Chynna Laird: Freelancing Mom
Mary Rosenblum: Chynna Laird is an inspiration
to anyone who wants to make a career of writing/ She is a
psychology student, freelance writer and author living in Edmonton, Alberta
with her three daughters [Jaimie (six), Jordhan (four), and baby Sophie (one)]
and baby boy, Xander (two and a half). Her passion is helping children and
families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs.
And on top of all of this…she writes. A lot!
You’ll find her work in many online and in-print parenting, inspirational, Christian and writing publications in Canada, United States, Australia, and Britain. She’s most proud of her children’s picture book, I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD, which she wrote for Jaimie. In addition, she’ll have a memoir about raising a child with SPD out in August of 2009 and a reference book about the Sensory Diet coming January 2011.
Please visit Chynna’s website at www.lilywolfwords.ca to get a feel for her work and what inspires her. You can also follow her blog at: http://lilywolfwords.blogspot.com
Chynna: WOW, Mary. I feel so importanta! LOL!! I'm excited and happy to be here.
Gator: So, is your picture book non-fiction that's called I'm not weird?
Chynna: Gator, I guess you could say it is more of a NF
book because it really IS Jaimie's experience (her middle name is Alexandra,
the name of the main character in the book). Everything that happened to
Alexandra in the book, happened to Jaimie--even the teasing from other
children. I "fictionalized" it by choosing a different name for the
I originally wrote the book to validate Jaimie's feelings and make her see that she wasn't the only person who was going through what she was. By giving the character a different name, she could say, "Hey! That girl is just like me, Mama!" and feel, maybe, less alone or different. If I'd written the book ABOUT her using her name, it wouldn't have had the same impact, I don't think.
It was just a personal choice.
Gator: But, how where you able to get it published just because you wanted to? I know it isn't that easy, I've tried.
Chynna: Actually, Gator, it CAN be that easy to get your
book published if you wanted to. That's what you do with self-publishing or POD
companies (that's what I did for my first book). But I said it's easy to get published not
easy to get it out there on the shelves and into readers' hands.
There are several agents/publishers who don't consider POD books a "published" book and won't consider it a nod when you query places in the future (I've experienced that a couple of times). But I’ve also gotten two book contracts, even with my POD book. So it just depends on the agent/publisher. I'm guessing the debate is that this sort of publishing option gives almost ANYONE a chance to be published--whether he or she can actually write or not. Places like Lulu.com or Outskirts are pretty good. You just need to do your research.
If you have the money to pay for the publishing and the time to market your work effectively, this is a great option. Otherwise I strongly suggest people waiting for the traditional publishing option to come around.
Gator: Have you had any fiction picture books published that are not self-published?
Chynna: Unfortunately, no because I work mostly in NF. Did you need a few suggestions of places to try? What sort of book are you trying to get published?
Ladyrayne: Hi Chynna,
I noticed you were talking with Gator about publishing...hope it isn't considered rude to join in.
I have a couple of children's books I would like to eventually publish. One is a little story with three characters (all bugs) and the other is a collection of verse. I think the age group would be three to six year olds. My question is...is it really all that different to pitch to the children's market?
I don't have children but I remember being a child and the books I loved (and still have:)). I thought I could go to the bookstore and find similar titles then pitch to those publishers but I've heard that the children's market is really difficult. Am I being naive? Should I wait and take the Children's writing course first? I'm currently taking the Breaking In and would like to continue with the novel course.
of all, all three courses at LR are awesome. I’ve taken all three. You seem to have
a huge interest in Children’s so I’d finish the Breaking In then try the
Children’s first. It shows you how to write for all ages—children to YA—and
also helps you find the age group you like writing for the most! AND you know
you can write novels for tweens, teens and YA, right? =D The novel one is
fantastic too but it’s geared more to the adult markets!
Chynna: Okay, I LOVE writing for children and teens. In fact, I’ve begun to change the focus of a couple of my writing projects from adult to YA. Your book sounds adorable! (The first book I wrote when I was about eight or nine was called, “Super Bug” who ended up meeting his unfortunate demise against a size nine shoe. I digress…) As for this market being different to pitch to…yes and no.
YES because your audience is different so you have to make sure that your work is definitely geared to that audience. Obviously, for example, you know that your book is for the 3 – 6 group so you wouldn’t be pitching that to someone who deals mostly with tweens/teens. This market is very competitive, especially the children picture book area. But you know, if you have a great story that would captivate little ones that’s a bit different than what’s already out there, you have a good shot! NO because you still have to sell yourself and your work as hard as you can to steer a publisher/agent’s eyes to YOUR work and not someone else’s.
