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Meatless Monday: hit the bar

Word count: Short story, Snakes & Ladders finished and ready to submit tomorrow with maybe one more tweak. Thank you Patti & Amy for your feedback!

I'm a big fan of this combination for dinner: easy + tasty. One of the easiest things, at least since I took Papa Murphy's out of my speed dial, is setting up a salad, potato or taco bar. It's a good way to use up fridge and pantry items at the end of the week, too.

I suppose it's obvious but it didn't occur to me for years so I'll share how we do it: pick your base- tortillas, chips, spinach, lettuce, potato or whatever. Add veggies and some fruit (dried or fresh) if it's a salad. Add beans or chili, depending on your base. Add anything else you have to use up that you think would be good, except meat on Monday if you're participating of course. Top with cheese, a variety if possible. Eat.


Interview with Christina Katz on author platforms: what they are and why they matter

Get-Known-Before-the-Book-D Q: What is a platform?


CK: Long story short: Your platform communicates your expertise to others, and it works all the time so you don’t have to. Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership. If others already recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is your platform.


A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence. Get Known explains in plain English, without buzzwords, how any writer can stand out from the crowd of other writers and get the book deal. The book clears an easy-to-follow path through a formerly confusing forest of ideas so any writer can do the necessary platform development they need to do.



Q: Why is platform development important for writers today?


CK: Learning about and working on a solid platform plan gives writers an edge. Agents and editors have known this for years and have been looking for platform-strong writers and getting them book deals. But from the writer’s point-of-view, there has not been enough information on platform development to help unprepared writers put their best platform forward.


Now suddenly, there is a flood of information on platform, not all necessarily comprehensive, useful or well organized for folks who don’t have a platform yet. Writers can promote themselves in a gradual, grounded manner without feeling like they are selling out. I do it, I teach other writers to do it, I write about it on an ongoing basis, and I encourage all writers to heed the trend. And hopefully, I communicate how in a practical, step-by-step manner that can serve any writer. Because ultimately, before you actively begin promoting yourself, platform development is an inside job requiring concentration, thoughtfulness and a consideration of personal values.



Q: How did you come to write Get Known Before the Book Deal?


CK: I already had a lot of momentum going when I got the deal for a very specific audience. I wrote a column on the topic for the Willamette Writer’s newsletter. Then I started speaking on platform. When I gave my presentation, “Get Known Before the Book Deal,” at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference in May 2007, Phil Sexton, one of my publisher’s sales guys, saw it and suggested making the concept into a book. Coincidentally, I was trying to come up with an idea for my second book at that time and had just struck out with what I thought were my three best ideas. My editor, Jane Friedman agreed with Phil. That was two votes from people sitting on the pub board. They converted the others with the help of my proposal, and Get Known got the green light.


Q: Why was a book on platform development needed?


CK: Writers often underestimate how important platform is and they often don’t leverage the platform they already have enough. At every conference I presented, I took polls and found that about 50 percent of attendees expressed a desire for a clearer understanding of platform. Some were completely in the dark about it, even though they were attending a conference in hopes of landing a book deal. Since book deals are granted based largely on the impressiveness of a writer’s platform, I noticed a communication gap that needed to be addressed.


My intention was that Get Known would be the book every writer would want to read before attending a writer’s conference, and that it would increase any writer’s chances of landing a book deal whether they pitched in-person or by query. As I wrote the book, I saw online how this type of information was being offered as “insider secrets” at outrageous prices. No one should have to pay thousands of dollars for the information they can find in my book for the price of a paperback! Seriously. You can even ask your library to order it and read it for free.



Q: What is the key idea behind Get Known Before the Book Deal?


CK: Getting known doesn’t take a lot of money, but it does take an in-depth understanding of platform, and then the investment of time, skills and consistent effort to build one. Marketing experience and technological expertise are also not necessary. I show how to avoid the biggest time and money-waster, which is not understanding who your platform is for and why – and hopefully save writers from the confusion and inertia that can result from either information overload or not taking the big picture into account before they jump into writing for traditional publication.


Often writers with weak platforms are over-confident that they can impress agents and editors, while others with decent platforms are under-confident or aren’t stressing their platform-strength enough. Writers have to wear so many hats these days, we can use all the help we can get. Platform development is a muscle, and the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Anyone can do it, but most don’t or won’t because they either don’t understand what is being asked for, or they haven’t overcome their own resistance to the idea. Get Known offers a concrete plan that can help any writer make gains in the rapidly changing and increasingly competitive publishing landscape.



Q: What is the structure of the book and why did you choose it?


