Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sending Your "Baby" to School: Writers' Groups

A Story's Upbringing

Stories have a variety of roles: they are entertainers, therapists, politicians, teachers, companions ... mirrors. However, before they can grow up to be any of these things, stories are, first and foremost, authors' "babies." As much as parents love, nurture and support their children, so do writers in the births and developments of their stories.

What does this mean for you, the aspiring author/proud literary parent? As a result of climbing mountains of manuscripts every week, I have one vital piece of advice: Join a writing workshop. No matter how good of a writer you are, I cannot stress how valuable a writing community is to your maturation as a writer and, more relevantly, to the maturation of your story before it enters the publishing world.

If you don’t know what a writing workshop is, think of a book club. It’s a group of people who share their feedback and experiences on selected stories, but in your case, the stories are yours and your writing group’s. It is structured this way because writing isn’t something you teach; it is something you do and someone else reads. Usually, “someone” can mean 10 to 20 people, so if you have 20 people in your workshop, then you have 20 different stories to read, 20 critiques to write, 20 times to verbalize your feedback (with the entire group) and 20 people who do the same with your story. For best results, try to keep it under 8-10 people, so people don’t lose interest (because they will if their work doesn’t get critiqued often enough!)

Structure varies depending on the group, but generally you would send a copy of the pre-selected pages you want your group to read (or, for example, short story, next chapter of your novel, etc.), and they will all do the same. This amounts to HOMEWORK people! But it’s worth it. Come to your groups prepared to contribute and to enjoy reaping the benefits of the work and thought your writing buddies have put into your tale.

Keep in mind that the type of people reading and dissecting your work will vary, from the people who will only say positive comments to the people who will only say the negative. It takes all sorts, right? What you need to do as a writer is determine what changes you need/want to apply to your story based on the common concerns and suggestions offered. This may all sound daunting – homework, judgment and public speaking – but, at the very least, do it for your story. Some days you’ll get better feedback than others. Just think of it as prepping yourself for the wave of fantastic and scathing book reviews every author is subject to ☺ You can't, and shouldn't, keep your baby in a bubble.

Most importantly, the feedback that you give and receive will no doubt attune and polish your writing senses in the areas of diction, character/plot development, self-editing, pacing and dialogue. The technical stuff. Unfortunately, it is common for me to read a promising premise in a query letter and then a dull protagonist, unnatural dialogue and flat descriptions in the actual sample chapters. Writing workshops will help to illuminate such issues that you may not initially see in your story.

When you feel that your story is truly ready to take that first step in the real world of book publishing, don't hesitate to send it to agents, we’re all ready to be surrogate parents! Contrary to what you may fear about literary agents, they aren't all standing with their arms crossed and saying, "None shall pass." (although certainly some do!) Nor do they live to defeat you (although some will make you THINK they do!).

In truth, every day they live in anticipation of those stories that will satisfy their eclectic reading palates and leave them hungry for more.

Happy writing,

(“Intern Fantastica”- Lilly)

Workshop Tips & Ideas to get you started:

If you want to get something done, you’ve sometimes gotta do it yourself!

1) Scouting talent on the net: You can rally your friends, classmates (former and present), or neighbors to form a writing group. What you’ll need is a group of people dedicated to improving their writing. You do not, however, need to all write in the same genre. It may just be that weirdo fantasy fiction guy in the corner who ends up giving you the real scoop on what would really make your chick lit sing! Don’t underestimate people! At the same time, keep in mind that by putting your work up in front of strangers (your test audience) you do yourself a favor. Your mom loves you, but she is not the buyer for Barnes and Noble. Separate business and pleasure. Give your book to friends to read when you need loving support, and when you really want to get professional, throw yourself to the wolves and join a writing group! (kidding)

For starters you might use something like or as tools to invite new faces and local writers in your area to join you.

2) Professional Organizations: SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators): For you children’s book writers of all stripes, SCBWI is the nurturing network that you need. With over 19,000 members in 70 regions, the organization not only has workshops in your area, they also have an entire network of writers and illustrators from all over the globe. Visit for more information.

