June 2015 Inside: ▪ Building Buzz for Your New Book▪ Nerdy Words: The Em Dash▪ Summer "Kickstart" Workshops▪ Student Showcase: "Building Characte

Kickstart Your Writing Orange

June 2015



Building Buzz for Your New Book
Nerdy Words: The Em Dash
Summer "Kickstart" Workshops
Student Showcase: "Building Character," by Catherine Magdalena

Building Buzz for Your New Book

By Kathy Eaton

Local author Ellen Urbani grew up in the South and has had two books published: When I Was Elena (The Permanent Press, 2006), a memoir documenting her life in Guatemala; and Landfall (Forest Avenue Press, 2015), a work of historical fiction set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She landed both book deals without an agent and recently obtained an agent who asked to represent her. On June 2, 2015, Urbani spoke to Willamette Writers about “pre-launch machinations,” offering writers five tips for marketing their books both before and after publication:

Secure stellar blurbs. Make a list of literary queens and kings and request a written blurb from them before you finish your book. Urbani handwrote 25 personal letters to authors, specifically requesting a blurb for her book, describing the book’s content and offering to send a manuscript. Once she secured a book deal for Landfall, Urbani wrote both Pat Conroy and Fannie Flagg, neither of whom she’d previously met. They provided her with a blurb. “Tell the truth about why you’re writing them but don’t presume they’ll do you a favor.” Urbani advises using peoplesmart.com to locate home addresses.

Land a delicious cover. Urbani advised writers against designing their own book cover. When you hand it off, though, make sure that the artist understands the book, because the back story will inform the visuals. Urbani’s tip: get out of the way when the artist, editor and promoter are working on your book. Publishers are involved in creating book covers, and some will solicit the author’s input. Foreign publishing companies often buy the right to use their own cover, resulting in different covers for the same book.

Get yourself published somewhere else. In February 2015, The New York Times published a personal essay that Urbani had previously submitted to the Times' Modern Love department, which rejected it. Her message: even if seven years have passed, don’t give up! Try resubmitting your piece for publication somewhere else.

Make yourself available online. Urbani strongly endorses using a personal website, and keeping the content short, really visual and interactive. A self-described “social media idiot,” Urbani advises writers to get a web designer. Her rule of thirds for posting on your website: one-third of the posts should be about the book you’re trying to sell, one-third should endorse what someone else is promoting (e.g., linking readers to another author’s book), and the final third should be about issues that matter to you.

Build buzz. Get your name out there in advance of publication and after you’re published. Publicists will send book reviewers an advance review copy (ARC), which authors can also use to secure an endorsement. Urbani strongly advises that writers cultivate an audience online by using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, although the under-30 crowd prefers Snapchat, Instagram and Tumbler. Urbani suggests creating a “Good Reads” account to promote books, using an author page and inviting questions from readers. Post reviews to your website and thank supporters as well as those who didn’t like the book.

You can check out Ellen Urbani’s website at ellenurbani.com. Next up at Willamette Writers is author Brian Doyle, on Tuesday, July 7, at the Old Church in downtown Portland.

Writing Tip

Nerdy Words: The Em Dash

By Ann Sihler

English has so many types of dashes—hyphen, em dash, en dash—that knowing which one to use may be confusing. Today we’ll look at the em dash, which sometimes is called just a dash.

In professional typesetting, the em dash is a horizontal dash as long as the letter “m.” Back when people used typewriters, they created an em dash by typing two hyphens together, one right after the other. On computer keyboards we can do the same thing and our word processing program will automatically display the result as an em dash.

The em dash is our most versatile type of dash. It commonly is used to set off parenthetical material—like I did in the lead sentence of this article, and am doing right here—so as to amplify or explain something. Another way to use the em dash is like a colon, to introduce a list of things—examples, specifics, and the like (the way I just did with this list). Or you can use a dash to prepare for a shift in tone or thought—where a comma seems too weak and a period too strong.

Other uses for the em dash include indicating interruptions (“What I really want is—“ “Don’t tell me!”), attributing quotes (“Everything is hard before it is easy.” —Goethe), and starting a sentence with a list (“Engine trouble, a speeding ticket, and a herd of buffalo on the roadway—could our trip to Yellowstone get any worse?”).
Whether you put spaces on each side of the em dash depends on editorial style. Some publications or style books call for spaces, while others don’t. That means that whichever way you do it, you can’t lose! Just be consistent within each piece of writing.

The differences in effect between an em dash and a colon, comma, period, or set of parentheses can be subtle, so the decision to use a dash sometimes is a matter of pacing and tone, rather than right or wrong. Generally an em dash is less formal than a colon. Also, a dash often adds energy or emphasis and can be useful in drawing the reader’s attention to a particular phrase.

