#LiterarySpoons: A New Twitter Hashtag Event for Spoonie Writers

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Welcome to the Q & A for #LiterarySpoons, a brand new Twitter hashtag event hosted by me and @SpoonieCult. The purpose of #LiterarySpoons is for writers who identify as spoonies – which includes those who are chronically ill, disabled, mentally ill, and/or neurodiverse – to share their writing with the community. Our first #LiterarySpoons event will take place Thursday, October 13th from 5-7PM PST / 8-10PM EST / 12AM-2AM GMT.

Question 1: How do I share my original writings?

Answer: Compose a new tweet and include a title, description, and link to each piece. They can be in the form of blog posts, articles, essays, poems, stories, screenshots, etc. They could be published on blog sites like WordPress or Tumblr, in literary magazines or journals, or in online magazines or news outlets. Make sure you include the hashtag #LiterarySpoons and specify any mature content or trigger warnings. The posts will be moderated and any offensive or copyright-infringing content will be reported.

If you need a free, fast, and safe place to post your work, I recommend creating an account on Medium and using that as a platform to host your content. With Medium, there’s no need for layout or website setup.

Question 2: Does the writing I share have to relate to being a spoonie?

Answer: Nope! Subject matter and genre is entirely open. The point of the event is for us to showcase our best work. If that involves being a spoonie, great! If it’s a story about a unicorn, that’s fine too! The material doesn’t need to be new or written specifically for this event. The only requirement is that it’s original.

Question 3: Is there a limit to how many pieces I can post?

Answer: There’s no official limit, but be mindful and considerate of the event. Don’t flood the stream with your work. I’d say five posts total would be around the maximum. That will allow others to share their work without getting lost in the feed.

Question 4: What exactly is a spoonie, anyway?

Answer: The term came from a blog post written by Christine Miserandino called “The Spoon Theory.” Those of us battling chronic illness, mental illness, and disability often have trouble keeping up with day-to-day life. Our energy has to be measured out, and Christine chose the metaphor of measuring that energy in spoons. How we feel can be unpredictable and vary from one moment to the next. That’s why many of us call ourselves “spoonies.”

The term has morphed into a wonderful and supportive online community and a shorthand way of identifying ourselves.

Question 5: What if I can’t attend the event during the date and time it’s scheduled? Can I still participate?

Answer: Absolutely! I recommend scheduling your posts in advance using a free service like HootSuite. You can hop on the thread whenever you’re able to and read other people’s posts.

Question 6: Is this just a one-time event?

Answer: We’re hoping to make #LiterarySpoons an ongoing monthly event. You can follow me, @alanasaltz, and @SpoonieCult to stay updated on future events.

If you have any questions that weren’t answered here, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. I hope to see you and your writing on the hashtag!

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My #PitchWars Mentee Bio

Welcome #PitchWars mentors and fellow participants!

If you’re reading this, you’re either looking to know more about me, or you’re a regular reader of this blog and are currently experiencing some confusion.

For those in the latter category, here’s the deal: I’m participating in a Twitter contest called #PitchWars where I’ll be submitting my YA novel to a small list of potential mentors in the hopes that they’ll work with me on editing and presenting it to a group of literary agents. This is my bio for the competition, a chance for potential mentors to get to know me.

First, A Little About Me

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My name is Alana. I’ve lived in Los Angeles since I was 13, but I originally grew up in a small town in Maryland. I primarily work from home as a freelance writer and editor. I’m also an intern at Folio Literary Management and a part-time after school instructor for Minecraft classes.

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I have an awesome boyfriend named Pj. He’s an artist (and fellow Doctor Who fan).

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Pj has a dog named Zoe (left), and I have a dog named Zephyr (right). I adopted Zephyr from a rescue five years ago. We also puppy sit a neighbor’s dog on a regular basis, so there are a lot of dogs in my life. I love all animals, but I have a soft spot for pups.

When I’m not working or writing, I’m usually reading or watching TV shows and movies on Netflix.

These days, most of my reading consists of YA contemporary fiction and memoirs. I also read a good amount of literary fiction. My favorite authors include Truman Capote, Francesca Lia Block, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Cheryl Strayed, A.S. King, Lidia Yuknavitch, Leila Sales, J.D. Salinger, and Jandy Nelson. You can check out my Goodreads for more on the books I’ve read.

Some of my favorite shows include Gilmore Girls, Freaks and GeeksDoctor Who, Sherlock, PsychDariaFriendsGame of Thrones, and Parks & Rec.

My all-time favorite movie is Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. I love it so much that it inspired a solo trip to Japan in 2009 and a tattoo on my ankle. I also love Amelie, The Princess BrideGhost World, and anything with Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart.

If I’m not reading, writing, or watching something, I’m probably rocking out on my ukulele. I’ve been playing for three years, and I write and compose my own songs.

