Sunday, December 28, 2008

What I Learned from National Novel Writing Month

By Vikki Perry

I’m exhausted and invigorated at the same time. November, the National Novel Writing Month, is complete and I have a good start to what I think could be a great manuscript someday.
Here are a few of the things that I learned this year.

1. The first time around wasn’t a fluke. In November 2007, I “won” Nanowrimo and completed my first manuscript, a 52,000 word opus that is unlikely to see the light of day. Even still, I was so proud of myself for writing the words “The End.” While I haven’t written the words “The End” for this manuscript, I am proud that I wrote over 50,000 words in the month of November.

2. This time, I’m not writing a 50,000 word novel. I knew this when I was plotting the book, but it was still a surprise when I reached my first turning point at 25,000 words.

3. That I love being around writers. At one of the first write-ins, we introduced ourselves by name and body count. I’m not sure of the total number of characters killed, but it was at least 20 people and one earthworm.

4. That there are young writers. Before I participated in NaNoWriMo 2007 and 2008, I wondered if there were any younger people writing books. Through NaNoWriMo, I have met a ton of young and talented writers. As a reader, I am relieved about the future of publishing.

5. That seven month old babies and eyeglasses do not mix well. OK, so I didn’t learn this one from Nanowrimo, but I learned that not being able to see adds an unwelcome layer of complexity to the challenge.

6. That I will miss having a daily goal and people to cheer me on to the finish line. The best thing about Nanowrimo is the community of people. Everyone is working towards the same goal and doing everything they can to drag each other across the finish line. At the write-ins, we do timed word wars (everyone writing as many words as they can in 15 minutes). We set word goals and then reward ourselves. This year one of the participants offered to buy movie tickets for the first four people to reach 30,000 words by November 21. In addition to this, one of the other participants offered to buy candy at the movies for the people that reached the 30K if they also reached 40K. We had three people reach 40,000 words by November 21st. I was amazed and delighted to be a part of such a supportive group. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Creating a Website

Laura P. Valtorta

At the 2008 South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference I heard from 457 different agents and publishers that a writer needs a website. She needs it now. And it must be cool, creative, and expressive.

The website should be changeable and interactive, offering the reader insight into the writer's personality. Photos, newsletters, and blogs can be accessible from the home page. The website should be easy for the writer to update.

For years I've had a website and a newsletter, but then AOL dropped their hosting services. For one long week I was in a pickle, testing alternate services, chasing down my domain register, and bothering my programmer friend. Then it all came together.

There are two ways for a lawyer to create a website. I used both of them.

UTILIZE A FRIEND. Beverly Huntsberger, who lives in California, created my main website at Bev is an engineer, a programmer, and photographer. Above all, a fantastic friend. Bev charged me a couple hundred dollars to create the page, and nothing to update it with my second book. I like it because it's bright and graphic.

PURCHASE A WEB SERVICE. After examining the various options, I settled on Yahoo web hosting for, my monthly newsletter. This is the section I changed from AOL to Yahoo. I chose Yahoo because they answered the phone immediately. Their sales number is 866-781-9246. The technical support number is 866-800-8092. The service costs me $11.95 per month. I got the first three months at a discount. Other services might be free.

What I like about Yahoo (besides the yodeling) is that I can change the text and the photos very easily. All I do is log onto Yahoo Web Hosting (using my Yahoo email address and password) and click on “edit.” My newsletter appears. I can edit the text and the photographs, and change the entire layout whenever I want.

The difficult part was moving Tennisphile from AOL to Yahoo. Yahoo will register a domain name for you if you start from scratch. My domain name ( was already registered at I had a username and password for this service, which I had forgotten. I called, and they emailed the information to me. Next I had to switch my web hosting from AOL to Yahoo. For a lawyer, this was tough work.

Now I keep a notebook entitled “Web Hosting,” with phone numbers, usernames, and passwords.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My First Writing Conference

By Meredith Kaiser

In October, I went to my first writing conference and I learned the same lesson I learn every time I dive into a new environment: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

In an editor’s class, I learned how to name the strengths and weaknesses of my writing and to study the specific reasons why I turn each page as I read my favorite novels. "In learning why I read, I will learn why I write," said Charlotte Cook, president of KOMENAR Publishing. And in a novelist’s class, I learned how important character conflict is in moving a story along and how the conflict within each character can drive a story.

The amorphous questions about my writing I’d never formed were clarified for me, then answered again and again throughout the weekend. An aimless wondering about how to write my novel was distilled into specific problems and then solved, theoretically anyway, before my watering eyes. I absorbed every word as writers and other professionals revealed their hard-won truths about the beautiful, perplexing, humbling struggle to share our hearts, through our words, with the world.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My First Editor

By Ilmars Birznieks

Fresh from academia, I was as naive about agents as a teenager is about sex. My first agent, a lady in Atlanta, sounded super on the telephone, all $400 worth she required for her services.

Because she convinced me that within a year my book would have a New York publisher, I considered the $400 well spent. A year went by but nothing happened. Since I could not reach her on the phone, I went to see her in Atlanta. Her office in the basement of her house appeared impressively busy. It had many shelves stacked with manuscripts, boxes filled with books, and a secretary typing letters.

I found my agent sick in bed. However, with her husband by her side, I was allowed to see her. I listened to her, between complaints how her back was killing her, why my novel did not sell yet, but was close to getting a publisher. She practically begged me to give her another year (of course, another $400) to sell it.

How could I possibly deny a sick agent another year? I wrote a check for the $400 and left, filled again with empty promises.

When another year went by and nothing happened, I began to wonder what I had gotten into. Was she really trying to sell my book, or was she just making a living from the $400 she collected from each customer? After the second year, I gave up on her, although it was not easy. She tried to persuade me to stay with her another year.

Oh, yes, she looked very legitimate, contract and all, but to tell you the truth, I later felt that she had glibly charmed me, to put it mildly.

The lesson for all aspiring writers is this. Never, ever sign a contract with an agent who requires any kind of payment before your book is sold. I learned my lesson the hard way.