Monday, June 30, 2014

THE PRANK LIST by Anna Staniszewski

I'm currently at the ALA Conference, which is filled with all kinds of awesome experiences that I'll be happy to share at a later time.

For now, though, I'm happy to feature Anna Staniszewski's newest book, THE PRANK LIST. It's the next installment in her Dirt Diary series and I can't wait to read it!

From Goodreads:

Rachel never thought she'd fight for the right to clean toilets, but she has to save her mom's business. Nothing can distract her from her mission - except maybe Whit, the cute new guy in cooking class. Then she discovers something about Whit that could change everything. After destroying her Dirt Diary, Rachel thought she was done with secrets, but to save her family's business, Rachel's going to have to get her hands dirty. Again.

And here are Anna's answers to some questions!

You just finished revisions, and recently posted about your experience. Besides bravery, and fun, is there anything else you'd recommend to writers slogging through revisions?

When I'm reading the novel over and over, looking for problems, it's easy to miss things. That's why I do a lot of out work outside of the manuscript, including making lists of what happens in each chapter, checking that I have my characters' motivations figured out in every scene, etc. That way I can focus on the big-picture issues before I worry about making the sentences sound pretty.

What a fantastic idea! How does THE PRANK LIST build on the plot established in THE DIRT DIARY? 

At the end of The Dirt Diary, there's talk about Rachel taking a pastry class at a local bakery. That idea stuck in my head, and I wondered what would happen if Rachel got to the class and it wasn't at all what she thought it would be. Also, in the first book, Rachel spends time working for her mom's cleaning business, so I thought it would be interesting to bring in a rival cleaning service and see how far Rachel is willing to go to help her family.

Intriguing--and a great way to ramp up conflict. As part of the celebration for THE PRANK LIST's release, you hosted a cupcake party. What fun! What other promotional ideas have you found helpful in getting word out about your book?

I've found that events are often best when they're simple and focused. If you're planning something fun (like cupcake decorating or crafts) it's best to choose something that's fairly easy and doesn't require a lot of expense or set-up. You probably won't have a lot of time to chat with people and enjoy the event if you're worried about making sure the twenty-step activity you planned is going perfectly!

Very true! You have an upcoming book, I'M WITH CUPID, coming out in 2015. How does it differ from your other books, and what do you like most about it?

I'M WITH CUPID is a bit of a departure for me. The story is about a boy cupid and and girl reaper who accidentally swap powers. While, like my other books, it's going to be a funny tween read, the subject matter is a little darker than my other projects. The story is told in third person from two characters' viewpoints which has been a fun, different voice to write in after two series written from one character's point-of-view. I love realistic stories with a hint of magic, so I feel like I'm totally in my element with this series.


Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at

To grab a copy of THE PRANK LIST or THE DIRT DIARY, click the links below:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Reasons for Rejection: Unlikable Main Character

When I say unlikable main character, I'm not talking about an anti-hero. I can always get behind an Elphaba going bad or an Ebeneezer Scrooge going good. I'm actually quite fond of an anti hero. But in their case, I know I'm supposed to have doubts about their morality. Since the book is trying to make them a little unlikable, I can role with it.

A character becomes unlikable when we're SUPPOSED to like them, and then we don't. When we are TOLD something about a character but not SHOWN, that character might start to annoy us. If you tell me that your character is 'really a good person' but all I see them doing for the first pages is being nasty, that turns me against them. And when I turn against the main character, its all over for the pages. Because how can I stay with this person for 50,000+ words if I hate them?

I think one of the best examples for me is of Tris from Divergent. I know a lot of people like this book, which is great. I'm glad you'll get a joy out of it that I never will. The problem with the test at the beginning is that we are told that Tris, in addition to being brave, is divergent for selflessness and intelligence. The book does not put its money where its mouth is because she is only selfless and smart when the plot calls for it and other times becomes borderline sociopathic and stupid. I also disliked the character because the books always wanted me to side with her and I often found myself going against her. Obviously a lot of people like Tris because they didn't see this contradiction so they were perfectly fine with liking her.

