Saturday, December 22, 2012

Robin Colucci Hoffman, Get Published Coach, Speaks About Nonfiction Writing

Robin Colucci Hoffman is the Get Published Coach, and she's coming to the April 2013 Missouri Writers Guild Conference in St. Louis to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with you! Her bio from LinkedIn states that she "helps coaches, speakers, and consultants write their books and get published (by Random House, Doubleday, J. Wiley & Sons, Hay House, and others), many of which won awards and/or became bestsellers.

Robin worked as journalist and has researched and/or written freelance articles for The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine and Newsweek to name a few. She has a BA in journalism from the George Washington University and an MA in spiritual psychology from the University of Santa Monica. Look for her book: From Expert to Author: How to Write a Book that Sells, coming soon. For more information about Robin, you can visit: .

MWG: Hi Robin, thanks for taking time to talk with us today. What are two or three mistakes you see writers make when they are on their road to publication?

Robin:  One of the biggest mistakes I see is failing to properly position the book. This is especially important for nonfiction writers. If you are an expert in your field and want to write a book, you probably have a ton of valuable information. The key is knowing how to frame it to be interesting, compelling even, to your target audience. Another mistake, which is related to the first, is making the leap from idea to writing. I know it seems like the right thing to do--make up your mind and get in action--but the problem I see when people do that, they get confused, stuck, and stop, or they finish a manuscript but have no idea who the book is for, what role the book will play in their own career, or why anyone would read it. The third mistake is trusting their own judgment. I've never met a writer who can evaluate her own work objectively. They are either too harsh, too forgiving, or both. Professional feedback is a must.

MWG: I'm sure many people are nodding their heads in agreement with you right now. Just your answer here makes me want to pick your brain and everything you know while you are at the conference! In today's publishing world, if an author's goal is publication, what MUST he or she make sure to do?

Robin:  I tell my clients it's about removing question marks. When you approach an agent, imagine they are seeing you surrounded by question marks: Can I work with this person? Is the work any good? Can they pull off a full manuscript? Can they sell books? Do they know anything about the industry? The aspiring author's job is to remove the question marks--the faster the better. What that means: Start to build your author platform as soon as you commit to write the book or sooner. Create a track record of success with sales. Be prepared. Know the industry. Approach agents the way they ask to be approached with the best product possible. Have a completed, edited manuscript, ready to present at a moment's notice. Only pitch agents who represent works in your genre. Show up to conferences.Pitch in person. Be polite and professional. Deliver a compelling one-sentence pitch, and shut up. Wait for a response. Don't blather on. Listen. Carry yourself with confidence. Some of these things may seem small, but they will set you apart every time.

MWG: Great, great advice! You are leading two workshops at the conference. The first is called, "Bestseller Blueprints." Who should attend this workshop and what will you cover?

Robin:  Bestseller Blueprints is perfect for writers who are struggling with the decision of how they should structure their book. No need to invent your own or wonder what to do. I've studied current bestsellers as well as the bestselling books of all time, and every one of them fits into one of four basic blueprints. In this workshop, attendees will learn what the four blueprints are and how to determine which is the best fit for their "author personality" and their book concept (see my other session). We will do some fun exercises to figure it out, and attendees will learn how to work with their blueprint "skeleton" and add their own content "meat" on the bones.

MWG:  That sounds fascinating and very helpful! You are also leading a workshop titled, "An Idea is Not a Concept." Who should attend this and what will be covered? 

Robin:  Honestly, I feel every nonfiction author should attend this one. This is a "make-or-break" conversation for many. A book idea is a spark, a flash of inspiration when you say, "I should write a book on that!" It's a great motivational moment, but it alone does not make a salable book. A concept, on the other hand, is the result of answering 10 key questions. Five about you, your audience, and your business or writing career, and five about your book and the marketplace. During this workshop, we will go over each of the 10 questions and how to answer them for yourself. If you answer these 10 questions thoroughly and thoughtfully, you will be well-positioned to write a book that is 100 percent in alignment with you and what you want, gives your reader what they want, and is absolutely unique in the marketplace.

MWG: WOW! I wish I could take that class today--seriously, I am currently working on a nonfiction book proposal. Anything else you'd like to add to let conference attendees know more about you and/or your presentations?

Robin:  I'm transparent, direct, I like to keep it fun, and I look forward to seeing you.

MWG: Thanks, Robin, for giving us insight into you and your work. I can't wait to meet you in person. Readers, registration for the MWG conference, where Robin will be, is now open. Go here for more details. 

Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill

Margo is a former MWG conference chair and president, who now lives in St. Louis, MO and is busy marketing her first children's middle-grade historical fiction novel, FINDING MY PLACE: ONE GIRL'S STRENGTH AT VICKSBURG.  Check out more about Margo, her book, and her blog at her website. 

She hopes to see you at the 2013 conference. It's going to be great!  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top Ten Reasons To Register for The 2013 MWG Conference

by Pink Sherbert Photography (Flickr)
I hope you've had a chance to check out some of the speaker interviews we've done so far. If not, just scroll on down after you read this post, and you will find interviews with authors, editors, and agents who will be attending the MWG Conference April 26 through 28 in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Registration is open, and you can save money if you register BEFORE December 31. (Does your spouse need to buy you a Christmas present? This is the perfect one!) You can find all you need to register on this page

If you are not convinced that you need to attend, then here are ten reasons to consider:
1. You get at least ONE FREE pitch with an agent or editor--this could be the IN you need to get your manuscript published.

