Thursday, March 31, 2011

5 Ways to Make an Editor Smile

by Priscilla Y. Huff Editors of magazines, publishing houses, and other content media are VERY busy people. The more you make their jobs easier, the happier they are. Here are five ways to make them smile and increase your odds of getting published: 1) Knowing their publication! Study their writer’s guidelines, their audience (target readers), plus read back issues or books they publish to see if your style and subject matter matches theirs. 2) Being a professional. Send queries or proposals in the correct format (stipulated in author’s or writer’s guidelines), to the current editors (addressed to specific persons) who handle those specific topics, and with a succinct cover letter introducing your manuscript and what qualifies you to write it. 3.) Catching their attention with the first few sentences of your query letter and/or manuscript. Good fiction and nonfiction writers “hook” readers into their stories from the start. Editors read query letter after query letter and many book proposals, so make yours a “standout.” 4) Writing in an “active” voice. Instead of writing “You should always turn off the lights when you leave a room,” say “Turn off all lights when you leave a room.” 5) Delivering what you promised. When your assignments or manuscripts are finished, review and check to see you have followed the editors’ specific requests as to exact word length, manuscripts’ set-up, and of course, their deadlines. Editors have strict timelines and delays are costly, so make them happy and get your work in on time. These are just a few ways to please an editor. Better for your writing career to make an editor smile, rather than frown.

Suggested Further Reading:

  • The Everything® Get Published Book, Completely Updated, All You Need to Know to Become a Successful Author by Meg Schneider & Barbara Doye

  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Additional Library Talks Scheduled

Want to learn more about the writing and publishing process AND support your fellow Black Diamond Writers Network members? Then join us for "Write ItRight--Get Published", coming soon to a library near you! The following library talks are scheduled as a promotional tie-in for the Write It Right conference on April 16: Thurs., March 31--Tamaqua Public Library, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Lehighton Area Memorial Library, 6:00-7:00 p.m. Pottsville Free Public Library, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Tues., April 5--Minersville Public Library, 6:00-7:00 p.m. Wed., April 6--Dimmick Memorial Library, Jim Thorpe 6:00-7:00 p.m. Thurs., April 7--Weatherly Area Public Library, Weatherly, 7:00 p.m. Come out and learn more about how to get your work noticed by agents and editors!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What I Learned at the 2010 Write It Right Conference

by Linda Murphy

I work with children and see the positive results when quality books are used for teaching. I often use books to create fun learning activities. In 2009 I began dreaming of seeing my own work in print in the form of a children’s picture book. In order for my dream to become a reality I realized I needed to gain insight into the world of publishing and improve my writing skills. “How-to Books” and websites on the topic indicated the importance of networking with fellow writers. I immediately connected with the BDWN organization when I attended my first meeting. The members are composed of a wide range of writers who enjoy sharing their knowledge and expertise. When it was announced BDWN was having their first conference in 2010 I decided to attend. If a two hour monthly BDWN meeting was very helpful I concluded an 8 hour BDWN conference would be highly useful.

Like the guest speakers at the BDWN monthly meetings, the presenters at the “Write it Right” conference were individuals well established in the writing industry. These men and women are published authors writing for local and national publications. Several own writing related businesses and have published books to their credit. Knowing I could benefit from these professionals I carefully chose the four sessions that I felt would address my needs as a novice writer.

I will highlight the vast amount of information I acquired that day. The idea to submit my work to children’s magazines was fueled during Priscilla Huff’s session “Breaking into Magazine Writing: Beginner’s Basic.” She gave useful tips on how to choice and to pitch ideas to magazines. Rick Grant taught me the importance of setting goals and building a portfolio in his session “Effective Self- Promotion for Writers.” In Holly Landau’s “Build a Character” session a comprehensive outline on how to create compelling characters was reviewed. During Kathryn Craft’s “Get That Story Moving” session I learned I was guilty of performing several common story stalling techniques.

So what did I do with all this valuable information? I formulated specific writing goals which resulted in building a larger portfolio. Each new story I wrote included believable characters readers could be drawn to. I used every word, carefully improving the quality of the stories. Two of the stories have been submitted to editors to be critiqued. One story has been submitted to a writing contest. Another story will be pitched to a national magazine fitting its style and subject matter. I also had several articles published in a regional magazine.

If you have the desire to refine your writing skills or to get published in any form I highly recommend attending the “2011 BDWN Write It Right” conference. Who knows, the BDWN 2011 Write It Right conference may be the catalyst behind the creation of many new amazing stories that will get you closer to your writing dream!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BDWN Library Talks Scheduled

Want to learn more about how to get your work published? Join us for one of our library talks, where we will share pointers for getting your work noticed by an agent or editor:

· Jim Thorpe—Dimmick Memorial Library, March 23, 6 p.m.
· Tamaqua—Tamaqua Public Library, March 31, 6:30 p.m.