There's a simple solution to this: show don't tell. Show who your character is. That way there is no question of whether or not I'm supposed to like them. It will make for a smoother journey through your pages and, perhaps, even an exciting one.

But like with Tris, everyone reacts to characters differently. Though I dislike her, a lot of people love her. In the same way, your character may hit home with an agent but fall flat with another. That's the old subjectivity coming into play. You can't make a MC who appeals to everyone. But you can 'show' and not 'tell', to make it a little easier.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Spoonful of Sugar. Or Not. by L.L. McKinney

There are a lot of blog posts about the need to stay positive in the wake of the constant rejection we face as writers. Those posts are right. If you don’t keep yourself afloat in these stormy seas the waves will definitely overtake you, but I decided to go a different route with my “keep smiling” message.

Rejection is the name of the aspiring-writer game. That and 50 Shades of How to Test My Patience, but mastering the ancient art of Hurry Up and Wait, gracefully, is a post for another time. Part of me wholeheartedly believes the rejection we face in the industry inflicts a special sort of pain, because it’s rejection we asked for. Oh yes, we did. I asked for it, you asked for it, and every other writer who’s ever typed THE END has asked for it. We begged for it even, because rejection means you’ve gotten so much further than you realize.
It means you not only finished writing the book—bravo on that alone, by the way—but you polished it (I hope), and worked up the courage to send it out into the world and wait to see what they think of it. Essentially, you handed someone a branding iron then exposed some tender part of yourself for them to sear, cause these things stick with you and man can they buuuuurn.
But, even though we asked for the hurt, this doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it, only that we have to expect it. Expect it to burn. Expect it to bring tears. Expect it to cripple us in ways we didn’t know were possible. And while enduring this part of the game, while stuck in the ugly thick of it, sometimes the last thing anyone wants to hear is "you need to stay positive."
***Real quick disclaimer, the people trying to cheer you up are doing it from a good place. They’ve got your back. Love them for it. Surround yourself with them. They will see you through this. Do not take your frustration out on them, just nod at what you know is the truth.***
However, I’m here to tell you it’s okay to be negative every now and again. It’s okay to kick and scream and cry. It’s okay to throw your manuscript out and say you’ll never write again. It’s okay to wonder why in all that is wise in this universe you thought you could do this. It’s okay to see someone you know get that agent or that book deal and be genuinely thrilled and happy for them, truly you are, but at the same time secretly wish it was you. It’s o-kay. So long as you do it away from your keyboard. Rant to close friends and family only (this could include your critique group), and nowhere near social media. I said it’s okay to be negative, not a douchenozzle.
Not only is it okay to be negative, I think we need to be. You know how after you’ve been smiling for a long time, your face starts to hurt? It’s the same thing with staying positive. You can only put up the front so long before it’s physically impossible to maintain. You don’t wanna get to that point because you'll grow tired and sore and cranky. You'll start lashing out without realizing it. That genuine joy you feel for your comrades will fade to jealousy and resentment. I've had someone say to me "I'm sick of congratulating people who don't deserve it," and that's a dangerous place to be. I’ll repeat one more time, in case someone missed it, or wasn’t sure I said what I said: it’s okay to be negative. But then you have to pick yourself up and go back to being positive. You can’t stay in that dark place. Visiting is nice, cathartic, but don’t do it too often and don’t move in.
Understand the rejections won’t keep you from you’re dream. They’re actually bringing you closer to your goal, but once again that’s a post for another time. None of the negativity will stop you outright, but giving into it completely is the only surefire way to take yourself out of the game. You want that agent? That book deal? Go after it. Keep going. Endure. Smile and be positive, then spread that positivity to others you suspect might be having a hard time. Lift them as you climb, cause we’re all in this together. Hurdle those rejections, scale a mountain of them if you have to. But, and this is important so pay attention, don’t feel bad if you have to privately rip a few up or burn a field of them every now and then to keep yourself sane.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Mystery Agent Critique Next Tuesday!

Hey gang! This is just a reminder that our 15 Mystery Agent entries will be posted here on Operation Awesome next Tuesday, July 1st, for community feedback. The entries will go up at 10am EDT for all your cheerleading and critiques, so be sure to stop by and take a look!

