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Selling nonfiction now February 23, 2019

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In recent months, I sold two nonfiction stories to be published in books by Guideposts and Bethany House. This was in my spare time, and I also write for my full-time job with the National Science Foundation.

A children’s magazine that I sold a nonfiction story to about 10 years ago tracked me down and asked me if they could reprint that story, with payment. Beginning writers, note this: Nonfiction is usually easier to sell than fiction. Editors chasing you down to buy stories from you doesn’t happen much with fiction writing, at least not in my experience.

Fewer writers want to sell nonfiction than fiction, so that makes for less competition and more demand.

If you enjoy writing nonfiction, it could serve as a viable publishing career.

Personally, I discovered nonfiction credits also looked better on my resume when I was transitioning to writing for the workplace after a long hiatus. The romance writing award I had won in the off-years only garnered me raised eyebrows. All that hard work (and research!), and I ended up dropping it off my resume.

Writing on the job May 12, 2018

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I seldom write for books and magazines now that I work full-time and write on the job. People I run into but haven’t seen in a while ask, “How is the writing going?” and always seem surprised that I no longer write much after selling four children’s books and more than 100 magazine articles and short stories.

I think I will get back to that type of writing someday, but right now, I’m building my retirement funds. Those 14 years when I wrote (both fiction and nonfiction) gave me a lot of pleasure and improved my writing skills and kept my editing skills current for the workplace, but they did nothing for my retirement years.

After 14 years at home, writing and taking care of my children, I had difficulty securing a job at the level I was at when I left. (I had been an editor at a corporation.) I discovered that positions stating applicants should have a communications, English, journalism, or marketing/public relations degree are often now clerical positions. They may not have the title “secretary,” but they have the same pay scale. I adjusted. I worked my way up from temp positions to a managerial/professional position at the state university nearby. And I get paid to write. I manage a National Science Foundation graduate program, writing all text for our website and recruitment materials, interviewing students and writing their stories, handling correspondence for the program, tracking the budget, and writing the annual report. I love my job. I’m getting paid to do things I enjoy.

So, I don’t regret those years I took off from the corporate world to follow my dreams and write. I don’t regret getting a journalism degree with an English minor. I knew it wasn’t the most lucrative route in life when I signed up. But life is too short not to take a chance on doing what you love.

Writing Quotations, Part VI December 10, 2017

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This year my gift to you is sharing the humor of other writers.

“Writing is something you do alone. Its a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.” ~ John Green

“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

“Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.” ~ Howard Nemerov

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” ~ Dorothy Parker

“Writers don’t make any money at all. We make about a dollar. It is terrible. But then again we don’t work either. We sit around in our underwear until noon then go downstairs and make coffee, fry some eggs, read the paper, read part of a book, smell the book, wonder if perhaps we ourselves should work on our book, smell the book again, throw the book across the room because we are quite jealous that any other person wrote a book, feel terribly guilty about throwing the schmuck’s book across the room because we secretly wonder if God in heaven noticed our evil jealousy, or worse, our laziness. We then lie across the couch facedown and mumble to God to forgive us because we are secretly afraid He is going to dry up all our words because we envied another man’s stupid words. And for this, as I said, we are paid a dollar. We are worth so much more.” ~ Donald Miller

“You’re miserable, edgy and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.” ~ Warren Ellis

“I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.” ~ Steven Wright

“It is a writer’s greatest pleasure to hear that someone was kept up until the unholy hours of the morning reading one of his books. It goes back to authors being terrible people who delight in the suffering of others. Plus, we get a kickback from the caffeine industry…” ~ Brandon Sanderson

Writing Quotations, Part V December 11, 2016

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I received the happy news in time for Christmas that I sold another short story. I spent a stretch of months revising it, so this year, as my gift to you, I have collected together quotations about revising and improving your writing. I can really relate to the quotation from Gustave Flaubert. Enjoy!

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.” ~ Lawrence Block

“I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.” ~ Gustave Flaubert

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” ~ William Faulkner

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” ~ Stephen King

“The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between “lightning” and “lightning bug.” ~ Mark Twain

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~ Anton Chekhov



Zeugma October 22, 2016

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I’m a word nerd. I love language and playing with words but also understanding the rules of usage and the logic behind them. Who else would enjoy reading grammar books? I confess I’ve read somewhere between 20 and 30 of them. So, it was with great excitement I recently read in a grammar book about zeugma. This was a term I’d never heard before, but it seems to me it should be a subtopic of parallel construction.

A zeugma is a grammatical expression in which a single word is forced to apply to multiple parts of a sentence even though it is grammatically or logically correct only for one of them. The following is an example:

The grammar, punctuation, and spelling were terrific, the writing awful.

The problem with this sentence is that the verb “were” has been dropped in the second part of the sentence, but it should never be used there anyway. “The writing were awful” is obviously grammatically incorrect. The sentence could be corrected this way:

The grammar, punctuation, and spelling were terrific; the writing was awful.

