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  Issue #22

Free Writers' Newsletter

   Dec 27, 2004  

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In this issue:

Spelling conventions

fwn uses English spelling conventions. Spellings such as "realise" "colour", "theatre", "cancelled", etc. differ from other spelling conventions but are nonetheless correct. 


Mystery magazine reopens
Online mystery magazine, Mysterical-E, is accepting submissions again after being taken over by Joe DeMarco. "As a writer, I'm thrilled to be able to save this publication and maintain it as a market for writers new and established", writes Joe, who is now accepting submissions of fiction, nonfiction, interviews and reviews for the first issue of the rejuvenated magazine, which is due to be released in January / February 2005.

Interested writers can get more details on how and what to submit from a temporary page on the website at

For details of more than 400 other magazines click here. 

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Comedy sketches needed
Ex-pat comedy group Axarcomedy is seeking comedy sketches from writers around the world, submitted via the internet. Chosen sketches will be performed in the group's new monthly show, "Virtually Hilarious", on the Costa del Sol in 2005. The show will be recorded and a downloadable version will be available on the group's website, allowing writers to see their work performed, and the audience's reaction to it.

For further details click here or email Steven Primrose-Smith.

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Submissions needed for charity anthology
Charity anthology The Book of Hopes and Dreams is reminding writers of its call for submissions of quality poetry, prose, short stories, true stories, articles and artwork carrying a message of hope by June 30, 2005.

The anthology will raise money for Spirit Aid, working to bring educational and medical aid to the people of Afghanistan.

The anthology is intended to be a mix of big names and up-and-coming or unknown writers and artists. Contributions have already been secured from award-winning novelist Alasdair Gray, and poets Edwin Morgan and John Heath-Stubbs.

The organisers welcome your submissions. If you have any contact with famous writers or artists they would also appreciate passing on the message of this good cause to them. 

All submissions should be sent to: Dee Rimbaud, 7 Lothian Gardens (0/1), Glasgow, G20 6BN, Scotland, United Kingdom.

Please include a self-addressed envelope with your submission, with either UK stamps or two International Reply Coupons. Alternatively, if you have email, include your email address. Full submission guidelines are available at:


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Free advertising for authors
A new adaptation to website traffic exchanges, provides a source for all writers, authors and book related promotional subjects to reach more of the kind of people who are most likely to respond.

Packed with worthwhile help from noted professionals, New
randomly rotates your book or publication's website for fifteen seconds and provides the means to build up viewing credits.

Best of all, NewBook
is clean of all unrelated advertising. Dedicated exclusively to authors and their works as well as helpful links and sources for promoting good books.

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New blogsite for writers' group
Interchange Writers' Network welcomes both readers and writers alike for its blogsite at www.interchange.

The Bradford-based writers' group established the blog after the demise of its print and email-based newsletter Tyke Writer. The blog welcomes poems, articles, short stories and provides for comments and feedback. Contact the moderator or the group via the blog.

Interchange is a long established group, having formed in the 1980s. Since then, it has worked to develop a host of writers across all literary forms, and create a network of writers for both print and performance work.

The group meets every Tuesday at the Irish Democratic League, Rebecca Street, Bradford from 8.30pm. All kinds of writing and writers are welcome. 

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Partner sites:

WriterOnLine is an e-publication dedicated to writers and lovers of writing. Fiction, poetry, business and technical writing, how-tos, articles, reviews, freelance markets, jobs for writers and much more, published bi-weekly. 

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Presenting your poetry
By J. Paul Dyson
Editor, firstwriter.magazine

As an editor of a literary magazine you see all sorts in the submission pile: from annoying little errors like “to” instead of “too” or “your” instead of “you’re” (and no, that’s not being picky – being able to write is a fairly basic requirement of being a writer), to the classic faux pas of submitting material entirely in capitals (in case you don’t know, standard practice in the publishing industry is to reject anything entirely in capitals without even reading it). Recently, however, I’ve noticed a new aberration creeping into the poetry submissions – and it seems to be coming out of the new “phone text” language…

What I’m talking about are poems littered with abbreviated words: ampersands (“&”) instead of “and”; the number “4” instead of “for”; the letter “u” instead of “you”; and, just as lazily, the word “I” typed in lower case. 

For most of you, I’m sure, it doesn’t even need to be explained that this is a bad idea – but others are probably asking why it matters what symbols you use, as long as your message gets across? Leave the poetry to the poets and the picky little bits to the editors, right?


