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Photo and cover design by Brad R Cook: Garden Glow at Missouri Botanical Gardens
In this issue
By David Lucas
By Jennifer Stolzer
By Cona Faye Gregory Adams
By Amy M. Zlatic
By Cona Faye Gregory Adams
The Gift of Writing
By David Alan Lucas
They say writing is a gift. Our gift is this weird superpower to create worlds from nothing, paint with poetry on a reader’s blank canvas, or explore and explain something through the written word. We are telepaths with words flowing from our minds, through our fingers, into the eyes of readers, projecting those thoughts into the minds others. We’re gifted with the job of asking questions others are too afraid to ask. We’re allowed to be curious about the little and big things in life. We know the secret knowledge that the small details—of our writing and in life—are the most important elements of life. We know the secret words to make people fall in love, cry, be inspired, grow angry, or to leave this world without pain.
All gifts have a blessing and a curse. The curse of writing is wide. Few outside of the industry understand what we do. Few respect it. Have you ever introduced yourself at a party—or forbid—on an airplane or a train—as a writer? You will get one of four reactions. One is the haughty reaction: “Oh…you write. Don’t you have a real job?” Then there’s the “Oh, you have a lot of free time” response. People say this when they want you to volunteer to do something. The third response is: “Writing is easy. I plan to write books when I retire (or have time, or whatever the fantasy is.)” The third reaction tends to be the “I never read your work, but have you read (insert either the name of a superstar writer or someone who is a hack)?”
That isn’t the only aspect of the curse. The other aspect is the drive to write. Have you ever tried to stop writing? I did. I really didn’t have a choice. Life and family responsibilities forced it on me. It was a very depressing time in my life. The drive to write was like a raging volcano—as seen in Superman comics—when a boulder is dropped on the opening to cap it. The frustration and emotional anguish built and built. It was miserable. We’re connected to a flow of creativity that will not be dammed up. It will either flow through you or past you.
Our gift has been given to us regardless of whether we wanted it or not. We are writers. This gift comes with a huge responsibility to write and to hone this art. We read how others write. We read how to write. We go to conferences and workshops. From the beginner to the master, no one has ever reached perfection in this craft—only the hope of getting close. Our payoff for our gift is the satisfaction of creation. Our payoff is when someone tells us they liked what we wrote. Our payoff is being something most of our fellow humans will never be—a creator.
Photo by Steven Langhorst
Workshops for writers:
Road Hazards: The Life of a Touring Writer—M.R. Sellars
By Jennifer Stolzer
M.R. Sellars – author of eleven novels including the Rowan Gant and Constance Mandalay series – spoke to the St. Louis Writer’s Guild Dec. 5 about his experience with the modern book tour.
“We all know what it takes to get your published works out there and market them,” Sellars said. “But when you actually achieve success at this, there’s a price you have to pay… called touring.”
Sellars is published through a small press and retains a publicist. Even so, he’s organized most writing tours and convention visits himself.
“One of the pieces of advice I often give is ‘relax, all you did was write a book.’ You haven’t cured cancer or anything,” he said. “Be proud you wrote a book, but you’re just another schmo trying to make a living.” It’s this attitude that’s helped him laugh off many strange, and sometimes dangerous, experiences—from resisting a conventioneer’s drunken advances to surviving the wrath of a full-blown hurricane!
“One thing you discover is that it’s good to have someone you can cry with, because that happens a lot.” For Sellars, that person is Dorothy Morrison, fellow pagan author and tourer. Together the two writers and their spouses have driven across America, splitting hotel rooms and greasy pizzas to the point of exhaustion. “Once Dorothy wrapped a trash bag around her arm and manually unclogged her own hotel toilet. That’s touring – greasy burgers and unclogging your own toilet.”
With such a glamorous account of touring life, what’s the payoff?
“No matter how big you are, you will have a signing where nobody shows up, but as a general rule, touring gets you in front of fans and potential fans,” he said. “It proves to them you are a real person and gives you the chance to talk to them.”
Sellars tries many creative things in order to get books into readers’ hands. He even packs books onto his carry-on suitcases and leaves copies of them on the plane seat when he leaves. At Bouchercon he actually talked his publisher into donating a couple boxes of books to give away at his panel talk, which he left on the first few rows of seats.
