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Writing for Your “Inner Circle” – And Skip the Book Marketing

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How to Get Published and Skip Book Marketing  Getting a book published is a big job, but the biggest part of it isn’t the writing or even the publishing; it’s the book marketing. For many authors, book marketing is a … Continue reading

My Valentine to the Adirondack Chair

red adirandcak chair MF

Love Song to the Adirondack Chair

It’s VALENTINE’S DAY. Roses are nice. Chocolates are yummy. But what really makes my heart sing is the sight of an Adirondack chair.  Wood only, never plastic. They come in all colors, although white is my favorite — memories of Cape Cod summers as a kid and rolling green lawns with white Adirondack chairs plopped down in the middle of them. While I don’t happen to own a rolling green lawn at the moment, if I did, it would most certainly feature a couple of Adirondack chairs facing out towards the world.

two white chairs facing water-mf.jpg

Two Rustic Adirondak Chairs in Vermont with Special Meaning

About a year before my sister Evie died of ovarian cancer, while she was in remission, we took a road trip to Vermont and stayed in a charming Bed and Breakfast run by friends of hers. Oftentimes during the day, we would sit out on the back porch in these two rustic Adirondack chairs (see below) and talk. And we would look out at the serenity of this view. That experience, that view, those talks, and those Adirondack chairs are precious to me still.

Copy of Chair & Peaceful View (1a)

A Chair “Stars” on a Book Cover

When I returned to California and wrote my book called “The Therapist Writer,” I wanted to use the Vermont photo (above) where my sister and I had sat and had our last lengthy sister-to-sister talk together. Unfortunately, my book cover designer said my photo didn’t have enough “pixels” to look sharp on a book cover, so she went searching for a replacement. I now had very specific requirements: “I want a photo of a single Adirondack chair, under a tree, facing away towards a lovely scene. I want a writer to be able to picture themselves sitting in the Adirondack chair, contemplating nature and coming up with a great idea for a book.” This is what my graphic designer came up with after she had to buy a photo first and crop it way down in order to focus on the chair and tree:

the_therapist_writer1001003

The Therapist Writer by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

You Can’t Please Everybody

I loved my created-to-order book cover, but a therapist colleague of my said, “Oh, no, that’s all wrong. That’s bad ‘feng shui.’ You can’t have just one chair facing away. You have to have two chairs facing forward towards the readers, in communication with each other and with the reader!” I said no, this chair is for solo contemplation to allow the creative mind to pop out a book idea without distraction. I’m sure the writers among you will understand. Besides, I also find Adirondack chairs to be beautiful from the back.

Since my book turned out to be divided into four sections, I included a drawing in between each section — of guess what? an Adirondack chair:

AdChair

Another Loss and a Pair of Lavender Adirondack Chairs

In January 2014, on the first anniversary of the death of my husband of 28 years, Lance Wolstrup, I felt the need to get out of LA and find a quiet place to go for the weekend. I discovered the charming Lavender Inn in Ojai. From my window, I looked down into the garden and saw a pair of Adirondack  chairs in a soft lavender color.

lavender chairs

Oh, how Lance would have loved to have his morning coffee sitting in one of those chairs and read his computer magazines. So I took my morning coffee and pastry, and a notebook and mechanical pencil (favorite writing tool) and sat in one of the lavender chairs and tried a daring new writing experiment — turning an historical screenplay written years ago into a novel and, more daring still, using the first person which forces you into feelings. Had Lance been there I’d have asked his opinion, as I always did. This time I was on my own. And I’m still working on that novel!

Over the last few years I’ve given a lot of workshops on the subject of writing and publishing, especially self-publishing, and I’ve also led writing groups. A while back I marketing a small writing group using a photo of colorful Adirondack chairs that made my heart swell, it was so beautiful. I got it from morguefile.com (write that down; free photos to use for book covers and marketing).

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The photo caused one woman to email me to say that the picture alone was enough for her to sign up for the writing group. Another Adirondack chair lover for sure!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

* The History of the Adirondack Chair —The first Adirondack Chair was invented in 1903 by Thomas Lee in Westport, New York, a small town on Lake Champlain at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains. He wanted to be able to enjoy the view and not have to keep standing up. Using his family members as “test sitters,” he settled on a chair constructed from eleven pieces of wood cut from one single plank. It was a low-slung, spacious design with a high back and extra-wide armrests for that all-important summer beverage. The chair was originally called the “Westport Plank Chair.” Modern Adirondack chair manufacturers have at times created chairs that closely resemble these early creations, with modifications designed to increase comfort and durability. — from Wikipedia and other Internet sources

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s Too Nichy”^

Sylvia Cary to Get an IRWIN AWARD from the Book Publicists of Southern California Sylvia Cary, psychotherapist and author of 5 books, is to get an award for "Best Niche Campaign" for her book, "The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published" (Timberlake Press) The IRWIN Award, named for the Book Publicists of Southern California founder, Irwin Zucker, was introduced in 1995 as a way to formally and publicly recognize BPSC members who conduct the best book sales/ promotion campaigns. The Honorees present will share with the BPSC audience the steps they took that led to the success of their book promotion campaigns. The event takes place at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City on Thursday Oct. 15th. Contact at: sylvia@sylviacary.com OR visit newly tweaked and updated website, www.sylviacary.com.

Sylvia Cary, LMFT, received an IRWIN AWARD from the Book Publicists of Southern California (BPSC)  for “Best Niche Campaign” for her book, The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published (Timberlake Press). The award is named for the group’s founder, Irwin Zucker, and was introduced in 1995 as a way to formally and publicly recognize BPSC members who conduct the best book promotion campaigns. Each honoree shared with the audience the steps they took that led to the success of their book promotion campaign. (See video clip of Sylvia’s acceptance remarks below.) The event took place October 15th, 2015, at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, California, http://www.sylviacary.com.

Nailing Your Niche*

Definition of niche:  A French word meaning “a situation or activity suited to a person’s interests, ability, or nature.” 

“Nail your niche and own it.”   — Dan Poynter

In the old days of publishing, before digital, before the Internet, before Amazon, before Google, and before Kindle, big publishers didn’t want to touch books on small topics because most didn’t sell . Publishing them just didn’t pay off. Authors of books in niche areas were more likely to find homes with academic or university presses or with little publishers with no money for publicity or marketing.  The readers of these books often had to find out about them through obscure newsletters, specialty bookstores, or by word-of-mouth from other folks interested in the same subjects.

I went that route myself “back in the day” when I was researching my book called Jolted Sober: Getting to the Moment of Clarity in the Recovery of Addiction. I became a long-distance member of the Alister Hardy Research Centre in the U.K. (Oxford) in order to receive their snail-mailed newsletter which contained information of interest to me for my book. They were studying spontaneous healings and religious experiences. My book contained numerous stories about sudden “Aha!” moments of clarity in the addiction recovery. What they were researching was right up my alley. Today, niche publications like this one are easy to find. In fact, I Googled the Centre to see if it still exists — and it does, but with a new name. Now it’s the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre.

