Friday, April 30, 2010

Publishing, Paris, and Scholastic Book Order Forms

Writer Abroad learned a lesson yesterday: even though the pool in her little Swiss village is open for the season, it does not mean its water temperature is swimmable for young Americans even though it appears fine for elderly Swiss people.

Anyhow. Without further digression, here’s the latest international writing round up:

Writer Abroad-featured author Philip Graham writes about how reading is inner travel over on The Millions. And he also manages to make Writer Abroad nostalgic for those tissue paper Scholastic book order forms. Ooh, she can hear their crinkle now.

If you don’t already follow the blog, Practicing Writing, check out Erika Dreifus’ latest handpicked writing opportunities. She posts them every Monday.

Over at Diary of a Virgin Novelist, Rebecca talks about how to support an author. Since this is one of the goals of Writer Abroad, check out her post here.

Why is getting published so darn difficult? Erika Liodice has some interesting statistics over at Beyond the Gray. (Not for the faint at heart).

And in final news, Writer Abroad is going to live the cliché. She is going to write in Paris. Oui. Writer Abroad will be attending the Paris Writers Workshop. She hopes to meet some of you there. If you’re attending or live in Paris, please get in touch. Writer Abroad looks forward to connecting at an address other than www.

Until next time, Auf Wiedersehen. Note: don’t say that in Switzerland. Unless you want people to think you’re a foreigner. Writer Abroad doesn’t but she’s giving herself away right and left. Not to mention, everyone is staring at her jean shorts. It is weird.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Writing for Online Markets

Whether you are just starting your freelance writing career abroad or are a seasoned writer lamenting the closing of yet another print publication (or are just frustrated by the lack of English-language publications in your current country of residence), there's one place where writing opportunities are still growing: the web.

I just had the opportunity to read veteran freelancer Susan Johnston's "The Urban Muse: Guide to Online Writing Markets," and came away with a list of over 40 new websites to consider pitching as well as a few tips on writing queries and following up. While the guide as a whole is probably most useful to new writers out there, experienced writers looking for online markets will also find the listings helpful.

For instance, I learned about several websites, like, that actually accept reprints of articles. And Johnston also includes sample queries, which beginning writers especially will find helpful. I also like that Johnston has organized the listing of online markets several ways: alphabetically, by topic, and by pay. Web-based markets can be especially expat-friendly since many are not geographically specific, so I recommend this e-book for any writer out there looking to explore new opportunities online.

Johnston has written for many websites (as well as for print publications like Self and The Christian Science Monitor) and if there was ever a freelancer to tell you how to make it as a writer, it's Johnston. The e-book is available from her website. And if you haven't already been reading her award-winning writing blog, it's also packed with great information for freelancers.

Has anyone else written or blogged for any freelance friendly websites?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Should you take a Mediabistro class?

Several writers have asked me about Mediabistro online courses. Here’s my opinion:

I've taken four online classes with

Personal Essay Writing

Travel Writing Boot Camp

From Essay to Memoir

Non-Fiction Book Proposal

The personal essay class (with Liza Monroy) has been the most profitable so far–after taking that course I've published many personal essays, including two in The Christian Science Monitor. However, this class was the first I took (in the fall of 2007) so I’ve had more time to reap the rewards.

The travel writing class (fall of 2008) led me to learning about an opportunity with National Geographic’s, and I went on to become one of their Spring 2009 Correspondents. I’ll blog more about the program in the future. For those who might be interested, the deadline to become a Fall 2010 Correspondent is June 15 and you must be between the ages of 18-34 to apply.

From Essay to Memoir (fall 2009) helped me organize, find the theme, and begin to write Hausfrau: The Memoir, and Non-Fiction Book Proposal (winter 2010) helped me learn how to sell the book and complete a proposal for it. Once I finish editing the book and putting the finishing touches on everything, time will tell if I find an agent and publisher. But I do think these classes helped me to better understand the industry and learn what it takes to write a marketable book.

As most classes do, Mediabistro classes vary by 1) the instructor and 2) the students. The instructor you can research online, but the students are kind of a mixed bag. The best class, student-wise, was the Non-Fiction Book Proposal class. Many of the students were journalists and many had written for prestigious publications. It was a very motivated group and most gave great feedback week after week. In this class, I learned as much from the instructor as I did from the students. (Usually what happens is only about five or six students stick with the class and the unmotivated ones stop posting after about week three. But this isn’t necessarily bad because the class gets smaller.)