“My best marketing tool has probably been just getting in front of people. I’ve actually received emails from people saying ‘I saw your books and wasn’t interested until I met you and decided to give it a try,’” he said. “I can tell a difference in my sales when I get my royalty reports if I’ve been off the road for a while… It’s a big ego boost when you get somebody coming in who likes your stuff.”
Fans are also Sellar’s biggest defense against writer’s block. “There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” he said, “but if you’re asking what to do when the words just aren’t coming out, that’s a different story. Writer’s block is a state of mind, it’s a thing you’ve done to yourself. If you want to publish and make money at it, you’ve got to treat it as a job.” He recommended taking breaks to work on different projects like press releases or articles, or – if you’re working against a deadline – look at your project one word at a time. Don’t look too far ahead. “
It takes Sellars about six months to write a book.
“I start out my novels to run in the 100,000- to 120,000-word range. The first 25,000 is like pulling teeth... but then I hit this point where the characters take over and I just start taking dictation for them. That's not saying that occasionally your characters do something you don't want them to do. Usually, though, your characters know better than you do what's happening with the story. Just put it on the page. Don't worry about editing. Don't get bogged down in grammar. Just write. Just get it on the page. Editing comes later.”
Sellars’ first book was agented and optioned to Penguin, where an editor called saying, “We love it, but you have to change this, this and this. “I had a problem because the things they wanted to change fundamentally changed the story – like removing murders and redefining the witches, who were intended to be authentically pagan in the concepts, coven dynamics, and the religious aspects. So instead, his first full-length novel, , was published in May 2000 through a small craft publisher.
Once a book is written, it’s time to promote it. Nowadays, no matter what size house publishes your book, publicity and marketing fall on the author’s shoulders, which raises the question of where to start when an author decides to begin touring. “When my first novel came out, it didn’t have the greatest cover,” Sellars said. “So in order to get myself booked into gigs, I actually bought four hundred copies and paid the postage to donate them to every pagan convention I could find in the United States. That was a chunk of change, but probably one of the best marketing moves I’ve ever made. It got my name out, got people interested in me.” Sellars targeted pagan conventions to reach a niche market that would be interested in the themes presented in his work. His first convention was in Ohio, where he made enough of a splash that he was invited back the next year. From there, he started to get other invitations.
When planning a book tour, Sellars recommends starting six months or more in advance, which gives you time to promote. Create start and end dates, and find bookstores along the path of where you’re going to be. The easiest way to set up a book tour is to pick up the phone and say “here I am. These are my dates. Can I set something up?” The number of places you contact is directly relative in proportionate to the places that say “yes.” Stop calling when you’ve filled your dance card. Get as many venues and event names as you can. If you are going to fly or rent a car, the money can add up, but, of course, if you’re going to drive and eat cheap pizza, you can keep the cost down. Getting in big stores is harder, but easier to accomplish if there are already fans in that area.
“People ask me to come,” Sellars said. “So I tell them to tell Barnes and Noble about their interest so when I call, the store will be more receptive.” If you're an unknown, they'll expect you to show up with your own books – especially if they're not returnable. A two-week book tour--not counting airfare and with costs split in half with another author-- averages Sellars about $500.
Selling books on consignment is another option. “When I was first starting out, I got my books in some stores on consignment and here, fifteen years later, I still haven’t been paid.” Sellars’ preferred method of selling copies of his book is for readers to purchase through independent bookstores, because it supports small business. Barring that, getting books from Amazon helps his sales numbers. As for buying directly from his website, after packaging and postage, he only makes maybe 50 or 75 cents more than if the book was bought on Amazon.
Authors should hire a publicist as soon as they can afford one, he said. Publicists can handle press releases and other tasks, getting those off your plate.
“Let somebody else who knows what they’re doing with the media do that for you,” Sellars said. “My publicist is actually pretty inexpensive—I pay him maybe $200 a month. You can pay them thousands … One of the things he primarily does is the DMCA take-down requests for pirates – that’s his biggest job for me, but he also fields emails for people wanting to book me and such. I’m actually a fairly easy guy to get along with, my needs are simple.”
“There is room on the bookshelf for everybody’s book.” Sellars said in conclusion. “It’s a question of whether or not it’s going to get read.” Target your audience, get in front of possible readers, and promote yourself doggedly both on tour and off.
