Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It's a Living: Q & A on Making Money as a Writer w/ Yi Shun Lai

I am so happy to introduce my readers to Yi Shun Lai. 

Yi Shun Lai ( has been a writer and editor for over 15 years. She's written or edited for The Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the J. Peterman catalog, and Audubon magazine. She makes her living writing corporate copy and executing content strategy. 

She writes literary essays and short fiction and is the fiction editor for the Los Angeles Review ( She is currently earning her MFA at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts ( She tweets as @GoodDirt.

I am grateful that Yi Shun graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the art of making a living from one's words.

Q: What are some of the most common misconceptions you encounter when people hear that you are a writer?

1. "That's a real job?"
2. "What do you do to make money?"
3. "For a magazine or a newspaper?"

A1. YES.
A2. I write.
A3. Every kind of printed or digital media; it's not mutually exclusive; and those aren't the only options.

Q: What sort of groundwork or foundation would you advise a writer to lay before expecting to see much income from one's writing? 

Have a portfolio ready to show people.  A couple of good clips can go a long way.

Know your basic skills, like who to talk to and how to query each media outlet: If you're querying someone about populating their social media feed, you need to know who's in charge of managing that part of the company, and what they're looking to do. If you're looking to write for a hyper-local news source, be ready to show the editor things they'll want to see, like blog posts about the community you want to write for. If you're trying to get into the copywriting gig or journalism and you don't have clips, be ready to do some work on speculation--that means you won't get paid for the work if the company doesn't take it, but at least you'll have your foot in the door.

And for God's sake, know your grammar and your basic rules of punctuation. Something as basic as that can set you apart from the pack.

Network. Get to know your fellow writers and editors, from people who write advertising copy to folks who write literary essays.

Know your worth. Don't sell your words short.
Q: Is it all about the bottom line? Or are there instances where giving one's expertise away can help a writer's career?

It's definitely not just about the bottom line. A long time ago other writers bought me meals and gave away their expertise. I take their example and do the same things for other beginning writers. Our community may feel large, but word gets around. Being selfish with your knowledge, expertise, and connections will get you nowhere.

Beyond that, though, let's take this situation: If an editor for a magazine approaches me because I've written for her before, that's always a good thing. If she asks me to write an article about a story I have no background or experience in covering, that's flattering, but it also might be a recipe for disaster. It's more than likely I'll know someone else who has better experience--and connections--in that field. So I make the introduction. And now the editor's happy because she's got another writer in her stable; the other writer is happy because she has a new story to cover, and I'm happy because I could facilitate the connection. But further down the line, the editor will think of me as a trustworthy source, and the other writer will think of me when she comes across a story she may not be able to cover.

On a more quotidian scale, things like joining a LinkedIn group that focuses on writing and editing will help you to share your knowledge. Answering questions for others boosts your expertise, and that's a really good thing: You may show up more often in searches that prospective editors or employers are conducting for writers.

Q: What are some things writers do that can jeopardize their income potential?

There are those writers who are unwilling to try new things. That's never a good move. Stretch your wings; see language in all of its different applications.

Q: What are some ways a writer can maximize his or her income?

Know what your value is: Don't sell yourself short.

Take the time to do it right the first time, even if you're writing 300-word blog posts or 140-character tweets. Every. Word. Counts.

Remember, too, that the things you write, from the tweet to the educational or technical article, can be re-crafted. I don't mean to imply that you should re-sell the same article over and over (your contract will preclude that, anyway), but you should take the knowledge you've gained from working on that article or in that field and parlay it into something new.

Q: What are some things a writer can do RIGHT NOW to improve his or her writing-related income?

Make sure you're updating your online profile consistently. If you've written something new, tell your network, even if it's just on Facebook and you're just telling your pals.

Start exploring things you're interested in: companies who sell the things you enjoy or media outlets that cover what you love to do might just be in need of writers or editors.

Sharpen up your editing skills. And, if you're terrible at timeliness, start working on that. Now.

And read. Start seeing everything as a potential place to practice your writing skills.

What is your favorite tip for maximizing your writing worth? Comment, please!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

5 Simple Ways To Lose Fans and Alienate People

A recent experience gave me new appreciation for the fans I may have and made me reconsider what we writers, artists, and other creatives owe our fans. I realize it is impossible to please all people at all times. One should not even try to. However, the person who blithely ignores his or her supporters is the person who soon won't have the bother of *having* any...

A fan's excitement knows no bounds.
Last week I attended a horse-training clinic given by a trainer who is well on his way to becoming an international sensation. I had great hopes of it being the high point of my summer.

My friend hosted the clinic after seeing the trainer at two different major equine venues. She talked him up big time. When I watched video footage of him and his horses doing tricks and liberty work, I was impressed with what he could do.  I was *so excited* to go to his clinic because I knew this guy could get his horses to do the one thing I'm stuck on with my horse's training, so I squeezed out money that had been earmarked for other things ("We're eating ramen for the next month, guys!") and signed up.