What all this means for you is that, as an author, you no longer have to be afraid that your topic or specialty is too narrowly focused (i.e. “too nichy”)  to write about. There are people out there looking for what you have to say. And while it’s unlikely that you’ll get a contract with a mainstream publisher where “No Niches Need Apply,” you may be accepted by a small press or you can self-publish on Amazon’s CreateSpace for free. You’ll find some buyers. Or they’ll find you. And they’ll be thrilled.

Tofu Takes Off

Here’s one of my favorite stories about writing a book for a niche market: For many years I’ve been running a free drop-in writers group at a bookstore in Woodland Hills, California. It is sponsored by the Independent Writers of Southern California (iwosc.org). One of our regular members, Lisa, told us how years earlier she’d accidentally stumbled upon an idea for a niche book while waiting in the check-out line at a local market. In her shopping cart she had a couple of packages of tofu. “How do you cook that stuff?” the woman behind her in line asked her. “Tofu is so tasteless.” Because Lisa really knows her tofu, she answered, “”It picks up the flavor of what you cook it in.” The woman was intrigued: “I didn’t know that.”  Lisa shared a few recipes with her; the woman was delighted.

This little conversation triggered an “Aha!” moment in Lisa’s brain. She went home and put together a cookbook on tofu, which included family cooking stories and, on each page, she placed a thought-provoking quote. She had copies made and sold them to friends, family and neighbors. She got requests for more. She had additional copies printed, this time bound with a plastic spiral. She took some of these to a local health food store. They bought a few, sold them, and ordered more. Then they ordered even more. By the end of the year the health food store had sold a total of 250 of Lisa’s tofu cookbook.

The following year, Lisa branched out to other health food stores and even a few pharmacies and it was the same story. They bought books, sold out, and ordered more. Next, Lisa bought her own spiral machine and printed copies at home for less money, and started doing a little local advertising. This resulted in a total of 5,000 cookbook sales, a decent number–  even if it had been a traditionally published book. But it was a lot of work! Had self-publishing on Amazon’s CreateSpace been available at the time Lisa started this project, who knows how many sales she’d have made as the result of people typing “cooking tofu” into their search engines!

Weightier Subjects

While it may still be possible to put everything that’s known about cooking tofu inside a single book, the body of knowledge in other fields is too vast for that. If you are, say,  a mental health professional and want to write a book on your specialty, you are probably going to have to “niche it down” so it’s not too broad and so it doesn’t repeat what’s already been done. In other words, you can’t just write “about alcoholism.” However, a book on alcoholism and the elderly is another story. By “niching it down,” you’ll be appealing to a few specific audiences, such as physicians, mental health professionals working with this population, and family members.  Try to think of another audience or two.

Here are just some of the subjects therapists have picked as specialties. Any one of them could be developed into a book:  Abuse, addiction, adoption, aging, anger management, ADHD, animal assisted therapy, anxiety, art therapy, Aspergers, autism, biofeedback, bipolar disorder, children/adolescents/teens, Christian counseling, cognitive behavioral, couples, creativity, depression, divorce and custody, eating disorders,  employee assistance (EAP), gay / lesbian/transgender issues, HIV/AIDS, Jungian analysis, Gestalt, grief recovery, learning disabilities, life coaching, meditation, mental illness, men’s issues, metaphysics, military culture, neuroscience, online counseling, parenting, phobias, play therapy, postpartum, private practice marketing, psychoanalysis, relationships, religious counseling, retirement counseling, rockstar therapy (yes, really!), short-term therapy, sex therapy, singles, sleep disorders, special needs – and hundreds more!

Start thinking about how you might give your special topic that special twist to make it different and unique. That’s how you get literary agents interested in representing you, publishers interesting in publishing you, and readers interested in buying you, whether it’s a traditionally or self-published book. Readers don’t care. They just want the information. The trick is to jump on a niche when it is still fairly new so, as the late publishing guru Dan Poynter said, you “own” it.

Finding a Home for The Therapist Writer

When I first came up with the idea for The Therapist Writer, I wrote a standard book proposal and started sending it out to literary agents. I kept getting back the same response: “It’s too nichy.” The agents didn’t think  there were enough mental health professionals who wanted to write who’d be interested in buying a book on the subject.  In fact, well-known literary agent Michael Larsen from San Francisco even phoned me to tell me this, and added that if I’d expand the focus from therapists to include other professions, he might consider it. That was tempting, but it wasn’t the book I wanted to write or felt capable of writing. I know my “tribe,” my fellow mental health professionals, very well, but I don’t know about other professional “tribes,” so I didn’t think I’d sound like I knew what I was talking about. I said no.

The Therapist Writer by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

The Therapist Writer by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

That’s when I realized I didn’t have a clue how big my market was. How many mental health professionals are there are in this country, anyhow, and how many of them want to write a book? I consulted the Occupational Outlook Handbook and came up with 750,000 mental health professionals, so I figured that if I could sell The Therapist Writer to just 1% of these therapists, that would end up being 7,500 books.  I also realized that while this figure might make me happy, it wouldn’t make me rich, and it wouldn’t impress a mainstream publisher.

I gave up on the idea of traditional publishing and self-published through Lightning Source (after first becoming a publisher — their rule at the time), and once the paper version was up on Amazon, I published it as a Kindle E-book.

Doc, What’s Your Line?

The conversation with agent Larsen made me really clear on the fact that I didn’t want to give up my niche audience (mental health professionals who want to write) and write for all writers. There were already plenty of books on writing and publishing for the general public. I also felt it was a plus that I was a licensed psychotherapist because I had chapters in the book on special issues that therapist-writers face, such as the important issue of patient confidentiality: How can a therapist write about a client’s case without getting sued? I talk in the book about “the art of disguise” in writing about others, which means a lot more than just changing names.

I now understood that by “niching down” my book I was probably limiting my readership and profits, but that’s just one of the many decisions an author must make. I also knew that when I started marketing my book, I’d have a chance to point out the benefits in the book for all writers, not just therapist writers. One big marketing shift I had to make was to treat therapist-writers as therapists, not writers. Most therapists don’t want to be writers, which is why they haven’t bought books on writing, and why they know less about the writing business than the average bear. They just want to keep on being therapists who have written a book. My book, I point out in my marketing, understands this and works with it so the therapists can reach their publishing goals in spite of their discomfort. The therapists who do want to be writers (and there are some!) already act like writers, and have read books and know about publishing trends. They are ripe and ready to press on.

The majority of the time, in marketing to therapists, I stress therapy careers, not writing careers. I  list the perks for therapists in being “the author of ” a book. It means instant credibility; being seen as an “expert in the field.” They might even become the “go-to” shrink for colleagues to refer to for specific psychological issues, like one therapist I know whose self-published book on his personal bipolar struggle has made him the therapist that other therapists think of as a referral resource. When I’d speak at therapy-related events and meetings, I’d take the same approach. I’d  talk to the audience as “therapists,” not “writers,”  and stress the career perks of getting published.