2. Meet with writers from all over the Midwest (really the country) and network. Where else can you find a room full of people who actually understand what it feels like to get a personal rejection?

3. The hotel bar--Not that we advocate drinking, but drinking with agents, editors, writers, and publishers is better than drinking with anyone else. (SMILES)

4. You can claim the expenses from this conference on your taxes.

5. Have you seen the speaker line-up? WOW! If you haven't, scroll down to see interviews with some and go here to see the complete list! 

Reason #11--the hotel!
6. It is important to stay up on the latest industry trends and to always improve your writing craft. At the MWG conference, you can do both.

7. Buy authors' books and support authors and talk to published authors. There are several chances to do this at the conference. Let's call it: writers supporting writers.

8. St. Louis is a great city--stay a couple extra days and take in a ballgame, visit the Arch, walk in historic Laclede's Landing, and see a ghost at the Lemp Mansion.

9. You can enter some of the conference contests and win prizes for your writing. Full details on the contests will be up in January here. 

10. You are a writer. Writers go to conferences to learn, network, and have fun. Other professions go to conferences all the time--you should, too!

Stay tuned for more interviews with speakers. I TRY to post one every week! If you are pitching to an agent, check here first for information on that agent.

post by Margo L. Dill 

Margo is the author of FINDING MY PLACE: ONE GIRL'S STRENGTH AT VICKSBURG. For more information, please see:


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Steve Yates and University Presses

Born and reared in Springfield, Missouri, Steve Yates is an M.F.A. graduate from the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas. He is the winner of the 2012 Juniper Prize in Fiction; and his collection, Some Kinds of Love: Stories, will be published by University of Massachusetts Press in April 2013. His fiction has won two fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission and one from the Arkansas Arts Council. Yates has published short stories in TriQuarterly, Southwest Review, Turnstile, Western Humanities Review, Laurel Review, Chariton Review, Valley Voices, Harrington Gay Men's Literary Quarterly, Nebraska Review, Texas Review, and many other journals. In Best American Short Stories 2010, one of his stories was honored among the “Other Notable Stories of 2009.” His first novel, Morkan’s Quarry, was published in May 2010 by Moon City Press. Portions of the novel were published first in Missouri Review, Ontario Review, and South Carolina Review. He is assistant director / marketing director at University Press of Mississippi in Jackson and lives in Flowood with his wife, Tammy.  

MWG: Welcome, Steve, thank you for talking with us today about what you are offering at the MWG Conference in 2013. You are going to be speaking about working with university presses. So, what's your experience working with a university press?  

Steve: My collection, Some Kinds of Love: Stories, is the winner of the 2012 Juniper Prize in Fiction and will be published by the University of Massachusetts Press in April 2013, right about when we meet. So you can read more about my working with UMASS Press at , and my impressions about entering fiction contests are at .

 But I don’t just work with university presses. I work at a university press, since 1998 at the University Press of Mississippi, where I am now assistant director and marketing director, and before that from 1994 to 1998 at the University of Arkansas Press, where I was publicist and then assistant marketing manager.

MWG: What types of books do university presses generally publish?

Steve: That question is exactly what I am hoping to help your writers answer. “How to Parse a Press” is a presentation I have been honing at University Press of Mississippi’s eight supporting state universities, helping scholars, writers, and faculty to understand better the many ways to divine what a university press is looking for and what it does well. Each of the 134 university presses in the Association of American University Presses is a niche publisher with often very different core competencies. I want to show seekers in the Missouri Writers Guild ways to determine what those core disciplines and competencies are at a press, and how to perceive the right working fit for a manuscript.

MWG: That sounds great and very useful! Do you submit to a university press in the same way you would submit to an agent or mainstream publisher--in other words--find guidelines online and follow them? DO they generally accept submissions year round or only while the university is in session?

Steve: Our submission guidelines at University Press of Mississippi are posted at ; and many other university presses post them similarly at a press website. But we’ll slow down a bit in my talk. Pounding out submissions without care and thought damages the writer’s reputation and sours editors. Writers can save a lot of time, postage, and heartache if they will plan, research, read books from a prospective publisher, and then submit in a targeted fashion. Improving the aim of MWG writers is what I hope to do. University Presses are different all over, but most accept submissions of nonfiction and scholarship within the press’s core disciplines pretty much year round. And not all university presses are tied to one university. University Press of Mississippi, headquartered in Jackson, is supported by Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Mississippi University for Women, University of Mississippi, and University of Southern Mississippi. This makes UPM very affordable to support, and doesn’t tie us to the schedule of any one campus. Similarly at other university presses, the students and faculty may be on break, but somewhere in the McIlroy House or in the Paul B. Johnson Building, there’s a light on, and a university press publisher at the desk working hard to deliver great content to the world.

MWG: I think conference attendees are in for a real treat, and for something different than we've heard before! What are the benefits of working with a university press?

