If You Build It, They Will Come: On Blogging, Service and Platform-Building

Shoeless Joe Jackson by John McNab

I started my blog almost two years ago after attending a writers’ workshop on publishing in the digital age. There wasn’t much talk of e-books or self-publishing from the presenters. Instead, they hammered a single message into us all day: you, as writers, need an electronic presence . . . preferably a blog. It’s how you control the message of who you are and what you do. Your site is Google’s gateway to you and your work.

Like many writers, I long resisted self-promotion, finding the very idea distasteful and embarrassing. But I’d learned from the experience of publishing my first (mostly overlooked) book, Silence is Death (oh! the irony of that title in this context…), that if you don’t advocate for your own work, no one will. I knew that this time around, I had to swallow pride and do things differently. So, in preparation for the publication of my second book, Epistolophilia, I decided to take the workshop’s advice. I bought a domain name (my own name as well as my books’ titles), and started a blog.

Despite my initial reticence, blogging quickly brought unexpected rewards. From the very beginning, I enjoyed the discipline regular posting required, and the way the site grew slowly, like a garden or a manuscript. I’m obsessed with archives, so I love the way blogs are keepers of their own histories. Finally, I have been delighted by the community-building opportunities that a blog creates.

A long time ago, I sat on an academic board that organized a biannual conference whose participants’ median age was going up and up. Board members worried constantly about the organization’s impending death and wondered how to attract younger attendees. “Offer them something,” I suggested. “An opportunity to win a book prize or a shot at a fellowship. Offer them something, and they will come.” So, that’s what we did. Once the association started a modest fellowship program and book prize, youthful scholars began returning to the association (and the financial investment quickly paid for itself).

The same principle works for a blog: offer something, and readers will come.

Blogs need not be navel-gazing, self-aggrandizing, or mean-spirited. When setting up the parameters of my blog, I asked myself how I could serve fellow writers. I decided on a ratio of 1:2. For every post about myself or my work, I featured at least 2 items about someone or something else: a review of a book or essay; a funding announcement or call for submissions; an author interview with a fellow writer of creative nonfiction.

By shining the spotlight (small as mine may be) on another writer, or by giving her a platform to talk about her work, I not only gain traffic on the blog (for every other writer brings friends and fans with her), I also gain insight, contacts, friends, knowledge and the occasional free book.

The more I extend myself to other writers, the more they reach back.

Writers are also readers. We are each other’s colleagues, but also each other’s audiences. Serving writers means reaching readers.

Be brave, be bold, and build. Then open yourself up to others and share.

[Photo: Shoeless Joe Jackson, by John McNab]

This post is part of a weekly series called “Countdown to Publication” on SheWrites.com, the premier social network for women writers.


“Narrative” Fall Contest

Fountain by ecstaticist

NARRATIVE : A Nonprofit Organization Dedicated to Storytelling in the Digital Age

Contest Deadline: November 30.

NARRATIVE IS LOOKING FOR short stories, short shorts, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, all forms of literary nonfiction, one-act plays, and excerpts from longer works of both fiction and nonfiction. Our one criterion is excellence.

Prior winners and finalists in Narrative contests have gone on to win other contests and to be published in prize collections, including the Pushcart Prize, Best New Stories from the South, an Atlantic prize, and others. View some recent awards won by our writers.

All entries will be considered for publication.

$3,250 First Prize
$1,500 Second Prize
$750 Third Prize
Ten finalists receive $100 each.

Click here for details.

[Photo: ecstaticist]


CNF Conversations: Send Me Your Titles and Come by for a Chat

A few months ago, I started a feature on the site called CNF Conversations, where I interview other writers of creative nonfiction. (CNF stands for creative nonfiction.) I was looking for a way to do something of substance, to build community, to meet fellow writers, and to learn more about what was happening in the genre.

Writer interviews seemed like a good way to accomplish all that.

I also wondered if writers talking to writers might not yield more interesting and in-depth conversations about the creative process, research, and our understanding of what we do when we sit down to write nonfiction.

I think it has.

So far, I’ve interviewed Susan Olding about her fantastic book of essays called Pathologies. Susan was a great first interview: she answered my long and numerous questions with grace and clarity, and weathered the technical bumps of my first attempt.

Next came conversations with Myrna Kostash and Daiva Markelis. Each exchange sparked new ideas and questions for me about the first-person voice, about truth in nonfiction, about memory and memorialization, and our responsibilities to those we write about.

The process has also taught me that I really like the interview as a form in and of itself. Dynamic and economical is how I think of it.

In a few days I’ll be posting my conversation with Toronto writer Beth Kaplan, whose book Finding the Jewish Shakespeare tells of her archival hunt for traces of her once-famous great-grandfather, the Yiddish playwright Jacob Gordin.

Then comes my conversation with Nancy K. Miller, a giant in the field of feminist (auto)biography, about her new book called What They Saved.

Please come back to read both chats.

If you have published a recent book of creative nonfiction you’d like me to consider for the CNF Conversations, please drop me a line via the Contact page here on the site. Thus far, I’ve only interviewed women, but only by accident. Men are welcome too! (Note the photograph I chose, above, as proof.)

Spread the word, send me your titles, and keep writing.

[Photo: Paolo Margari]


Call for Submissions: Prose Competition

19th Annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers

$2,500 PRIZE

The Writers’ Union of Canada is pleased to announce that submissions are being accepted until November 3, 2011 for the 19th Annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers. The winning entry will be the best Canadian work of up to 2,500 words in the English language, fiction or non-fiction, written by an unpublished author.


$2,500 for the winning entry, and the entries of the winner and finalists will be submitted to three Canadian magazines.


Writers Kevin ChongAnne Emery, and Sylvia Fraser will serve as the jury.


This competition is open to all Canadian citizens and landed immigrants who have not had a book published by a commercial or university press in any genre and who do not currently have a contract with a book publisher. Original and unpublished (English language) fiction or non-fiction is eligible.


  • Entries should be typed, double-spaced, in a clear twelve-point font, and the pages numbered on 8.5 x 11 paper, not stapled.
  • Submissions will be accepted in hardcopy only.
  • Include a separate cover letter with title of story, full name, address, phone number, email address, word count, and number of pages of entry.
  • Please type the name of entrant and the title of entry on each numbered page. This is not a blind competition.
  • Make cheque or money order payable to The Writers’ Union of Canada. Multiple entries can be submitted together and fees can be added and paid with one cheque or money order, $29 per entry.
  • Entries must be postmarked by November 3, 2011 to be eligible.
  • Mail entries to: SPC Competition, The Writers’ Union of Canada, 90 Richmond Street East, Suite 200, Toronto, ON M5C 1P1.

Results will be posted at www.writersunion.ca in February 2012. Manuscripts will not be returned.

[Photo: Sarah Ross photography]


Malahat Review 2011 Creative Nonfiction Prize, $1000

The Malahat Review’s 2011 Creative Nonfiction Prize

Deadline: August 1, 2011 (postmarked)
Prize: $1000 CAD

Entry fee:
$35 CAD for Canadian residents
$40 USD for residents of the US
$45 USD for entries from elsewhere
(entry fee includes a one-year subscription to The Malahat Review)

No restrictions as to subject matter or approach apply. Submit a personal essay, memoir, literary journalism, cultural criticism, nature writing, etc., between 2000 and 3000 words in length. This year’s judge will be Terry Glavin.

More information: http://www.malahatreview.ca/creative_non-fiction_prize/info.html
Queries: malahat@uvic.ca

[Photo: Thomas Cizauskas]


The Urban, the Everyday, and the Bashful: Some Calls for Submissions

Global Graffiti is an online journal dedicated to world literature, arts, and culture. Our first three issues have featured creative pieces and interviews with exciting local and international authors, along with edgy scholarly work.

We are currently seeking creative work (poetry, stories, essays), critical essays (book reviews, academic articles), literary translations, and artwork centered on the theme of our fourth issue: CITIES.  We conceive of this theme broadly, encompassing various perspectives of both urban and suburban spaces, lifestyles and experiences.

That would be so awesome if you did! We accept short fiction, creative non–fiction, reportage, poetry and fine art (including painting, drawing, collage, photography, etc.) year round.

Please send English-language submissions (foreign language works translated into English also gladly accepted) and your bio/c.v. to globalgraffmag@gmail.com by May 15, 2011.


Curbside Quotidian is a haven for the thoughts and ruminations of our fellow artists, writers and creatives of all backgrounds, who seek thoughtful and innovative outlooks on quotidian people, places and things. Read: we like oddities, off-beat, pretty ugly and the like.

The Editors, Creators and Founders of Curbside Quotidian are the incomparable duo of Yana Barysheva and Nicholas Grosso. Send your submission to editors@curbsidequotidian.com


Anthology on Shyness. Naomi K. Lewis and Rona Altrows are compiling an anthology called SHY. Looking for personal essays (5000 words max., double-spaced Word doc.), poems, and visual artworks that bring an honest, fresh and non-preachy approach to the experience of being shy. Actively seeking a publisher. Submissions/inquiries: shynessbook@gmail.com. Deadline: September 15, 2011.

[Photo: ia7mad]


Call for Submissions: “CNF Conversations”


I’d like to start a new section here called “CNF Conversations.” (CNF stands for Creative Nonfiction). I propose to do post shortish interviews with authors of recently published works of creative nonfiction: biographies, autobiographies, memoir, collections of essays, mixed genre, and whatever else, as long as it’s nonfiction.

I’m looking for fine writing.

To get a better idea of the sorts of texts that might fit the bill, please browse the “Life-blood” category.

If you are a writer of nonfiction and have a recent book about which you’d like me to consider chatting with you (by email), please get in touch through the Contact page.

[Photo: Göran Johansson]


Call for Submissions: Rejuvenation

All Rights Reserved Literary Journal, an annual online publication, is accepting submissions of poetry, short fiction, creative non-fiction, as well as literary stories told through visual art/photography.  The theme for the Fall 2011 issue is Rejuvenation.

Material sent for consideration must be unpublished work.  As a non-profit, volunteer run publication All Rights Reserved cannot offer payment but artists retain all rights to their work.  Works selected will appear in the online journal.

Please send ONLY electronic submissions (.rtf attachments).  Send submissions to editors@allrightsreserved.ca.  Deadline: May 31, 2011.

For more information about the journal, please visit www.allrightsreserved.ca.

[Photo: Barbara.K]


Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize


A $12,000 advance and publication by Graywolf will be awarded to the most promising and innovative literary nonfiction project by a writer not yet established in the genre. Robert Polito, Director of the Graduate Writing Program at the New School, will serve as the judge.

The 2011 prize will be awarded to a manuscript in process. We request that authors send a long sample from their manuscript, as well as a description of the work, as detailed below. We expect that we will work with the winner of the prize and provide editorial guidance toward the completion of the project. The Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize emphasizes innovation in form, and we want to see projects that test the boundaries of literary nonfiction. We are less interested in straightforward memoirs, and we turn down a large number of them every year. Before submitting your manuscript for the prize, please look at the books previously published as winners of the prize for examples of the type of work that we are seeking.

“This prize seeks to acknowledge—and honor—the great traditions of literary nonfiction, extending from Robert Burton and Thomas Browne in the seventeenth century through Defoe and Strachey and on to James Baldwin, Joan Didion, and Jamaica Kincaid in our own time,” says Robert Polito. “Whether grounded in observation, autobiography, or research, much of the most beautiful, daring, and original writing over the past few decades can be categorized as nonfiction. Submissions to the prize might span memoir, biography, or history.”

Previous winners:

2010: The Grey Album: Music, Lying, and the Blackness of Being by Kevin Young
2008: Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays by Eula Biss
2007: Black Glasses Like Clark Kent: A GI’s Secret from Postwar Japan by Terese Svoboda
2006: Neck Deep and Other Predicaments by Ander Monson
2005: Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir by Kate Braverman

Eligibility: Any writer who has published at least one previous book (in any genre) and resides in the United States is eligible. We will consider one submission per person. Graywolf’s editors and the prize judge reserve the right to invite submissions. Agented submissions are also welcome. Manuscripts submitted for previous years’ prizes will not be reconsidered unless resubmission has been specifically requested by Graywolf’s editors or the judge.

Timeline: Submissions must arrive in the Graywolf offices between June 1–30, 2011. This is not a postmark deadline. The winner will be announced in late 2011.

For more on the competition go to http://www.graywolfpress.org/

[Photo: Jerolek]


Announcement: Yad Vashem Book Prize for Holocaust Research

The International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem is pleased to announce the establishment of the Yad Vashem Book Prize for Holocaust Research in recognition of high scholarly research and writing on the Holocaust and invites submissions for consideration. This prize is endowed through the generosity of Sabina Schwartzbaum in memory of her father, Meir Schwartzbaum, whose family was murdered in the Holocaust.

Only books containing new research on the Holocaust, or its antecedents and aftermath, will be considered. Research accuracy, scholarship, methodology, originality, importance of the research topic, and literary merit are important factors.

Books, either hardcover or original paperback, published between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2010 are eligible for the prize. The prize recipient will be announced in October 2011.

In addition to the monetary prize, the recipients will be asked to present a paper at the award ceremony in December 2011.

The value of each prize is $8,000.

Entry applications must include the following:

  • Three copies of each book submitted (entries will not be returned)
  • A completed entry form (in Hebrew, English, German, or French);
  • A copy of the author’s Curriculum Vitae (in Hebrew, English, German, or French)
  • Two recommendation letters (in Hebrew, English, German, or French) from reputable academics who are familiar with the book’s specific topic

Books submitted must be in the original published language. Translations are not eligible.

Books not published in either Hebrew, English, German, or French must include a 500-word abstract and a translation of the table of contents into one of the four above mentioned languages.

Entries must be received by 1 May 2011.

For questions or concerns, please contact the office of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at 972-2-6443-480 or eliot.nidam@yadvashem.org.il.

Mail submissions to:

Eliot Nidam Orvieto
The International Institute for Holocaust Research
Yad Vashem
P.O. Box 3477 (Mount of Remembrance)
Jerusalem 91034

[Photo: Werner Kunz (werkunz1)]