Becoming Niche Savvy

It’s important to know why your niche audience wants your book. For my niche audience, my book is business, not pleasure. Some therapists want to publish in order to have a carton of books in the trunk of their car to sell when they give talks or give workshops, or to have on hand for clients, clients’ families, and colleagues. Nothing more. They hate marketing.

I learned how to market The Therapist Writer (and I’m still learning) and how deal with a niche audience on the job, mostly by correcting mistakes —  such as starting out with no idea of the size, or whereabouts, of my audience! Next time out, I’ll know.

I didn’t get rich or famous marketing my book, but I learned a bunch and I got this award for my efforts. Cool experience. And the award  is pretty, isn’t it?

The IRWIN Award for "Best Niche Campaign"

The IRWIN Award for “Best Niche Campaign”

Below, FYI, is a video clip of my award acceptance remarks:

 

*Copyright 2015  Sylvia Cary, LMFT.  Portions of this blog post are taken from the chapter on “Nailing Your Niche” in The Therapist Writer.

Field Trip with Nana to The Last Bookstore

The Last Bookstore. Supercool! Known as the largest (2 floors, vaulted ceiling) independent bookstore in the world. Breathtaking decor; many public events. 453 S.Spring, LA 90013. "As physical bookstores die out like dinosaurs from the meteoric impact of Amazon and e-books," the Last Bookstore may end up being just that. There's a back room with 100,000 books for $1 each!). Open daily. (The Last Book Store).

The Last Bookstore. Supercool!  Known as the largest (two floors, vaulted ceiling) independent bookstore in the world. Breathtaking decor; many public events, located in downtown Los Angeles at 453 S.Spring, LA 90013. As it says on their website, “As physical bookstores die out like dinosaurs from the meteoric impact of Amazon and E-books,” The Last Bookstore may end up being just that. There’s a back room with 100,000 books for $1 each! Open daily.  — Photos by Sylvia Cary

The Care and Reading of Little Book Buyers

My daughter and her husband have been reading to their two kids, Lily and Lyle, my grandchildren, since they were six months old, maybe younger. No surprise that they love books. Each has a bookcase jammed packed with them. So when I decided to take Lyle on a field trip with Nana to downtown LA to visit The Last Bookstore, I asked him to pick out 10 books he was no longer into because The Last Bookstore not only sells books, they buy them.

Lyle proudly shows receipt for selling three of his own books to The Last Bookstore -- and he then turned right around and bought $3 worth of new books!

Lyle proudly shows his receipt and $3 for selling 3 of his 10 books to The Last Bookstore (they are fussy about what they purchase). Lyle then turned right around and bought $3 worth of new books!

Once a bank, the Last Bookstore viewed from the second floor is truly awe-inspiring. A reader's paradise but perhaps a little depressing for writers -- with all these books, does the world need another?

Once a bank, The Last Bookstore, especially when viewed from the second floor, is truly awe-inspiring. It’s a reader’s paradise but perhaps it’s a little depressing for writers — with all those books, does the world really need another one?

Books are displayed in imaginative ways...

Books are displayed in imaginative ways…

Lyle has just walked through the Tunnel of Books

Lyle has just walked through the Tunnel of Books

If you want a RED book, they have red books. Ditto BLUE, GREEN, WHITE, YELLOW and BLACK.

If you want a RED book, they have red books. Ditto BLUE, GREEN, WHITE, YELLOW and BLACK.

You'll be inspired to pull out your typewriter and start your novel

You’ll be inspired to pull out your typewriter and start your novel…

Or sell a few books and replace them in here

Or sell a few books and replace them in here…

Dance on the Carpet of Pennies

Dance on the Carpet of Pennies

Stop in the yarn shop for a spot of color

Stop by the yarn shop for a spot of color

At the End of the Day…

And, finally, curl up in this chair and read one of your purchases. Obviously, a few others have done so before you!

And, finally, curl up in this chair and read one of your purchases. Obviously, a few others have done so before you!

Copyright (c) 2015 by Sylvia Cary, author of The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published (Timberlake Press)

STUFF

STUFF by Sylvia Cary

This is what "stuff" looks like.     Photos: Sylvia Cary

This is what “stuff” looks like.   This happens to be mine all mine as I unpack from a recent move.                              Photos: Sylvia Cary

I love stuff. I love pretty stuff, practical stuff and decorative stuff.  I love stationary supplies, hardware store items, dishes, glasses, books, and containers of all kinds. I love cooking appliances even though I don’t like to cook — but how can anyone resist a brand new rice cooker for $4, even if you already have two others?

Where to Get Stuff

I don’t get my stuff at stores. I go to garage sales, Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the Discovery Shop (a chain of stores that raises money for breast cancer research), so at least my stuff is helping a good cause. I would never go to an actual store to buy some of the items I end up buying at Goodwill or garage sales. I do it “Forrest Gump” style – I drop in to Goodwill and it’s like a box of chocolates, “You never know what you’re going to get.” I’d sure like to take all my stuff with me when I leave this world, like those people who get buried with their sports cars. I’m going to be really upset if it turns out there’s no stuff in heaven. Hell? Hmm.

A Writer’s Stuff

My “writer” stuff is a story in itself. I have my laptop computer and the box it came in, which I’m keeping because it has information on it which I should probably read. I’m also keeping my very old desktop computer because what if there’s something on it I need? I have a bunch of removable hard drives, too, mostly back-ups of my old computer. I know I’ll never use them because they’re outdated. Newer desktops don’t even have slots for them. I have printers that don’t work — but they might if they were fixed.

And files – OMG – files! I have two 4-drawer file cabinets, a desk with three more file drawers, a single wood file cabinet that doubles as an end table, and I have a bunch of those files boxes with handles that you can carry around, plus two files on wheels that I can roll into another room. Worst of all are the wire baskets of paperwork “To File” and stacks of papers that haven’t yet made it to the “To File” basket. A perfect set-up for losing important documents.

Books

And books, books, books! Many I’ve read. Many I’ve read and forgotten so I need to keep them to read again. Many of them I’ve read and have even taken notes  — but where are the notes?  The hardest thing for me to let go of as a writer is my research – boxes full of 3×5-inch cards and stacks of print-outs from the Internet along with typed notes on topics I’m writing about — or have written about. I can’t let go of them because maybe I’ll write about those topics again. And finally, drafts. I’m drowning in drafts – fourteen versions of a single screenplay. I’m hanging onto them all because each one is just slightly different from the earlier version.

Moving Your Stuff

Much as I love my stuff, it has its downside. When you have a lot of stuff it’s hard to move it from place to place. Recently I moved from a tiny one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment to share with one of my adult daughters, herself a collector of stuff.