Steve: Commitment. University Presses operate with a committed passion and understanding: the books we publish are the best scholarship and writing in our core disciplines or about our state or region. And often no other publisher will touch them. Take this biography, the first biography of Mississippi John Hurt . Now serious blues fans and scholars of the blues, they know who John Hurt was. But no large publishing house in New York could afford to publish this book. The scale of a big New York publishing firm means that sales of 3,000 or fewer copies of a book—that’s a death knell; that writer is written off! But university presses have a small, niche scale, and an expertise that can bring this United Kingdom scholar’s book to the world, to Mississippi and well beyond, successfully for all parties, I might add. There’s a great interview with the author at . And if we have time, I’ll tell you a story he told about his first book signing, one that propels me any time I get weary. Commitment, like pilgrims on a great journey, sharing knowledge, that’s the advantage. Anywhere else can often be just spreadsheets, units, bottom lines, and dollar signs.

MWG: Any disadvantages?

Steve: Most of the disadvantages occur when the marriage between the author and the publisher lacks communication. Publishing is a marriage in which all parties recognize the value and pursue the mutual goal of developing and exporting a body of content to the widest possible market. It very much involves communication and agreement upon expectations. I work hard and our editors at UPM work very hard to help keep an author grounded in reality and focused, while we collectively, author and publisher, make the very most of each author creation. Yet, and understandably, authors dream at a scale that is sometimes profoundly make believe. Since 2008 and the great recession, publishing has changed more in those few years than in all the years (since 1994) that I’ve been in it. Borders is gone. The Kindle is a massive force. When I came to Mississippi in 1998, there was a journalist called a book editor at 13 major southern, metropolitan newspapers. Now there is only one, Greg Langley, at the Baton Rouge Advocate. And yet, sometimes authors still want to get a spot on the Oprah Winfrey Show (also gone, by the way), or want to do something advised by a daughter, brother, or friend who is an author, even though that author/friend published with Random House in 2001. 2007 is a thousand years ago in publishing years! And we’re not Random House, thank God, and Random House, is not UPM. Yet, it’s very understandable. We all rely on our loved ones and peers to guide us when we enter new territory. As a writer who has published two books now, I deeply identify with the struggle to understand a new realm, manage dreams, and recognize that the world has a scale. Publishing may be very different than you or your peers ever conceived. I’m from the Missouri Ozarks, though. So conquer the holler, take the hill, spy what’s beyond, and then decide what real and happy success can be. All the disadvantages come when the partners, author and publisher, never see eye to eye on the scale of reality.

MWG: I can see that I need to attend your talk. Just your interview is inspirational! So, what will you cover in your talk at the MWG conference?

Steve: “How to Parse a Press” is really about perceiving what a university press is, what it wants, and what it can do. I’ll be showing MWG writers some tips on the ways in which university presses communicate what matters to them and what they seek.

MWG: Anything else you want to add?

Steve: I’m just really honored that Steve Wiegenstein, author of such a great novel, Slant of Light, would even think about asking me home to Missouri to talk with Missouri writers. I love helping scholars and writers down here in Mississippi and all over the country and world. But to help someone from my home state, in any small way, I’ll travel a long, hard road for the chance to do that for a Missouri writer.

MWG: Thank you for your time. We look forward to seeing you in April.

Steve: Sure, I can hardly wait to be on home turf. Thank you.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg: Literary Agent at the 2013 Conference

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg is another one of the literary agents coming to the 2013 Missouri Writers Guild conference. (Did you know registration is now open?) I had a chance to ask Pam some questions about what she represents, how to pitch to her, and her workshop. Pam is an associate agent at the Larsen Pomada Agency in San Francisco.  

MWG: Hi Pam, welcome to the conference blog. Thank you for taking the time out to talk with us today. Let's start with a few things about you as an agent. How long have you been an agent and who are some of your clients?

Pam: I have only been an agent since April of this year. But I've kicked off fast, selling 15 books so far these seven months! Some of my clients include Sarah Eden and Golden Heart Winner Lorenda Christensen in adult romance. Rhonda Helms and Cecily White in young adult.

MWG: WOW! That's great. You are off to a terrific start. What are you currently looking for? 

Pam: I'm always looking for great middle-grade, romance, and adult genre fiction.

MWG: What should authors know about pitching to you?

Pam: I'm probably the most laid back agent ever. But I'm also the most blunt.

MWG: What are you NOT interested in--no matter how well-written it is?

Pam: Nonfiction.

MWG: Thanks! You are also going to be leading a workshop in social networking. Why is it important for authors to learn about social networking?

Pam: Even in fiction, it is important to be social with your peers and build a network. Great writing always matters first, but networking comes soon after.

MWG: Yes, I think all published authors soon learn this! What will you cover in your workshop and who should attend?

Pam: I'll cover blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook pages vs. profile and lots of how tos. People who want to get the most out of social media or are just beginning [should attend].

MWG: Anything else you'd like to add about your workshop or pitch sessions?

Pam: Just that I am super excited to visit your fair state for the first time! And I can't wait to meet everyone.

MWG: And we can't wait to meet you either!  Thanks, Pam! 

Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill; Margo is the author of the new historical-fiction, middle-grade novel, Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Geoffrey Morrison, E-Publishing Advice and Experience

Geoffrey Morrison is a speaker at the 2013 MWG Conference. He is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He was editor-in-chief of Home Entertainment magazine and before that, technical editor of Home Theater magazine. He currently freelances for multiple websites and magazines, including CNET, Sound+Vision, Men’s Journal, Popular Photography, Residential Systems,,, and more. His articles have appeared on, and in Consumers Digest, PC World, Robb Report, Channel Guide, and many others. His debut novel, Undersea, was published in 2011. It has been highly reviewed on multiple websites, was featured in the first StoryBundle, and spent a week in the Top 20 of’s Sci-fi/Adventure Bestseller list. A sequel is due in 2013.  

MWG: Welcome, Geoffrey! Thank you for taking time to talk to us today. From the brief time that we've "talked", I've discovered you know a lot about e-publishing. Please tell us your background in e-publishing--as in you have done it yourself, a publisher did it for you, and/or you helped others do it.

Geoffrey: My background is actually from print publishing, magazines to be specific. I was editor-in-chief of Home Entertainment magazine for many years and held various other editor positions at other magazines before and since. When I finished Undersea, I considered shopping it around to traditional publishing houses; but in the end, I figured I could do more with it myself going the e-pub route.

MWG: Can't wait to hear more, then! In your experience, how is marketing an e-pub book different than a print book?

Geoffrey: From my experience with the magazine side, it’s a lot easier to have your magazine more or less automatically in every bookstore in the country. You have an idea about how many copies you’ll sell. At least, in a rough sense. Going the traditional publishing route with a novel, there’s an extent that’s true as well. They’re going to print up massive quantities of your book, ship them to stores all over, and hope someone buys them. Ideally, they’ll pay for web advertising, maybe even print advertising--but neither are a given. Since web advertising can be highly targeted, in a way, it’s more useful than print. Web advertising you can actually do yourself, and I’ve had some success with it.

MWG: All right, then, what are some pros that authors should consider about creating their own e-pub book?

Geoffrey: The traditional publishing industry is hurting, and they’re not likely to take many chances on new authors. Certain genres have a better chance of getting picked up than others. But the fact is you could have an amazing novel; but without a following, most agents won’t even look at you. By doing it yourself, you can create a following, get some sales, and with a future novel, have a better chance of getting it picked up by a publishing house. There are a few cases where a successful e-pub gets picked up by a traditional publishing house. In the mean time, you can make a little money, get invaluable feedback from strangers, and hone your craft.

MWG: That makes sense! What are some cons?  

Geoffrey: Editing and formatting are almost as important as the writing itself. No matter how cool your plot and amazing your characters, if there’s a typo on the first page, no one is going to buy your book. Formatting for the different e-readers is tricky and takes a lot of time; but again, if you don’t make the effort, someone will judge your book by how bad the free sample looks on their Kindle, and not buy it. Both of these things take time and or money, but are vital.

MWG: Yes, I've seen a lot of complaints on Amazon or other online sites about books being hard to read due to formatting and not content. But it doesn't make me want to buy it then, that's for sure! What are two tips you can give to authors who are considering self-publishing e-books?  

Geoffrey: Start on action. Even if you have a bunch of good reviews, most people are going to download the free sample of your book before they buy it. If your novel is slow to build, people might get bored and assume the rest of the novel is like that. All writers need an editor. Get someone you trust, and who reads a lot, to read your book. You need someone that isn’t afraid to tell you if something doesn’t work or if the whole thing doesn’t work. Most writers write for themselves; but if you want to publish it, you’re writing for your audience. You need to find out what works for them and what doesn’t. This isn’t to say you should write for the lowest common denominator — well, you can if you want — but it does mean that if you can’t get someone who should like your book to like your book, you might have a problem.

MWG: Great advice! Do you think certain books do better than others as e-books? Are there any books that you would say you should absolutely NOT consider for e-publishing?

Geoffrey: Poetry and books with images or photos really don’t work with the current e-readers. The formatting just can’t handle it. Other than that, write in whatever genre you like; just know that as far as popularity is concerned, some always do better than others. Obviously a sci-fi/action-adventure like Undersea isn’t going to be interesting to as wide an audience as a murder/mystery novel might be. This is true in e-publishing just as much as it is in traditional publishing.

MWG: Thanks for the heads-up about poetry and photo-heavy books. If people attend your session and/or master's class during the conference, what are a few things you'll be covering?  

Geoffrey: The session is for someone who’s considering going the e-pub route. I’ll be talking about e-publishing on the whole, different ways to go about it, things I learned, things that worked/didn’t work, and so on. The master's class is for someone who is finished, or nearly finished, with a novel or short story and has decided they want to e-publish. There will be three main parts. The first is on the pre-publishing side, where I’ll go in-depth with specific tricks for editing, working with an editor, formatting both e-pub and print-on-demand, plus what to do about a cover and working with a cover artist. Then we’ll talk about the actual publishing, about the pros and cons of different outlets, and of course, pricing. Lastly, we’ll discuss different ways to market and publicize your book. At the end, presuming I haven’t babbled on for the whole time, I’ll answer specific questions.