In order to attend, I rearranged my clients and called in favors from friends for everything from babysitting to horse hauling. Before I even signed up, I was very clear about what I wanted from the clinic. "If he's not going to cover that, or if he won't teach it, then I'll give my spot to someone else," were my exact words.

Weeks before the clinic, my friend assured me she had spoken with the trainer and he saw no problem with covering what I wanted to. Yay! On the first day, when the clinician asked what we expected from the experience, I specifically stated my goal. Not that it did any good.

Let's just say that I'd have gotten more bang for my buck by driving down the highway and flinging $20's out the window. Instead of getting the targeted training I had hoped for, what I got was a 2-day groundwork clinic that covered basic lungeing and handling: things my horse knew when he was two. Of the seven paying participants, three definitely needed what he taught. Their horses made real progress. I can't say the same for the rest of us.

My mother's mantra is "No education is ever wasted." My recent clinic experience put Mom's maxim to the test. Did I learn a few little things I can use to continue my horse's education? Yes and no. I learned different ways to do things, but nothing led me to believe the clinician's techniques were superior to the methods I follow. And at no time did he address my specific training questions or goals.

After the first day, it became clear that the clinic experience was not going to be what I had hoped for. Had I found someone who wanted my spot, I'd have gladly given it to them.
"You have foofed my tail! A fan's tail is never foofed!"
Photo by monosodium via

Before the clinic, I spent a day working outside in record-setting heat, helping the host get the facility ready. I also contacted local media, promoted the event online and in print, and participated in papering every horse-related business for 60 miles with flyers. I watched the trainer's videos and introduced them to horsey friends who had never heard of him. I was a fan.

In less than two short days, I went from fan to fed-up.

My clinic experience got me thinking about how easy it is to lose someone's goodwill. And goodwill, once lost, is a very difficult thing to regain. So, if at any time you feel you have too many followers, here are some suggestions (gleaned from the clinician's actions) for whittling that number down:

1.)  Remain Aloof. When teaching a class or a workshop, don't hang out during breaks and shoot the breeze with the people who have paid for the privilege of working with you and learning from you. If you must eat with participants in a common area, get through your meal as quickly as possible. Do not engage them in conversation. Show no interest in their puny and pathetic lives. Hang out only with those in your entourage.

2.) Butcher People's Names. If someone's name is unusual or difficult for you to pronounce, don't bother to get it right. Announce that the name is just too hard / odd / inconvenient for you to remember. Bonus points if you make up your own name for that person and just use that instead.

3.) Make Jokes At Your Fans' Expense. Ignore what we know about how the brain processes information. People who say sarcasm has no place in the classroom are wusses.  Whenever possible, especially if it's good for a cheap laugh from your non-paying customers, insult your students. Calling attention to their race, gender, or natural hair color are all excellent jumping off points.

4.) Show Off. Not only will it reinforce that your abilities are far beyond your fans', but it will have the added value of reminding them how little the stuff you are giving them has to do with the stuff you can do.
If this is how you make me feel, I won't be a fan for long.
Photo by runron via

5.) Take Their Money and Run. When your fans tell you what they expect from you, lead them on. Let them think you might deliver. If you're up front with them about what you will and will not do, they might ask for a refund.

I almost didn't post this entry because I realize how snarky it may sound. However, I want to record the experience and my disappointment if for no other reason than to remind myself (should I ever need it) that at no point is the fan someone to be dismissed, discounted, or trifled with.

I am not advocating pandering or selling one's soul for celebrity. I am also not suggesting that one should prostitute oneself to the whims of the masses. Far from it. But I do believe that when interacting with the public, the performer / teacher / artist / expert owes that public both courtesy and respect. I hope to remember this event for a long while and pray that I do not make the same mistakes when dealing with those who have paid me for my expertise.

Monday, July 02, 2012

An Editor's Perspective: Q & A w/ Entangled Publishing's Adrien-Luc Sanders, Part II

MuseInks is honored to again feature Adrien-Luc Sanders (@smoulderingsea), Entangled Publishing's Managing Senior Editor of the Flirt and Ever After lines. Adrien-Luc dispenses priceless #editortips on Twitter where he somehow manages to highlight the problems that plague many writers' submissions without degenerating into cutting snark. He blogs at Kowloon by Night.

He was so generous with his answers to my questions, that I broke his interview into two parts. Read Part I here. Today features his responses to five more questions about how editors and authors can make each other's lives easier and suggestions for how writers can improve their chances for success in submissions.

Q:  In general, how far do you have to read in a submission before you realize you love it and want to acquire it?

A:  It varies too much to really have a "general" answer. With some books I know within one page, and I'm praying throughout the rest of the manuscript that it won't jump the shark and will gratify all my boyish hopes and dreams, etc.

Others have had a slow start, but there was a spark that prompted me to keep reading for a chapter, two chapters, five, until that little hint flourished into a great story.

