Monday, June 29, 2015

What to do with writing rejections

Writer Abroad has been reading an interesting book called Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang.

It’s about an entrepreneur-turned author’s personal journey with rejection. To battle his fear of rejection, he develops 100 tasks that he believes will lead to rejection in order to learn how to deal with it.

In the middle of the book, he includes a section on writers and rejection, since no one knows rejection like an author. He lists how many times famous books were rejected by agents and publishers until finally being published. The lesson, of course, is that much of rejection is opinion. Does the person you’re asking like your idea and writing or not?

To find a person who likes your work, it can sometimes take 100 agents or publishers. In other words, it can take persistence and a lot of time. In the age of independent publishing and the tendency for big houses to only publish already-proven authors and/or celebrities, how persistent should you be? Or should you even waste your time with traditional publishers?

Writer Abroad isn’t sure she has an answer to that. She knows some authors that are purely independent and never submit to traditional publishers. She knows other authors who would never dream of self-publishing—even if their work is rejected. And then there is Writer Abroad, who is open to either and thinks there is usually a clear answer to what you should do depending on the kind of rejection you receive from big publishers.

With Writer Abroad’s first book, the feedback from traditional folks was that her market was too small. That opinion seemed consistent. The rejection wasn’t about the writing or the idea—it was about the size of the readership who would appreciate it.

She could have scrapped the book because of that. But instead, that kind of rejection led Writer Abroad to publish the book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, through her own press. Because small markets are great for independent authors—they are easier to target and market to. And since independent authors get bigger paybacks, a book with a smaller market can still make sense for them financially even if it doesn’t for a big house.

Whether to publish after “traditional” rejection depends a lot on your project. Do you have the ability to target and reach potential readers? Do you have the money to hire a good editor and designer(s)? How set were you on having the “status” of being traditionally published? Is the writing great and have you been published enough to be able to claim that? All good questions to ask.

How to do you decide what to do with rejection?

Monday, June 15, 2015

How Technology Changes How We Live Abroad

When you live abroad for almost a decade, you can’t help but wonder how the distance will affect your relationships with family and friends back home. Technology changes things—it makes it easier to connect than ever. But it also makes it harder to hug and can trick us into making far seem close.

When Dinnertime is also FaceTime
Writer Abroad wrote about this phenomenon in a personal essay titled, See that blurry prone-to-freeze image? That’s your new granddaughter?, which is included in her book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. She also researched how technology affects our lives abroad and wrote about it in a two-part series for Wall Street Journal Expat, the second of which was published today.

Part One

Part Two

How has technology changed life abroad (or at home) for you?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Going home to the world

Something happens when you move abroad—you become forever international.

Writer Abroad thought she’d move back to Chicago, get a job at a Chicago agency or publication, and that would be that.

Instead, she maintains her internationally-minded career from the comfort of her own home.
Working with the world…from home.

In a single day she can be on a phone call with someone in Berlin, be messaging someone in Zurich, and be discussing Swiss culture with a German journalist who is based in New York City. In fact, these days, almost 90% of Writer Abroad's work comes from places more than 500 miles away.

It’s strange, but it’s also wonderful. Wonderful that it’s possible to go home again but still work with the world on your own terms—because that was one of the things that made Writer Abroad nervous about going home again: the smallness of home.

But she’s learned that once you go out into the big, wide world you’re always a part of it, even at “home.” 

Anyone else have this experience too?

Friday, May 8, 2015

5 Big Lessons Learned a Year After Publishing the First Book

You don’t need a marketing budget.

This does not need to cost anything.
Yesterday, on the one-year anniversary of publishing her first book,  Writer Abroad ended up on the cover of one of Switzerland’s biggest tabloid papers

In the last year, she gave several radio interviews, appeared in various magazines and newsletters both on and off-line, and also on many blogs. She spent nothing on any of this promotion. The key to good promotion is to:

1. Make relevant contacts far ahead of book publication—people you can draw on later who will happily help you out since they know you.

2. To have at least a rough promotional plan ready well before you launch your
book (it will help you with number 1).

Some promotion will just happen
based on other things you are doing.
3. To keep writing for publications on topics related to your book and include your book in your bio. Writer Abroad's bio in one New York Times article led to over 100 book sales within five days. Her book was selling right up in the ranks with David Sedaris' newest book—for 24 hours anyway. But it proved that in the age of online book shopping, links in the right places matter. Not big marketing budgets.

You need to start writing the next book right away.

About a month after Writer Abroad published her first book, a traditional publisher came to her with an idea for a book. They later rejected the idea of publishing it because they felt the production and marketing budget would cost too much (crazy from Writer Abroad’s point of view—see point one above), but nevertheless, she was grateful for their inputs anyway. Why? Because at that point, she was already 25% through writing it, had a concept developed, and now, just a year after publishing her first book, this new book’s first draft will be complete by the end of the month. Does she need the traditional publisher to publish this book? Thankfully, not at all. In fact, if her numbers are right, within one year of publication, she will be much better off financially without them. And she also controls all of the creative production process, which, as a copywriter with over 10 years in the ad industry, she enjoys managing.

