Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Writers Coffeehouse in Willow Grove

Guest blog by Dawn Byrne

Can you believe there's a group of professional writers who are available to the public the last Sunday of each month? They talk about their claims to fame, share marketing information, and answer questions from the audience about anything related to writing life and its craft. Can you also believe it's free of charge?

The Philadelphia Liars Club hosts this monthly gathering called The Writers Coffeehouse at the Willow Grove Barnes & Noble in Pennsylvania on Park Avenue from 12 noon to 3 pm. The Liars are fiction writers who volunteer their time to inform and encourage networking with other writers.

November's meeting was led by Kathryn Craft, author of The Art of Falling. She blogs at where you can find out about her and her novel, which is launching January 18th in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Kathryn talked of patience with publishing and shared the reality of waiting almost two years for her book to debut. She told us that the time of publishers sending limos for authors to speak at events the publisher arranged is over. Marketing and promotion is mostly the author's job. Authors who do, and have an online following, are more desirous to publishers.

Liars suggested bringing translated versions of your work to the book sale if that applies to your work or audience. And if you're an introvert, invite to the book sale a PR pitch friend who has a personality to talk and will schmooze with customers.

Everyone introduced themselves and any writing related information. If you have a business card, bring extras to pass out during the Writers Coffeehouse. You'll surely have an opportunity to receive others. Shameless self-promotion abounds here. This helped us identify others in the group whom we could talk or network with after the meeting. I enjoyed chatting with three other inspirational writers.

The Writers Coffeehouse, photo from Liar Jon McGoran's blog
Kathryn also led an activity she used in workshops she's given in libraries. During a break in the meeting, she suggested everyone choose a book from the Barnes & Noble's shelves that struck their interest. This demonstrated how important certain elements are to sell a book: book cover; where the book is located in the store; if it's faced out or spine out; the blurb on the book; first paragraph in the work. I surprised myself with my choice. My preferred reading is inspirational. I selected a book that appeared inspirational but wasn't yet piqued my interest. Some people bought the book they used as their example.

November was National Novel Writing Month. Audience members and Liars talked about this and about editing their NaNaWriMo novels. Bernie Mojzes, Liar and co-editor of The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, mentioned a call for submissions for April. Check this out at and Jim Kristofic praised Liar Marie Lamba who is his editor for his memoir, Navahos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life.

The Coffeehouse doesn't meet in December, but join them on January 26th 2014 and you'll be introduced to writers from a plethora of genres who are eager to inform and encourage newbies, as well as seasoned writers. You can check them out at To get updates on the Coffeehouse, go here and subscribe.

The South Jersey Writers Group plan a roadtrip to the next Writers Coffeehouse event, if you want to go, click here. Speaking of the SJWG, the above-mentioned Kathryn Craft will be our guest in February, details can be found here.

About today's guest blogger:

Dawn Byrne, a grandmother, writes inspirational and fictional stories about families from her New Jersey home. She's a member of the South Jersey Writers' Group, facilitates the Juliette Writers' Group, and teaches Sunday School. Dawn strives to leave a small carbon footprint, reads classical literature, and has stories featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives: 101 Daily Devotions to Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire You and Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!: 101 Joyful Stories about the Love, Fun, and Wonder of the Holidays. Her website is, and her blog is here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Some Writer Humor

Our own Gregg Feistman passed this along to me at the last monthly meeting.

It's something all of the first time Amazon authors, or the online holiday shoppers, or for some of us, navigating the MeetUp website (kidding kidding), might appreciate.

Click to enlarge.  Enjoy.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Writing 2.6 - What to Write About

Guest Blog by Rich Voza, originally presented on his blog, Brainsnorts: Trashing Today for a Better Tomorrow. You can see it here.

Preface 1: I started this post thinking it would only be about three paragraphs, maybe 300 words. Not so.

Preface B: I am not writing this to criticize anyone’s blog or suggest that anyone should do anything any differently than what they’re happy and comfortable doing on their blog. I’m writing this because I’ve been asked a similar question, and I’ve seen similar questions posted on other blogs, so this is an extensive answer either to those bloggers who have asked or those who are thinking of the same question but haven’t yet asked it. I’m not suggesting that I’m any kind of a blog authority or writing lord. I’m nothing of the kind, but I like questions, both asking and answering, and I like being thorough. Sometimes. Also, these are my thoughts only. Every other blogger in existence might disagree with me, and that’s not only okay but probably good.

Someone recently asked why I blog. That wasn’t easy to answer. In a way, blogging can be like a comedian testing jokes in a small comedy club before going to Vegas or Atlantic City, but that carries the suggestion that I’m “going somewhere” after this. Not likely. My blogging originally stemmed from something at work. I had to send out daily, boring e-mails to about a hundred people. I knew those e-mails would be annoying, stupid, but necessary information.

