How To Generate Content

March 19, 2020 § 27 Comments

“Start a blog!” agents say. “Write a newsletter!” announce publishers. “You’ll build readership and be more attractive to agents and publishers!”

But what the heck do you put in it? Hey, I got rejected again by the same magazine?

Yes.

Absolutely.

(I do.)

The daily grind of your writing life is indeed fodder for bulletins every week or two. More than once a week gets annoying; less than once a month and people forget who you are and unsubscribe. Try to share your work the same time and day, so that people have a subconscious expectation of reading you, say, Tuesday mornings.

I have to write something every week? What if it’s not good? What if it’s not a diamond-sharp, multiply-revised presentation of my Best Thoughts Ever?

And a blog post or email newsletter is not a lengthy, many-drafted essay. In fact, the best content is:

Brief,

Personal, and

Useful

Be brief.

Chances are you’re not the only thing they’re reading that day. They want to be provoked, or made to laugh, or learn something, briefly.

Newsletters max out around 600 words; under 300 is better. Blog posts’ sweet spot is 600-800 words. Ideally, write the amount you can write, polish, and post in 60 minutes or less. At first, that may be 200-300 words. Once you get a rhythm down, you’ll be able to get closer to your target—or turn out shorter pieces in less time.

Brevity helps you write more often, using your available time. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t have an hour—feel good that you got out any amount of words to share. Remember that the medium is the message: readers don’t expect literary genius in an email. Write your best, but don’t worry about perfection.

Get personal.

Whatever you do, make it yours.

Blogger Penelope Trunk‘s break-out fame came from live-tweeting her miscarriage during a business meeting, shattering the image of work-life balance. She personally attacked a guy on Twitter who criticized her parenting, and “I Hate David Dellifield. The One From Ada, Ohio” is still one of the most popular posts on her site. Some days, I read Penelope and think, “She’s a loon!” Other days I think, “Wow, I’m glad she’s brave enough to write this.” I’m not showing up to her blog for pure information, I’m reading because I’m fascinated by her.

If your news today is, “I got rejected by the same magazine again,” write that. Write about how you made 100 copies of the rejection, folded paper airplanes, wrote “Never give up!” on the wings, and flew them into the playground from the elementary school roof. Or how you dreamed about doing that. Or how you added another hatchmark on the bare plaster of your crumbling bathroom wall, how every day you sit on the toilet and count rejections like a prisoner counting days. No matter which of those is closest to your own experience, someone reading will gasp in shock and recognition and say, “Me too!” And then they will read you again next week.

Be truly useful.

I was speaking with another retreat leader (If you’re an academic working on breaking through writing blocks, check out Inkwell Retreats, this woman is ah-mazing). We discussed how conference speaking, online courses, and blog posts could intrigue and connect with potential retreat guests. The big question: How much should we “give away”? If people could take a video course at home, or read a craft blog for free, would they still come to an expensive retreat or day-long workshop?

What I (rather indelicately) said: People watch porn for different reasons than they hire a sex worker. “In-person and focused on me” and “conference session” and “watching a video at home” are all different experiences.

Give away the secret recipe. Genuine interest in the well-being of your readers means sharing truly useful, specific information. The more you show you care about your readers, the more engaging you become. Karmically, this is an excellent thing. Cravenly, generosity makes you look powerful. That person has so many resources she can just give them away! Passing on information shows you as connected; a visible part of the writing world.

Trust that there is enough: Enough money, enough readers, enough students, enough to go around. Re-posting a prime contest or sharing a submission opportunity doesn’t lessen your own chances. Instead, it builds your authority as a source. (Check out Erika Dreifus’s excellent newsletters full of writing opportunities.)

Generating content is not an immediate return. Musician Amanda Palmer (artistic nudity at link may be NSFW) did a lot of free YouTube concerts before running the first million-dollar Kickstarter. Cheryl Strayed wrote a lot of Dear Sugar columns for free before Wild broke out.

Blogs and newsletters make us our own gatekeepers. We slowly build our reputations and our readership. Start small. Take on only as much commitment as you can regularly deliver. Respond to comments. Engage with all four of your readers—they’ll bring friends.

