sallyhanan’s blog

A writer’s blog

Research resources February 4, 2010

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 1:43 pm
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I’m currently writing an article on how to get teenage boys to work when all they want to do is play video games and ignore their mothers. Because this epidemic is viral, perhaps I should charge for the advice. . . . 😀

So where does a girl go to get the information she needs for such an article?
The local bookstore
Personal experience
The local library

I went to the bookstore rather than the library this time, because I had to kill time and I wanted the most up-to-date books on the subject. I had my notebook, I had extra shots in my fancy coffee (that I deserved because I was working), I had half a shelf of parenting books; and I folded myself into a corner of the coffee area to take notes.

When it comes to personal experience, all most people want to know is a) that you can identify with their pain, and b) what you did to fix the problem. The same goes for stories from friends. If you can tell the story with humor, all the better. People need to laugh at themselves or they might cry.

I posted a question on a forum I enjoy—one that has a high level of interaction—and within hours I had many responses on what other moms do with their sons. While I won’t quote these in my article unless I have express permission from the women who wrote them, it’s always good to have a variety of opinions and suggestions. I never put last names in articles, especially, in this case, when moms are bemoaning the laziness of their children.

HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is something I am relatively new to, but it is a wonderful place for reporters and writers to glean from the savviness of experts. HARO sends out an e-mail 2-3 times a day to their 80,000 subscribers with a list of questions needing input. So let’s say I want to break open the story of a politician’s illegitimate child—I could post a query that looks something like this:

Seeking news on personal life of politicians. (Anonymous)

Reporter is looking for the low and dirty on politicians in the city of Washington D.C. All sourced will remain anonymous.

Ok, I am seriously just kidding about this one, because I hate people exposing others when they aren’t exactly shining angels themselves; nevertheless, I think you get the idea.

The library is also a fabulous place to find info. on just about everything. You have current magazines, books, reference books, etc. all waiting for you to delve into them. The librarians usually love being asked for help, too.

Perhaps you have loads of ideas for articles but you have no idea how to go about getting your writing into magazines. That’s another topic, but basically you find the magazines you’d like to write for (start small), and query the editors with your ideas. Here is some help on how to write those queries:
How to write a query letter.
How to write a successful query.
Writing a bulletproof article query.

Good luck!



Every piece of writing needs to be clear and precise. With microscope in hand, Inksnatcher’s writing and editing service will hone any work until it glitters in the light of a 1,000 watt bulb.

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Titles—use italics, quotation marks or roman? August 29, 2009

Filed under: Editing,Writing — sallyhanan @ 11:43 pm
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Most people get confused when they have to write the names of works. We all know about capital letters, but are the titles written in italics or left alone or set inside quotation marks?

The Chicago Manual of Style says the following about how to write these into pieces of writing:

Holy books are not italicized, i.e.
The Bible
The Verdas

Books, journals, plays, newspapers (and sections of a newspaper that are published separately) are italicized. Even if the is part of the official title, it must be lowercased unless it begins a sentence or is an official foreign language title.
She loved catching up on news with the Daily Mail.
El Confidencial had a good article in it today.

When the newspaper or periodical has a name that is the name of a building or organization or prize, it is not italicized.
The Tribune Tower unveiled a new column last week.

An italicized title within a title stays italicized but is set in quotation marks.
Insights on Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”

Titles of book series are not italicized.
the Harry Potter series

Parts of long poems or scenes of plays are given no special treatment.
act 2, scene 1

Movies, radio and television programs are italicized.

Ever After is my favorite movie.

Single episodes are set inside quotation marks.
“The Pilot, Part 1” of Seinfeld imitated the show.

Formal names of TV and cable channels are left alone.
the Barker channel

Stories, short essays, poems, articles; and parts, chapters, sections of longer works are enclosed in quotation marks.

Sally Hanan’s story “I Have a Gift” is in her book Joy in a Box (forthcoming).

If single books are put into a collection as one volume, the volume is italicized when quoted.
Toronto is a collection of most of the stories that Ernest Hemingway wrote as a stringer . . . between 1920 and 1924.

Unpublished works like lectures, theses, speeches, manuscripts are put inside quotation marks.

Titles of books about to be published are italicized, with the word forthcoming in parentheses after them.
Tibetan Weddings in Ne’u na Village (forthcoming)

Web site titles are left alone.

Musical works, artworks, and cartoon strips are italicized

Titles of songs are set inside quotation marks. Performers’ names are left alone.
Wide Awake’s song “Maybe Tonight, Maybe Tomorrow” is on their album Something That We Can’t Let Go.

Titles of paintings, drawings, and statues are italicized but the really old ones (whose creators are mostly unknown) are enclosed in quotation marks.

Garfield was created by Jim Davis.

So, to summarize, the big titles are usually going to be in italics. The smaller and not-so-important ones will usually be in quotation marks.



Every piece of writing needs to be clear and precise. With microscope in hand, Inksnatcher’s writing and editing service will hone any work until it glitters in the light of a 1,000 watt bulb.

sallylogo3 INKSNATCHER.COM                                                                                                                                      





Copywriting July 18, 2009

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A copywriter, according to the Random House Dictionary, is a writer of copy, esp. for advertisements or publicity releases. In simpler terms, a copywriter is a person who writes advertisements with a view to persuading a reader to buy the products or services written about.

Copywriters are sniffed at by some who consider copywriting to be a lower caste of writing, as if anyone could write copy. I disagree. Copywriting takes creativity. Trying to breath new life into an oft-flogged horse can leave that horse lying just as limp by the end of the piece; it takes real talent to raise it back to vigorous life again.

Copywriting can provide you with an income and still leave you with a few hours at night to write what your heart beats loudly for. With an earning power of approx $60-$80 an hour, yes, $60-$80 an hour, it is definitely one of the few writing genres that can be lucrative.

Some books I recommend (these are reviewed on Amazon as being the best of the best):

Start and Run a Copywriting Business (Paperback) by Steve Slaunwhite

The Well-Fed Writer (Paperback) by Peter Bowerman

The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds (Paperback) by Peter Bowerman

Writing Copy for Dummies (Paperback) by Jonathan Kranz

To get in some practice, read the advertisement pages of the magazines in your home. They will look like letters or bios—written and designed in a way to make you feel as if the ads are written personally to you. If the ads makes you feel like you can’t live another day without the products or services, the copywriters have done their jobs.

Some of you more honest folk might feel that you cannot possibly represent a product in this way—writing as if the reader will be sick or fat for the rest of his/her life if she doesn’t buy XYZ pills. That’s ok, there are plenty of other products out there that you can sell without guilt—your homeowner association’s latest activities, speeches for your favorite politician, business proposals, case studies, etc. Have a look around you this week—read the school news, the speech on the Web, the medical report. If you can put what you have read back down or close the page without having fallen asleep, then you probably have what it takes to write copy.



Every piece of writing needs to be clear and precise. With microscope in hand, Inksnatcher’s writing and editing service will hone any work until it glitters in the light of a 1,000 watt bulb.

sallylogo3 INKSNATCHER.COM                                                                                                                                      





How to Get Published Clips July 7, 2009

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In order to be published by the better-known magazines, one has to start small. An absolute necessity is to buy a market guide—buy the one (or two) that fits best with the genre you prefer to write in. Because my two main forms of writing are Christian fiction and practical, help-yourself-style articles, I usually buy Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide and Writer’s Market.

Starting out, I worked with the list of best-selling magazines and steered my gaze toward the bottom of the list. Down there are the smaller magazines that pay less or nothing, but they will give you an opening into the world of published work. You need to get published here, as the better-paying magazines will not be interested in your queries if you have no previously-published clips. E-magazines are also good places to see your name in print.

Read the information about the magazines that you pick out of the guide. The description of what they are interested in will guide you as to what type of story/article/poem you can write for them. If you ask about sending a story about Aunt Gertrude’s strawberry jelly and they are only interested in fiction, then you have wasted both your time and theirs.

Most magazines are not interested in seeing the fully written piece; you must send a proposal first. In the front of the market guides are good examples of how a query/proposal letter should be written. You can also find out (in the guides) if the magazine you want to submit to is open to receiving that query by e-mail. They may want it sent the old fashioned way—by mail.

If you send it by mail, don’t forget to send a self-addressed envelope with it or you will not hear back. If you send it via e-mail, save the e-mail in a separate folder so that every month you can check to see if it was replied to. If, within two months, it was not, then you can send another e-mail to ask if they have considered your query yet.

Once you get a response and, oh joy, they want you to send in the piece, send it in as soon as possible. Editors are busy people, and their time should be honored. If you flake off at this crucial point of business, they will remember and not ask for your work again. Editors want people they can rely on.

Usually when starting out, pay will be either nothing but a byline (your name beside your work) or a year’s subscription to the magazine. That’s fine. All you need is to have that published clip for the bigger and better queries you will be sending out.

Good luck!



Every piece of writing needs to be clear and precise. With microscope in hand, Inksnatcher’s writing and editing service will hone any work until it glitters in the light of a 1,000 watt bulb.

sallylogo3 INKSNATCHER.COM                                                                                                                                      





Interviewed about my book, Joy in a Box June 8, 2009

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 11:12 am
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Becky Cortino, author of three books on healing with humor, interviewed me the other day about many aspects of my life—when I started writing, what brought me to America, what my book is about, and what I offer to clients through my editing service.

Interview with Becky Cortino about my book



Every piece of writing needs to be clear and precise. With microscope in hand, Inksnatcher’s writing and editing service will hone any work until it glitters in the light of a 1,000 watt bulb.

sallylogo3 INKSNATCHER.COM                                                                                                                                      





Interviewed about Joy in a Box May 27, 2009

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 1:53 pm
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Fran Lewis, author of the Bertha series, has interviewed me about my upcoming short story collection:
Fran Lewis’ blog


Writing an Opening With Home in Mind May 26, 2009

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 9:52 pm
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Home could really be anywhere—it could be the home you grew up in, the home you have created that you live in now, or the makeshift home of someone in transition. Again, I’m going to let my mind fling thoughts in and out of different homes I’ve lived in to see if I land anywhere.

I remember the huge dining room table we all sat around. We had to slide the salt and pepper across the table with an extravagant push to get it to the other side. There was a window into the kitchen, sort of like the place where the servants could serve up the food in the old days. It was such a huge table. I could have some guy bring home his girlfriend and his parents know that she’s “the one.”

I think this could work, so now I have to try and get a good opening line. What would make me want to read more? If I see this through the girl’s eyes, then readers can get in touch with her fear and want to figure out what it is she’s afraid of.

Samantha’s fingers played nervously with her shirt button. Now that she was sitting at the dining room table, with John frowning at her from above the rim of his wine glass, she wasn’t all that sure that discussing the art of grave-digging had been the best choice of conversation.

Ah! Perfect. This story could take off in so many ways, it’s unreal. I could make it humor, paranormal, science-fiction—literally, anything I like. It’s one of those classic openers that lights the muse within.

Have at it, you guys. 🙂


Interview with Maria Snyder, NY Times List Author, part one May 21, 2009

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I had the amazing fortune of meeting New York Times Bestsellers List author, Maria Snyder, last week. We were both waiting patiently for more visitors at a school bookfair, and I took full advantage of the lull in activity by interviewing Maria. I have split the interview into two parts, as Maria gave me so much information that it would be an injustice to her (and you) to try and cram it all into one post.

What made you take up writing?
I didn’t always write, so boredom as a young adult was the main reason. I finished college in the early ’90s with a degree in environmental meteorology and then got a job as an air quality scientist. I did some field work and dealt with lawyers who wanted air permits, and it was all quite boring.

I decided to go to a writers’ conference on a whim. One of the offers of the conference was a critique of a short story, so I submitted one. When the lady handed it back to me, she told me that it needed some work, but it was “pretty good.” I wanted to know what “pretty good” really meant—did that mean a 5/10 or something else? She said that it was a 7/10. That encouraged me. If it hadn’t been for her, I don’t know if I ever would have started to write in earnest.

So what did you do after the conference?
I wrote short stories for three or four years. One of the short stories seemed to have more to it and, as I worked on it, it turned into the beginning of Poison Study.

I joined a writers’ group, which we later fondly called the “Muse and Schmooze” group. The ladies there told me that the story wasn’t too bad and promptly ripped it to shreds, but all nine of them were constructive in their critique. Every month I wrote and submitted a new chapter, and they helped me to polish and revise it. They acknowledged my abilities and gave me advice on how to make it even better. I didn’t use all of their advice, but most of it did enhance the book considerably. When you open the book to the page of acknowledgements, you’ll notice that I have named each one of the writers in the group. My appreciation of their input is huge.

How did you go about trying to get Poison Study published?
I submitted queries to forty agents, and all but one of them rejected it. The one agent who liked it asked me to make some changes, but when I sent it back to her with the changes in place, she was no longer interested in representing me. I then decided to send it directly to seventeen publishers. One of them said yes.

The editor assigned to me at that publishing house was very good at her job: she encouraged me to add in more description, to develop the characters more, and to build up the detail of the fantasy world. Her changes were perfect, because I tended to write in a very direct, action-focused way at the time, and she made my writing richer for it.

Are you still with that publishing house?
Yes. Originally, Poison Study was published by Harlequin’s Luna Books, but later they wanted Luna to represent an urban line of books, and they created Mira to be a fantasy “catch all” line. My recent books are with Mira.

I have written another book, though, called Storm Watcher: a middle grade book of mainstream fiction about a thirteen-year-old boy who is both fascinated with and scared of weather. It’s like a cross between City of Ember and Logan’s Run. I won’t publish it with Mira because of the genre, but it is tentatively scheduled to be released in the fall of 2009.

Part two of my interview with Maria Snyder coming soon.

If you would like to win a signed copy of Poison Study, the first book in the Poison, Fire, Magic Study trilogy, there are a few ways to get an entry in. You will get one entry for each of the following, as long as you send me a link to the proof here or via e-mail (inkmeister at

1. Link to this interview (part one or two) from your blog
2. Link to Maria’s site ( from your blog
3. Blog about this contest
4. Send referrals, for any one of Maria’s books, to five friends (and have them e-mail me to say they got one)
4. Twitter/Facebook etc. about this contest
5. Comment here

Published in October 2005, Poison Study won the 2006 Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, won the Salt Lake Co. Library’s Reader’s Choice award, was a 2005 Booksense pick, was nominated for four other awards, and received a Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly.


The Rest of the Story May 14, 2009

Filed under: Writing — sallyhanan @ 11:04 am
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The other day, I talked about how to write good opening lines—the kind that hook the reader and draw him in—that make him want to find out what happens. Using the opening lines from a previous post, I simply continued to write what I saw and watched it unfold.

This story ended up being more of a character study, which can really help a writer. It got me into the character’s head and I could figure her out a little.

I wanted to dig deeper into the mind of a crotchety old lady and find some gold; and I wanted to show that, despite Mrs. Hobbs’ outer caustic mouth and body language, underneath all that was a heart that needed a friend. Showing the vulnerable side of a character can then help readers to like and identify with her more, rather than dislike her.

With flash fiction, a writer can really only introduce two characters and have one incident; otherwise, the story will go over the acceptable word limit (1,000 words; sometimes even fewer). This one ended up being under 5oo words.

Angelika was masticating. Even though she was looking in from the outside, and the book store window was a bit grimy, Mrs. Hobbs was certain she could see the girl’s jawbone moving up, down, in, out . . . such a nasty habit: gum chewing. So uncouth.

She clicked the wheelchair into forward to get closer to the glass and rapped it with her cane. Angelika must have seen her out of the corner of her eye, because Mrs. Hobbs could have sworn she saw the girl’s left eyeball twist into the back of her cranium before it turned her way; if she were a swearing woman, that is.

Angelika’s svelte body wisped its way toward the door and pushed into it from the inside with a slow swish. Mrs. Hobbs felt her breath quicken along with her motorized chair, as she rose up the ramp at full throttle before almost doing a wheelie into the establishment.

Angelika’s chomping was audible now. Mrs. Hobbs made sure that she was seen turning the volume down in her hearing aid—a sophisticated device that had enabled her to turn off her husband during football season, God rest his soul.

“So? Did you get it in then?”

Angelika moved to stand in front of the visitor, arms folded across her barely-discernible chest, fingers draped like silk ribbons on the black turtleneck dress. One eyebrow lifted slightly with the shake of her head.

“Mrs. Hobbs. I have told you that I will call you when the book comes in.”

Mrs. Hobbs slumped her head into her neck. “Alright then.” Her cane ascended into the air. “Help me get back to the bus stop.”

“Mrs. Hobbs! I have told you before that I cannot leave the premises.” Angelika’s legs took a few steps to the wall. “Now, please; I have a lot to do.”

Feeling like a deflated balloon, Mrs. Hobbs removed herself from the store. Bubble gum popped behind her right before the door shut her out.

Her chair remained at the bottom of the wheelchair ramp for quite some time. Occasionally, a surreptitious set of fingers would reach up and wipe at her eyes. Once her breathing settled into a less labored pattern, Mrs. Hobbs buzzed her way mechanically until the wheels came to a halt at the bus stop.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow, How to Win Friends and Influence People will get here.


But God Wrote This Book!! May 12, 2009

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A group of freelance editors got together last week to discuss the phenomenon of receiving submissions from authors who were sure their manuscripts came directly from God. Some statements made by writers:

God wrote my book.
I want to put God as the author on my front cover.
I’m just letting the Holy Spirit write it all.
I’m not sure how many words it will end up being. God is writing the book, and when he says it’s done, then it’s done.
God dictated this book to me; it has to be published.
On his title page, “By —–, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.”
I’m rewriting the Bible–God has told me that all the other translations are wrong and heresy, so I’m going to do it the right way.
You shouldn’t charge me for editing because it will be a service to God.
I know my book is going to be a best seller because the Holy Spirit is writing it.
God gave me this message.

The problem with this?
As with any piece of writing, a first draft will always be a first draft. Even if the words are moonbeamed from heaven, the writer will translate them into his or her own level of understanding, culture, and word choice; in other words, they won’t end up sounding exactly like God. Think of it in relation to playing telephone, only with one person in the chain whispering from the other side of a chasm.

Granted, there any many wonderful Christians who can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and be led by him. Nevertheless, God requires excellence in his temples, and it takes the Ephesians’ “brick upon brick” (see Eph. 2:20-22) method to build something beautiful and complete. We are expected to be good stewards of any gift we have, so fair dues should be given to those writers who listened, wrote, and then dared to take the next step and submit their writing to an editor, agent, or publishing house. Being a good steward, though, also includes making the presentation of that gift as outstanding as possible.

Every master craftsman has gone through years of dedicated work to earn that title. In the same way, a writer is not naturally brilliant the moment he/she starts to write. Most established writers have worked with other writers, taken classes, and written a lot before their work was published. They honed the discipline of writing on a regular basis, of learning from critique, and of figuring out how to write clearly and in an orderly way that makes sense to the reader. Successful writers take their emotions out of the editing process and let the editor do his/her job to make the manuscript worthy of publication.

God can certainly guide an author along the way, using his/her talent and his voice to create something unique and beautiful. Nevertheless, when writers use some of the phrases mentioned in the opening of this article, the statements tend to creep out editors so much that they run the other way rather than sign up for the job.

“There’s an inside joke among editors that God is the worst literary agent ever.”

It happens, quite often, that when writers talk about being instantly successful because God gave them their Magnus Opus, it translates into meaning, “God gave me the words; therefore, I will make millions, and I don’t have to do any other work to make it excellent (because it already is).” With this mind-set and lack of effort on the writer’s part, an editor usually has to do a line-by-line edit because the quality of writing, grammar and punctuation is so bad.

Any agent would be hard pressed to think of a submission that did not need editing, despite the author’s fame to date. There will always be wordiness, misspelled words, and lack of clarity on some pages of a manuscript. Writing has never been a free fall into fame and fortune. Rewrites are the norm.

“If God wrote your book, why didn’t he edit it too?”

The cost of editing
A freelance editor owns her time, and she wants to use it well. She works to pay her bills and provide for her family. She cannot give accurate quotes based on unfinished work on the client’s behalf, nor can she rely on random word counts pulled out of the air.

Editing is a business.

Editors quote estimated charges based on the market prices and their years of experience, so if an editor has given you a quote, don’t ask for a reduced fee.

The Israelites were not a bunch of freeloaders asking for favors based on who they knew (God). They appreciated beauty and experience, and they were willing to pay good money for those things.

Consider this
Yes, God may be closer to you than your cochlea, but don’t assume that this means you have talent. Be humble, get input from practiced writers, and never submit anything to the bigwigs that is not 100% professional in appearance and quality. If an editor says your writing needs a lot of polishing, don’t take that comment as a criticism of your ability to hear God; just understand that you have not yet reached the level of master craftsman. Consider yourself an apprentice, learn from the best, and listen well. It was this approach that resulted in Joseph, Daniel, and David’s promotion in Old Testament times. Perhaps, by imitating the attitude of these tried and true heroes of the faith, your name will become famous, too.

Many thanks to the members of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network for their input on this topic.


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