? Watch an episode or two of Shark Tank and pay special attention to how each entrepreneur engages the sharks. Notice all the idioms they include in their presentations.
—Lesson from Shark Tank: Make your pitches both professional and entertaining.

AMERICAN IDOL
Airs on Fox

William Hung? Not the greatest singer on the American Idol stage, but it didn't matter to him.

Remember William Hung? Not the greatest singer to perform on the American Idol stage, but it didn’t matter to him. Write because you love to write, and focus less on how well you write.

Actually, writers can learn two lessons from American Idol. We’ve all seen those contestants—those who can’t carry a tune in a bucket, yet they stand in front of the judges and belt out their favorite ballad as if they have a voice like Taylor Swift or Glen Campbell. Being tone deaf doesn’t stop these contestants from singing. They love to sing, so they sing. So the first lesson from American Idol is this: If you love to write, then write. You don’t have to be the next Harper Lee or Stephen King to find immense pleasure in writing.

The second lesson from the show comes from a phrase that is batted around on almost every episode: Make it your own. Some of the contestants have a knack for taking a common song and singing it in a way that makes it sound fresh, artsy, and relevant. In writing, so many of us have similar thoughts and opinions, but we have different ways of expressing our points. The key to interesting writing is to find and unleash your unique writer’s voice. Think about what you want to say and make it your own. But remember, when you put yourself, or your writing, out there for the public to read, some people will offer up judgement, and it won’t always be positive.
—Lessons from American Idol: Write because you love to write, make your writing your own, and learn to accept criticism.

ALASKAN BUSH PEOPLE
Airs on the Discovery Channel
A film crew follows the daily lives of Billy and Ami Brown and their seven mostly-grown children, as the family lives off the land in a remote region of Alaska. For the most part, they live without the luxuries of electricity and running water. They barter. They build things. They hunt, fish, and forage for food.

The Browns work together to survive. They’re a cohesive tribe, and everyone seems to have a specialty. For example, Noah is the inventor of the backwoods bunch, and the other family members rave about his intelligence and creativity. Gabe is the powerhouse, and when the Browns face a task that calls for brute strength, Gabe is elected to take the lead. Bear climbs trees. Snowbird, the oldest daughter, is the sharp shooter of the family. They support one another and celebrate each other’s strengths.

Like the Browns, I, too, have found a tribe—a tribe of other writers. Some are authors and have books they actively promote, while others write poetry, daily Christian devotions, fan fiction, etc. A few of my friends are editors. And I even have a few writers in my tribe that freelance for magazines, like I do. We are all different with different goals, but we stick together, encourage one another, and help promote each other’s work.

If you don’t already have writer friends, I encourage you to find a tribe. Get out there and meet other writers. Join a local writers group or guild. Attend a writers conference. Network. Share experiences. Encourage one another. Offer your help. Ask for advice. You’ll find great joy and satisfaction in sharing, collaborating, and forming friendships with people who love and appreciate writing the way you do.
—Lesson from Alaskan Bush People: Find a tribe of writers and participate.

GOLD RUSH
Airs on the Discovery Channel
Each episode of Gold Rush follows three crews as they mine for gold. One of the crews is led by Todd Hoffman, a character known for his poor decision-making skills. He’s big, hairy, dirty, and broke, but still, I find Todd appealing. I’ve pondered this appeal for weeks, and I think I finally know why I love Todd: He’s an eternal optimist. In the second season, he missed a lease payment on Porcupine Creek and lost his claim to Dakota Fred. But instead of declaring defeat and heading home, Todd scurried and found another claim—Quartz Creek—and mined a respectable ninety-three ounces of gold from the ground. In the fourth season, Todd led his guys to Guyana, and after mining barely two ounces of gold and a dozen minuscule diamonds, he was forced to pick up and go home in shame. Still, Todd and his crew regrouped and returned this past season, more determined than ever.

Like God Rush's Todd Hoffman, good writers learn to "shake it off" when things are going to Hell in a handbasket

Like Gold Rush’s Todd Hoffman, good writers learn to “shake it off” when things are going to Hell in a hand basket.

My point is this—Todd Hoffman may find himself battered and exhausted at the bottom of a deep hole without a ladder,a rope, or a friend, but the following day, he picks himself up, makes one of his trademark motivational speeches, and claws his way back to the surface for the next round.