Stay brief. Get personal. Be useful.

Share.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Manager. She offers travel stories and writing tips on Instagram.

Of Bloated Prose and Books That Should Have Been Blogs

February 28, 2020 § 7 Comments

dugganBy Cherone Duggan

Books that should have been blogs. Blogs that should have been tweets. Tweets that should have been thoughts. Waffle-fed and fluff-padded, bloated prose waddles around every section of the written world. As does the well-worn writing advice to slim down our copy to skeletal leanness.

“Omit needless words,”

“Show don’t tell,”

“Less is more,”

“Kill your darlings,”

“Brevity is brilliance.”

Excellent advice, in theory. But rarely practiced. Because writers are economic creatures who respond to incentives. Money and attention are our sugar and fat.

From gold stars for effort for longer answers in our single-digit years, to mandatory 10-page minimums for college papers, our education system uses word count as a proxy for intellectual complexity. Length is easier to measure than merit. It’s more objective and it takes less effort to grade. And, the more serious and senior your degree, the longer your papers had to be.

Rewards for wordiness don’t end with formal schooling. As workers, the plumping incentives continue. Most desk jobs involve writing of some sort and few people are ever fired for producing fatter wads of work. Submitting padded reports and sending puffy emails help us show our bosses that we deserve our paychecks for putting in our hours and hitting our keyboards.

Professional writers are also rewarded by the word. Authors get more attention for novels than novellas. Freelancers get more money for long articles than short ones. Professors get tenure for publishing more than their peers. And copywriters get more job security for constantly churning out copy rather than finishing one project a week.

The resulting overwhelm of long-winded emails, hollow books, and deep-blog-buried online recipes isn’t surprising.

We reap what we reward. If writers are rewarded for length, we’re going to continue to ramble. And no amount of sage writing advice to trim our fat is going to change that until we change our incentive systems to match.

Yes, the current incentive system surfaces some beauties; Dickens’ rambling descriptions and thick-bound novels were born from a serialized publication format where he was paid by the word.

But most of the rest of us probably shouldn’t be.
___

Cherone Duggan is a User Experience Writer who designs micro-content. She’s from the Irish midlands and she lives near San Francisco. Find her on Twitter: @cheroneduggan

Copycats

February 4, 2020 § 10 Comments

CW: Non-graphic sexual abuse

Around the publication, fury, backpedaling, and consistent sales of American Dirt, another issue has arisen. Who gets to tell their story? Who gets to tell it first? Who gets to tell it with the support of the publishing industry?

Publishing’s whiteness is a problem. Publishing’s classism is a problem. These barriers deprive readers of color literary experiences similar to their own, as well as denying people of privilege the opportunity of discovery of other lives without burdening our friends with “please teach me to be better, person of color!” If we don’t publish, purchase and support books from marginalized communities, we are all poorer for it.

But springing from the issue of a previously-white-identifying author’s romantic thriller poorly marketed as a defining literary and cultural experience comes another problem: seeing a story like one’s own and assuming it’s been appropriated.

Responding to the American Dirt controversy, and expanding on her personal experience as a WOC publishing and marketing her memoir, Excavation, Wendy C. Ortiz wrote in Gay Mag:

When I learned of the book My Dark Vanessa, via synopsis online it sounded so much like Excavation I thought I was going to pass out. Stephen King had blurbed it, so I knew immediately it was a book that had been given a major book deal…I felt faint with disappointment and rage. Readers of my book reached out to let me know they saw it, too. The similarity of the stories, and how the book was being marketed, were too obvious to ignore. As much as I would like to avoid a book that fictionalizes an experience I lived, it will be difficult to… It will be placed, sponsored, touted, “dementedly praised” and more, because it has to — there was a seven figure deal.

Excavation, published in 2014, is an adult woman looking back on a five-year sexual relationship that started between her eighth-grade self and her adult English teacher, and trying to reconcile the youthful feelings of “a ‘relationship’ with a man I loved” with the adult realization that the relationship was abusive and harmful.

My Dark Vanessa, just published, is a novel about a woman who “suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life?”