Going into the bookstores and researching the books out there is a great start. Good for you! Some writers don’t even do that and pitch to whatever publisher deals with kids’ stuff without taking the time to make sure their story idea is a good fit. And I’ll let you know that because of the saturation of certain sorts of picture books, you’ll find some publishers not even taking on such projects right now. All you have to do is research specific publishers/agents, be sure your work is what they’re currently looking for, check out what works they HAVE sold already to be sure, then send out your manuscript. You have nothing to lose and you have just as good a chance as the next writer—just make YOUR project shine in your query letter so yours is on top of the pile.
Ladyrayne: Thank you, Chynna, for your investment
of time an all of your terrific input.
I'll be seeing you over at WOW!
Mary Rosenblum: So, Chynna, I am SO glad that you can join us this week! You're a great inspiration to all aspiring writers out there, especially moms with family! Tell us, how did you get started? What made you think 'I want to be a writer'? And what kept you going?
Chynna: Let's see...what's funny is that I've been writing
since I was a young girl but never had the intention of getting my stuff
published. Seriously...who out there wanted to here about me or
what I thought?! I think what got me going was winning a contest in ByLine
magazine when it was around. The editor of that magazine encouraged me to
"get this story publisehd!" and I did--in "Angels On Earth."
Then it took off from there.
I worked hard getting my stuff out there--starting with local publications FOR FREE!--then got a few regular gigs. Once I got my name out there, though, I realized I could make a difference in the lives of families going through what we were...hopefully! So I started focusing more on writing about being a special needs family! It can be a very difficult area to write in but it means so much.
What keeps me going are my kids. I know that sounds cheesy by it's true. They inspire me, cheer me up when I need it and give me the strengthen to go forward--even if I face rejection after rejection.
My theory is if my beautiful Jaimie can get up every morning to face what her world has in store for her, so can I!!
Didou: You mentioned that you started writing free pieces
for local publications. How do you get them to even look at your work? I have
failed to publish anything in my local newspapers or any other publication for
some unknown reason. Do you have any tips about how to break into any
newspaper? I write non-fiction and I have been trying to publish assignment #3
which is a how-to health article. I have queried a dozen publications. When I
finally got an o.k. from one to send a shorter version, no one ever came back!
Chynna: I understand where you’re coming from. Newspapers can be difficult to break into. I remember emailing an editor with a story idea to which they emailed back—to DO the story themselves. Not exactly what I had in mind. Most times, they do in-house stuff and don't consider us freelancers. But once in awhile a pitch for a story/article idea or even column is more than welcomed...if you pitch it strongly enough. Don't give up...you just have to find the right fit for your work!
I remember doing that “How-To” assignment. =) Okay…let’s brainstorm here: What kind of how to health article is it? What sorts of places besides the newspaper have you been pitching your health article to? Are you pitching it as a feature or a filler? Have any of the places you’ve pitched to already published a similar article within the last few months? Have you had a non-biased set of eyes review your piece for you? The reason I’m asking you these questions is because I figured out the hard way that even local “freebie-type” publications look for the same things the big glossies do.
One of the first places I was published in was a local birth magazine called, “Birth Issues.” It’s a free local magazine you can pick up at any of the drug stores or grocery stores in the city. In each issue, they list what they’ll be looking for in the next issue right on the inside cover. I simply emailed the editor, asked if they’d be interested in my story about trying to breastfeed and ultimately failing but I had good points for other mothers who WANT to breastfeed but are having difficultly and have nowhere to turn. They asked me to send in my story and, after answering a few other questions, accepted it. I guess what I’m trying to say is, find a local magazine that you have a story to share in then contact the editor and ask what their editorial needs are. From there, you’ll be able to ascertain that you’ll give them exactly what they want. Don’t always aim for the feature. If they need a filler for one issue, see if you can give it to them. If you do great work for them, they’ll WANT that big feature you have to offer next time because you’ve built that trust, you know? That’s not to say you shouldn’t pitch the feature idea if you have one—just be sure what you have is something they’ll need in the near future.
And there’s nothing wrong with sending a friendly status request email once the length of time they usually give for response time has passed (unless they specifically ask you NOT to.)
Didou: Thank you Chynna for your
thoughtfulness. Yes, I have pitched my article idea to two freebie local
magazines that you pick up from grocery stores and libraries. One is Fort Worth
child magazine and the other one is Suburban Parent. All my pitches targeted
parenting, women, and general health magazines. I have written a 900 word
article on how to boost the immune system. My instructor had advised me to try
to publish it. Hers are the only set of eyes that looked at my piece. I am
quering a 900 word article idea to the mags. So you think I should pitch a
filler instead? I know that the issue of boosting the immune system is a green
topic, but it is timely this fall and winter as the swine flu is threatening to
become a pandemic. This is why I feel that I have something useful to share.
Thank you so much for your kind words and advice.
Chynna: Dina, I think
your idea sound great and the places you’re pitching it to seem right on target.
Have you considered any of the holistic or “Green” magazines or online zines?
They are always seeking new, natural, healthy ways to boost the immune system
(I mean who CAN’T use advice like that?)