In addition to making music, I also listen to a lot of it. My favorite musicians are Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Andrew McMahon, The Shins, The Rocket Summer, Joanna Newsom, K’s Choice, and Ben Gibbard.

Oh, and for a hot second, I was a meme called “Pelican Girl.” It was a thing on Reddit for a few days after my boyfriend posted a photo of me that looked like I was riding a pelican.

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About My Writing Journey

I’ve been an aspiring author since the age of six, when my mom bought me my first journal. On the gold-lined pages, I recorded random thoughts about my friends and snippets of poems and songs that I created.

A couple years later, I began writing stories and making books. I showcase a couple of my lovely cardboard-covered childhood creations in this video:

I studied creative writing in college and wrote a couple of novels. I then received my MFA in Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles in December 2014. My final manuscript for the MFA program was a memoir about my experiences growing up with anxiety disorder and depression.

Mental illness is a subject I have much personal experience with and write a great deal about. I hope to fight stigma and spread awareness about mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety disorder, through my writing. I’m a contributor for The Huffington PostHelloGiggles, and RoleReboot, and I recently had an essay in the Los Angeles Times. Some highlighted publications are listed on my Writing page.

About My #PitchWars Manuscript

The manuscript I’m submitting is a YA contemporary novel about a girl who runs away from home and ends up homeless on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. She’s struggled with bouts of depression as well as substance abuse issues. Check out the novel’s Pinterest board for some of my visual inspirations.

I wrote the first draft of the novel back in college. I revisited it a couple years later, then revisited it again earlier this year. The story has stuck with me all these years, and with some major editing and rewriting, I’ve transformed the initial idea and rough draft into something larger and more coherent.

The character and her journey are both close to my heart, and with the right mentorship, I think I’ll be able to really make the manuscript shine. I’m very dedicated to my craft as well as the editing process.

No matter what happens, I’ve really enjoyed being part of the #PitchWars community and getting to know so many amazing writers and mentors. Thanks for reading my bio!

Check out more mentee bios on the blog hop.

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What I Learned from Being a #PitchtoPublication Editor

7991795290_4c48627084_nI’ve been on the writer side of Twitter pitch contests for a while now. As an aspiring author, I follow and enter many of these contests with the same hope as everyone else: to land a literary agent. So I was excited to be offered a chance to participate on the other side of a contest called #PitchtoPublication.

For those who aren’t familiar with #PitchtoPublication, a group of about 25 freelance editors each received up to 100 query submissions from writers with completed manuscripts. We each narrowed all of those entries down to one author who we’d spend a month working with on his or her manuscript before it’s presented to a group of participating agents. So basically, the author receives a free manuscript edit and then gets the opportunity to showcase his or her work in front of interested agents. I was chosen to be one of the freelance editors.

When the submission window opened and the entries poured in, I read them immediately, eager to discover a compelling and engaging story. At first I felt powerful and wise, confident that the decision would be easy. But soon I was humbled by the talent I saw, and the fact that I’d ultimately have to reject almost everyone who was submitting work to me. I had been among the contest hopefuls in the past. In fact, I was a hopeful in this contest as well. I’d gotten permission to participate both as a submitting writer and an editor/mentor.

As I went through entries, I posted some of my responses on Twitter without using names or identifying details. I used a tag called #tenqueries that many agents and editors use when going through their queries. It was helpful for me to practice articulating why I was passing or giving a maybe to certain projects, and writers seemed to find the nuggets of advice within the tweets helpful as well.

It was incredibly difficult narrowing down 100 entries to 10. While about half of them were passed on fairly easily, either because the genre wasn’t one I specified interest in or the writing perhaps needed too much work to be agent-ready, most were solid. But I had to look for more than just solid writing. I wanted something special, something unique, and something that I found personally compelling. It came down to taste as much as talent. That’s how I was able to get my top 10 (although I couldn’t quite narrow it down, so I requested more pages from 11 authors).

When I received the first 50 pages and read the entry of the author I ultimately chose to work with, I knew she was the one. Although I’d had some concerns based on her query, the pages reassured me that the book would be amazing. Her story stuck in my mind despite some other amazing entries. It had the perfect balance of being unique, compelling, engaging, and diverse. There was also enough for me to help her with as an editor, but not so much that it couldn’t be agent-ready in a month. I especially appreciated the issues that the manuscript was addressing, ones that are very important and need more awareness in the world right now.

As a writer, my own work wasn’t selected for #PitchtoPublication. I got a few requests, but none were the perfect fit. For once, I was completely fine with being rejected because I’d seen firsthand how subjective and difficult the decision was. The numbers and odds weren’t in anyone’s favor, and even if my work hit most of the checkmarks, it came down to personal preference as well.

Being an editor for #PitchtoPublication also taught me that having a story that is unique and addresses a larger issue is what will draw an agent in. Having good writing and an interesting story isn’t enough. I got a lot of those submissions, and while many of them could potentially be represented and published, it might be hard for them to get noticed by a busy agent with a thousand other queries in his or her mailbox.

