Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Rider’s Wednesday: Merchandise Surprise!

A few weeks ago, I was looking online for harness parts. My friend C.G. has a Percheron mare with a harness that only fits parts of her. Where the other parts are concerned, the horse is either too big, or the harness is too small, depending on how you look at things.

While we were online, I happened across the Frontier Equestrian website. I was surprised to discover that they had – wonder of wonders! – English draft saddles. The saddles advertised were leather, with cushy-looking seats and a choice of 8 or 10 inch trees.

The prices were so reasonable that I was tempted to place an order on the website then and there. But when I looked a little further, I discovered that you could not place an order via the internet. You had to phone it in.

“Must be a fly-by-night operation,” I mused narrowmindedly.

But I bookmarked the page anyway, and revisited it often in the next few days. Eventually I took the plunge and made the phone call. (Something I hate to do. I’d just as soon do my shopping anonymously, thank you very much…)

When the phone was picked up by an answering machine, I nearly hung up. Instead, inexplicably, I didn’t. I left a message stating which saddle I was interested in, left my phone number, and hung up.

Later that afternoon, Brad from Frontier Equestrian called. And then I understood why they wanted customers to place orders over the phone.

I have rarely met someone who represents a business who was so knowledgeable, friendly, or thorough. All measurements of all equipment was at his fingertips. And he knew what he was talking about.

When I asked about the measurement of the browband of their draft-size English bridle, he knew. The length of the headstall from bit to bit? He knew that, too – both the minimum and the maximum distances.

When I asked about a saddle that was twice as expensive as the one I had originally called about, instead of trying to sell me something that wouldn’t work, he was quick to tell me that the tree wouldn’t be wide enough for my horse.

When I asked about the difference between two different saddle styles, he asked knowledgeable questions about my horse and the type of riding I did. Then he made an informed suggestion.

I ended up ordering a saddle, bridle, and girth late on Monday afternoon. The package arrived -- with my order filled perfectly – on Thursday. The saddle is decently made and well worth twice what I paid for it. The same goes for the bridle and girth. All look exactly like their photos online. So seldom does one run into someone who actually knows his wares that I was momentarily stunned.

And so, I had to write and mention it. Hey – if I’d had a bad experience, with someone who didn’t know what he was doing, with poor service, or with shoddy merchandise, I’d certainly have written about it. I figure the least I can do is trumpet my good fortune when I finally discover someone who does know his stuff.

Check them out for yourself at: Frontier (I got the Icelandic English saddle on the draft tree.) It was a pleasure doing business with them. Now all I need to do is get my coming 3 year-old Percheron ready to ride!

Transcription Update
Regular readers will remember how very much I’ve been feeling like a certain chicken in a psychological study on tenacity in recent days. I finally had to contact the original recording studio and have them e-mail me a monster 5-hour long .mp3 file. I just got it last night. Just in time to download and head back home to the Great White North. Lots of work ahead in the coming weeks. I guess that’s a good thing. I'm certainly not one to complain about anything that brings an income...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Though I continued to try (peck, peck, peck!) to get a usable download of the dictation file yesterday, no such luck. Going to have to call my client, get the recording company's contact information, and have the studio send me a new file. Most upsetting -- and not a little inconvenient for everyone concerned.

Since I couldn't do any actual transcription work, I spent some time yesterday reworking some of the older blog ideas into honest-to-God articles. I'm posting them on my website for the free use and reprinting of any editor out there who might be so inclined.

I got the idea from another writer's site. At first I was appalled. (You're just GIVING your writing away? It must not be any good!) Then I read the other writer's articles, and discovered that they were quite good. Knowledgeable. Engaging. Useful. What do you know?

I spent the next few days thinking about the novel concept of just giving your stuff away for free. And I came to the realization that I already do it anyway. In this blog, for instance. In the myriad e-mails that I write to writers every week. In the writers' workshops that I teach. (Though I get paid to do the workshops, even then I'm doling out information to whoever asks for it, in the classroom, at lunch, on the way to the restroom...)

The cool thing about offering freebies is the opportunity to open up new markets and reach new people that you wouldn't normally have access to. This is not because of any fault of yours or theirs. It's just that the world is big, complex, and full of billions of people. One person can't possibly find all likely avenues of disseminating information.

Consider doing something similar. If you are an expert in a particular area, or if you regularly write on a particular subject, consider posting some of your work and making it available -- free -- to any newsletter, magazine, e-zine, or other editor who wishes to use it. (Editors are ALWAYS looking for stuff to fill their available space!)

When you do post freebies, you can stipulate that editors may post the text for free, as long as they include your biographical information and your byline wherever one of your articles appears. Make sure that your bio includes your website and / or e-mail address, and who knows what new avenues may open up in front of you!

It may sound trite, but I believe it's true: the more you give to the world, the more the world gives back to you.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Still Pecking

For the past week, my husband and daughter and I have been in Florida, visiting "Grandma and Grandpa" -- snowbirds who flew south early this year. I, of course, brought work along. I have more of the No Editing Allowed transcription to do, and figured "What better place to work on the project than in a little bit of paradise?" It seemed like a good idea, especially when a winter storm hit our home shortly after we left.

Ah -- another paving block on the road to hell.

There is something wrong with the dictation DVD that the studio sent me. The disc itself is compromised. No PC will even recognize it to play it. At least my Mac tries.

(One more reason that I love my PowerBook with an emotion that goes far beyond that normally bestowed upon a mere machine. Even after my well-meaning, but unthinking husband inadvertently dumped it from our bed onto our hardwood floor -- an act that would have decimated a lesser notebook -- it continues to work perfectly, with only a small ding in its brushed aluminum casing to guilt him with...)

I've spent nearly as much time working to get access to the dictation files as I have typing them when a portion comes through. I've got three to choose from: .aif, .wav, and .mp3. The .mp3 is the only one that my machine can get sound out of. It should be a little over 5 hours long. But when I try to download it, it either sends my computer into a wild goose chase of an infinite loop, or it just crashes the player program (and I've now tried several).

Still, every so often, an attempt to load the thing will work -- to a point -- and I'll get a little more of the file to work with. It happens often enough that I keep thinking, "This time, it will work. It could work. It might work. It didn't work... Ok: THIS time..."

I feel a bit like the chicken in the experiment on tenacity.

The experiment utilized three groups of chickens. For some, every time they pecked at a particular spot, they received a grain of food. This went on like clockwork: peck, seed, peck, seed, peck, seed. Then, the rules changed and the seeds stopped coming. It didn't take long for the chickens to stop pecking. Even when doing so would have brought them a seed again, they didn't know, so they didn't try.

The chickens in the second group received a seed after a certain number of pecks. Sometimes their pecking wouldn't result in a seed, but the number of pecks it took to get the seed remained constant: peck, peck, peck, seed. Peck, peck, peck, seed. When the rules changed and the seeds stopped coming, it didn't take this group long to stop pecking either. When their requisite number of pecks didn't result in a seed, they also gave up.

The third group of chickens, however, was different. They would receive a seed after a random, constantly changing number of pecks. Sometimes they would receive a seed after one peck. Sometimes it would come after two, three, four or more. When the seeds stopped coming, this group never stopped pecking!

It just goes to show how the randomness of life can make optimists of all us chickens.

And now, I'm off to try to load that blasted thing one more time.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Thanksgiving Break

Going to take a break from blogging this week. Instead, I'll be visiting with my family, playing with my daughter, eating an unfortunate bird, and (of course) working. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Thong Song & Other War Stories:

Earlier this week, I received the following e-mail from one of the editors working on Geoff’s book:

Just search your ms for "thongs" and see what Geoff has to say about them. :)

So, I dutifully opened the book manuscript, did a global search, and discovered this gem:

The effective riding program features exercises that force students to figure thongs out on their own.

Of course, I’m appalled that something so simple got past me. My editor had this to say:

The "thong" typo is one of the better ones I've seen in a while...mostly because it actually made sense in context!!

I’m glad she got a kick out of it. At least it served a purpose!

I'll chalk the "thong" up to experience. My favorite typo story: when I worked as head of proofing for an ad agency, there was a big internal brouhaha over whether or not my position was actually "necessary."

Anyway, they were doing a very brassy ad campaign for a MAJOR national client. It had gone through umpteen revisions and incarnations, and was nearing Final. I pitched a rare fit when one Ad Exec tried to circumvent my department, and I insisted on running the thing through Proofing.

With much grumbling, they brought it to me. And there, in one of the smaller asides in the text, was what was supposed to be an admonishment to "Duck Responsibility!" Instead, some genius had typed too fast and instead of the "D," had hit the letter next to it. (No -- not "S.")

While hilarious, it was hardly something we wanted to present to the Big Kahuna.

Proofing was vindicated. There is justice in the world. :)

I guess it just goes to show you that nothing is ever perfect. Whenever possible, have a pair of fresh eyes read over something you’ve written. You never know when you might inadvertently miss some-thong.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

On Beginnings and Endings

First Things First
Yesterday was a sick day. Sick. Day. All day. ::bleah::

No writing of any kind occured. I didn't even access my e-mail until nearly 5 o'clock. When I did, it was to unleash a flurry of perfectly valid questions from the editor working on Geoff's book. Geoff, of course, is currently out of the country. And I was temporarily out of commission. I called, but it was too late. Perhaps it's for the best. Today is almost certain to be better.

The one "up" that happened, however, was the arrival of the contracts for the new book. It's tentatively titled "The Rider's Back Book," and will be written for / with Dr. James Warson. Dr. Warson was a neurosurgeon for years who specialized in getting people back in the saddle again. He's funny, informative, articulate, and personable. As one of the target audience (someone with a less-than-perfect spine who refuses to quit riding), I'm hoping that maybe the book will be rewarding on a multitude of levels...

I signed the contracts, had them witnessed, and sent them on to Dr. Warson. Ah, the excitment that such a simple thing as dropping a package in the mail can bring!

How To Say "Good-Bye"

And now, a word to my friend P. who sent an e-mail asking how best to write a letter of resignation:

The short answer would involve following these three simple steps:

1.) Write "I Quit!" on a piece of paper.

2.) Hand the paper to your boss.

3.) Walk away.

...But that's too flip.

If you want to write a letter of resignation -- perhaps to vent, to cite a specific shortcoming in the workplace, or to leave a paper trail for the lawsuit that will shortly follow, feel free. I don't believe there are any hard and fast rules for such inter-office communiques.

Any letter of resignation should include an effective date ("effective immediately") and an unmistakable notice of quitting ("I will no longer work as an employee of Gigantico, Inc.").

Reasons, if you feel compelled to give them, should follow. A caveat: whatever reasons you cite as a reason for quitting will probably not be addressed. Corporate America is Just Too Big. It's sad, but it's true. (Yes, I am bitter. I have my reasons. It's still true.)

If you want to rail against all the ineptitudes that have led to your quitting, go ahead. Tell it like it is. Get it all out. Name names. Cite dates. Point fingers. Lay your cards out on the table. Write until your fingers hurt.

Then TEAR THE LETTER UP. Refer back to the paragraph that begins "Any letter of resignation should include..." Write a very professional letter to your immediate supervisor. Include your name and title. State the date of your resignation. And end it at that.

A word to the wise -- in today's increasingly uncertain job market, it's best not to walk away from a paycheck until you have another one lined up. It's a scary world out there.

Still, sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Good luck!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Rider’s Wednesday: Those Who Can, Teach

In keeping with Monday’s mentor motif, I’d like to share an e-mail I received from a friend who recently attended an Equine Affaire:

George Morris’s morning clinic [gave us] the opportunity to see the master at work.

George had six riders and they were schooling distances and lines. One young rider on a lovely Thoroughbred mare was clearly over-horsed. The horse was going around the arena with her head in the air, mostly out of control, stopping at the fences, kicking at the stick, etc.

George asked one of the other riders to mount the mare and school her through the problem. The young fellow had ridden with George in the past and was a lovely rider. He couldn’t deal with her either.

Next thing we know, George removes his jacket and gets on her himself. The mare ran out, bucked, kicked, spun, but George insisted with strong and swift aids and steady hands. Ten minutes later, the mare was more round and forward and jumped the line at its full height.

The transformation of the horse from frantic (and I think sore-mouthed, it looked like she was bitted with a wire snaffle), to forward and understanding, was amazing. I felt like I could see the horse thinking, “This guy is tough and means business, but is consistent and fair-handed.”

It was a masterclass.

Now there’s a teacher. Not only are his own accomplishments legendary (He was 14 the year he won both the AHSA Medal and the Maclay – the youngest person ever to do so. He’s ridden for the U.S. and won Olympic silver and international gold. He was Director of the USET, and is the Chef d’Equipe of the USEF Show Jumping Team,), but he is also willing to give a clinic participant the benefit of ALL his experience and expertise.

It’s true, the glory and the accolades go to those who cross the finish line first, who score the final run, or who make the winning touchdown. But the real stars are the one who power the bright lights. No “winner” gets to the top without a great coach.

We all need master mentors. And, too often, teaching is a thankless job. When you find someone who is capable of taking you to the next level – who has not only been there personally, but who also can ably show you the way – jump at the chance to learn from greatness.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Just Call Me Casper

I read on a writers’ site recently that 80% of all books on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list at any given moment are ghostwritten. I don't have any way of verifying that figure, but it certainly makes one pause to think.

The writer who manages the site is a ghost herself. She says she doesn’t mind doing the work – she gets to meet and work with a lot of interesting people who “matter” -- but she does mind not being able to tell anyone what she’s written.

Though I’ve done ghost work, I’ve been very fortunate that my celebrated co-authors don’t mind sharing a little bit of credit and allowing my name to appear (in small print) next to theirs on the cover.

It’s true, I like to help other people get their projects out. I like to be able to help someone with something to say find the proper way to say it in order to reach a reading audience.

It’s also true that I like to be able to say, “I wrote that.”

I’ve just finished a short project, however, where I won’t be able to say that line. I wrote a piece for a very important Someone Else to approve, as if it were in that Someone Else’s voice.

I spent a lot of time researching the person’s voice, speech mannerisms, and sentence construction. I read things the person had actually written, and paid special attention to interviews the person had given. I also spoke to people who knew the person well, and gleaned some specific, personal details.

What I wrote, however, ended up being a fun creative exercise. I took a little license and threw in a few literary flourishes. I think the piece reads smoothly and honestly. And I have to say, I’m quite pleased with it.

The Someone Else I wrote it for has read it and approved it – changing only a single word. It’s a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I am thrilled that the person likes it and is willing to claim ownership.

On the other, now that it’s officially Someone Else’s, I can’t tell anyone that I wrote it.

It all comes out in the wash, I suppose. It’s not about taking credit for a thing. It’s about creating something worthwhile in the first place.

The New Book Begins

I started transcribing Dr. Warson’s notes for the Rider’s Back Book yesterday. Fought cold meds and a particularly nasty headache to do it, but made some real progress.

Dr. Warson has a real way with words. Years of clinical dictation have taught him to enunciate and to not speak too quickly. His tapes are easy to transcribe, and a joy to listen to.

Furthermore, he has a very orderly way of thinking and an engaging style of speaking. If this keeps up, the book will write itself. One can only hope.

Friday, November 11, 2005

How to Write a Press Release: Part III

Using What You’ve Got

Once you’ve written your press release, there are several things you can do to make it work overtime for you.

Before you send it out, make sure you proofread it thoroughly. Pay special attention to any dates, names, or places you mention. Be sure your contact information is correct. (This, of course, should go without saying. But there – I said it.)

Of course, you’ll send the press release to all the local newspapers. If you don’t know which editor to address it to, get online and page through the contact information posted on the paper’s website. Then send it via e-mail to the appropriate editor.

Do not send the press release as an attachment! Copy it and paste it in the body of your e-mail. This holds true when sending any unexpected document anywhere electronically. It’s just too much to ask someone who doesn’t know you to trust you enough to open an attachment.

Then, get creative. Think about who else might be interested in your news. Places that are appropriate recipients of your press release include:

• Your local Chamber of Commerce,

• Any professional organization to which you belong – especially those with regular newsletters,

• Trade magazines within your profession, or to which you subscribe,

• Electronic newsletters with a suitable audience,

• Your hometown newspaper (be sure to tweak the release to mention your connection with the town in the first paragraph),

• The alumni newsletter of your college or university (again, tweak the release to include your graduation information),

• Local AM and FM radio stations (depending on the magnitude of your news, and the current events vying for air time), and

• Local television networks and news stations.

You may wish to create a “Media Information” page on your website, complete with downloadable bio, photos, and other pertinent information about you or your business. If you do, a current press release is a worthy addition to the page. Just make sure that it doesn’t become outdated. Remove or replace it after a month or so.

See? It’s easy. Unfortunately, too few people understand the potential power in press releases. They think that they have to write a lengthy, brilliant piece of prose to warrant getting any press. But then too much time passes before they get around to creating a feature article masterpiece, and no one ever learns of their success.

Writing the article is not your job. That’s the reporter’s job. All you have to do is make his or her work easier by supplying timely, interesting information in a clean, clear, easily usable way. Do that, and you will have tapped into the power of the press.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

How to Write a Press Release: Part II

And now, the next exciting installment on how to get the word out…

What To Include

The first thing your press release should include is your contact information. Put “Contact” right at the top right or left side of the first page. Then include your name, phone number, e-mail, and fax number. It is also appropriate to include your mailing address.

Flush left, after your contact information, include the date. This tells editors of the release’s timeliness.

Immediately under your contact information, type “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” in all caps, and center it on the page.

Come up with a straightforward title for the release. Don’t be clever or vague. Use present tense and just tell it like it is.

Local Vocalist Receives Awards

The body of the release should be double spaced, with the beginning of each paragraph indented. Or you may choose not to indent the paragraphs and add an extra space between each. Either is acceptable.

Remember your high school journalism classes. Start your release with the most important item of information. Be sure to name the subject of the release and put that subject into context for the reading public. For example:

Inspirational vocalist Sharie Conard, of Bridgman, MI, has been named the 2005 Female Vocalist of the Year for the United States Association of Gospel Entertainers and Musicians (USAGEM).

Then proceed to cite the facts that merit mention, in order from most important to least important. Remember to refer to all persons by their surname, as befitting the news media:

Conard also received USAGEM’s Ruby Award, given annually to an individual who has shown outstanding dedication to the organization.

Conard received her awards Friday, November 4, at USAGEM’s annual convention and awards in Nashville, TN.

After a few opening paragraphs citing the news, feel free to include a short, relevant quote. Quotes can help add human interest to what might otherwise be a fairly dry or fact-filled story.

Finally, finish the release with the less crucial pieces of information. Remember, if a release is printed, the editor may decide to use only part of it. Generally, if the press release is cut for space, the last paragraphs are the first to go – so don’t save the best for last!

This is where you can mention what you’ve done in the past, drop the name of your latest book, remind people of past accomplishments, and cite your links to the community:

Conard travels extensively throughout the country giving concerts, speaking, and teaching. In addition to her music ministry, she conducts workshops and seminars on cancer awareness. She is in great demand as a Women’s Ministry presenter.

She has performed onstage at such venues as the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN, the Blue Gate Theatre in Shipshewana, IN, and the Champaigne Theatre in Branson, MO.

Conard owns Studio I: Hair Designs and More, a full service hair salon in St. Joseph, MI. A medical side of the salon also offers hair and breast prosthetics and serves special people with special needs

In 1998, she was crowned the first ever Mrs. Southwest Michigan. She went on to be named first runner-up in the Mrs. Michigan International™ Pageant. She has been a guest judge and consultant for subsequent pageants.

USAGEM world headquarters are in Nashville, TN. Members are dedicated to enhancing the music and entertainment industries with their talents.

You get the idea.

When you are finished, your press release should not be longer than two pages. One is ideal. The last thing you should do is follow the time-honored tradition of indicating the end of a piece. Center either "-- 30 --" or "# # #" at the end of the release to signify THE END.

… and that’s all there is to it. Now that you know what to include in a press release, tune in tomorrow for suggestions on how to make your press release work harder – so you don’t have to (apologies to the “Scrubbing Bubbles” ad originator!).

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Rider’s Wednesday: The Power of Reverse Psychology

You can use reverse psychology to great advantage when working with horses. (Actually, many psychological principles are useful and applicable to equines, instead of just the people who own them. I don’t care what Tom Cruise says…)

I heard from Fancy’s owner, Paula, this past week. Fancy is at a Western Pleasure trainer’s facility to perfect her lope. Soon, Paula hopes to feel confident enough to move out of the walk / trot classes and start competing in the classes that require all three gaits.

Paula said that the trainer and Fancy had to reach an understanding. They butted heads at one point, when the trainer was trying to speed her up in order to slow her down. In other words, he had to get the horse moving faster before he could begin to rate a nice, slow lope.

Paula and I exchanged a few e-mails on the subject. The trainer told her that once Fancy got moving (“I didn’t know she could go that fast!” she said), she would eventually be able to go slower, and slower, and slower.

Now, on the surface, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. But when viewed through the filter of a horse’s brain, the whole fast for slow thing makes perfect sense.

You've got to "get the handbrake off,” as Clinton would say. The first step is to get the horse moving, using his whole body, and doing a true three-beat canter (as opposed to that weird half canter / half jog shuffle thing you see all too often).

Then, when the horse realizes that he might be asked to really MOVE and move for any length of time, he will start to rate himself, using as little energy as possible. That's when the lovely little rocking-horse lope comes in.

Clinton is a great believer in the power of reverse psychology to fix a myriad of horse problems. After watching his methods at work, and using them on my own horses, I’m a believer, too. For instance:

* If you have a horse that is herd bound or barn sour, if he refuses to leave his friends or his home, let him go where he wants to be. And then put him to work when he gets there. Work him at a trot and a canter, doing lots of changes of directions right by his object of desire. Then take him some distance away and let him rest.

If he tries to run back to his beloved, let him – and put him to work again. Soon, the horse grows tired enough to realize that he’s not really enjoying himself when he’s near his obsession. And his whole outlook changes.

* If you have a horse that backs up in avoidance, back him up – a lot. Don’t pull so hard on the reins that you flip him over, but don’t play into his hand by trying to make him go forward, either. Back him up until he tries to stop. Then back him up some more.

After backing, circle him around a bit, and ask him to go forward. Before he even tries to back up, ask him to – for several hundred feet. Eventually, backing up will start to seem too much like work, and not enough like getting away with something.

* If you have a horse that won’t get on the trailer, work him in the immediate vicinity of the trailer. Lunge him near the trailer. Don’t just swing him around you in endless circles. Instead, trot – a lot -- and do a lot of rollbacks and changes of direction. The only place he is allowed to rest is on the trailer.

Of course, if your horse is terrified of trailers, every little step he takes near the freaky vehicle should be rewarded with a short rest. But once the fear is overcome, the inside of the trailer is the only place where his feet get to stand still.

Using reverse psychology taps into a horse’s innate laziness. It is amazing how quickly this sort of thing can change a horse’s attitude.

Furthermore, since you’re just making the horse move until he decides it’s easier to do what you’re asking of him, all frustration and negative emotion are removed from the equation. It’s easy to say, “Ok, Fizzbomb – you can either trot and canter here while we work on your rollbacks, OR you can choose to walk calmly across the stream. It’s all the same to me. It’s your call.”

Sorry, Tom. It works.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

How to Write a Press Release: Part I

Purposes and Preparation

I’ve been asked to draft a press release announcing my friend Sharie’s recent awards within the music business. Press releases are an important part of any business – they’re easy to produce, they’re timely, their content is controllable, and – best of all – they’re free.

This means that if they’re used correctly, they can drum up free publicity for you, your business, or your cause.

Press releases are not feature articles. They are not editorials or opinion pieces. They are not letters to the editor. They are not brochures. They are simply a way of communicating with the media and telling them of your involvement in a current event.

Press releases can be used in a variety of situations. They are appropriate, for instance, if you have:

• Been nominated for, or received, an award,
• Recently sold or published a project,
• Begun a new business venture,
• Landed a major client,
• Reached a significant educational milestone, or
• Been instrumental in bringing a celebrity or other notable to the area.

Think “Dragnet”
Press releases are easy to write. They are nearly skeletal in their construction. Only the facts are necessary. If the editor of the publication wishes more information to round out the release, he or she can contact you.

When writing a press release, bear in mind that most news media publish text with very short paragraphs. As you lay out the facts, each paragraph should have only a few sentences in it. Single sentence paragraphs are fine. Tell your news succinctly, and be done.

Also, remember that there is no guarantee that your release will be published. Shorter releases have a better chance of publication than longer releases, simply because they can be used to easily plug page holes.

Tune in Thursday for what to include in the perfect press release…

More Kudos!

I am very proud of my friend Terri – also a writer. Her excellent article is not only prominently featured in the premier issue of a new and gorgeous glossy periodical, but she also played the negotiation game very well. She contacted the editor in a professional manner, turned in a well-written piece on time, and (here’s the best part) did NOT sell herself short when it came time to talk about remuneration.

While too many local publications are content to pay her in peanuts, this one was more than happy to fairly compensate her, while at the same time recognizing her talent and asking for more.

It’s high time something like this happened to a deserving scribe. I, for one, would love to see more of it!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Courting Disaster

Our local paper ran a story of an incident that happened in the area last week. It seems that three laborers (probably illegal immigrants, as evidenced from the rest of the story) were working for a homeowner near one of our little town’s larger lakes.

The men decided to take a break, and “borrowed” a rowboat they found. The rowboat was a two-man craft, but that didn’t stop all three from piling into it and heading into the water.

The hull of the boat was damaged in some way, and the boat began to take on water. So they turned and tried to head back to shore.

About 100 feet from the shore, the boat sank. The two men who could swim made it to shore safely. The one who couldn’t… didn’t.

Emergency personnel were called. One of the wet survivors and another person took out another boat. They used paddles to locate the body of the third man. An ambulance team took him to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead less than two hours after he climbed into the boat for a joyride.

The real tragedy, aside from the pointless death, is the fact that no one knows what town in Mexico the dead man comes from. They have no way of notifying his family of his demise. It is quite possible that his loved ones may never know what happened to him. In a very real way, America will have swallowed him up.

I’m not unsympathetic, but – honestly – what compelled him to go onto that boat in the first place? It’s a two-man boat. There were three men. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to come to the conclusion that perhaps the person who cannot swim shouldn’t add extra weight to an already overburdened craft.

Furthermore, if he were still alive on the bottom of the lake, mere feet from shore, one wonders what he must have thought as people above him started jabbing oars into the water to locate him.

The entire story is a tragedy, to be sure. But it is a senseless one. The accident should have never happened. Knowing he couldn’t swim should have kept the man off the boat in the first place.

The story made me think of the whole book edit fiasco. Of course, the book is not a matter of life and death. And I hope you don’t think I’m trivializing the man’s drowning by drawing an analogous conclusion. But there are certain inescapable parallels.

It appears that the book’s author is over his head with the project. Perhaps he should have stayed on shore, and not even attempted to write the book in the first place. But that is no longer the issue. A manuscript exists, even though it is as full of holes as a damaged boat.

But the manuscript cannot float on its own. It needs emergency assistance. The publisher and I are more than willing to provide whatever help is necessary to keep the project afloat. But rather than helping us dive into the material and bring up something worth saving, the writer is rather ineffectively paddling about, stabbing at surface issues. He’s knocking the real problems aside, rather than grappling with them.

The window of opportunity is rapidly closing. A rival publisher will soon release a competitive title. And the writer is busy avoiding us or making excuses for not working.