As a freelance writer, I encounter lots of setbacks and frustration. I go for days without a “yes,” a decent assignment, or a book sale. This rejection, along with the constant criticism and the low pay writers receive for their work, can be downright demoralizing at times. As I fall asleep some nights, I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” But the following day, I channel Todd Hoffman. I get out of bed, make a cup of coffee, and face the day with new resolve.
—Lesson from Gold Rush: Learn to shake off disappointments and keep moving toward your goal.

SURVIVOR
Airs on CBS
For fifteen years, Survivor has captivated viewers with its recipe for certain disaster—throw a bunch of strangers from all walks of life on an island far away from civilization, starve them, make them compete in bizarre challenges, and watch as one man or woman outlasts the others. Many times, the strongest and the most competent of the contestants are voted off before the end. Sometimes, sane contestants have melt downs while the camera is running. It takes a lot to be a contender on Survivor. You have to outwit, outplay, outlast.

In my freelancing experience, I’m not always the best writer or the most experienced writer, but I am one of the hungriest and most determined. I keep pitching ideas. I continuously look for opportunities to work, promote my books, and sell my writing. Like the sole survivor, I outlast my competition. I stay in the game without letting the game break me, and you should, too.
—Lesson from Survivor: Outlast your competition and do what you have to do to stay in the game of writing.

Thanks for visiting my writers blog. I invite you to leave me comment. If you are interested in more of my creative endeavors, check out www.ProjectKeepsake.com.

Short and Sweet

I have been a proponent of “shorts” for several years now. By shorts, I mean short pieces of writing—short stories, short personal essays, short narrative nonfiction pieces, blog posts, flash fiction, short shorts, miniatures, sudden fiction, etc. In contemporary usage, the term short story usually refers to a work of fiction no shorter than 1,000 and no longer than 20,000 words, but other shorts can be less than 1,000 words. My narrative nonfiction pieces are about 800 words.

I can’t tell you how many times someone has approached me at one of my workshops or writers meetings and announced that he or she has been working on a book—for years. I congratulate them. I encourage them. But I usually sense notes of despair in their voices.

Sometimes they shrug their shoulders and say something like, “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll finish it one day.”

“What other writing projects are you working on?” I often ask.

As if I’ve offended them with my question, nine out of ten people respond by saying, “Oh, that’s it. I don’t have time to work on anything else. You have no idea.”

Well, yes, I do. I’ve been a writer-for-hire for almost a decade now, and I also have my own side projects going. All writers get bogged down in the deep, thick mud of a large writing project from time to time and spin their wheels for days, weeks, months, even years. It’s happened to me before, and I know from personal experience that it isn’t healthy for a writer to focus solely on one large project for an extended amount of time.

I’m also a realist, and I know that statistics show that most people who begin writing books and other large projects never finish them. They simply bite off more than they can chew, and for some writers, they end up spitting it out.

That’s why I enjoy writing shorts. They are small, fun-size prose morsels—easy to nibble on and easy to digest. Writing them keeps us engaged in the process and reduces the pressure associated with writing larger projects.

Writing shorts gives me the freedom to take an idea and run wild with it for small intervals. They allow me to write about a myriad of topics without investing or devoting a lot of time to one pursuit. I explore a topic, and I finish it in a few hours or days. The sense of accomplishment is almost like a drug for me. It’s instantly gratifying.

Only have thirty minutes to write today? No problem. Write something short and be proud.

But there are other reasons to write shorts. First, writing shorts will force you to write tightly—eliminating extraneous adjectives, adverbs, quotations, descriptions, side stories, and flashbacks. It’s a great exercise.

Also, consider your readers. In todays world, readers have shorter attention spans. People are attracted to tweets offering a thought or idea in less than 140 characters. Readers of online content crave concise stories, even when discussing complex issues, so shorts have an audience.

I’m not suggesting you abandon your novel. I’m simply saying mix it up a little. Take a break from your monster projects from time to time and write some shorts. They are a perfectly respectable, rewarding literary form.

Do you write or read shorts? If so, let me know why you find them appealing. And as always, keep writing and keep sharing. To read some nonfiction shorts, visit my other blog at http://www.projectkeepsake.com/blog/.