My Cat, Smokey, Makes His Way Through Box Canyon

My cat, Smokey, nervously makes his way through Box Canyon looking for the kitchen

Prior to the move I spent weeks packing boxes – books, papers, china and all the rest of it. When the movers arrived and saw all my boxes of books, one of them said, “Ever think about getting a Kindle?”

It took eleven hours for the movers to move my stuff to the new place, and cost a fortune. I probably could  have bought most of those books as Kindles for less than it cost me to box them and transport them.

Once I’d boxed up my apartment, I tackled my daughter’s one-bedroom apartment with her thirteen years’ worth of “stuff.” She has, for example, kept every greeting card ever given or sent to her, even if it’s just a gift tag — the “To”/“From” kind, as well as every stuffed animal since childhood, some falling apart at the touch, like pages of an old book, and VCR tapes by the hundreds, all numbered and alphabetized: “I’m OCD,” she explained to the movers.

Got Junk?

My Heroes of Got Junk. When They Drove Off With a Truckload of Stuff I Felt an Immediate Sense of Relief

My Heroes of Got Junk. When they drove off with the dirty white couch and a truckload of other stuff I felt relief

I called Got Junk, a service that removes the junk in your life, and we spent the next day putting signs “4 Got Junk” on things, starting with the dirty white couch and the four tall, swaying bookcases, and we took it from there. They came the following day and in only two hours they whisked away an entire truckload of stuff. As they drove off, I felt a huge sense of relief. A burden was lifted.

Once We Got Into the New Apartment, the Stack of Boxes 3 Deep Once Again Overwhelmed Me

Arrival: Once we got into the new apartment, the stack of boxes three-deep once again seemed overwhelming. We’d never get them unpacked!

Weeks later we’re still unpacking those boxes.  Now my back hurts.

The Solution to Overwhelm is Almost Always the Twelve-Step Method, "One box at a time!" Here are the opened boxes, piling up!

The Solution to Overwhelm is almost always the same — the Twelve-Step way — “One box at a time,” 5 or 10 boxes a day. Here are the opened boxes, piling up!

Lessons Learned about Stuff

Affording your stuff isn’t the issue. The “cost” of having too much stuff is high, no matter how much you paid for it.

Goodwill or Tiffany’s, it’s all the same. It’s stuff.

  1. Stuff gets in the way of writing;
  2. Stuff drains you of creative energy;
  3. Stuff is a ball and chain;
  4. Stuff means somebody else will have to clean up after you when you kick the bucket;
  5. Stuff is hard to move around, like those homeless people who’ve acquired too many shopping carts;
  6. Stuff needs too much personal attention – even if it’s only dusting it;
  7. Stuff just plain takes up too much time;

Last Saturday to test myself I “dropped in” to Goodwill and there was no stuff there I wanted. I left empty handed. It felt good.

Too bad you can’t put your whole life on a Kindle.

Almost There: One happy cat, Smokey, sitting on my lap with his tail up, is beginning to feel at home in our new digs, a Danish flag stuck in the bookcase to welcome my late husband's spirit.  Just a few more boxes to go, pictures up on the walls, books put away, photos put around, and we're home!

Almost There:  Smokey, now a happy cat, sits on my lap with his tail up to let the world know it’s beginning to feel like home again. There’s even a Danish flag to honor my late husband’s spirit stuck in the bookcase. Just a few more boxes to unpack, some pictures to put up on the walls, books and china to put away, framed photos to place around, and we’re done! And not an inch of space left for any new “stuff.”

Copyright 2015 by Sylvia Cary, LMFT, author of The Therapist Writer, Timberlake Press

The Joy of Swimming Upstream

This sign in the window caught my eye, so I went inside...

This sign in the window caught my eye, so I went inside…

I began writing this blog three years ago on the 4th of July, 2011. My first post was called “Celebrating Writer Independence.”  Basically, that has been the theme ever since. My husband was still alive then and on the big night of July 4th, he stood behind me as I sat at my computer, his hands supportively on my shoulders, and with the fireworks literally going off outside, he asked, “Well, are you ready?” “I’m ready,” I said and with my heart pounding as I clicked the “Publish” button — and my blog was born!

“I’m a blogger!” I shouted. It was exciting!

What a country!

I’ve been fully immersed in “indie” ever since. I became a publishing company; I “indie” published my own book, The Therapist Writer, as well as the books of two other authors, and I’m about to publish two more. I’ve been reading about “indie,” talking “indie,” teaching “indie,” and breathing “indie” ever since.  I run a writer’s group and all we do is talk about indie publishing and mourn the closing of bookstores all around us. We meet at CROWN Books in Woodland Hills, California, and it’s our third bookstore.  The others we once met at have blown away.

So, imagine my delight one day as I was walking along Sherman Way in nearby Canoga Park and glanced into a store window — and found myself eye-level with the above sign: “I Refuse to Participate in a Recession.” It was then that I realized that I was looking into a bookstore. Not an old dusty bookstore that was on the verge of going the way of the others, but a new-ish looking bookstore, neat and tidy and bright blue with two cozy arm chairs right up front.  And I could see a man behind a counter — reading a book.

Next Chapter Books in Canoga Park, California

Next Chapter Books in Canoga Park, California

“This I gotta see,” I said to myself, and I marched in.  I just had to find out the story behind that sign.

Boyd T. Davis, the very independent owner of Next Chapter Books in Canoga Park, California

Boyd T. Davis, the very independent owner of Next Chapter Books. He sells “Quality Used Books” — mystery, fiction, music, photography, children’s books, theater, Vietnam, the Civil War, and his favorites, military and aviation.

Here’s the Story

After thirty-eight years in the corporate world, Boyd Davis told me, “I realized I was in a financial position to do what I wanted, so I opened a bookshop in Woodland Hills. Then I needed more space so I moved here.”  That’s it. That’s the story. While other men his age in a similar financial position may be out there golfing, traveling, or going on cruises, Davis is in his shop, reading.

“How do you start a bookshop?” I asked.  I’d never really thought about it before. After all, if you’re a Barnes & Noble or Costco they probably send you books from a distributor, but how do you start off when you’re on your own?

“At first I contributed my own personal collection of books, and then I bought some from library sales, and I also had book scouts hunting for books. Then people started bringing in books.” While Davis doesn’t ordinarily take books on consignment, he is open to talking to local authors about carrying their books on a case-by-case basis. (Crown Books in Woodland Hills also takes kindly to local authors who may display their books and set their own prices.)

You're looking at somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 books: "I never actually individually counted them," Boyd said.

Boyd Davis estimates that he has somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 books: “I never actually set out to individually count them.”

A section of the children's section

(Above) A section of the children’s section.

And his favorite section, military and aviation

The owner’s favorite section — military and aviation

What’s the “Next Chapter” in Publishing?

It’s hard to say what’s on the horizon in the publishing industry. Will more publishers tank? Will “indie” publishing fill the gap? Will more bookstores bite the dust? Are we all swimming upstream? Possibly, but those of us who are “into indie” don’t care. Being in charge of the game is what’s fun!