And for those of you who weren't selected this time around, don't despair. We've got plenty more to come! Stay tuned for upcoming announcements about our future Mystery Agent contests in the coming months.

Have a great weekend, everyone! And to all our contestants: best of luck!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Write What You Know

“Write what you know” is one of the phrases I've heard the most often in the writing world. When I began seriously writing, my first reaction to this bit of advice was, “Oh heck no. No one is going to tell me what to write!” I didn’t want to write what I knew. That would be boring. I wanted to explore new worlds and dive into old ones.

It didn’t make any sense to me because I was taking it very literally. I kept thinking, “Well, if writers only wrote what they knew, we’d have no fantasy or scifi or historical novels.” I mean, unless people were out there falling in love with vampires or having their home planets overrun by meat-eating aliens, it just wasn’t possible to always write what you know.

What I finally realized was that the best writers really do write what they know. Now, does that mean Stephenie Meyer ran into a family of vegetarian, sparkling vampires? Or that J.K. Rowling once stumbled upon a whole community of magical kids running around undetected by all the muggles somewhere in Britain? Of course not! (Well, not that I’m aware of in any case).

So how do writers write what they know?

They infuse their stories with all of the emotions, knowledge, and life that they’ve experienced and use all of it to build their characters and storyworlds into incredible books that suck their readers into a new reality. I’m willing to bet that Ms. Meyer has, at some point in her life, experienced fear and loss and that total exhilaration of first love. J.K. Rowling was certainly never a magical teenage boy fighting a weird, snake-looking wizard…but she probably knows what it feels like to be terrified, excited, helpless, alone…to find friends who love you, fight for something you want, and maybe have things turn out great in the end.

To write what you know, you need to write about something you care about, something that touches you. That connection you have to your subject will come through in your work. Novelist Kurt Vonnegut sums it up perfectly:
Find a subject you care about and which in your heart you feel others should care about. It is the genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
There is a more literal approach to the “write what you know” statement as well. It really is necessary to be familiar with your genre and the world of which you are writing. There are little quirks and “rules” to every genre – what works for a romance might not always work for a thriller.

This can also be an area when a little research can come in handy. If you are writing a book set in Ancient Greece, it is necessary for you to do enough research that you really know what you are talking about. Otherwise, you will never be able to truly transport your readers into the world you are trying to describe.

Familiarity breeds authenticity.

You may not be able to personally experience the day Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii, or what it is like to live beneath the ocean, but you can familiarize yourself enough with the pertinent details that you can convince your readers that your characters are living through those experiences.

This applies to the worlds you create yourself as well. Fantasy and science fiction writers create their own worlds, true. But there are certain rules even within the realms of fictional worlds. Maybe in your world, women have supernatural powers and men don’t. Or maybe blondes can see the future and brunettes can fly. You can make whatever rules you’d like for your universe, but you have to stick to them. And you have to have enough knowledge of that world to convince your reader that the experiences and emotions of your characters are authentic and appropriate for the world in which they live.

When you write a book, you want to suck your reader into your world – whether that world is set in the past, the present, the future, or on some other planet or reality…you need to know enough about that world, your characters, and the things they will feel and experience to draw your readers in. Using your own emotions and experiences, and your own specialized knowledge about the world you are creating, will help you craft an amazing story.

In other words, my dear writers…write what you know ;-)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Places you'll Go...

I was visiting the library with my niece when we found this quote on a bookmark: 

The thing I love about the quote is that it is so true. Then I started thinking about what books do for children. My niece is five. She's been read to from an early age, so she loves all kinds of books (her current favourite is one about the Seasons and weather). I see her imagination and knowledge growing every day from the things she reads. It reminds me that reading not only takes us to new places, but also feeds our creativity. It inspires us. It helps furthers our knowledge and language skills. 

In the words of my niece:

"Books are very interesting. They're good to read because they can have learning in them. Sometimes they have good stories in them. I think it's magical in books!"

I have to agree. 