We will be adding additional talks to other libraries throughout our area and posting the dates on our blog as they are scheduled. Please come out and join us!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Writing and Literary Events Across the US

Even if a writing conference doesn't appeal to you, there is no shortage of book fairs and literary festivals across the country that are worth checking out. Besides networking, they're a great way to learn more about what's happening in the industry or learn more about authors you admire. Here's a brief sampling:

25th Annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival
When: March 23-27, 2011
Where: The Royal Sonesta Hotel, New Orleans
Speakers: Film Director John Water (Hairspray), Armistead Maupin
For more information:

The Northern Arizona Book Festival
When: April 16, 2011
Where: Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff, AZ
Speakers: Maryland's poet laureate Michael Collier, Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet)
For more information:

Philadelphia Writers' Conference
When: June 3, 4, 5, 2011
Where: Holiday Inn at 4th and Arch Sts., Philadelphia
Speakers: Nelson Johnson (Boardwalk Empire), Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Solomon Jones
For more information:

Wordstock (Pacific Northwest's premier writing and literary event)
When: October 6-9, 2011
Where: Oregon Convention Center, Portland, OR
For more information:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

10 Reasons to Attend the 2011 Write It Right Conference

Not sure if you should spend the $65 to register for the BDWN 2011 Write It Right Conference? We hear you--hopefully the list below will help to convince you that it's money well spent:

  • More workshops. This year we have 10 breakout sessions and have extended the day, which means more time for learning, networking, and getting inspired.
  • We have something for everyone. Fiction? Nonfiction? Mystery? Memoir? YA? Nervous about getting started? Not sure how to market yourself or your work? Yep, we can help you.
  • Lots of literary star power. We're proud to have Maria V. Snyder (Study and Glass trilogies, Inside Out) and Josh Berk (The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin) on our schedule this year. Both have made the New York Times bestseller list.
  • Lunch is included.
  • Location, location, location. Write It Right is the only event of its kind in Northeast Pennsylvania.
  • Networking opportunities galore. Whether you write a book a year or are overwhelmed about getting started (or fall somewhere in between), there will be plenty of other folks who can relate.
  • Motivation. If you're new to writing, a conference can be a great motivator to get started. If you're more experienced, a conference can give you a boost and some energy to keep going--or branch out into something new.
  • Sell, sell, sell. Authors can sell their books during our author book fair at the end of the day.
  • Learn something new. Attend a workshop that's different from what you normally write. You've been dabbling in children's books? Why not see what makes YA different? Looking to branch out from poetry? Try memoir.
  • Two words: Free stuff. Freebies (like back issues of magazines, pens, books, etc.) and door prizes...who doesn't love that?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Interview with Kelly Butterbaugh

by Gary Blake

Kelly Butterbaugh is a freelance writer and teacher whose list of publications include Hey! History Isn't Boring Anymore!, Images of America: Upper Saucon Township and Coopersburg, and Then & Now Lehigh County. Her work has also appeared in publications like Keystone Country, Back Home, Next Step, History, and Piecework, among others, and she will be speaking on Marketing Yourself as a Writer and Stepping Over the Writer's Block at the Write It Right Conference. Here, Kelly talks to our Gary Blake about the writing life.

BDWN: I like history so I'm intrigued by your book title. How did you get started as a writer?

KELLY: Hi, Gary! I remember writing stories on an old typewriter when I was just a girl, dreaming of becoming a writer. I saw the movie Crosscreek, and I wanted to be Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. But then, as I tell my students “life got in the way” and I became a teacher. Once my son was born, I had some down time to sit and be creative while he napped. Pulling out written pieces I’d done over the years, I reintroduced myself to writing and spent some time learning the business of writing for profit.

BDWN: Did you teach history in school?

KELLY: No, I teach English in the public school and writing in college. History is my passion, but not my job J

BDWN: How long have you been a writer?

KELLY: I guess I’ve been a writer all my life, but I’ve been a professional writer for 6 years.

BDWN: What are your favorite genre's of writing?

KELLY: I am most definitely a non-fiction writer with creative non-fiction and historical fiction pieces to my credit. I enjoy fiction writing, but I don’t pursue it on a professional basis. I like the personal style of non-fiction writing that makes readers feel as if I am talking directly to them; this is why I enjoy writing for specialized magazines.

BDWN: Have you published any books?
KELLY: Yes, my first book was released with White Mane Kids in 2008 titled Hey, History Isn’t Boring Anymore! A Creative Approach to Teaching the Civil War. A sequel is pending with White Mane possibly late this year or next. I also have a two local history books published with Arcadia Publishing. Images of America: Upper Saucon Township and Coopersburg was released with them last year, and Then & Now Lehigh County will be released in March 2011. I am currently working with them on two more upcoming titles.

BDWN: Switching to the BDWN conference, how will your programs help me as a writer?
KELLY: All writers fear the dreaded writer’s block. Stubborn as I am, I refuse to allow it to enter my world. Pulling what I’ve learned during my years as a writer and more importantly as my years teaching college writing, I can give writers an arsenal of information to arm themselves against the invasive block. My college students are notorious for succumbing to writer’s block, and those who follow my suggestions admit that the problem solves itself.

As for marketing, no one should feel the let down that new writers feel when they realize that work doesn’t come flooding their inboxes all on its own. A writer works quietly alone, so “selling” oneself as a writer isn’t an easy task for most. Likewise, a book contract is great but few publishing houses market their writers aggressively. Part of acquiring a book contract depends upon the writer’s ability to write advertising text for the book as well as rationales for marketing. This is something few expect, and the less surprises the better. The best part about having self-marketing skills is that this business can be catered to your individual needs. Gather more work when you have time and need, and lighten your workload when you have personal demands. With the proper marketing skills you can achieve this perfect balance in your work schedule.

BDWN: Do you use humor in your writing?