Find our more about M.R. Sellars at
50 Years to the First Sale
By Cona Faye Gregory Adams
Shakespeare suffered 50 rejections before any of his work was accepted for publication. It took me 50 years of writing before making the decision to submit to a publisher. For the first 50 years, I gave them away. My poems. I wrote what one poet calls “designer poetry.” I wrote poems for birthdays, weddings, baby showers, anniversaries, and special events, embellished with bright mats, lace, quilling, and shadow-box frames, then presented them as gifts to whoever I was honoring or to whomever was celebrating.
I fielded and fulfilled requests for poems from friends, family, theatre groups, co-workers, even college professors. Our Pastor frequently included poetry in his sermons and asked to see anything I had written. Every year, as the month of December approached, he would ask if I had a new Christmas poem. I had poetry floating around in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Wyoming and Montana, with publication in newspapers, always without pay. I was totally unconcerned, actually felt honored that my work was being shared and appreciated.
When my husband and I planned a big blowout for our 50th anniversary, I had no idea it would lead to my first sale. My mother, at 88, was a special guest at our party. She stayed with us through a renewal of vows plus dinner and dance later in the evening. She seemed to have a great time and actually got out on the floor for a little dancing.
One couple, unable to accept our invitation, sent a note of regret with an issue of IDEALS magazine as a gift. The theme of the edition was Friendship. It was a publication new to me, but it was beautifully done and contained poetry. I devoured the entire issue in one sitting. In the center of the magazine was a double-page spread titled, “Reader’s Reflections.” A note at the top called for poems from readers and gave submission guidelines.
I immediately copied several poems and mailed them in for consideration. Many months passed without a reply and I assumed the publisher was unimpressed. Oh well, not everyone would appreciate my style of poetry. I couldn’t expect the same reaction from editors that I received from family, friends and our Pastor, who are probably prejudiced just because they think I’m such a swell person.
But one day the mailbox contained a request for my signature, giving IDEALS permission to publish a poem, “Mother’s Green Thumb,” in the 2005 Mother’s Day edition. With my heart beating wildly and excitement taking my breath away, I signed and returned the form.
A month or so before Mother’s Day, I received two copies of the edition in which my poem appeared. I was given the choice of purchasing additional copies at a greatly reduced rate.
I gleefully wrote out a check for eight more copies. Later, it thrilled me to be able to hand Mom her copy of the magazine, containing a published copy of my poem about her.
Yet the biggest boost came from that $10 check floating out of the envelope. It might as well have been a million bucks for the way it made me feel. With satisfaction, the realization hit that I had finally become a writer. That’s all the encouragement I needed to keep submitting.
There have been numerous other publication credits in the ten years since that first poem, but none have ever packed the jolt of that first check. Of course, I made a copy before depositing it into our bank account. Occasionally, I pull out the copy and look at it to remind myself to keep writing.
I’m geared up for the next 50 years of writing, convinced that this is only the beginning. Who would have thought that I would begin a new career during my golden years? Perhaps my experience disproves the old theory that you can’t teach an old dog, new tricks.
The real meaning behind 50,000 words
By Amy M. Zlatic
While National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has been celebrated (and reviled) for 16 years, this was the first time I participated. NaNoWriMo can be a contentious topic. It’s the gun debate of the writing world. Writers love it or hate it, or start out loving it and grow to hate it halfway through November. The NaNo fans think it’s fun and motivating, at least at first; the detractors think there’s no way anyone can churn out anything good in 30 days. I can see both sides, but thought it might be interesting to commit to something so large, so grand, and most importantly, so visible. Last year, when I started seriously writing again after some time off, I didn’t feel like I could commit to 50,000 words in 30 days. 1,667 words each day is some serious scratch. With a full-time job, a 10-year-old daughter who plays sports and is learning to play the piano, a husband who also works and travels for his job, plus various family and volunteer commitments, writing that much that quickly takes planning and a hardcore willingness to tell people “no” when they ask you to do non-writing things. I wasn’t ready last year, and contented myself with setting my own personal goal for the month: writing and submitting a short story to the St. Louis Writers Guild contest. I accomplished that, and the achievement gave me the motivation I needed to keep writing.
This year, I felt ready to tackle NaNoWriMo. My reasons for trying, perhaps, are shared with a minority of WriMos (I learned that this is what we participants call ourselves, which strikes me as wholly inelegant especially for a group of creative writers). From what I can tell, most people want to produce a work they can edit and submit to literary agents and publishers. This November, I wasn’t writing to end up with a publishable novel, or anything that could be edited into a publishable novel. I was instead writing solely for me, to prove that I could make a commitment to my writing and that I could find time to write every single day. I chose a safe topic, not a traditional novel but a true tale of my experiences working for Benedictine monks. It was safe because I was fairly certain I could achieve at least 50,000 words without struggling too much for material.