In fact, the day before the July 4th holiday I drove past Next Chapter Books and glanced inside. Boyd Davis was in one of the big, cozy armchairs — reading.

(Next Chapter Books is located at 21616 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, CA 91303. The website is http://www.nextchapterbooks.com. Phone: (818) 704-5864; info@nextchapterbooks.com)

(c) 2014 Sylvia Cary, LMFT

10 Things Therapist Writers Worry About

Publishing a book can be scary. But don't let your fear keep you out of the game. Forewarned is forearmed.  Avoid these 5 mistakes can keep you safe(r).  -- photo by Morguefile

Publishing a book can be scary. But don’t let your fear keep you out of the game. Forewarned is forearmed. Here are ten things therapist writers worry about and what to do about them.                    — photo by Morguefile

Loose lips sink ships.  — World War II poster

All writers, not just therapist writers, should pay attention to the legal side of publishing, and concern themselves with the possible consequences of what they say in print. Blabbing off and not heeding the rules can get anybody in trouble. No writer benefits from getting sued. That’s definitely not a perk.

Writers who also happen to be licensed mental health professionals and write about their work with clients have to be particularly vigilant because they are bound by a number of legal and ethical restrictions (such as maintaining patient confidentiality) which can inhibit and impact what they say.

Now, I don’t know if it’s just that therapist writers are worry warts, but when it comes to writing a book, here are 10 things therapists seem to worry about, have the most questions about , and need the most help solving:

Help is on the way.

Help is on the way.  Photo credit: Morguefile

1. Should I copyright my book idea?  It’s mostly new writers who worry that somebody is going to steal their book idea. News flash! You can’t copyright an idea, even a good one. You can only copyright the execution of an idea, i.e., how that idea is expressed in writing. The minute you put it down, you are protected. You don’t even have to officially register a copyright, but it’s still wise to do so just in case you get involved in a legal case. Then, you’ll have an official copyright date on file. Go to www.copywrite.gov, read the instructions, and email a digital book file and $35 to get your “placeholder” copyright (while you are finishing the book). When your book is published and available for sale, go to www.copywrite.gov again, follow the instructions, fill out two copies of a form, and then mail the two copies of the form, a check ($65.00 as of this writing), and two copies of your book to the Library of Congress, Copyright Office, Document Recordation Section, 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, D.C. 20559-6000. (Always double-check the website for any new information and instructions). One copy of the book goes to the Library of Congress. (Yes, you can go there and check out your own book!); the other copy gets stored somewhere.

Don't worry if there are other books on your topic. Tweak your book into something new and fresh.

Don’t worry if there are other books on your topic. Tweak your book idea into something new and fresh.        Photo credit: Morguefile

2. What if my book idea is already taken? So what? Unless your topic is unique, there are probably hundreds of books on your subject already in print. Search Amazon. You’ll be astounded at how many authors have beat you to the punch. But that doesn’t matter. Your challenge will be to tweak your idea so it’s “better and different” than the rest. If you want to write “about alcoholism,” and you note that thousands of others have already done so, then tweak it. Write about “high IQ alcoholics” instead. That will be your niche. That will make most of the competition go away and make your book stand out. Next, look only at the books in your niche that were published in the last five years. Read the customer book reviews. Read the “Look Inside” feature. How do competing books handle the topic? What’s missing? Note the Tables of Contents. You’ll learn what to focus on, what to add, what to leave out, and you’ll get ideas about how to market your book – the hardest part.

3. What if my book title is already taken?  Same answer as #1 above. You can’t copyright a title. For example, there are many books called “The Gift.” Some are differentiated by their subtitles. There’s was also a movie called “The Gift” and a TV show called “The Gift.” You can still call your book “The Gift” if you want to, but why would you? Don’t you want it to stand out? The only titles and words you can’t use are trademarked — like Hell’s Angels, Hello Kitty or Harry Potter.

4. Can I write about my patients? Yes, you can write about your patients, but you know the drill. As mental health professionals, we are legally bound to protect their identities. This means you have to learn the “art of disguise” to the point where friends, family and even the patient themselves won’t be able to tell who you are writing about. This actually shouldn’t cramp your style too much because the details of a patient’s life are rarely critical to the story you are trying to tell, or the message you are trying to convey. Of course, you can side-step this by getting signed releases from the patient and perhaps recognizable others in the story, but that’s not always foolproof. The other way is to change everything — dates, ages, places, details about looks, jobs, family members, even therapy issues (if uncommon enough to be recognized). It’s the core of what you are writing that’s important. Focus on that.

When you're writing about friends and family, be kind.

When you’re writing about friends and family, be kind. Photo credit: Morguefile

5. Can I write about friends and family? Authors rarely get sued for saying something nice about somebody. It’s when you get critical or expose gossip and hurt someone’s reputation in the world that makes people cranky – or litigious. In my first book I said that my sister, during her high school years, looked “scruffy.” I didn’t think that was such a big deal, but she was hurt. And I learned something. It wasn’t necessary for the sake of my story to use a critical term. Did you ever see the movie “Tea & Sympathy?” It’s about a male student at a boarding school who has an affair with the head master’s wife. When the boy leaves the school, the wife tells him, “When you talk about this – and you will – be kind.”  So unless you are a journalist and writing a killer exposé about, say, the mistreatment of the elderly in a nursing home (and your facts better be right!), then, as a general rule, “be kind.”

Saying unkind things in your writing not only hurts people but makes them cranky.

Saying unkind things in your writing not only hurts         people but makes them cranky.                                          Photo credit: Morguefile

6. Can I quote from other experts in my field? Being able to quote from thought leaders in our area of expertise is critical. How could we progress without referring to those who have gone before us? The tradition of “Fair Use” allows authors to quote other people – up to a point. The law here is “fuzzy “and vague. It all depends on what’s being quoted. You may have heard that you can “quote up to 50 words,” but that’s a myth. Perhaps you can quote 50 words from a scientific document, but you probably can’t quote even five words from a song or poem. According to Jonathan Kirsch, a Los Angeles based attorney specializing in intellectual property and publishing law, when it comes to substantial quotes you need to get “permission” (see below). “If you rely on ‘Fair Use,’” Kirsch added during a talk for writers I attended (I’m not an attorney myself so I go hear them speak), “you are taking a risk.” Being published traditionally doesn’t protect you either. “The publisher wants the author on the hook, as in, ‘Author shall indemnify, and hold harmless, the publisher.’” In other words, guess who is considered the “deep pocket” in this scenario? YOU are! One workaround is paraphrasing and giving credit to the original source, but you have to be careful that you don’t get accused of misrepresenting what the original author said. Another “quoting” issue I run into as an editor is over-quoting. Mental health professionals, especially when they are new to book writing, are insecure and tend to fall back on quoting others instead of putting their own opinions out front. I have to scold them: “Don’t keep quoting other people. You are the expert here because this is your book, so quote yourself!”

