Welcome to Pen & Prosper

Welcome to Pen & Prosper
"Required reading" for today's smart writer. As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Daily Blog Tips, Write to Done, Technorati, WOW! and other popular sites.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thoughts of Thanks...


2014.
It's been a year of trials and triumphs, changes and challenges.
Not just for me personally, but collectively as a nation.
The Ebola crisis. Political upheaval. The deaths of entertainment icons like Robin Williams and Joan Rivers.
The increasingly high cost of living.

We've witnessed extremes in everything from the weather to gas prices at the pump.
When we take time to assess and reflect, there is so much for which we can still be thankful.
Everyday. Not just one day of the year.

With this in mind, I'd like to thank you readers--for your support, your time, your interest, your feedback, and your loyal follow.

I'm thankful to those of you who have honored my Blog with awards, Tweets, interviews and guest posts.

I'm thankful for work that gives me joy, and helps others to advance their careers, improve their quality of life, and avoid some of the mistakes I've made.
Grateful that we can laugh and learn together.
I'm thankful for family, good food, and good friends...health and shelter.
And I'm thankful for my upcoming, much-needed break!

Jen will be taking a hiatus for the holiday. I'll need some time to recover from the turkey, rich desserts, side dishes, and decadent chocolate.

So, let's get together again-- on or around December 1st.
Until then...wishing you and yours a holiday filled with abundant blessings, and memories as rich as grandma's gravy!

Hugs,

Jen 




Monday, November 17, 2014

Girls Just Wanna' Have Funds! The Value of Bartering for Your Freelance Business


“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Seems the more I work, the less I can afford to comfortably pay for this year. No doubt, as a freelancer, you’re trying to come to terms with this conundrum as well.
In fact, recently when my Internet bill arrived, to my dismay I discovered that my monthly charges had almost doubled. Even though I had not acquired any additional services or requested any enhancements to my account.

Perplexed, I called my phone provider to get the “4-1-1” and choose a cheaper package to potentially save money. I was informed that I was already receiving their cheapest package! Hello?!
To make a long story short, the representative went on to explain that this “inflated” bill was because the cost of doing business is simply higher now due to fuel, delivery charges, taxes, regulations; you know the spiel.
But unfortunately, as my mom often says, “It is what it is.”

While I can’t do much about the steadily increasing cost of living and operating a business, I have found a way to use my “creativity” to reduce my out of pocket expenses, without reducing my quality of life.  And you can too.

Want to know my secret?
In a word: bartering.
And here’s the good news: without realizing it, you’ve likely had plenty of practice over the years.
Remember back in grade school when you’d “negotiate” your apple for your best friend’s pudding cup? Or baseball cards for popular action figures?
Well, bartering’s value has not diminished over time.

Though this form of doing business is as ancient as cavemen, far too few entrepreneurs use it today to enhance their operations and build their client base.
Don’t be one of them.

In a tough economy where people are “cash crunched,” bartering just makes good business sense. Trading services provides a win/win situation for all parties, while building important relationships and future collaborations.
And I should know. Over the last few years, bartering my creative services has saved me a bunch of cash, while providing the following perks and goodies:

Free tickets to events (like a live jazz concert with food)
New kitchen chairs from a local antique shop
Catering for parties
Tree trimming services
Plumbing work
And more…
Other “enlightened” entrepreneurs are getting on board too…One Chicago restaurant owner has even accepted bartering arrangements to score “hot deals” like vacation packages, new floors, and even dental services.

Bartering can “pay” big for you too! Here are a few practices and principles to observe to get the best from bartering:

Make sure to get everything in writing.
This includes any deliverables, deadlines, and “deal breakers.”

Ideally, the exchange should happen at the same time.
I once got burned because I provided  services for a guy who later changed his mind about his end of the bargain, and there was no way to “un-do” or “refund” my half.

Be certain that both parties agree that the services and/or goods are of equal value.

Bartering arrangements that work well include:
  • Exchanging photographic or design services for writing press releases or collateral materials
  • Providing social media management or clever blog posts to local merchants in exchange for free classes, meals, or merchandise
The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
So, if you’re looking to operate more efficiently in the year ahead, take a new  look at the “old-school” advantages of bartering.
For bartering opportunities, consult Craigslist.org in your geographic area, or connect with other artists and entrepreneurs in your social media circles.

By the way...though today's post title is gender specific, these tips work equally well for my male readership.

Your turn. Have you ever bartered your creative services? Anything you would add here?

Image credit: Freedigitalphotos.net








Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Overcome Your Envy of Other Writers!

"Wish others well."

Guest Post By: Noelle Sterne

"Wish other writers well?" you're thinking. "Are you crazy? There's only one writer I want to wish well: knuckle-biting, discipline-fighting, draft-grinding me!"
I agree and empathize. But I'm prompted to share this "cure" because I've had too many seasons of terrible jealousies. The most wrenching occurred when I was in college, craving to get through and get on with my writing career. I watched a classmate, still in her twenties, achieve my dream. She published a novel, dazzled the literary world, and had constant rave reviews.

Every bookstore displayed towering mountains of her bestseller.
The greater her praise, the deeper my self-deprecation.
Chronically depressed, I stopped reading reviews and crossed the street when a bookstore loomed.

Finally I realized something crucial, which led to the antidote I'm suggesting. This hard-to-swallow remedy is not proposed from magnanimity or naiveté. Rather, it's plain old self-interest: As I proved for way too long, jealousy of other writers just doesn't work.

Why? They don't plunge into depression at the news of their own advance/article/ assignment/ agent/bestseller/contract/book tour/miniseries/Oprah selection, etc., etc. They don't lose all interest and hope, condemn everything they've ever written as drivel, or swear there will never be enough to go around. They don't snap at everyone in sight, eat way too much, and write way too little.

Who does? You guessed it.

I’m tired of all that unproductive pain. It's finally pushed me to another, more fruitful perspective.
I realized that our envied colleagues, despite their intimidating accomplishments, remain only people. They too get cavities, have to shave, run out of coffee, and accumulate roomfuls of rejections.

And something else: No matter how stellar their past credits, like every one of us, they must daily face the next test of success—the blinding blankness of the empty page or screen.
The only difference between us and our supposed rivals is that they probably know something we've forgotten: an overnight success never is. In fact, our colleagues exemplify the truth of all those easily scoffed-at clichés:


· Persistence and patience pay off.
· There's always room for someone good.
· Each of us is uniquely and irreplaceably creative.
· As you may have read before, be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

My conviction in these truisms was first challenged with my college classmate. When her third well-received novel came out, I wrote her a letter. I told her of my long, agonizing jealousy of her and how it had stopped me from writing. I said I nevertheless admired her work and wished her well with her in-progress fourth novel. She never replied, but that letter freed me tremendously. I still avoided bookstores but gradually wrote more and began to publish.

Recently, an equally ominous ordeal emerged. In a single week, I learned of the successes of several writing friends. One received a prestigious award for her children's book, another signed a contract for her first historical novel, and the third published his latest short story in a top national literary magazine.

At first this news pierced me like multiple wounds and almost sent me straight to bed with a fifty-pound bag of chocolate chip cookies. But then, although admittedly less than joyous, I resisted crawling under the quilt and instead strode over to my computer. Remembering my letter to my college nemesis, and defying the green-eyed gods of rejected writers, I brazenly fired off notes of congratulation to all three.

I wasn't fibbing. For one thing, as with my college classmate, I can't help praising a good piece of writing, whoever's written it. For another, I recalled the words of a very wise preacher: "If you curse the successful, you'll never be one of them. Bless them instead."

My congratulatory notes were certainly forms of "blessings," and self-interest again impelled me to reinforce them. Sitting at my desk, I addressed each of my accomplishing friends aloud (and a little self-consciously): "______, I wish you all the success, fame, and wealth you want, and more!"

The results were astonishing. My jealousy evaporated, depression disappeared, and spirit returned. I leapt into a manuscript I'd been avoiding for weeks and did splendid battle for several too-short hours, finishing an entire third draft.

More rewards came. The children's author sent a beautifully inscribed copy of her book. The historical novel writer called, thanked me profusely, and offered a personal referral to her agent. And a letter came from the short story writer. My words, he said, had pulled him out of a slump so severe he was sure he'd never write anything again. With my note propped in front of him, he'd just started another story.

Seeing their responses, I almost cried. My well-wishing had evoked these immediate blessings! All envy, like a wayward winged insect, flew right out the window.
My survival-driven stumbling into well-wishing was confirmed and extended by agent Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson Associates (quoted by editor and writing teacher Deborah Brodie, “More Is More”). Talking about the children’s book market, Olswanger said:


It's easy to get caught up in scarcity mentality and think that if someone else gets published, your slot has been filled. But someone else's successful children's book can open up the market for other children's books, including yours. . . . There's always a new editor coming on board, always a new publishing imprint starting up, always a new format developing. . . . It may seem like a paradox, but you can help yourself get published by helping someone else get published.This advice, of course, applies to any writing market, even yours. So, when you feel particularly jealous of other writers, remember Olswanger’s enlightened words and my transformative experiences. Compliment the writers you’re gnashing your teeth about, even if you have to force it a bit. In the process, you may be surprised to find that you'll free yourself of habitual, self-defeating feelings and beliefs.

And more—remember, each time you wish other writers well, you're making room for your own greater success and wishing yourself nothing less than the best.

BIO: Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including  Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Funds for Writers, Rate Your Story, Tiny Buddha, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, she is completing a handbook for doctoral candidates wrestling with their dissertations on their largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). A story will appear in 365 Tiny Love Challenges by Tiny Buddha (HarperOne, 2015). In Noelle’s book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at

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Your turn. Have you ever had a bout of "writer's envy?" Do you compare your successes and failures to other writers? Do tell.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

How Often Should You Blog? Some Food for Thought...




JEN'S BLACK BEAN AND CORN SALAD

In an effort to "feed" hungry minds, entertain readers, and increase search engine rankings, some bloggers feel obligated to post something to their sites more often than they probably should.

Some even everyday. And though blog frequency is a personal decision, often based upon a blogger's goals, time, type of blog,  readership, and need to "connect" there are perhaps some general practices and principles to be observed, if you'd like to get the most out of your blogging efforts, and be able to go the distance.

Though I don't presume to know what's best for everybody, the information I will share today is based upon my many years as an expert Blogologist and award-winning blogger. And yes, I made that "Blogologist" title up. :-)

What inspired this post was a question I received from one of my readers who felt guilty because she had lost her blogging "mojO."
"Distressed" wanted to know what she should do. She just didn't feel much like updating her site after many years of faithful posting...and so she felt as if she was letting her readers down.
Not so. Not necessarily.

Here are a few things you should consider:
  • The purpose of your blog--some sites would categorically require more "coverage" than others. For instance, if your site is based upon news or current events, it would probably need several updates a week. Or, if your blog is instructional in nature, frequent updates would likely be in order.
  • Consider the needs of your audience--I'm a firm believer that quality should trump quantity. I would much rather "hear" from a blogger who posts just once a week with something valuable to share, than someone who pens a post daily with mundane things like what he ate for breakfast, problems with his pet rock collection, bouts with diarrhea, etc. as a matter of fact, I have actually "unsubscribed" to a few of these blogs. 
  • Remember that there is great truth to the expression, "Silence is golden." If you really don't have anything that you feel is worth sharing...by all means, don't. We'll understand.
  • Whatever your designated frequency, always keep the lines of communication open. One of my biggest pet peeves is when bloggers take breaks for extended periods, and fail to announce it before taking off. Hello! Anybody home?
  • Keep in mind, (as I stated in a previous post), that a blog post doesn't have to be of epic proportion for it to resonate with readers. It can be a video, motivational quotes, links to other interesting blogs, a book review, or even a contest. Get the idea?
  • Consider the ebb and flow of readership. I don't know about you, but I find that no matter how awesome your posts may be, during the summer months and during the Xmas holidays, folks are just not checking in and commenting as much. Wouldn't you agree?
  • Call in some reinforcement. Accepting guest bloggers is a great way to get a little break, while offering your readers content variety and exposure to different voices and views.
  • Adopt Oprah's philosophy. When things feel "forced" they rarely feel good; we should heed that inner voice and have the courage to choose what's best for us.
  • When in doubt, ask. Polls, surveys, and questions posed to your readers are all great ways to determine their needs and decide the future direction of your blog. Assess and then address. Also pay attention to the level and nature of comments received.

Thoughts?
How often do you blog? Do tell.





Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Q & A Interview with Jenine Boisits of Beginnings Literary Journal



Please join me today in welcoming Jenine Boisits, the creator of a unique literary journal that  caters to new and aspiring writers.

Q- Can you tell my readers a little about you and your experiential background as a writer?

A - Back in the early eighties, I was a struggling, unpublished writer going to school at Briarcliffe Secretarial school in Hicksville, NY. I was also taking classes at Nassau Community College in Uniondale for writing. In high school some of my work was published in our school magazine, Pegasus; I do mention that for a reason.

In my senior year of Jericho High school, I took a creative writing class and submitted a short story for one of our assignments. It was a 'recycled' story called "The Jogger," not a story written specifically for the class assignment. The following week we went over our stories in class but for some reason, my teacher, Mrs. Schwalb, called me up to her desk( in front of the entire class) to ask where I found the story used for the assignment! Apparently, according to her, it couldn't be mine because it had been handed in last year (and received an 'A') by another student! I was stunned because I didn't "find it"--I wrote it! Remembering that it was published in Pegasus the year prior, I brought in that year's issue to prove the story was written by me! So, at the early age of 17, my story, "The Jogger", was stolen by one of my classmates! And to add insult to injury, Mrs. Schwalb refused to reveal the identity of the student.