If he had only rolled up his sleeves and gotten to work when I first received the project back in August, his part would be done. In all likelihood, the project would have been revived and well on it’s way to recovery by now. Instead, it languishes in my filing cabinet, waiting for him to decide he’s ready to work on it.

I’m certainly not suggesting that one should never try new things. But my point is this: when you do venture into uncharted waters and try something that is out of your range of experience, do so advisedly. Don’t leave behind a life vest, if you can’t swim. And don’t hold would-be rescuers at arm’s length. If you do, you are only courting disaster. And disaster rarely plays hard to get.


On a completely unrelated note, my very talented friend Sharie Conard was named the 2005 Female Vocalist of the Year for USAGEM on Friday in Nashville, TN. Sharie also received the 2005 Ruby Award given to an individual who has shown outstanding dedication to the organization. She signed a deal with a recording company over the weekend as well.

Sharie recorded my song, “Carol of the Horse,” (which was nominated for Song of the Year) and included it on her current album release. It’s her lovely voice on the track that will accompany the book – once we find a publisher.

Anyway, no one deserves recognition and plaudits for her talent any more than Sharie does. I’m very proud of her.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ask And Ye Shall Receive

I received an e-mail earlier this week from a woman who had recently attended a clinic with Clinton. She’d bought his book and had all sorts of good things to say about it. (Buttering me up, of course, but what’s the harm in that, every now and again?)

She went on to say that she rode dressage, and was wondering if Cecelia (the English rider with a dressage background who is featured in the book) would be willing to exchange e-mails with her and answer a few questions. I contacted Cecelia, who was more than happy to be put in touch with her and offer advice.

Such a small thing. Why bring it up? I mention it because that simple exchange of e-mails illustrates three things that are key to your successful writing career.

1.) Be accessible.
The woman with questions had evidently first gone to my website. There, she had the option of reading a little bit more about the ladies featured in Clinton’s book. Perhaps that’s how she realized that one of them might be able to help her. Because of the contact information listed on the site, she was able to e-mail me with her request.

If you’re writing anything that goes before the public, a website is a must. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be as professional as you can make it. If someone goes looking for you, you should be able to be found. You never know when the person looking is someone who can make good things happen.

2.) Be amenable.
I have nothing to gain from putting the two women in touch. So what? It didn’t take much time for me to contact Cecelia and tell her of the woman’s request. It also didn’t take much time to convey Cecelia’s response. Now they can communicate with each other directly, and I’m out of the picture.

The point is, if you have information, knowledge, or skills that can help someone achieve his or her goals, why not put them to good use?

Remember – the writing world is all about networking. It’s about forging solid working relationships with people. At several points in my career, I have asked friends to recommend me or put me in touch with people they knew who might be able to help me. It would be the worst kind of vanity if I weren’t willing to do the same when asked.

And finally, the most important lesson from all of this:

3.) It NEVER hurts to ask.
The woman who wrote to me ran the risk of not getting in touch with Cecelia, and of not having her questions answered. Not a huge risk, when you analyze it. She took the time to do a little research. She said complimentary things about my work. And she asked a perfectly reasonable question.

So then it was my turn. I wrote and asked Cecelia what she thought about the whole thing. Again – the worst she could say was “no.” But she’s wonderful and helpful, so she didn’t.

Anyway, the point is, we often neglect to simply ask for what we want. I’m not talking about demanding a free ride, turning into a scary stalker psycho, or whining when things don’t go right. None of those are helpful to anyone.

No, what I mean is – sometimes, a name, a critique, an edit, or a recommendation could jump-start our careers… but we neglect to ask. We “don’t want to bother anyone,” or we “don’t want to put a friendship in jeopardy.” But asking for a recommendation or an opinion should hardly be a nuisance or jeopardize a relationship. If either happens, perhaps you need to re-evaluate the phrasing of the request!

If done correctly, tactfully, and respectfully, asking for career help should not offend or make anyone uncomfortable. Remember, the worst they can say is “no.” But a possible “yes” makes it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rider’s Wednesday: Three More Fall Gotta-do’s

I spent the entire day yesterday at a big draft horse / driving horse auction in Topeka, IN. I picked up a 6 ¼” eggbutt snaffle bit to start working my 2 year old Percheron. Watched hundreds of Haflingers, spotted drafts, and grade horses go through the arena. Saw scores more Percherons, Shires, Clydes, and Belgians that will all go to new homes by the end of the week. Was appalled that prices were SCANDALOUSLY low. Made me glad I wasn’t selling. Also made me happy for what I have in the barn. There’s nothing like being grateful for what you’ve got.

It’s cold here. Temperatures are dropping fast. There's even been ice on the water trough in the mornings lately. And so, with a nod toward the rapidly approaching winter months, allow me to suggest more important things to take care of before snow flies:

1. De-Cobweb
Shorter days and frigid temperatures probably mean that your horses are going to be spending more time indoors. Use an extendable duster or old-fashioned broom and ladder to give your barn the once-over.