7. Can I write about myself?  Some mental health professionals are skittish when it comes to writing about themselves. It makes them feel exposed and vulnerable. “What will my patients think?” I know traditionally-trained “blank screen” therapists who wouldn’t dream of disclosing personal information to patients, including the fact that they write. Sadly, it keeps many from writing at all. On the other hand, I know therapists who blog, share opinions, and have Facebook pages filled with family photos and events. Often these therapists who are at ease with self-disclosure are in recovery from the same conditions they are treating their patients for — addiction, over-eating, bi-polar disorder, divorce. They experience sharing and writing as helpful to their clients and vice-versa.

8. Can I use a painting or photograph for my book cover?  If you painted it or snapped it yourself, or hired a graphic artist for the job, yes, if you think it would make a good book cover. But if it’s something from the Internet, probably not, unless you’ve bought it and have the rights. Or it’s from a free photo site, such as http://www.morguefile.com. Paintings and photos, like books, poems, and song lyrics, are often under copyright protection — unless they have fallen into the public domain (meaning the copyright has expired). Written works fall into the public domain 70 years after the death of the author. This means thousands of books are up for grabs every year. That’s why anybody can make a movie of Hamlet or reprint Sense and Sensibility through their indie publishing company. You don’t need to get permission from Shakespeare or Jane Austen.

As they say, "It's easier to ask for permission than ask for forgiveness." Photo credit: Morguefile

As they say, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”                           –Photo credit: Morguefile

9. How do I get permission to use quotes in my book?  You’ve probably heard this cute little line: “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Unfortunately, when quotes don’t fall under the “Fair Use” umbrella, or are not in the public domain, or are not properly paraphrased with credit to the original author, then you’ll have to get permission. How do you do this? You ask. The hard part is finding out who to ask. Check www.copyright.gov to see who has the copyright. (By the way, this information is sometimes dated or wrong.) Track down the author if he or she is still alive. Write a letter to the author via The Writer’s Guild because they’ll sometimes forward a letter on to authors. Contract the publisher who may do the same. Check Facebook even if the author is dead. When you do find somebody who can say yes — they may say no. I wanted to use a poem in one of my books, but the poet told me she still gets paid speaking gigs based on that poem, so she wasn’t going to let me have her cash cow! In most cases, once you manage to track down the author, they are happy to be quoted if you quote them correctly, give them credit, and are “kind.” (Warning: Sometimes there’s a fee involved.) In your book, either on the page where you use the quote or in a special section, you say “reprinted by permission.”  Getting those “permissions” is an achievement!

10. What if my book is a best-seller?  That’s a problem!? Well, I guess it could be since it’s usually just famous authors who make money who get sued. Unknown self-published authors who sell 100 copies or less rarely get sued. But don’t count on things going either one way or the other. Don’t blow off the legal side of publishing. The best advice I got was to hire an attorney read a book I wrote to make sure there was nothing libelous or slanderous in it. He had me get a release letter from one person, which I did – just in case. With another book, I deleted one of the twenty-one interviews in which a man said something “not kind” about somebody else. That “somebody else” threatened to sue if the book was published, so I replaced the interview and avoided a potential problem. Rule of thumb: Prevention trumps litigation! Now you can go ahead ad tell your tales without fear.

May all your writing puzzles be solved.

May all your writing puzzles be solved.                     Photo credit: Morguefile

(c) The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published by Sylvia Cary, LMFT, available on Amazon and Kindle

Night Life for LA Writers

Los Angeles — An Amazing City for Writers

Are you a writer? A wanna-be writer? A screenwriter? A wanna-be screenwriter? Do you live in the LA area? Then check out Meetup.com, Eventbrite.com, Jeff Gund’s infolist.com or any other site that tells you what’s going on around town for writers.  Here’s a look at what this writer did over the past week:Magical Under the Moon. Inside the Sportsman's Lodge in Studio City a meeting of the Book Publicists of Southern California is in Progress.  Photo: Sylvia Cary

Magical Under the Moon — The Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City. Inside, a meeting of the Book Publicists of Southern California (BPSC) is in progress.

Inside, a panel discusses "How to Avoid PR Misteaks" for a group of book publicists. The organization was started 37 years ago by publicist Irwin Zucker, standing (right), still going stonge.

A BPSC panel discusses “How to Avoid PR Misteaks” for a group of book publicists. The organization was started 37 years ago by publicist Irwin Zucker (standing, right). The group meets monthly. (www.bookpublicists.org)

Even driving out of the Sportsman's Lodge looks magical at night.

Driving out of the Sportsman’s Lodge looks magical at night.

The next night, it was "Stories Under the Stars" in the Encino backyard of writer Lila Silvern.

The next night, it was “Stories Under the Stars” (with a musical intro) in a Sherman Oaks back yard. The weather was perfect and so still that every word was heard.

And there was food under the stars.

And there was food under the stars…

And more food under the stars...

…and more food under the stars.

And stories of course. Here, writer Lila Silvern reads a humorous short story from her upcoming book of stories called "Confessions of a Geriatric Prom Queen."

Here, writer Lila Silvern reads a humorous short story from her upcoming book of stories called Confessions of a Geriatric Prom Queen.

Another night it was on to the colorful digs of Office Slice, an energized center which hosts special events, panels and workshops.

A totally different venue: The colorful digs of Office Slice, an energized center in Sherman Oaks which hosts many writer-related events, panels, seminars and workshops. Above, Managing Director Judy Santos (standing, in white) introduces a publishing panel. (www.officeslice.com)

Above, another Office Slice presentation, this one on the art of using more images in blogging. Circe Denyer and Linnaea Mallette offered plenty of tips.

Another Office Slice presentation, this one on blogging, and specifically the art of using images in blogging. Circe Denyer and Linnaea Mallette offered plenty of great tips.

Called "The Table," this industry group for writers, screenwriters, actors, directors, producers, and everyone else in show biz has been meeting every Thursday night for 20 years. Now meets at Marie Callender's in Sherman Oaks.

Above: “The Table.”  This industry group for writers, screenwriters, actors, directors, producers, and anyone else connected to show biz has been meeting every Thursday night for 20 years. There are now “Table” groups popping up in major cities across the country. The LA group meets at Marie Callender’s in Sherman Oaks. (Their new website is still under construction but Google for stories and information).
Free Drop-in Writers Group at Crown Books in Woodland Hills, a daytime event. The group is sponsored by Independent Writers of Southern California. They have monthly panels and monthly Saturday seminars.

A free monthly drop-in Writing Group at Crown Books in Woodland Hills, a daytime event — but there are nighttime groups going on somewhere. This one is sponsored by Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC) which also has monthly panels and seminars. (www.iwosc.org)

The Scriptwriters Network, which has been around for over 25 years, presents panels and speakers at least twice a month. Check them out at www.scriptwritersnetwork.org.