What kind of books inspired you as a child? What books do the little ones in your life enjoy? 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Guest Post with Shallee McArthur

I recently joined another group of authors called The Fearless Fifteeners, who all have debut books coming out in 2015. Like Operation Awesome, it's another great, supportive community of writers and today I'm featuring a guest post from one, Shallee McArthur. So without further ado, take it away Shallee:

Give Your Characters Some Crazy

You don’t really have to look very hard to find oodles of information on how to write better characters. We know we’re supposed to make them three-dimensional. We know they should be complex. We know they should be change during the story. Some people debate about whether or not they should be relatable. Strengths, weaknesses, backstory, character arcs…we’ve heard it all, and if we haven’t, a quick Google search will solve that.

But today I want to talk about something else entirely. Instead of focusing on giving your character complexity, let’s review the benefits of giving your character some crazy.

I’m probably in the minority here, but I’ve recently gone on a Netflix anime binge, whereupon I discovered the hilarity that is Ouran High School Host Club. The show is about a boy’s club at a private school that exists for the sole purpose of entertaining/wooing girls—and focuses on what happens when a girl mistaken for a boy becomes part of the club. The premise is ripe for satire and comedy, but what really kept me coming back were the characters.

It wasn’t their complexity—though they were complex. It wasn’t their character arcs—though they did have them. Mostly, it was that each and every one of them were completely nuts. Obviously, it’s a comedy, so you have to have crazy, funny, over-the-top characters. But it got me thinking…what if I did that? What if I took my characters out of the three-dimensional box and, well…

Made them a little crazy?

It didn’t work with all of them in my current story. But there were two in particular who I let go beyond what I expected of them. I gave them quirks. I gave them traits that contradicted what seemed “normal” for their character. I let them say things—even do things—that were unexpected. I expanded my idea of who they SHOULD be within the role they were playing, and brainstormed who COULD be in that role that had a little more spice.

You know what happened? They became real. They became fun. They became—in one character’s case—disturbing and a little tragic. And they made me want to keep coming back to my story again and again.

So the next time you’re stressing out over the recipe for a new character, try asking yourself if throwing in a little crazy will add to the flavor!

Shallee McArthur originally wanted to be a scientist, until she realized she liked science best in fictional form. Her debut YA sci fi, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE comes out November 4, 2014 from Sky Pony Press. Her other adventures have included wrangling a group of volunteers in Ghana, changing her hairstyle way too often, and raising two small nerdlings with her husband.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Who Tells the Story?

On Wednesday, I took my daughters to see Maleficent. We're going to see Wicked on Broadway today with Girl Scouts, which makes this Misunderstood Women Week.

Yesterday my older daughter mentioned Morgan La Fey, who she knows mostly from the Magic Tree
Deadwood releases on Tuesday, June 24, 2014!
Order your copy from your favorite indie
bookstore or online retailer !

House and Sisters Grimm series. I said the character she was really from King Arthur and that in that story, she wasn't a good guy. Her eyes widened and she said, "Morgan La Fey is a bad guy?"

And of course my answer was, "It depends who is telling the story."


Sympathy for the Devil

Jane Eyre was one of my favorite books as teen, and then in a college course on postcolonial novels came another favorite, Wide Sargasso Sea.  Jean Rhys's retelling of Jane Eyre from the point of view of Antoinette Cosway -- Rochester's wife --  showed me that the mad woman in the attic may not be at all, but simply not able to tell her own story.

Retellings of classic tales from other points of view is a favorite form of YA and MG, and the viewpoint of the villain makes a story immediately fresh. There's a reason little girls (and big ones) related better to conflicted Elsa in Frozen than open-hearted Anna. We all feel misunderstood at times, told to hide what makes us special, cast as the villain in narratives told about us.

Its frequently said that everyone is the hero in their own story. Every villain has motivations that could make them just as interesting as a main character -- or more interesting.

Room for Both Sides of the Story

When I read Wide Sargasso Sea, it was both a revelation and an immediate, but it didn't replace Jane Eyre for me. I could love them both -- both novels, both Jane and Antoinette.

Similarly, there's room for both sides of the story, even in a novel with a single point of view.
  • Before you write, ask yourself, whose story is this?
  • How would it change from another point of view?
  • How would your antagonist tell it?

What's your favorite retelling from an antagonist point of view? Do you consider and write your own stories with the antagonist viewpoint in mind?

