Writers’ Mill Minutes 201708

Writers’ Mill Minutes  August 20th 2017

Despite the approaching eclipse, August’s Writers’ Mill meeting was well attended with 16 people present to learn about research, photographs, permissions and publishing specs from Zita Podany, author of VanPort in the Images of America series. Notes from Zita’s talk can be below. And our thanks to Zita and the library staff for the excellent use of technology. (One day I’ll have to learn how it’s all done!)

Walt, who will be speaking and using technology in October and December, handed around a “reading assignment” for us all. In case you weren’t there, Walt very highly recommends “To Sell is Human” by Daniel H. Pink; also “How to Publish your Book” by Jane Friedman. We should all try to read Pink’s book, or at least to look at it, before October’s meeting (which gives us lots of time).

The meeting started with news from members, including:

  • Sheila’s very excited to learn that print copies of her third novel will arrive on her doorstep soon!
  • Carolyn is enjoying writing for the August poetry postcard fest – Judy recommends we collect some addresses and send vacation poems to friends.
  • Judy has been writing flash fiction to dance themes. Look online and find if there’s a writing group you’d like to join.
  • Jim would like us to know that the group critique works, even when it results in the author’s starting over. (Help!)
  • Mary Jane is putting together a book of poetry about life changes
  • Joe is putting together an anthology on Faith and Hope
  • Karin has been driving around with her sister and making notes as she traveled – she recommends we carry a notebook and collect ideas – the strangers we meet or overhear just might become characters in novels.
  • Richard, Ria, Walt and Pat all have novels or memoirs in the works and
  • Yes, we are, as it says on the back of our upcoming journal, an eclectic group of talented, supportive and hard-working writers!

Thinking of the journal, the expected timeline is still

  • Editors will be assigned sections to look at and will return their edits by September 20th . Some editors may contact you, the authors, to check on changes, but we don’t expect any problems. Edits are minimal and mostly deal with typos and formatting.
  • Sheila will put a pdf copy of the journal on the website in early October. She’ll let us know the price later but we’re expecting around $4 per book.
  • Orders and monies will be taken at October’s meeting.
  • Orders will be delivered at November’s meeting.

Karin handed out wonderful writerly gifts (and maybe even coffee-drinker gifts) for her What If contest.

  • First place was split between Sheila for Adonai and Judy for Portal to Peace.
  • Second place was a tie between Jean’s Choices and Chances and Richard’s Rekindle
  • Third place went to Robin for What if I made a living as a writer.
  • Other entries were Karen’s Portrait of a Marriage, Jessie’s Life Story, Mary Jane’s Mount St Helens and Sheila’s Moon Made of Cheese.

Uncoming contests (with links for more information) are:

  • Sept — Unattainable/ now thru  3rd
  • Oct — Hidden Deep Inside 4th thru Oct. 1st
  • Nov — Out On a Limb  2nd thru Nov. 5th
  • Dec — Anniversary. Contest — Hunger— NOW thru  22nd – NOTE the different end date for this one. And congratulations to Carolyn for her winning anniversary contest topic suggestion.

Jim led a critique of Ria’s second chapter in which we discussed such issues as:

  • Flow
    • When a story weaves past and present, how do we decide where to split one from the other?
    • When a story is part of a novel, how do we decide how to include and how much to flesh out later?
    • What details belong where? How much backstory belongs where? What points of view should be given voice where – and how does point of view fit into narrator voice anyway?
    • What difference does it make to the flow when the story is biography as opposed to fiction? And what happens if it’s a blend of both?
    • Plus the nitty gritty stuff – how do commas and sentence structure affect flow?
  • Character development
    • How does a chapter drive the story or the characters forward?
    • How do details that resonate with the narrator deepen the sense of character?
    • How do we choose what to show and what to tell when a narrator knows things and wants to communicate them?
    • How do we choose which details should be conveyed by scenes rather than statements?
    • If a narrator knows a lot, how do we avoid making the narration sound like teaching?
  • Depth of backstory
    • How and when to convey scenery and other sensory detail.
    • How do themes and detail fit together. E.g. if the novel is going to start every chapter with a particular image, how does this fit with ending chapters on a question?
    • Does conflict need to be explained? What about hidden conflicts?
  • Grammar
    • Commas were more common in the past. How should we use them today? Do they become part of the narrator’s voice?
    • Long paragraphs were more common in the past. Today they often put readers off, but how do we choose where to split a paragraph that appears to have just one topic? Especially when a split might break the stream of consciousness thought.
    • What about chapter length?
    • Use of dialog to break up paragraphs
    • What words should we remove when self-editing? Very? What if the words create the narrator’s voice?
  • Technical issues
    • What if colloquial hyperbole is a technical falsehood?
    • What if a historical detail is wrong?
  • Value of feedback
    • Helps us learn where to add scenes, where to tweak turns of phrase, where to split paragraphs, what works, what confuses, which readers will be on the same wavelength, etc.

After wonderful snacks from Ria, we moved the chairs to the other side of the room and enjoyed a fantastic presentation from Zita – notes are below.