The other question I have is how are you pitching the idea? Do you have new ways of approaching this subject? Do you have a unique perspective or have you discovered a new approach to the old, usual methods of giving the system a kick-start? Any publishing place will approach your idea with these questions. You have to remember that even with the local “freebies,” other writers may be pitching to them too so make YOUR query shine. You probably already know this but your first paragraph has to tell those editors what your idea is, why it needs to be written and why you are the person to write it.
I’d strongly suggest having another pair of eyes look over both your query letter and your piece. I can’t think of a reason an instructor would tell you something was good if it wasn’t but it can’t hurt to get some other opinions, right? (I know how good the instructors are at LR and they’d never tell you to get it out there if it wasn’t good enough to. =) ) Do you have a writing mentor or writing buddy? Are you part of a writing group? Any of these people can give you a shoot-from-the-hip view of your work and give you some additional pointers on how to get it out there.
I definitely agree with you that this is a timely piece and you should try getting it out there asap.
you Chynna again for your insightful answers.
Didou: Yes, I think my queries had good hooks. I am approaching the subject with some global news and satistics about the rising numbers of confirmed cases of swine flu. Then, I pitch my idea about five easy steps to boost the immune system of the whole family.
E-zines? I think one of the grandparenting mags was an e-zine. Other than that, I guess my directory books for mags don't list a lot of ezines. And yes, I did consider holistic and green mags. I guess I should query them. Thank you for bringing it up back to my attention.
Writers group? No, unfortunately. I write non-fiction and I could not find an appropriate group to join. Many of the local groups meet late evenings which is not convenient for me. As for online, I tried a couple of times with no success. Long Ridge has fiction groups, I think.
A mentor? No! And I would not ask my aunt or husband to read them either. I need professional advice right?
Chynna, thanks again for your help. I know now I am on the right track. I just need to be more persistent and have some patience.
Ambthecreative: How do you get a writing mentor or buddy? I've been trying, but either it never goes anywhere (when it comes to writing buddies) and I've never got a real answer from anyone i asked to mentor me.
How do you find a mentor without having to pay for one?
Chynna: This is a great question, and
kind of difficult to answer, but I’m so glad you brought it up. First of
all—and Mary can correct me if I’m wrong here—you shouldn’t have to pay someone
to be your mentor. I’m sure you already know this but a mentor is a person who
is already at the place you want to be, whether that’s spiritually,
success-wise, career-wise…whatever. They’ve already gone through all the crap
to get where they are (and where you’re aspiring to be) and you seek that
person’s advice out to inspire you to forge ahead on your own path. For
example, Oprah has Maya Angelou—she turns to this wise woman whenever she feels
she’s going down a wrong path and asks her for guidance. You don’t want a
person to make decisions for you, you simply want that one person who can say,
“I’ve been there, done that. This was my experience…use it how you can to help
you with yours.” If you have to pay a person to be that inspiration for you
they aren’t a true mentor. I’ve been fortunate to have met my writing mentors
and two of them were through LR. Another one is an author who writes YA books
and is currently helping me edit a novel.
And a mentor is a little different than a writing buddy, or at least I think so. A writing buddy is someone fighting along side you trying to get those writing achievements too. That person may have a bit more success or a bit less than you do but they’re right there going through the same stuff. Writing buddies are good to have because they can share in your daily disappointments and your successes as you’re both going through them whereas your mentor is who you’d turn to for the big stuff or advice.
Right here on LR or maybe even on Premium Green’s online writing group would be fantastic places to meet writing buddies. Or do you have a local writing group? If not, you can start one up! You don’t need too many people in there to be a success—just a few writers/authors who need another set of eyes to give constructive criticism, tips, ideas, etc. As for a mentor…well…that’s so personal. Who inspires your writing? What writer/author gets those creative juices flowing and makes you want to write? THAT is a mentor and you don’t pay for that. In fact, writers/authors love to know that another writer is inspired by his or her work. Believe me…that’s what inspires ME to keep doing what I do.
Ambthecreative: Now here's something that's been
bothering me for a very long time.
All the authors I look up to and have the success I want to have are like...unreachable.
Like Terry Brooks, Orson Scott Card, J.K. Rowling, etc. Oh and how can I forget R.A. Salvatore who TOTALLY gets my creative juices flowing. Even the lesser known and recently debuted authors like Brent Weeks, Scott Lynch and Peter V. Brett, are so out of my league and out of reach. Okay, I obviously have high ambitions, but I don't know of anyone near me who is published successfully. I can't just email them asking them to be my mentor. They probably get 100s of emails like that a day.
I live in Puerto Rico, where the main language is Spanish. I'm shy and don't really fit in well, so I wouldn't even know where to start making a writing group here.
So how can someone like me connect with another author and get a mentor when I'm thousands of miles away from anyone close to who would inspire me like that?
