Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Diversify Your Portfolio

by Laura Mahal

How’s your asset mix of late? Are you prepared to cope with the volatility of the market? No, I’m not asking if you’ve  invested 60 percent in stocks, 40 percent in bonds, or taken into account dropping oil prices. I'm talking about your writing portfolio.


Though an actual writing portfolio is likely considered a "thing of the past," most agents will agree that it is useful to add depth to your bio. Diversifying demonstrates a flexible attitude, which is in high demand in today’s publishing market. Consider adding some poetry to your YA, a handful of personal essays to offset your sci-fi / thrillers, or a little humor-writing to balance out your research-based nonfiction.

Extend your limits with a challenge, such as crafting on-demand short stories for NYC Midnight, with an assigned genre, character, and subject, a limited word count, and a ticking clock that allows less time with each advancing round. It's an international competition, and the feedback from judges is spectacular. NYC Midnight also has a screenwriting challenge, for those who might wish to try their hand in that field.


Opportunities for branching out abound. We’ll discuss a few: Contests, Classes, and Conferences.

At a recent class on “Writing for Change,” taught by the inimitable Laura Pritchett and Ana Maria Spagner, writers were reminded of the importance of SUBMITTING ONE’S WORK—to do so “as an act of bravery,” to “learn to deal with [the] inevitable rejections” (even framing a rejection goal, if necessary). There is a balance to focusing on one’s craft first and foremost, then thinking about the audience, and where a piece might find a happy home. And then going for it.


Northern Colorado Writers offers a list of current contests via our monthly newsletter, The Write Stuff, thanks to the meticulous preparation of Jennifer Top.  Poets & Writers Magazine has a comprehensive program of grants and awards, conferences and residencies. There are online resources, as well, from Writer's Digest to New Pages to Duotrope.  There are many others, so spend a little time researching markets, and then START SUBMITTING! (And good luck. J)


Your favorite writing organization most certainly offers quality classes (be sure to check out the schedule of classes at Northern Colorado Writers). Local libraries are another excellent resource. Their classes are often free or low-cost. Experienced instructors such as Trai Cartwright, Teresa Funke, Kerrie Flanagan, and Rachel Weaver occasionally present regional workshops. These and other industry professionals know how to establish a foothold in the ever-changing publishing market.

Specialty programs may have a nominal fee, but many are subsidized by the library. If you live in Northern Colorado, be sure to check out Trai Cartwright's class on May 20th at the Poudre River Main Library. Straight Talk About Dialogue

Want to learn how to blog using WordPress? There’s a class for that, and it’s free. Always wanted to take a poetry class, and expand your art? Consider this upcoming event: Letters from the Four Homes of Poetry.

It was thanks to such a class at the Loveland Public Library that I realized I can, in fact, write halfway decent poetry. And now, the Sunrise Summits anthology—where my poetry appears—is up for the 2017 Colorado Book Award! Congratulations to Dean Miller, Jennifer Top, and all of the other finalists.


I won’t spend much time on this one, as blog posts abound on the benefits of attending writing conferences. Significant evidence indicates that it behooves you to save up for one. You’ll be investing in your own future. Conferences bring together the incredible energy of those of us who make a living bearing witness to the world we see around us, or the worlds that exist just beyond our sight.

Agents and editors travel to conferences looking for that elusive next-big-author, but they also come to share their plethora of knowledge. And you can count on their integrity, unlike the slippery salesmen who will “help to get you published for the low, low price of . . .” Remember, a reputable literary agent will charge you nothing up front, and will agree to a standard commission of 15 percent. There is no reason to fall prey to the writing equivalent of a Ponzi scheme.

It isn't too late to sign up for the Northern Colorado Writers Conference, to be held May 5 and 6 in Fort Collins, Colorado. You may do so here! Imagination: The Alchemy of Writing


When you have experimented with other avenues of writing and continued to hone and refine your craft, then you will develop a most impressive bio to put on your author’s website or to incorporate into a query letter.  

Now that you’ve gotten all that down and become a savvy investor, please remember, Tax Day is April 18. 


David Sharp said...

Great topic, Laura! And there are so many resources available to us, it can be difficult to remember them all.

Laura Mahal said...

Very true, David. This is definitely where a writing group comes in handy. We can point one another in the direction of a specific class relevant to a colleague's work.

For example, Laura DiSilverio is offering advice this Saturday in Denver, which would be of immeasurable help to anyone who is currently working on writing a mystery. Laura has taught at previous NCW conferences, and she's fabulous. I would highly recommend attending, for those who can make it. Besides, it's always nice for writers to support one another, isn't it?

I wouldn't have known about NYC Midnight, if it weren't for my writing buddies, who are ever pushing me to test new boundaries. Now I get to chew on my fingernails until May, when I find out if I've made it through to the final round. Exciting, exhilarating, and nerve-wracking often go hand-in-hand.

April Moore said...

Such a great reminder, Laura. I think writers don't often challenge themselves enough (I'm certainly guilty of that) and trying new styles or genres of writing is what keeps our ideas and skills fresh. I suppose it's like sticking to the same gym routine when working out; eventually, you'll plateau. Shaking things up with other techniques and "writing routines," just might get us the results we're aiming for.

Laura Mahal said...

Thanks, April. That's exactly why the gym issues "buddy passes" from time to time. If you invite me to join you, I'm going to say yes, even if it means my quads and hamstrings are gonna be sore for a week. It is just the same with writing muscles.

When I first attempted flash fiction, I thought, "There's no way! I'm a literary fiction gal. I need word count--a chance to show off my verbal swag in all its glory!" But then I learned to love the art of editing. Which, by the way, is the only kind of reduction I'm into at the moment. Yesterday, Lamar's Donuts. Today, Gib's Bagels. Tomorrow, write an award-winning work of art.

Dean K Miller said...

This is actually my Achilles Heel in my writing. I never focus on any one thing, always shooting off on a writing tangent when the desire appears. Sure, some of it stays within a genre, like doing haiku then writing several acrostic poems, then back to personal essays, then my novel, and on and on. However, I do find several places for the work I produce, so something is working!

Laura Mahal said...

Oh, Dean, I think you are an inspiration--no two ways about it! (Or is it, "no two ways around it?" I do not excel at pop culture expressions.)

Not only are you always at work on your own craft, but you are lifting up others in the best possible way. You are a leader in the Northern Colorado writing community, and I suspect, in many other communities across the nation.

But I do appreciate your humility. It is part of what defines you and makes you such a swell guy. :-)

Ronda Simmons said...

Spot on, Laura! I never would have discovered how much I like writing flash fiction if I hadn't entered my first contest. It didn't matter that I didn't win or even place, I enjoyed the experience. I think it would be a great goal if we as writers pushed ourselves to try something different every month or two. Maybe I'll use Dean Miller as my muse and give haiku a try . . .

Laura Mahal said...

Ronda, no h,

A worthy goal, dear
Haiku mid-morning--High tea
Novelist at night

Best of luck!

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