As far as getting industry contacts out of the classes, I don't know. I've actually had more success meeting and networking with people from this blog. The Mediabistro instructors don't seem too keen to give out industry contacts but in each class I've always connected with a few of the students and that's been beneficial. One of them was featured here, Celeste Brash, a travel writer in Tahiti.

Another question I get is, “well, the chats are at a bad time for me so I don’t know if it’s worth taking the class.” My opinion: the chats aren’t worth worrying about. You can read the logs of them the next day. Half of the chat is pointless babble anyhow. I usually read the chat the next day, write down about two sentences worth of actual information, and save the time to do other things—like sleep (the chats are usually at 3 a.m. Central European Time—not worth losing sleep over in the literal sense or the actual sense).

In general, you get out of the class what you put into it. I spend time giving feedback to everyone because it helps me learn. I spend a lot of time on the assignments because I choose to. The classes gives me deadlines and force me to get done what otherwise might take me much longer. They also help focus my work for a period of time. As you can see, I've taken four. So I think it’s worth considering a Mediabistro class.

But what do you think? Have you taken a Mediabistro or other online writing course? Did you have a positive experience?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Get Paid for Your Stories from Abroad

As some of you know, I was a National Geographic Glimpse Correspondent in the Spring of 2009. For those who are also interested in this opportunity, the application to be a Fall 2010 correspondent goes live today and the final deadline to apply is June 15.

A few facts about the program:

-You must be between the ages of 18-34 to apply.
-You must be living abroad for at least 10 weeks during the fall.
-You must commit time to a rigorous editorial process (The editors are tough. But they truly make your work better.)
-To apply, you will need a writing sample and samples of your photography. (I think I improved my photography as much as my writing during my time as a correspondent).

As a correspondent, you'll write a feature story, a how-to guide, create insider tips, a slideshow, and keep a blog on the website. Like many publications, they no longer have a magazine, all is online.

For a sample of what I wrote for them, see my piece on How to Speak Swiss. If anyone has a question about the program, feel free to contact me or leave comment. I'm happy to do another post on this if there's interest.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Writer Interview: Anastasia Ashman in Turkey

Writer Abroad is excited to welcome Anastasia Ashman to share her unique international twist on writing, publishing, and social media. Ashman is a writer/producer of cultural entertainment and a hybrid identity adventuress. Encouraging us all to seek our global niche, she’s founded the neoculture hub expat+HAREM, which Writer Abroad was pleased to contribute to last week. As part of a worldwide series of intellectual dinner parties the Economist magazine calls “jetsetters with a conscience” she produced the Near East's first Global Nomad Salon in Istanbul. Her special brew: the native of counterculture Berkeley, California combines a decade of work in New York and Los Angeles mainstream media and entertainment with a degree in Classical Archaeology and 11 years of expatriatism. Whew. Welcome, Anastasia.

Can you talk about your bestselling anthology, Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey? What gave you the idea and what was the process like from idea to publication?

Soon after arriving in Istanbul in 2003, I created a women’s writing group with a fellow American Jennifer Gokmen. By 2004 we were all writing about our Turkish experiences. Collected, they might begin to piece together the puzzle that is modern Turkey. We played with motifs of female culture in Turkey and were quickly drawn to the anachronistic, titillating concept of an Expat Harem.

A harem can be a positive concept, a place of female power, wisdom and solidarity. The sultan’s harem was made of foreign-born women, a natural source of wisdom about Turkey. We recognized that modern virtual harems exist today. For instance, foreign nationals in countries everywhere can create isolated coteries, confined by language barriers, cultural naiveté and ethnocentricity. It’s an age-old expat survival technique!

Yet, when the protective walls close in, we’re in a cultural prison. Luckily today’s virtual harem doors swing both ways. Open: the harem remains our peer-filled refuge while we enjoy the possibilities of the land.

When we called for submissions we asked what writers learned about Turkey and what that lesson taught them about themselves. By email, we heard from over 100 women in 14 nations with stories than spanned 50 years and the entire nation. They came to Turkey pursuing studies or work, a belief, a love, an adventure: an archaeologist, a Christian missionary, a Peace Corps volunteer, a journalist.

Most pieces received a deep developmental edit and went through several revisions. Thirty writers made it into the final manuscript six months later which we sold in via a New York agent in 2005 to a feminist press in California. That is, after we produced a hundred pages of likely readers: Middle Eastern studies departments at universities, Turkish festival organizers, diplomatic missions, bellydancing groups, olive oil importers, human resource sections of multinational corporations with offices in Turkey, you name it. Ten New York publishers had already passed, saying “charming, but the topic is too small”. Lesson learned: selling your world to the market back home demands a boatload of context.