A manuscript needs to be compelling. It must be readable and relatable while also addressing something important that agents and readers will connect with. It doesn’t have to be a big issue, but it has to stand for something. That element was what sealed the deal on my decision, and I imagine many agents are looking for the same thing.

Thank you to everyone who participated in #PitchtoPublication, and a special thank you to Samantha Fountain for putting it all together!

 

(photo credit: Oh Winter, let’s get married via photopin (license))

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My Short Story eBook Publishing Experiment

medium_9469185471On June 26th, I unveiled my free short story eBook, “Some Kind of Moment.” I got the idea to make this eBook from other authors and entrepreneurs I’d seen around the internet who were giving out eBooks for free when readers subscribed to their email lists.

However, I noticed that all of their eBooks were informational, not creative. They gave tips on being a writer, shared advice on making money online, etc. I decided to test the waters with the idea of doing the same thing, but with creative work.

While one of my motivations was to get people to sign up for my email list to form a network of readers interested in me and my work, I also felt that it was time to share a longer piece of mine that wouldn’t fit the length constraints of a literary magazine. “Some Kind of Moment” was a compromise between a super long work that will take years to publish (which makes up the majority of my projects) and something short I’d submit out. Plus I’d get to see what this whole eBook/self-publishing thing was about.

The actual process of making the book was time-consuming, but valuable. I decided to format the story for PDF, ePub, and MOBI so it could be read easily on any computer or device. While the formatting process was tedious and required a good deal of research and trial and error, I was ultimately glad I did it. I’ve seen some poorly formatted eBooks that are simply unreadable, and I didn’t want mine, despite being free, to be one of them.

I’m so happy with how the eBook turned out visually. Much of that credit also goes to my designer, Pj Kneisel, for making such a fantastic cover. He used a photo I took of the Santa Monica Pier and transformed it into something amazing that completely fit the tone of the work.

So what were the actual results of this experiment? I got a good response on Facebook when I released my eBook. A lot of friends and acquaintances shared the announcement and downloaded the work. So far, I’ve received very positive feedback from several people about the story itself. Although the numbers around this experiment aren’t super impressive, the story will be available for new subscribers indefinitely, so that could always change. Plus, just being able to share some of my writing with the world this way was a great experience in itself, regardless of numbers.

The eBook still isn’t on Amazon. That process is more complicated, and I’ve been waffling about even putting it there. There’s a chance I’ll keep it as an exclusive bonus to people who are interested in my writing. Now that this experiment is done, it’s time for me to go back to toiling away on my current book-length projects and taking a shot at the intimidating world of personal essay.

To those who have already downloaded my eBook: Thank you so much! To those who haven’t yet: What are you waiting for? It’s free!

 
photo credit: melenita2012 via photopin cc

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Project for Awesome 2012, and The Power of Giving Back

In this new world of social media and independent publishing, it can be really easy to get caught up in the tunnel vision of self-promotion. We’re told as writers, artists, and musicians that we need to build a platform to sell ourselves and our work or else we’ll never be successful. Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed myself getting far too wrapped up in promoting myself and my own projects and not thinking enough about connecting with others and supporting the issues that I believe in.

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted a YouTube video as part of the annual Project for Awesome 2012 charity event hosted by John and Hank Green (aka The VlogBrothers). I chose to do mine on The Help Group, a nonprofit organization that runs several nonpublic high schools in the Los Angeles area. They specialize in individualized, small classroom education for students with emotional and developmental disorders. They recently acquired my alma matter, North Hills Prep, to keep them from going under due to a lack of funding.

Amazingly enough, my video was featured on the Project for Awesome website and livestream. Thousands of people watched my video and left comments on it. I was completely blown away. But what was even more incredible was that a bunch of my high school friends and teachers saw the video and told me how much they loved it. The Help Group even screened it at an event they hosted with over 500 people and personally thanked me for supporting their cause.

The whole experience made me realize that it’s important for us to use the reach we have via the internet and social media to promote good causes and bring greater awareness to issues we care about. While my intention in writing memoir is to share my story in order to help others, it’s hard to stop myself from getting caught up in dreams of fame and success.

It’s difficult not to get sucked into the self-promotion mentality we’re trained to develop as independent artists. That mindset, while very human and practical, is also somewhat flawed. When we focus all of our attention on ourselves, we aren’t able to form real connections with others or produce meaningful art.

Of all the things I’ve ever created, the project that’s received the most attention and appreciation is one where I was promoting a cause that I believed in. That’s not a coincidence. People connected both with the personal experiences I shared in the video and the passion I felt for the cause. And that kind of connection is the most valuable and meaningful in this cluttered, crazy universe of social media and promotion.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Help Group, please visit their website or watch my Project for Awesome video. Although the Project for Awesome is over for this year, you can still check out the videos on the website to learn about the many wonderful organizations doing important work all over the world.

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