An open letter to Charlotte H. F______ of Detroit

Dear Ms. F_____:

Your voicemail message for me arrived in the midst of a hurricane evacuation and storm forecast that has escalated to a hurricane warning for my coastal city and county, which is why I’m unable to return your call or answer the phone when you call again to discuss what seems to be your self-published poetry workbook or textbook. You did not provide your email address, and you don’t seem to have a discoverable online presence that would allow me to contact you via email, so I’ve resorted to a blogpost. Maybe this information also will be helpful to other writers in your situation.

Please understand that for nonfiction books, an established author platform is a nonnegotiable prerequisite for becoming one of my clients.

Please note the query guidelines on my website, which specify not to phone my agency but, instead, to send email containing all of the listed information that I would need in order to determine whether I might be able to work with you.

As it turns out, the information you’ve requested most likely can be found in one of my earlier posts, which I’ll list for you below. A great deal more information that might be helpful to you can be found on this blog. Enter the relevant keywords in the blog’s search box.

Literary agents for textbook authors

The demands of commercial authorhood today

How will readers ever find your book?

To writers who ask if I can interest traditional publishers in their self-published books

The posts linked above as well as the other information on this blog should send you in the right direction. If you feel you need to discuss your writing with someone, may I suggest you attend a reputable writers’ conference or a workshop on getting published that is led by a writer or literary agent you admire?

One of the best sources for information about getting your book published is Jane Friedman’s amazing blog.

Thank you for thinking of me. I wish you the best of luck with your previously published book or new manuscript and your search for the perfect agent to represent you.

Sincerely yours,

Robin Mizell

To all others who happen to read this post and wish to express well wishes or ask questions, please don’t be offended by my inability to respond to your comments this weekend. If all goes swimmingly, I’ll check the blog on Monday, October 10, 2016. Peace out.

Best online explanations of the creative writing advice “show, don’t tell”

It’s sound advice. A creative writer ought to show the reader what is happening in a story instead of telling or explaining too directly. Overtelling can make a novel read like a screenplay treatment.

The exception that immediately comes to mind occurs when an engaging and intriguing narrator recounts a story in a particular, even peculiar, manner that indirectly reveals parts of the hidden narrative. The narrator then becomes a significant character in the story. Too many writers unconsciously are the narrators of the books they write, when they would do better to invent more compelling doppelgängers.

Any truly creative writer can break the “show, don’t tell” rule to marvelous effect, but it won’t be easy.

For the aspiring author who is trying not to hit the reader over the head, following are a few convincing explanations of “show, don’t tell,” which, by the way, also can be effective in journalism. Read these posts in descending order if you need to grapple with the concept of “show, don’t tell.” I’ve attempted to list the simplest explanations first.

4 Questions To Ask Before Self Publishing (See questions 2 and 4.)
by Beth Bacon

Ask the editor: Trusting the reader
by Alan Rinzler

Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs
by Chuck Palahniuk

Stop Explaining Your Story (And Start Showing It)
by Janice Hardy

Don’t Explain, Don’t Explain, Don’t Explain
by Beth Hill

How to Apply the Advice to “Show, Don’t Tell”
by Nick Daws

Another reminder that, even when showing, less is more

Overtelling, Overshowing, Overselling
by Jane Lebak

For extra credit: an allusion “is not a shout-out”

The quality of allusion is not google
by Nicholas Carr

Comprehending the rationale behind “show, don’t tell” can allow a writer to feel less coerced by critics and more in control of the creation. That’s how the reader prefers to feel, too—like a co-creator.

If you find any of the listed articles particularly helpful, then by all means go thank their authors. Praise is in short supply these days.

The best and the brightest eschew oversimplification

One of the reasons I work with creative writers is so I can spend my time with people who are articulate and intelligent. We don’t always agree. We don’t always get along, but at least we’re able to communicate.