I set myself up for winning in other ways, too. I alerted my family to my goal, explaining that I would need to have time to myself every day to work. Their buy-in was essential, as was their ability to learn to find things on their own without automatically asking me first. I told a few close friends about it, setting up cheerleaders and the expectation that I wouldn’t be as available as usual to help with kids and volunteer projects. I posted on Facebook and my blog that I was attempting this, so that I’d be duly mortified as a Type-A personality if I had to tell everyone at the end that I hadn’t hit my goal. (Fear of humiliating one’s self, it turns out, is an excellent motivator.) I found a writing group that meets weekly and is full of wonderful people who also bury themselves in their laptops, don’t think it’s anti-social to type for two hours without saying a word, and can come up with eight synonyms in three seconds with little warning. I downloaded the trial version of Scrivener and raced through the tutorial, learning how to enable the “distraction free writing” tool because, for me, that’s one of the biggest perks of Scrivener.
The month kicked off and I banged away at my keyboard every day, usually far exceeding the 1,667 goal. Even though I was building a nice cushion, I didn’t dare take a day off or slack on my word count. I’m a firm believer in the power of momentum. If it works for trains and sports teams, it must work for writers. I learned in the first few days that I could not start writing if my daughter was still awake. She has far too many questions. During that Family Time, my husband is also chatty. I had to wait until daughter went to bed and hubby was working or pursuing his own interests. One night I grew frustrated with having a train of thought interrupted continuously, and snapped so completely that I knew I had to work out a different arrangement. It was late and I was tired and frantically typing when my husband thought it’d be a great idea to watch the Star Wars movie trailer (again) as loud as his computer could play it. I don’t have a clear recollection of everything that happened after the top of my head opened and snakes came out, but there was huffing and yelling something about “word count” and being forced to move to my cold office. When my head closed back up and I came to my senses, I found him cowering behind his laptop screen. Apologies all around, I made it to my goal, and we all went to bed happy. After that, I started waiting until Family Time was over, he started using headphones, and we put a space heater in my office.
I also needed to find creative times and other places to write. The Thursday night writing group became a sacred cow, untouchable by any other requests. I wrote at my desk, on the couch, in a chair pulled up to the fireplace, at the kitchen island, and in bed. I wrote at Starbucks and Kaldi’s. I wrote in the Starbucks parking lot once when I realized I didn’t want coffee after all, I just wanted to write. I wrote in the car outside of the piano teacher’s house, and on her couch. I wrote some evenings standing at the kitchen counter, while dinner simmered on the stove or baked in the oven before my husband got home from work and while our daughter did her homework or took a shower. I wrote in restaurants while waiting for my dining companion to arrive. Weekends were wonderful; whole blocks of time to write in the morning before the day got started. I wrote when I was tired and sad and hungry, and when I was caffeinated and happy and full. I wrote when I was angry, realizing after I wrote that the anger was gone. I wrote early in the morning before anyone was up, and late at night after everyone was asleep, sometimes both in the same day. I wrote even when I didn’t want to write, and learned that while it might be hard to write some days, it’s far better than not writing at all. I found that writing every day allows me to escape from the real world for a little bit, which is nice because the world is a scary place right now. And I discovered that I am a happier person when I write every day.
I made the goal, exceeding it by 10,000 words and change. Upon reflection, I think the goal of 50,000 words is arbitrary. Yes, it is a precise target, but it is ultimately designed simply to get people writing. Most of us need some impetus, or structure, a specific motivation to get our butts in our chairs (or on the couch or at the kitchen counter or in the car outside the piano teacher’s house). While my “official” goal was 50,000 words, my “real” goal was to prove to myself that I can write a book, that I am a writer. I wrote to prove to myself that with a full-time job and the responsibilities of a child and a husband and a home and friends and family and volunteering and all the other hats I wear, I can still find time to write every day. Must find time to write every day. I learned things that I will use in my next book, and the one I started earlier this year but stalled on. I learned things that will help me craft a story that I will submit for publication, and gave me the confidence that I can do it.
This, to me, is a most excellent use of 50,000 words.