Contemplating Writing Contests

I’ve published hundreds of nonfiction articles in magazines, newspapers, and online publications, and I’ve published a paperback book (Project Keepsake) and two eBooks, but I’ve only won one writing contest during my writing career. Just one! Then again, I haven’t entered very many.

Snoopy2Entering a writing competition can be time-consuming and sometimes rather expensive if there is a reading fee associated with the contest. But there are a lot of great reasons to enter a writing contest. If you are thinking about entering a contest, here are a few reasons to complete that submission form and cross your fingers.

  • Winning a writing contest or award can draw attention to your name and your writing projects and instantly propel your writing career.
  • Some writing contests offer cash prizes to the top winners, and that’s really nice.
  • Some writing contests publish the winning entries in magazines, websites, or blogs. Publication translates into exposure. You never know who will see your story—publishing executives, magazine editors, literary agents, famous authors, etc.
  • Winning helps your writing resume and gives you credibility and experience.
  • Winning can give you a much-needed published writing clip to help you market your skills as a writer.
  • Entering writing contests can help you feel like a “real” writer.
  • Winning a writing contest can give you confidence and motivate you to write more.
  • Entering a writing contest can be a great exercise. It can give you a purpose and a deadline to work toward. Some writers need that creative push from time to time.
  • Entering can be fun. Much like fishing, there’s a bit of a thrill involved. You cast your line out (send in your contest submission) and hope a fish swims by and bites your worm (the judges find your submission worthy of a top prize).

Still interested but don’t know where to look for contests to enter? Try looking at the Writer’s Market. Each year, the Writer’s Market categorizes dozens of contests and lists the entry details. You can also look on Twitter using the hashtag #writingcontests. I always see a few opportunities there. Finally, network with other writers and ask them if they know of any contests that may fit your work.

Finally, if you are a nonfiction writer and a keeper of keepsakes, you may want to consider my 2014 Project Keepsake Story Contest. The deadline is Monday, November 21, 2014. First prize is rather modest—a $25 MasterCard gift card + a copy of Project Keepsake + a blog spotlight, but there is no fee to enter and entering is pretty easy (fill out an online form, paste a short story about a keepsake, upload a photo of the keepsake, and hit a “submit” button). For more information, click over to the Project Keepsake site.

If you have more to add about the benefits of entering writing contests or you know of another contest, please leave a comment. Thanks! And happy writing!

“Gone Fishin'”

“Writing is therapeutic,” I often tell aspiring writers who attend my workshops. “Getting your thoughts on paper will help you sort things out and move through loss, illness, and sadness.” I’ve had something on my mind all week—something heavy that wouldn’t go away. I finally took my own advice and wrote about it. Enjoy!


GONE FISHIN’

by

Amber Lanier Nagle

I woke to a nearly perfect October morning. The air was fresh, clear, and a bit crisp, and the golden sunlight danced and flickered through the changing leaves.

I pulled on my padded cycling shorts and a neon, dry-fit jersey, filled a water bottle, and walked my bicycle down our gravel drive to the paved road. Bike riding during the autumn is a spiritual endeavor for me, equal to sitting in a grand European cathedral or watching the sun sink beyond the horizon at the end of the day.

Alone with my thoughts, I pedaled along country roads lined with flashy goldenrod, deep purple ironweed, and scarlet shoots of Indian paintbrush. Eight miles into my ride, I pedaled beside a small lake fringed with velvety cattails and cooters sunning on wet, exposed branches. And that’s when it happened—I inhaled a memory. As that swampy, organic perfume entered my body, I was suddenly transported back in time.

FishingI was in the boat with Daddy, maneuvering to his favorite spots on a pond in Bolingbroke, Georgia—our vessel brimming with rods, a tackle box, a styrofoam container filled with sticky red wigglers, a wooden paddle, and a small cooler containing saran-wrapped fried egg sandwiches and bright red cans of Coca Cola.

He sat on a floatation cushion at the back of the boat controlling a trolling motor with one arm, his eyes fixed on the watery expanse. He wore a pair of black Reeboks which he referred to as hot boxes, and a ball cap—he always wore a cap to protect the top of his slick head and shade his pale blue eyes.