Chynna: WOW! You are incredibly passionate. I totally hear
your frustration, especially the shy part because, odd as it may seem, I am SO
shy as well. =) And although I don’t completely understand how isolated you
must feel, I do understand how hard it can be trying to connect with other
You know what? You’re already making those important first steps to finding writing buddies and/or a mentor because you’re here on this site. Being on writing sites like this—or another fantastic one being Premium Green on WOW-womeonwriting.com—is a great way to connect with other authors and writers. That’s why I suggested joining sites like these earlier because there are many writers on here—all in different stages of their writing careers—who can connect you to the places you need to be. The mentor I mentioned earlier who is helping me edit my YA novel I met through an introduction from a writing buddy. THAT’S how you meet people…sometimes it will be directly; others you’ll meet them through people.
Can you join/start an online writing group with people who have the same interests as you do? I think Mary has a section here on LR where you can do just that! Create your group using the authors you love as the base. So what if there’s only a few people there at first. What matters is to create a support group with fellow writers you can bounce ideas off of, rave about the newest book from your favorite authors and get some immediate feedback. I haven’t started my own writing group but I have joined a few online ones, as I find it easier that way and it fits in better with how crazy my life is (I can just join in when I have time!)
Use your favorite authors as sources of inspiration then find fellow writers who have the same focus you do. Other online groups include She Writes, Writers’ Digest, Chapters/Indigo (for you Canadians out there!) and I think even Amazon.com has one. I guarantee if you join a few writing groups, you’ll find that writing mentor/buddy you need. Such a person isn’t going to just jump out and say, “HERE I AM!!” you have to find one another…sort of like a romance, you know? And your physical distance from most other writers is not a problem here online. Take total advantage of the resources you DO have.
Gail: Hi Chynna, As an aspiring novelist, also living in Canada, I'm curious about your experience(s) with Canadian markets and publishers? How do they compare with their neighbouring counterparts? Do you know of any publishers and/or agents which welcome the work of novice writers? I'd like to support our publishing industry but, as an "unknown" author, I've encountered many obstacles that aren't as apparent in U.S. markets.
Chynna: Gail thanks so much for bringing this up.
Honestly—and I really hate to say this because I too want to support our own
industry—I have had a very difficult time breaking into some of the Canadian
magazine markets. If you have the right topic at the right time, they’d
definitely accept pitches from novice writers. But you may have to do what I
did and start with the nonpaying stuff and/or websites. I have no idea why but
that’s how it’s been for me too.
You know a great place to try? Cahoots. Have you heard of that one? They are very well connected to many different publications and many of the people in my writing groups (Canadian) try getting in there. What sorts of stuff do you like writing? Maybe I can offer some specific publications for ya.
Also, what genre are your novels in? I may have a few Canadian publishers/agents you can try out who welcome new writers.
It’s unfortunate that there are so many talented writers here in Canada who have so much difficulty breaking into their own country. Don’t give up, though. I haven’t.
Gail: There is debate over whether or not novice writers
should contribute to non-paying markets. Writers on both sides of this
issue make compelling arguments. While I would dearly love to receive the
publishing credits, I'm also reluctant to "devalue" the work of
professionals in the industry. There's a tug-of-war going on inside me
over what to do. However, the latter issue troubles me far more than
having to work harder for paying assignments. Yet, there are days of
indecision and frustration that certainly make me consider doing otherwise.
What stuff do I write? Well, in the non-fiction category, I write about home economics, mostly. I've also written some personal essays on issues of self-esteem and -discovery. My current novel -- the first of many, I hope -- is a historical fiction which, I'm finding, is one of the narrowest of fiction niches, it seems. I have another hist-fic novel idea that I'd also like to develop, but I usually read and write "cosy" mysteries. Love the whodunits!
In reading through your web-site, and checking out your "Published Works," I see clearly how you've found your non-fiction voice and are focusing on relevant markets for those pieces. It all seems so obvious, yet, when I read guidelines, those relevancies seem much more obscure. Have you any suggestions on deciphering market guidelines? (I am subscribed to a few magazines which I believe will be good markets for my non-fiction work, but have yet to bear fruit.)
Thank you for such a quick response. Your visit here has sparked some creative marketing ideas, and I've enjoyed reading your responses on all topics.
Chynna: I hear ya Gail. I was in the same boat when I
first started out. I had advice from both sides: Writers telling me that if I
gave into free work, it set a standard for other where editors had a
“cheaper” option to turn to when they didn’t want to pay the standard fees.
Other writers told me there was nothing wrong with it because it led to other
bigger things. I chose to do a few freebies and found the latter advice was
truer for me.
I was never someone who was hungry just to have my name and work out there. I just had stories to tell and chose the right places to tell them—even though a few were for free. I don’t see anything wrong with it myself but totally respect those who do. It is a very touchy subject in some writing groups so I often do my own thing. =) All I can tell you is that I’ve done some wonderful freebies—even recently—that have led to other things like interview requests and even articles with a big payment. DON”T just choose a freebie job just to get your name out there but also don’t avoid the good ones that have good leads. And you can always say something like, “If you can’t pay me I’d appreciate having either a byline with link to my website or free advertising for my book/website.” Then you ARE getting paid in another way. Does that make sense?