My coeditor and I also arranged two Turkish publication deals with a conglomerate that controls 40% of the national media, ensuring a lion’s share of author publicity in a country not particularly known for its bookishness. Most of the splashy coverage was in Turkish but the English version became a #1 national bestseller within two months of its release. Some people have called it an instant classic, a lovely notion. Only time and continued distribution will tell.

In 2006 we mounted a 49-day, 10-state monster book tour across America to promote the American edition. We organized events with Turkish American groups and consulates as well as alumnae clubs, private book groups, universities, conferences, cultural festivals and travel bookstores.

In 2007 we enjoyed a weekend off. Seriously, the promotion of a book and development of follow-on projects is time- and energy-consuming!

Talking about Turkey to 5 million viewers in America was a nice cherry on the top of thousands of emails, five years of work and burning through at least three computers by 2008: The Today Show featured us during “Where in the World is Matt Lauer?” week.

The anthology is studied in seven North American universities and been recommended to what we count as 10 million people by major media like National Geographic Traveler and the New York Times. Last year we digitally released the book for Kindle and Sony eReader, so our little Expat Harem has finally made it into the ether!

By the way, expat writers looking for a way to ground themselves locally in what often feels like a rootless life abroad might like The Accidental Anthologist, my essay which explains how Turkey provided the empowering Expat Harem metaphor that not only connected me to a worldwide band of my peers but also gave my literary career and conflicted expat mindset a promising new cultural context.

What are the best methods for an author living abroad to connect with readers and potential buyers of her book in her home country?

Social media, no contest! It’s clear the 24/7 cycle of the web diminishes geographic and time zone disadvantages we experience as writers abroad, and social media is the best way to carve out your niche and congregate with like-minded people -- which removes any cultural or linguistic obstacles you might face where you live. Find your fellow writers, readers and publishing folk online as soon as possible. Some experts say you’ve got to build your network three years before you have your product.

At the very least, a writer must have a blog, and an active Twitter account. Twitter is a writer’s paradise. The service is teeming with the literate and bookish, including real-time chats with pros and laypeople. Search the hashtag #amwriting to join the camaraderie of writers all over the world sharing their morning’s work, or see how the other half lives in #editorchat, or discuss genre in #litchat, or find out what booksellers are up to in #followreader. (Other Twitter chats of interest to writers.) Check my Twitter lists to see what a slew of publishing world people are up to, and to connect with some women writers.

Once you create a blog, syndicate your content to other networks. For instance I’ve got author pages at Redroom and SheWrites, and am a member of Travel Blog Exchange and Travel Memoir Writers as well as other peer communities like the brand new Global Girl. All of these groups include a blog function where I replicate posts from my personal blog.

If you’re published and booking tour dates, is another way to let your public know. Be sure to claim your page to connect with readers, and syndicate your blog posts to your Amazon book page through Amazon Author Central.

You’re also a freelance writer, having written for the Village Voice, National Geographic Traveler, and Asian Wall Street Journal. What tips can you give readers hoping to break into freelancing?

Publishing is in a free fall so I suspect it’s more difficult to break in when there are so many experienced writers out of work, and publications folding. Making a living as a freelancer, harder than ever. However, what works is what always worked in a competitive environment: a well-prepared pitch tailored to the publication, the readership, the section and the timing, addressed to the right editor, with a story or angle that is truly fresh and that you are uniquely qualified to write. That means credits, and expertise, and demonstrable ability with the subject, access to people central to the story. Don’t have credits? Start small, build up. And always be respectful to editors. We all need a good editor and we’re not going to find one if we abuse the ones we come across. If you want to give a piece of your mind to an editor who’s rejected you or butchered your work, tell your cat instead. (That is what cats are for, to save us from ourselves.)

With the rise of social media it’s easy to build your own portfolio of well-focused work (on your own blog, if nowhere else!), which can be your professional calling card. If you’re just starting out, don’t sit on your best ideas. Go out there and run with them, if you can afford it. Develop them, learn, show us what you can do. Much better than waiting for some beleaguered gate-keeper somewhere to say yes to you, which may never happen.

You’re somewhat of a social networking expert. Can you explain how you’ve used social networking to build your career?

Thank you Chantal, but the more I learn the more I realize I need to learn! Fortunately being a perpetual student of social media is so rewarding.