Gosh, that sounds familiar. In fact, it sounds a lot like…

Tiger Tiger (2011) describes the relationship between author Margaux Fragoso, then prepubescent, who meets a 51-year-old-man who “tunes into her likes and dislikes with exquisite enthusiasm, with the result that she comes to see him as a soul mate. The unwavering laser of his attention makes her feel wanted and alive. In a prologue to her [memoir], the adult Margaux writes that spending time with a paedophile ‘can be like a drug high.’ In her own case, it was a drug she was unable to give up.”

Huh. Oh, wait, maybe the one I’m thinking of is a movie?

In The Tale (2018) Jennifer Fox is in her 40s when her mother discovers an essay, written when Jennifer was 13, about a “relationship” with her adult coach. Jennifer, played by Laura Dern, dismisses her mother’s concern, but after re-reading the essay Jennifer looks back on her life. While she remembers herself being older and sophisticated, she discovers old photos showing how small and childlike she was. The movie is based on the director (Jennifer Fox)’s own life.

Or that other movie, An Education, based on Lynn Barbor’s 2003 essay for Granta, her 2009 essay for The Guardian and her memoir about being seduced by an older man at age 16, and shown the sparkling life of cosmopolitan London before realizing her ‘boyfriend’ was a married con man?

Or maybe the plots of all these women’s stories just ring true for me, because ten years ago, I looked back and thought, Maybe that 28-year-old dating 15-year-old me did not have my best interests at heart…but I’m still friends with the 45-year-old who dated 18-year-old me, so what’s the difference?

It’s (sadly) not uncommon to look back as an adult and realize a childhood/very-young-adulthood relationship we believed ourselves an active participant in was not as subject to our own volition as we thought. It’s not uncommon to feel that we gained some positive things from unequal and abusive relationships. It’s less common to write a whole book about it, but I still wouldn’t call four books and two movies in the space of ten years (off the top of my head) rare.

It is not sour grapes to advocate for representation, or even to point out that a memoir by a woman of color was a harder sell than a novel about the same subject, seven years later, by a white author. Those are valid, important and necessary concerns. But when we look for the reasons one book was more embraced by publishing than another, it’s usually not “somebody stole my life.”

As memoirists, we are constantly mining our own experience to find an original telling of a universal tale. It is not our life’s singularity, but the individuality of our voice, our approach, and our personal revelations that make our memoir new. A truly one-of-a-kind story might not even resonate with readers, because part of the value of memoir is seeing ourselves in someone else’s world. True stories change lives because they show, You’re not alone. You’re not the only one who felt like that. You’re not the only one that happened to.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Manager. Find her on Instagram for true stories that may be just like yours.

Saving Family History with Tumblr

October 17, 2019 § 18 Comments

By Kat Fitzpatrick

I inherited hundreds of uncaptioned photos from my parents.

Though I have no desire to archive every moment of their lives, I do wish that some of those photos had been annotated to provide context, dimension, and color. Even something as simple as this would have been great:

July 16, 1976—Grandpa loved to fish. Sometimes it drove Grandma nuts. On this beautiful summer day in Seattle, she grabbed the pole to make fun of his style. He didn’t smoke, so the cigarette clenched in her teeth was all her. Shortly after this fishing expedition they went to a bicentennial celebration downtown—1976 was the two-hundred-year anniversary of our country, after all.

A caption like this may have lain in wait for years until someone opened the scrapbook, but it would have still been there, inked into history—a date, a setting, a personal glimpse. I can’t go back in time and magically inscribe such captions but there are ways to start now to capture memories as a gift for future generations.

Some may believe that we are already doing that with Instagram or Facebook. However, those posts tend to be quick entries aimed at our immediate and intimate audience. They already know a great deal about us so there is no need to provide any background information. For instance, if you were posting a current photo like the grandparent-fishing caper, you wouldn’t usually notate that Grandma smokes and Grandpa doesn’t—current family and friends don’t need to be reminded. But when considering generations to come, such details become relevant nuances we don’t want to leave out.

As I played with this idea of saving moments of history, I stumbled upon an easy and satisfying way to share them with others today and to preserve them for tomorrow: I keep a running blog of “Flash-Memoirs”—short social-media entries describing a photo, a clipping, or even just a memory based on an image I like.

With this practice I have preserved such stories as:

  • the time my mom nearly stole an ashtray from the Korean De-Militarized Zone (she ultimately bought it)
  • the way my pioneer ancestors patrolled their Idaho ranch on horseback
  • how my father, despite his long CIA career, believed that in the end, “it is the common people who call the shots.”

I would like to encourage you to take up this simple and streamlined way to preserve your family history. Here is my method in three steps:

  1. Choose a photo or a memory
  2. Write a short essay (200-400 words) including date and time, people inside and outside the immediate scene, setting, and some historical context if possible, e.g., it was the year of the bicentennial celebration.
  3. Upload to Instagram to be enjoyed by friends and family today…
  4. …and to Tumblr to archive for future generations.

It is easy to post to both places at the same time because Instagram has a “push” feature that can simultaneously post to the blogging site Tumblr. (This feature also allows you to post to Facebook and Twitter, if you so desire.)

In case you are not familiar with it, Tumblr (pronounced “tumbler”) is a social networking site for microblogging—short posts that can include text, images, video, audio, and links to other articles or sites. A Tumblr account can be public or kept private, a nice feature for those just wishing to archive and not to create additional social media interactions. My intention using Tumblr is not to attract more current readers, and I send only those flash-memoir posts to Tumblr because I want that “blog” to contain only my historical stories.

The advantages of posting my flash-memoirs to Instagram and Tumblr at the same time:

  1. Instagram allows for 400 words or less, so I must keep my entries succinct. Quite a discipline!
  2. By only archiving specific posts, I can go to my Tumblr site to scroll through family-history entries only—an easy walk down memory lane.
  3. Eventually I will use a service such as BlookUp or Blog2Print to transform my Tumblr into a printed book.

I love the idea that one day those bits of history I have captured will be available for my family to peruse on real live paper. If you heed my encouragement and save some history in this way too, we may just inspire some real old-fashioned social media interaction.

________________________________________________

Kat Fitzpatrick, M.F.A, is a New York-based writer and artist who works with memoir, particularly her family history in Vietnam. Her work includes the The Fight to Write: What the Vietnam War Taught Me About Truth & Writing, and the humorous novel, Kat Manudu’s Holistic Advertising Agency. See her flash-memoir collection at www.tumblr.com/blog/flashmemoir or follow her on Instagram at kat_adventures22.

Of Reading and Culture: An Interview with Vivian Gornick (Part 3)

August 28, 2019 § 7 Comments

Brevity’s Associate Editor Kathleen B. Jones, author of Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt, interviewed memoirist Vivian Gornick about The Situation and The Story, her career as an author, and her other works.

The interview is divided into three parts. Part One, “Structure is Everything,” and Part Two, “The Other in Oneself,” ran earlier this week.

gornickPart 3: Modes of Writing and the Art of Structure

JONES: A lot has changed in the world of writing since you published The Situation and The Story in 2001…

GORNICK: Really?? No kidding? That went right by me. (Laughs)

JONES: Oh, c’mon.

GORNICK: Well, what do you mean by that?

JONES: I’m just thinking about the explosion of the internet, the development of other arenas for writing, whatever you think of them, blogs, other forms of instant writing. I wonder what effect you think this has had on literary nonfiction, if anything?

GORNICK: Well, that’s something even I think about a lot, by which I mean, I’m completely out of the world of the internet. Totally. I don’t do anything. I’m not on any of these social media outlets. I don’t read blogs. I don’t do anything. However, even I have become aware of, as you say, this explosion of intensely immediate—I don’t really look upon it as writing—it’s an intensely immediate form of expressiveness through words. I look on it mostly as venting more than anything else.

Sometimes a blog is called to my attention and I read it and I think, this person is just free-associating here on the page. And it can go on and on and on because they’re not really writing, they’re waiting to figure out what they think themselves. Then again, there are times when I have to look something up myself and then I will stumble on these thousands of reviews of a book that I was looking for or wanting some more information about, and I’m amazed by how intelligent and thoughtful so many of them are. They’re usually short reviews.

For instance, I was writing a piece on Elizabeth Bowen some time ago and I looked something up on the internet about one of her books, a piece of information, and I stumbled on a variety of reviews, peoples responses. Elizabeth Bowen is a hard writer to truck with; her syntax is extremely demanding and, because her sentences are so convoluted, many people are put off. But there was so much smart, thoughtful responsiveness and often from people who said, ‘I’m not much of a reader but I stumbled on her and this is what she made me feel.’ But this is not writing. None of this is about writing.

It reminds me of the fact that, you know, children have all kinds of minor talents, a child can suddenly produce a poetic sentence. I remember a teacher once did a study in which he made all these 6 and 7 year old kids write something about some subject and one of these kids wrote, and I still can remember this, ‘I am so sad that my tears go around the corner before they come out of my eyes.’ So now, I’m sure his mother put that sentence up on the refrigerator and announced, ‘My kid is a genius and he’s going to be a writer.’ Well, he wasn’t a genius and he wasn’t going to be a writer. And in all the years of teaching, there’s never been a single student who didn’t have one piece in them. But this is not writing.

JONES: Well, some blogs are different. Brevity’s blog has a blog of very focused essays, usually by teachers of writing for other writers about some element of craft, and they’re edited.

GORNICK: OK. Oh, well that’s different. Then that resembles the world of print. The old world of print.

JONES: Exactly, so in a sense what I’m saying….

GORNICK: So that hasn’t changed…

JONES: No; there’s a shift where what you would call writing has another venue for being circulated.

GORNICK: Yes, yes, right. So it’s electronic now instead of print.

kathleenbjonesJONES: In books too, there’s the potential for even the form of the book to be exploded again. The way we moved from the illuminated manuscripts to the printing press…

GORNICK: Yeah (quizzically).

JONES: Now, with this electronic form, there’s the possibility for layers to be added.

GORNICK: How?

JONES: Visual, aural…I have a friend who’s a poet who experimented with different ways of integrating forms of visual and aural creativity into a set of poems about a river.

GORNICK: You mean you’d be reading a book on your computer and suddenly it would speak to you?

JONES: No, it wouldn’t speak to you, but the possibility would be there for visual images and sound to be pulled up, to explore other dimensions about what’s been written.

GORNICK: None of that means anything to me. (Laughs) I will live and die a very conventional reader. What I require from writing is structure, and language, and development that is conscious. What can I tell you.

JONES: Because other modes would be distracting?

GORNICK: Yes.

JONES: Pulling you out of the flow of the writing, you’re pulled out of the story?

GORNICK: RIGHT! Exactly, you are pulled out of the story.

JONES: Let’s talk a little about structure in relation to The Odd Woman and the City. How did you discover the structure for this?

GORNICK: Ah!

JONES: I read it the first time all the way through. Having just reread it, I see how you’re making quite substantial leaps from one thing to another, your conversations with Leonard then on to something else.

GORNICK: I wrote it 50 times.

JONES: 50 times?

GORNICK: I put this thing together differently 50 times until it felt right. I can’t really say anything more than that. For years, I wanted to write about Leonard and me because I thought we were a paradigmatic friendship. Between the two of us, the things we said to each other over these 20-25 years, were really sufficiently indicative of a generation, of what we were all living through. And I couldn’t find a way; I didn’t know how to do it.

Then I discovered what I always knew about my relationship of walking through the streets of the city and I thought, ah, I can do it that way, if I can figure out how to write about walking in the street and the adventures that I have with people and then using Leonard and me, not as the main characters, but like a Greek chorus. So that was the first part. I got that and I knew that was right.

And then…well that was it, there were so many other things I wanted to fit in and I didn’t know how to do it until I did it. The style I adopted over many books is collage and collage depends on your intuition for what goes with what. And I can’t explain that, when the transition feels right and when it feels strained and when it doesn’t. When does one thing lead naturally to another? I can’t tell until it feels right. And also, before I wrote the book, I had about 30 pages of this stuff and I sent it to a friend of mine, then the editor of the Paris Review, and he loved it and said, I’d like to publish this, if you’ll allow me to fool around; I don’t think it’s in the right order. And he had a little bit of genius. So he changed the order of things and once he did, I saw it differently myself, and saw he was right, and I took my lead from that. I was able to think more clearly about what should go where. But there are essentially two things: the incidents in the street, and me and Leonard.

