Thursday, August 23, 2007

Finding a "Fresh" Angle

Question of the week: I was curious about some of the evergreen stories you've written because one of the "rules" of freelancing I've been told is that an article should have some kind of new angle to them, but these not all of yours are. So I was curious: is there a magic formula might be, absent a news hook.

Oh, if only! You know, I don't really have a brilliant answer for this, but I'll give it a shot. Yes, a lot of stories that I write and that magazines cover are indeed evergreen. And a lot of them are similar to others that you've read in the past or in other magazines. (Which is why newbie writers are so often convinced that a magazine "stole" their idea: in reality, it's just highly likely that someone else pitched a similar story or that the magazine was planning a similar story.) There's just no denying it.

What makes one pitch fresh and the other stale? Well, you already got the first aspect of it: news hooks. There's no better way to grab an editor's attention than by pointing out new studies or research that make the subject worthy of revisiting again.

But other than that, I really do believe that it comes down to packaging. Editors know that there are only so many topics and subjects out there, so I think that the best way to land an article is to come up with a creative way to package it. For example, I recently had a story run in Woman's Day called Just Do It. My editor had asked me for some new ideas, so I was brainstorming various things in my life that could be improved upon. (This is how I come up with a lot of my story ideas, btw.) I looked at my closet, and it made me want to cry, and I realized that I only had myself to blame for it: I'd been putting off organizing it for so long that it seemed almost unmanageable.

So, from here, I could have pitched a general, "Hey, let's do a story on organizing or let's do a story on procrastinating," but my editor would have said, "What's so interesting about that? What makes it any different than the gajillion other stories we've run like that?"

Instead, I came up with a creative way to cover the same-old subject. Thus, I broke the pitch (and the assigned story) down like this:

Why You Resist: Because it bores you to tears
Why We Insist: Because it will change your life, blah, blah, blah

Do you see how this one little twist made the subject matter so much more interesting? I really do think that's the key to landing evergreen stories, because, after all, news pegs can only take you so far.

But that's just my opinion. How do you guys land evergreens and what do you do to set yourself apart?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

When Lightening Strikes

Before I get into today's post, I HAD to link to this incredible review of The Department of Lost and Found. I was truly so touched and humbled by it, so I hope you take the time to click over. (Haven't bought the book? What are you waiting for?)

So, the other day, I was hungry for a new book. So hungry that I couldn't wait for Amazon to deliver. (I'm a Prime member, so normally, I press "order," and the books are here within two days.) After dropping my son off at camp, I mosey to Barnes and Noble, and grab Jonathan Tropper's How to Talk to a Widower.

Well, I start it that afternoon on the subway to a meeting, and by the time I turned off the light for some shut-eye, I was 200 pages deep. (It was so good that I let my son watch an extra episode of Dragon Tales, just so I could keep reading. The very model of good parenting, I know!)

I woke up the next morning, desperate to read more, toted it to the dog run, (bonus for the pooch: he also got extra play time because I was so absorbed), and then skipped out on some work to finish it, sadly turning the last few pages because I didn't want it to end. God, I miss that book.

Anyway, after I lovingly placed it on our bookshelf, I started thinking about what, for me, makes a book click. It's almost intangible, you know? I mean, every book I buy, I hope that this magic will happen, but it doesn't always, in fact, it doesn't often. Every last thing about this book worked for me. Mostly, I suppose, it was the voice: if I'm not digging the voice of the narrator, the rest of book is shot. But there are other things too - what I really appreciated about HTTTAW was how I could be cracking up in one moment, then welling up in the next. (Yes, I actually started crying in the dog run! How mortifying!) Its emotional resonance really impacted me. And the character's story arc was also totally believable. By the end, even though I suspected it was coming, I really felt like, "Yup, that could happen. Those changes not only work, they're gratifying to the reader."

It was everything I hope for as a reader, and what I aspire to as an author. Will it win the Pulitzer? Hell, no. But it was all that I ask for and more out of a book. I'm now off to order Tropper's back list and hope that he pulls out the same stops for his previous works. (And no, I don't know the guy, so I'm certainly not shilling for him out of obligation or anything like that!)

So...have you read any books recently that captured this magic?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Conversation with Cindy: A Famous Blogger

So today, I have a little Q/A going on with one of my favorite bloggers, Cindy, from Conversations with Famous Writers. If you haven't checked out the site, do it asap - she manages to lure all sorts of fabulous and interesting authors to the site, and it's a must-read for me each week. Cindy is also the author of Thousand Dollars for a Kiss, a fun read set in the world of celebrity, and she took an unconventional route to getting published. Since I know so many aspiring writers check out this blog, I thought she might make for a bit of inspiration. Check it out!

