Saturday, May 23, 2009

Interview with Linley Erin Hall

LH: Can you tell us how you got interested in writing? I know you were into science back at Harvey Mudd College.

LEH: I started writing stories in the fourth grade, and although I wrote for the school newspapers in junior high and high school, I mostly wrote fiction. When I went to HMC, I thought I’d become a chemistry professor. I found biochemistry fascinating. But I didn’t enjoy lab work. Putting my science interest together with my writing skills was a great combination for me.

LH: What was your first success with writing?

LEH: I was a graduate student in the science writing program at UC Santa Cruz, and one of my internships was at The Californian, a small newspaper in Salinas. I was assigned to cover the visit of the Olympic Torch to the area, and my article ended up on the front page! That my article was important enough and good enough for the front page gave me a lot of confidence.

LH: What kind of things do you most enjoy writing?

LEH: The in-depth ones. I’ve written a lot of different kinds of nonfiction, but it’s more fun to dig deep into a subject, to tell a real story, than to write a 300-500 word article skimming the surface, although those are important too. I also still enjoy writing fiction, although I haven't had any published yet.

LH: Any experience with agents?

LEH: Not yet. I sold Who’s Afraid of Marie Curie without one. I wrote an essay about the hairs we leave behind, not science at all, for the magazine section of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. In the blurb about me at the bottom, I said I write about science and engineering. About two and a half months later, an editor at Seal Books emailed me, said she liked my writing style, and asked if I’d like to write a book for Seal about women in science. That contact grew into Who’s Afraid of Marie Curie. So I basically skipped one of the hardest parts of getting a book published. It’s almost like I cheated.

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing?

LEH: It’s the part of freelancing that I enjoy least. It’s hard to put yourself out there. There are so many people trying to reach your audience, you need to stand out from that background. Target your audience and be creative.

LH: If you could go back in time to when you started writing and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

LEH: If you want to be a freelance writer, make a specific, detailed business plan. I sort of made one when I first made the leap into freelancing, but I could have avoided rough places if I’d done more research and planned more carefully up front. As for the writing itself, outline, outline, outline. Having a plan, even if it changes, makes writing both fiction and nonfiction easier.

LH: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on writing with us, Linley.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Interview with Catherine Ipcizade, children’s author

LH: Hi Catherine, how did you get interested in writing?

CI: I’ve always been interested in writing. Poetry was my first love. The first time I remember actually being recognized for my writing was in elementary school. I was in the third or fourth grade and I wrote this poem called A Fluffy White Feather. It was terrible. But my grandmother saw it, loved it, and called the Phoenix newspapers to tell them they HAD to publish my poem. She declared that a star was born and I was the star. Talk about motivation! I was far from a star, but my grandmother’s faith in me inspired my writing from then on. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, none of those papers published my poem.

As far as my career in children’s publishing, I started dabbling in writing books for kids in college. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child though, that I set out to make a career of it.

LH: What was your first success?

CI: My first success wasn’t with book writing. I found success first as a freelance writer. My first publication was a piece called My Turkicans for The United States Turkish Times newspaper. I then went on to write more articles for them, as well as blogs for sites like, and articles for other publications including Chula Vista Living, Avenues, Ladera Ranch Magazine, and STOMP Fashion Magazine. I also dabbled in writing greeting cards for Leap Greetings and started writing web content—all while pursuing my main love—writing for children. My first book success was my picture book, ‘Twas the Day Before Zoo Day. After its publication, I began writing a lot for the educational market. By the end of the year, I will have 14 books in print—one from Sylvan Dell Publishing, and 13 from Capstone Press.

LH: What kind of books or articles do you most enjoy writing?

CI: I enjoy so many types of writing. I love writing funny, quirky picture books. I also enjoy writing somewhat serious contemporary novels in free verse. For articles, I prefer clever parenting articles that show the “real,” often fallible nature of life.

LH: Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experiences with/without agents.

CI: No, I am not currently represented by an agent. It’s not imperative for a picture book author to have an agent. Would it be nice? Sure. When my current novel is complete, however, I do plan to begin searching for agent representation.

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing? Do you have any great tips on how to do it well?

CI: My general feeling about marketing is to do all that you can. This is a given when you publish for a small or independent publisher. But even when you publish with a large publisher, doing your own marketing can mean the success or failure of your book. With big publishers, people assume they handle the marketing for you, that they push your book. Sadly, this isn’t often the case. Publishers push the books they think will sell really well. With the others, marketing efforts falter. If you want to gain a wide audience for you book, it’s best to start early, before the book even comes out. Here are some things to consider:

1. Do you have an online presence? This could include a website, a blog, a presence on Facebook or Myspace—anything that gives you a link to the outside world.

2. Do you want to do bookstore signings? If so, become friendly with your nearest independent bookstore. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach the large chain stores—you should, but an independent book store is likely to give you and your book the attention you both deserve. And because some stores book authors up to a year in advance, you’ll want to get a jump start on this.

3. Can you find a niche market for your book? For example, my zoo book lent itself easily to doing visits at zoos or animal parks. If your book has a specialized focus, hone in on that.

4. Have a contest! People love to get things for free, and hosting a giveaway contest on your blog or website will help generate interest for your book.

5. Have a launch party. If your book is out and you want to re-energize sales, have a re-launch party. These can be anywhere. Invite family, friends, and anyone else you think might be interested in your book.

6. Consider school visits. Many children’s book authors make a living doing school visits. There are some logistics to be worked out when pursuing this, but you may find it’s well worth your time, especially if you enjoy kids or teens, depending on the genre of your book.

LH: If you could go back in time and start over, tell us one thing you have learned that would help you to succeed better/faster/with less struggle.

CI: I wish I would have known that there is a support group out there for children’s writers. With organizations like SCBWI and online sites like (check out the Blueboards section), aspiring and established children’s book writers aren’t alone! So much of this business is trial and error. If I could do it again, I would have asked for help sooner and not been afraid to approach those who knew how to navigate the scary, scary world of publishing.

LH: Any other thoughts to share?

CI: Just that I teach online for UCLA Extension. I currently teach Writing for Children: A Beginning Workshop. In the winter, I’ll also be teaching a general non-fiction for the youth market course. Stop by my website at to learn more about me, my books, and my upcoming classes.

LH: Thanks for telling the blog visitors about your interesting experiences with writing, Catherine!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Maralys Wills Interview on Writing

LH: I’ve enjoyed your memoirs and your workshops at writing conferences. I’m pleased you have a book out on writing now, Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead. How did you get interested in writing?

MW: When I was a little girl, I lived on a ranch seven miles from town. I read all the time. Once I ripped all the blank pages out of my mom’s books and tied them together with string so I could write a book of my own. I developed a passion for writing books and it never faded.

LH: What was your first success?

MW: An article for United Airlines’ Mainliner Magazine. I sold them an article on my kids’ hang gliding for $350. That was a lot of money in those days, enough to fly to Hawaii! We took a trip to Hawaii on United, and there was my article in the seat pocket, and it was all I could do not to run up and down the aisle pointing to my page.

LH: What has been your experience with agents?

MW: I’ve been agented for nine books, yet it was something I did myself that sold five of them. You have to be willing to help. Nobody will work as hard for you as you’ll work for yourself. Three different agents tried to sell my biggest success, Higher Than Eagles. Longstreet Press bought it after Richard Curtis and a couple of others gave up and I sent it out myself. Then I got a fourth agent to negotiate the contract. Now, I’m working with Stephens Press. Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead came out with them.

LH: What are your thoughts about marketing?

MW: With all the practice I’ve had, I’m going to write a book on that subject. I’ve had two great publicists and one bad one. They always want to send you to radio and TV interviews, but I’m not convinced that sells my books as well as being a speaker. I love to give workshops. They really connect with the audience better than these short radio talks. People buy the book on the spot.

LH: If you could go back in time and start over, tell us one thing you’ve learned that would help you succeed with less struggle.

MW: You have to take a class. No matter how smart you are or how many books you’ve read, you don’t know how to write without some formal training. It’s like going to piano recitals. You can go to a hundred piano recitals, but you wouldn’t expect to come home and play the piano. Yet a lot of avid readers think they can sit down and automatically write a book. Writing is like creating a brick wall. You want people to see the bricks, but not the mortar. Yet it’s the mortar that holds everything together. All those hidden techniques that nobody notices. Even the smartest readers don’t necessarily know about the mortar. Writing technique is what you learn in classes and critique groups. I wish I’d started taking classes years before I did.

LH: Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Maralys.