Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ways to Market Your Services

I always find it difficult to find new clients. I'm not an assertive person, so it's always challenging for me to market my services. But the opportunity presented itself at a writer's conference I attended on May 28 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

I was really looking forward to hearing Jacquelyn Mitchard (author of The Deep End of the Ocean) give the keynote address. She did not disappoint. She was down to earth, comical, gave good writing advice, and spoke of her challenges in writing.

The three breakout sessions I attended were extremely helpful to me. The first one, on personal essays given by Victoria Zackheim, was informative. She spoke about getting to the "heart" (emotion) of your essay and read a few examples from her new book, The Other Woman. Some of the questions raised were about how to prevent getting sued when listing someone's name (her advice was to change the name or let the person know what you're writing about so there are no surprises later) and how to find an editor (I turned around to see who asked that question so that I could talk to her later. I did manage to talk to her after the session. I gave her some leads and gave her my business card.).

The second breakout session I attended was called Fictional Seeds. It was given by Lisa Lenard-Cook. She defined fictional seeds as fleeting thoughts and impressions. She suggested writing your thoughts or ideas in a journal, on a piece of paper and place it in a bowl later, or in a computer file. She suggested that when you start writing, keep saying (or thinking), "and then...." She discourages outlining for fiction and stated that contests are a good idea. She announced that she has a new book called The Mind of Your Story that discusses some of her suggestions. Of course I bought it!

The third session was "Ask the Literary Agents." Four agents answered questions from the audience. Following are some Do's and Don'ts that they discussed.


* Be passionate about your work when making a pitch.
* Send query letters to agents you have thoroughly researched.
* Go to an agent's Web site for guidelines.
* Make sure you're a good fit with your agent.
* Love your material. Ask yourself, "Would I pay $25 for my book?"
* Keep queries short (what is your book about and why is it important or relevant to you as a writer).
* Ask your agent questions. There is no licensing board for agents. Do your homework. Shop around.


* Get bogged down in detail for your pitch.
* Be nervous when making a pitch.
* Be too specific in your query letter.
* Call it literary.
* Mention that everyone in your family read it and loved it.
* Send a query letter as an attachment.

The agents said to pitch a memoir, write a book proposal, do a competitive analysis on memoirs that are similar yet different from yours, and send an outline and a sample chapter. Memoirs need to be different. Ask yourself, "Is my story that compelling?"

They stated you can have more than one agent for different genres, but you should focus on one you're good at. An agent also stated that when agents take on a new client, they usually do a five-year plan.

I came away with so much information, and many of the sessions confirmed what I already know: keep writing, give it your best, and put your heart into it.

I was able to make several contacts from talking to people throughout the conference. I handed out my business cards, gave advice on editing, gave people leads if I wasn't able to help them, promised to review a book proposal (free of charge), talked about editing to those who didn't understand the editorial process or know why a book has to be edited (yes, there are some who believe that!), and gave a recommendation to send their work out for critique. It felt good. I felt empowered and confident that I can market my services! And all with little effort or anxiety on my part.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Toby: Gone One Year Today

Most people think that their pet is the most unique of anyone else's. I'm no different. My dog Toby was special and unique, and now he's gone. He died one year ago today at 14 years of age. I had to have him euthanized. I haven't been able to write much about him because it was so painful. It's a little easier now.

I had a vet who makes house calls come to my house when I discovered that Toby had great difficulty holding up his hind legs when using the bathroom. I could tell it was so humiliating for him when I had to clean him. I knew when he could no longer function on his own that it was time to have him put to sleep.

My wish was for him to die on his own, but every time I felt he was failing and would die soon, he would rally, start eating, and get stronger. That's how things went for few months. I noticed he was eating less and less and then finally hardly eating anything at all. It amazed me how he could survive on so little. But he was losing weight rapidly. He kept up his daily routine--barking at people passing, dogs being walked, and howling when he heard the sirens from police cars or fire engines.

He also played with his squeaky toys everyday. I was amazed that he would keep to the beat on the music on the radio or he would create his own music. I would say that he was playing his "concertos." He would entertain me everyday, right up to the day of his death. He had one special toy that I called Mr. Beethoven.

You see, Toby was suppose to die years earlier. He had a major stroke when he was 8. I was trying to put on his harness for our weekly trek and he jumped on the bed as I instructed him to. He was so excited and was squirming. As I was trying to snap it into place, he slumped off the bed to the floor. He started convulsing. Then he just laid there and didn't move. He couldn't get up. My neighbor had to carry him to the car for me.