CK: Writer Mama was written in small, easy-to-digest chunks so busy new moms could stick it in a diaper bag and read it in the nooks and crannies of the day. Get Known is a bit more prosaic, especially in the early chapters. Most of the platform books already out there were only for authors, not writers or aspiring authors. To make platform evolution easy to comprehend, I had to dial the concepts back to the beginning and talk about what it’s like to try and find your place in the world as an author way before you’ve signed a contract, even before you’ve written a book proposal. No one had done that before in a book for writers. I felt writers needed a context in which to chart a course towards platform development that would not be completely overwhelming.


Introducing platform concepts to writers gives them the key information they need to succeed at pitching an agent either via query or in-person, making this a good book for a writer to read before writing a book proposal. Get Known has three sections: section one is mostly stories and cautionary tales, section two has a lot of to-do lists any writer should be able to use, and section three is how to articulate your platform clearly and concisely so you won’t waste a single minute wondering if you are on the right track.



Q: At the front of Get Known, you discuss four phases of the authoring process. What are they?


CK: First comes the platform development and building phase. Second comes the book proposal development phase (or if you are writing fiction, the book-writing phase). Third, comes the actual writing of the book (for fiction writers this is likely the re-writing of the book). And finally, once the book is published, comes the book marketing and promoting phase.


Many first-time authors scramble once they get a book deal if they haven’t done a thorough job on the platform development phase. Writers who already have a platform have influence with a fan base, and they can leverage that influence no matter what kind of book they write. Writing a book is a lot easier if you are not struggling to find readers for the book at the same time. Again, agents and editors have known this for a long time.



Q: What are some common platform mistakes writers make?


CK: Here are a few:


  • They don’t spend time clarifying who they are to others.
  • They don’t zoom in specifically on what they offer.
  • They confuse socializing with platform development.
  • They think about themselves too much and their audience not enough.
  • They don’t precisely articulate all they offer so others get it immediately.
  • They don’t create a plan before they jump online.
  • They undervalue the platform they already have.
  • They are overconfident and think they have a solid platform when they have only made a beginning.
  • They become exhausted from trying to figure out platform as they go.
  • They pay for “insider secrets” instead of trusting their own instincts.
  • They blog like crazy for six months and then look at their bank accounts and abandon the process as going nowhere.


I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that many writers promise publishers they have the ability to make readers seek out and purchase their book. But when it comes time to demonstrate this ability, they can’t deliver.


My mission is to empower writers to be 100 percent responsible for their writing career success and stop looking to others to do their promotional work for them. Get Known shows writers of every stripe how to become the writer who can not only land a book deal, but also influence future readers to plunk down ten or twenty bucks to purchase their book. It all starts with a little preparation and planning. The rest unfolds from there.



Q: Couldn’t any author have written this book? Why you?


CK: I have built a career over the past decade empowering writers. I’ve developed and built my own platform as a writing-for-traditional-publication specialist, and I’ve worked with others as a writing and platform-development instructor. Many of the people I’ve been working with are landing book deals and while the other hundred-or-so writers I work with a year are developing their skills, I notice patterns of behavior—what leads to success, where writers get stuck, and how I can be helpful in these rapidly changing times in the industry.


I’ve witnessed too many writers, who were off to a great start, hopping online and quickly becoming very lost. I started to write about platform in Writer Mama, How To Raise A Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, but I quickly noticed that more details on platform development were desperately needed. My platform is based on helping others. I have a vested interest in seeing the people I work with—and those who read my book—succeed. Writers are my tribe.





Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (Writer’s Digest Books). She started her platform “for fun” seven years ago and ended up on “Good Morning America.” Christina teaches e-courses on platform development and writing nonfiction for publication. Her students are published in national magazines and land agents and book deals. Christina has been encouraging reluctant platform builders via her e-zines for five years, has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and online publications, and is a monthly columnist for the Willamette Writer. A popular speaker at writing conferences, writing programs, libraries, and bookstores, she hosts the Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville, Oregon. She is also the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books).



Tune in tomorrow for author interview

Recent word count for Breaking Branches: ZERO.

Ouch. I know, I know. Two of my other paying columns were due, so I had to get those finished in my writing margins. Also, I've decided to submit one of my short stories to a literary magazine which is something I've never tried before. If anyone wants to review and give feedback on Snakes & Ladders before Friday, let me know.

Over the weekend Matt's parents came to visit so I missed my working windows there, too but I'm still on track to reach my December deadline. I think.

Tomorrow I'm featuring an interview with author Christina Katz both here and on my web site.


Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform (Writer’s Digest Books). She started her platform “for fun” seven years ago and ended up on “Good Morning America.” Christina teaches e-courses on platform development and writing nonfiction for publication. Her students are published in national magazines and land agents and book deals. Christina has been encouraging reluctant platform builders via her e-zinesfor five years, has written hundreds of articles for national, regional, and on line publications, and is a monthly columnist for the Willamette Writer. A popular speakerat writing conferences, writing programs, libraries, and bookstores, she hosts the Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville, Oregon. She is also the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books).