Amy M. Zlatic is a marketing and communications professional who is happily using her journalism degree in positive ways. She’s married to a brilliant engineer who makes her laugh, and together they have created one brilliant daughter who can bark like a seal with alarming accuracy. They share two cats and a guinea pig, although her husband will tell you the cats are his wife’s. Amy has been blogging for nearly ten years and making photographs for much longer; you can find her at her new home on the internets: . She currently works as communications director for a monastery full of Benedictine monks and a school full of adolescent boys, which means she could probably sell this situation as a reality comedy show and make millions of dollars, only the monks said no. Multiple times. She celebrates damn near everything, especially Thursdays because Thursdays bring doughnuts and dress down days at work, her writing group, and the faint jingling of the pending weekend fast approaching.
By Cona Faye Gregory Adams
when least expected.
A spoken word,
phrase from a song,
message on a page . . .
A brain cell answers,
a memory resonates,
a heart chord sings.
Stop whatever you’re doing,
put pen to paper,
let feelings flow.
Poetry time is any time
inspiration slaps hard,
and won’t let go.
second friday notes, second Friday of each month, 7 p.m., at Whole Foods Town & Country, Clayton Road just west of Highway 141.
RIVER STYX. Third Mondays, 7:30 p.m., Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt Ave. riverstyx.org/events.
POETRY AT THE POINT, 4th Tuesday of the month, at Focal Point, 2720 Sutton Ave
Sheila Nolan Whalen Reading Series at SLU, 221 N. Grand Ave., Dubourg 409. Tuesdays at 4 p.m.
CHANCE OPERATIONS on the last Monday of each month At Tavern of the Arts, 313 Belt Ave., just off Pershing, between Union and DeBaliviere. 7:30 p.m. Open mic follows featured poets.
EVERY WEDNESDAY open mic for poetry and music at Stone Spiral Coffee & Curios, 2500 Sutton in Maplewood (2 blocks N. of Manchester). Great food and beverages. Open mic, 8 until around 11 p.m.
GOODY HOUSE, 7 p.m., fourth Thursdays at Art Marketplace, 2028 S. 12th Street. Featured poets.
R-SPACE. Last Saturday of the month, Lenny Smith and friends at 2 p.m.
ST. LOUIS WRITERS GUILD open mic for prose and poetry, second Tuesday of each month, 7 p.m., Kirkwood Train Station, Argonne Drive, just west of Kirkwood Road. Allow time to find parking.
ADDITIONAL OPEN MICS at The Wolf, (every Tuesday), Legacy Books & Café (every Friday), The Historic Crossings (every other Tuesday), Shameless Grounds (Wednesdays at 7), Venice Café (Mondays at 9)
A Quick Guide to St. Louis Writers Guild Events
It’s as easy as
Workshops for Writers
First Saturday of every month (except holiday weekends)
10 a.m. to Noon at the Kirkwood Community Center
Station Open Mic
Second Tuesday of every month
7-9 p.m. at the Kirkwood Amtrak Station
SLWG Authors Series
Third Thursday of every month
Query for “SLWG Authors Series” on You Tube or check the Members’ Room on our website, www.stlwritersguild.org.
The Scribe Editorial Staff
Brad R. Cook
Special thanks to:
Cona Faye Gregory Adams
Amy M. Zlatic
NOTE: If you are a St. Louis Writers Guild member, please consider submitting a poem, short story or an article about writing (4,000 words or less) for publication in this newsletter. THE SCRIBE is now issued monthly and promoted to more than 1,000 people on our mailing list. Submissions should be sent by the first of each month to [email protected]—put SCRIBE in the subject line.
Also, if you are interested in joining the editorial staff as a writer, please contact [email protected] -- put SCRIBE in the subject line.
For more than a decade, The Scribe has been the mainstay for communicating with members of the St. Louis Writers Guild. It began as a way to showcase the organization and share insights into the publishing world. Back issues give a wonderful record of the Guild. The Scribe is now available to everyone, not just members. It features stories, poems, and essays from our members, as well as information about our events, most of which are open to the public. The December 2015 edition features "50 Years to the First Sale" and "Poetry Time" by Cona Faye Gregory Adams, "The Real Meaning Behind 50,000 Words" by Amy M. Zlatic, and a report by Jennifer Stolzer on the Guild’s Dec. 5 workshop featuring bestselling author M.R. Sellar's insights on Road Hazards: The Life of a Touring Writer.