KELLY: I think the title of my first book with White Mane answers that question! Once my editor got to know me and read over my rationale for writing the book she commissioned a comic artist to draw the cover. There’s not a lot of room in history writing for humor, but I try to instill my personality into my writing whenever I can. It’s easy for me to laugh at myself, so when I write humor that’s usually what I do. I like to laugh and I like to make people smile, and that comes out when I talk to people.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Interview with J. Stuart Richards

J. Stuart Richards is the author of four books on Pennsylvania military history with a strong focus on Schuylkill County and the coal region: Early Coal Mining in the Anthracite Region (Arcadia Press), Pennsylvania Voices in the Great War (McFarland Press), A History of Company C 50th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry (History Press), and Death in the Mines (History Press). Richards also maintains four local history blogs: “Schuylkill County Military History”, “Schuylkill County History Chronicles”, “Props, Pistons and Old Jets”, and “Stories from the Great War.” At February's BDWN meeting, Richards will discuss the methods of researching, using official documents and photos, and becoming familiar with the public domain. Richards will also offer tips for writing an eye-catching query letter for an historic work that will immediately appeal to publishers. Richards talks with us about reading, writing, and researching local history.

BDWN: How did you become interested in Pennsylvania military history?

RICHARDS: My interest in Pennsylvania military history came about with a trip to Gettysburg when I was 10 year’s old. I was fascinated that all of the regiments fought with a designation of their state, like the 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry our local unit at Gettysburg . I immediately researched all the Pennsylvania soldiers who served at Gettysburg and started keeping lists of the soldiers.

BDWN: Is there a particular time period that you're most interested in?

RICHARDS: The American Civil War is my favorite, although I have a fond interest in World War 1 and WW II because of family members who fought in the wars. Over the years, I have become less interested in a time period and more interested in the life and times of the common soldier and what they experienced during war. I am a Vietnam veteran and know that the big picture doesn’t matter to the common soldier. It’s what happens 100 feet in front and behind one that matters and that is what interests me. I also write about the soldiers from the French and Indian War through The War on Terror.

BDWN: This is a "chicken or the egg" type of question--were you writing before you became interested in history, or did the writing stem from your historical interests?

RICHARDS: My writing stemmed from my interest in military history and the good feeling of being able to write into history people who are generally forgotten.

BDWN: How do you choose what to write about next?

RICHARDS: Choosing something to write about has never been a problem for me. I read everyday for several hours. When I find something that catches my interest in aviation, local history or military history, I begin researching whether anyone from the local area was involved and to what extent. I am fortunate as my personal library contains over 1,000 books related to military history aviation, and coal mining.

BDWN: You'll be talking about research methods at our February meeting. Without giving too much away, have you ever used any, shall we say, unconventional methods to get the information you needed?

RICHARDS: I can’t say I’ve used unconventional methods to get the information I need. There is so much available to the researcher writer especially with the advent of the internet. Through historical societies and archival collections I found almost everything I needed. Information, such as personal letters, is found through other web sites etc. Without the internet the researcher of years ago would never have access to so much information.

BDWN: Again, without giving too much away, have you ever run into "roadblocks" with your research, such as a book or item that was impossible to find, unhelpful sources, or other general difficulties? How did you get around them?

RICHARDS: Oh, yes, that happens many times. I have a blog entitled “Schuylkill County Military History”. I have been frustrated more times than I would like to say especially when writing about World War II soldiers and airmen. Many times I can’t find what unit the soldiers or airman belonged to. I like to have the regiment, company or division in which they fought. One really needs this information to add flavor to the story. After WW 1, military officers censored so much in the letters it causes the researcher to come up far short of having good information about which to write. So one has to really dig, tracing battles through books, journals and hoping something turns up that matches what one is researching.

BDWN: What can you tell us about your writing process? How much time do you usually spend on research, and then how long does it take you to actually start writing?

RICHARDS: My process for writing a book begins with the initial research and what I know is available on a particular subject. Over twenty-five years I have accumulated good source files of what I will need. I usually start with the Historical Society and old newspapers on microfiche, from there to the internet sources and from there to one of the best unknown research sources available, Google books, I gather, over several months, all available information, on disc or hard copy, which I will usually put into various folders. Laying out the book begins with organizing all my research via time line. The actual laying out and writing will take me 8 to 10 months. Especially when my wife, my first editor, gets the initial manuscript and makes me feel like I am back in fourth grade. But all in all, it will start to take a good form in about six months.

BDWN: How did your musical group come about? Can you tell us a little more about it?

RICHARDS: I was involved in living history programs for 25 years. I had a big interest in coal mining and the early coal miners’ life and times. I recited poems and sang ballads that I found in George Korson’s book, Minstrels of the Mine Patch. While doing a program at Eckley Miners Village , I met my partner Tommy Symons, a fellow actor who was interested in my program. We then got totally involved developing a program we called “Once a Man Twice a Boy”. We both are musicians and over the years we added the guitar, banjo and mandolin. It has been a very positive experience, playing all over the state for different types of venues. We try to bring the life and times of the early coal miners and minstrels back to life.

BDWN: What are you currently working on, and what's next for you?

RICHARDS: I am currently finishing two books, one on the 129th Pennsylvania Infantry, a Civil War Regiment and another on the 103rd Engineers, of World War 1fame. And it takes a lot of time managing and writing four blogs.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Interview with Maria V. Snyder

by Jodi Webb

The Black Diamond Writers Network is excited to have New York Times-bestselling author Maria V. Snyder as our keynote speaker at the 2nd Annual Write It Right Conference. Maria is the author of the bestselling Study (Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study) and Glass (Storm Glass, Sea Glass, and Spy Glass) trilogies, as well as Inside Out, a YA sci-fi/fantasy novel. Its sequel, Outside In, is scheduled for release on March 1, 2011. Maria has also contributed to anthologies like The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire, The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance, and The Stories In Between. Here, Maria takes some time out of her busy schedule to talk to our Jodi Webb about writing, research, and what to expect at Write It Right.

