Category: The Writing Life

Weekly Writing: (Not) Being There

By Midge Raymond,

Write about a time you did something absentminded, like locking your keys in the car or wearing two different shoes to work. Include all the details about what was going on in your life at the time. (Fiction writers: This is also an excellent exercise to do with your characters.)


Mini Q&A with bestselling author Jenna Blum

By Midge Raymond,

This is an excerpt of Jenna Blum’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about how to stay energized and inspired. For more book promo information, and to read Jenna’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.


Jenna Blum
is the New York Times and international bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers and is one of Oprah’s Top Thirty Women Writers. Her debut novel, Those Who Save Us—a New York Times bestseller, #1 Book of 2011 in Holland, and Boston Globe bestseller—received the 2005 Ribalow Prize, judged by Elie Wiesel. The Stormchasers is also a Dutch bestseller, a Boston Globe bestseller, and a Target Emerging Author Pick. Jenna lives with photographer Jim Reed and black Lab Woodrow in Wichita, Kansas, where she is writing the screenplay for Those Who Save Us.

Q: Tell us about the journey of Those Who Save Us from debut novel to international bestseller: How long did it take?

A: Those Who Save Us came out in 2004 in hardcover—a.k.a. the family and friends edition, because that’s who bought it. It was published in 2005 in paperback, and I knew that was its second and last lease on life. I figured at that point I’d throw everything I had at the wall and see what stuck, promotionally. What did I have to lose? I loved my book. I spent years of my life researching and writing it because I loved it, and if I could do anything I could to keep it from falling down the well without a sound, I’d do it.

I had incredible help from readers, and the way this happened was, I started going to book clubs. The mother of one of my novelists at Grub Street Writers in Boston invited me to her book club, and of course I went. A chance to talk about my baby for three hours with kind strangers and drink all their wine? What writer wouldn’t go? Mrs. Garabedian, my first book club hostess, was so kind to me. She and her group gave me an orchid, which I still have and which still blooms. They recommended me to another book club—which cooked German food featured in the book, I might add. And that book club recommended me to another. By the time Those Who Save Us jumped onto the New York Times bestseller list in 2008, three years after it had come out in paperback, I was speaking at three book clubs a day (!) in person, and talking to as many as I could by phone. I estimate I visited over 1,000 book clubs in the Boston area alone, and it was a great privilege. Now readers in Holland and European countries are kindly keeping the book aloft. Those Who Save Us is a reader-created book, which I think is just as it should be.

For more advice from Jenna, and to read Jenna’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing. Click here to visit Jenna’s website, and keep an eye out for her latest work, forthcoming in July in the anthology Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion.

Mini Q&A with book blogger Serena M. Agusto-Cox

By Midge Raymond,

This is an excerpt of Serena M. Agusto-Cox’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about how she handles book reviews for her blog, Savvy Verse & Wit. For more book promo information, and to read Serena’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.


Serena M. Agusto-Cox is a poet and amateur photographer who lives outside Washington, D.C. She has published poetry in Beginnings, LYNX, Muse Apprentice Guild, The Harrow, Poems Niederngasse, Avocet, and Pedestal, as well as an essay in Made Priceless by H.L. Hix. Her blog, Savvy Verse & Wit (www., features writing critiques; book reviews of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction; and conference/ book event news.

Q: How many book review pitches do you receive each week?

A: I did not receive many pitches at all in the beginning, but now, after five years, I receive about ten to fifteen pitches per day from a variety of publishers, authors, and publicists. Some of these pitches are well within the types of books I read, which isn’t really hard since I’m an eclectic reader. I love poetry above all else, but that’s closely followed by literary and historical fiction. I read a bit of nonfiction/biography/ memoir, but I am pickier about my nonfiction reading. The other pitches I receive are far outside and are usually turned down quickly.