The next meeting will be on September 17th, same time and place as usual (unless you hear otherwise). It’s a very special meeting, hosted by the library who have invited Beth Jusino to speak about self-publishing nuts and bolts. Beth is a very popular speaker and the library has generously agreed to pay her for this visit. Even if you’re not currently planning to self-publish, this should be an invaluable talk. Please invite all your friends as well – it’s the sort of opportunity we very rarely get – a professional speaker providing a free address about writing! So…

Keep Writing and be sure to keep September 17th free!

What Happens when you have a Story to Tell, with Zita Podany

First step:

Zita had a story to tell. But life, as it does, kept getting in the way. Then she read the back of an Arcadia book where it said “Write for Arcadia.” She looked on the website and decided to contact them with her ideas.

How to Choose:

Arcadia wrote back and asked her to choose one idea. But how?

  • Look at the publisher: Arcadia is history focused but has several imprints. She had to choose which one fitted her ideas and she picked Images of America. Their history section would have been less image intensive, but she didn’t know then how hard images are to work with.
  • Survey the market: If there are lots of books on your topic, be sure you can explain why yours is different – or else accept the market’s flooded and try something else.
  • Start your research – so at least you have some idea if you can do it. Don’t start writing the book though – just because they’ve asked you to choose your best idea doesn’t mean you’ve got an acceptance, and there might be rules and regulations that define how you write.
  • Know how or where you’ll market the books. Arcadia (unlike many other publishers) does help – they might pay table fees, send you copies, do the advertising, suggest ideas… but you have to convince them that your book’s going to have an audience.


Next came the formal book proposal. You will be asked

  • What are your credentials – Arcadia allows interested amateurs to write history books, but you have to convince them you’re serious about what you’re doing.
  • What is your access to photos – it turned out Zita’s access wasn’t as good as she hoped, when she learned how much the historical society would charge her to use their images.
  • What’s your ability to market – at least know where will be a good market – e.g. VanPort celebrations.
  • What organizations do you belong to – helps prove you’re serious
  • Where/when might your books be sold. Van Port’s anniversary festival provided a rather strict timeline.


After the proposal comes the delay and finally, in Zita’s case, acceptance. Acceptance is accompanied with

  • Contract – you have to sign it. Read it first
  • Guide book – the specs for Images of America books are very strict – numbers of pages, wordcount per image, image quality, total wordcount…
  • An assigned editor, but also an assigned a timeline – Zita had to send the first two chapters in really quickly, plus cover photograph, plus… all via dropbox, but…
  • possibly assumptions about your access to technology. Uploading high quality images can take forever depending on your internet connection.

Procuring Images

Zita needed around 200 pictures to be placed 1, 2 or ½ per page (2-page spread) in the final book. And she had to pay for them! OHS wanted around $20,000 which was impossible. The Oregonian was also expensive. A scary process. Cheaper options turned out to be

  • City and county archives
  • National and government archives
  • Business archives
  • Personal collections

In particular, the city archive charges a fee to photocopy the image to the required quality, but no licensing fee.

In searching for more images she asked other authors what they did. Many get their images through the company they work for or organizations that they belong to.

Getting the story

Zita already had most of the story, but the final book, after all your research, might not be quite the same as you imagined. People will tell you their version of what happened, but children experience things differently from adults, word of mouth can’t always be trusted, and group gatherings might not welcome a stranger.

Local history is often the story of what’s buried beneath the surface. You need to differentiate between what people say and what everyone assumes. The real story – what really happened – is often something in between.

Organize material

With 200 pictures, multiple sources and 1 story to tell, there was a lot of organization. Zita started out organizing her images by chapter, but the text is sent in separately from the images – it got complicated. Eventually she put the images in folders, printed out thumbnails (big enough so she could see them), classified them by where they came from and kept the “attribution” information for each source where she could easily find it. As a side-note, she found the attribution counted as part of the total wordcount, which left fewer words to tell the story!


With money invested in 200 digital image files, backing up her computer was ESSENTIAL. We should all consider it essential too. You don’t want to lose your work of staggering genius. Nor do you want to retype it from scratch.

When you’re backing up images, be sure to keep multiple separate backups. Files can get corrupted, and accidents can happen when you have to resize the image to fit the publisher specs.


Proofreading isn’t just reading the text. Zita also had to keep track of total wordcount, caption wordcounts (which were different depending on how many images shared the caption, and whether the image crossed a full-page spread). She had to reduce the number of words, simplify what she was trying to say, work out what could be cut out, and more… writing to a set word limit in contests might be good practice.

And then

It took around 18 months from the final acceptance to publication. They were working to a very strict deadline. The book had to be ready by January. Two proofs needed to be edited. And then it went to press.

All this will be easier and cheaper for authors who already have their own pictures. And if you do have your own or family pictures, don’t donate them to the OHS or no one will ever have the chance to use them. Give them to the city or county archive.

Zita ended up paying around $2,000 to get her book in print – an amount that’s not so different from taking a writing course. The result is a beautiful book with a real publisher (not Createspace, which many stores reject) that does real marketing (at least for the first year), and looks after getting printed copies into stores. Zita sells by hand at various venues, but the publisher paid table fees for the first year.

So… do you have a story to tell?

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