Thursday, January 27, 2011

Weird But True! Unexpected Paths to Creativity

Recently, my stepson Reese has been into fact books, including Ripley's Believe It Or Not Special Edition 2011 and Ripley's Believe It Or Not Enter If You Dare. They've got a bunch of oddities that seven-year-old boys are totally into. And my new favorite is Reese's National Geographic Kids Weird But True book.

It is filled with facts like "If you run in the rain, you will get about 50% wetter than if you stand still," and "Your hair grows faster in warm weather." And these crazy facts helped spring me out of a poetic writing funk I've been suffering through since late 2010. Well, it also helps that I recently discovered this great collection of poems by Ira Sadoff titled Settling Down (published in 1975 by Houghton Mifflin).

I ended up with the first poem I've been really happy with in 2011. Yay!

If anyone is interested in the poem, just send me an e-mail at with the subject line: Send me that Weird But True poem. I'm going to refrain from posting at the moment though, because I want to try sending it around for publication--something else I've been neglecting lately.


Since you bothered to read this poem-less post, I guess I'll share a few weird but true facts about myself:
  1. I always set the music volume at a multiple of 2 or 5 when I'm driving.
  2. Chewing candy canes usually makes me sneeze. However, I have no issue with sucking on them.
  3. My father was in charge of naming me and did not care to give me a middle name. Luckily, my mom inserted the Lee.
  4. I can eat an entire package of hot dogs by myself--without it being a competition. For that matter, I can also eat entire packages of cookies, pretzels, chips, and more.
  5. English was my worst subject in high school.
  6. I change my appearance frequently. Sometimes I have long, shaggy hair; other times, I shave my head down to the skin. Sometimes I have a beard; other times, I do not. I sometimes wear contacts, but I can also sport glasses. Even my weight fluctuates frequently.
  7. I am a really heavy sleeper. Like so heavy that I sleep through tornado sirens and fire alarms. Like so heavy that Tammy has to throw things at me to wake me.
  8. Raised on very bland foods, I now put Frank's Red Hot sauce on nearly everything I eat--from scrambled eggs to lasagna.
  9. Sentimental moments in movies can make me tear up. For instance, the end of It's a Wonderful Life and The Iron Giant both always get me.
  10. And I have a thing for the number 8 (and the number 808). But I probably should've mentioned that 2 weird things ago.

Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


By the way, Reese just finished reading How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, by my friend Chuck Sambuchino. It's a super funny book, and Reese read it all in one night. Once he picked it up, he couldn't put it back down. So check it out!


Also, check out this recent guest post I wrote for Amanda Hoving's Amanda's Wrinkled Pages blog titled Share Your Writing and Who Knows What Will Happen. It's all about why I got started writing and how writing led me to my true love.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to Deal With Problem Editors

Finally! You get accepted by that magazine you've been targeting for years. In a rush of adrenaline, you jump at the editor's terms, turn in your story and then wait. And wait. And nothing happens. Your story doesn't appear in the next issue. Or the next. Or the one after that.

Eventually, you start suspecting the editor has either killed your story or lost it. Or you think that the editor realized his or her mistake in accepting the story in the first place. Or maybe the editor has been replaced. And maybe you're even getting pretty upset about the lack of contact.

What can a writer do to get some answers without burning a bridge and getting put on some kind of editorial black list?


Okay, I'll always consider myself a writer first, but I've been an editor for more than a decade now, which is long enough to have been a problem editor myself from time to time. A key thing to remember is that most editors are human (though that may be changing in the future).

With that in mind, I'd advise all writers to start off by just contacting the editor with an e-mail like this:

Dear Editor,

A year ago, my story was accepted for publication by your magazine. I turned in the story and returned all the other paperwork requested, but now I realize that I have no idea when the story is supposed to run (so that I can go out and buy a dozen copies). Could you let me know?




If that letter seems pretty simple, it's because this letter is. As an accepted writer, you don't need to start pulling out threats and voicing your frustration in your first contact. That kind of conduct can really burn you in both the short- and long-term. Even if you're annoyed, try to keep it hidden in your first correspondence.

Give the editor a week to respond. I know that in this day and age that a week sounds like forever, but it's not. If you don't receive a response in a week, then follow up with another e-mail. Again, try to hide your annoyance as best as you can, though you can definitely bring up the fact that you sent an e-mail a week previous (just to jog the editor's memory).

Give the editor another week. Then, start calling. Try to get the editor first. If you have to leave a message, just let the editor know that you've sent e-mail messages, and that you just want some kind of response.

If that fails, it's time to try finding someone higher on the editorial food chain. Keep in mind: Once you resort to this tactic, you may have completely severed your relationship with this editor.