I’ve been building my writing and cultural entertainment producing career roughly on the "author platform" -- an idea from the traditional publishing world that translates pretty well for the writer abroad, and for any location-independent creative entrepreneur. Whatever you bring to market must be supported by your access to the right audiences, your credibility, your expertise, and your distribution network. That’s how you’re going to sell your work. You can see why it might take three years or more to build this exposure and access.

I’ve been location-independent for eleven years -- that is, once Internet access in the ‘90s revolutionized my estranged life in Southeast Asia. Jennifer and I virtually created Expat Harem through email with more than 40 people in four time zones, many of whom I have never met face to face. Even so, since then there have been so many changes and upheavals in the media world my upcoming memoir and other enhanced ebook projects require a vast rebuild of web presence and activity. I doubt I’d mount an actual world 49-day book tour today, and if I did a 49-day virtual book tour I’d be able to reach far more people expending far fewer resources.

I started microblogging in 2008 and by 2009 became a top-ten Twitterer in Istanbul. Then I ramped up to a cultural conversations blog last summer and this past fall I founded a community site expat+HAREM, the global niche. It’s a group blog for intentional travelers, identity adventurers, global citizens: I think we embody a new social order. Our most important bonds are no longer solely decided by geography, nationality or even blood. The site is also hosting podcast and Twitterchat discussions series like Dialogue2010 to extend our conversations on culture and hybrid life into new dimensions. I’ve just posted highlights from our first roundtable: ten cultural innovators pinpointing the three characteristics needed to live a hybrid lifestyle.

I’d suggest writers abroad reach far beyond a network of readers, other writers and even publishing folk. Seek out thought leaders in marketing, interactive tech people, small business owners and creative entrepreneurs, and publishers. These are all fields that a contemporary author and content producer is entering whether she knows it or not. Play an active role in at least a handful of your interest groups at LinkedIn or Biznik. Use SocialMention and Google to alert you to people discussing your subject matter (or your work!) so you can join the conversation.

Can you talk a little about your upcoming projects? You’re just completing your second book, a ‘forensic memoir of friendship’ -- what does that mean? What are the enhanced ebook projects you mentioned?

Yes, the memoir about my 25-year best friendship is forensic because my friend, a multimedia poet, asked me to figure her out -- to write her “psychohistory” -- and then she died! That was 15 years ago so the book’s been percolating for a long time and now the story includes surviving her loss. Sort of the afterlife of our friendship. I’ve been thinking about ways to tell it using the reams of material of our friendship, and all the digital tools available to us now.

That’s where enhanced ebooks come into the picture. They’re electronic books incorporating video, images, text, sound. Many are stand-alone applications for iPhone, which is appealing to me.

I’ve been revisiting all my entertainment projects in development to see how I can bring them to life in the most current way. Current in terms of technology and also access and distribution distinct from the lengthy, low-percentage high-barrier traditional paths content producers like us have pursued in the past.

For instance, I’ve been developing a film or television script based on my Expat Harem wedding tale "Like An Ottoman Princess", about bridging my radical West Coast family and traditional Near East in-laws at a palatial Istanbul wedding. Textbook culture clash -- in a grittier vein than Meet the Parents and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But now I’m shifting gears to put that story together as an enhanced ebook first. I have personal essays, film footage, tons of still photography, scrapbook materials, etc., which can tell that story in a dynamic way. Plus, it can always transition to the screen later. In fact, this exposure would be helpful to bring it to the screen. Similarly, I have in the works a documentary project about the soap opera life of a 6th century Byzantine princess who spurred an emperor to create an architectural wonder of the world. There are incremental ways to begin to bring that tale to the public and make it relevant to their modern lives, like podcast walking tours.

Another project that’s been lying fallow is a screenplay I cowrote with a novelist, about starcrossed lovers who also happen to be mercenaries -- and 17th century English scholars! After adapting it from her black comedy novel over the course of two years, the story and characters are very solid. Polished. I shopped it around Hollywood for a year before I moved to Asia, not enough time and perhaps not the right moment for its dark tone and intellectual bent. So it would be great to get it off the shelf and into play as a graphic novel, which would also be a step toward the screen. A graphic illustrator could easily interpret its story-board narrative. I’m on the lookout for the right person.

Writers are now producers, and directors, and engineers of content. It’s an exciting time for us.

In 2009, you became a founding member of TED Global. Can you talk a bit about TED? How can others get involved in this?