In poetry, everything matters, no matter how tiny – and every little choice you make about words, punctuation, and line breaks, etc. alters the message you are sending. Using ampersands and phone text abbreviations in a poem is fine – as long as there is a reason for it. If you’re writing a poem about the speed and superficiality of twenty-first century life – or how emotions and relationships are being condensed and reduced (like words) in the age of electronic communications – then these kinds of phone text abbreviations provide the perfect vehicle for your “message”. But if you use phone text abbreviations you evoke these things whether they’re the subject of your poem or not – so if your poem is about spiritual revelations or the beauty of nature you’ve effectively just stuck a mobile phone in the middle of it. You’ve detracted from your “message”, confused your readership, and made them think you’re trying to say something that you’re not. Your poem is a failure.

For true poets, every single detail is important. There are documented examples of great poets from history sending letters back and forth to their editors debating, discussing, and repeatedly amending single punctuation marks: should it be a comma? A full stop? A semi-colon? In poetry, where balance and structure are so important, these things are a huge consideration – so by using the number “4” instead of the word “for” you are making an enormous statement. You need to be sure what that statement is and why it needs to be made at that particular point of that particular poem. If you’re not thinking carefully about what impact it’s having, you’re not much of a poet.

The point is that poetry is not like fiction, where the words are transparent windows to the ideas behind them. What makes poetry different is that the words themselves are absolutely key – and in printed poetry the appearance on the page is critical (not all poetry is printed, of course – some is verbal, which is fine – but you can’t submit verbal poetry to a magazine and they can’t print it on their pages, so we can set that aside for the time being). In the time of Shakespeare, for instance, the printed letter “s” looked very much like a letter “f”. This led to lots of jokes in poetry of the time involving the word “suck”, etc. but they don’t work if you change even the typeface of the print. When Herbert wrote his “Easter Wings” the poem was shaped like a pair of wings and set sideways across two pages, so that the wings would open as the page was turned.

Printed poetry can often verge on being visual art, and the appearance of the poem on the page and even the blank space around it is always important and will always have an impact on how that poem is read. A good poet will always understand this. Anyone who thinks that “&” and “4” are interchangeable for “and” and “for” is merely demonstrating a deep insensitivity for the language. Editors who see this will reject these pieces out of hand – not because they are being picky, straight-laced, or anally retentive – but because the person who has written them clearly has no understanding of poetry whatsoever.

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Getting to know you: 8 questions to ask an interested agent
By Jill Nagle, Founder and Principal
GetPublished, guerilla guidance for your writing adventure
An excerpt from How to Find A Literary Agent Who Can Sell Your Book for Top Dollar

Getting accepted by an agent is so difficult that – when it finally does happen – it's easy to forget that you need to be as selective about the agent you choose to work with as they are about writers. Having the wrong agent can be as bad or worse than having no agent at all. Getting answers to some or all of the following questions will help you determine whether or not you and your prospective agent are a match:

1) What was your line of work prior to agenting?
Agents came into their field from somewhere. In particular watch out for the following common fields, from which the agent will have learnt some key skills.

Law – Especially publishing or contract law, but any kind of law will prepare your agent for the negotiations ahead, and probably for the hard-nosed-ness that can come in so handy in the publishing world.

Sales – Time spent in sales positions your agent to know how to sell anything. Sales skills are transferable. Chances are if this agent was good at selling houses, cars, clothing or anything else, they can also sell books. You’ll need to know how they got their knowledge of publishing, what kinds of relationships they have in the field, and how they exploit those relationships for everyone’s benefit.

Publishing – As a former editor in a publishing house, your agent knows what it takes to sell work in their field. They're well positioned now, provided they've either stayed in the genres they've worked in, or made a number of contacts outside them.

Foreign/Subsidiary rights manager – Managing foreign/subsidiary rights means your agent has a handle on this important piece of the picture; many agents do not. In addition, they have the general knowledge from working inside publishing.

Bookstore – If your agent worked in a bookstore, or better yet, had their own bookstore, they know how to think about the market from the crucial perspective of those perusing the shelves as well as those stocking them. From the business end of things, everything in publishing boils down to this: where on the shelves will this book go, and who will buy it?

2) How do you make contact with publishers?
Your best case scenario is to have an agent who is on a telephone-call/regular lunch basis with editors at major New York or London publishers who are looking for work like yours. 

If your agent doesn’t have a face-to-face relationship with at least some editors at major New York or London publishing houses, I’d be concerned. Face-to-face means at least once a year (but ideally quarterly), your agent gets out of their chair, gets in a plane, taxicab or subway car and hauls their derrière (and their portfolio) to Manhattan or London to lunch with the people who buy books. 

This business runs on relationships. Find out what your prospective agent’s relationships look like. Putting yourself in the acquisition editor’s shoes, ask yourself, would you trust this person enough to seriously consider a book from them? 

3) Can you give me examples of challenging situations in which you intervened on an author’s behalf, both with positive and negative outcomes?
I once read an advice primer on choosing a plastic surgeon which encouraged the prospective patient to look at photographs not only depicting the surgeon’s successes, but also those depicting their failures. 

In addition to getting a picture of best and worst case scenarios (assuming your prospective agent answers you honestly), this question will also help you assess the agent’s locus of control, a term from psychology referring to where that agent perceives their power to be. Do they think they are largely in charge of the outcomes in their world? Or do they see the outside world as largely in charge of creating outcomes? The more your agent creates outcomes (i.e. book sales) they desire, the better off you are in their hands. Listen carefully to how they talk about the book world and their place in it.

4) What have you sold in the last six months?
As an old mentor once told me, “an agent is only as good as his last sale”. That your agent sold a spate of self-help books ten years ago may say nothing about what they can sell today. The editors that accepted them may no longer be around.

5) What kinds of properties like mine have you sold? May I see a complete list? 
If it isn’t available on their website, an agent may be willing to share with you their list of sales, or at least an excerpt. This should give you an idea of what they're good at selling, and more importantly, what they have a recent record of having sold.

6) Might I talk to some authors whom you’ve represented?
Asking for references in any field of work is sort of circular – if a professional gives you references, of course those references are likely to say positive things about the referee. Still, talking to an author who has worked with a particular agent may give you more of a feel for who you would be dealing with. Also, you never know – sometimes people do talk!

7) Are you a member of or planning to join the AAR/AAA? If planning, how close are you to joining?
For agents new to the business, membership in the Association of Author’s Representatives (United States) or the Association of Authors' Agents (United Kingdom) is a merit badge, a sign of having arrived. For many veterans, it’s a superfluous formality – a successful agent’s decades-old reputation speaks for itself.

8) How, if at all, do you see yourself as a career advisor to authors you work with? Can you give me an example or two of how you’ve helped a particular writer build her career?
Many agents pride themselves on the care and feeding of their authors. Others emphasise their sales record, number of bestsellers or amount of advances (though few will discuss actual figures with you). 

The agent’s answer to this question should give you an idea of where your agent’s strengths or at least interests are. You can also throw them a hypothetical, perhaps even one that represents a situation in which you are likely to find yourself. 

For example, “what if I had friend who wanted to write a screenplay to go along with my novel?” or “would you recommend I begin thinking about a sequel for this book right away? How many?” or “would you advise me to stick with this genre, or is it an okay time to branch out into something a little more avant-garde?”

The advice an agent offers on your career will depend on her own values – some see themselves as muses and shamans for otherwise overlooked artists, while others are more driven by the bottom line and try to cut as many deals as possible in the shortest period of time with the least amount of attention to each author. 

Notice what may be reflected in the advice your agent gives you and ask yourself if this is the person you want for the long haul, perhaps only for this project, or not at all.

Jill’s Guerilla caveat
There’s a saying that goes: "some friends come into your life for a reason; others for a season, and a few for a lifetime". This is also true of agents. The agent best-positioned to sell your spiritual manifesto may not know the first thing about screenplays. It’s okay to sign on with an agent for a one-book deal – in fact I’d advise strongly against signing away anything else other than the right to sell your work of the moment. 

Jill’s Guerilla bottom line
If your work really shines, sure, it’s possible even a half-assed agent could sell it. However, half-assed agents have reputations to match, and so publishers may give their submissions less attention. If your work is really terrific, find an equally terrific agent with a verifiable track record to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

To learn more about how to up your odds of getting published by joining forces with exactly the right agent, get a copy of How to Find A Literary Agent Who Can Sell Your Book for Top Dollar

Jill Nagle is a published author and principal of GetPublished, which provides ghostwriting, coaching, consulting, teleclasses and more to aspiring and ascending authors. She has been helping other writers get published for the last decade.

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© 2004
While every effort is made to ensure that all information contained within this newsletter is accurate, readers are reminded that this information is provided only as a collection of potential leads that the reader should follow up with his or her own investigations. Unless otherwise stated, is not associated with and does not endorse, recommend, or guarantee any of the organisations, events, persons or promotions contained within this newsletter, and cannot be held responsible for any loss incurred as a result of actions taken in relation to information provided. Inclusion does not constitute recommendation.