BDWN: I just finished the first book in your Study series, Poison Study. You mentioned that you learned about food tasting and the defensive arts as research for this books. For other books you've had hands on experience with horseback riding and glass blowing. I'd like to know which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did you come up with a plot for a book that happened to involve a hobby or skill and then find that you had to learn more about it to write effectively or did you say to yourself, "Glass blowing seems so interesting, I'd like to learn more about it." and then find yourself creating a book based on that newfound interest?

MARIA: I usually come up with an idea/plot for a story first. Then, as I’m writing the book, I’ll encounter something I don’t know, like what indigo plants look like, and I’ll make a list of things I need to research. Occasionally, I’ll know before the book is written. For example, with the Glass books, I knew the main character was going to be a glass artist/magician so I enrolled in a couple glass classes to learn how to work with molten glass before I started those books.

BDWN: Any other hobbies or skills you'd like to weave into a book?

MARIA: I’d like to use photography sometime in the future just so I can take classes and call it research J

BDWN: I was uncertain how to label your books. After reading the Study series I decided they were YA even though I loved them and I'm long past the YA phase of my life! But then I visited your website and saw they were published as both YA and adult...with different book covers. Is this a common practice in the publishing world?

MARIA: I don’t think re-labeling books is all that common in the publishing world. There are a few older titles that have been re-printed with new covers and placed in the YA section of the bookstore recently, mostly because, back then, there wasn’t a YA section in the bookstore to place them! My Study books were written for adults, but I was getting so many emails from YA readers saying how much they enjoyed them that my publisher decided to market the books to YAs as well as adults.

BDWN: Why we're talking about labels, you've written YA fantasy both in a historical world and a modernistic world as well as contributing to some short story anthologies about the paranormal. Any new types of writing you'd like to try? Or are you strictly a fantasy gal?

MARIA: I’m always interested in a challenge and that’s why I contribute to various short story anthologies. I would love to write a mystery/suspense/thriller someday, and I have a mainstream book for middle grade readers I’ve been trying to sell. So, no, I’m not strictly fantasy J

BDWN: You're going to travel your road to publication with attendees of the Write It Right conference. Can you share one of your biggest surprises (good or bad) while working at getting your books published?

MARIA: This might sound stupid, but the biggest surprise was that many of the people who worked at my publisher were reading my book. I had met a bunch of sales staff and PR/Marketing workers about four months before Poison Study was published, and they all gushed about the book. My editor was amused. She said, “What did you think we’d do with it?” I had thought she and maybe the copy editor would actually read the entire book, and everyone else would just read the cover copy. This led to another surprise, that the publishing professionals still get excited about books. I had thought they might be jaded and like, “Yawn, just another book,” but they’re enthusiastic.

BDWN: In addition to a talk on the Road to Publication you have a second workshop. Can you tell us a little about what you'll be sharing with us?

MARIA: My other workshop is titled, Maria’s Nitpicks. I’m going to focus on a bunch of writing…not quite mistakes, but weak, sloppy writing that drives me crazy J I see these in published books all the time. Things like passive voice, vague nouns, floating eye balls, info dumps, and unrealistic fight scenes.

BDWN: And you would know about unrealistic fight scenes since, as part of your research you choreographed the fight scenes in your books! Tell us what you enjoy about participating in appearances such as the Write It Right conference.

MARIA: I do enjoy teaching aspiring writers. It’s fun and I get to hang out with other writers – what’s not to like? Also I had a lot of help when I was learning, and teaching others is one way to thank those who helped me. Mentoring students is extremely rewarding and I love it when they improve or “get” it -- I’m like a proud Mama Bear J One thing I always tell everyone – writing is not something you can master. Writers are always learning, and interacting with students and readers has been both delightful and educational J

BDWN: Any big news or secrets about your next project you'd like to share with us?

MARIA: I’m working on book #9 (still amazed by that!). It’s another fantasy novel and it’s about a healer set in a world that is recovering from a deadly plague. Her world has blamed the plague on the healers and has hunted them down. She is finally caught only to be rescued by a group who wants her to heal their Prince. The group's leader, Kerrick, knows the healers aren't to blame for the plague and that she could do some good for a change instead of hiding. Unfortunately, she believes this Prince is the one who started the plague as an attempt at biological warfare so she isn't risking her life for some pampered Prince. As they travel to the Prince's hidden location, they're pursued by others who have realized having a healer around might just be a good thing for them, but not necessarily for her. This book is tentatively set for a January 2012 release in the United States.

BDWN: But don't worry readers, Maria won't be doing experiements in biological weapons as part of her research! No need to buy your own personal gas mask.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Interview with Josh Berk Part II

by Jodi Webb
Today Jodi and Josh pick up on their conversation from Wednesday...

BDWN: Can you give us the 30 second story of your road to publication? Agent? Sending directly to publishers? Winning a contest? Friends in the business?

JOSH: I started out extremely clueless in the business! I sent a manuscript to one agent at a time and waited to hear back. (This was on my previous, unpubbed manuscript.) One of them was kind enough to say "you write well, so even though I'm going to pass on this project, let me know when you write something else." When I finished the ms. that would become HAMBURGER HALPIN, I promptly sent to to her and just waited. It turned out that she wasn't an agent anymore! I felt crushed, but was advised by a writer-friend to send it to a bunch of agents at once. It seems like obvious advice now! So I used to find any agent interested in YA and polished up my query letter. I got a lot of interest, and coincidentally ended up signing with a young, new agent at the agency that sent me that original "let me know when you write something else letter" on the first manuscript. He then submitted it to editors he thought would like it, and found me a good home.