As you progress as a freelancer, you'll develop a list of things that you always want clarified up front.

Questions freelancers should ask upon acceptance might include:
  • What rights are you purchasing?
  • What are the deadlines?
  • What is expected at each deadline?
  • When will my writing be published?
  • How much will I be paid?
  • When will I be paid? (And how?)
  • Do I receive any comp copies of book and/or magazine?
Don't be afraid to ask questions. The more you get squared away at the beginning the less chance you have of potential problems arising in the future. But it's always good to remember that most editors are human, and most of us are also writers. In most cases, we just need a polite nudge to get us back on track.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Check out these top references for freelancers:
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Upcoming Speaking Events (January 2011)

This past weekend, I firmed up some upcoming speaking plans. I usually end up doing a handful of events each year, and it appears that I'll continue that trend in the near future. (If you run an event and need speakers, just send me an e-mail with details at

So here are the upcoming events:

Blue Ridge Writers' Conference
On April 1-2, I'll be in Blue Ridge, Georgia, speaking on the following topics: "Target the Best Markets for Your Work" and "Establish a Social Media Platform to Launch Your Career." Other speakers include Sally McMillan, Scott Owens, Hope Clark, and Jennifer Jabaley. Learn more at their website:

Austin International Poetry Festival
This event is sort of a surprise, but I was just invited to be a National Speaker from April 7-10. In addition to 200 local poets, there will be more than a dozen national and international poets (including myself) leading workshops and giving readings as poets take over Austin for four days of National Poetry Month. Learn more online at

Plus, I already have the following event on my 2012 calendar:

Writing Away Retreats
I'll be a member of the Writing Away Retreats staff on Labor Day Weekend in 2012. At the moment, the other staff includes Sandra Bond, Barbara Samuel (O'Neal), Kate Gale, and Kristen Nelson. Based in Breckenridge, Colorado, these Writing Away Retreats really are something else and include manuscript consultations with members of the staff (including myself). Learn more online at


I admit that I'm excited about all of these events for multiple reasons. Of course, I'm always excited (and nervous) to be around other writers. But I'm also very interested in visiting all three of the locations: Blue Ridge, Austin and Breckenridge.

If you're able to make it out to any of these events, just let me know. Maybe we can meet up before or at least during the event. And if you're the shy type, just remember: I am too. Can't wait to hit the road in April!


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Travelers and conference goers need the right stuff to get the most out of the experience, including:
  • An interesting book that makes you look really smart. Like The Poetry Home Repair Manual, by Ted Kooser, or the 2011 Writer's Market, edited by yours truly. 
  • A smartphone, so that you can social network between (or even during) sessions. I recently purchased a Droid Incredible (and love it), but I know many who have an iPhone (and love it). As my buddy Brian Klems likes to say, " You really can't go wrong with either."
  • Luggage. Personally, I prefer to use my orange JanSport backpack from college, but there are times when I have to bite the bullet and pack a suitcase. If you go this route, make sure your luggage has wheels and is easy to manuever around people who just stop walking without warning in airport terminals and hotel lobbies (it happens--often).
  • Doritos. It never hurts to have something around on which to munch.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Top 5 Pitch Tips for Writers

Recently, I was asked to provide some examples of successful pitches for the upcoming Writer's Digest Conference in New York City. Instead of just focusing on that one event though, I'm going to focus on pitching in general. This advice should help as much at live events as in query letters.

Here are my top 5 pitch tips:
  1. Focus on the story. Don't start off your pitch by describing the characters and the setting and the big ideas involved and themes of your story. Start off by telling the story and relaying the main obstacle(s) that must be overcome. For instance, "John Doe returns home from work to find a letter that will change his life and ultimately lead him from Minnesota to Madagascar. Dear John is the story of one man's search for true love." (Note: This story could still be nonfiction or fiction.) If you're writing nonfiction that doesn't have a "story," then...
  2. Focus on the idea of your article or book. Start off by selling your idea; do NOT start off by discussing who you are or why you're pitching me. While experience and platform are important down the road, your first goal in a pitch is to get the editor or agent excited about the idea.
  3. Keep your pitch short. Think the back of a DVD case or the cover of a book. If you're writing a query letter, it should definitely be no longer than one page. A pitch does not go into great detail; it's a tool for getting someone excited about your project.
  4. Find the right person to pitch. If you're pitching a book on science nonfiction to an editor of fantasy fiction, then you're odds for success are pretty much zero. Don't laugh. I get pitched articles every month that have nothing to do with my field.
  5. Pay attention to feedback. If you receive feedback from an editor or agent (even if it's on a rejection), use that as motivation. You have to decide whether or not to follow their advice, but feedback often signifies that you're getting close.

Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Check out these other recent posts for writers:

Friday, January 14, 2011

One More Reason to Go Digital

Long ago, I made the decision to submit almost entirely via electronic channels, whether through e-mail or online submission forms. Part of my reasoning was based on convenience. A larger part, though, was based solely on the economics of submitting work. Between the purchase of envelopes, paper, ink cartridges, and most importantly stamps, it just doesn't make any sort of economic sense in the world for a poet to spend all that money with little ROI (return on investment).

Look: I'm not trying to make a living off poetry, but I don't want to max out my credit cards making submissions either. That would be like kicking a poet while he's down.

On January 2, the USPS raised rates on competitive services. Now, they're planning on raising rates on market dominant services April 17 (click here to read an article on the increase).

That will be two rate increases within months of each other. And we all know there's more to come. From where I'm sitting, the number of reasons to go all digital increases every few months as well.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Check out my post Changes in publishing (and what it means for writers).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Great Winter Event of 2011!

Coming from Ohio, I never thought I'd experience a week like this past week. Beginning on Sunday evening, the Atlanta area was hit with a combination of snow and ice. In fact, we received around 4 inches of fluffy snow here in Duluth with a layer of ice on top of the snow. Back in Southwest Ohio, the schools would close for a day (maybe two) for such an event. Most businesses would still be open and require employees to report to work. Such is not the case for the winter storm of 2011 in the ATL!

Many businesses were still closed today on the third day, and Reese's school has already cancelled for tomorrow. Not that I'm surprised after venturing out to Kroger today to buy some milk, eggs and hot chocolate mix. After all, the roads are still a mess--even the main ones! I guess Atlanta is used to Mother Nature melting the snow and ice in this area during the very few times that something actually sticks to the ground. The problem this time is that a significant amount of snow and ice fell before the temperatures followed suit.

It's impossible not to learn a lesson or two from such an event that I plan to apply to any future Georgia winter storms.
  1. Always grab an extra gallon of milk (or two). Our Kroger was out of 2% and the 1% was more than half gone when I grabbed two gallons today. Related to this...
  2. Always grab an extra carton of eggs. Unfortunately, the eggs were completely wiped out by time I got to Kroger today.
  3. Purchase a sled before the storm hits. We improvised and used a laundry basket, but a sled would've been nice. (And actually, I prefer using oversized inner tubes, because they bounce.)
  4. Have an activity plan ready for the troops. If the boys are occupied with something, they're not occupied (and messing) with each other.
  5. Buy extra marshmallows. Because you're likely to go through a lot of hot chocolate before those roads will be safe for traveling again.

Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


If you're ever stuck in a snowstorm and need a good book to read, why not check out this list of timeless novels:
  • Dubliners, by James Joyce. Easily the most accessible of Joyce's books, and it even has a sort of wintery feel to it. I mean, he was Irish and all.
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. Not only does this novel feature one of the best narrators ever, but it's also set in New York in the winter.
  • The Ice Storm, by Rick Moody.'s probably obvious why this novel fits the weather, but it's also a great contemporary novel. I liked it better than the movie.
  • The Air We Breathe, by Andrea Barrett. Maybe my favorite novel of the past few years, this novel hits all the right notes with an interesting "we" narrator.
  • Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding. It's not really that literary, but it is a lot of fun. Plus, it begins and ends in the winter. I liked the movie too!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Importance of Calls to Action for Writers

Calls to action are usually associated with commercials, sales, marketing and advertising. For instance, a television or radio commercial may cover the benefits of a product and service and finish off with a message of "call in the next five minutes to get 20% off." Or a product (such as a bottle of Mountain Dew or box of Cheez-Its) may advise customers to type a promotional code into a website to see if they win a prize. But there are many other ways writers can employ a call to action.

Why use a call to action?
It's natural to question why employing a call to action should matter for writers. After all, isn't a call to action just some slimy method salespeople use to trick consumers into spending money and giving away their e-mail addresses? Well, I don't feel that way.

People use calls to action in music, movies and literature to change minds. It's used in journalism and documentaries to change hearts. And, of course, it's also used to sell products, get votes, and create change (for better or worse).

When used with a conscience, calls to action are a service to your readers, because a call to action gives directions on what to do next, whether that's giving them a way to learn more information about a topic or making it easy for them to check out a product or service mentioned. After all, there's nothing wrong with making money off a call to action if you're straightforward about what you're doing.

How can writers use calls to action?
Any writer who wants to communicate with others will likely benefit from employing calls to action. Here are a few places writers can use them:
  • Queries
  • Proposals
  • Newsletters
  • Articles
  • Choose-Your-Adventure Novels
  • Blog Posts
But the possibilities are nearly endless. In fact, some fiction and poetry even includes a call to action.