I would have disagreed with some of what H.L. Mencken wrote when he was alive, but I can’t argue with something he published in the Smart Set in 1922:

In every age the advocates of the dominant political theory seek to give it dignity by identifying it with whatever contemporaneous desire of man happens to be most powerful. In the days of monarchy, monarchy was depicted as the defender of the faith. In our present era of democracy, democracy is depicted as the only safe guardian of liberty. And the communism or super-communism of tomorrow, I suppose, will be sold to the booboisie as the only true palladium of peace, justice and plenty. All of these attempts to hook up cause and effect are nonsensical. Monarchy was fundamentally not a defender of the faith at all, but a rival and enemy to the faith. Democracy does not promote liberty; it diminishes and destroys liberty. And communism, as the example of Russia already shows, is not a fountain that gushes peace, justice and plenty, but a sewer in which they are drowned.

What was true in 1922 remains true today. Mencken’s “booboisie,” who are more vocal and visible than ever, prefer simplistic, even mystical, solutions to complex problems that have been intractable for hundreds of years. I’d much rather face and discuss the facts and with people who know the history and eschew oversimplification.

The Smart Set

  Image: The Smart Set, March 1922 (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Litmags that specialize in disability-related literature

pen and journals

  Photo courtesy of Joanna Kosinska

Online, a creative writer can find her tribe much more easily than is possible anywhere else. The following disability-focused literary publications are readily discoverable and of interest to all, but they’re especially important to writers with disabilities.

I’ll add to this list when similar publications come to my attention. Please let me know if I’ve missed any good ones.


Breath & Shadow

The Deaf Poets Society

Disability Studies Quarterly

Exceptions Journal



Snap Journal

When Language Runs Dry


The Disability Literature Consortium and the blog DISPOET regularly post calls for submissions and other opportunities for writers. They encourage collaboration among artists.

Also of interest

Publishing stories about mental illness and recovery

Publications that specialize in the topics of illness, healing, and the medical professions

The demands of commercial authorhood today


  Photo courtesy of Alexander Solodukhin

Daydreaming fosters creativity. Industriousness, on the other hand, is beneficial for commerce. Rarely is a creative writer equally productive in both modes.

Everyone’s favorite writers’ conferences and how-to-get-published guides gently encourage and inspire. They wouldn’t be as popular if they presented a fully realistic picture of what it takes for an author to succeed commercially—that is, by selling lots of books. As an unfortunate, unintended result, many aspiring book authors are led too soon to believe they’re ready to compete with their idols in the publishing world. I’m conflicted about how to bring this matter up with prospective clients.

The telltale promise that exposes naïve writers every time is, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes for my book to succeed.” They feel compelled to say it, because they haven’t begun to envision and haven’t yet started whatever it takes. Technically, it’s a failure of their imagination. It shouldn’t happen.

My job is to screen out the dilettantes and hobbyists and to coach the thoughtful, devoted, solid professionals who have chosen writing as a career path. Following are some of the questions I try to remember to ask prospective clients when we’re deciding whether we’ll be able to work together.

Takeaway: If you don’t have good answers to these questions, then there’s no need to pitch your manuscript to me. You’re not ready.

How much time can you invest in building your writing career, knowing you’ll simultaneously need to spend significant time earning income? Holding down a day job is not an issue if you have enough passive income or savings to support yourself for more than a few years. Will any of your commitments over the next several years prohibit you from being in the public eye and from devoting a lot of unpaid time to your author platform and your writing? *

Have you already proven you’ll be able to market yourself as an author? Have you developed a following or any sort of name recognition among a sufficiently large group of people who are likely to buy your book? Consider that selling books primarily to the writers in your social circle isn’t an ideal marketing strategy, unless your book happens to be a writers’ manual.

Can you show me articles, essays, or stories you’ve written that were published in journals and magazines or on websites with some traffic? While unremunerative, collecting publication credits can be a quick-start learning experience. By the way, I tell new writers that it’s likely to take sixty submissions to get a first short story or essay published in a selective journal or magazine, including the digital ones.