I have a standard response that I crafted to send to everyone who requests a review. It’s very simple, but I make sure to change the name so that it addresses each person individually. This standard response is for books I’m not interested in at all, but I will make more personal responses for books I’m interested in but may not have a certain opening they are looking for in terms of reviews. I will often suggest a different time frame, a guest spot/interview, or a giveaway. There are certain things that get deleted without a response because they are automatic lists that are sent out to everyone, it seems, and don’t require a response, and there are several publicists who have said I don’t need to respond unless it’s a go.

Q: How do you decide which books to review? Do you 
have any guidelines regarding self-published versus traditionally published books?

A: I generally do not accept self-published books unless they have gotten good reviews previously, are highly recommended (by a friend or an author I trust), or are on subjects that highly interest me. One self-published book that I took right away because of the subject was Across the Mekong River by Elaine Russell. This novel was about Vietnam and was recommended by a friend. I also rarely accept e-books for review unless the author has no time frame for the review or any expectations time-wise because I’m a slower reader on Kindle than I am in traditional book form. I tend to get more distracted with electronic books, finding that my mind wanders to the television or other pursuits.

For more advice on approaching book bloggers, and to read Serena’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing. Click here to visit Serena’s website.

Weekly Writing: Pets

By Midge Raymond,

Write about the most unusual pet you’ve ever had — whether it was not usual, like a reptile or insect; or whether it was a fairly normal pet, like a cat, with a very unusual personality. Describe a scene in your life with this pet.


Mini Q&A with poet Elizabeth Austen

By Midge Raymond,

This is an excerpt of Elizabeth Austen’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about radio interviews. For more book promo information, and to read Elizabeth’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.


Elizabeth Austen is the author of Every Dress a Decision, a finalist for the Washington State Book Award, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Goes Alone and Where Currents Meet. Her poems have appeared online (The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily), and in journals including Willow Springs, Bellingham Review, the Los Angeles Review, and the Seattle Review, and anthologies including Poets Against the War, A Face to Meet the Faces, and What to Read in the Rain. Elizabeth produces literary programming for KUOW 94.9, a Seattle NPR affiliate.

Q: What are some of the best ways an author can prepare for a live interview?

A: The most important thing is to spend some time beforehand thinking about what you want to say about your work. Imagine the interview is already over: What do you want to have said? What would you regret not saying?

Often, the person interviewing you will not have had time to read your book. So you need to be prepared with a short description of it. What’s your book about? Why did you write it—what drew you to this subject matter? Is it a departure from your previous work, and if so, in what ways? Is there an interesting story about how it got published? Also think about what you want to say about how you got started writing and why you continue to do it.

You’re essentially interviewer-proofing yourself. Hopefully you’ll get an interviewer who is genuinely interested in you and your book, and will talk with you briefly before the interview starts about what he/she wants to discuss, but you can’t depend on that.

Also, choose a couple of short excerpts or a few short poems that you might read aloud. What would provide a good introduction to the book? Practice reading aloud, and practice giving a concise introduction to what you’re going to read.

If you have time, I recommend listening online to an example or two of your interviewer’s program, so that you’ll have a sense of what to expect in terms of tone and approach. Does this interviewer tend to ask more about craft and process, or about the backstory of the book or individual poems? Is the interviewer looking for anecdotes and stories? Does it seem like the interviewer has actually read the book?

I’m a great believer in preparing for anything, and then letting go of the preparation during the interview so you can respond to what’s actually happening in the conversation. The most important thing is to be present. In the moment, approach it like you would any conversation with someone you care about—by listening and responding as honestly and generously as you can.

To read Elizabeth’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing. And to check out Elizabeth’s upcoming readings and workshops, visit her website.

Time to write … but no inspiration?

By Midge Raymond,

It’s 2014.

You’ve made your resolutions. You’ve set aside time to write. You’ve got your writing space all set, you’ve got all the time you need — and yet, nothing’s happening.

What to do when you’ve finally made the time to write — but you’re not inspired?