You should take advantage of affiliate links.

All authors should do this—even those who hate amazon. This author loves amazon, but that’s another topic… Anyhow, at the very least you should sign up for the Amazon Associates Program. Then, any links to your book that you have on your website or elsewhere should link to your associate name, which will pay you around 5-6% of the selling price should someone click on the link and purchase it directly. Not only that, but if the buyer purchases other items after clicking on the link you’ll get 5-6% of whatever they buy—even if they don’t buy your book. It adds up. In a good month, it can mean an extra $100. And if you hate amazon, well, think of it this way: that’s 5-6% of the price of an item that amazon isn’t getting—you are.

You should never stop promoting.

Of course the busiest promotional period will be leading up to your launch date and in the couple months that follow. But you should never really call it quits when it comes to book promotion (it doesn’t cost anything, remember?), even if, like Writer Abroad, you end up simply promoting the book in your bio that appears after all the freelance writing work you publish. Some links do nothing, but others can sell a few—or a hundred books. Online links are most effective, but it never hurts to include info about the book in a print publication either.

There are no secrets except to work hard and to believe.

Writer Abroad often gets emails from writers wanting to know how to get into writing or how to improve their chances of publication. There are no secrets. The answer is to treat writing like your job (even if it’s just your hobby at the moment) and sit in a chair almost every day and write. Write when you’re tired. Write when you’re not inspired. Write when you’re depressed. Make no excuses and then and only then will your writing move to the next level. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes over 10,000 hours to master something. You’ve got to put in your 10,000 writing hours, which will probably take about 10 years. Then you can expect to see results.

Also, don’t give up. Don’t let rejection get you down. Easier to say than to do. But if Writer Abroad had given up after traditional publishers told her that “no one cared about Switzerland” then she wouldn’t have the niche she has today. And if she had given up the book she had started writing last year after the traditional publisher came to her and then dropped her a few months later, she wouldn’t have another almost-completed book right now that she believes in and loves.

Anyone else have tips for writers or things they learned after publishing a book?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

5 Reasons Becoming a Parent Makes You a Better Writer

It’s easy to make excuses as a new parent. There’s no time to write. You’re too tired. Or your child is sick. Writer Abroad understands all of them. But she refuses to give in to any of them. Instead, she pushes herself to make the best of the time, energy, and enthusiasm she does have, and therefore, she has found that her writing career has only improved since her daughter was born. Here are five reasons why.
Don't let becoming a parent stop you
from writing–or from hiking.

You have more material to write about
They say, “Write what you know,” and becoming a mother opens up a whole new world for your writing. Writer Abroad never set out to write about parenting, but becoming a mother has only helped her writing career, landing pieces about mothering in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Brain Child, and others.

You use your time more wisely

Writer Abroad has three days a week to write while her daughter is in preschool. Is she sitting around wasting time on Facebook? Rarely. She appreciates her writing time all the more since it is limited. So she works hard to accomplish as much as she can.

There are more outlets to consider

Becoming a parent opens up many new publications to contribute to. Brain, Child Magazine, New York Times’ Motherlode, Washington Post’s On Parenting, and many more. Often, thanks to the broad parenting topic, these outlets have huge readerships, helping you get the attention your writing deserves.

You develop more patience

This morning Writer Abroad waited for 10 minutes while her daughter watched for birds to possibly take a nibble of birdseed from her homemade bird feeder. The patience Writer Abroad uses with her daughter she also has learned to use with her writing. The fact that some pieces and books take longer to write than others is somehow ok now. And she barely even notices how long it takes an editor to get back to her sometimes. Her daughter keeps her pleasantly distracted.

You see the world through new eyes

Just as moving abroad helped Writer Abroad see the world in new ways, having a child does the same thing in a different way. Who knew stones and sticks were so amazing and had so many uses? Writer Abroad’s daughter reminds her daily how amazing the world can be when you’re seeing bits and pieces of it for the first time.

Do you think parenting makes you a better writer?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Does inspiration come from people or places?

Are we inspired more by people or places?

That’s the question Writer Abroad has been asking herself lately.

She’s determined that she’s most prolific when thrown out of her comfort zone. This can mean living in a foreign country, becoming a parent for the first time, or returning to her own country after internalizing another culture’s way of life.

All three of these things intersected to inspire her piece, In Switzerland, Parents Observe. In the U.S., Hovering is Required, which ran in the New York Times a few weeks ago.

What inspires you as a writer?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

International Women's Day. In Poland.