Q
- Describe your writing process. Do you write every day?

A - I always write with music in the background--instrumental music, preferably Enya but without the distraction of singing. I love to write in the morning when the day is fresh and thoughts are clearer; not muddled with the mind's incessant chatter of what needs to be done, wandering thoughts, struggles. Can't say that I write every day. I know I should, and I try to, but I am not always disciplined.

Q- What was the inspiration behind Beginnings?

A
- What inspired me to start Beginnings began with my own desire to see my work published. Even though I was already published in a few small presses and online, I was still sending my work out. That's what writers do... continually subjecting ourselves through the journey of one rejection slip after another, not to mention hours and hours of rewrite! rewrite! rewrite! So, after finally realizing I wanted to submit a story, I selected a small press and sent for the sample copy because I was unfamiliar with their publication. After paying my five dollars for their sample issue, waiting about three months without receiving one, I managed to find a phone number and called the editor. When I finally did receive the issue, I was shocked. Not only was it incredibly difficult to read due to its presentation and lack of order in the text itself, I realized I was fed up with everything! Even the work that was published was really not very good at all...spelling errors, too! Incredible! Time to change! Time to mix it up! Time to get off the hamster treadmill of the same ol' thing, same ol' thing.

If nothing changes--nothing changes! So, you can figure out the rest...this little small press was the impetus behind why I started Beginnings. The very next day I paid for a post office box and started the process of putting together a writing journal I could be proud of! Initially it was supposed to only cover Long Island, NY, but that ended in about a month as word spread and Beginnings became international in less than a year. 


To sum up, it's a simple fix for the new writer: research the market before you send your work out, include a brief cover letter, take the time to find out the editor's name, and-- for goodness sakes--proof your work! I'm not saying that's all you need to do, but these simple changes will eventually result in a lot less rejection slips. Not only that, you will become a better, more polished writer in the process.

Q- What challenges do you think are the biggest for today's writers seeking a career in the publishing industry?

A - The writers that I deal with in terms of publishing are, of course, the new writers. So sometimes everything feels like the biggest challenge to them! This is why Beginnings fills such an important niche in the writing community-- because we not only introduce them to the tools they need, but we teach them how to best use them. One of the biggest struggles I see are writers who don't know where to send their work. Writer's Digest publishes a very important guide book called Writer's Market that provides more than 8,000 listings for book publishers & writing agents. But, they also have smaller versions (magazines instead of hard cover books) for fiction writers, poets, and places to find literary agents, literary contests and advice on how to become a better writer! Writer's Digest and Writer's Market should be on every writer's desk!

Q- What was the best advice you ever received about writing?

A - This might seem silly, but an editor at Writer's Digest really made an impact on me when I was just twelve years old. This editor took the time to answer a young child's fiction submission, but not only that, he took the time to sit down and write a kind and helpful letter. He explained that Writer's Digest was the wrong place to send my work, but not only that, he even critiqued the story! He did say in closing that he would not write me again so do not submit any more work! Of course I didn't listen, and of course he didn't answer, still he was the one who gave me the "best advice ever received.  It was simply this: Write what you know, write from the heart! I don't think I understood those words back then as well as I do now, but at age twelve, it was quite an amazing feeling! After all, not only did he acknowledge my existence, but he read my story! And the best part of this story? Years later, after publishing my own literary journal, in 2002 and again in 2003, Writer's Digest chose Beginnings Publishing, Inc., as one of their top thirty picks for fiction markets!

Word to the wise:
Not all small presses are created equal. New writers have to realize it's all about finding what works best for you in terms of what you want to achieve as a writer. If you want to be published, then you need to study the markets and adhere to their specific guidelines. Find the right market for your fiction or poetry-- or whatever your passion is-- and work hard at improving your craft!

I'd like to end this interview with a quote that is incredibly applicable for Beginnings:

"It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way."

- Ernest Hemingway





To learn more about how to embark upon your new "Beginnings" (if you're a novice writer), or to discover more about Jenine's inspiring story, visit: http://www.literarybeginnings.org/


Please feel free to provide feedback or questions for Jenine, by leaving a comment here.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Retrain Your Brain! Innovative Ways to Update Your Blog and Maintain Momentum...




With millions of blogs launched into the blogosphere, and new ones created each year, it’s an extremely crowded and competitive field. In fact, “Google” writing blogs and you’ll render over 1,500,000 search results.
Adding insult to injury is that in order for blogs to help build a platform and sustain a popular following, updates must be made on a regular basis. Experts recommend weekly.

That’s a pretty tall order.
So how can bloggers infuse their sites regularly with interesting, informative, engaging content to capture an audience, avoid burnout, and stand above the competition?

By redefining what a blog post is. It’s time for a paradigm shift…
First let’s examine the “original” definition of a blog post.

Once upon a time, blog posts were considered “textual” entries appearing in reverse chronological order on a blog, (also known as an online journal).
Bloggers would often use posts to rant, raise awareness of important causes, and even to showcase their creative poetry.

Fast Forward to 2014...
With 100s of niches, themes, approaches, and professional goals, a blog post can differ depending upon who’s doing the blogging and the blogger’s objective.
For example, a food blogger, seeking to promote and sell her recently launched cookbook might share a “blog post” in the form of her favorite recipe.   
Here’s some “food for thought": you can too.
 
So what exactly is the criteria for a blog post?

To diversify your blog content, and provide for more innovative posting, here are some examples of different techniques and tools used by today‘s successful blogger.

Try one or all of these to expand your blogging horizons.

A blog post can be:

  • A writing prompt
  • A recipe (often used by food bloggers). You can use family recipes or food as a metaphor for another concept even.
  • Photographs or images
  • A You-Tube Video
  • A book review
  • A music review
  • A rant (often used by younger bloggers or recreational bloggers)
  • An info-graphic
  • A how-to/tutorial (often used by tech sites or teaching sites)
  • Links to other interesting sites/ resources
  •  A listing (top 10 reasons)
  • An interview
  • A guest post (provided by other writers in your niche)
  • A survey or poll
  • A debate on a current issue or controversial topic (school reform, immigration)
  • A poem
  • A contest (to promote a book, product, or service) and to increase traffic
  •  Quotes (the site, TinyBuddha.com attracts a mega-following based upon this simple practice)
  •  Quick tips (decorating, gardening, shopping)
  • A success story or failure---
For example, a post I penned, “10 Mistakes I made in 2010” on my writing site, was a big hit.
 
Get the idea here? A blog post is limited only by your imagination.
Darren Rowse of Problogger.net, goes further to suggest that bloggers should “experiment with different types of posts” to help battle with what he calls “blogger’s block."

Now that you know the different types of blog posts that are potentially possible, here’s how to deliver:
  • Recognize that a blog post doesn’t have to be of epic proportions. Size doesn’t always matter; substance is equally important. For example, sometimes I will share motivational quotes and a beautiful image on a Monday, to help inspire other writers for the rest of their week.
  • Remember that passion is a prerequisite to successful, long-term blogging. Choose a topic that excites you, and most times your readers will be excited too! A good approach here is to consider a blog based upon your hobby or profession.
  • Consider the benefits of guest bloggers to help you to keep up with the demands of blogging. You can either pitch people you admire and ask for a guest post, or create general guidelines for guest posters and place the information in a prominent place on your site. Make sure to include the length, acceptable topics, and desired format.
  • Make sure to encourage reader feedback to determine what method/technique works best for your particular readership and goals.

Follow these timely tips to keep your blogging "mojo" and keep your readers engaged regularly.

Your turn.
Thoughts? Anything you would add here?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Reality Check...Are You Babysitting Your Blog?


Let's face it: for many of us, our Blogs are like our babies.
Think about it.
We "create" them. Nurture them. Ooh and Ahh over them. Delight in their growth.
And many times like proud parents, we even dote over them; sharing images of celebrations and milestones with our families, co-workers and friends.

...And, if we're lucky, we watch them mature and reach their full potential.
But, If we're not careful, rather than becoming a proud "addition" to our family of creative projects, they become all consuming and confining--leaving us irritable, sleep deprived, and stressed.

Are you guilty?
Take this quick quiz to find out.
  •  Do you plan your vacations so that you're not gone away from posting too long, or without adequate coverage?
  • When you're on vacation, do you find that you can't fully disengage? In other words, you miss it, and it's constantly on your brain.
  • Do you "monitor" your stats and comments several times a day?
  • Do you sacrifice time and money to make sure that it is well provided for?
If you answered yes to at least 3 of these questions, you my friend, are babysitting your Blog.

Here are a few things to keep in mind...
  • You both need to have your own life with boundaries and limits.
  • The fuller and more balanced your life is, the more you'll have to write about.
  • Periodic breaks will allow you to regroup and refuel. Increasing the likelihood that you'll go the distance.

They say that confession is good for the soul.
So how about you...are you babysitting your Blog?