Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bestselling author earns $200

So last week, Writer Abroad got an e-mail with the subject: Exciting news from Chicken Soup for the Soul

The announcement was that three of Chicken Soup’s best-selling anthologies, including the one Writer Abroad has a story in, will now be available at Wal-Mart. Yipee! I mean, Wal-Mart is Writer Abroad’s favorite store…Not. Anyone read The New York Time’s recent investigation about Wal-Mart's corruption in Mexico?

Admittedly, Writer Abroad’s first reaction to the news of her story being sold in Wal-Mart was like, hey, cool! Millions of people will read it!

Then an hour later she realized: Way. Not. Cool.

Can you hate all things Wal-Mart and in good conscious have a story you wrote being sold in a book there?

And the other killer for Writer Abroad: Even if millions buy the book containing her story, she won’t get a dime.

Happy holidays, writers. This is what happens when we get paid one flat $200 fee for a story in an anthology and that anthology becomes a bestseller.

But what choices do writers have with their little stories and articles against the few big publishers that are actually buying them these days?

Writer Abroad isn’t sure yet.

Which brings her to TIPE, an independent publishing event that will be held in Zurich, Switzerland on January 25th. At this event, we can learn from successful self-published writers like Joanna Penn about how to keep control over your manuscripts…and your profits. 

Have any other writers out there triumphed over the current publishing industry? How can we demand better treatment and still get published?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

International Writing Workshops 2013

Greetings, International Writers (or those writers just looking for a reason to travel next year). In honor of the upcoming New Year, it’s time to save the date for these 2013 writing workshops:

Geneva, Switzerland
Amsterdam, Netherlands
March 1-3, 2013
Topics: Fiction & Poetry
Tutors: Amal Chatterjee & Jane Draycott
Cost EUR 250

San Francisco, USA
April 4-7, 2013
This is a juried conference featuring representatives from the city’s top literary pubs: McSweeney’s, The Believer, ZYZZYVA, & The Rumpus
Must send application by December 31, 2012
Cost $795 (includes accommodations and meals)

Want a nice writing tour of Europe? Try these three workshops in a row…

Zurich, Switzerland
April 12-14, 2013
Program includes a workshop for beginning writers and an advanced workshop focusing on revision. Details to come in January.

Rome, Italy
April 15-19, 2013
Cost $500
Led by Eric Maisel, author of A Writer’s Paris

Geneva, Switzerland
April 20-21, 2013
Fiction Workshop with Bret Lott
Cost CHF 100

Any other upcoming workshops you want to share? Please leave a comment.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What children’s books teach us about writing

Writer Abroad was up at 4 a.m. this morning reading Goodnight, Moon, Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, and Corduroy to Baby M. Some of these books were read at least five times in a row. (Note: Writer Abroad usually reads on demand.) 
Children's books can teach us a lot about good writing

Most writers don't study books for very young children in order to improve their writing. But, as Writer Abroad discovered, studying the short story (the 200-word version) is possibly the best way to learn about good writing.

Writing should have rhythm.
Great example: ABC by Dr. Seuss

The story should have a forward momentum.
(The words should beg you to finish them, even after the tenth reading in a row...)

There should be a lesson.

Parallel construction is nice. Especially when it's done with humor too.

Ok fellow writers, Writer Abroad needs a nap! Anyone else have examples of what a great children's book can teach us?

Friday, November 30, 2012

International Writing Round-up: Workshops & More

Can’t find a job in your home country? Then maybe this op-ed, Can’t find a job? Move overseas, from The Washington Post, will convince you to look internationally.

University of Oxford Fiction Tutor Amal Chatterjee and award-winning poet Jane Draycott will present a Creative Writing Weekend in Amsterdam from March 1-3, 2013. Topics include fiction and poetry. The course fee is 250 Euros.

Anyone who thinks China is threatening to become the next world superpower obviously hasn’t seen that a good portion of its residents don’t even have toilets.  Listen to an episode of This American Life on what some expats in China, including the China Correspondent for The New Yorker, have to say about living in China.

The English Bookshop in Zurich, Switzerland will host a reading on Sunday, December 2, from 16:00-17:30, featuring JJ Marsh, who is the author of the Zurich-based debut, Behind Closed Doors. She will read from her second novel in the series, Raw Material.

What the heck does it mean to find a fresh voice? It’s hard to say, except Writer Abroad knows one when she reads it. So if you are looking for a new blog to keep you entertained during work (wait, you would never read a blog during work) check out Reading and Chickens. It’s written by Shalini, who is not a writer abroad, but rather an American writer in Seattle.  But since Seattle is over 1700 miles from her hometown in the Chicago area, Writer Abroad has decided to give her an honorary international status.

Any writing news you'd like to share?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Where in the world is English the most fun?