First, don’t panic; it happens. This is one reason I so enjoyed this article on procrastination in the New York Times. Writing can be such a daunting endeavor that of course we put it off. Note, however, as this article points out, that by procrastinating we in fact get quite a lot done. (It just may not be our writing.) The article quotes Robert Benchley, the Algonquin Round Table member: “The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”

Another reason I think we writers may freeze up once we finally give ourselves the time to write is that we are so overwhelmed by all we feel we need to accomplish that we’re paralyzed. Whether it’s a writing retreat or just a few hours in the afternoon, we feel the pressure to create and that, in turn, kills our creativity.

So here are a few tips for you so that you can make the most of your writing time once you have it.

  • Also, at the risk of sounding like a broken record lately: Create a list of works. If you already have one, take it out and update it. When I did this last year, I finished four new short stories within a couple months. Now that we’re in yet another new year, I did this recently and am already outlining a new project. Thanks to Priscilla Long for the most brilliant idea for writers ever.
  • Check in with a writing buddy, your writers’ group, your therapist — whoever can give you a little boost, and/or point out reasons why you might be facing Resistance. (For more on Resistance with a capital R, check out The War of Art, which is sure to inspire you).
  • Treat your writing time as if it’s time on the job. You are here to do a certain thing in a certain amount of time. Be your own boss: Set yourself a goal, however big or small, and do your best to accomplish it. Whether it’s finishing a new a scene or revising your first few chapters, choose a task to complete. Just the act of getting started is likely to awaken the muse and get you into the zone.

Happy writing!


Mini Q&A with author Kate Trueblood

By Midge Raymond,

This is an excerpt of Kathryn Trueblood’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about virtual book tours, a.k.a. blog tours. For more book promo information, and to read Kate’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.


Kathryn Trueblood
’s most recent novel is The Baby Lottery, a Book Sense Pick in 2007. Other awards include the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, judged by Jane Smiley, and the Red Hen Press Short Story Award. Her stories and articles have been published in Poets & Writers, The Bellevue Literary Review, The Los Angeles Review, The Seattle Review, Glimmer Train, and Zyzzyva, among others. She is an associate professor of English at Western Washington University.

Q: How do you get ready for a blog tour?

A: The first thing you want to do is find the constellation or neighborhood you belong to on the Internet. This is a form of market research. In the words of the great poet Robert Frost in “The Road Not Taken,” “way leads on to way,” and nowhere is that more true than the Internet. So if it means you start at or looking for titles similar to yours or writers you especially like, that’s fine. The next step is visiting the websites of these other titles and authors. I’d also advise going to the New York Times archive and putting in your subject + blogs because the top blogs often get written up.

What you’re looking for is what I call “a matrix blog”—in other words, a site that links to a large collection of blogs. When my book came out in 2007, Joan Blades, the co-founder of, was publicizing a book and documentary film titled The Motherhood Manifesto that became the catalyst for a political movement called, which is dedicated to lobbying for the rights of working women and families on Capitol Hill. Since I believed my novel, The Baby Lottery, would appeal to politically conscious working women, this was an ideal matrix site. It contained a huge list of blogs I could link to from the site. This was what I needed to get going.

After that, I got obsessed. As far as I can tell, that’s what research on the Internet means: getting obsessed! I spent some very absorbing hours visiting the blogs and websites listed on the page, and from those blogs, I found other blogrolls, and I could also see which blogs came up repeatedly, i.e., had high visibility. I started making lists, and I found that tiered lists were helpful: my first choices, my second choices, etc.

Another thing you’ll want to be sure you have on your website is a downloadable press kit. This means that any blog writer reviewing your book or interviewing you has immediate access to the publicity materials they might need—they don’t have to e-mail and request them, and you don’t have to e-mail back and send them. My downloadable press kit included a press release, a background to the book article, an author’s bio in several lengths (long, short, and shortest), and most importantly, PDF files for my book cover plus an author photo. Having a downloadable press kit on your website shows that you’re professional and ready to go. Blog writers were able to grab what they needed, and it meant that my book cover appeared every time someone reviewed the book on their blog, sometimes even the cover for my first book as well.

Q: What is the best way for an author to approach a blogger who might be a good fit for a tour stop?