So my goal was to make it a little entertaining and perhaps make someone smile a little. I admit that it gave me a little extra boost when someone with whom I worked a long time would reply to my e-mails and tell me how funny I was or that they never realized this other side to me. I tend to be very boring and monotonous in person until I get to know someone well enough to unleash the demon known as – Rich. After enough people said, “You really should be writing for a living, or writing comedy, or host a game show or something,” I agreed, but I still wasn’t sure what to do about it. So far, this blog is all I’ve done about it. But this post isn’t about me, although it certainly seems to be going that way. This is about you. Well, not you personally, but those of you who have asked me or posted questions about blogging.

Over the past two weeks I’ve seen more than the usual amount of blog posts in which someone did one or more of the following:

  • 1. Apologized for not posting often enough and promising their lovely readers that they will get his or her or both asses in gear and start producing more.
  • 2. Acknowledged that they just couldn’t think of anything to write about lately.
  • 3. Promised not to let that blog fizzle out and die like a previous blog.
  • 4. Asked readers to help decide what they should write about next.

  • I’ve also seen blogs on which the author posted a poll asking readers to vote for a favorite topic on which the author should mainly focus. Movies? Television? Music? Books? And I’ve also seen the blogs on which an author begins a story and asks readers to make suggestions on which direction the story should take. Now that I’ve made you read through about 600 words, I’ll get to the point, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.

    If you’re not sure what to write about, most people say, “Write what you know.” I disagree. I say, “write what you feel.” If you see a movie you love – write about it. If you read a book that bores you, or turns you on, write about it. If a driver on the road next to you does something that pisses you off and you’re thinking of giving her a flat tire, write about it. If you love to cook, take pictures of the process, sketch the details of the recipe, and write about it. If you love sports or political debates, park your laptop in front of the television, take notes, and write about it. And if you find yourself strangely attracted to the female news anchors of CNN, well, maybe you should keep that to yourself. You shouldn’t just write about things or topics without specifying how those things affected you. I don’t need you to tell me what the movie was about. I need you to tell me how it made you feel. If all I want are the facts, I’ll watch the news. No, not Fox News. Duh, I said “facts.”

     Every one of us has probably heard the words “write what you know.” Well, if I’m an electrical engineer, and I know electrical engineering, but I love hockey, then I’d said it’s better to write about hockey than electrical engineering. One particular blogger I know used to write great posts about lists of all kinds. Movies of the 60’s, breakfast cereals, sexy commercials, all kinds of things, all kinds of lists of things with his opinion on why each deserved to be anywhere from #10 to #1. After a while, he thought perhaps he should only write about one thing – movies, food, sexy things? So he asked his readers to vote, and I politely told him that was not a good plan. His readers were not there because they loved movies or commercials. They were there because they liked the combination of his style, attitude, and opinion. Readers did not care if he made a list of oatmeal flavors or golf courses, they just cared that he was entertaining in his presentation.

    He had a counter argument. “But blogs with specific topics have more readers than blogs that don’t have a specific focus.” Yeah, he’s right, but that’s because there are people out there who only want to read about food or cars or a guy pretending to be a girl and writing about “her” promiscuous exploits. So those readers had searched for blogs about food or cars or sex, and then those readers follow those blogs. True they might have more followers and “likes,” but that doesn’t mean those readers are enjoying it more. Those topic-specific blogs will likely have more views per day, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have more comments or a more interesting and rewarding conversation. I’d rather have 20 comments than 100 views because I’m not really about the numbers as much as I am about the interaction and conversation. I’d rather have two people give me their opinions on my book or movie review than 20 people just click on it and go away.

    The other question that comes up is how often to post, which, although it’s a matter of personal preference, I can at least give not a writer’s but a reader’s perspective. In the almost 500 bloggers I follow, there are some who post several times a day. Sometimes it’s all photography, each picture as a separate post. For me, that’s overkill. For photog fans, it’s a mother lode. After a while, I’m breezing through because I don’t have time to study them all – but I know I’m not the target audience. I also follow blogs on which there might be three or four new poems a day, each in a separate post. Having studied poetry extensively in college, I love reading and interpreting poetry, especially when I can sometimes leave a comment that lets the poet know that I can feel exactly what they were thinking. I love when that happens, but most readers don’t have time for careful reading of everything that we all post every day. Conversely, there are other authors who post only once a week or less. I wish they’d write more, but those carefully crafted, well-researched, and very entertaining posts just can’t possibly be produced on a daily basis.