Locally, if you don't already, please get to know San Diego Writers Ink, the loving home for writers in our area:

3) Writers Conferences: Writers conferences are a breeding ground for fantastic writers groups! There are a series of writers conferences in cities big and small throughout the country. Try to find some that have a strength in your area of focus (ie. fiction, nonfiction, children's books, regional, ethnic, etc.) if that's important to you.

4) Everyone’s favorite place: the bookstore. Talk about target-marketing! Put the word out at your local library and bookstores, maybe even the hip little coffee shop on the corner. You’ll be surprised who turns up!

Writing can be a lonely life. Get out there!

If you have tips to share with other writers, please comment for them here!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


2007 IN REVIEW: It was a year for the stars here at Full Circle! And when we say stars, we mean it literally- this year a few of our books garnered starred reviews or were otherwise commended. Some exciting news we'd like to share with you:

ISABEL'S CANTINA by Isabel Cruz (Clarkson Potter) was included in the New York Times list of 25 noteworthy cookbooks published in 2007! Her Latin-Asian fusion has made quite a splash in the culinary world. (Please visit for more reviews and great recipes you’ll love—our favorites are the croissant bread pudding and jalapeno shrimp!)

Monica Brown’s new bilingual picture books continue to bring in accolades! Read about some of Monica’s lastest news and a peek at her upcoming picture books on LABLOGA:

MY NAME IS GABITO/ME LLAMO GABITO (about Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Pura Belpré Honor Book

CRITICAS “Best Children and YA Books of 2007”

“Dazzles readers…a perfect balance of art and language.” —Criticas (starred review)


“A beautiful bilingual biography.” —Criticas (starred review)

“A joy to read.” —School Library Journal (starred review)


“Well-written title is an ideal vehicle for exploring intergenerational relationships.” —Criticas

Hip crafter Betz White * fun making her adorable felt lattes with Martha on the Martha Stewart show!

And the librarians at SLJ also cheered gave bOObs: A Guide to Your Girls by Elisabeth Squires, a book every woman should own, their starred mark of excellence:

“If a protagonist from a Sophie Kinsella novel wanted to learn about mammograms, she'd consult this book while getting her lowlights done. Squires, author of the Books on Boobs web site (, discusses the health, sexuality, life stages, and cultural significance of the female breast with a breezy, best-girlfriend approach that might inspire readers to stand tall and throw their shoulders back… Boobs is the sassy push-up that will get the attention of a younger audience who really needs this information. Recommended for all public library health and young adult collections…”
--Library Journal, 9/1/07 (starred review)

We attended a wide range of conferences across the country, including Pikes Peak Writers Conference, Sandra Cisneros’ Macondo, Writers League of Texas, PNWA, Willammette, SDSU Writers Conference, and many more! We had the opportunity to teach workshops, hear pitches, and meet hundreds of authors.

A new group of our books hit the shelves with warm reception, including:

CRAFT, INC. by Meg Mateo Ilasco, a guide to everything crafters need to know to make their startup business a thrilling success. Read Etsy’s review of it today:

Monica Brown’s MY NAME IS GABITO/ME LLAMO GABITO (which was perfectly timed with the release of the film LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA!) and BUTTERFLIES ON CARMEN STREET celebrates the migration of the amazing monarch butterflies

ISABEL’S CANTINA by Isabel Cruz, a delightful cookbook fusing Latin and Asian flavors in recipes that are easy to make and delicious to eat!

THE BILINGUAL EDGE by Kendall King and Alison Mackey, answers to every question about how to effectively raise talented bilingual (or multilingual children), whether or not you speak a foreign language yourself!

THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK by Penny Warner (Quirk Books), a compilation of entertaining lessons on how to be like Nancy. Just in case you ever wondered how to tap out an SOS with your high heels!

WARM FUZZIES by Betz White (NorthLight), beautiful felted gifts for everyone in your family, all made from recycled sweaters

SOFTIES by Terry Laskey, a compilation of “softies” patterns from the hottest DIY crafters. (Note: the companion kit, also with Chronicle Books, is forthcoming this Spring!)

THE NON-RUNNER”S MARATHON GUIDE FOR WOMEN by Dawn Dais, a guide from couch potato to marathoner, by a writer who will truly convince you that if she could do it, so can you!

bOObs: A GUIDE TO YOUR GIRLS by Elisabeth Squires

It was a record year of books sales for us, with deals happening right up through the holiday break! Our sales include titles such as (these are in alphabetical order, so don’t skip!):

*Celebrity mixologist and journalist Natalie Bovis-Nelsen's ( debut PREGGATINIS™, a guide to tasty and nutritious non-alcoholic drinks for all the hip moms-to-be who want to keep having fun, to Skirt, in a pre-empt!

*La Bloga writer and Latino Book Award Winner Rene Colato Lainez's RENE HAS TWO LAST NAMES, a companion to I AM RENE, THE BOY, to Pinata Books/Arte Publico Press

*Therese Laskey ( and Chika Mori's ( ZAKKA CRAFT, a book of projects for American DIYers about zakka-style crafting, the Japanese tradition of creating cute and sophisticated accessories for home and wardrobe, to Stewart, Tabori & Chang, in a two-book deal

*Raina Lee’s HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT: The Ultimate Guide to Karaoke Domination, to Chronicle Books

*Cisneros del Moral Award Winner Diana Lopez's debut middle grade novel about a young girl living between the Latino and American worlds of her south Texas coastal town to Little, Brown Children's

*Shannon Seip and Adrienne Hedger's IF THESE BOOBS COULD TALK, a celebration of breastfeeding that helps the 70% of new moms who do breastfeed laugh, de-stress, and learn about the process in some unique late-night reading material, to Andrews McMeel

*Joseph Sommerville’s RAINMAKING PRESENTATIONS IN A SAHARA MARKET, an expert guide to making engaging presentations that will win you business, to Palgrave MacMillan

* and expert "The Pajama Mama" Leslie Truex's THE CAREER WOMAN'S WORK-AT-HOME SUCCESS BIBLE, a comprehensive guide to everything women want to and should know about how to make a great living from the comfort of their own home, to Adams Media

*Jennifer Ward’s I LOVE DIRT, a parent’s guide to making nature part of your child’s life, to Shambhala (with Susie Ghahremani of illustrating!)

*Jennifer Ward's THE BUSY TREE, an ecologically inspired picture book
about the living world of a tree, to Marshall Cavendish

*Parenting expert Penny Warner's ROCKABYE BABY, a resource for parents who are out of ideas of how to get baby to sleep, to Chronicle Books

*Penny Warner's GIRLS' NIGHT IN, a guide to every event women can (bachelorette parties, showers), will (birthdays), and should (breakups, quitting your job) celebrate together, complete with directions on how to execute a party your friends won't forget, to Adams Media

*Web M.D. expert Terri Warren, R.N.'s THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT THE BAD NEWS, a conversational guide to living with herpes, for growing population of 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. diagnosed with the disease, to New Harbinger

*Crafter and blogger Betz White's SEW GREEN, a collection of stylish and eco-conscious projects for home and family as well as a wealth of information and resources about and for green crafters everywhere, to Stewart, Tabori & Chang

*Voice expert and NSA board member Joni Wilson's comprehensive book for women on how to get a voice (literally) that will help them excel in their personal and professional lives, to AMACOM

*Jonathan Yang's (The Rough Guide to Blogging) untitled novel about the misadventures of a "celebutante" who decides to shake things up in her life, to Puffin (Penguin), in a two-book deal!

This year we'll be aggressively expanding our YA/Middle Grade list, as well as seeking additional craft books and “green living” (eco/environmentally friendly angles) to work with. Other updates about what we're looking for and what's happening on our side will be posted as they become available, so please check back.

We’re looking forward to a great 2008 and hope it will be *your* best year yet!

Best Wishes and Happy Writing,
Full Circle Literary

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