The Millions : Where We Write

Searching for the perfect spot for the muse to crawl across your shoulder and begin those creative whispers? Check this out.


The ultimate in writing spaces seems to be the writing shed, a spare, distraction-free room set in some verdant landscape, where, in fertile solitude, the writer may create worlds out of nothing. Roald Dahl had one, so did Mark Twain and Virginia Woolf. Perhaps one day, we’ll each be writing in our own. Until then, as our Millions staffers share in their illustrated entries below, we’re making do (often happily!) with offices, studio apartments, coffee shops, and guest bedrooms. Share a photo of your own writing space using the hashtag #writespace on Twitter and we’ll repost some favorites on our Tumblr.



Writers and Agents

I've recently had advice from an agent (who didn't sign me) concerning one of my novel manuscripts, and my pal Lyn is deep into negotiations with her agent over her novel's structure.


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What seems clear from both conversations is that agents are, for the most part good to excellent readers. However, most don't seem to know the subtleties of writing as well as any writer who can put a serious manuscript before them – they can either tell you they like what they see (read: it will sell ) or not. They may be able to isolate something about your story that will render it unsaleable, but they can't necessarily tell you how to change it.

This is where the relationship has to be simpatico: you have to be able to keep from compromising your story and style of writing in order to sell, and the agent has to be able to understand what you're doing and be capable of selling it. 

Honesty In Memoir

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway


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I hadn’t given this book a read in many years, and so after reading Hemingway’s Boat, I decided to take it on again. It’s funny, but it was as if I had never read it the first time. I think that as a writer and as an adult, and the commensurate growth in both, it’s possible to understand things in a well-written piece of nonfiction – particularly a memoir – at a much greater depth.  But then that depends on the skill set of the author. And whatever one might think about Hemingway, during his better years he had the skills and the understanding to put together such a piece of writing.

A Moveable Feast has endured because of its romanticization of Paris’ writing scene during the 1920s, and because he wrote about many of the other literary luminaries of that era. He wasn’t a name-dropper, per se; his sketches of such persons as Ford Madox Ford, Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound, as well as a lesser cast of writers, are in-depth looks at these friends and acquaintances and how they interacted within this literary garden.

Hemingway can be taken as smug in these sketches. But he did have insight into people, places, situations, and these made him the preeminent writer of his era. During this read, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was trying damned hard to see these personalities in the objective light of a journalist, but a journalist involved emotionally and professionally with his all-too-real characters.

Of course, Paris itself is a character here, as well as a backdrop. Its importance to Hemingway and the other writers of that time and place can't be ignored. It was a haven, a crucible, a way to live and grow as writers – and on the cheap. 

With so much talent in one place, success was eventually going to explode for them. And this is in a way what Hemingway laments. If you read the historical novel, The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, you’ll understand more of how rich sycophants all but distracted these writers from their talent. In Hemingway’s case, it ruined his first marriage, perhaps his only successful one, with Hadley Richardson. This drove him to look back on Paris romantically and at the same time with sadness, and thus he created perhaps his best piece of writing in A Moveable Feast.


My rating 20 of 20 stars




Why Writing Contests?


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The reasons for not entering writing contests are compelling:

  • You're one voice in a (very large) crowd.
  • You most likely have to pay to enter.
  • There's a screening process – your work is not screened by the judge.
  • Scams abound in writing contests

Just to name a few.

But there are some decent reasons for entering the legitimate contests:

  • You work will be seen by….someone.
  • It gets you used to competing in a very competitive marketplace.
  • It's like a grab at the quintessential brass ring, but your work might draw notice that will result in agent representation or publication of other work.
  • You might even win (hey, it happens)
  • Even an honorable mention is good for your writing resume.

Your chances are better with short stories, even better with short creative nonfiction, than with novels or other book-length work. Always investigate contests before entering – you may find complaints on the web. Think twice before entering contests with entry or read fees higher than $20.

Amazon Reported To Be Opening Its First Physical Store

Well, you heard if first here, last week (okay, maybe you heard it elsewhere first), but Amazon is getting physical.


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Well, we called it. At the end of last year, we listed seven predictions for Amazon in 2012, the first of which was: "Amazon opens its first store."


Making Hay of Social Media

As a group, we writers seem resistant to go digital/electronic. I admit, there's nothing like thumbing through a just-published book with one's name on it. Still, the digital world is ever more a reality these days. bookhitch posted this on making use of social media. I'm just sayin'….

     Tweet Your Way to the Top

Of all the benefits technology provides, one strong advantage is the ease in marketing your own products. For authors, this means gaining higher notoriety at a lower price. Social networking, in particular, is proving to  revolutionize the business world, and is an effective path for promoting a book title and gaining a following. 