BDWN: So you do have an abandoned manuscripts hidden in your desk drawer?

JOSH: HALPIN was my third attempt at writing for teens. My first, technically, was an adult novel that I tried to morph into a YA book after taking a class on teen lit. (And, after realizing that the part about the young people in the book was the strongest part anyway.) Then I decided to start out writing a teen novel, and it was better, but not really ready for publication. Then HALPIN was my third one. Sometimes I fantasize about digging out those old ones, but they're probably hidden in desk drawers for a reason.

BDWN: Can you tell us the biggest obstacle you faced when trying to get your book published? If you could share one tip about publication what would it be?

JOSH: The biggest obstacle for me was my own internal struggle. I so often felt like a "faker" like I wasn't a "real" writer and that all published authors had some magic something I didn't have. I was afraid to even send things out. Once I bucked up and realized that authors are just people, and once I realized that publishing is more or less like any other field, it became less scary. You just have to be professional, courteous, and even though you might hear "no" a lot of times and feel like crumbling into a pile of tears, you just have to keep that vibe of professionalism while you submit your next one and your next one and your next one...
I'd also say to do your research on agents and make sure you find one who is dependable, reliable, and a good match for you. An offer of representation can be so exciting that you might be tempted to jump at any agent who comes along, but the goal should be to find the "right agent." It's a business partnership as well as a creative partnership and should be treated as such. The business side of it can be very stressful, exciting, etc., but ideally the agent should handle most of that stuff so we as writers can focus on what we're here to focus on: the writing.

BDWN: And our final question...what's next?

JOSH: Thanks for asking! I'm very close to finishing the revisions for my second YA novel. It's another funny/crime/high school story, albeit with totally new characters and setting. It's called GUY LANGMAN: CRIME SCENE PROCRASTINATOR and tells the tale of a guy (named Guy) who joins his high school forensics club and stumbles on a real crime scene. He also crushes on girls, fights with his friends, and comes to terms with the loss of a loved one in his family. So it's crime/comedy/coming of age. All the things I love!
And then I recently sold the first two books in what will (hopefully) be a long series for younger readers (ages 9-12 or so). These books are also mysteries, with a sports focus. Lenny Norbeck and his goofball friends ("Mike" and "Other Mike") solve a series of baseball-related crimes and have a lot of fun along the way. I'm an obsessive Phillies fan, so this is a dream come true.
Josh Berk photo by Olaf Starorypinski

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Interview with Josh Berk

by Jodi Webb

Josh Berk is the author of The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin (Knopf, 2010), a young adult mystery that combines ghosts and murder with teen angst, all set in a high school in the coal region. Berk’s second teen comedy/mystery novel is slated for release in 2012. According to Berk’s website, his past vocations have included journalist, playwright, and a guitarist for a punk band. Currently a librarian, Josh and his family live in Allentown, Pa. At the Write It Right conference, Josh will be giving 2 sessions: Writing for YA Audiences, and Getting Your YA Novel Published. In the first of a 2-part interview, Jodi Webb talked with Josh about writing for teens and 'tweens, developing an audience, and the publishing process.

BDWN: I just finished reading The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, your first YA book, and it was full of the thing that intimidates me most about writing for a YA audience--teenagers communicating. Did you lurk in dark corners spying on teens talking to one another, hire teens consultants to OK your dialogue?

JOSH: Yes, I lurked in dark corners! Well, not quite. But I was working at a public library frequented by teens. Despite it being a library, they were never very quiet and it was pretty easy to "spy" on them. Also, I managed a crew of teen workers. I must not have exactly projected managerial authority because they soon pretty much talked to me (and emailed me, and texted me) like I was a peer. Some of this definitely influenced the voices of my teen characters. Also, being naturally immature helps.

BDWN: Your book is unusual because Will, who is deaf, and his hearing friend Smiley communicate mainly through the written word...IMing, emailing, writing on paper. Was it easier to write that "dialogue" or the oral dialogue between hearing characters?

JOSH: This is a good question! Dialogue is always my favorite part to write. It tends to flow for me whereas I struggle with other parts of writing at times. I like to get the characters talking and just set them loose. The texting/IM dialogue didn't really feel any different than spoken dialogue to be honest. Will and Devon got into a good flow and the words came fairly naturally.

BDWN: Obviously you're no longer a teenager, but at least you can remember what it was like while writing your characters. But what about your main character, Hamburger Will Halpin who is deaf. I know you aren't deaf but is that something you have life experience with?

JOSH: I started writing the book knowing pretty much nothing about Deafness! I wrote the first draft pretty much just wondering "what if?" and "what would such-and-such be like" for a person who couldn't hear. Then I did research (not sure why I did this backwards) -- reading books by deaf authors, hanging out on Deaf websites, and interviewing some deaf people who I got in touch with. Some of the jokes came from this research and some of it just came from my desire to portray Will as a "regular" adolescent. One deaf reader pointed out that the sort of "earthy" humor Will has is very common in the deaf world, and then gave examples of jokes that I didn't think of as "deaf" jokes but rather plain old teen-boy humor.

BDWN: From my point of view, writing about teenagers is a nightmare simply because they're so trendy. What's in today is totally lame tomorrow. Does anyone still say totally lame? Did you ever worry that by including certain details...IM ing, gold name necklaces, etc, you would date your book? Or did you hope readers would look past details to the great plot?