1) You run one of my favorite blogs. What compelled you to start blogging and how did you attract such a big audience?

I started blogging for fun about celebrities in my (now defunct) gossip site, Conversations About Famous People. I got many, many hits every day, which was great fun but not satisfying to my soul, you know? It's not like I was doing something really positive by making fun of celebrities. It was bad karma.

I began Conversations with Famous Writers as a way to read and review and write about books and authors in an entertaining and casual way. I didn't want a stuffy, very literary type blog, I wanted to combine interesting, off beat interviews and inspire people to read really good books while getting to know the writers behind those books.

CAFP afforded me the opportunity to gather a big audience, some of which followed me to the book blog and helped make it successful. I still can't believe that this stay- at- home mom ran a successful gossip blog and reached over seven million viewers. Like, wow, millions of people read my work! I went to the E! channel in Los Angeles and did a screen test. It was exciting but not the direction I wanted to take my life in.

2) You interview a lot of well-known authors. Has any interview stood out as the best among others? How do you approach these authors? Anyone ever say no?

Jeannette Walls was super nice, she stands out as being one of the best. Jen Lancaster is lovely and hilarious. I adore Caroline Leavitt and Gayle Brandeis who I knew before I started my site. The fact that Pamela Anderson did an interview with me and linked to it on her website was huge for me. The majority of the authors are awesome and kind and grateful. Writers are generally speaking, a wonderful bunch.

I approach the authors through their PR people, some writers contact me directly. Paulina Porizkova wouldn't be interviewed for Model Summer and Angelina Jolie's manager said she wasn't giving interviews for her book Notes From My Travels. I was totally bummed!

Imagine me and Angelina doing an interview? We would become best friends forever and our kids could play together, we could get tattoos and were matching black clothes! She really missed out.

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring novelists. You refused to give up when it looked like a large publishing house wouldn't grab your did you then go about getting published?

I wrote two books and sent out hundreds and hundreds of query letters to agents. I received so many rejections that I seriously lost count of all of them. I could have wallpapered my whole house with those rejection letters.

When I wrote my third novel, A Thousand Dollars for a Kiss, I began the process all over again and of course the rejections trickled in. It was torture! I thought maybe I should self publish. I couldn't bear the thought of one more "no". I assumed that because I had a well known website and a built in audience of book buyers getting an agent would be easy. Not so.

At this time, Ephemera Bound got in touch with me to review their books. Instead of reviewing books, I asked if they would be interested in publishing my novel. I submitted it; they liked it and set me up with an editor. I was anxious.

4) What were the pros and cons of taking this route?

The positives aspects of going with a tiny publisher was that my book would be published in less than a year, I would work with an editor, I wouldn't need an agent, I would have a say in the cover art, the book would be available on, Barnes & I would finally have a published book that people could read. My dream of being a published author would come true. Fame and success were sure to follow! Visions of Prada and a new Infiniti FX 35 danced in my head.

The downside is a small publisher doesn't have a lot of marketing or advertising money, I did not get an advance, they didn't send out review copies to the big reviewers so my book was not widely exposed.

Places like Barnes & Noble, Costco, and Target have deals with the bigger publishers to have their books displayed and/or sold there but not with a small, relatively unknown publisher. Had I held out and found an agent who could have negotiated a great deal for me, my book would be in every book store and I'd be zooming around in my silver Infiniti wearing my True Religion jeans, lunching at The Ivy and shopping at Neiman Marcus.

5) What are you working on now?

I finished the sequel to A Thousand Dollars for a Kiss which is called Fifty Cents for Your Soul. It's about the celebrity obsessed character of Barrett and it features Marilyn Monroe. I'm plotting out the third book in my Hollywood series; this one will take place in the 60's with Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. I love that whole era. I wish I could wear faded bell bottoms and daisies in my hair all the time. But with MAC Lipglass and YSL mascara of course.

I'm reviewing my beloved beauty products on Hello Dollface and interviewing writers on Conversations With Famous Writers. Lately on my blog, I'm featuring movie trailers and news of novels being made into films. My goal is to have my books made into movies and somehow develop other good books into films. Angelina and I will become BFF and she can also star in my movies and we could do charity work together. It's a win/win all around.