With the economy pinching our pockets, writers who seek to market their stories are finding it easier (and cost efficient) to network with other authors and publishers via social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook. The burden of calling publishers and hoping to engage in conversation with an editor is eliminated, as authors turn instead to "following" publishing companies on these websites, learning vital information about promoting their works. Doing so allows prospective authors to learn more about the company, and potentially shape their works around the demands of the public.


Not only are social media tools a simple way to connect, but also a way to engage in conversations with potential buyers. Such interactions allow the public to gain a better understanding about the author.  Interactions will help the readers further understand the authors intended message in their literary works.


Building a following on various social media websites may appear to be a daunting task; however, the steps are quite simple if diligent time management and patience are given. In his article, An Author's Plan for Social Media Efforts, author/blogger Chris Brogan shares the steps that are necessary to gain a following and have a presence in the social media world. 

Reprinted with Permission
  1. Set up a URL for the book, and/or maybe one for your name. Need help finding a URL? I use for simple effort in searching.
  2. Set up a blog. If you want it free and super fast,  WordPress or Tumblr.  
  3. On the blog, write about interesting things that pertain to the book, but don't just promote the book over and over again. In fact, blow people away by promoting their blogs and their books, if they're related a bit. 
  4. Start an email newsletter. It's amazing how much MORE responsive email lists are than any other online medium.
  5. Have a blog post that's a list of all the places one might buy your book.  
  6. Make any really important links trackable with a URL shortener. I know exactly how many people click my links.
  7. Start listening for your name, your book's name.  
  8. Consider recording a video trailer for your book. Here's one from Scott Sigler(YouTube).    
  9. Build a Facebook fan page for the book or for bonus points, build one around the topic the book covers, and only lightly promote the book via the page.
  10. Join Twitter under your name, not your book's name, and use Twitter Search to find people who talk about the subjects your book covers.
  11. When people talk about your book, good or bad, thank them with a reply. Connect to people frequently. It's amazing how many authors I rave about on Twitter and how few actually respond. Mind you, the BIGGEST authors always respond (paradox?)
  12. Use Google Blogsearch and Alltop to find the people who'd likely write about the subject matter your book covers. Get commenting on their blog posts but NOT mentioning your book. Get to know them. Leave USEFUL comments, with no blatant URL back to your book.
  13. Work with your publisher for a blogger outreach project. See if you can do a giveaway project with a few bloggers. 
  14. Offer to write guest posts on blogs that make sense as places where potential buyers might be. Do everything you can to make the post match the content of the person's site and not your goals. But do link to your book.
  15. Ask around for radio or TV contacts via the social web and LinkedIn. You never know.
  16. Come up with interesting reasons to get people to buy bulk orders. If you're a speaker, waive your fee (or part of it) in exchange for sales of hundreds of books. (And spread those purchases around to more than one bookselling company.) In those giveaways, do something to promote links back to your site and/or your post. Giveaways are one time: Google Juice is much longer lasting.
  17. Whenever someone writes a review on their blog, thank them with a comment, and maybe one tweet, but don't drown them in tweets pointing people to the review. It just never comes off as useful.
  18. Ask gently for Amazon and other distribution site reviews. They certainly do help the buying process. And don't ask often.
  19. Do everything you can to be gracious and thankful to your readers. Your audience is so much more important than you in this equation, as there are more of them than there are of you.
  20. Start showing up at face to face events, where it makes sense, including tweetups. If there's not a local tweetup, start one.
  21. And with all things, treat people like you'd want them to treat your parents (provided you had a great relationship with at least one of them).   

The number one rule of thumb for writers is to believe in your work. It is nearly impossible to sell a book to publishers if the writer is humble about their story. Remember, writing is an art and is something that authors should have pride in. Author and business woman Joanne Tombrakos stated (via Jane Friedman) that she has encountered an abundance of authors who "belittle the value of their book," a common mistake that lands their book in the reject bin. Writer should take action in their business selling techniques, and remain passionate about fulfilling their end goal.  




Atlantic Monthly Gets It Right This Time

I've commented infrequently on Atlantic Monthly, a magazine I've read for many more years than I wish to countI've had my problems with Atlantic; the editors have often tackled important subjects in the magazine, but all too often they've done so with provocative articles that did too little to inform. But the March 2012 issue deserves mention.


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James Fallows presents a very balanced and insightful view of President Obama's first 3+ years as president. Christopher Hitchens in his final essay presents an equally insightful review of a pair of books on the complex life of G.K. Chesterton. And Megan McArdle, with whom I rarely agree, writes astutely on the difficulties inherent in changing organizational culture within corporations such as GM. 

One can hope that this isn't an anomaly; magazines such as Atlantic Monthly can do much to inform in an environment in which much that's written is inflammatory and just plain destructive.