JOSH: This is a good point. Youth culture moves so fast and publishing moves so slow! I actually wrote the book in 2007 and it didn't come out until 2010. I did worry about things becoming out-of-date and my editor helped pick things that we could alter to be less likely to be outdated. For example, in the first draft everyone in the book had MySpace pages, then I changed it to Facebook, then I just put something vague like "social network page" because I figured that something like that would last, whatever it might be called. And I made up a fictional device ("The Crony") rather than name a type of handheld device that would be replaced by something newer (like, the iPhone, for example, which hardly existed way back when I wrote the book but now is everywhere). My editor also had me pull references to current movie stars and rock bands who she feared might date the book.

So I'd say, yes, it is a concern when writing contemporary YA, but certain things transcend all eras. Youth culture changes, but adolescents are pretty much the same as they've always been. Maybe my book will seem hilariously out-of-date in a few years, but I was just trying to write honestly about a moment in time as I saw it. I think readers will appreciate that. And gold name necklaces will never be lame! (Haha. Maybe they already are?)

Check back on Friday for Part II of Jodi's interview with Josh!

Josh Berk photo by Olaf Starorypinski

Monday, January 31, 2011

I Write. Therefore...I Write What?

by Priscilla Y. Huff

Priscilla Y. Huff specializes in writing on home-small business topics. She is expanding into travel writing; and writing for middle-grade children. Today, Priscilla talks about building your writing platform and honing in on a specialty area:

You like to write, but how do you find the genre or writing field that best highlights your talent and reaches an appreciative, loyal and hopefully, a buying readership? Becoming a published writer is similar to an entrepreneur starting a business. Here are some questions to help you decide what to write and the ideal markets for it:

*Your preferences: What type of books do you primarily read (other than school or college required reading)? Familiarity with an industry or a genre, will sustain your interest in that type of writing; plus you will know current trends and what appeals to those readers.

*Your background: What education, work, and-or personal experiences qualify you to write on topics with which you are knowledgeable? To improve your writing quality and content, join writers’ groups, attend writers’ workshops-conferences and enroll in related writing courses.

*Your market research: Who are your target readers? Research your potential readership and what they like. Study other competing authors and compare how your writing is both similar and different. Ask yourself, what will make your writing a standout from theirs?

*Start part-time. Like new entrepreneurs, most writers begin writing on the side to hone their writing style and craft and build a following. Writing short stories, blogs or e-books in your genre; submitting articles in your field or industry; and speaking to interested groups will all build your name recognition, establish you as an expert, and garner new readers. Publishers like writers who can demonstrate an established following and can use their networks for their books’ publicity.

*Build your writers’ network and contacts. Successful entrepreneurs and writers continually exchange information freely about their industry to help one another achieve successes. Meet new persons at conferences, trade shows, writers’ groups, and through various online forums. Some may become your mentors and-or provide you with potential publishing leads.

Of course, you cannot get published if you do not write. Your goal is to write and write daily. The more you write, the better chance you will have in finding your “voice” and a successful writing niche.

Happy Writing!

Suggested Related Reading:

Article, Blog:“10 Tips to Help You Build Your Writing Platform”“Platform

101 For Busy Writers: 3 Simple Steps”

Book: Ready, Aim, Specialize!: Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money! by Kelly James-Enger

Friday, January 28, 2011

Interview with Shirley Brosius

by Kathy Ruff

Shirley Brosius, freelance writer and speaker based in Millersburg, Pennsylvania, will speak at BDWN’s second Write it Right writers’ conference on April 16, 2011.

Brosius’ workshop, “Turning Memories Into One-Page Memoirs,” will guide you in writing stories about persons, places and things that have been important to your life. You will learn how a memoir compares to other writings and how to prod your memory for ideas to share. You'll also learn how to organize your thoughts and how to include your values so that you may pass on a legacy to your family and friends.

BDWN: How long have you been writing and what do you write?

BROSIUS: A former teacher and director of Christian education, I have been a freelance writer for 18 years. I am the author of Sisterhood of Faith: 365 Life-Changing Stories About Women Who Made a Difference, which was published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, in 2006. Each page offers a profile of an inspirational woman with a message from her life and a challenge for the reader. I have written hundreds of feature stories for newspapers, and my articles have been published in dozens of magazines and devotional publications. For my family I wrote and printed Persons, Places and Things: Memories from the 1940s and 1950s That Molded My Life, a 100-page booklet of anecdotes from my past.

BDWN: Where do you find inspiration?

BROSIUS: I find inspiration for my writing from life itself. You can draw spiritual applications from any object and experience. The people I meet to complete newspaper assignments always inspire me as they face adversity and challenges with courage. I love to capture personalities on paper.

BDWN: What advice would you give to writers wanting to break into the memoir genre?

BROSIUS: No matter what genre you want to break into, write, write, write and learn all you can. Write letters to the editor and and op-ed pieces for newspapers. Keep a journal. Start a blog. Submit articles to magazines and e-zines. Don’t worry about getting paid. Just write. Attend writer’s conferences and take writing courses online or at a college. Read books on writing. Read books of the genre you plan to write. Writers must be readers.

BDWN: What can attendees of your session at the conference expect to take away from your session that will help them to pursue their writing goals?

BROSIUS: My workshop will teach attendees how to leave a legacy through writing. You’ll learn how to organize your thoughts to write interesting anecdotes from your life. You’ll also learn how to prime your memories pump. Then you’ll practice writing one-page memoirs.