Chatting and potchking

Discovery Park - Sam toe in Discovery Park - Sam water fountain

Sam and I are having near-conversations now. It's the coolest thing ever. One of Sam's new things is being a "big boy." He asks to sit in "Sam's big boy chair" and pats his "big boy diaper." (Which by the way is useless. That's for another day.) He has also, it seems, decided he is too big a boy for napping. I'm still fighting the good fight though.

One of my favorite big boy things he's started doing as of last week is wanting to rock himself to sleep. He says "Sam rock self." So he climbs into the rocking chair and I sit on the footstool gently pushing his chair. Once he asked for "under doggy" but now seems to get it's not that kind of chair. The other night as he was dozing off he opened his eyes and looked at me drowsily: "Ball world. Fun mama. Fun soccerball. Cassie, Ella fun." I was so surprised that he'd remembered what we did that morning, and with who (whom?) and that he could verbalize it. Last night, same thing. He told me he had fun with his "toe in water. Sam's toe in the watah. Yeah. Fun with Mama." I love my little guy!

And an update from my other job: The day I got my encouraging rejection letter, I sent the query to another agent I'm interested in working with. The agency is in Portland which is a huge plus for me. She told me they didn't accept unfinished manuscripts but would be happy to look at it when it's finished. I took that as the "maybe" I needed and settled back into writing the book.

Then I read an interview Christina Katz did with Cory Doctorow in Writer's Digest. Turns out there's a word for what I've been doing with this whole attempt to acquire an agent prior to finishing the novel: potchking.

"But it's easy to tip over from daydreaming to making the daydream the main activity. Once you are taking the time you should be spending writing and using it researching technical questions about negotiating the fine details of your contract with your publisher--who as of yet doesn't exist because the book isn't written--you are no longer writing. You are potchking."

I recommend reading the whole article, but can't link to it online. It's an issue worth picking up with the whole scoop on getting an agent. But I'll save that stuff for later, like December 14th, the day after my book is due to be completed. Hmmm. I hear silence. Better go check on things.

Writing in the margins

Today's Word Count: 1,891 (Chapters 4 & 5 completed, Chapter 6 started)

So I've been writing. A lot. Which seems to distract me from everything else. I mean, I've been writing in all the possible margins of my day that aren't spent keeping Sam happy (and alive) and making sure we have things to eat and clothes to wear, you know ... the whole keeping up with life thing we all do every day. All that is to say, I've been posting in my head but I don't suppose you get those, huh?

Writing in the margins has its frustrations, the starting and stopping when I'd really prefer to just keep hacking away at the keyboard for one. I am, however, finding some unexpected advantages to this new method of of working. I have forever been looking for big chunks of time where I could settle into my project and really stay focused until I had to slump away from my desk in sheer exhaustion. Thing of it is, I've never given myself that kind of time. There's always been that little thing called paying the bills and just general life stuff keeping me from holing away for hours at a time to work on my writing. The last time I really worked on fiction like that, I was a kid and my responsibilities were limited to making my bed, showing up for meals and helping clean up afterward but even then I didn't do the hard or gross stuff, like cleaning pans, appliances and sink drainers.

Writing projects I got paid for aside, I've never given my fiction work the necessary time and attention to complete even a single project because, again, I didn't find the huge chunks of time I thought I need to make that happen.

Turns out, plenty of successful authors are quite productive writing in the margins of their busy family and work lives. I think I'm starting to see how. They keep at it, without fail, until they are finished and they don't use lack of time or being busy as an excuse.

Since I set my December deadline for this book, I've been working away steadily and am pleased to see the pages and chapters piling up. I'm at a point where today's work will be less about word count and more about mapping out how to make the next few chapters work. So say writing a book is like braiding hair (which I know little about, by the way). I'm at the point where story lines (strands) start intersecting and I need to make sure things make sense and that there's enough hair at the end of the braid to tie it all together.

But first I need to go see why my little friend isn't napping.


Fingers uncrossed

Okay, you can uncross your fingers, for now. I got an e-mail back from the agent I submitted my query and sample chapters to. It was a very nice rejection. Really. I haven't even shed a tear, though I do feel a little like I got punched in the stomach. A soft punch, though.

I'm considering it a sign of progress that I've ruled out two agents who won't be representing my work. That's part of the process, right?

Luckily, I got my new issue of Writer's Digest in my mailbox before checking my e-mail. Wouldn't you know the cover story is "Get an Agent: 24 agents looking for new writers." What's that saying about God closing doors while opening windows?

Here's the letter if you're curious what a nice rejection looks like. This is so much better than the eternal non-answer or my worst nightmare, the "I can't believe you wasted my time by sending me this crap!"

Dear Nathalie,

Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to review sample chapters of your novel-in-progress, Breaking Branches.