The Scriptwriters Network has been around for over 25 years. The organnizaton presents panels and speakers at least twice a month, as well as networking mixers and special events. Check them out at http://www.scriptwritersnetwork.org.

Toastmasters for Writers (known as TM4Writers), possibly the only club for writers around. There are several hundred Toastmasters  groups in the LA area, on all subjects -- but you can go to anyone of them. Go to toastmastersinternational.org to find other clubs or http://748804.toastmastersclubs.org/ for the writers' TM (two Saturdays a month, 9:30 - 11:30 am.  Splendid training for pitching and marketing your writing

Toastmasters for Writers (known as TM4Writers), possibly the only TM club for writers in LA — although there are several hundred Toastmasters groups in the LA area focusing on all kinds of subjects — but you can attend any of them. Go to http://toastmastersinternational.org to find other clubs or http://748804.toastmastersclubs.org/ for TM4Writers (two Saturdays a month, 9:30-11:30 am. Splendid training for pitching and marketing your writing.

And then finally…

Starbucks is always busy late into the night with writers sitting behind laptops, inspired by all the writer events they've been attending all week.Starbucks is always busy late into the night with writers sitting behind laptops, inspired by all the writer events they’ve been attending all week.

(All photos in this post by Sylvia Cary)

(c) The Therapist Writer Blog, Sylvia Cary, LMFT, author of The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published

Video

If You Could See Me Now

Fireworks-in-Green- Photo Credit Flickr Link: 1894019504_c37a88042a.jpg

Fireworks-in-Green-
Photo Credit Flickr Link: 1894019504_c37a88042a.jpg

This particular July 4th has a special meaning for me. Two days ago, July 2nd, was the sixth-month anniversary of the death of my lovely husband, Lance Wolstrup. Today, July 4th, is the second anniversary of this blog. Lance was always proud of me for starting a blog and whenever I’d get lazy about posting, he’d whisper in my ear: “How’s the blog coming along?” He would read what I ‘d written before I posted it and we’d talk about it. I miss those talks. He would also gently nag me about finishing my book, which I finally did, and it was published just a few months before he died.  We were married for 28 years, and he always wanted me to do well, to have success, to have my dream. He was like that. Whenever I spoke at an event for therapists or writers, or if I was on a radio or TV show, he’d want to know all about  it the minute I got home. He was interested in my world. I miss that, too.

So, Lance (can you believe I used to call you “Lancy-Pants!”), I’m dedicating this second anniversary blog post to you.  If you could see me now, I hope you’d be proud:  I  didn’t abandon the blog.  Though not prolific, I hung in there even when I had widow business, including moving, to attend to.  I’ve been marketing the book, too, and recently I was a “guest expert” on a Cable TV show called BOOK BEAT, which turned out to be great fun. If they have YouTube in heaven, perhaps you can catch the show there.  Knowing you, you’ll be interested — although I’d prefer it if I could just run home and talk with you about it face to face. And how about this, Lancy-Pants? In your honor, today’s post is the very first time I’ve ever inserted a video clip into my blog. Guess how I learned how to do that one? On YouTube! So gimme five!

Therapist Writers Tune In and Listen Up

Now on to my fellow tribe members — my colleagues who are both therapists and writers. I hope you will get something out of the video clip I’ve inserted below (I’ll be posting others later on). This first short segment from a 20-minute show is an overview of what The Therapist Writer is all about. The interviewer, Jean-Noel Bassior, asks questions such as why I felt it was necessary to write a book about writing aimed at mental health professionals; why therapists worry when they write about their patients; and how therapist writers can protect a client’s confidentiality (and avoid getting sued)  by using the “art of disguise.”

Interviewer Jean-Noel Bassior and Sylvia discussed why write a book just for therapist writers, why therapists worry about writing about patients, and how therapist writers can disguise who they are writing about to avoid getting sued

Sylvia Cary, LMFT, on BOOK BEAT  Photo by Susan Levin

Now, Lance, back to you. Your 28 years of encouragement have helped me carry on, so not to worry. All I have to do now is just think of your words, “How’s the blog coming?” or “When is that article due again?” and I scramble to my desk (or any of the other places I like to write) and I get to work, as that line from an old song wafts around in my brain: “If you could see me now…”  So if you’ve got your laptop up there with you, go to YouTube and type in “Sylvia Cary writer” and catch the rest of the BOOK BEAT clips — or if you prefer, you can wait until my next blog. I assume you’re following me, right?

(c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT

A Panel of One: Dan Poynter Updates Writers on Latest Publishing Changes & Opportunities

Self-Publishing Guru, Dan Poynter, Updates a Southern California Writers Group on the Latest Publishing Industry Changes -- Photo: Sylvia Cary

Whether you’re a therapist writer or any other kind of writer, you know it’s important to  keep up with what’s going on in the ever-changing publishing industry.  Since we can’t all be at every writing-related event in our area, I thought I’d share some things I learned at the latest meeting of IWOSC (Independent Writers of Southern California) in my own area.

Now usually on the last Monday night of the month, IWOSC presents a panel of four to six experts on topics related to writing and publishing, but this time things were different. This time it was a panel of only one — that one being Dan Poynter, a man who probably knows more about the publishing game than anyone else on earth. He flies 6000 miles a week, speaking to book-writing hopefuls and conversing with publishing experts in every nook and cranny of the globe. He spends 40% of his time in the air, at airports, and in other countries. It’s no wonder that whenever he opens his mouth to speak about publishing, writers listen.

Poynter opened his talk with a catchy little definition of self-publishing that you might want to put up on your fridge to inspire you:  “Self-publishing, when you’re doing it right, is when your passion center meets your profit center.”

But publishing wasn’t originally Dan Poynter’s primary passion. Sky-diving was his first love. One day in 1972 somebody took him for his first sky dive “and I was hooked,” he says. If he hadn’t been taken on that jaunt, he never would have known how much he liked it — and he might never have ended up in the publishing field. Today, he advises parents to “do something new every weekend with your kids; open them up to different kinds of experiences and eventually they’ll find something they want to pursue.”

After Poynter got into sky-diving (including a  jump into the north pole), he realized that there were no parachute manuals. He wrote one, became a publisher, published it and sold it through parachute schools, parachute shops, parachute catalogs, and parachute magazines — but not through bookstores. Even back then he realized, “Sell to your own tribe. You have to go where your audience hangs out.” Marketing a book was harder in those days.  “Today, because of the Internet and search engines, we can find our customers and our customers can find us.”

In 1973, Poynter discovered hang gliding. He fell in love again. And again, when he realized that there were no manuals on the subject, he spent four months researching it and came out with the first book on hang gliding. The book took off. “It was the right book at the right time, just when everybody was crazy about hang gliding and there were articles on it in every magazine.” He marketed this book the same way he’d marketed his parachuting book — he sold them in hang gliding stores, hang gliding schools, hang gliding magazines and hang gliding catalogs. “Your book has to be the first one,” he says. “If you have the second book you’re out of luck.” Initially, when he left copies in stores on consignment, management was skeptical. Then, when the books sold out, he started to get calls for more: “You have to show them there’s a market.”  Also, thanks to his naïveté at the time, he sent a copy of his hang-gliding book to the Library Journal and asked them to review it.  He had no idea that getting a book reviewed in the Library Journal is a feat the equivalent of parachuting into the North Pole. But the Library Journal actually did review the book and as a result of that review he sold copies to 1200 libraries.

By 1974 Poynter had earned enough money to move back to California from a colder clime (he’d come to hate cold) to a big house on a hill in Santa Barbara. He has since authored over one hundred additional books.

Publishing is changing so fast it’s hard to keep up. The large publishers are downsizing, the traditional brick and mortar stores are going out of business, readers have fallen in love with ebooks, “and we’ve been losing three independent bookstores a week for the last twenty years.” Publishing industry professionals who are still resisting all these changes are, in Poynter’s words,  “in denial,” And the changes are having a huge impact on every facet of book publishing — literary agents,  distributors, book printers, book reviewers — just about everyone that the industry touches. Even the area of “foreign rights” is changing. Someday, authors will have their books translated into other languages on their own and sell them on Amazon or on their own Web sites. “Tolerate books stores, but don’t pursue them,” Poynter says. “Bookstores are lousy places to sell books. New York publishing still thinks it’s all about bookstores, but they’re wrong. The winners are going to be authors and small publishers who go with the flow and adapt to what’s inevitable and embrace the changes. In the past, everyone followed the Big Six publishing conglomerates. Now, the Big Six are following us!”

Poynter predicts that the abandonment of the “New York” publishers and gatekeepers will continue, and magazines (and along with them book review space) will continue to disappear. “1989 was the peak year for the magazine industry. Magazines were thick with ads. Now they’re getting skinnier and skinnier. Look at Newsweek. It’s losing millions. Most newspapers will disappear in five years. The only four likely to survive are the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. Most book reviews will be done online by book bloggers.”

While these changes are opening up all kinds of exciting opportunities for writers, Poynter warns that writers also need to be wary of scammers. “Avoid Vanity presses. Do your due diligence. And if you are about to do business with a company, first go online and type in Google + the name of the company + scam (or rip-off) and see what comes up.

Poynter ended his presentation with a reminder: “87% of people don’t like their job. One million people call in sick every day. But we, as authors and publishers, are respected and have a passion for what we do. There will be a growing need for entertainment (fiction) and information (non-fiction)…” – and that means work we love! So for the hundreds of  writers, publishers and guests sitting in the audience listening to this most impressive “panel of one,” the future is looking pretty good.

Looking for the Perfect Organizing System for Writing Projects

The late, great C.C. (for Calico Cat), contemplating her owner's latest attempt to organize a writing project, wondering, "Is this supposed to be a substitute for kitty litter?"

Keeping all my writing projects organized is like herding cats. They are hard to keep track of. What should my priorities be? Finish my book? Screenplay rewrites? Research for a new script for my screenwriting group? This blog? Article queries?  Essay submissions? Website updates? Writing a proposal for a possible teaching gig? Writing a new speech for my Toastmasters group? Jumping on the e-book and social networking bandwagons? Drumming up new clients for my editorial business? Marketing my little publishing company’s first book? And, oh yeah, I have a family. People. And a cat.

Back in high school I hated “writing tools,” such as the A, B, C, a,b,c outlines that were supposed to help me plan out my term papers.  I resisted them. Now I’m the opposite. Now I’m always on the lookout for new and improved lists, forms, tools, hints, tips or techniques to help me organize my work. I love lists. I love calendars, agendas and notebooks of all sizes, from cheap spirals to expensive Moleskins. ™ Now that Moleskins come in so many great colors, not just black, they are sooo hard to resist. Trouble is, once I write down all my projects in a notebook and close it, I don’t open it again. I thought I’d solved this problem when I bought a stack of little sticky “To Do” lists so I can stick an abbreviated “To Do” list on the cover of the notebook to remind me that there’s more stuff “to do” written down inside. This helps. Sometimes.

I’ve tried clipboards in different colors, too, one for each current project. I even tried hanging them on the wall near my desk. But then I’d forget which was which. Is the blue one for my blog? Or I’d get too lazy to take the clipboard down off the nail to add something else, so papers would end up in a stack on my desk. I dropped that system. Now I have a dozen nail holes in the wall.

I have a friend who keeps telling me to organize it all online, but I know me and I know if it’s not in front of my face, I’ll forget it exists. And don’t even mention using 3 x 5-inch file cards. I use them by the thousands. I have boxes of them. I use them for research notes, for filing “ideas,” and for planning out chapters in books and scenes in a scripts. For a 115-page movie script, I’ll write out the beats on the cards and then lay them out in rows–one file card for each minute of film. I’ll do the very same thing on sheets of paper using the smallest size Post-Its ™, one Post-It for each minute of the story. You can move them around nicely. Or I’ll print out the draft of my script, divide it up and move scenes around on the dining room table (see photo above).

Since you can buy 3×5-inch file cards in different colors, I’ve used colors, too – maybe green for the protagonist, blue for the antagonist, etc., but then I’ll run out of one of the colors and it throws off my whole system. You can also get the Post-It versions of 3 X 5 inch file cards, but when you gather them up they stick together, so that ends that for me. I’ve tried cork bulletin boards and push pins to tack up the file cards, but I have an aversion to cork (it squeaks and feels funny) and I usually end up stepping on a tack barefoot. So forgetaboutit! Recently, I read about an author who swears by 5 x 8-inch file cards for outlining book projects. I tried that too, but I find the cards too big and when I make a mistake on a card and throw it away, it seems wasteful.

Then there’s organizing the old-fashioned way–file cabinets.In my case, that’s gotten out of hand. I have three 4-drawer file cabinets in the garage, one in my office, one in my bedroom closet, a couple of two-drawer file cabinets in the kitchen, and a couple of singles on wheels that I can roll around depending on where I’m sitting. So now which file cabinet is it that contains the material on book proposals? I haven’t a clue. Guess it’s time to re-organize them again.

Just two days ago–for $2.99 on the Red Tag table at Office Depot–I found a cool 9 1/2  x 11 1/2-inch dark blue folder with “Project Organizer” stamped in the cover. Music to my ears! Inside it are ten pocketed sections. I bought it, heart pounding, and rushed home and spent the next two hours slipping papers for ten of my projects into their respective, labeled sections, then I stuck a sticky “To Do” list on each section for tasks I need to attend to in order to complete the job. I love this folder/notebook! I just know it will get me organized. It’s my new toy. I carry it around with me, even to Starbucks..

Recently somebody oh so casually mentioned to me that maybe, just maybe, I should consider that my obsession with finding the perfect way to organize my writing is actually a way of avoiding my writing—and that the impulse I’d had back in high school to skip the outline and just jump in was the right one. But I don’t know…

You think?