“Cast your line over there,” he whispered, pointing to a mass of vegetation growing along the shore. “Try to get it about five feet from those bushes.”

Fishing was not my forte, but it was almost instinctual for my father. He had to guide me and walk me through every motion.

I clumsily slung my line—my worm hanging on for dear life then hitting the water with the plop of a fat platform diver. I envisioned the hook and worm sinking slowly through the murky depths before coming to rest just above the slimy underwater floor.

I stared at the white and red plastic bobber and anticipated any jiggle or movement indicating that a fish was teasing my bait. A few minutes passed. Nothing. I tugged on my line a bit.

“No, no, just leave it there,” he said. “Be patient.”

We sat perfectly still in the boat, drifting ever so slightly. We were as motionless as statues—watching, waiting. We merged with the natural world.

My father was known for his quiet nature and his incessant desire for solitude. His patience was boundless during our fishing excursions. He seemed perfectly at peace with the world when he was near the water. At his core, he was a fisherman, as were his father, his grandfather, and generations of Lanier men before him.

Minutes passed—my eyes still glued upon the still bobber.

“Okay, just keep yours there,” he said softly. He lifted his rod and with a smooth, fluid whipping motion, he cast his worm six or seven feet from where my bobber floated. He made a few adjustments before resting his rod between his legs to light a cigarette. He took a deliberate, satisfying draw and picked up the rod.

Plomp. Plomp.

His bobber dipped then vanished beneath the glistening surface.

Daddy’s body jolted to action. His left hand clutched the rod’s handle as his right hand cranked the reel—the clear fishing line tightening then moving toward the boat’s edge.

“Woo, Boy,” he said. “He’s a strong one.”

Like a crane operator, Daddy lifted the fish—wiggling and writhing—from the water and laid him in the floor of the boat near his feet. The incandescent scales shimmered as the fish flipped and flopped. Being careful not to let the fish pierce his palm, he grabbed him with one hand and twisted and yanked the hook from the fish’s mouth with his other.

He looked at me and grinned—his cigarette dangling from his lips. It was the story of my life. My father could catch a fish with a bare hook if he put his mind to it. He had the gift. I did not.

I spent a childhood fishing with Daddy in boats and on the banks of ponds, lakes, and streams. The activity bound us together, especially after my older brother left home and I became somewhat of a surrogate son. I refused to hunt with him as my brother had, but I willingly fished with him.

After our trips, we stood side-by-side scaling and gutting our catch with paring knives. I scrutinized the guts and identified the tiny organs as if I was a surgeon. It was Biology 101. It was life.

I remember the smell of the fishy pond water mixed with the fragrance of smoke from Daddy’s Winston. I remember the silent hum of the motor and the rocking motion of the boat as we repositioned our bodies in that boat from time to time. I remember the taste of those fried egg sandwiches slathered with a layer of creamy Miracle Whip dressing and sprinkled with salt and pepper granules.

And that was the unexpected memory that came crashing into me last week as I pedaled past Nelson Lake in the perfect light of a late fall morning.

I turned my bike around and rode past the lake again, slowing to smell the familiar smells. Then again. Then again. I engulfed myself in the aroma, trying to recapture all that was lost twenty-two years ago when my father died suddenly. His leathery face, his personality, his essence—I felt him with me that day as I navigated my bicycle by the water.

I think I’ve gone fishing three times since 1992. The activity lost much of its appeal after my father passed away.

Today would have been his eighty-first birthday. I close my eyes and try to imagine what he would have looked like had he been allowed to age two more decades. I think about him sitting in a recliner watching college football. I see him hoeing in a large fall garden full of collards and turnips. I see him dressed in camouflage—loading his guns in his truck and heading out to the hunting club for the weekend. I hear him whistling. I imagine him holding my nephew’s children. Most of all, I see him fishing—floating, drifting, and waiting ever so patiently for the next big fish to bite.


Amber Lanier Nagle has published hundreds of articles in national and regional magazines including Grit, Mother Earth News, and Georgia Magazine. She is the brainchild behind Project Keepsake (www.ProjectKeepsake.com), a published collection of nonfiction stories about the origins and histories of keepsakes—a pocket knife, a cake pan, a quilt, a milking stool, etc. She says, “Everyone has a keepsake, and every keepsake has a story to tell.” She’s also published two eBooks and facilitates writing workshops on freelance writing and writing family stories.