I read your work with interest and found a lot of things to like—the strong voices, complex characters, and original storyline—however, after careful consideration, I just didn’t feel I would be the best fit for this project and so I’m going to have to decline the invitation to review more of your work.

Please do not be discouraged. As you know, these decisions are highly subjective and another agent may have a completely different opinion.

Thanks again for thinking of me. I wish you the best of luck in finding a good home for your book.


Agent Name

Crazy or not ...

Today's Word Count: 820 (Chapter 3 completed, Chapter 4 started)

Well wasn't announcing a "complete date" all ambitious of me? Did you math people laugh when you realized what sounded like 4 months is actually only 125 days? I did the math this morning as I was figuring what a reasonable daily quota would be to stay on track for my goal. Mine was more of a hollow "oh, shit what have I done?" laugh. 

Crazy or not, here I come. I almost missed my writing window today, the very day after my big declaration. Amy asked me what I had planned for the afternoon: "Clean up, shower and write until Sam wakes up." Knowing of some of Sam's sleep shenanigans she suggested I shower, write then clean up reasoning that I could do the last part when he's awake, or not. I did one better. I committed to writing my 2 1/2 pages first. So, Chapter 3, check. Chapter 4, started. Woo-hoo. And he's awake. Possibly should've showered first.

It's all about balance ... and forward motion

Today's Word Count: 769, Chapter 3

Balance is a tricky little thing, isn't it? I suppose if forced to answer the question "What is your blog about, exactly?" I would have to say it's my notes on navigating this whole business of being alive and finding my balance along the way.

In an effort not to go completely insane as I wait to hear back from last week's queries, I am throwing myself back into the book and committing to staying there until it is finished. What? You've heard that before? Look, I quit smoking a million times before I truly put out my last cigarette so stick with me people.

What? You thought the book was finished since I sent the query and sample chapters to an agent? Au contraire mon frere. I dug around till I found what I needed, an agent willing to take a look before the manuscript was complete. Yes, I know this is rare but it's what I needed to keep me motivated. Otherwise my other "real" deadlines like columns due and hungry people get in the way of progress. I also find the longer I step away from a writing project, the harder it is to get back into it. This isn't a newsflash or anything, but I'm surprised by it every time.

I mentioned I sent sample chapters. Chapters, plural. Which is to say I sent the first two very polished chapters of my book, Breaking Branches. Which is also to say I sent the only two completed chapters. But soon chapter three will be done. Then, four, then five, then six ... she said confidently.

You know that saying about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Right. So here are a few things I'll be doing differently to achieve a different result, like a completed manuscript:

- I have a must complete by date: December 13, 2009 (Yes, a month before the baby is due to join us in the world). It would not be possible to set this date if I didn't have pages upon pages of drafts and outlines completed already. I think it's an ambitious but reasonable date.

- I'm going back to posting word counts for some sense of tracking and accountability

- I'm going to end each day reviewing what I wrote (or edited) that day and lay out my plan for the next day's work session be it 15 minutes or 2 hours. This annoyingly ambiguous window is in large part due to how long Sam stays asleep. But, hey, it's what I have to work with so I might as well be realistic.

Fingers crossed, breath held - but otherwise business as usual

I'll uncross my fingers for a minute to share this with you and then it's right back to it. Luckily I can do this and still hold my breath as well as compulsively check my e-mail. Truth be told, I've always been kind of an obsessive e-mail checker but when I'm waiting back in hopes of a "yes!" from an editor or agent, I take it to a whole new level ...

Okay, I'm back. As I've implemented this new little system I'm hesitant to talk about, I'm finding my time is expanding, as if by magic. It's only been a week but I'm hoping it's not a fluke. Things are nowhere near perfect around here--that's never been my goal--but I know what we're having for dinner, I could let you in if you stopped by and aren't wielding an ax or whatever, and I've made some good progress on two of my professional goals. That, I assure you, is not how things have been running the last, oh say, 22 months.

By progress I mean that I sent my work (and my aspirations) out into the world, specifically into the hands of decision makers that can change the trajectory of my career. No pressure.

So three things I'm holding my breath about:

- Last week I connected with an editor of mine that I was afraid was done with me but didn't have the heart to tell me. I based that on her lack of responses to my e-mails and phone calls that started to border on stalking. Turns out, she's just been really busy and actually not only wants me to keep working for her but is working on getting me a little raise and she agreed to a couple more columns a month. Sweet. (And, truly, this is the moment I realized I really, really had to do something different than trying to do everything all day every day, and winding up doing nothing other than keeping us alive and generally sound).

- Yesterday I finished and sent my proposal to syndicate my "Baby on Board" column. Fingers crossed.

- This afternoon I finished the query for my book, Breaking Branches. I've been procrastinating on it because I didn't have the end of the book totally figured out. And also because I'm nervous as hell about it. I sent the query and two sample chapters to an agent who agreed to take a look at it back in March. Fingers super crossed.