Becoming a Demand Media Writer

About a year ago I learned through my aunt that my cousin Lisa (see her blog here) was actually making a living as a writer. BUT HOW, I thought. My own writing successes to that point had all been unpaid, and she’s a year younger than me. Granted, she was living in Oregon where, I’ve heard, the average cost of living is significantly less than in Los Angeles or Santa Barbara. But still.
            So I sent off a Facebook message pleading for her secret, and Lisa kindly introduced me to Demand Media. This host company hires writers to create content for publishing outlets such as ehow.com, livestrong.com, and USA Today. And it pays. My thought: sign me up!

            In August of 2010 I applied to be a Demand Studios writer. Thanks to the writing credits under my belt from my internship at Santa Barbara Magazine, I was accepted with no trouble. And here, you may notice, that was back in August of 2010. That’s about when I found myself in trouble: I had no idea what to do next. Despite Lisa’s generous, and useful, advice, I failed to tackle article writing for Demand Media.
            I’m not sure what spurred me to it now, ten months later. I have spent the last almost-year passionately absorbed in (and frustrated by) fiction, and I don’t regret this one bit. Even as I begin to explore being a writer for Demand Media, I continue to revise my novel. But since I find my writing energies are somewhat all-or-nothing, sometimes I find myself in a fix. Any time spent on articles is time taken away from fiction, and vice versa. Fiction is my true passion. And as yet, unpaid. It’s a balance I’m just beginning to figure out.
            That said, I am proud to announce my first article for ehow.com was accepted yesterday.  Ta da! Check it out here. Now that I know the ins and outs of how to make a brass rubbing, maybe next time I’m in Europe, I’ll try it!

On the Novel Process

I got some great feedback on the finished first draft of my novel (pictured above). I met with a friend of a friend who is a producer, and he said he liked it, to send him the revision and potentially talk about a partnership – he was already “soft pitching” the idea! I’d like it to be a book before it becomes a movie, but I’m not complaining. And I hear having it optioned as a film might not hurt for having it published as a book.
            I attended a class at UCLA Extension called “How to Find and Work with a Literary Agent,” taught by Aimee Liu. Heard some stuff I already knew (perfect spelling, get names right, agents look for reasons to eliminate you, etc.) and learned a few things, too (how to do your homework when searching for agents, the importance of selecting and building a relationship with your agent, the usual percentage breakdown of royalties, what a contract typically looks like, etc.). There was a panel of three literary agents and when I went to speak with one after the class, she told me to send her a query. This was incredibly encouraging, and while I don’t necessarily want my book to be Young Adult, nor have I heard back from her, the process gave me a lot of experience. I found several useful websites, namely agentquery.com, which led to useful example query letters. I drafted and re-drafted my letter, not to mention continual revision of the first chapter.
            Revision is a grueling process. As I began to work on the novel as a whole, I found myself getting lost. My mentor suggested I create an outline, with chapter summaries. That turned into a small project in itself, as I listed characters, wrote out scene chronology, plot summary, and character development for each chapter. It was, of course, incredibly useful in seeing the big picture and understanding where I might need to add/delete.
            I’ve heard that revision is an endless process. Indeed, whenever I “finish” editing a chapter, I already have a list of things I want to change. Then I get feedback from my writers’ groups and have a whole different perspective, with a new set of challenges.

After reading a draft of my first chapter, my former professor told me I might have “literary chick lit” (I inwardly jumped for joy), and recommended I read Election. He likened my protagonist to a character in that book named Tracy. As I read the book I kept saying to myself, “just one more section, just one more” and then I’d finished it. Tom Perrotta has brilliantly hooked one section into the next, simultaneously interweaving several subplots, making it impossible to stop reading. The other thing I loved about this book and would like to do with my own writing, was how true it seemed, the path the characters took and where they ended up. Each character matures, has an arc. It is by no means a happy ending. But it feels complete.
According to my readers, my first draft had an unhappy and incomplete ending, so I have a lot to learn from Election. At the UCLA Extension class on agents, I learned that in the original “Pretty Woman” story, he doesn’t come back. Of course that would never sell. So it was rewritten, and he came back like the night in shining armor upon his limousine chariot, and it became a classic. So many of my readers want a final act, a redemption sequence for the protagonist. I’m not sure yet what I want to do, but as I revise, I’m thinking about it.

The Power of Language

            As the Self-Expression and Leadership Program I coached completed early this month, I was deeply aware of the power of language. The kinds of things people achieve in the program are incredible, and it all happens through words.
            The design of the program is such that each participant creates a community project. One of my participants conceptualized and executed a marketing seminar, the proceeds of which went to tsunami relief for Japan. Another participant is saving a theatre in Venice. Another is writing a T.V. pilot with the intention of creating jobs in the film industry and ultimately affecting young girls’ body image. Another is putting together a concert to benefit a food bank in his area. And that’s just my -extremely incredible- group. Other participants’ projects range from sending a thousand pairs of new shoes to people in Mexico who may never have owned shoes (Mil Zapatos) to throwing a surprise party for a grandmother in her nineties. No, she didn’t have a heart attack. She was thoroughly honored and could hardly believe everyone had gone to so much trouble and showed up for her.
            The ultimate dream behind my project is that artists everywhere are doing what they love and making a living that way. Out of coaching the program, my Los Angeles writers’ group has expanded by eight members. Last week we had a great meeting with new members and a few people we hadn’t seen in a while. At least two members of my groups have submitted to at least 10 literary journals. I’ve completed the rough draft of my novel and begun revising – I had a productive critique of the chapter one revision at the meeting last week.
            All of this happens with the power of words. We affect each other, and our own lives, by what we create in our language. I can only hope my writing will affect my readers so powerfully.

Pictured are cards I made for my participants, fellow coaches, and program leaders. For each person I chose a word or two describing who they are for me. It is truly their taking on and fully being those things that exemplifies the power of words.

Submitting to Literary Journals

What is an aspiring creative writer to do when faced with rejection? Write more, of course. And in this case, send more.
            I finally felt like I had a story worthy of publication. So I began the process of submitting to literary journals. I got the 2010 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market awhile ago and began going through the Literary Journals section, marking those that looked like places I might like to submit to. I began to inspire my writers’ groups to submit as well, and they inspired me in turn. My Santa Barbara group all wrote cover letters and critiqued each other’s letters. I asked the group by what date we wanted to start submitting, and one member said she’d already submitted to 12 magazines! At my suggestion, my Los Angeles group had a Publishing Party, where a few of us gathered to stuff envelopes together. One member “sent” to 10 journals that night.
            My Advanced Fiction Workshop at UCLA Extension had a class devoted to publishing, and one person suggested a submissions tracker website, duotrope.com. I’ve found using the site a great way to organize. One of my favorite features is, when you list a submission, it tells you how many days it usually takes for the journal to respond.
            In class my professor suggested submitting to 30 journals at a time, and then forgetting about it. I think I’ll become more proficient as I go, but this first time I spent a day and managed to submit to 14 journals. Since the rejections have started coming in, I’ve continued to submit. So far, 22 journals and 8 rejections.
            When applying to college in high school, you apply to “reach” schools, schools you have a fair chance of getting into, and “safety” schools. It’s easy to get discouraged by the rejections from literary journals, but for the first round I sent to “reach” journals (those that pay, or have a lot of recognition). I guess it’s time to start submitting to journals that pay only in contributors’ copies. My professor also said it’s normal for even established writers to get as many as 60, or more, rejections before an acceptance.
            So as I write, write, write, I also send, send, send.