Calls to action are most effective when...
  • They're simple. This means it's easy to do. Like click a link or respond to an e-mail.
  • They're focused. This means that the call to action makes only one request. The more options you give, the less focused the reader becomes, and the chances of complete inaction increase.
  • They're clear. This means there is the call to action is not ambiguous in what should be done next. Don't insinuate that a person could find more information on your site; give them the links to make it happen.
Whatever you do, make sure you don't write a call to action that leaves readers wondering, "Now what?" If they're not sure what to do, then the call to action was not effective.

Remember: Calls to action are not just for marketers, and they're not sleazy if you're using them to give your readers meaningful direction. When used appropriately, a call to action is a win-win for both writers and the people who read them.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


Here are a few other posts of interest to writers:

If you're interested in learning more about calls to action, here are a couple good resources:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

ENTER: My Poetry Collection Has a Title

My poetry collection now has a title: ENTER

The word is taken from the end of the poem "Cold Water," which was originally published in Escape Into Life.

I like ENTER as the title, because it's an invitation to read my first collection of poems. Also, the collection itself is entering into a dialogue with readers and other collected works. Plus, I like how the word "enter" works in that final line: all of us afraid to enter.

As poets (and as writers), we often have to overcome our fears of rejection or ridicule to share our work with the world. To ask others to publish or pay for our work is taking that fear to another level. Yet, only by entering--despite our fears--do we start to achieve our dreams and goals.

I want to thank everyone who's fearlessly entered into a commitment to purchase a copy of the collection (before I even had a title for the collection, no less). Your support has given me an incredible lift.

As I mentioned in my original post, there will be only 101 copies in a Limited Edition printing of this chapbook now titled ENTER. Around half of those 101 copies have been claimed already, so I encourage anyone else who's interested in reserving a copy to contact me as soon as possible. The Limited Edition printing is limited to 101 numbered and signed copies. Once I hit 101, they'll be sold out.

Copies are $10 (shipping is included in the price for U.S. orders--and we'll have to figure out foreign orders on a case-by-case basis). Just send me an e-mail at with the subject line: I would like a copy of ENTER

I'll send along details on how to pay, what number your copy will be, and anything else that needs to be discussed. (By the way, click here to check out the line up of poems for the collection.)

Once again, thank you so much to everyone who's shown their support.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer

Or connect with me on LinkedIn.


What am I reading right now?
Jessie Carty's Paper House. If you haven't read her collection yet, there's a gem of a poem on every page. And you can follow her on Twitter @jessiepoet.

Top 5 Creative Writing Tips

A friend on Facebook recently asked me: What do you think are the 5 best creative writing tips/hints/prompts etc?

Of course, I think it's impossible for anyone to narrow it down to just five tips, but here's my best attempt:
  1. Write first; revise later. Many writers think too much in the draft process (trying to make their first drafts perfect) when they should be writing. I believe in using outlines for fiction and nonfiction, but writers should let themselves get carried away with their writing as much as possible. Get your words on paper or on a screen, because you can make it perfect during revision.
  2. Show; don't tell. This is one of those golden rules of writing. If you have a character who is mad, don't write something like this: Joe was mad. Instead, show Joe's anger through his actions and/or dialogue. Maybe something like this: Joe slammed the door, stomped over to the couch and plopped down without looking at anyone.
  3. Start the story in the right place. Note: You may not know where the right place is until after you've completed the first, second, third, etc., drafts. I could give you a list of places not to start your story (such as in a dream sequence or right as someone wakes up for a normal, boring day), but then, you'll probably just try to prove me wrong. At least, that's what I'd do.
  4. Get a few trusted readers. This is very important. If you're the only person reading your writing, then you are working in a complete vacuum. Having a few trusted readers can help you identify trouble areas in your manuscript and even give you new ideas to incorporate into your writing. You don't have to incorporate all feedback, but it forces you to consider how others are reading your writing.
  5. Read. Whether writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc., it's important to read if you want to be a good writer. Plus, you should read everything--good and bad--that you can and identify why things work or don't work for you. Incorporate techniques used in poetry in your nonfiction; use nonfiction to find ideas for your fiction; etc.
Those are my personal top 5, but I'm sure other writers have their own. Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Final Tip: Don't worry too much about the business and marketing side of things until you've spent a good deal of time writing. While the business side of things can be very important down the road, writers who want to build a career out of writing should put writing first. Your writing is your product and service; so make sure it's top notch before worrying about all that other stuff.


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Here are a few other posts for writers from this blog:

Ready to get writing? Make sure you have the right tools to get the job done: