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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Six

Updated on August 4, 2014

A New Week with New Questions

This is kind of like “Dear Abby” for writers. In case you don’t know how this works, you ask questions about writing and I answer them. I can’t do anything for you if your marriage is floundering or your dog just bit a neighbor, but I can take a pretty good stab at answering common questions that pertain to this writing gig.

If you have a question for a future mailbag, simply email the question to me at holland1145@yahoo.com, or leave a question in the comment section of this article….or….you can leave a question as a comment on my website at www.williamdhollandauthor.com.

With all of that out of the way, let’s begin with this week’s installment of The Writer’s Mailbag.

Build that platform one article at a time
Build that platform one article at a time | Source

THE FIRST BRICK IN THE PLATFORM

This question is a common one, and I wish I had a gentle answer.

“How do I get my first byline in a magazine or newspaper? Everyone wants experience, but how do you get experience when you are just starting out as a freelance writer?”

It’s a valid question and a valid concern. The best advice that I can give you is to start small. Research alternative newspapers in your area. Research online indie magazines that relate to the subject matter you are interested in. Submit to those publications and keep submitting. The goal is that first byline. Of course it would mean more if your byline was for Better Homes and Gardens, but any byline is better than nothing.

Once you have that first byline then you have something to work with….then you can start submitting to established publications and you’ll have a fighting chance of getting published by them. My first byline was for an alternative online magazine here in Olympia, Washington. I moved up from there to a regional magazine called Our Iowa. The good news is that it becomes a bit easier after the first one is out of the way.

LEAD TIME WHEN SUBMITTING

“How far in advance should I submit an article for a seasonal topic?

Good question and one that I hear at least monthly. Magazines set a yearly calendar, so if you have written a Christmas article, you should write your query in January at the very earliest for the following Christmas. There is the occasional magazine that only plans six months in advance, but they are few and far between.

I actually learned this lesson the hard way, and after having my article accepted in December, I had to wait a full year for publication and then another three months for payment.

Plan in advance….the magazines do.

And while we are on this topic, if you are writing online articles for, say, HubPages, plan on three months in advance when posting those articles. It takes at least three months for the article to circulate through the internet, so a Christmas article should be posted no later than September or early October.

Would anyone read my memoir?
Would anyone read my memoir? | Source

WHAT’S THIS ANGLE BUSINESS I KEEP HEARING ABOUT?

The question has to do with a writing angle. Let me explain.

Anyone can write an article based on who, what, why, where, when and how. Just get the facts and fill in the blanks and you have an article. A boring article for sure, but still, an article.

What will take that article from boring to interesting is a unique angle to the story, and only a creative writer can do that.

Are you a creative writer?

Judging from the hundreds of articles I see every single day, there aren’t many creative writers out there with unique angles. How else do you explain the deluge of mundane “how to” articles and recipe articles, all looking the same and having the appeal of a day-old pile of poop?

Find a new way to approach a story and the world will beat a path to your doorstep. Find a winning angle.

MEMOIR WRITING

“I’ve been thinking of writing my memoir, but I’m afraid nobody will find it interesting. What should I do?”

Write the damned thing.

I don’t believe for a second that nobody will find your memoir interesting. It may not be a bestseller, but your family, your children, they will all find it fascinating, and that is a living legacy you are leaving. That alone is reason enough to write it.

I’m a big on the fact that what we, as writers, do is important. We are the voices of our generation. We are the recorders of history. That carries a huge responsibility, but serious writers can handle that responsibility and do it great justice.

Write the memoir…be a part of history.

130,000 words in my novel....the sparks keep it moving forward
130,000 words in my novel....the sparks keep it moving forward | Source

INCREASING YOUR VIEWS

I get this question all the time. “How can I increase my views for online articles that I write?”

For the life of me, I don’t know where the mystery is on this topic. If you write for a site like HubPages, your views will increase dramatically if you support other writers. Show them that you care about their work and they will reciprocate. It’s that simple. Yes, it takes time, but it does pay off.

That’s one way to see an increase. The other way is to write articles that have mass appeal. Articles about crafting are huge these days, as are ways to save money…or ways to make money. Times are tough, and millions of people are turning to the internet to discover ways to make money.

So, either choose your topics wisely, or make it a habit to support other writers. Doing both, of course, is the best-case scenario….and, oh, by the way….write a good article.

MAXIMIZE YOUR EFFORTS

“Bill, I only have an hour each day to write. How can I get the most out of that hour?”

I suspect that many writers can relate to that question. Many of you have full-time jobs, and families, and that means very little time for your passion. There is no easy answer to the question, but I can give some suggestions.

If you only have one hour, then close yourself off from the world during that hour. Inform family and friends that for one hour you are unreachable. That is your hour to be shared with no one. Leave your cell phone in another room. Set up your little writing area and write like your tail-feathers are on fire for that hour.

The other suggestion I have is to prepare before your writing time. I have mentioned often the importance of writers having a notebook handy during the day to jot ideas down in. Get in the habit of doing this. Also jot down what you want to accomplish during your writing period, and even go so far as to schedule your hour by fifteen or thirty minute increments. Stick with a plan and you just might see better results.

SUSTAINING A PLOT

“What makes a good plot? How do you keep a plot interesting?”

I call them sparks. You can call them Johnson, or you can call them Jay, or you can call them….okay, sorry for the silliness.

A plot, or story line, needs to have a driving force to keep it moving forward. How many driving forces, or sparks, you use will be determined by the length of the book. As a general rule, there should be one spark every 20,000 to 25,000 words.

But that answer really only relates to the movement of a plot. In my humble opinion, what makes a good plot is how well readers relate to it. Usually, but certainly not always, we as readers relate to a plot because the central characters are fascinating. I have read many a book that was action-packed and totally forgettable, and the reason for that was because the characters bored me to tears. If I am emotionally involved with the characters, then I become invested in their lives when those sparks ignite the plot.

And Yes, There Will Be More Next Week

As long as I have questions to answer I’ll keep writing this column. As Audrey Jr. says in “The Little Shop of Horrors,”…..FEED ME!

Thanks for the questions. I’ll be back next week, good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 2 years ago from Iowa

      More good advice, Bill. Have a great week!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Deb, and you do the same my friend. I hope your chickens are well. Our new quail are quite happy.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Bill, your advice on writing for magazines is in keeping with what I've been reading from some of the bloggers I follow who also write for the large mags. They say the smaller, local publications are usually easier to work for as well. Even trade mags are a good way to start if you have a specific niche you want to build.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 2 years ago from New York, New York

      Always such great and wonderful advice. I know I say it a lot around here to you, but thank you always, Bill. And once again have an amazing Monday now :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Sha. Trade mags are a great way to break into the game. :) Thanks for mention that.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine. I'm just doing what any writer would do, right? :) Enjoy your Monday my friend.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      A new set of questions, a new set of answers, and another installment worthy of being a mailbag hub.. voted useful :)

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

      I love your mailbag, Bill. It's keeping me motivated!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Frank, and have a great day, buddy.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I like hearing that, Ann. Thank you! Have a wonderful week my friend.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Keeping a portfolio of what one's done is always a good idea. As you say, once you've managed one little piece somewhere, you've got proof that you're worth something. I've had to type up old articles from magazines as I had hard copies but nothing on my laptop - yes, it was that long ago!

      Now at least I have a running record of everything.. almost. Some things are lost in the loft and that's a huge project to tackle! Ah well.

      Another hub full of wise inspiration, bill. You never fail us.

      Enjoy your day!

      Ann

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

      You too, Bill. I'm a little confused right now, though. I just looked into the Google Analytics thing where hubpages recommended an upgrade - I don't have a clue what it's talking about. I know what Google Analytics does but how to upgrade is just boggling my mind - do you know what it's all about?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I don't know how I managed years ago...now I try to back up everything, but even that seems to be beyond my capabilities on some days. :) Oh well, we trudge onward and do our best.

      Enjoy your week my friend, and thank you.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, honestly, I just ignored it. I have no idea what it is about but I don't have the time to bother with it....so I stuck my head in the sand. LOL

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Well, sometimes ostriches have the right idea! lol

    • profile image

      dragonflycolor 2 years ago

      I got one for you. How on earth do I write faster without using Mavis Beacon Touch Typing Tutorials? Hmmmm? Let that one tickle your brain for a few seconds.

      Great stuff, Bill. Thanks!

    • Brie Hoffman profile image

      Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

      Yea..google analytics is a mystery to a lot of us. I wish they would translate this in English! Another great article Billy, I so enjoy them..voted up and useful.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you mucho mucho this was a real great one!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      True, Ann! LOL

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mari, you stumped me. Let's shut this series down because obviously I don't know everything. LOL

      Have a great Monday funny lady.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for that, Brie. I'm glad you mentioned google analytics. I thought I was the only one who simply didn't understand what language they were communicating in. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glad you liked it, Eric. I'll be talking about social responsibility soon, something right up your alley.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 2 years ago from Hudson, FL

      When are you going to start writing a life-advice column? I mean, this is a good one, but that would be awesome. Call it Dear Billy.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      My favorite Q and A in this one is about the memoirs. You said it well: Even if it isn't a bestseller, it can have priceless meaning to the family members. Thanks for all the answers you provide.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Lizzy, I have no desire to fall flat on my face. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Dora. I'm glad you agree.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 2 years ago

      Not only is your advice amazing, you are very encouraging. Voted up, useful, interesting and awesome.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 2 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      As usual, great information for any writer, new or established.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks breakfastpop...I try.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Donna and it's always nice having you stop by.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 2 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Hi Bill,

      Great answers to some very good questions. You're still that teacher with an internet classroom. No one can leave your hubs without gaining knowledge - so I thank you, and the ones who sent in the questions!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, lifegate. I'm afraid the teacher will always remain. :)

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Great set of answers, again, and good questions. I'd like to respond to several, but will hold back. On the memoirs, write in short bursts. I used my blog, on a weekly meme, to get a lot put down. I was amazed at the responses I got from my three daughters, and a number of cousins. Great place to start, as well as on Hubpages, and such. It gets the writing juices going.

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      sheilamyers 2 years ago

      Yet another hub packed with good advice. I'm one of those people who would never write a memoir because I admit my life is BORING. Ok, as you said, family might enjoy it at some point. That said, I did compile all of my family history information and did it for the reason you mentioned - someone in the family will want the info and now it's available all in one book.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Bill, another winner. These hubs are informative and very useful, great job, keep them coming and do write the memoir, I'd love to know where Tobias ends and Mr Holland begins. :) Take care now, my Best to you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good suggestions, Bill, and I thank you for them.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good for you, Sheila. I think there is great value in doing that. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL...Jo, you mean take my own advice? What a rotten thing for you to suggest. What makes you think Bill and Tobias are intermixed? LOL Thank you my friend. I will take your suggestions under advisement.

      blessings to you, Jo

      bill

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Good advice is expected from you and you delivered. Thank you Bill....

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Great advice as always Billy, you always manage to fill in the gaps of my knowledge! lol!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ruby, you are always appreciated here. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Nell, every once in a while I fill in some gaps in my knowledge too. LOL Thank you for dropping by.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Hi Dear Bill,

      You are getting a lot of great questions in your mailbag and providing a wonderful service to many. If you start becoming overwhelmed with it all, please do not go "postal" ... : )

      Bless you for your desire to help others.

      Peace and hugs

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great knowledge you have and you cover all aspects perfectly.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Confession - my memoir was so boring that I lied a lot to spice up the characters. Now I don't know what genre it is. It's a lovely mixture of fiction and non-fiction.

      I'm also a member of the .google analytics mystery tour.

      Sound answers to some interesting questions, how complicated writing is.

    • DonnaCaprio profile image

      Donna Caprio Quinlan 2 years ago from Newburyport, MA

      Great questions and great answers! I love the Writers Mailbag. Thanks!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith...don't go postal....too funny. You had me laughing out loud at that pun. I promise I won't.

      blessings my dear, and thanks.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you DDE...I try my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Travmaj, you are a funny lady. Good luck on that mystery tour. I'll be your tour guide whenever possible.

      Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Donna! I enjoy it too.

    • Kaili Bisson profile image

      Kaili Bisson 2 years ago from Canada

      Fantastic advice...thank you and please keep these hubs coming!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      If people don't know where to start sometimes they can overthink it and make themselves nervous and freeze up. Sometimes they just need to start anywhere and get clarity as it goes along.

    • Anna Haven profile image

      Anna Haven 2 years ago from Scotland

      That is a very good point that memoirs would be a fantastic legacy for future generations. I would love to have read the full story of my granny's life.

      This is a really helpful series Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I will, Kaili, and thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I agree with you, Flourish...just sit down and write anything. Thanks for mentioning that.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Anna, and some day someone will be saying that they would have loved to have read your full story. :)

      Have a great day, Anna.

      bill

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 2 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for sharing more of your great wisdom, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you vkwok!

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 2 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Bill. This is a great series, helping others as usual, practicing what you preach. Tip Top.

      Graham.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Graham! I hope all is well in Lancashire this weekend.

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      mathira 2 years ago from chennai

      billy, yet another excellent installment of useful tips. I lag behind in supporting other writers in hub pages as I did not think a great deal about it. Now I know it brings in viewers. I now hope to be a more active participant.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you mathira. I think it is important for raising our views, but also for strengthening the community.

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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      The questions are great, and I think that we can ALL benefit from the answers. Nice work, Billy!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Deb. I always appreciate your visits.

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      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi Bill. I'm like FlourishAnyway. I have so many lines of ideas written on my Notes and nothing much gets worked on. I freeze or my mind does. We are constantly on the road and I tell myself I'll do it when I get to stay put. I have time. That's not the issue. How do I enhance my productivity? Maybe you have already addressed this before but this is the second of the series I have read. I just have to read all. Thanks again.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Aesta, it is a common problem. I have talked about it before, but I'll be glad to do it again in next Monday's mailbag. Thank you!

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