JONES: But then that is refracted through many other things, other friendships. With Emma for instance.

GORNICK: And literary stuff, little bits and nuggets of literary history, and life that I just throw in. It all began to feel right, once it did feel right. I can’t really tell you how.

JONES: What are you reading now and what are you writing now, and how are the two connected?

GORNICK: Well, I just finished writing, but I can’t seem to finish it. For two years now, I’ve been writing a book about rereading—rereading books I loved as a young woman. So it’s that hybrid form of memoir and criticism, in which I describe myself at various stages, reading different books. I start with Sons and Lovers, a book I read three times between the ages of 20 and 35, and each time, identified with another character, and I show why and how. It’s a very short book, really like a book-length essay. But I can’t seem to bring it to conclusion. I’m having a hard time.

JONES: You recently wrote about Doris Lessing in the New York Review of Books.

GORNICK: That’s right, the cats. Actually, that little story about Lessing and the cats was written in one of my low points in this book. I did that for comic relief, to amuse myself.

JONES: Yeah, but you had these insights about yourself. What you got from reading Doris Lessing at this point in your life. What you heard in her that might have attracted you before, but now repelled you. Her lack of compassion.

GORNICK: Right. Her inability to stop protecting herself. I have to explain that better. I have to rewrite that part.

JONES: I read the D. H. Lawrence excerpt in Harpers.

GORNICK: That’s the first piece in the book. And then I do Collette and Marguerite Duras, Elizabeth Bowen, Natalia Ginsburg, a lot of women. Delmore Schwartz, Thomas Hardy, all very short. Whole thing is 120 pages. And I can’t finish it. I am so exhausted. This past week I swore I would make all the changes by Thanksgiving. But I got this cold and my head is in a fog. So I am torturing myself because I think I should sit down at the desk every day…By Christmas it will be finished.

JONES: What else are you reading?

GORNICK: When I am in this mood I’m reading three things at once. Actually what I read to calm myself when I’m feeling rattled is George Orwell.

JONES: (Laughs) You find Homage to Catalonia or 1984 calming?

GORNICK: Not those books…There’s a four-volume work of all his journalism, written during the Second World War, with a huge amount of literary work, book reviews, essays. A lot on literature. He wrote as an English socialist, and critic of socialism, but as an intensely political man. He wrote because of the politicalness of life. He was really extraordinarily educated. In one long piece, an excerpt from a book he was writing about the English people, there are parts where he’s trying to pull apart the English language grammatically to shed light on the English people. And he’s so brilliant and knows so much. I don’t know anywhere near enough to process this grammatical essay. During the Second World War, for two years, he wrote a column called ‘As I Please’ for a newspaper called Tribune in England. You would be amazed at the things he wrote—a nice cup of tea, the perfect pub, American soldiers on the street—and I read these things, they’re small gems. His voice is so clear, so direct, you would think it was yesterday. He’s writing from 1942, I feel like he just wrote it yesterday. It calms me.

There was a time, in every culture I think, when the culture was in trouble, people read. And it certainly doesn’t feel like that’s happening now.

__

Kathleen B. Jones taught Women’s Studies for twenty-four years at San Diego State University. She is the author of two memoirs, Living Between Danger and Loveand Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. Her writing has appeared in Fiction InternationalMr. Beller’s NeighborhoodThe Briar Cliff Review, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She recently served as Brevity‘s Associate Editor while completing an MFA in writing at Fairfield University.

 

www.you.com: The Author Website

July 2, 2019 § 10 Comments

If you’re writing for publication, you need a website.

Not an expensive site with social media feeds, embedded video and a blog with weekly updates. Just an internet calling card that serves as a hub for your online presence. Ideally, the first thing that pops up when someone googles your name, or if your name is common, “Your Name+Author” or “Your Name+Writer.” A website makes you look more professional than social media alone, and it’s part of the framework of your writing career.

Pick a domain name. If you can get your own name, or your own name with a middle initial, or yourownnamewriter or yourownnamebooks, get one of those. Don’t name your site the title of your book, because the title may change before publication, and you will (hopefully!) write more books. If you also register the title of your book, super, but until your book is published, point that domain name to your main website.

Make the domain name simple enough to say out loud and have people remember it. Make it short, so it fits easily on a business card. If you’ve got social media handles, try to get that domain name: @SoniaRashidWrites = SoniaRashidWrites.com

I’ve found Name.com to be cheap and reliable; you don’t need to already have a website to register your domain name. Here are the basic steps.

Use a responsive template. “Responsive” means the website automatically changes size and shape when someone reads it on their phone. Most modern website templates are responsive, but check for that word.

Just the facts. If you’re making your first author website (or redoing an unfortunate previous site), include:

  • Your name and a tagline or very short bio that tells what you write about, visible on the first page without clicking or scrolling.

Martha Carroll

Freelance Travel and Memoir

Allegra Martinez

Adventurous cookery from a food scientist-turned-travelista

  • A photograph of you, or that is evocative of your writing topics. Read our previous blog post for secrets to a good headshot, and search “free stock photos” for a professional photo that shows something about your work. Or heck, pay for a stock photo—they aren’t expensive for non-commercial use (you aren’t selling copies), and that reduces your chances of picking a photo six other writers are using on their own websites.
  • Contact information. Either an email contact form or a link to email you, plus icons that link to your social media.

If that’s what you can do for now, great! Your online calling card is good to go. If you have more time and energy, add:

  • A full bio that tells your background and education, how you came to writing, where your work has been published, and what you’re working on right now. If you’re writing fiction, you may want to include a charming personal detail like your pets or relationship. If you’re writing memoir and worried about privacy, you don’t have to put personal info down, but one detail like “He enjoys goat yoga,” can help the reader get to know you.
  • Links to anything you’ve previously published that you’re proud of.
  • A blog where you update readers on your publications and/or life relative to writing, about once a month. You’re unlikely to gain many readers through the website, but that’s not what this blog is for. This blog is to show agents you are engaging with the world as a writer. If you want people to read the blog, send out posts as an email newsletter. Turn off commenting if that’s an option, because “0 comments” looks sad.

That’s enough. Really! Until you’re publishing regularly, that’s truly all your website needs.

How much does a website cost? Anything from $50 for hosting, domain name and a stock photo on an existing platform, to $3000 or more for a fancy site with dedicated hosting. Good basic websites can be had for $500-1500; spending more can help you get exactly what you want without having to learn very much.

If you do want to throw money at the project, make sure you look at other writers’ websites and check out who designed them. Ask for references, and ask those references how fast the site was done and if they got what they really wanted. Google the writer and check that their site is on the first page of results; if not, the site designer hasn’t done great SEO (search-engine optimization—basically little coded flags the website waves to say “Here I am! Show me to people!”)

For doing it yourself, WordPress, Wix and Squarespace are the main build-your-own-website platforms. (Links are to basic tutorials for each platform. And if you love one of those, please tell us why in the comments!) If you feel more adventurous and are willing to spend 20-30 hours and learn a little html code, try a Bootstrap template.

A writer website doesn’t need to be constantly updated. When you publish something new, link it. When you write a blog post, post it. If you blog somewhere else, post the first paragraph with a link to the other blog. Add the website link to your email signature, so friends can click over and see what you’re up to. And when you’re ready to query? Double-check for typos one more time, and feel good about being a professional.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. She’ll be speaking at the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference in Lancaster, PA, August 21-23, 2019.

Two People and a Baby: On Accessibility and Literary Publishing

June 26, 2019 § 8 Comments

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Two People and a Baby

By Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter

My fingers manipulate keys, navigating Facebook. Arrowing down, the cursor lands on a picture, and I hear, “Two people and a Baby.” Great, I think, no context. I continue to arrow down, finding another picture. This time, the electronic buzz of my computer’s voice says, “Man in sunglasses.” Again, zero context for me.