About Kell Andrews:  Kell Andrews writes picture books and middle grade novels. Deadwood, her middle-grade contemporary fantasy about a cursed tree, comes out from Spencer Hill Press, June 24, 2014. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

River of Bones Trailer~Promote Your Novel With A Book Trailer !

Hi everyone,

Hope you are enjoying your weekend. I wanted to share with you my book trailer for River of Bones!

I believe that one of the best ways to promote your novel is with a book trailer. Most trailers are short but extremely effective. The majority of book trailers should have a running time of one to three minutes. I have found that short and sweet is best. Be sure to give a good overview of what your book is about and where people can purchase it. I find that by using book trailers you can reach a wider audience in a shorter amount of time.

Have a book trailer ? Send me a link to it in the comments!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Copy Editor Quick Tip #2: Review a Hard Copy of Your Manuscript

Copy Editor Quick Tip #2: Review a Hard Copy of Your Manuscript

It's a fact that looking at something from a different angle gives you new insights. For your publisher and editors, who are looking at your book for the first time, each flaw is already obvious. (That's why having somebody else look at your work is an absolute must before publishing.) But since you've been staring at your manuscript in your word processor for so long, a good way to see it from a new angle is to print it out and read it in bed. 

No doubt you've found mistakes and typos in published books this way, reading in the evening before you quit for the night. I know I have. Give your book the same treatment, and you'll be surprised how many their/there-type mistakes you can catch. 

(Btw, my son was born at the end of May. We couldn't be happier to meet Daniel in the flesh. He's three and a half weeks old today.)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cover (Re)Reveal and Giveaway: The Emissary by Kristal Shaff

Welcome to the updated cover (re)reveal for the YA epic fantasy ...

The Emissary
by Kristal Shaff

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of this post.
(Win an ebook and Amazon Gift Card)

For hundreds of years, dark clouds covered the skies of Adamah, and an ageless king ruled. Those who emerged with one of six extraordinary Shay powers were forced into the king's army, an unmatched force with inhuman Strength, Speed, Accuracy, Perception, Empathy, and Healing. With the army at his side, the king—a man who wields all six abilities—was invincible and unquestioned in his rule. To most, serving the king was an honor. And for some, it was a fate worse than death. 

When seventeen-year-old Nolan Trividar witnesses the transformation of his brother from kind to cruel after entering the king’s army, he vows never to follow the same path. So when his own power—the Shay of Accuracy—comes upon him at the Tournament of Awakening, Nolan conceals his emergence instead of joining the king’s ranks. For years, he traitorously hides his power, pretending to be a gifted scribe. But when Nolan comes face -to-face with a deserter, the man discovers his secret. To evade detection and a death sentence, Nolan escapes with the deserter and flees into a night filled with dark creatures who steal both powers and souls.

Nolan joins a resistance, a village hidden deep in the forest, filled with others who secretly wield a Shay. But his peace is short lived when they discover that the dark clouds, the undead creatures, their own decreasing powers, and even the king, are all connected.

Publication date: September 23 , 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Kristal Shaff


Kristal Shaff is a professional face painter who resides in Iowa with her farmer husband and 3 kids (plus one more on the way though the journey of adoption). THE EMISSARY is her first novel. You can visit her at

Connect with Kristal:


GIVEAWAY: Complete the Rafflecopter for a chance to win!

(Winner will receive book on release day)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blog Tour Tips for Authors, Part Two: Guest Post by Kimber Leigh Wheaton

We're back with Kimber Leigh Wheaton giving us tips on blog tours for authors. If you missed the first installment, you can read it HERE

So you have your list, you have your tour dates, and you're ready to send a request to bloggers. How do they sign up? You can have them reply to your email, but I prefer setting up a form through Google Docs. It's quick and easy. Google walks you right through the process if you've never done it before. The best part—they keep track of the responses 
which you can view on a nice spreadsheet. Don't know what to include on your sign-up form? The sign-up for my Tortured Souls blog tour is live. Feel free to check out my link for ideas.