Guest post by Jill Boyles

Flower Seller in Poland. Photo by Jill Boyles.
Przepraszam panią,” my husband Paul says as we approach the woman dozing in a folding chair under a beach umbrella. She opens her eyes wearily, and I regret having asked my husband, a Polish national, to wake her. Too late. She’s standing, straightening her winter jacket and gesturing toward the remaining vases that still hold flowers. It’s a late afternoon on International Women’s Day in Warsaw, and most of the flowers have been picked over. Behind her, a store’s ledge serves as a shelf for spools of ribbon and a pair of scissors, and a baby carriage next to her, innards gutted, cradles a large, blue and white plaid plastic tote.
Paul asks her if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for his wife about International Women’s Day. Her blue eyes widen under blue eye shadow. She returns to her chair and sits with her back straight, saying nothing. It’s as though she’s trying to determine if she had heard correctly. She looks at me. I smile. “Tak,” she says. I exhale the breath I was unconsciously holding and thank her in Polish, “Dziękuje.” Paul translates my request if she also wouldn’t mind being recorded and having her picture taken. Recording, tak; picture, nie. She curls in on herself as her hands smooth curly, gray strands of hair peeking out from under her winter hat.
I begin with a few warm-up questions and ask her via Paul if she’s sold a lot of flowers and who her main customers are. She replies that she has sold many flowers, and women are her main customers. Her answer to the second question surprises me. I had assumed men would be buying the majority of flowers as my Polish friends and students have told me. When I ask her why women are the majority of flower buyers, she answers, “This is how it is today.” We both laugh.
In response to the question of what she expects on International Women’s Day, she says, “A good word like ‘kocham cię [I love you] and a smile.” As far as childhood memories of this day, she doesn’t recall much except that it was a “big day” during communism, but today International Women’s Day is just “another day.”  
Marzena’s comment echoes those of most Polish women I’ve spoken to who say that International Women’s Day is nothing more than lip service and a tradition left over from when Poland was a communist country. Then, women were given carnations and red ones at that unlike tulips, which currently is the flower of choice. When I asked these same women if they’d feel disappointed if International Women’s Day didn't exist or if they didn't receive flowers on this day, they responded, “Of course.”
Feminist scholars maintain that communism held more opportunities for women than in a free market economy. I ask Marzena if this was her observation as well. "Tak," she says and adds, “It was better. Everyone had jobs.” However, Marzena believes that there are different opportunities for her daughter today than when she was her daughter’s age. Her daughter owns a business. And, Marzena continues, “I own this flower business.”
I ask her if she’s familiar with the term “sexism” and she answers, “Nie.” Paul explains that sexism is discrimination against women. She says that she has never encountered it. When I ask if the men in her life like her father, brother, uncle encouraged her to be what she wanted to be even if it was considered a male occupation, she responded, “Tak. No boundaries whatsoever.”
The Polish Catholic church has been fashioning a debate on gender ideology to deflect focus away from Polish priests who have molested children. I’m curious what Marzena thinks about this one-sided debate, but first I ask her what the word “gender” means to her. She is unfamiliar with the word and also hasn’t heard about the Catholic church’s pronouncement that gender undermines Polish Catholic values.
Paul gives Marzena background information about the term gender as it’s being discussed in Poland (although not a clear definition has been agreed upon in Poland, the terms “gender” and “gender ideology” refer loosely to gender roles, gender orientation and for some sexual orientation), the church’s stance on gender and Piaseczno County whose city officials passed a resolution to fight gender ideology. For the first time, I see Marzena shift from shyness to anger. “It sounds like,” she says, “they [the city officials] want to restrict one’s freewill.”
I ask Marzena what her hope is for females in Poland. “Not good. Not good,” she shakes her head, “There’s no work for women because of their age. It’s harder for women over 25 to find jobs. Men over age 25, also, to a certain extent, but they have more job opportunities like jobs on construction sites.”
In closing, I ask what women and men can do together to improve this situation. “They must work together,” she says, “As separate units by themselves, they can’t fix much, but together we [women and men] can do something.”
Wise words, I think.
My mind is abuzz with more questions, but I fear I might be deterring potential customers and possibly crossing an invisible line with my questioning only she can see. I ask once more if I may take her picture. She consents but comments about how poorly she looks. I snap her picture with the flowers in the foreground to make her feel more comfortable rather than taking a head-on shot. After the picture, my husband and I walk over to the remaining flowers and buy, not tulips, but żokile (daffodils).
I thank her in Polish and say good-bye in English, silently kicking myself for not saying dowidzenia (good-bye) – one of the few Polish words I can say relatively accent-free. Her expression changes from kindliness to concentration as if she is mentally reaching to grab something but can only brush her fingertips against it. Her mouth then opens, and she says, “Good-bye.” She looks astonished, maybe at the ease and clarity with which she has said this foreign word.
To anyone buying flowers from her or passing her on their way to the store or to home, Marzena might seem inconsequential or even invisible, but she has a voice and a story and both are powerful and need not be lost in the hollowness of International Women’s Day as it’s celebrated today or in international feminist discourse or in a world where much of a woman’s worth is tied to her age.

Jill Boyles is working on a novel set in a small town. She blogs at


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