The vet said that if he didn't regain the use of his legs or was not able to use the bathroom, I should probably consider euthanizing him. I couldn't accept that. I took him home (I found the strength to carry him). I laid out lots of comforters on the living room floor and I slept with him the first night, hugging him all night. He would lick me. My kitten Kelley laid with us too. (They had a special bond, but that's a story for another time.) As the days passed, I could feel that Toby would fight to get better. I carried him to the back yard and we all laid down to enjoy the chirping birds and the sunshine. He crawled away from the blanket so he could pee. Late at night, he would crawl to the kitchen to urinate instead of peeing on the blankets or on the carpet. Days later I could tell he was stronger. He was determined to go the front yard, which had two steps. It took him a long time, but he crawled to the top of the steps and slid down. So smart!

The vet was surprised at his progress. He recommended physical therapy at another facility, but I declined, not only because of the cost, but because I knew that Toby could not tolerate long car rides. (He had many fears and riding in a car was one of them. He had been dumped from a car and abandoned when he was 4 months old. Some neighborhood kids brought him to me because they knew I had put my dog Gema to sleep when her cancer had returned. It was evident that Toby had been an abused puppy.)

I devised Toby's therapy to strengthen his legs. He became stronger and his walking improved. The vet commended me. He said, "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it." Toby's gait was never the same and our long walks were now out, but most people could never tell he had had a stroke. He was my hero!

He took such good care of me for 14 years. We went through so much together. He was in tune to my emotions and always knew when I needed to be comforted, especially when my sister Becky died. He was my constant companion. A big hole was left in my heart when Toby died. I miss his companionship and his beautiful concertos.

Even though I got another dog (Desi) a few weeks after Toby died, nothing replaces him. I still miss him, even after a year. There is no timetable to grief. I will always honor his memory. He left me with so many stories to tell!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Felt Validated at Pain Conference

On May 30, I attended the first-ever Women in Pain Conference held at the City of Hope in Duarte, California. This was the first time a conference was held on the subject of pain where both clinicians and women experiencing chronic pain were participating in the same conference.

What kind of chronic pain do I have? It's a long list. I've never written about all my conditions before because i didn't want people to know. That has changed. I have congenital hip dysplasia (dislocation) in my left hip; rotator cuff problems in my right shoulder; recovering from a dislocated left shoulder; ligament damage in my right hand; trochanteric bursitis and ilotibial band syndrome in my right hip; osteoarthritis in my hand, shoulders, back, and hip; and degenerative disk disease along with a bulging disk. Most of these conditions are from an injury I sustained in February 2006. I never dreamed I'd still be dealing with these conditions and with the horrible pain.

I'm actually proud of the way I've handled my pain. I try to lead a somewhat normal life despite the fact that I'm always in pain. The only give-away is that I limp. However, most people do not know when I'm in pain because I cover it up pretty well. I don't want any one's pity.

I've never been one to label myself as disabled, but I suppose I am. I have a handicap placard for use when I park. I only use it when I have to park far or when there's lots of hills or steps that I need to avoid. I don't mind walking when it's flat. For the most part I leave the handicap space for someone else. Besides I don't particularly like the stares I get when I get out of my car when I park in a handicap space. I know they're trying to figure out what's wrong with me. I guess they have it figured out once they see me limp.

Many times I've been made to feel that the pain is in my head because I didn't "look" like I'm in pain. The doctors have yet to prescribe a pain medication for me that won't knock me out or make me feel with I'm "under the influence." I keep telling them that I have to work and don't want to feel impaired when I'm driving. Therefore, I don't take anything hard during the week. But I find myself looking forward to the weekends so I can take Vicodin, which will let me sleep at least and will relieve the pain. It doesn't matter when I wake up. I'm in no rush. All I take during the week is Tylenol, which does not help me.

This is the first time I've been around women who "feel" the pain I do and struggle with a lot of the same issues I do. I learned about organizations where I can go to for support (such as the American Chronic Pain Association and the American Pain Foundation). I learned a lot about the pharmacology and traditional approaches to pain management. The organizer of the conference, Cynthia Toussaint, is a true inspiration. Her organization, For Grace, will help many women.

I feel validated because most the women were made to feel it was all in their heads, just like I was. I also learned that women feel pain differently than men and that clinicians listen to men and treat their pain more effectively than they do women. We're told that it's stress and we're often prescribed antidepressants rather than an effective pain medication. We often leave the doctor's office without a plan.

I've yet to absorb everything I heard at the conference. They gave so many handouts, books, plus all the information in the binder we received. Most of these women suffer (I don't like using this word, but I can't think of a better way to describe it) much more than I do. I admire their strength and they yearning to learn. I came away with new contacts, many resources, and a new resolve to join the effort of advocacy for women in pain.