Actually, historical fiction is HUGE right now. There are many publishers—U.S. and Canadian—seeking good quality his/fiction. Keep at it! I’ll be you’ll break in yet.
Those guidelines can be a real pain, can’t they? The best thing to do is follow them exactly how you understand them and try submitting something for those fillers or smaller areas of the magazine. Editors are usually more receptive to novice writers for those areas then, once you impress the socks off of them, you may get a bigger job. For example, the first story I wrote for Angels On Earth was chopped right down to fit into their “Only Human?” section. I was disappointed because I loved the story but they kept true to the base of it. Then they asked if I had any other stories, which I did, and it was a feature in a later issue!
Like I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with contacting the editor or the editorial assistant asking for clarification on something you don’t understand. They appreciate you asking and attempting to follow their guidelines than to submit something WAY off base and wasting their time. (Excellent idea to subscribe to the mags you want to break into, by the way. That gives you an idea of what they’ve accepted and the writers they’ve used in the past. But never change your writing to suit some magazine. Be true to your talent.)
Gail: Yes, receiving other forms of “value” for one’s writing definitely makes sense. The byline sounds like small recompense, but it could well lead to other writing opportunities, some of which might offer actual remuneration. Your suggestions about asking for a referral to a web-site, or free advertising for a book, have given me some ideas I had never considered before. I don’t have a web-site, yet, but a link to my non-fiction blog would probably have some benefit. Though, I imagine, that would depend on the article I’m submitting and the publication.
It’s good to hear that hist-fic is gaining popularity. My novel is set in archaic times and, for that reason, falls into a narrower niche. Recently, though, two published novelists suggested a couple different publishers who are interested this type of book. I must get the manuscript ready quickly and check out these prospects.
I like your suggestion to contact the editor for guideline clarification. It seems the obvious solutions are so often overlooked. : ) I’ve been reluctant to contact editors simply because they seem like such an overworked, time-crunched, and frazzled lot I didn’t want to interrupt with “silly questions.” But, as you say, they would likely prefer to have their needs made clear than receive submissions that are way off the mark.
Thanks again for your thoughtful and comprehensive advice.
Chynna: Editors are very busy but they don't usually have
a problem answering questions if it saves them time in the long run.
Gail, I think you'll go far. You certainly have the confidence. I can't wait to see your novels in print.
Gail: You and me both, Chynna! *lol* Thanks so much for your vote of confidence. *slipping you a fiver*
Ladyrayne: Hi Chynna,
I was just looking at your website, Lily Wolf Words.
Your page of published works is impressive. Congratulations!
I noticed that you trademarked the name Lily Wolf and began a company through which to run your freelancing. I've been wondering about this side of the business. Is it common for writers to start corporations? I know there are many perks with having a corporation but is this standard business procedure? What made you decide to run your business under a fictitious business name instead of your real name? Does the use of two names cause any difficulty for editors who might be researching your work?
Just a few days ago I was reading an interview you wrote for WOW. I've been thinking of joining WOW and receiving their Green Pages in the hopes of finding some newbie opportunities. Were you already pretty well established when you started with WOW? How has your experience been with them?
Thank you for taking time out of your incredibly busy life to commune with us.
Chynna: HI! Thanks so much for your question! Yes, I did
start up my own freelancing business. I was advised having a company through
which to be paid and invoice would be a smart way to keep track of everything
and THAT makes things so much easier at Tax Time. Plus, when you’re writing
full time, there are perks you can use in terms of write-offs. (It’s a bit
different here in Canada than in the U.S. so be sure to check your government
site for the write-offs you’d qualify for. I think a lot of it depends on how
your office/workspace is set up.)
You certainly don’t have to set up your own company, especially if you’re writing casually or part time. I did it not only for tax purposes but also as a tribute to my grandparents who always encouraged me to follow my dreams and do what I loved.
What a great question about whether editors get confused about the two names. I have had a couple of people call me “Lily” but I never thought about it. There has never been any real confusion for me but I can definitely see how there could be. What you could do, in this case, is just say, “I’m Chynna Laird from Lily Wolf Words…” or something like that.
WOW is awesome and Angela—the CEO and editor—has been wonderful to me. I started there as an intern when they’d first started up and it’s grown into something pretty awesome. Now I write columns and do interviews…tons of fun! The Premium Green newsletter is a great resource tool. If you’re interested in interning or writing for them, they are seeking articles for upcoming issues. I’d definitely try contacting them to see what they need and you can express an interest in internships.
Ladyrayne: Thank you, Chynna...great
advice! Actually, I think I will take your advice regarding the
I must agree with Gail regarding the intimidation of guidelines. I have an article on dealing with change which I have been told is very inspiring yet at 1200 words it doesn't fit the allowable 500-words-for-newbies that I see in the guidelines. There really isn't anything to cut out however. I originally thought this would be my breaking-in article but have since put it aside thinking I should start with filler pieces.
The funny thing here is that I was actually starting to look at the Canadian publications, LOL.
Chynna: Those guidelines can be very confusing--even for
me and I've been at it for a few years now!
I'm going over to respond to Gail's Awesome post in a moment but I do understand your frustration with deciphering some of those writer's guidelines. When you're first breaking in, just be sure to follow them as closely as possible. If you don't understand something, email whomever is listed as the contact person and ask. (I still do that!) Editors appreciate you caring enough to ask what they're looking for rather than firing something at them that isn't what they want. You can even give a brief description of what you want to submit and mention it's a bit longer than they're asking for but you feel it will fit into _______ section of their magazine. I've actually had editors ask me to send it anyway. Some editors won't but they'll at least give you an idea of what they do want you to send.
Don't worry, after awhile you'll be able to say, "Uhm...I think this is what they're asking for so I"m just gonna send it and see what happens!" and you'll be right most of the time.
As for the Canadian markets, I'm sad to say they don't make it very easy for writers from other countries to get in. Heck, they don't even make it easy for CANADIANS to get in! Don't give up trying on Canadian markets, however. What you'll have to bear in mind is that along of the big glossies here, like "Today's Parent" are government funded and have strict guidelines. In fact, they don't take submissions from non-Canadians! That's only because they have to have a specific percentage of Canadian content. But there are many Canadian publications that don't have this rule so keep trying!
Ladyrayne: I had no idea I could
do that! (I get so stuck in "the rules").
Chynna: SURE you can! It shows that you know their magazine and that's a good thing. Of course, it doesn't always work but there are places willing to accept something, even if it's a bit over, if it's well-written and fits into their line-up.
Mary Rosenblum: Okay, Chynna, how do you keep it all
together? The writing, dinner, school field trip, revision, homework, the
What keeps you sane?
Chynna: LOL!!! That's so funny, Mary. You know the
truth is, I have super productive days and really unproductive days.
You know it really is all about balance: Do what you can WHEN you can and prioritize. In the beginning, when I couldn't seem to find the time for writing, I got so frustrated. But a very wise person (Mary, actually ) reminded me that writing will always be there waiting for me when I had time for it--my kids needed me NOW! So, I began to write around life. Get up a bit earlier, stay up a bit later, write a bit during the kids' favorite t.v. show, writer during naptime, etc. There are always little snippets of time you can squeeze the writing into. And yes, sometimes you must put off a bit of dusting or other house stuff for it but that's okay!
And, I can't stress this enough, we writer mamas (ALL mamas, actually) need some "Me Time." Take that time when you can.
What I've done is created a schedule for myself for writing, which has helped me ALOT! You know...Mondays are for writing queries, Tuesdays I work on Fiction, Wednesdays NF, etc. Create a schedule AROUND your regular "work"...it really helps.
OH! And don't be hard on yourself if you have a day where you don't get any work done at all. Are the kids happy? Did you all have fun together? That's what's most important.
Mary Rosenblum: Oh, that's so familiar, Chynna! I remember writing until I literally fell asleep on the keyboard (messes up the page, bigtime!) So are your kids involved with your writing? Do they read it? Participate?
Chynna: That's happened to me too, actually. Nothing
is more hilarious than waking up to 50+ pages of blank pages because your
forehead has been pressing against the spacebar.
I often write with one of my little ones sitting on my lap. I moved my computer with Internet connection into the living room so we can all be together. I don't work for long periods of time or on things that require my 100% attention down here. I'm sure most writer moms understand how difficult it can be trying to concentrate with the WWF smackdown going on around them or being asked for snacks/toys etc. It's all good.
They are all curious about what I'm doing and Jaimie LOVES reading and writing. Not only did she inspre my children's picture book, I'm Not Weird, I Have SPD, she helped me review/approve the pictures and describe how certain things felt. And she was so patient with me when I did my "field research" (for those who didn't catch my WOW interview, I did things like wearing wooly chothes next to my skin, wearing my shoes on the wrong feet then trying to coordinate myself, writing with the wrong hand to understand what it was like to get my hands to do something they're supposed to but couldn't, etc.) In order to write about how SPD feels from these children's perspective, I needed to SEE it from that perspective.
I read them some of my stuff. Jaimie is actually such a good reader, I have to watch what I’m working on when she's around me! My girls' favorite activity now is cutting up paper into book shapes then writing stories, complete with illustrations. They're so funny...I may try getting the "books" published one day. It's wonderful having them here. As you've said, Mary, "It's OUR job..." We are a team!
Mary Rosenblum: I love your daughters' 'books'
Chynna! Do preserve them. Kids grow up so fast!
Chynna, I know you've published that great book about your daughter, and a book about her condition as well as a diet book. Were they all with small press publishers? Tell us about that experience. How did you connect? Did you query? What did you learn, writing a proposal?
Chynna: Mary, my children's picture book, "I'm Not
Weird I have SPD" was published through a POD publisher. I chose this
route because I wanted full control over each sep of the process. Plus,
honestly, I never had any intention of letting the eworld read our story. I
wrote it to validate Jaimie's feelings and to make her feel less alone...that
other children felt the world the same way she did. But when I met other
families out there like ours, I chose to give out as many copies of the book I
POD works out great for many writers but you really have to be willing to get out there and market like crazy! I didn't have time until recently to market the book the way I wanted to so was a bit frustrating to see my sales next to nil. But it's getting alot better now. All proceeds go to helping SPD research so it means alot to see things blossoming.
I highly suggest folks going the traditional route, unless they have the time/energy to market and the money to get the book done. Outskirts was AWESOME and they did a phenomenal job on my book but it isn't for everyone. (If anyone has specific questions about this process, feel free to ask. I'd be more than happy to shed light, if I can.)
My memoir, "Not Just Spirited: Living With Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)", will be out in late August/early September. This will be put out by a traditional publisher, as will my Sensory Diet book (January 2011). The memoir took me a long time to get out there. It wasn't because no one was interested in the story--but more because it's such a specific niche and some agents/pubs aren't willing to take on tight niche books, especially whenthe author is relatively unknown. The publisher who finally took on my book accepted it after reading my query letter then asking for a full! Just goes to show you should never give up!
The reference book was snagged after only 3 queries! But I had a great query letter and a proposal I'd worked on for many months.
Pam Out West: Thanks for sharing your time with us!
I am interested in hearing more about your memoir that will be published by a traditional publisher. Did you pitch it through an agent? If so, can you tell us a little about how you found the agent? Which publisher grabbed it? I'm wondering if you think that your POD book helped pave the way for the second and third books.
Chynna: Hiya Pam! You know, I actually pitched my memoir to
MANY agents for over a year before one grabbed it. It wasn’t because there was
no interest—I had so many people praise the story I was telling—but more
because my story was such a specific “niche” that it didn’t fit into most
agents’/publishers’ editorial line-ups. What was fantastic was
agents/publishers who loved my story but couldn’t take it on suggested other
places to try. I didn’t get one unpleasant refusal (and let me tell you…I had
MANY refusals!) so it goes to show that if you have a great story to tell and
can tell it well, you need to keep trying. The publisher that took my story on
was Loving Healing Press.
Pam, that’s a great question about whether the POD book helped pave the way. It doesn’t always, as I’m sure you guys are told. Many agents/publishers won’t go near someone who’s published that way or consider it a “real” published book. But I’ve had wonderful responses to both. I think if you show initiative with being able to market yourself and your work, a traditional publisher/agent will take you on. You just need confidence in yourself and your work.
Pam Out West: Thanks for the peak into your publishing journey. Would you explain in a little more detail how you picked which agents to send your query to? Did you tweak the query each time, or just keep putting it out there? Were you able to keep the query to one page? Did you include clips?
We really appreciate your time spent with us, and your kids are cuties on your web site. Enjoy those funny years of laughter while they are young. There is not a funnier time in parenting!
Did you set the site up or hire someone?
Chynna: Hi Pam! I’m assuming you want to know about publishing books, right? (If you want more info on getting articles published, let me know.) Finding an agent/publisher—the right one—can be a long journey. Not only do you have to do the research so you target the agents/publishers who may be interested in your work, you need to avoid the few out there who target hungry writers to get their money. That’s the first point: If you are asked for ANY sort of fee from an agent/publisher, avoid them. You shouldn’t have to pay them for anything. I mean there are some who charge for photocopying or postage expenses on certain things but, generally, there should never be something YOU have to pay to publish your book.
First, you need to figure out exactly what your genre is. Romance? SF? Nonfiction books? Then find agents/publishers who handle such works. (Investing in one of the fantastic Writer’s Digest books is a good idea). Once you’ve narrowed that down, you need to visit each and every one of their websites to see the exact books the agent/publisher has put out. Each book may be within the same genre but they are a bit different too. What about each book they’ve represented did they like? Is there a pattern in the sort of books he/she is most drawn to? Are any of those books similar to yours on a general sense but yours offers something different? These are all important questions to answer.
From there, create a killer query letter that isn’t any longer than a page. Believe me, if it is, a lot of agents/publishers just won’t read it. Plus if you need to take longer than that to describe your project, you may not quite have a handle on what it is you’re trying to sell (That’s mostly for NF, BTW.) For Fiction, you give enough information to hook them but not so much that you’re re-writing the entire story—that’s what your Synopsis is for. Think book jacket description. When you pick a book to buy at the bookstore, what about the blurb on the back of the book hooked you to buying that book? THAT’S what you write. Then give a brief description of your writing experience (if you have it) and where you’re work can be found (if you have any out there.) If you don’t yet, don’t tell them. Seriously. Just give them an idea of how you can market the book.