Selling Books at Country Fairs and Outdoor Festivals

Janie Dempsey Watts and I decided to try our hands at book selling at Prater’s Mill Country Fair in Northwest Georgia this past weekend. The two-day, October event showcases Appalachian music, Southern foods, history exhibits, and over 200 booths featuring handmade arts and crafts—iron works, pottery, woven garments, quilting, carvings, paintings, prints, collectibles, etc.

Going into it, Janie and I didn’t know what to expect. We knew that thousands of people roam around the fair each year, but we didn’t know if we would sell enough books to justify the time, labor, and aggravation involved in setting up and working the crowds for two full days. I told my family, “I’ll never know unless I give it a try.”

Those who know me well know I go into most activities seeking knowledge. I participate, make adjustments as needed, then afterwards, I evaluate the experience and consider what lessons I learned. I ask myself, “What went well? What didn’t go so well? Why? What could I change to make the experience better?” And then I share what I learned.

This morning as I assessed the weekend and its many successes and blunders, I jotted down a few tips to help other authors who are considering selling books al fresco. Enjoy!

  • PARTNER WITH ANOTHER AUTHOR—Partnering may allow you to share booth or entry expenses, but the big benefit of partnering is the sharing of tasks and equipment. I took care of the tent, sandbags for the tent, a folding chair, the easels for our posters, a phone charger, and a decorative tablecloth. Janie brought a folding table, two folding chairs, a table scarf, and other supplies. During the fair, I manned the booth when Janie needed to take a break and vice versa. And I enjoyed having a friend there to talk to when no patrons were stopping by the booth.
  • NEGOTIATE WITH ORGANIZERS—The Prater’s Mill booth fee was $125 for artists and craftsmen. The fee was too high for us (after expenses and taxes, authors don’t make much money per book), so Janie contacted the fair’s organizers well in advance and negotiated a different deal for us. In the end, we both paid Prater’s Mill 20% of our total sales.
  • PROMOTE BEFORE AND DURING—Fair organizers promoted the fair in newspapers and publications throughout the state, but I wanted people to know that two local authors were going to be there selling books. The week before the fair, I posted the event on social media and asked friends to swing by and see us. I not only posted it on my Facebook wall, but I also posted the information with a photo of Prater’s Mill to local and county-wide sites. One post was viewed by 4,377 people. Try to promote a few days before via a newspaper press release or a guest spot on a local radio or television show. Also, during the weekend, we took photos of book buyers and splashed the photos all over social media to remind people of the fair.

    AmberwithPosterFiltered

    Use large posters and signs to draw attention. Place your poster on an easel. I sold books at an outdoor country fair, so overalls were appropriate.