Excited about this new word for a grammatical concept, I googled “zeugma” and found, on Wikipedia, a more thorough explanation of not only zeugma but syllepsis, diazeugma, hypozeugma, prozeugma, and mesozeugma.

I have a new respect for Wikipedia.

A Writing Secret: Writing for Profit May 21, 2016

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In writing critique groups, I often find that newer writers write more for pleasure than profit. They enjoy writing and want to share that enjoyment with others. Instead of seeking true critiques in a critique group, they’re often just seeking encouragement. I try to keep that in mind when responding to their work.

I need to because I write from a different mindset. I write for profit. The greatest pleasure I get from writing comes from seeing my work in print, even after having had more than 100 stories and articles and 4 books published. I may have once written solely for pleasure, but I don’t remember such a time. Even in elementary school, I wrote intending to get published. My first sale came in junior high, when my hometown newspaper paid me to cowrite a column about happenings at my school.

 I do find pleasure in the act of writing. Finding the perfect phrase to express an idea or emotion I’ve struggled to convey to my reader—or, even better, making my reader laugh—is an undeniable pleasure. But if I can’t sell my writing to respectable publishers, readership will likely be limited and the struggle to communicate to readers proves fruitless.

Writing for profit is work, especially when it comes to fiction. After having spent hours toiling away at finding the right words, I want to be paid for them. This is a much different mindset than that of the person writing solely for pleasure. And here’s a secret . . . More often than not, writing for profit is where most writers who have written for any amount of time end up. It’s seldom long before new writers enjoying the work of others want to improve their own work. They begin to take a more critical look at what they’ve written and see the flaws. This is painful but can lead to the deeper pleasure of writing . . . knowing their work is well done and stands a chance at being appreciated by many.

Inexpensive Professional Author Photos March 1, 2016

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Publishers recommend authors get a professionally taken photo for their Web site, but if you’re like most authors (or other starving artists), you may question how you can afford this. I’ve found a few options that work for me.

First, with the advent of PhotoShop, there are a lot of amateur photographers who can either match the skill of a professional photographer or come close to it. They are generally far less expensive also. I’ve paid college students who have a strong interest in photography to take photos for me.

Second, when I was promoting my books, I did many newspaper and magazine interviews, and these articles usually included a photo of me with my latest book. When I saw a photo I liked, I asked the reporter or photographer if I would be able to purchase it (and the copyright) to use in my publicity. Sometimes the photographer owns the rights, and sometimes the publication does, but either way, I’ve found most of them are willing to sell a photograph with copyright after they’re done with it.

Third, professional organizations like clubs, schools, employers, and churches often take photos of their members. Frequently, these are head-and-shoulder shots perfect for showing your readers who you are. The photographer may have a written agreement with the organization, releasing the copyright, but if not, be sure to ask for written permission to reprint your photo in other media.



Educational Testing Market January 18, 2016

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A paying market that fiction and nonfiction writers might not think of is the educational testing market. Test makers often include a few paragraphs of text in their tests, and students read the text and answer questions based on it. This text can be fiction, nonfiction, or even poetry.

test imageI recently submitted a few poems and narratives to the Center for Education Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas (through its Web site at https://cete.submittable.com/submit). The center rejected my work, but since I submitted the work online, the process cost me nothing. Had the center accepted my work, I would have been paid $250 per piece. As any poet can tell you, $250 is good pay for a poem.

If you’re considering submitting work to a testing company, I’d recommend making sure your work has information in it that is educational and lends itself to the easy development of test questions.

Quotes About Writing, Part IV November 30, 2015

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As a gift to my readers during the Christmas season, I typically share author quotes or quotes about writing. I collect these throughout the year for possible use in presentations or articles about writing. I find it handy to keep them in one spot. I was particularly gratified to find the Jack London quotation this year. I had heard it before but failed to take it down word-for-word at the time. I hope these quotes will serve you well, providing insight and inspiration for the new year.

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly–they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” — Aldous Huxley

“With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is a matter of style; with me, it is a matter of feeling. But I must say I have a great respect for the semicolon; it’s a useful little chap.” — Abraham Lincoln (attributed)

“Envy is ignorance; imitation is suicide.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” — Stephen King

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou

“The way we are living, timorous or bold, will have been our life.” — Seamus Heaney, poet

“Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.” — Jack London

Author Earnings Are Scary October 17, 2015

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Just in time for Halloween, the Authors Guild released the results of an income survey of its members, and the results are scary. Not only did the majority of authors report that they earn less than the Federal Poverty Level from their writing, their responses also indicated that author income has gone down since the last time the survey was taken, in 2009. You can read more about the survey findings here:


After reading this story, I am doubly glad to be able to make a living working in a writing-related field (as a proofreader/copy editor), but I feel for writers who are trying to make a living solely from their writing. I see only one appropriate response to such Halloween news: