Carol Bailey says that in writing, the most profound lesson she has learned is to rely on the support of her community. Yet, the biggest challenge faced is rising to produce good quality work because no matter what, at the end of the day it is your book, your ideas, and you have to stand by it. Continue reading
By Shelby Ashline
Ever since she was a student at Northampton High School, Cynthia Simison knew she wanted to be a journalist. Now in her 50s and the managing editor of The Republican, her love of the field has only grown, as has her drive for sharing other peoples’ stories.
Cynthia initially decided to pursue journalism because of her love for the Boston Red Sox. She hoped that one day, she would be able to cover the team, and she sought opportunities that would help make her dream come true. During high school, she worked in the news room at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where she first got a feel for work as a reporter.
“What I really liked was talking to people one-on-one and sharing their stories,” Cynthia says. “I learned the concept that everybody has a story. Everybody’s life matters.”
After graduating high school, Cynthia attended Syracuse University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in newspaper journalism and political science in 1977. Having completed a summer internship with The Republican’s predecessor, the Springfield Daily News, she fell easily into full-time work with them in 1977.
Due to her decades of experience in the field, Cynthia has recently been nominated to receive Western Mass Women Magazine’s Professional Writer award for 2015. The magazine draws together a yearly list of local “Women to Watch” and gives awards based on profession. It is the second year Cynthia has been nominated.
Janice hopes Cynthia is selected as this year’s recipient for her skill, experience and huge heart. Janice freelances for Cynthia, follows her column and has known her as a professional for many years. Back in the 1980s, when Cynthia worked for the Springfield Daily News, Janice was writing for its companion paper, the Morning Union. She sees clearly Cynthia’s passion for the job and her passion for supporting the community through the sharing of news—and, as Cynthia says, stories.
At the launch of her career, Cynthia’s work with the newspaper didn’t include covering sports, as she had originally hoped, but Cynthia found that by covering local, hometown stories, she was able to feel personally connected to her sources, coworkers and even her readers.
“People in the 1970s and ’80s were picking up the newspaper every day and reading it, so writing for the paper was a chance to be part of a community,” Cynthia says. The connections she has made as a reporter, Cynthia says, have really been the greatest reward of her work.
Cynthia became the newspaper’s managing editor in 2005 and continues to write regularly and offers a Sundaycolumn, in which she likes to focus on topics that her readers will find fun and enjoyable. “I (like to) use the column as a place to encourage people to slow down and appreciate life,” Cynthia says. “I try to find topics that are a little off-beat or interesting.”
Cynthia enjoys the freedom to pick and choose what she writes about and feels that it gives her a chance to really explore the depth of each story.
Cynthia wrote one of her favorite pieces of her career last October. The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and Honor Flight New England jointly organized a trip that would bring World War II veterans to see the war memorial in Washington D.C. Because her own father had served in the war, Cynthia was interested in the story from the start. She traveled with the veterans to the United States Capitol for what was a very emotionally touching journey.
“It was without a doubt one of the most moving things I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “These were 80- and 90-year-old men and women who were in tears that somebody cared enough to do this for them. They got to see how the nation cared for them.”
Outside of her work as a journalist, Cynthia is a board member for the Food Bank of Western Mass, and she participates on two scholarship committees: the Valley Press Club, which gives scholarships to high school students pursuing careers in journalism, and Dollars for Scholars, which supports Northampton students.
In her spare time, Cynthia enjoys gardening at her home in Northampton and reading nonfiction and mysteries. She also enjoys spending time with family, friends – who she says are often as close as family – and, especially, her three nieces.
We encourage you to vote for Cynthia as 2015’s Professional Writer.
By Vanessa Pesa
Writer’s Digest had a useful little article called “101 Best Websites for Writers” recently. I ran through it and pulled out a few especially helpful sites for our busy writers out there juggling full time professions with their part time authorial dreams.
First up is Evil Editor. Don’t let it fool you; this site is not evil at all. It provides much-needed tough love advice on crafting queries, synopses and the beginning chapters of your book.
Grammar Girl is another great website to keep in your back pocket. Mignon Fogarty has created this website to help with all sorts of difficult grammar dilemmas. The website offers podcasts, tips on punctuation, word usage and even developments on the English language.
If you’re an author that needs mentoring in novel writing, check out Helping Writers Become Authors. The site is separated into five sections: Characters, Writing Life, Writing Inspiration, Structuring Your Novel and Editing Your Novel. Anything you could possibly need is right at your fingertips, and it’s well organized so there’s no hassle of searching.
If you’re ready to start publishing, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing could have some tips for you. Author JA Konrath gives insight on how to become a successful genre writer, whether through the traditional publishing route or by self-publishing.
Word Serve Water Cooler serves as an online community of agented authors sharing tips and tricks to help novice authors reach their publishing goals.
Another great site to gain some online support is Wow! Women on Writing. Here women authors stimulate creativity at all stages of the writing process. There are also critique groups, writing prompts and even a list of upcoming writing retreats.
If you’re on the hunt for agents or publishers, stop in at querytracker.net. Here you can, as the title suggests, track submission progress as well. There is an accompanying blog for publishing tips that’s worth a look too.
The final useful site is the Coalition for Independent Authors. This is dedicated to self-published, independent authors with the goal of promoting their books. It’s a great way to network with other writers while getting some great exposure for your work.
Hopefully some or all of these will help out our ambitious writers out there!
By Vanessa Pesa
Lesléa Newman says her hero, Barbra Streisand, never learned to type because Streisand never wanted to have a fallback plan; if she had no Plan B, she’d have to succeed as a musician. As a 59-year-old, full-time writer, Lesléa has no fallback plan either. If something isn’t working, she fixes it.
A normal day for Lesléa starts at about 5:30 in the morning, when her cat wakes her up. She begins writing as a top priority, and if she is inspired, she can continue for the entire day. Depending on her schedule, deadlines or traveling commitments, this is not always possible.
Lesléa’s first love is poetry, but luckily she doesn’t have to choose just one genre and has written fiction, personal essays, the entire gamut of children’s literature and novels in verse. One novel in verse that is extremely powerful in message is titled October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard.
Matthew was a young gay man in Wyoming who was lured into a truck and driven into the country, where he was savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. He passed away on Oct. 12, 1998, five days after this traumatic event. Lesléa was the keynote speaker for a gay-awareness event during this same year, and her collection of poetry explores this subject deeply.
Exploring subjects that catch her interest is one of Lesléa’s favorite areas of focus in her work. This includes matters of the heart. Her new collection of poetry, I Carry My Mother , explores her mother’s illness and death and how Lesléa has carried on without her. This selection of poems, she says, is very accessible to readers, and this is very important to her. She believes that there is no point to poetry if the reader cannot understand and connect with it.
Old composition books mark Lesléa’s first memories of writing, as a small child scribbling poetry in her spare time. Her first big break came when she was published in Seventeen Magazine in 1976 as a teen. It was her first paid job, and she has been publishing ever since. She has always been equally passionate about writing poetry and publishing her work, sending her work out for publishing early in her career. She has published 65 books.
In addition to writing, Lesléa also mentors students in a low-residency MFA program at Spalding University and privately. She is very proud to say that one of her private students, Kwame Alexander, recently was awarded the Newbury Award for a novel they worked on together, titled The Crossover.
When her career was just starting, Lesléa taught 10-week writing workshops called “Write from the Heart.” Due to her success with Heather Has Two Mommies and immense travelling, she needed to step back from the workshops and now teaches students individually as it is more sustainable for all parties involved. She says she learns a great deal from this; it feeds the writing machine, and she looks at it as a vocation and avocation at the same time.
Lesléa says that to conjure up the initial kernel of an idea is a challenge, but once she has it, she pesters it to death, working it into fruition. She says that these ideas come from all sorts of places: anywhere from waking up in the morning with a sentence in her head to being inspired by other writers’ work. She believes that “Good writers borrow; great writers steal” (the quote is attributed both to T.S. Eliot and Oscar Wilde) and frequently “steals” forms made famous by other writers, infusing them with her own content to come up with something new.
Lesléa also travels frequently for her work, doing local readings as often as she can. Yesterday, she read from Heather Has Two Mommies at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts. She feels that this is a good thing to do with kids that have two moms on a weekend dedicated to dads. She will also be at the Greenfield Public Library in October for a reading of I Carry My Mother. If you’re interested in finding out more about Lesléa you can visit her personal website here and you can sign up to receive her newsletter here.
By Janice Beetle
I am aware that I have an addiction to my iPhone.
At the end of a weekday, it is difficult (sometimes impossible) to separate from work with my iPhone close at hand, announcing, with its bloops and bleeps, each new email and voice mail. I tend to check it the way a new mother checks an infant, searching for the answer to the question, “Is everything okay?” or “It’s been five minutes, have I missed anything important?”
While driving, I’ve been known to toss my iPhone in the back seat because I know I can’t resist the urge to check my inbox.
This is unhealthy. I know.
I am also aware of the deterioration that technology—hand-held devices in particular—is wreaking on our society and how these devices are barriers in our real-time family and friend communications. It actually frightens me.
I saw a video on television recently in which a 2-year-old greeted her mom at the end of the day not with a hug and kiss and a “Welcome home mommy” but with intense whining to use her mommy’s iPad: “iPad mommy? iPad? iPad? Please mommy?”
The show I saw this video on presented it as humorous. I thought it was downright scary.
Still, when I went on a Carnival cruise a month or so ago, I was terrified to learn I would not be able to use my iPhone to text, email or receive calls while away. I learned I also could not email or go online on my laptop.
I tried to embrace this realization with excitement and relief, but I was only anxious about what I would miss. I had FOMA, as my daughter would say: Fear of Missing Out.
I pictured my octogenarian parents, my older daughter and my boyfriend unable to reach me in an emergency. I pictured clients who needed assistance, unable to connect.
I pictured anarchy.
So I caved, and I bought Verizon’s international package for the one week I would be away, but the representative failed to tell me the addition of this global plan meant I could turn roaming on once I hit San Juan, Puerto Rico. So, I didn’t turn it on, and, thus, I did not have the ability to connect.
There was no wifi in San Juan, and when the Carnival cruise ship I was on came into port in St. Thomas on our first day, I was surprised there was, again, no solid wifi connection. Then on day three, when there was no wifi on Barbados, I was forced to accept the truth: I was unplugged.
It took a few hours, and then I was thrilled, and for the remaining five days, the lack of technology was bliss.
It was so relaxing to have no choice in the matter, to be unable to check email and respond. I had given my family the Carnival number in case of emergency, so I settled in to a world where the iPhone did not get turned on and did not need to be charged at night.
What a beautiful thing.
Believe it or not, no clients suffered as a result. No family members were traumatized, and I came home far more energized than I’ve been since I bought my first laptop in 2010.
I highly recommend a tech break, and it is summer, after all. When you go on your next vacation, leave your tech toys and tools behind. You will come back feeling so much better!
By Vanessa Pesa
Janice has received a handful of responses to our queries for Unleashing the Sun, and unfortunately, they have all been rejections.
She heard such replies as “I just wasn’t completely drawn in by the material as much as I had hoped,” and “I’m not connecting enough with this project.” One agent was encouraging, though, saying “Many best-sellers have been passed on numerous times prior to being successfully published.”
Yet another agent, who responded just this morning, offered some context and information: “Our agency receives over 1,000 queries per month, and we only take on a few new clients per year. With the publishing industry being extremely competitive we need to feel a strong conviction when representing your work. While it is not for us, another agent / agency may well feel differently.”
Janice is not disturbed about the rejections as she is not opposed to self-publishing for a second time, but it got me to wondering what other writers could do when faced with such vague feedback from agents.
In starting my research, I learned it’s not uncommon for agents to offer a “yes” or “no” response only. Many individuals reassured me that agents will only infrequently give feedback on the work itself, that offering a critique is not in their job description. Agents are simply in a position to accept or deny.
So then, I wondered, how does one know what is wrong with the work, and how then to fix it? Here’s what I learned:
If you feel that your work has not been critiqued sufficiently, or that your query and manuscript may be lacking in some areas, enroll in a class! There are tons of writing workshops and conferences out there; it just takes some good, old-fashioned research to find them in your area and choose which groups would suit your writing style best.
There are also actual critique groups you can join, in person or online, so that other writers can take a look at your work. This situation is ideal because everyone is in the same position, likely in different stages of the process. Sharing stories, experiences and gaining knowledge from others is always useful.
There are sites online that can also be fruitful, such as QueryShark and Absolute Write, through which writers can submit their queries and have a professional provide feedback. QueryShark specifically critiques fiction queries in its own blog, so you have to be prepared to publicly accept what they tell you.
Finally, you can take the route Janice takes. If you feel confident about your work and can’t get an agent to buy in, turn to self-publishing. It’s a very viable option.
By Vanessa Pesa
Janice and I have been toiling away over the submission guidelines for Unleashing the Sun, making sure each agent gets exactly what he or she needs, and amazingly enough, everyone’s standards are just a smidge different. I thought I would share with you a brief how-to on two of the most common documents they request—the query and the synopsis.
First up is a query letter; most agents want at least this to start with for a fiction submission. A query letter is designed to grab the agent’s attention and lure them into wanting to read your entire manuscript. It needs to be short and sweet, set up a bit like a movie trailer and is generally limited to just three basic paragraphs.
The first paragraph is the hook, a one-liner that embodies the essence of the book while roping your reader/agent in. The second is the mini-synopsis, in which the writer must summarize the entire manuscript in one paragraph. The final paragraph is the author bio; here is where you present your accolades, outline whether you’ve published in the past, and where, and talk yourself up in relation to the content of your manuscript to get you noticed.
Writing a query seems like it should take an hour or so, right? No. This is tough stuff! The limited space means that each and every word is prime real estate! Your query needs to be crafted in such a way that lures your reader in but doesn’t give too much away; you want to entice and not bore.
Keep in mind your audience for the letter is an agent—or agents—who have read countless query letters, so you have some stiff competition. Not to mention the fact that some of the agents only want a query letter, which means if this slim, one-page document doesn’t sell your manuscript, doesn’t knock the socks off of the agent, that’s the end of the road with them! Deep breaths, deep breaths.
I wrote a query letter for Unleashing the Sun that we then submitted to eight different agents. So far, we’ve had a thumbs down from four or five and no response from the others. With Janice in a state of limbo on the book—she’s working out an issue around one character in her mind—this is okay, but once we’re up and running again, we will hit the ground running—again.
Another document for pitching to agents is the synopsis. This is exactly what it sounds like, a summary of your manuscript, limited to one to two pages. It should be written in the same style as your manuscript, should introduce your characters and the major conflicts they face and end with the conclusion of your novel. Yes, contrary to popular (or at least my) belief, you do give away the ending. Agents do not want cliffhangers! Your synopsis should provide the agent with the full scope of your storyline to allow them full advantage to decide whether or not they want to take on your project.
Writing the synopsis for Janice wasn’t as challenging for me, since the second paragraph of the query was a jumping off point. Janice is sitting on the synopsis I wrote as she feels she needs to be in a “readier” state with the manuscript to send this off.
What has been most interesting in the submission process is seeing what each agent wants. The expectations are entirely different from agent to agent, and between fiction and nonfiction!
For nonfiction, the writer needs to compile an entire proposal, while fiction writers need only create a query for most. For fiction, some agents also request a brief synopsis and some want to see the first few pages of the manuscript, but most only want a query letter to start and will respond if interested.
There you have it, submissions process in a nutshell!