MWG: Geoffrey, that sounds like a wonderful resource for anyone considering self-publishing! Thanks, Geoffrey, for sharing your knowledge with us today!

Geoffrey: Thank you! I’m looking forward to the conference.

Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill, author of FINDING MY PLACE: ONE GIRL'S STRENGTH AT VICKSBURG. To learn more, visit Margo's blog.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Kathleen Ortiz, Literary Agent

Kathleen Ortiz will be at the Missouri Writers Guild conference in 2013! Here's a quick bio:  Kathleen Ortiz is director of subsidiary rights and a literary agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc., a full service agency that represents both juvenile and adult literature and works with only high quality writers. She is an agent member of the Association of Authors' Representatives and New Work Women in Communication. The agency is an active member of SCBWI, RWA and AAR.

In the middle of dealing with Hurricane Sandy, Kathleen took some time to answer questions for us! Thank you, Kathleen, and here we go. .  .

MWG: Welcome, Kathleen Ortiz, to the Missouri Writers Guild blog. We are so excited you are going to be part of our conference this year. Let's start with a little about you as an agent since you will be taking pitches. What kind of writing do you just love to see cross your desk?

Kathleen: I love, love, love stories with a strong protagonist and watching that protagonist grow throughout the story. Some snarky humor is great, but it can't tear me away from the story itself. Great world building and believable characters are a must!  

MWG: Thanks for those details! What do writers need to know who are going to sign up to pitch to you?

Kathleen: They absolutely need to ensure they know what I'm looking for in a story. I've just updated my 'wish list' which can be found here: . They also should know how to pitch -- a pitch is not the same as a query. I have a detailed post on how to pitch at a conference here (

MWG: Great resources, thanks! What will you absolutely NOT represent--no matter how brilliant the writing--it's just not for you? 

Kathleen: Erotica, adult books (outside of contemporary women's fiction or romance with protagonists between ages 20-30), picture books, early readers.

MWG: You are also going to teach a master's class on Sunday morning. What are you going to teach about?

Kathleen: It's an advanced course on how to take your social media platforms and organize them so they work together to boost your outreach! Definitely for the author who has a Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr (or all three!) but perhaps just doesn't know how to reach their audience and readers.  

MWG: That sounds great AND like it will be a timesaver once an author learns some tips for using them together. Who will benefit from taking your master's class?

Kathleen: Authors who are published by a traditional publisher or self-published as well as unpublished authors who want a head start on organizing their online platform.

MWG: That covers a lot of us! Anything else you want to add about the pitch sessions or master's class or anything else about the conference?

Kathleen: This is my second visit, and I'm excited to be coming back! It's a great conference with friendly people and informative speakers.  

MWG: I agree! It's chock full of information and opportunities for a reasonable price. We are so glad to have you back. Thank you, Kathleen, for taking the time out to talk with us today!  

interview by Margo L. Dill

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lela Davidson, SEO For Authors, Workshop Presenter

Welcome to Lela Davidson, whom I was lucky enough to meet at the 2012 Missouri Writers Guild Conference and buy her first book, Blacklisted from the PTA. This year, Lela is back and as a speaker--you will not want to miss her session. She's going to talk about the elusive "SEO" for authors and plus, she's just downright funny. She's also going to have a new book out, Who Peed on My Yoga Mat? She writes about parenting from a "real" perspective, and she's one you won't want to miss! Let's see what Lela had to say when I asked her about her career, her book, and her workshop. Then stay tuned for the link to her website where you'll be able to find more information.  

Margo: Before you tell us about SEO for Authors, tell us a bit about your background as a writer.

Lela: I became very interested in writing in 2003 and got my first paid gig four years later. I started out with online content and freelance copywriting. In 2008, I had my first essay published in the local parenting magazine; and from there, I was off. I had found what I really enjoyed writing most.  

Margo: I think that's what it's all about--finding what you enjoy writing! And about your books?

Lela: My two books are both essay collections. Blacklisted from the PTA was published in July 2011. I didn't really know what to expect, but the book's success encouraged me to get to work on the second collection, Who Peed on My Yoga Mat? which launches on December 4th!  

Margo: Love, love that title, and I can't wait to read it myself. Okay, so what can authors expect from your SEO for Authors talk?

Lela: SEO is a big, scary subject or at least that's how it has felt to me in the past. I want to break down search technology for authors, so that they not only understand how it works, but leave the talk with practical strategies they can apply over time to improve their ranking by search engines. I want writers to know that SEO does not have to be complicated, and it does not have to take over their lives in order to be effective.  

Margo: Sounds great! Sign me up--I need it. Who would be a perfect audience member for your talk?

Lela: Anyone who has a website or anything to sell online will benefit from the talk.  

Margo: That's me! How do you use SEO yourself as an author?

Lela: I pay attention to my analytics and consistently create content with keywords in mind. And if you have no idea what that means, you can find out in my talk ;)

Margo: Sounds perfect! Last year was your first year coming to the MWG conference as an attendee and participating in the book signing. (right?) So, what made you want to come back and be a speaker this year?