    Please remember, neither me nor any individual is important enough for you to aim your blog at us. Those writers and photographers do not need to care one bit about what I have to say. They only need to care about how it makes them feel to write and post what they’re writing and/or photographing. So, if you’d like a one-sentence answer to sum things up, it would go like this:

    Instead of “write what you know,” consider “write what you want others to know.” And I want others to know how I feel about the movie I saw, the book I read, the mouse I accidentally stepped on, etc. And if I write it well enough, then you will know exactly how I feel because I will have chosen the right words so that you feel it too.

    About today's guest blogger:

    Richard Voza Voza has been writing since 4th grade when he forgot about a summer book report and created a story called Carrot Top Mr. Mouse, about a mouse ridiculed for his red hair. After accidentally becoming an English teacher for 25 years, he now takes writing seriously.

    The first volume of his short story collection, When the Mirror Breaks, has been accepted by Whiskey Creek Press. He is currently marketing a suspense novel called Woodbury Avenue, about a stalker in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Two other finished novels are Lizzie’s Journal (paranormal) and Room 317 (suspense).

    Most days he drinks coffee and wonders if anyone will read his blog, Other days he sits on the beach, listens to baseball, and watches the waves with friends and a cooler nearby.

    Saturday, December 14, 2013

    Editing is Everything

    Guest Blog by Patti O'Brien

    Editing is a funny business. As an editor, I am basically telling writers that I can present their own thoughts better than they can, which sounds silly, right? But that’s what I do, and people pay me for it!

    It’s not that we can do it better, of course; it’s just that we can do it…better. Let me explain.

    You are a writer, a storyteller, a litterateur, a scribe. You have characters to think about, action to perform, verbs to choose, plotlines to plot. You type away, thinking about everything that’s going into your story, agonizing over dialogue, trying to get your hero to the climax before he dies, or is bitten by a rabid wildebeest, or quits the team. It’s a lot to deal with.

    So you do the best you can, then you read it over and it sounds pretty good—or not. If not, you dive back in, saving your hero from the depths of the ocean before he drowns, along with your story. Even if you like it as is, you keep rereading, or give it to your mother/best friend/wife/husband/garbage collector to read and when they return it with rave reviews (for what else can they do?), you declare it well and good.

    But is it ready for publication? Probably not, and that’s where an editor comes in. No matter what you or your good-hearted reviewers say, your story needs work. It just does. Trust me.

    Your readers are not professionals and YOU are no judge of your own work. You read what you think you wrote: you know what it’s supposed to say, and so you read it that way, oblivious to the fact that other readers will not know what you’re talking about. You’re the only one in your own head; you’re the only one who truly knows what it all means. The rest of us? Sometimes, we just have to guess.

    And that’s not what you want. You want a piece that is clear, consistent, concise and correct. You want the reader to be mesmerized by the story, not distracted by errors, or inconsistencies, or—gawd forbid—out and out plot flaws! “What the hell is going on here?” is not the question you want your readers to ask. “What is going to happen next? I can’t wait,” is what you’re after.

    Your editor is your friend. She will find the problems and help you fix them. Because she is not in your head, she will ask the questions future readers will ask; she will point out what is confusing so you can fix it before you send it out to publishers or agents who are way too busy to sift through a problem-riddled manuscript. I am willing to bet the farm that many good manuscripts have been overlooked because overwhelmed agents just can’t get through the first few paragraphs without throwing up their hands in disgust. The story might be great, but they’re never going to find out because they can’t get past the mechanics.

    Yes, we’re talking mechanics here, the English class rules that you’ve forgotten. Most adult writers cannot punctuate, that’s a fact. And hardly anyone knows when to use a semi-colon. But I do, and people like me do. We are blessed—or burdened—with the ability to see errors wherever they lurk. We are the folks who call you out if you dare to misspeak, or put a comma where it clearly doesn’t belong. We are trying to help the world with our gifts, but more often than not, we just tick people off. Sigh.

    However, we are the people you want to read your ms, your college entrance essay, your letter to the mortgage company, because we are the ones who will make it shine, get you in, promote your cause. We can do it when you can’t because we know how. Good editors are born, not made. Like piano tuners…and Steven Spielberg.

    Yes, we are the Spielbergs of the writing world. We know exactly what we want, and how to get it. And it’s not that you don’t: it’s just that it’s really hard to see it clearly when you’re in the movie, or writing it. We’re behind the camera; we see it all because we’re not in it, we’re just watching. Really closely.

    And because we’re not you, but we’re working for you, we want your story to be the best it can be—just like you. We want the plot to work, the characters to be engaging, the dialogue to sparkle. When you’re writing dialogue, you’re thinking about moving the plot along. When we edit dialogue, we’re thinking of that, too, but also we’re making sure that it’s believable, interesting, sensible, and not in contrast to something that was said on page 42. Consistency is hard for the writer, but it’s one of the things editors focus on.