Personally I find em dashes so handy that I rely on them perhaps too much, as in this very article, where I’ve used them nine times already. It’s a little much—don’t you think?


Summer "Kickstart Your Writing" Workshops Now Open for Registration

Whether you’re working on a novel or interested in short stories, memoir, essays, articles or other forms of fiction or nonfiction, Kickstart Your Writing classes offer a fun and supportive environment in which you can work on specific writing projects. Two in-person classes and one online class are offered. To register, click here.


In-person classes:
Choose Wednesday or Thursday evenings.
Wednesdays: July 8-September 3, 2015
Time: 6:30-9 p.m.
To register for the Wednesday class, click here.
Thursdays: July 9-September 4, 2015
Time: 6:30-9 p.m.

Location: Hollywood district, NE Portland, OR. Exact location provided upon registration.
Cost: $180/9 weeks.

To register online, click here. You can also register by mailing a check to Nancy Woods, P.O. Box 18032, Portland, OR 97218.

Online class:
Dates: July 8-September 2, 2015
Cost: $180/9 weeks
To register for the online class, click here.

This online version of the Kickstart Your Writing class can be taken from the comfort of your home and worked on when your schedule allows. All you need is e-mail (no Skype or chat rooms). Students will set weekly goals, post their writing online at designated times, and receive feedback from the instructor and other students.

Student Showcase

“Building Character” (excerpt) by Catherine Magdalena

Catherine Magdalena has been taking Kickstart classes for four years, working mostly on memoir projects related to work, family, and her adventures in home-building and property management. The excerpt below comes from an essay on her childhood in rural Idaho that she wrote while on a Kickstart writing retreat this spring.

My memories of riding with Dad on our combine harvester are mixed with field dust, chaff and sweat. The large life-like machine perpetuated at a 10-mph crawl, sometimes a tad faster if the blonde stands of wheat, pregnant with fat kernels, had grown a little thinner in spots.

I was always happy to feel needed, eager to fetch a tool or water jug. Schlepping the water jug from the truck to the combine was no easy task. It meant hefting myself and the jug straight up an eight-foot ladder. By the end of the day, my legs boasted scratches from walking through the post-harvest stubble and my body bore evidence of the day with creases where sweat and dirt met to become one. Dad would always ask, “How do you get so dirty?” Most of the time I answered by smiling, unaware it was a problem. It was my habit to touch and experience everything. I can still see Dad’s smile, such love in his eyes and teeth beaming white against his dirty, sun-blessed face.

We made the water jugs out of empty gallon-sized bleach bottles. Dad sewed around each one multiple layers of tightly woven burlap, repurposed from livestock feed bags too worn from multiple use. For thread, Dad used the same string that had held the bags shut. We put the jugs in the freezer at night and then drenched them with water in the morning. The burlap acted as an efficient insulator, keeping the water cold throughout the long work day. I loved the damp earthy smell of the heavy jugs. Just lifting them to take a drink was work in itself. They sat like little characters, waiting to be needed.

During harvest in July and August, the normal dry temperatures stayed in the 90s, making the work conditions pretty brutal. The normal work day began at 6 a.m. and ended around 8 or 9 p.m. It was always a treat when it was time for the crew to work on the Home Place, the 240 acres that surrounded our farm, because I got to be out in the field with Dad, Grandpa and the field hands more regularly. I got to listen to the stories at lunch time or ride into town in the grain truck to unload at the grain elevators in Genesee. Our other acreage was located across the canyon, closer to Genesee, and I didn’t get to go there as much.

Best of all was just the time spent with Dad, watching him master the machine, and witnessing the plants get gobbled up into the teeth of the scythe cutter wheel, hearing them get swallowed into the belly and then auger-unloaded up into the holding tank. From the truck, I could see the straw walkers spew the chaff out the back, returning it to the earth from where it once grew. The whole process took only minutes. As a child, I could trust that Dad had his finger on the pulse. Things were safe on his watch.

I loved watching the grain spill from the auger out into the holding tank just behind where my dad sat in the driver’s seat. As soon as it was full enough for me to reach, I would hand pick grasshoppers and rescue them. Some exhibited war wounds like missing limbs and wings that I pointed out to Dad. He’d always chuckle at my sensitivity and I’d scowl back, proceed to pick up the ones I could, shower them with empathy and release them to safety. I didn’t like when they spit their tobacco-colored substance on my hands, but this just became part of my grime at the end of the day.

I learned later that grasshoppers spit as a self defense mechanism to repel predators. I also later read that in some parts of the farming world, grasshoppers aren’t cute when they consume entire crops. As a child, they were a treasure and I loved when they catapulted themselves off into the distance to safety. To me, they were interesting creatures—my friends.

Scribbles loops newsletter