Lela: Right, I participated in the signing and enjoyed meeting your friendly group. It was a fun, well-organized, and information packed conference-- who wouldn't want to be a part of that?  

Margo: EXACTLY! (Do you hear that all you writers "thinking about going?") Lela--Give us a couple of your highlights from last year. :)

Lela: I really enjoyed the pre-conference talk and the lunch keynote by Claire Cook. She is a huge inspiration, and I started some new habits based on her advice. I also loved getting to see my longtime writing coach, Christina Katz, in person. And meeting you, Margo! It's been a pleasure getting to know you over the interwebz.  

Margo: Oh, gee, thanks. I'm so glad I met you, too. You are a marketing and brand guru! :) Plus, just a fun all-around, supportive writer!

Okay, writers, to find out more about Lela and her books, you must visit her very informative website at

Friday, September 21, 2012

2013 Venue Announced!

Mark your calendars for the 2013 Missouri Writers' Guild Annual Conference!

The Annual Conference will be held April 26-28 at the Sheraton Westport Hotel Lakeside Chalet in St. Louis. Registration information and a full speaker lineup will be coming soon. For now, a few tidbits:

The Sheraton Westport Lakeside Chalet is in Maryland Heights' Westport neighborhood and is close to lots of dining and arts attractions. We will have rooms reserved at a reasonably priced group rate.

The early arrival seminar on Friday will feature Hope Clark, the editor of the popular (and extremely useful) Funds for Writers website. We also will have a great lineup of agents, publishers, and editors for pitch sessions on Saturday, innovative workshops throughout the day on Saturday, and some excellent, intensive master classes on Sunday.

Watch this blog for more details!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

2012 MWG Conference Photos--Part 1

Krissty Makansi takes a pitch for Blank Slate Press
Walter Bargen and Carol Carr at the booksigning
Claire Applewhite makes her pitch to Sarah LaPolla
Photos courtesy of Sarah Whitney

Claire Cook -- Luncheon Keynote Speaker
Christina Katz -- Banquet Keynote Speaker
Brad Cook makes his pitch to Debra Hess
David Lucas and Brad Cook at Open Mic
Shawntelle Madison and Karen Docter

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Poetry Minute with Poet Walter Bargen


Today’s conference spotlight features poet Walter Bargen who became Missouri’s first poet laureate in 2008. His poems and fictions have appeared in over 100 publications including American Literary Review, Missouri Review, River Styx and more. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship in 1991 and several subsequent awards. Over his forty year writing career, he has published 14 books of poetry including his most recent, Endearing Ruins, (2012) along with Theban Traffic, (2008) which focuses on a couple, Stella and Jake, living in the present-day town of Thebes in the Midwest.

During the “Write Time! Write Place! Write Now!” writing conference, Walter will teach a breakout session and a master class. His breakout session will investigate what the great prose poem poet Russell Edson, meant when he wrote, “pure poetry is silence.” If this is true, then how does anyone write a poem, knowing that this standard of purity can never be reached by the act of writing?
Attendees of his Sunday morning master class will take a close look at first lines in poetry. He will read several examples of poems structured by their first line. Then, attendees will write poems with the first line in mind. 

Sarah: Walter, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about the impending Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference. We’re looking forward to having you this year!

Walter: I’m honored to be asked to part of the MWG conference and look forward to meeting fellow poets.

Sarah: What is the most surprising thing you learned while being Missouri’s first poet laureate?

Walter: What most surprised me was the continuous interest in the position of Poet Laureate over the entire two years of the appointment.  I made over 100 appearances including visiting primary and secondary schools, county and city libraries, elder facilities, historical societies, book festivals, etc. And that number could have been larger, except for scheduling conflicts and having the time to do it.

Sarah: If beginning poets want to publish their poems, where would you recommend they start?

Walter:  Sometimes it is good to go back to the very beginning and remind ourselves that if we are not writing, we should be reading.  Reading is the foundation of writing along with understanding that we must write every day.  Only if we become fluent and confident in our writing, trusting in the process of writing, will magazine editors and publishers be interested in what we write. Then I would begin by submitting my work to magazines within the state where I live, e.g., Natural Bridge, New Letters, River Styx, Chariton Review, etc. Also, I would find magazines on the web, such as, 2River, Midway Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, etc., and submit to them, too. And if my work is rejected I look on the rejection as an opportunity to revise the work.  Be persistent. Send the work out until you get it accepted.

Sarah: During your master class, you plan to answer a lot of questions about first lines. Why is the first line of a poem so important?

Walter: If success is defined as getting the reader to read the poem that you’ve written, then the first line is of paramount importance. If the first line is just functional or weak, then there’s good chance the reader won’t enter further into the poem.  Plus a good first line helps the poem succeed in many more ways that will be discussed during the workshop along with listing the characteristics of a good first line.

Sarah: What should attendees expect to learn from attending your breakout session on silence in poetry?

Walter:  Hopefully, it will poets make use of one of the most powerful aspects of a poem that is often overlooked and forgotten.  Also, that there are many forms/types of silence.

Sarah: What do you hope people who attend your sessions take away from them?

Walter: An excitement and a reinvigorated enthusiasm for writing and reading poetry, along with some ideas and techniques for writing new poems.