Fifteen years ago, I became visually impaired. I transferred my visual understanding of the world into a non-visual medium. To use a computer, I now use a program called JAWS, which is a text-to-speech screenreader. It reads whatever the cursor highlights, allowing me to still do email, Google-search, write and, of course, shop! However, if pictures and graphics are not properly captioned, I have no clue what they are.

Recently, a writer friend spoke about the aesthetic appeal of a literary journal she stumbled upon. It occurred to me that, while I can still envision in my head what visual information looks like, I rarely consider aesthetics. Instead, I look at how accessible an online magazine is; is it compatible with my screenreader? Are pictures and graphics labeled well enough for me to understand their point? The kaleidoscope of a world we are surrounded by has narrowed down to sound and touch for me. When looking at publications, I only consider those that have online access as hard-copy print is not readily accessible for blind people. With online magazines, I care little for how they look visually, wanting easy navigation for my screenreader, affording me the same opportunity to read pieces and study submission guidelines.

Our world is extremely visual. Despite it being the least intimate sense, we place so much importance on sight. Since becoming blind, my life does not feel less than, as if I’m missing out on something. I do have to navigate the world non-visually though, and sometimes it’s made more difficult when accessibility is not a factor. Pictures and graphics in particular can be pesky, uninteresting, not-useful pieces of information if not given captions. Whether social media, Amazon or online publications, undescribed photos hold no appeal for me. Some platforms have created generic captions that interact with screenreaders, but they provide bare-bones details, like if a picture is of a group taken outside, my screenreader will likely say, “Several people in nature.” I have no clue who is in the picture, or what kind of nature scene it is. I don’t need a dissertation on the pic, but, some context and brief detail is good. If posting a photo of you and your baby, JAWS might tell me, “Woman and baby.” I want some extra detail to paint a visual in my head.

I have the ability to discover fonts and formatting in a Word document on my laptop, but JAWS is not able to discern this information online. I appreciate innovative structures and playing with format, but at the end of the day, I don’t think much about this unless I’m aware of it. I can only be made aware if it’s noted somewhere. I have several blind friends who are literary, and like me, they read a broad selection. It’s primarily based upon how accessible and easy to navigate a publication is. Some of us use a screenreader, some use both a screenreader and refreshable Braille, which is a device that connects to a computer, and as the cursor jumps from line-to-line, Braille pops up on the device, allowing you to read in Braille. Placing a caption under pictures and graphics and if necessary, providing a brief description of content if the formatting is experimental is a simple solution. This allows people with visual impairments to have equal access.

As a nonfiction writer, I write about the world, using my experiences to address discrimination, isolation, acceptance, breaking stereotypes, usually in context to disability. As a writer, I participate in classes, retreats, conferences and workshops, and often, we are given very visual exercises. Recently, I was asked to create a visual memory map. Having been sighted for twenty-two years, I can recall visual memories in my mind, but creating them on a piece of paper is difficult. I ended up writing a timeline with descriptions of place instead of drawing a map. This emphasis on the visual is so prevalent in the writing community. While I’m actually still a visual person, constantly creating visuals in my head, and while I think visual references can be great and beneficial for sighted writers, I’m also now in this other world where non-visual means of accessing the world make more sense and are much more helpful. Thinking of non-visual means to achieve writing goals not only includes potential blind writers, but is a good sensory exercise for all writers.

Inclusion and equality for all is a big topic these days. However, disability is usually missing from the discussion. It’s not always intentional, we just need more education about accessibility. As the artistic community moves forward, as the world moves forward, we need to consider accessibility, making disabled people an active part of the conversation. Often, it doesn’t take much to make information accessible, but it has to be considered, then implemented. I want to work with the writing community to bring attention to this issue and help create resolutions. The world is a better place when inclusion involves all of our voices.
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Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She is currently working on a graduate certificate in nonfiction writing. Her work has appeared in 13th Floor, Breath and Shadow, The Omaha World Herald, Misbehaving Nebraskans and Emerging Nebraska Writers. She was a finalist for the McKenna fellowship. She lives in Omaha with her husband and two sons who provide endless material for her writing, when they give her the time. She tells us that she “recently joined a Crossfit cult. I mean class!”

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