Brosius offered some closing thoughts:

BROSIUS: Whether or not you are published, writing allows you to express yourself and brings a sense of fulfillment. You may not be able to quit your day job, but as you hone your skill as a writer, you develop communication skills that will serve you well in every occupation. Besides that, it’s fun.

Check out more about Shirley Brosius and her work online at

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

2011 Write It Right Conference Schedule

It's here! Below is the day's schedule for the 2011 Write It Right Conference!

Write It Right Conference
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Best Western Genetti’s, Hazleton
8:00-8:50 a.m. Registration

8:50-9:00 a.m. Welcome

9:00-9:50 a.m. Breakout Sessions
Jodi Webb, “The Nuts and Bolts of Magazine Writing”
Jennifer Hill, “Altered Pages” (Poetry)

10:00-10:50 a.m. Breakout Sessions
Maria V. Snyder, “Maria’s Nitpicks”
Kelly Butterbaugh, “Marketing for Writers”

11:00-11:50 a.m. Breakout Sessions
Jodi Webb, "Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket: Freelancing Beyond Magazines"
Josh Berk, “Writing for YA Readers”

12:00-1:30 p.m. Lunch
Keynote Speaker: Maria V. Snyder, “The Path to Publication”

1:40-2:30 p.m. Breakout Sessions
Josh Berk, "Getting Your YA Novel Published"
Shirley Brosius, “Turning Your Memories into Memoirs”

2:40-3:30 p.m. Breakout Sessions
Lisa Miller, "Keys to Crafting a Mystery Novel: Knowledge, Inspiration, & Imagination"
Kelly Butterbaugh, “Stepping Over Your Writers’ Block”

3:40-4:30 p.m. Door Prizes and Book Fair

Monday, January 24, 2011

Interview with Jennifer Hill

by Kathy Ruff

Jennifer Hill, speaker at BDWN’s second Write it Right writers’ conference on April 16, 2011, authored six collections of poetry, two collections of prose and several collections of bewilderment. She is editor and designer at Paper Kite Press, and co-owns Paper Kite Press Books, an independent bookstore.

Hill’s conference workshop, Altered Pages, explores a combination of the visual and language, an exercise in literary production by destruction, a session of creation by elation, a chance to make the process of writing as fun as you remember finger painting was.

Jen shared some of her thoughts on writing with us.

BDWN: How long have you been writing and what do you write?

HILL: If I say "I've been writing for as long as I can remember" does this make me more relevant? What if I said "I've been writing poetry since last week"? That said, I'm 41 years old and I've been writing poetry, short fiction, and plays with joy and abandon since I was about eight. I used to write in the back of my closet. Now I write at a desk in a room that is at the back of the house.

BDWN: Where do you find inspiration?

HILL: People are inspiring to me, considering the lives of objects, sharing ideas, watching clouds, the pattern of gum on sidewalks, questions that have no real answers, the writing and artwork of others. I like to watch people who are good at what they do work. I'm inspired by a lot of things. It's acting on that inspiration that really matters, I think. You can see something amazing, be inspired to make something and do nothing with your idea. Then what?

BDWN: What advice would you give to writers wanting to break into the poetry genre?

HILL: Read a lot of other writers. Write. Then read some more.

BDWN: What can attendees of your session at the conference expect to take away from your session that will help them to pursue their writing goals?

HILL: What we will be doing in this workshop will help you to see the page in a fresh way. This workshop will un-knot the knotted, rewire the uninspired and delight the curmudgeon.

Paper Kite is located at 443 Main Street, Kingston, Pennsylvania, or online at Check out Jen’s blog at

Friday, January 21, 2011

What? You Want Me to Talk?

by Priscilla Y. Huff

If you have had stories, articles, poems, or books published, many other aspiring (and published) writers want to hear your success “secrets.” One way to share your writing success tips is giving talks to writers’ groups and at writers’ conferences. Not comfortable doing public speaking? Maybe you were thinking of past oral reports you did for high school and-or college, and how you dreaded them. But talking in front of adults is not the same as giving a report to teenager classmates. Your audience generally wants to be there. They want to know how to succeed like you did, so they will be eager to learn and hopefully, not sending text messages while your are speaking.

Here are some added tips to make your talk or workshop successful:

*Know your audience and the reasons they came to your talk or class.
*Dress professionally and appropriately for your audience.
*Open with an anecdotal problem related to your experience or another person’s. End your talk with how this problem was resolved.
*Involve your audience by asking them questions, having them briefly working together and encouraging their input.
*Provide useful information, with handouts that reinforce your talking points; and also sheets that list your published works and contact information, including your web site, and business e-mail address. Include order forms if you have books to sell; and any information about upcoming workshops you might be holding.
*Allow some time at the end of your talk for audience questions or further discussion.
*Practice, practice your talk or speech.

Speaking to groups, helps establish you as an “expert” on your topic, garners publicity for your writing, and often provides leads for more publishing opportunities. You will have also the satisfaction of encouraging your attendees and helping them to reach their own publishing goals.

Suggested Resources:
101 Secrets of Highly Effective Speakers, 3rd Ed.