Sarah: And finally, any new projects you’re working on or any news in your world you’d like to share?

Walter: My 15th book, Troubled Behind Glass Doors, is scheduled for publication in January, 2013.  I have two other completed manuscripts that are looking for publishers and two manuscripts that I’m working on revising. And I will be giving a reading at the St. Charles Art Foundry on April 27th at 7 pm.

Sarah: Walter, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about your upcoming guest appearance at the Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference.

If you haven’t registered for the conference, but are interested in attending and hearing Walter speak, it’s not too late! Click here to learn more about late registration.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Writing Non-fiction with Author John C. McManus

John C. McManus is a native St. Louis author who has written several books about American combat history. He has a PhD in American and military history from the University of Tennessee. He currently works as an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Rolla where he teaches courses on the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, Military History, and the American Combat Experience in the 20th Century.

His first book, The Deadly Brotherhood: The American Combat Soldier in World War II, was originally published in 1998 and drew from first hand interviews of World War II veterans he’d collected while working in Tennessee as the assistant director of the Center for the Study of War and Society. Since then he’s gone on to publish eight non-fiction books, with a ninth scheduled for a June release, and he is a frequent contributor to World War II magazine.

During the “Write Time! Write Place! Write Now!” Conference, John will share his experience in a breakout session, titled “Writing Non Fiction History: How to Start with an Idea and End with a Book.” The session will provide an inside look into dreaming up an original concept, doing the research, conducting interviews, surmounting the challenge of actually writing the book and finding a publisher.

Sarah: John, thank you for taking the time to give us some more information about your upcoming appearance at the Missouri Writers’ Guild. We’re looking forward to having you.

John:  It is my pleasure, Sarah. I am very much looking forward to the event.

Sarah: First, to get us started, where are you right now as you type this?

John:  I am sitting in my office at my home in St. Louis.

Sarah: You’re an avid St. Louis sports fan and you even play amateur hockey. So, tell me how did you go from working in sports journalism and marketing to having a history-focused academic career. Both of those involving writing, but I’d imagine its two very different types.

John:  When I was an undergraduate, my great dream was to become a sports broadcaster. This was the main reason I attended the journalism school at Mizzou. Once I actually got into the J school and began taking classes, I found that I enjoyed my history electives much more. Nearly every time I had open hours, I took history. Eventually it dawned on me that I was much more interested in a career as an historian than as a broadcaster. I finished the journalism degree but went to grad school in history. The interesting thing is that the writing skills I learned in journalism school gave me a big advantage in the historical profession. I learned so much about eliminating the passive voice, moving a story forward, and staying on message. In grad school I was amazed to see how little effort most academic historians put into their writing. In my opinion, they failed to understand that good writing is the essential foundation of all good history. As a result, academic histories tend to be dry as dust. My goal always was to write not just for a scholarly audience but a popular audience too. My journalism training helped me to do exactly that. I also learned useful interviewing skills.

Sarah: From a writing/research perspective, of all the books you’ve written, which are you most proud of? Why?

John: That’s a tough question to answer. It is almost like asking a parent which child is his favorite!  All kidding aside, I would have to say I am especially proud of a book I wrote called Grunts: Inside the American Infantry Combat Experience, World War II through Iraq. The research process for the book was exhausting and mentally challenging but I think the end product made it all worthwhile. The book was recently named to the US Army Chief of Staff’s professional reading list and I think it contains many important—and fascinating—lessons that can help today’s soldiers. I am also very proud of another book I wrote called Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible mainly because it revised the way in which historians view the Battle of the Bulge. I was able to access so many incredible primary sources and new perspectives. Plus, the story is so fast paced and pressure packed that I like to think it reads like a military thriller.

Sarah: In addition to your books, you also write pieces for  World War II magazine. Has that been advantageous to your career? In what way? Doesn’t it take time away from writing your books?

John: The articles for World War II magazine have definitely been advantageous for me as a writer and a professor. For one thing, I established a strong relationship with the magazine’s editor. For another, the various pieces enhanced my visibility in the profession, even though they do not count as academic articles for a tenure dossier. For that, I have published academically refereed articles in non-profit journals. Most of the World War II magazine articles have dealt with topics derived from my books, so it has enhanced, rather than taken away from the process of writing books. For instance, I wrote an article for the magazine about the capture by the 7th Infantry Regiment of Hitler’s mountain redoubt at Berchtesgaden at the end of World War II. The piece debunked the myth, mistakenly propagated by Stephen Ambrose in Band of Brothers, that paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division had taken Berchtesgaden. In writing my article, I drew directly from a book I had just published on the history of the 7th Infantry.

Sarah: You’ve obviously established yourself as an American history expert. In your opinion, do you have to be an expert on a topic in order to write about it?