Make sure your participants have everything they need well in advance, and that they understand any deadlines if they need to send you interview questions, guest post topics, etc. Assume a blogger needs any material from you at least seventy-two hours in advance. It's also fine to send a personalized email the day before a blogger's scheduled post as a reminder. Make sure to visit every participant's blog and thank them in the comments for posting on tour day.

These book bloggers receive tons of requests. How do you make yours stand out? Make your email request very professional. Use your book photo, include the blurb and book links. Spell out exactly what you are looking for from the blogger. If setting up a blog tour, list the dates (hopefully in a nice banner you design on PicMonkey). Many bloggers are happy to post a spotlight if you provide the html, so be sure to offer this as an option.

Offer incentives. For my sale blast, I set up a giveaway with a $25 Amazon gift card prize and allowed each participant to have a slot on the Rafflecopter with their Twitter or Facebook page. For a blog tour, I would recommend holding a host only giveaway for a $25 Amazon gift card (go $50 or $100 if you really want to woo bloggers). The blogger will need to enter their post link on the Rafflecopter form to ensure their participation. Also offer a tour-wide giveaway that the bloggers can add to the tour post. Giveaways drive traffic to blogs and are a big incentive for blogs to participate. Consider another Amazon gift card, as well as copies of your book or other swag.

This is a topic I could go on and on about for hours. But this post is already too long. So if you have any questions, pop over to my author blog: Kimber Leigh Writes. You'll find my contact info there and can send me an email if you like. I love connecting with other authors and am happy to help out if I can.

Thanks so much for all of your useful tips, Kimber! :)

~Kimber Leigh Wheaton (@Cymberle) is a YA/NA author with a soft spot for sweet romance. She is married to her soul mate, has a teenage son, and shares her home with three dogs, four cats, and lots of dragons. No, she doesn’t live on a farm, she just loves animals. Kimber Leigh is addicted to romance, videogames, superheroes, villains, and chocolate—not necessarily in that order. (If she has to choose, she’ll take a chocolate covered superhero!) She currently lives in San Antonio, TX but has been somewhat a rolling stone in life, having resided in several different cities and states.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Advancing Your Writing Career By Donating Skill: Change Your World With Your Pen

You can make money by writing for free.

Wait, what?”

Yeah, I know, I don't usually start off my social justice posts telling people how rich I'm gonna make them.

No, I mean what do you mean I can make money by writing for free?”

Oh, that. It's an oxymoron, I know, and if you're someone who wants to make writing a career, you've probably heard the phrase “don't write for free.” That is true at a certain point—if you take mere pennies per page you really do screw over full-time freelancers, and you make yourself less credible. (More on that, and sites where you can land paying gigs, here) But some strategic free writing can really advance your career. I'm not a superstar by any stretch of the imagination, and even my little inexperienced self managed to get news pieces published by four different newspapers across the country—paid as much as $100 per article—after building a resume writing a lot of really high quality free articles.

The trick here is strategy. I'm not talking about rifling off a bunch of whiny opinion pieces on your free blog. Your blog's there to give you a web presence and draw in long-term readers for your long-term niche projects—it's very unlikely, although certainly not impossible, that an opinion blog will generate gigs or create world change, mostly because everyone has one. What everyone does not have is a portfolio of high quality articles published for local charities.

Volunteering your writing for a charity organization does three things for your writing career:

One, like it or not, institutions have credibility. Real-world resume credibility.

Two, writing for a legit organization almost guarantees you'll turn in your best work, since unlike on your blog, there's a client or editor between you and the “publish” button. That's a huge plus for your portfolio, especially if you're a starting writer, and like me, you think you're a brilliant reincarnation of Edgar Allen Poe from the planet Mars, but you're actually just a normal human being who needs to polish your skills.

Three, writing for charities gets you engaged with world-movers. The people who work for charities tend to be people who want to help people and who know how to network. That can work out really, really well for you.

So how do you make these sweet resume-building deals happen? By NOT trying to advance your career with them.