Much more effective than "Keep Out"
Writer Abroad loves English. Even more so now that she lives in a place that treats verbs as afterthoughts. While residing amongst German speakers allows Writer Abroad to enjoy her one-article language all the more, the place to really appreciate all English is capable of is China.
Yep, for lovers of English, there is no better place to go right now than China. In the People's Republic, English is fun. Even when it's on trashcans.
Please deposit your organism accordingly.

Where in the world do you think English is the most fun?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is pitching pointless?

Give me a P
Give me an I
Give me a T C H!

How not to land an assignment: the pitch letter
Take any magazine writing class, and you’ll be drilled on how to write the perfect pitch letter. You’ll be told how the perfect pitch is crucial to scoring an assignment. And you’ll get all pumped up about pitching and how it’s going to change your writing life.

Writer Abroad would love to go to bat for pitching. But the reality is, she is a strike out.

Her big pitching effort began in 2008, three years after she began her newspaper and magazine writing career. She took a $400 travel writing course with Mediabistro hoping it would help her take her writing to the next level, publication-wise. She spent hours of time (not to mention money—buying English-language pubs when living abroad is expensive, think $15 for one copy of NG’s Traveler) researching publications, perfecting her pitches, and tracking down emails of appropriate editors. Then she proofread her pitches at least 100 times, sent out the suckers like fly balls, and waited for her home run.

But she heard nothing.


Silence. Maybe a rejection here and there, three months after sending the pitch.

Fair enough. Rejection is a part of the writing process. Writer Abroad was not naïve. And she was not going to give up easily. So she pitched other publications...reworking the same idea two or three times. And...


Well, once, a bite. An assignment. And then, a month later, an un-assignment...

So, let’s see here. After 100+ hours with a batting score of .001, Writer Abroad learned something maybe some of you already know: pitching is a gigantic waste of time and money (especially considering the rates magazines pay these days).

So now, Writer Abroad has a new approach to landing assignments.

She does (insert drum roll here)…

And she’s much more successful.

How is this possible?

Ok, well, maybe she doesn't exactly do nothing. But she sure does a heck of lot less work that she was doing before.

Instead of spending 10 hours a week perfecting magazine and newspaper pitches, Writer Abroad spends one or two hours a week blogging and about twice a year she updates her personal writing website.

As it turns out, this is the 21st century. So editors have something they didn’t have before: an easy way to find writers living abroad.

Here’s the thing. As a writer abroad, your location sets you apart. In fact, editors are probably searching right now for a writer in your very location. Make sure they can find you. Fast.

How? Have a blog. Have a website. Have a tweet worth a re-tweet. Have something smart Writer Abroad hasn’t even thought of yet. Then pretend you’re an editor searching Google for a writer. Do you show up in the search results?

If not, take a course on SEO. But heaven forbid, do not take a course on how to pitch.

Unless…we can find writers out there who can prove Writer Abroad wrong.

So let’s hear it.

Are there still writers out there with respectable batting averages? If you pitch, do you score magazine and newspaper assignments? (Excluding personal essays—Writer Abroad still is able to place personal essays through pitching completed pieces). Or do you think pitching is pointless? 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Confessions of a Reluctant Journal Writer

Writer Abroad has always felt there must be something wrong with her since she doesn’t enjoy keeping a journal. Shouldn’t all writers love that kind of thing?

A smaller notebook might encourage bigger thoughts.
It's not like she hasn't tried. She did keep a daily journal in third grade, since it was a required classroom activity. In this journal Writer Abroad recorded insights like, "Today was sunny." or "Today I went to choir. It was boring."

That’s why it was such a big deal for Writer Abroad to actually succeed in keeping a journal during Baby M's first year. And writing it turned out to be so emotionally freeing that it helped her deal with the loss of other kinds of freedom that most new parents experience.

Speaking of freedom, Writer Abroad had her first taste of it again when American Grandma came to babysit so Writer Abroad could go to China for two weeks. But Writer Abroad didn’t bring a journal to China. Imagine her guilt. Three days into her trip, she broke down and bought one in Beijing to justify her writer self. Just a small one. One that didn’t scream “write down everything you did today,” but rather, one that encouraged her to write down one interesting thing per page.

The small pages of the above notebook satisfied her short copywriter attention span and allowed her to fill pages fast.

For example, on one page she wrote,

The first thing I saw in China? A Starbucks.

On another page she wrote,

I don’t feel as tall as I thought I would.

And on another page she wrote,

An 80-year-old Chinese woman who is clearly on her first flight ever just examined a pad of New Zealand butter and ate the whole piece with a fork.

In the end, Writer Abroad didn’t fill her entire Chinese notebook, but she did conquer about two-thirds of it. All it took for her to enjoy journal writing was a smaller page. And that was a big lesson to learn.

If you’re a writer, how do you feel about keeping journals? Have you found a journal-writing style that works for you?


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