John: I think it depends on the particular book you have in mind. If, for instance, you are writing a book that delves into an ancestor’s experiences in the Civil War or World War II, you do not necessarily have to be a so called “expert” on those wars. History, after all, is for everyone. That’s what makes it fun. James Nelson, though he had no particular reputation or training as a World War I historian, recently wrote a fine book called The Remains of Company D   about his grandfather’s experiences in the war. If, by contrast, you envision writing an authoritative new book on the US experience in Vietnam, or the Battle of Stalingrad or the role of women in the Revolutionary War, it does help to have some acknowledged expertise. Publishers will take your proposal a bit more seriously and, once your book is published, reviewers will probably treat it with more kindness. I do want to underscore, though, that you do NOT have to be an academic expert to write history. After all, even if you don’t have the academic training, you can always train yourself to master nearly any historical topic. Again, that’s the beauty of the field.

Sarah: Of the various steps in the book writing process – idea, research, interviews, writing, etc – which one is the hardest for you? What do you do to keep motivated when you’re in that stage of the process?

John: I would say the writing process is the hardest part. Ideas are seldom a problem for me. I always have more ideas for books than I can actually write. And I absolutely love the research/interviewing process. That is definitely the most enjoyable part for me. The actual writing can sometimes be a hard slog. It takes a lot of time and mental energy. For me as a professor, it means devoting most all of my non-campus time to writing the book. The biggest challenge is how to shape the vision I have for the book into actual reality. I also sometimes get frustrated that I simply cannot utilize all of the vast amounts of research material I gather. This means prioritizing and tightening the scope of my book. This is one hundred percent necessary but it also means making tough editorial choices.

Sarah: In your breakout session, you’ll talk about the interview process for non-fiction books. How do you know if you need to conduct an interview? Could you include an example or two of how an interview could add to a book?

John: I think interviews are important for anyone doing modern history or journalism. Ask yourself if the documentary sources truly tell the whole story or if the perspective of someone who participated in the event would add to your book. The answer is usually yes. It never hurts to pick the brain of a participant. It doesn’t mean that they should dominate your narrative or that you take everything the interviewee says as one hundred percent truth. The interview is just one source among many available to you. It might loom as your most crucial source—as in investigative journalism—or as a complementary source as in some administrative histories. I believe that interviews have added much to my books. One good example is the Guam chapter of Grunts. The focus of the chapter is on a massive Japanese banzai attack against U.S. Marine lines a few days after the Americans invaded Guam in July 1944. Through a veteran’s association I was able to locate and interview a large number of veterans who had fought the Japanese on that hellish night. Their memories were incredibly vivid, honest and accurate. The chapter was based on a rich blend of sources such as after action reports, unit journals, personal memoirs, letters and the like. But I think the first hand immediacy of the interviews brought the event to life like nothing else could. This is the advantage of the modern historian—to actually interact with your subjects. I recommend making use of that.

Sarah: You’ve targeted your breakout session toward historical writers. Will all writers of non-fiction benefit from attending? Or only if they write historical non-fiction?

John: I think the session can offer something useful for all non-fiction writers. Obviously self help is different from military history or true crime. But I think all non-fiction authors can relate to the process of conceiving a book and tracking down a good publisher.

Sarah:  How long does it take to write & research a non-fiction book? From the original idea to submitting it to the publisher?

John: For me, on average, it takes about two or three years, from the proposal stage to publication. I spend the bulk of that time doing the research.

Sarah: For non-fiction writers, how is the process of getting a publisher different from the process that fiction writers go through?

John: Fiction is tougher because most every writer thinks he or she can do it. Thus, there is a huge amount of competition for good agents and/or good self publishing deals. Non-fiction topics tend to narrow themselves down by who is interested and qualified to write about them. Fiction writers have to worry so much about story structure, character development and the like. For non-fiction writers hoping to sell a proposal, the main challenge is to demonstrate a clear market for your book and sell the publisher on the notion that you are the ideal person to write a good book to meet this demand.

Sarah: If someone is interested in writing non-fiction, would you recommend that they get an agent? Why or why not?

John: I think for eighty percent of authors, an agent is the way to go. If you are very business savvy; if you enjoy negotiations; if you understand something of how publishing contracts work; if you don’t mind the idea of canvassing a large number of publishers and dealing with direct rejection, then you don’t really need an agent. If you are like most writers, who are better at creativity than business acumen, an agent can really be a godsend. Your agent can save you a lot of time and trouble, not just in tracking down a publisher, but in refining a marketable book concept. It is important to have a good agent who can tell you frankly “That concept won’t sell” or “That idea is a good one; let’s develop it.”  The agent can focus exclusively on the business side while you work on the production side—writing the books. Moreover, once it is time to work out the details of the contract, you will almost always get a better deal with an agent at your side, especially if you are a new author. On a personal level, the first person I pitch any new idea to is my agent. He tells me which ones are worth pursuing and which ones are not. In twelve years, he has seldom been wrong.

Sarah: What are some of the tips you’ve developed over the years for writing a non-fiction query letter?

John: I think a good query letter should be short and to the point, maybe a couple paragraphs at most. Explain to the editor the market for your book, why your particular book will benefit their bottom line and why you are the person to write this particular offering. Perfect a courteous, confident and professional tone.

Sarah:  John, thank for taking the time to answer my questions.

Don’t forget to register. If you’ve learned something from author John McManus, please consider attending the 2012 Missouri Writers Guild Annual writing conference. We would love to see you there. 

Click here to learn more about the Missouri Writers Guild 2012 Conference or to register!