If you want to land good writing deals with charities, you need to focus on their needs, not yours. This means that instead of sending them your glamorous opinion pieces, you write what they need from you: a solid, AP-style press release for the local paper, or breaking news fact research their PR person can use in fundraising letters, or treasury reports. This also means that you should aim small—aim for the charities that actually need help, not the big powerhouse movements that have Obama's ex-roommate writing for them. A local clinic that helped indigent patients near me needed someone to edit and write their organizational newspaper; a Civil Air Patrol squadron needed a little PR in the local news; a small international mission asked me for website copy; and over time what started as feelings about causes became legitimate samples and references I used to get paying jobs. I discovered this entirely by accident, and I think that helped: I didn't give a damn about dollars, I just wanted everyone in the world to know about this or that awesome charity. But I found out local papers are often thrilled to receive hopeful stories—especially breaking news stories—about local heroes. And local charities are often thrilled to get help for their weekly e-mails and what have you. You can also submit short stories to charity anthologies (like this one for kids with cancer) to help fund causes you care about. Again, the key is to find who needs your help, and help them.


That's kind of the key with any writing job, really. The person who will hire you is the person who needs you. So, as a writer, you make yourself needed by:

1) learning to write correct AP style (or whatever else the industry standard is for your field—you gotta at least know how to use it before you choose not to);

2) bringing specialized research knowledge to the table (in my case, biomed and medicine—if you don't have specialized knowledge, go read a lot on a subject and get some); and

3) finding out what kind of person your audience needs, and becoming that person.
These all take a ton of preparation, but the last one's definitely the hardest in our society. It's also the most important. Because this time, writing's not about you, and your identity. It's about something bigger than you. Something that maybe you should tweet about, or blog about, or write to your Senator about, or even donate towards. Maybe this is even something big enough to take you away from the keyboard to get your hands dirty. A pleasant philosophy for life in general, or any time you're at a career crossroads: find out who needs your help, and help them.


Who needs your help?


Guest blogger Jen Finelli tweets about a number of human rights issues you can get involved with on twitter @petr3pan; the rest of the time, you can catch scifi/gamer news, writing contest/job leads, and free short fiction from her. You can also follow her blog at

Thank-you. And don't forget to chat us up in the comment box about the charities YOU'd like to write for!





Monday, June 16, 2014

The Creativity Issue and Harris Burdick: Guest Post by Kara Reynolds

About a year ago, I decided to dust off an old NaNoWriMo project and consider myself more seriously as a writer. To show his support, my husband gave me a subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine for Christmas. I get excited every time it shows up in my mailbox, and I got especially excited this month.

Yes, that is my excited face. Well, half of it.

The Creativity Issue. I have struggled with being creative throughout my life. Coming up with ideas for anything, be it a novel idea or the perfect Christmas present, has always been difficult for me. As someone who loves to write, this hurts particularly badly. So I loved the idea of an issue of my magazine dedicated to developing creativity. I particularly enjoyed the article “50 Writing Prompts for Every Part of Your Brain,” and plan on using them when I need inspiration.

There was also an excellent article on magical realism, but that’s another post for another day.
When I was in fifth grade, my class was taken to the school computer lab every week for typing lessons. Once we graduated from the keyboarding program we were assigned story prompts for the rest of the year. One week stands out in particular, because that week my teacher introduced us to a book called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

This book was magic. The author, Chris Van Allsburg, explained in a short introduction that a man named Harris Burdick had given fourteen drawings to an editor named Peter Wenders, in the hopes that Mr. Wenders would be interested in the books that went along with those pictures. Mr. Wenders asked Harris Burdick to come back the next day with the stories, but Harris Burdick disappeared…
We were told to pick a picture and write a story for it, and boy was I enchanted. That day the words flowed out of me like never before as I created a story about a basement under siege by tiny creatures.

The title of the picture is Uninvited Guests.

It was years before I realized that Harris Burdick wasn’t real. But the desire to write, to craft words to accompany the feelings and images in my head, that was real, and the imaginary Harris Burdick played a significant role in my love of writing that continues today, seventeen years later. I consider him my muse.

Kara Reynolds is a lapsed genetic counselor who spends her days corralling two small boys and daydreaming about characters in books. Her blog, The Reynolds Tribe (, is updated sporadically with funny stories about her kids and musings on writing. Find her on Twitter: @reynoldstribe