Controlling Fear, Commanding Attention by Caryl R Krannich

Priscilla Y. Huff led two workshops at 2010's BDWN’s writer’s conference

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Interview with Jodi Webb

by Gary Blake

Jodi Webb has built an impressive list of writing credentials, including articles in Pennsylvania, PTO Today, Grandparents, Birds and Blooms, American Profile, and GRIT, to name a few. Jodi is also the co-author of Pennsylvania Trivia: Weird, Wacky, and Wild, and a contributor to Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Salutes the Armed Forces, among other publications. Among her many writerly hats, Jodi is also a blog tour editor for WOW At this year's Write It Right conference, Jodi will be giving pointers for The Nuts and Bolts of Magazine Writing and Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket: Freelancing Beyond Magazines. BDWN member Gary Blake chats with the versatile Ms. Webb about writing, blogging, and finding story ideas:

Q: When did you start writing for magazines?

JODI: I had to check up on this first magazine article about the Reading Pagoda was published in Pennsylvania Magazine in February 1994. I had just spent 3 years writing 1 1/2 novels and decided that maybe fiction was not my niche so I decided to give nonfiction a try.

Q: Did they give you leads or article ideas?

JODI: No, I sent them a short letter and the editor Matt Holliday generously agreed to take a chance on me. Because I had been focusing on fiction I knew nothing about the business of nonfiction(queries, SASEs, etc.) aside from what I'd read in Writer's Market. But somehow I managed to produce a printable article and photographs.I'd like to say that after 17 years my favorite editors are always emailing me assignments but, even now, I rarely receive article ideas from editors. I only wrote for one trade magazine, Toy Directory Monthly, where they would contact me each month and say, we want you to write articles on A, B, and C. Occassionally, editors that I have an established relationship with will contact me if they receive a press release about a subject that is similiar to something I've done for them in the past. I've also become the go-to girl for a few editors when the assigned writer has to back out. I don't know if that's a blessing or a curse because working with a short deadline can make life very crazy!

Q: How does copy-writing differ from magazine writing?

JODI: I suppose the end result you're aiming for is different. To me magazine writing feels more entertaining, you're telling a story while copywriting is sales, you're selling a product, a company, a person. They're both interesting in their own way. I think having a lot of different types of jobs is the best way to avoid writer's block. If you get bored with one type of writing you can switch to something else.

Q: Is blogging easier than the other forms of writing you do?

JODI: I do a lot of different types of writing and I can't pinpoint the one that is easiest, each is different and demands different things. Compared to article writing, I'm very new to blogging. So I am still learning. I guess my biggest challenge is blogging is a more personal type of writing and I'm still getting comfortable with interjecting so many personal stories with the facts. I write for three blogs and have different experiences with each. I write for The Muffin about writing 2-3 times a month and I'm assigned my days about a month ahead of time so I have time to think about my post and contact people. That feels more like traditional article writing although sometimes I feel like I can never hit the write length...I'm either too long or too short. I have a personal blog Words by Webb 3-4 times a week that is partly about books and partly about writing. Because it's a non-paying blog, it always ends up at the bottom of the to-do list. I'm always, "Oops, don't I have to write something for my blog?" I'm amazed by bloggers that can come up with a post day in and day out. Then for Schuylkill VISION I write Schuylkill Matters ( ) three times a week on Schuylkill County events, people, and history. That one is fun since I learn about so many county events and people I might never have really noticed before. Occasionally, VISION requests that I write on a specific subject but mostly I just find topics on my own. The best part of blogging is it's so flexible. Short, long, photos, opinions, interviews,'s like having your own little magazine and you can write one section each day. The worst part is when you look at that comments section and no one has commented. Instantly, you're asking yourself "What was wrong with that post? Was it boring? Was it too long? Is it a repeat of someone else?" What has surprised me about blogging is people are so willing to work with you. I have about 20 followers(so sad, follow me!)and I thought if I contacted authors they would be all "Seriously? I don't have time for a pipsqueak like you." but not only have authors been willing to answer interview questions they've also sponsored book giveaways. For little ole me. Imagine that!

Q: Do you do your own research for your articles?

JODI: Definitely. Every once in a blue moon an editor will send me a list, "You might want to contact A, B, and C." But mostly you agree on a topic, a format, a word count and it's "So long, contact us when it's done." I like the discovery of research. For me it's a treasure hunt. I enjoy reading books, visiting historical societies, going on field trips, interviewing people so I love the reserach part almost as much as the actual writing. In fact, I'm teaching an online class about finding experts and interviewing them this January.One of the best research tools I ever learned about was where you can put out a free request for any kind of expert you need. Once I was writing an article about small business write offs and submitted a request and dozens of accountants contacted me. So forget about "write what you know". It's "write what you can learn about". And with opportunities like profnet you can learn about anything.

Q: What can we plan to learn during your conference sessions to help us become a published or better author?

JODI: When I tell people I'm a writer the first thing they want to know is the titles of my books. But truthfully, much more of my time is spent on non-book projects...and that is what my conference sessions will be about. The Nuts and Bolts of Magazine Writing will help everyone avoid all those mistakes I made as a new magazine writer and get some ideas to jumpstart their magazine writing career. I hope Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket will give everyone a good laugh with some of the wild writing jobs I've had and, if you're feeling crazy, some tips on how to get those types of jobs. If you're feeling more tame, I'll also include advice about my tamer copyrighting, blogging, and public relations jobs.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Write It Right Conference Updates

Due to a scheduling problem with our original location at the Ramada in Pottsville, we've had to change the location of our conference.

The 2nd Annual Black Diamond Writers Network's Write It Right Conference will be held on Saturday, April 16, 2011 at the Best Western-Genetti's Inn, Hazleton.

Early Bird Registration is now open, and will close on February 28th, 2011. Cost is $50; $45 for students and seniors.

After February 28th, registration is $60; $55 for students and seniors.