For articles, I have a general query letter that I tweak for each one. For NF/F book projects, I have one general letter that I may tweak a bit to suit the specific person I’m writing to. You know, if I can say, “My book will appeal to your interests because _________” This shows that you’ve taken the time to review their tastes/interests and aren’t just pitching your book idea to anyone who’ll open their mail or email. =)
I learned all of this the hard way so I hope it helps you right off. OH! And thanks so much for the comments on my website. I work really hard on it. And my little beauties are the reason I keep going. =) I should really put another updated photo on there. LOL!
I run the site myself through Webnames.ca. There are free site builders out there which are great—I just didn’t want the advertising on my site and stuff.
Mary Rosenblum: Chynna, you've written a book about Jamie, your daughter with special needs. That has to be a topic that is very close to your heart, one where you really cannot be objective. What is that like? How do you 'step away' in order to write something that will have meaning to more readers than yourself and your family? And how hard is it to do? You're putting your own family on the page.
Chynna: Yes, Mary, it can be very difficutl to write a
personal story like this...especially when it's about your own child. The most
important thing to remember is to write from your heart--ALWAYS tell your story
to make it your own--but while still remembering that not everyone experiences
that story the way you have. In other words, you have to be very careful not to
generalize. You have to take the approach of, "This is my story,
this is what we've gone through..I hope you can take something with you but
know that your story is YOURS and is unique...as is mine."
When you generalize, you're saying that everyone out there shares the exact things you have and that's not true. It's kind of disrespectful to the reader, in a way, you know? Just be sure to always edit and have another pair of expert eyes read your work. We can get so into our own story we forget that generalization thing. So thinking more omniscient while writing such stories is essential. I hope that makes sense!
Pam Out West: It is good advice not to generalize,
and I am trying to figure out how to add a 'disclaimer' when sometimes the
unique voice is the one that may ruffle some feathers. It can get tedious
writing in vanilla so as not to offend anyone as seems the current style. The
Rocky road texture of a memoir can add interest, but how can I include the
sweetness of the story without possibly insulting the reader by actually
pointing out the obvious; that this is MY ice cream cone? Isn't that implied in
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Chynna: Pam, amazing question. You know my only advice is
just to tell the story. You’re right—it’s definitely implied in a memoir.
Obviously if you’re writing the story, it’s YOUR story, right? What you need to
do is tell your story, edit it the way you want it to be told, then find the
right agent/publisher who wants to tell your story THE WAY IT IS!! There are
places out there who will do that. Some stories need the grittiness, right?
Otherwise it just isn’t the same story if you fictionalize it or “fluff it up”
I mean, I have a memoir I’ve written about my childhood and it isn’t pretty, or “vanilla coated.” I wrote it over two years ago and am still trying to find a publisher. I had one place actually tell me they loved my writing style and the story was great but their distributor wouldn’t go near memoirs because of all the controversy with people fibbing their memoirs. He told me that if I’d “fictionalize” it or write it as a Fiction novel, he’d take it. I refused. I wrote it as a memoir…it’s a real story…and that’s how I want the story to be told. So, I keep searching. (As a side note, I do have one agent and one publisher currently considering it…so there you go!)
The memoir I wrote about me and Jaimie was the same way--I wrote it the way it needed to be told. Period.
Pam, write your story the way it needs to be told, get someone to edit it, then research the right agent/publisher.
Pam Out West: Thanks Chynna,
I laughed when I read your comment about "fictionalizing" the memoir because that is what I did with my first draft! Then my son pointed out that I was creating a barrier between me and the readers by doing that and also with writing in third person. So I rewrote the whole story. I wasn't aware that agents and publishers were leery of memoirs because people faked them. Really, what is the world coming too? This whole fiction vs. nonfiction tug-of-war makes desperados out of some writers.
Best of luck with getting published. I sent your web link to a friend who works with special needs preschoolers within a large school district in a suburb of Denver.
Chynna: I know what you mean, Pam. I'd written my memoir,
edited it and everything then had this publisher tell me to fictionalize it!
Your son is very wise because that's exactly what I thought of when that
publisher told me to re-write my story. It just didn't seem fair to readers or
to my story.
And than you so much for passing my link on. I really appreciate that. One thing I've found is that by connecting all the resources out there that we can makes it so much easier for the parents/caregivers searching for them.
Mary Rosenblum: Thanks, Chynna, you have been a great guest!!! Chynna, you are such a great example of ‘just do it’. You have lots of reasons to make excuses and not write…and you write anyway. Bravo for you, girl! You’re going to catch that star you’re reaching for! We'll ask you back for sure! Keep us posted about what you're doing and all our best wishes for your writing!
Chynna: I will for sure, Mary!
And I'd LOVE to come back.
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