    How can we focus on your work better than you can? Because we’re not writing the dialogue, we’re just adjusting it. Ever hang a picture on a wall? It’s hard to get the nail just right, level it, hang it just so. Know what’s easier? Standing across the room saying: “a little to the left.”

    Now, you may be thinking, at this point, that I’m wrong. You may think that you have taken everything into account and have written a damn good story, and maybe you have. But I assure you there are mistakes, inconsistencies, punctuation errors and tense problems. Most assuredly, actually, there are tense problems. I see them in every ms, every essay, every everything I read. Tense is a tough one; nearly every writer has trouble with it. But your editor will not. Your editor will fix all that, and make sure that singular subjects have singular verbs; that there are no errant apostrophes in your plurals and “its;” that you don’t say a kid is five years old on page 432 when you said he was only three on page ten.

    It’s hard work editing someone else’s story, but it’s impossible to edit your own. Every story/magazine article/newspaper column/published book that’s ever been has been professionally edited (don’t get me started on self-published authors who don’t use an editor!). So why should yours be any different? Why shouldn’t your story get the same star treatment as JK Rowling’s do?

    You’re a writer? Great. Finished a story? Get an editor.

    And pay him well, because you want him to do a really good job. You want him to care about your story as much as you do. You want him “on your team” because he’s good at the one-yard line and will help you get into the end zone (you know, onto a publisher’s desk).

    Writers write; editors edit. Focus on your story, and let an editor fix your grammar so you don’t have to worry about stuff like that while you’re creating a zombie apocalypse.

    Here’s how it should go: Write. Revise. Get an editor. Revise. Send it back for a final edit. Reread. Submit.

    You shouldn’t skip a step when your goal is publication, just as you shouldn’t skip a step when making a soufflĂ©, because in either case, you could end up with a flat, dead thing. And ain’t nobody got time for that.


    About today's guest blogger:

    South Jersey Writers' Group member Patti O'Brien is an award-winning writer and editor extraordinaire. Be sure to check out her excellent editing service Editing Is Everything, Follow her on Twitter, find her on LinkedIn and Facebook, and read her always entertaining blog, A Broad Abroad.

    Tuesday, December 3, 2013

    Merry Jones at SJWG

    Guest Blog by Victoria Marie Lees.

    At the South Jersey Writers Group monthly meeting held on November 2l, 2013, writers and friends welcomed Merry Jones, an established novelist and writing teacher at Temple University. Merry has a master’s degree in Communications from the University of Pennsylvania and an impressive array of writing credentials from humor to non-fiction to mystery, including her latest release, Outside Eden.

    Merry opened her discussion with a surprising fact: The average writer earns about $3,500 per year.

    “So why do we write?” She asked the assembled writing group.

    That’s a good question.

    Merry informed the group that some people have a need to communicate. Writing is a communication process. “Writers are writers because they can’t help it. If we don’t write, we feel guilty.”

    The process of writing is a lifestyle for the writer according to Merry. It’s a part of their personality, a basic fundamental aspect of their lives.

    One of her grad school professors felt that creative people must create. If they didn’t, there would be physical symptoms to deal with. Merry finds she becomes grouchy and agitated if she doesn’t write regularly.

    While some writers at the meeting agreed, some writers felt that they needed to wait for inspiration or a reason to write. This brought up a very real obstacle for many writers: incentive. With no agent, no book deal, why am I writing? Why write if I’m not getting paid to write. I should find a real job and make money.

    Merry understood their quandary. She had it at the beginning of her career, too. She informed the group how the publishing field has changed since she wrote her first book, advances are much smaller, no paid tours by the publishing house. Editors don’t promote writers like they used to. They don’t help writers much.

    “In publishing no one is your friend,” Merry said, “not your agent, not your publisher. Sales numbers are how you acquire your next book deal.”

    Merry was cut by St. Martin’s Press because she was a midlister, as that publisher eliminated all midlisters at that time. Her agent cut her off too. She was lucky, though. Through some writing friends she acquired another agent about a year later, and because she continued to write, Merry had books to give her new agent. Small presses are a good alternative to the big publishing houses.

    Writing groups are essential for both the budding writer as well as established writers. “All writers need writers to share experiences, energy, and the drive to continue writing.” Merry said.

    And she’s correct.

    Do people really decide to become writers or is it instinctive? What do you think? Why do you write?

    About today's guest-blogger:

    Victoria Marie Lees has been a member of the South Jersey Writers' Group for several years, maintains blogs at Adventures in Writing: One Woman's Journey, Parenting Special Needs Children, and Camping with Kids, and she can be found on Twitter.