There have been others where even on the last page, I wasn't sure. Those are the ones I have to walk away from for a little while. If I find I can't stop thinking about them, and realize I really made an emotional connection with the characters and they're sticking with me, then I know.

Q:  What are the qualities of your dream author? Which quality is *most* important? Why? 

A:  It's kind of hard to answer this without saying "all my authors are my dream authors." Seriously, they're all different, but I love them all and they're amazing to work with.

If I was going to build an Authortron 2000, though, I'd say they would be a consistent producer of quality stories with a great voice. I don't mean they need to churn out a story a month, but one to two really good stories a year--stories that show attention to their craft and a dedication to good storytelling, while still producing steadily enough to build and keep a loyal fanbase.

They'd need to be patient and have one hell of a sense of humor, both to deal with me and to handle the stress that chopping apart their manuscripts can cause. They'd need to be dedicated. They'd need to be open to the editing process, flexible, and willing to learn.

They'd need a solid understanding of how the industry works.

They'd need to have a great author presence when interacting with readers, and be accessible on social media as a real person readers feel like they can connect with. They shouldn't think of themselves as le artiste. They shouldn't need hand-holding, though I don't mind coaching, especially for new authors on their first book. What matters is that they learn from that coaching and grow through each successive edit.

The most important out of all that? I'm going to cheat and list two: flexibility and dedication. The editing and publishing cycle is one of constant change.

It's rare that the story you submit will be the story that gets published, though the core of it will still be there. Same house, new furniture. (Sometimes same house, same furniture, furniture drastically rearranged. There's a bidet in the kitchen.) Release dates will change. Cover art will change. Jacket copy will change. You have to be flexible to be able to adapt to that and just roll with the punches without having a meltdown.

And you need the dedication to commit to all the hard work involved. Someone once told me that my job as an editor isn't nearly as hard as her job as the writer actually producing the story, and I just didn't understand. I do. I've done both, and I can tell you actually writing the book is just the first small step. That's the easy part. Even selling the book is easy compared to the amount of work both the editor and author must do to get a book ready for publication. There are generally dozens of people involved and it's a whirlwind of activity, change, and sometimes disappointment--and I know how it feels both as an editor and as a writer implementing his editor's corrections. You need dedication to survive that, then dive back in for another round fully knowing what you're getting into.

Q:  You write as well as edit. What has being an editor taught you about your writing?

A:  That I need to listen to my own damned advice. ~laughs~ No, seriously. I kind of had this epiphany when I was working on an author's manuscript, that all these mistakes I keep highlighting? I do this. I do this, but I act like it's okay because it's me, when it's not okay at all. That was years ago, but I basically felt like I slapped myself in the face, and I needed it.
Personal demons lurk on every writer's path...

Every writer's been through this stage, I think. Where they think their mistakes are forgivable because it's artistic license.

No matter how professional you are as a writer, you'll have some demons to work through as you sort yourself out and figure out your path. That was mine: getting over this love affair with my own overdone prose and learning to write as cleanly and sharply as I expect of my authors.

I'm still not sure I've succeeded, but I am more self-aware--and when I edit my own work, I'm probably even harder on myself than I am on them. I'll go through an entire edit pass where I deliberately make myself hate my manuscript, so I can identify what's really good and what really sucks. Before that self-administered slap in the face, I'd have thought it was all good.

In fact, some of the #editortips I tweet? Are actually mistakes I've caught myself making. I'm not saying "Look, this author screwed up with me by doing this; don't do this." I'm saying "Look, I screwed up. Don't make my mistakes."

Q:  What are some things you would like to see more of in your submissions inbox?

A:  Post-apocalyptic. Zombies. Horror. SciFi. Steampunk. PoC. LGBT. Dark stories with the villain as the hero. Anything that breaks the category mold.

I'm a little glutted on contemporary right now, and have a roster of talented authors constantly producing more great stories, so contemporary's a bit of a hard sell for me right now--but I'd love a good romantic comedy.

I have some weirdly specific things I'm looking for, too, like a YA about space gypsies. Or a story that tackles alchemical magic in a way that believably integrates real physics and chemistry. Or a story that combines magic and technology with a good logical foundation. Or, if you really want to sell me a contemporary, something Dexter-ish with highly dysfunctional people who still manage to find romance. If that can even count as a contemporary.

Q:  If people wish to submit fiction to the imprints of Entangled Publishing for which you are an editor, what is the best way to go about it?

A:  For the Flirt and Ever After lines in general, you can submit to:
flirt-submissions(at)entangledpublishing(dot).com or

I do acquire for the Entangled/Entangled Select, Entangled Teen, and various category lines, though, so if you have something for one of those lines that you think is right up my alley, you can send it directly to me at adrien-luc(at)entangledpublishing(dot)com.

The submission information page at has links to the submission guidelines for all of the lines, as well as to the Entangled blog, where we post special thematic calls for submissions. We have several open on the F&EA lines right now; I have a sub call roundup linking them all from my blog here: .