  • TAKE POSTERS AND SIGNS—At fairs and festivals, people walk by and look at your booth before deciding to stop, so a nice poster is mandatory. In three hours, Office Depot printed a 15” x 22” poster of the cover of my book, mounted it on foam board, and laminated it for me for just $20. We placed our posters on easels so that the signs would be eye-level and easy to read. It’s also a good idea to have signs in the booth saying things like, “Project Keepsake—$16,” “Local Authors,” “Ask Me About Project Keepsake,” and “Signed Copies of Books Available.”
  • MAKE A LIST—Make a list and be prepared. Some events provide a table and chairs, and others do not. Beyond books, business cards, posters, and money, you may need tape, scissors, a pen, paper, a few basic tools, a jacket, a hat, sunscreen, water, hand sanitizer, tissue, paper towels, a change of clothes, a hand truck, and trash bags.
  • SET UP A TENT OR AWNING OVERHEAD—At Prater’s Mill, we experienced both torrential downpours and bright, burning sunshine, so the water-repellant canopy we borrowed from my sister-in-law proved to be invaluable. If you opt to use a tent, you may want to tie weights or sandbags to the legs to prevent the wind from blowing it away. Also, a can of WD-40 may come in handy since metal frames rust sometimes making legs and braces hard to slide into position.
  • STACK BOOKS ON THE TABLES—Stack a few books on the table so that passersby can read the spine of the book. Also, prop one book upright so patrons can see the cover from several feet away. If the weather is wet or humid, don’t take too many books out or the pages will swell and buckle.
  • BE NEAT—Keep your table nice, neat, and presentable. Clutter is distracting. No one wants to see crumpled candy wrappers and trash on the table top.
  • GIVE STUFF AWAY—One way to draw people into your booth is to give away inexpensive freebies. This past weekend, I gave buckeyes to dozens of people as they contemplated buying my book. I’d smile and say, “Put it in your pocket for good luck.” The buckeyes were great conversation starters. Be creative. What about a clear vase full of tootsie rolls? And always have a few bookmarks and business cards on the table for people to take.
  • HAVE OTHER RELATED THINGS TO SELL—Janie was smart. She had three items to sell—Moon Over Taylor’s Ridge, Broken Petals, and okra necklaces. I only had one item for sale. After seeing the little glass bluebird on the cover of Project Keepsake (and on my poster), a few people stopped by and wanted to purchase a glass bird. I was surprised, but afterwards I thought, “If I ever do this type of event again, I should probably have a few little birds to sell.”
  • POSITION YOUR TABLE CLOSE TO THE FLOW OF PEOPLE—You want to be as close to the people traffic as possible so you can make easy eye contact. If you place your table deep within your booth, a potential customer has to walk all the way in, which may deter people from stopping.
  • SET PRICES FOR CONVENIENCE—Don’t sell your book for an odd price requiring coin change. Make it easy on you and the buyers and round the price to the nearest dollar.
  • HAVE CASH AND YOUR SQUARE DEVICE—Have plenty of cash on hand. I sold copies of my book for $16, so I made sure that I had plenty of one dollar bills in my cashbox. Also, make sure that your Square device (or other credit card processing device) is working and ready for the day. Pre-program the items you will be selling on your Square app so you don’t have to remember the prices during the transaction.
  • KNOW YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH—An elevator pitch is a thirty-second description of your book. Every author should have one, and every author should practice saying the pitch over and over again. Here’s mine: “My book is a collection of 55 nonfiction stories about keepsakes—a ring, a pocketknife, a quilt, a Bible, a hat, a fishing lure. I asked friends and other writers to pick one of their keepsakes or heirlooms and tell me where it came from and why it’s special. I’m interested in the stories and memories associated with the keepsakes.” I pause for a moment then ask, “Do you have keepsakes at home?” Also, if you partner with another author, make sure you know how to pitch his or her book, too. 
  • PREPARE FOR CHIT CHAT—“So, are you from around here?” “I love your boots!” “Do you read nonfiction?” “Do you have keepsakes or heirlooms at home?” “You look familiar to me.” “I think the rain is over for a while. Have you seen the radar?” Also, if you find out a patron is involved in a particular school, library, club, or group, inquire about speaking to the group about your book. Seize the moment and ask, and don’t forget to get his or her business card or contact information.
  • DON’T HOUND PEOPLE—Not everyone reads, and not everyone wants to buy a book at a country fair or fall festival, so if they keep walking, let them walk away. Don’t call to them. Don’t badger them. Let them go.
AmberwithDempseyFiltered

Wear comfortable clothing. By the way, this man bought my book, returned an hour later and told me how much he loved the first two stories.

  • WEAR COMFORTABLE, APPROPRIATE CLOTHING AND SHOES—Sorry, four-inch-heeled, strappy Manolo Blahnik shoes and skin tight pencil skirts aren’t appropriate articles of clothing for a country fair or street festival. Think comfort. Consider jeans and a nice top. Wear comfortable shoes. This past weekend, I wore my Project Keepsake tee shirt so everyone would associate me with my book. 
  • WEAR A NAME BADGE—A name tag will help people know who you are so they can call you by name. It will also reinforce your brand.
  • SMILE AND BE FRIENDLY—No one wants to buy a book from a grumpy person (unless you are Grumpy Cat). Smile. Be friendly. Be inviting. Be helpful. Be respectful. Let people know you are approachable and you want to be there.
  • WRITE A THANK YOU NOTE—In today’s world, a simple thank you goes a long way. Sit down and write a thank you note to the event organizers and ask them to keep you in mind for other events.

If you, too, have sold books at an outdoor community festival or fair, I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts. Please share by leaving a comment. And as always, thanks for reading my blog. Check out my other blog at www.ProjectKeepsake.com.