TED’s a 20-year old conference of “ideas worth spreading”, featuring four days of speakers who take the stage for 18 minutes a piece. It stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, but now draws the world’s “intellectual rock stars” from even more fields, including heads of state, scientists, world explorers. TEDGlobal, in Oxford England, became a yearly conference last year and I participated in it. (There’s also TEDIndia, which launched last year, and the TEDx program of independently organized local events.) The main conferences are prohibitively expensive to attend, but most of the TED talks are available for viewing free at If you’re under 40 you can apply to become a TED fellow, which will give you access to the conferences and lots of other support from the TED community worldwide. If you’re interested in producing your own small TED-like event, try TEDx.

As an American, you’ve lived in Rome, Kuala Lumpur, and Istanbul. What has living abroad taught you about how we define ourselves as women?

The biggest culture clash women abroad face may be the local definition of femininity and the varying levels of our particular embrace of those definitions. It’s not easy to accept the general loss of autonomy and authority that occurs when you enter a more traditional society, with its shifting markers of gender. It can be such a personal affront if the expectations don’t accord with how you’ve grown into womanhood, and at the same time, it’s completely nonspecific to you.

Being from a progressive hometown where infants are called “baby women” as well as the graduate of one of America’s top women’s colleges, the feminist instinct is somewhat ingrained. I also studied the ungirly martial arts for 11 years. That sets me up quite nicely for big surprises.

In Southeast Asia I project-managed the construction of my house and it was difficult to get the Chinese and Indonesian crew to believe they had to take orders from me. They’d never had a female boss before. I had to learn a more indirect communication style, which overall is both more Asian and more feminine.

I’m always showing up for events in Turkey having left zero time to “prepare myself as a woman”. Coming from a dressed-down part of California, my auto-pilot doesn’t include an afternoon at the salon before a special dinner. Here a woman is often considered beautiful if she is well-groomed, not because of how cultivated her inner life is, or what good work for humanity she spends her day pursuing. However, I also find Turkey full of pro-woman surprises, from its high ratio of women executives (including a prime minister) and university students, and early awarding of female suffrage to the positive attitude about motherhood and breastfeeding. The ancient wisdom of Anatolia’s goddess culture is alive in Turkey’s women.

For more from Anastasia Ashman visit her neoculture hub, expat+HAREM.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What Europe has taught me about writing

I've learned so much since moving abroad, sometimes it's hard to quantify. New languages, new ways of shopping, new ways of getting around. But living abroad has also taught me some things about writing. Here's a few.


Take things slow. As a trained copywriter (and as an American), I am used to working fast and furious. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in writing long-term projects, like my memoir, I have learned that taking it one step at a time, with plenty of moments for reflection and feedback, can be a great thing.


Breaks are good. A four-day weekend for Easter? A closed office (yes, they do that!) between Christmas and New Years? All of this time off isn’t luxury; it has become necessity. I find that I am more productive and creative after a little R&R. And there wasn’t much R&R in my former American lifestyle.


Clarity. When you live in a new place, you not only learn about another culture, you learn about yourself. I never realized I smiled so much until I noticed others here don’t. I never knew that I kept busy so I felt worthy until I put myself into a culture that knew how to relax. This clarity of self helps my writing—especially in the personal essay and memoir form.


The importance of the right word. While learning German, I have come to realize how subtle language can be. For example, a non-native English speaker once said, “Chantal cannot yet translate this. Her German is yet too young.” The meaning was correct. The word choice was not. It makes me really consider each and every word when writing.


I can do it. I can live in Switzerland. I can speak German. I can take public transport all over Europe and not get lost. I can be a writer abroad. It’s all about learning self-reliance and knowing that the impossible is nothing.

What has living or traveling abroad taught you?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Personal vs Private and What Not to Ask

Grüezi. Writer Abroad is spending Easter relaxing in Bled and catching up on All That Is Cool On The Internet.

So without further delay (Ok. Ok. She's logging out of Facebook), another international round-up is here.

Interesting piece on the shrinking opportunities for professional photographers in The New York Times. Writer Abroad thinks most professional writers will relate to this as well, especially with sites like Demand Studios taking over the Internet.

Speaking of content sites like Demand, WordCount blogger Michelle Rafter had an interesting interview with the CEO of Suite101, another content site threatening to take jobs away from professional writers. But he disagrees he's doing that. See what you think.

Over at the Urban Muse, Susan Johnston ran a great post on the 10 Things You Should Not Ask a Freelance Writer.

Author Allison Winn Scotch opened a good discussion on the line between personal and public.

And finally, Writer Abroad wouldn’t be Writer Abroad if she didn’t promote herself too. She’s got an essay about expat life in Skirt! Magazine this month. Maybe you'll relate to her identity crisis. Talk about the personal made public.

As we say in Switzerland, Frohe Ostern. A Happy Easter to all.


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