Saturday, March 16, 2013

Janet Cannon, Speaker: Writers Need to Use Technology to their Advantage

Janet Cannon has been a technology instructor for Cape Girardeau public schools for the past eight years. She teaches fifth and sixth grade computer lab at Cape Middle School, adult computer application classes at the Career and Technology Center, and is one of the technology trainers for district personnel. She is the editor for the middle school newsletter, the Missouri Writers’ Guild newsletter, and in her spare time teaches origami, duct tape projects, and writes compositions for the instrumental and drumming ensemble at her school. Her publishing credits include a technical manual, several short stories, and quite a few pieces of Twitter fiction. Her masters is in English with an emphasis in technology integration, and she is proud of the fact that, “Do you want fries with that?” has never been part of her working vocabulary. She’s been happily married for 15 years, and her hobbies include cooking, running, needlework, and solving the Rubic's cube blindfolded.  

MWG: Hi Janet, welcome to the conference blog. You are going to be presenting about how technology can help us to become brilliant writers! (Smiles) So, how does technology play a part in your own writing?

Janet: Like most writers, I began my writing obsession with good ol' pencil and paper. I’d doodle, write a draft, revise, (rip into shreds), re-write, revise, revise, edit, edit, etc. There's nothing wrong with that. And I still do some drafting, re-writing, or outlining by hand. However, for me and a lot of digital natives--those who grew up using computers--typing and using digital media to express ourselves is a faster and more efficient way to get our point across. Each program I work with helps organize and visualize my projects in a way pencil and paper can't accomplish (for me). For example, with One Note, I can keep track of all of my contest submissions, character notes, and research information, just as if I had a three-ring binder of the same information, but it’s easier to manipulate than a physical binder of paper. As a visual learner and writer, I can find a picture that inspires me, add it to my document, then use that to help me fill in the details when my brain is tired. Technology also helps mitigate my (many, many) mistakes! After so many erasures and scratch-outs on paper, I get frustrated with the mess, especially when I erase through the paper and tear it! Digital formats always give you a blank slate, a clean past, so you can focus on the continent of your piece rather than how messy the draft is.

MWG: You are going to show writers how to use Word and PowerPoint to the fullest extent. Give us a little preview here.

Janet: Word is such a powerful tool. No matter what genre you're writing, Word has some technological magic you probably haven't seen. If you need to cite your sources, it has a built-in citation builder in pretty much any format you want. Do you want every document you open to have the same size font, the same spacing, the same tab settings, etc.? There's an option to set that. Do you know how to format headers and footers? Find and replace text? Resize your paper? Set uneven margins, manipulate your rulers, insert hyperlinks, insert cover pages or create an outline without having to type the Roman numerals or letters? Word can do that and a lot more. PowerPoint is universally used for presentations, but it is one of the most powerful storyboarding tools out there. Put one picture or idea per slide, then re-order them and add details until they are in perfect order. Bam! Your outline is ready to go. You can even add more details and create your synopsis. For those writing children’s books, it’s the perfect layout tool with your illustrations (and text if you’re using any). I'll even take questions from the audience on writing "problems" they have and see if I can come up with a software solution.

MWG: Oh my gosh, I love the idea of Power Point for picture books. I never thought of that. Brilliant! If time permits, you will show them about Publisher, too. For those of us who don't know much more than Word, can you tell us a little about Publisher? Who makes it and what writers need it?

 Janet: Publisher is also a Microsoft product. It's a desktop publishing program that's a lot easier to use than Adobe Photoshop and more powerful than a lot of "greeting card" software programs that are out there. You can create newsletters, business cards, greeting cards, banners, etc. AND books of any size. What makes Publisher different than Word is that the platform makes handling graphics much easier than in Word. If you want to self-publish a work containing photos or pictures and don't have the time or resources to learn Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, Publisher is a good alternative. I could spend an entire session on layout and design for self-publishing in Publisher, but I’ll leave that for another presentation. Maybe one of the Chapters will want to see that at one of their meetings.

MWG: It sounds like something I would be interested in seeing. We should set that up with Saturday Writers! So, who should come to your workshop at the conference?

 Janet: Anyone who wants to know how to use their computer more efficiently in their writing. Genre doesn't matter. Level of computer experience doesn't matter. I'm used to having all levels of experience in my classroom. There are no stupid questions; and even if you already know a lot, I guarantee I can teach you one thing you don't know. Come with questions. I love the challenge of trying to solve problems other people have with their writing/software issues.

MWG: Sounds awesome and very practical, too! Tell us a little about what you are currently working on!

Janet: "The novel." Isn't everyone? Strangely enough, though, right now I'm really hot in the Twitter fiction market (a story of 140 characters of text or less), which is crazy, because that's more of a poet's genre, and I'm NOT a poet. I had five or six published in December. It pays nothing. Literally. But at the end of the school day, that's about all my brain will produce. And as I writer, I want to write SOMETHING every day to keep the creative juices flowing. I also write short stories and flash fiction. Fantasy/urban fantasy/science fiction are my usual genres, but I don’t limit myself to wizards, werebeasts, and computers. I try to write in different genres to stretch my skills. I enter a lot of short story contests just to get some credits under my belt and on my cover letter. And after I publish my first novel, I’ve decided to scan all my rejection letters into the computer, print them on brightly-colored fabric, make a quilt and sit on it. Every night. And smile as I write volume two.