Not only will this make the place look better, but it will also eliminate a lot of dust that could irritate or damage your horse’s lungs. Additionally, de-cobwebbing forces you to do a detailed “sweep” of your barn, looking into corners you often ignore. Who knows what you might find?

2. Update Instructions
With the holidays coming, chances are you’ll need a barn-sitter at some point during the winter months. Take the opportunity now, when things are relatively calm (as opposed to when you’re running through the house, obsessing about missing your flight) to write detailed instructions for whoever might have to feed.

Make sure that the instructions include the type / name / brand of commercially available feed that each horse gets. Include how much feed each horse receives, how often the horses are fed, and at what times. Also write up a short “Barn Routine” that includes such things as pasture time, special instructions for latching gates or stall doors, directions for stall cleaning / manure dumping, and anything else that needs attention.

Also remember to include emergency phone numbers – yours, a trusted friend or neighbor’s, and the vet’s.

3. Scrub Buckets, Brushes, Bits, and Tack
…And everything else that needs cleaning. If you have a nice sunny day, it’s a good idea to let the buckets, brushes, and bits dry outside. Clean and oil leather goods, then get them out of the barn, unless you have a heated tack room. Extreme cold is never good for leather.

Happy cleaning! You'll be glad you did -- I promise.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

It’s Done! Now What?: The Importance of the Log Line

Yes! The Great Two-Month Screenwriting Challenge is over! Both Paul and I met our deadline! Yay! Confetti-flinging, street dancing and “Bale-man” watching ensued.

I owe a huge “thank-you” to my wonderful husband who kept an eye on our two year-old daughter so I could have some free time to work on the thing. He never once mentioned the obvious, which was that this was a self-imposed deadline – an arbitrary challenge easily gotten out of by simply biting the bullet and coughing up the requisite “loser’s payment” of fifty bucks. The man is a saint.

(And a pox on every friend who chided me for stressing out over the afore-mentioned deadline, and advising me to just send Paul the $50 and be done with it. Pah! I say.)

To all of you who joined in the challenge back in August, I hope you made it, too. If you didn’t finish your project, take heart. You’re further ahead now than you were two months ago. Keep working on it!

Now that the script is – for all intents and purposes -- finished, however, a new concern arises: Finding a way to tell someone about it. [Insert scary, foreboding theme track here.]

If I want to do anything with it, other than marvel that it’s finished, I’m going to have to let someone it exists. When I do, what I say has to be short enough to keep the person’s attention. It has to tell enough of the story that the person knows what the script is about (and whether or not it might be worth acquiring). It has to be interesting and intriguing. It has to make whoever hears it want to learn more.

In other words, I need a great log line. That’s a tall order for a sentence or two.

The log line – for those of you unfamiliar with the term – is one or two sentences describing a work. Think of it as the short synopses in the TV guide. The perfect log line makes the hearer want to read the book / see the movie / watch the TV show that is being described.

The log line isn’t the single “hook” sentence that shows up on the movie poster. That’s the tag. The tag may be what gets you to go see the movie. But the log is what generated enough interest for someone to ask to see the script in the first place.

Some Log Line Attributes:

• Logs are written in present tense.
• Logs utilize active verbs.
• Logs let you know into what genre the work falls.
• Logs tell you enough of the story to pique your interest.
• Logs hide enough that they don’t give the whole story away.
• A good log makes you want to see the story it describes.

As far as I’m concerned, coming up with a log line for a project, remembering it, and being able to deliver it convincingly, well, and at a moment’s notice is the most difficult part of any writing endeavor.

Log lines are generally someone’s first opportunity to form an opinion about a work. They are the literary first impression. When someone asks, “So, what’s your project about?” you only get one chance to make that person desperate to read what you wrote.

I have a screenwriter / playwright friend who comes up with brilliant log lines and project pitches. In a few sentences, she tells you enough of the story for you to love it, and want to hear more.

I wish I had half her talent for such things. Now that the screenplay challenge is finished, I’ve got to boil the essence of my new script down into a sentence or two. I know from past experience that the process will take me days.

If you have a project that is complete and fully edited, but is languishing in your computer or in your files, perhaps a new log line could describe it better, more completely, or make it sound more interesting. Why not spend some time coming up with two sentence synopses of the project, and run them by someone familiar with it? Ask which ones sound the most interesting. Then hone them – polish and practice them – until you can deliver them any time, anywhere.

This all sounds so useful. I’m now off to take my own advice and start pounding a log together for my brand new screenplay. Because the sad truth is, without a good log line, the screenplay will never go anywhere.