Do you write a column or blog for a print or online publication? Landing that sort of (typically low-paying) gig demonstrates your ability to network and collaborate with an editor.

Do you have a professional-looking website and an active, engaging presence on significant social media sites? Which authors’ websites are your benchmarks? Don’t think of emulating but learn from the living authors you most admire.

If you’ve made no initial progress on your author platform before contacting me, then I’ll be forced to assume you never will. It takes a great deal of time to acquire the technical and social skills and then to execute a long-term publicity strategy for a career. Many, in fact most, writers aren’t terribly teachable or motivated to work on their techniques for self-promotion, without which their chances of succeeding as a commercial author are just too remote. I’m obligated to choose clients who are prepared to knock it out of the park, not those who have never shown up for batting practice.

I do my utmost to prepare a new client to collaborate successfully with a publisher and with the people who will offer opportunities for good publicity that might increase book sales. The actual work is up to the writer. Some might prefer to find and hire freelancers to help with some of their responsibilities. I don’t recommend delegating tasks, because no one will care more about the success of a book than its author. Usually it’s obvious when there’s no practical possibility that a potential client will follow through on vague promises to hire someone to do the work they don’t want, or don’t know how, to do.

Once a book is under contract, a publisher’s timeline is unyielding. Authors sometimes are asked, for example, to turn around revisions or proofs in as little as two weeks. No one will worry whether those two weeks happen to fall during the author’s annual vacation in the Florida Keys. Grace under pressure is an enormously valuable trait.

I emphasize to new clients the benefit of rolling up their sleeves. If a publishing team begins to sense that their new author isn’t working as hard as they are to launch the author’s book successfully, then the publisher’s staff will shift their focus to another book by another author. Conversely, if an author is going above and beyond anyone’s expectations to generate amazingly creative publicity for a book, then the publishing team will be enthusiastic and motivated, at least to care, even if they don’t have a spare moment to act. The caring part matters. It ripples out. The word spreads. You’ve got to read this one!

Debut authors get one chance to establish their commercial viability. It doesn’t matter whether their first books are self-published or traditionally published. The sales data are inescapable. To the largest trade book publishers, an author was a financial risk who cautiously was given an opportunity to become a profitable investment. If readers didn’t show their approval by purchasing thousands of copies of the author’s book, the record of poor sales becomes all but impossible to overcome. When a book flops, according to the trade book publishing industry’s definition of failure at the time, then commercial publishers won’t invest in the author’s future works. It doesn’t matter how gifted the author is or how much I believe in and like the person. A first-time author is viewed as a more strategic risk than one whose published book hasn’t sold well.

I’ve been through this fantasy-wrecking process with writers who thought they could either a) embark on degree programs, internships, alternate career development, or other major new endeavors while simultaneously building a career as a book author, or b) immediately discard all of their practical plans in favor of a career as a book author, without realizing how slim the chance that writing ever will generate an income sufficient to live on. The illusion of overnight success is the de facto gate beyond which most aspiring authors can’t progress.

These demands might seem unbearable or unfair, but as long as a few good writers are finding imaginative ways to put in whatever effort is required to succeed commercially, they will be the ones setting the bar so high.

How do you plan to manage all of the work ahead of you?

* In case you haven’t noticed, these expectations have an unfair and disparate impact on writers who are not wealthy but desire careers in the arts requiring many hours of labor with little likelihood of financial gain. I already do a lot of pro bono work as an agent, as I’m sure most authors’ representatives do, because we believe in trying to mitigate the existing disadvantages. At least one nonprofit literary agency exists in the U.S. Check it out. Individual publishing houses and arts funding agencies contribute much more to solving this persistent problem.

Literary agencies located across the African continent

postage stamps

  Photo courtesy of Graham Soult

Writers looking for literary agencies in African countries will not find an overabundance of them. To maximize the chances of impressing one of these few agents with your talent, prepare your strategy carefully. Read my 25 steps to finding and working with a literary agent.

Learn how to get your book published successfully by reading Jane Friedman’s advice to authors. If you write short stories or poems, take a look at Ayelet Tsabari’s free guide to publishing in literary magazines.

I welcome information about any other literary agencies located in African countries.


Sphinx Agency – Ahmed Ibrahim
Tanany Book Services – Mostafa Tanany


The Lumina Literary Agency

South Africa

The Lennon-Ritchie Agency – Aoife Lennon-Ritchie
Talk To Me Literary Agency – Monica Seeber
Van Aggelen African Literary Agency – Bieke Van Aggelen


Chirikure Chirikure

We’ve reached peak vanity (I hope)

Now that we all have a book, a blog, a microphone, or a stage, we are well equipped. We can reach an audience. We can communicate our messages. We are empowered. Someone somewhere is paying attention to us.

Someone, or maybe many people, are paying attention and judging. They’re deciding whether we’re wasting their time and if they should shift their attention to someone more entertaining or intelligent or informed.

No one is assigned to stop us from making fools of ourselves by being unprepared, unethical, or ungracious when we take the stage or publish our work. Our vanity has demanded a means to get attention, and now we have it. Are we ready?

Asa Rodger

  Photo courtesy of Asa Rodger

Heartbreak all around

Sad news of romantic love lost or in jeopardy has come too frequently this spring. It makes me melancholy, and it makes me try harder to rationalize everyone’s emotional reactions in order to pretend that any of them make sense.

loveEach human being, myself included, is a tangle of emotional contradictions. At the moment, I can’t help thinking we’ve gotten the idea of love all wrong—so wrong that we wind up conflicted at every turn. We’ve overcomplicated love. We’ve reinforced a mythology of love that is unnecessarily unrealistic. We’ve insisted that love is about tender feelings for another person, but I’m not sure we’re being honest.

If love is a way of feeling—an emotional state—then maybe it’s more correct to imagine love as the exquisite joy that arises within a person who has been accepted, validated, encouraged, and valued in any number of ways. Who wouldn’t want more of that? The risk of losing such an emotional high is like the prospect of going through detox.

Are we confusing ourselves with the words we use to speak of love? If we were to revise the usual definitions and come up with more appropriate metaphors, could we understand ourselves better as beings in whom a sense of love is evoked rather than bestowed? Should we correctly term love a response rather than an interaction? Maybe love doesn’t have an object.

It’s easy to predict that heartbroken lovers will experience love again. The inevitability of finding new love is part of what makes love look to me more like an enviable state of mind than a relationship between two people.

It’s old news from Psychology Today but worth remembering:

In the world of relationships, the most important numbers to learn are: five to one. That is the ratio of positive interactions to negative ones that predicts whether a marriage will last or become one of the sad statistics of divorce.

The Psychology Today article briefly summarizes some of the research findings of John M. Gottman, whose blog I found just this moment in order to link to the source of the studies. The blog looks like a wonderful distraction.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but Gottman’s research seems to support my purely extemporaneous contention. Grant, if you will, that the feeling or experience of love evaporates rather quickly, or can transform into pain, when the sensation of being regarded positively by another person is disrupted or the scales don’t remain tipped five to one. It can happen suddenly, or gradually over a long period of time.

Try to disregard all the clichés we use to describe it. Might love be nothing more than one person’s response to another’s behavior? Even if the other person’s actions are intentionally supportive, affirming, romantic, manipulative, or seductive, should they be termed loving? Shouldn’t we use separate, more accurate words for the effort and the reaction, the cause and the effect? Would more exact word pictures help us to understand the necessity of working at long-term relationships? Would precision with language allow us to comprehend why some people cannot feel loved? Would factual labeling make true love appear less haphazard and elusive?

Writers ought to be able to grapple with this idea better than I’m doing. What do you think? (That is, those of you who don’t believe it’s better for love to remain mysterious.) I’m open to debate and certainly don’t have the answers. Point me to some relevant research or just give me your thoughts.