MWG: You will have to put the rejection quilt idea on Pinterest! Anything else you'd like to add?

Janet: We live in an age where you almost CAN’T be a successful writer without a computer. I may not have all the answers, but hopefully I can help with a few ideas that will improve your relationship with your computer, so it’s more of a partnership than a show-down at the O. K. Corral every time you boot it up. So come to my session and be prepared to enjoy learning. I’m not like those stodgy, old professors you’re used to! ;-)

MWG: See you soon, Janet! We're looking forward to a great conference and your workshop! 

To register for the MWG conference and see amazing speakers like Janet, go to this link:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Blank Slate Press at the MWG Conference

Blank Slate Press will be at the Missouri Writers Guild conference in April (2013) taking pitches from authors. We were lucky enough to get Kristina Blank Makansi, publisher, to answer some questions about BSP. Kristina will not be able to attend the conference due to a conflict in scheduling, but at the conference will actually be editor Jennifer Dunn Stewart and Kristina's daughter, Amira Makansi.

Jennifer has taught creative writing at the university level and has worked as a reading and writing instructor, tutor and editor at various community-based organizations and privately. Her work appears in Night Train Magazine and The Los Angeles Review; she has been honored in the Million Writers Award, storySouth’s Best of the Net, is the recipient of The Jefferson Fellowship from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and was invited to attend both the 2012 Tin House Writer’s Workshop and the 2012 Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Currently, she is at work on her second novel, Predicting Gravity, and is in the process of securing a publisher for her first novel, What If It’s Empty.

Amira  has served as an assistant editor and has read and evaluated Blank Slate Press submissions since the press was founded. She has also worked at various wineries in Oregon, has lived and worked in the wine industry in France and is approaching fluency in French. She currently works part-time for a wine distributorship in St. Louis.

MWG: Hi Kristina! Welcome to the conference blog. Please share with us a bit about Blank Slate Press.

Kristina: Blank Slate Press was founded in 2010 to discover, nurture, publish and promote new voices from the greater St. Louis region and beyond. We’ve published six books—five fiction and one memoir. Out of those, we’ve had two award winners and one “runner up” to a major award. We currently have four more books we’ve committed to that are in the pipeline, three that are part of a crime series based in St. Louis and one that is a sequel to one of our earlier books.

MWG: It sounds like you've had GREAT success! Are you currently looking for submissions? Will you be taking pitches at the MWG conference?

Kristina: Officially, we are closed to submissions, but we love hearing pitches at MWG and will, of course, take submissions from those authors whose stories engage us at the conference. One of our authors, Steve Wiegenstein, first pitched to us at an MWG conference, so we are definitely looking forward to discovering something wonderful.

MWG: I've personally read Steve's book, and it is wonderful! What really wows you about a manuscript submission or a pitch?

Kristina: To be frank, I get excited about a lot of story ideas because I enjoy many different genres, but there are two things that wow me—a concise, powerful pitch and a first chapter that immediately draws me in and makes me want to keep reading. Authors should pay an inordinate amount of attention to their first paragraph, even their first sentence.

MWG: Yes, that is so true, and sometimes, that first sentence/paragraph seems harder than writing the whole book! Anything that turns you off almost immediately?

Kristina: An author who doesn’t do his homework and who has no idea how publishing works. The industry is changing and I’m still learning—but if a writer wants to be treated like a professional in the industry, she must act like a professional and that means doing the necessary homework, so she understands the basics of how a book goes from an idea in the author’s head to a book in the reader’s hands.

MWG: Oh, so true! That's one of the reasons why we are doing these blog posts--to make homework for the conference attendees a little bit easier! What are you most looking forward to at the MWG conference?

Kristina: Our editors are looking forward to meeting authors, and we’re always looking forward to learning something new.

MWG: Tell us a little about yourself in closing--how long have you been in publishing and share anything else you'd like us to know!

Kristina: I’ve been writing forever and was a copywriter and freelance editor for many years before I started BSP in 2010. I feel very strongly about book covers, have a soft spot for dog noses, and love to play tennis. I’m struggling to find time to revise my historical fiction manuscript, ORACLES OF DELPHI, and have co-written the first of a YA/sci-fi trilogy, tentatively titled SEEDS, with my two daughters. In an effort to fill the needs of the many authors who have approached me for publishing assistance, I, along with three other amazing editors, just started a separate business called Treehouse Publishing Group that offers author services to those who want individualized support preparing their manuscripts for querying or self-publishing, or in select instances, to hybrid publish through our Treehouse imprint.

MWG: Thank you for your time, Kristina! That all sounds amazing, and we will miss you at the MWG conference, but look forward to visiting with Jennifer and Amira! 

Interview conducted by Margo L. Dill, author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Additional Saturday session at MWG Conference

This session didn't make the conference brochure, but it sounds like a goodie! Our visiting agents have been very gracious in agreeing to do breakout sessions and master classes in addition to their primary interest, which is taking pitches. This one's by Jita Fumich of Folio Literary Management:

eBooks 101: An Author's Toolbox for Digital Publishing

If you've ever been tempted to just take that manuscript out of a drawer and throw it up on the internet--think again!  Make sure that you are seen as the professional, talented author that you are by avoiding some of the pitfalls of digital publishing.  Learn to EVALUATE e-publishing models, to CREATE professional-looking eBooks, and to SELL copies.