A: Send a short query letter, accompanied by your web release. Whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, you need to figure out the angle of social relevance that your book offers and articulate it. Why is this a topic that needs to be part of the cultural conversation or that enlarges a conversation already taking place? That’s your pitch, and it belongs in your query letter. If the book serves a niche audience, you need to make a strong case about what your book offers that others do not.

To read Kate’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.

Weekly Writing: Write a letter

By Midge Raymond,

Write a letter to yourself about what you want to accomplish this year — with your writing in mind, of course.

Include everything from your ideal writing practice to sending out submissions to books you’ve always wanted to read. Include advice to yourself on how best to accomplish these goals, such as what you might have to sacrifice in order to fit in your writing and reading time, or by encouraging yourself to take a retreat.



5 writing tips for the new year

By Midge Raymond,

Happy 2014, writers!

If you’re like me, you may be looking back at a year of unfinished projects — and perhaps a few success stories as well, whether a finished story or chapter or even a new publication. For me, there’s never enough time for all the writing I’d like to do. But while 2013 began with very little writing, thanks to a 10-day residency in November and a lot of discipline afterward, I got so much done that I feel as though I was able to make up for lost time.

As I do at the end of every year, I took a look at my 2013 List of Works. (For those of you who don’t have one yet, create one; it’ll do wonders for your writing life.) I discovered, to my dismay, that I still have a great many half-baked stories and abandoned projects. I went through them all and decided which stories to jump-start and which to leave on the back burner for a little while longer. And the fun part of updating my list: Two stories that had been circulating finally got published. In all, going through my list of projects was galvanizing on many levels.

Now that we’ve got a whole new year of writing ahead, here are 5 tips to help you get started…

1. Create a List of Works. I learned this incredible tip from writer Priscilla Long, and it’s been one of the most useful exercises I’ve had for my writing life.

2. Try on a new genre. By this I don’t mean rethinking your entire writing career — I just mean to try experimenting with something new to see where it takes you. If you write nonfiction, try writing a poem — it may be great, or it may suck, but either way, it will allow you to look at language in a new way and will enhance whatever your current project may be. If you’re a fiction writer, write a one-act play; you may not take it any further than the exercise, but it’ll sharpen your dialogue skills. Remember that writing as practice is just as important as writing to create a finished work.

3. Find new time. I’d been so busy before my writing residency that I’d almost completely neglected my writing — but after I returned, I was inspired to shift my priorities, and I began getting up two hours earlier every morning to write. After a bit of sleep deprivation, I adjusted and now can’t imagine not doing it; I even get up early on weekends (sometimes). Another thing to keep in mind, if you feel especially pressed for time, is that even a few minutes of writing are better than none. No matter how busy you are, set aside 5 minutes a day to devote to your writing — whether or not you actually sit down at your desk (see Everyday Writing for what I mean about writing when you’re not actually writing). You’ll find 5 minutes totally doable — and soon, you may find a way to stretch this time out into an hour or even more.

4. Write down your goals. Consider sharing these goals with friends or fellow writers, and check your list every month to assess where you are. It’s hard to stay motivated if you don’t have specific goals in mind — and being accountable to others keeps the pressure on, in a good way. Even if you don’t have a project in mind, vow to write for thirty minutes a day, or to do two writing prompts every afternoon.

5. Remember that it’s fun. Unless your paycheck depends on what you produce, writing is optional. Remember the reasons you write. It’s not that creative writing isn’t serious work — it is — but sometimes we need to remember that we choose to do it, and that it shouldn’t be torture or a source of guilt. Sometimes other things must come first; let them. Often a little time away from our writing gives us the distance we need to come back to it with renewed energy. Earlier this year,  when life was too busy to write, I let go of my projects — not happily but knowing it would be temporary, and it was. When I finally got back to work, the writing went more smoothly than I could have imagined, and it was because I came back to it when I was in the right frame of mind, newly inspired, and not distracted by too many other things.

Here’s wishing you a fun and fruitful new year of writing!