Monday, July 28, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Book Review Editor (Part I)

Jane Henderson talks
to Saturday Writers
Jane Henderson, book review editor for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, was the special guest speaker at the July meeting of Saturday Writers. 

SW president Jennifer Hasheider, along with the rest of the board, did an excellent job recruiting and hosting Jane at the monthly meeting at the St. Peters Community and Cultural Arts Center.

During Jane’s talk, and afterwards at lunch, she was candid, approachable, informative, and gracious when describing her review selection process and when answering questions about books, reviews, writing, and the changing world of publishing. 

Here are some highlights.

* Jane receives about 300 books a week for review. She held up some of the books from her “July stack” and explained why she might send one book out for review but not the others. (Some selection considerations are listed below.)

* Most of the books sent to her come from mainstream publishers and small presses, although she also receives books from independent authors.

* Due to cutbacks in print space, personnel, and revenue, the paper has a limit of three reviews each week--although occasionally a feature writer will do a story about a writer if there's something newsworthy. (She remarked that several newspapers have discontinued their book review sections entirely.)

* The main area of focus for book reviews is the paper’s readers, not the author.

* The paper sometimes reviews paperbacks, but rarely reviews self-published books.

* The paper does not review self-help or diet books.

* When selecting which books to send to reviewers, some considerations are:
   Is it newsworthy?
   Is it unusual?
   Is it unusually well done?
   Is it something readers are interested in reading about?
   Is it something readers should be interested in reading about?
   Is there a local connection?
   Who published it?
   When was it published? 
   Has the book won a major award?
   Is the book written by a known name of someone who is coming to town?
   What is the story about?
   Is it original or the first book of its kind? (She used the example of follow-on books about wizards similar to the Harry Potter series are not as newsworthy as the original Harry Potter books.)

* Stories are important.

* The best books have good plots, engaging characters, extraordinary use of language, and compelling stories.

 * A review is not just free publicity; it is one person’s opinion about a book.

* She trusts her reviewers and doesn't edit a lot. Reviewers conform to the newspaper's style and standards.

In my next post I’ll share some of Jane’s suggestions for local authors and publishers who want to submit their books for review: when to contact her, what to include in their submissions, and what to avoid doing.

Check out Jane's book blog here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Double Feature: Not Your Mother's Book Signing at STL Books

 Last week I was among two dozen local writers who participated in a a double Not Your Mother's Book signing at STL Books in Kirkwood, MO. The signing featured contributors from NYMB: On Being a Mom, which several writing friends and I have a stories in, and NYMB: On Family, which several of my writing friends have stories in.

My good friend and High Hill Press CEO Lou Turner picked me up and drove me and another good friend Marcia Gaye to the event in Lou's luxurious Lincoln, which did just about everything except drive itself.

Several of my writing friends have already blogged about the gala. I'm a bit late chiming in, but I wanted to post these photos in case you missed the report anywhere else.

The first shot is of the generous and gracious STL Books owner Robin Theiss kicking off the festivities, while NYMB editors Dianna Graveman and Linda O'Connell look on.

Contributor Jenny Beatrice reads her
sweet story about her daughter.

Sioux Roslawski reads her
hilarious tale about her son.

Dianna and Linda relax
after the event.

I snapped this photo from Lou's
SUV. After hiking a few blocks
to the parking lot, my feet were screaming.
It was a long night, but lots of fun!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Interview with Sarah Kohnle: Reporter, Editor, Cyclist, Humanitarian, and Author of "Shifting Gears"

I'm pleased to have Sarah Kohnle as my guest today. I met Sarah a couple years ago when I was a speaker at the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers guild conference, and she invited me to give a writing workshop at the annual Missouri State Teachers' Association retreat along the Jacks Fork River in the Ozarks. During the retreat I met so many teachers who are also writers, which was an inspiring experience. When Sarah told me about her book, I invited her to be interviewed on my blog, and she graciously agreed to do it! 

Sarah has been a reporter/editor for many years and has multiple publishing credits to her name in newspapers, trade magazines, and corporate newsletters. A native of North Dakota, she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and a master’s degree in communication from the University of Illinois. Currently, she is managing editor for a state association for teachers.

For Shifting Gears, she put her professional skills to work, interviewing numerous professionals including those associated with cycling and exercise, law enforcement, and funeral homes. Additionally, she conducted first-hand research while bicycling on roads across Kansas and Idaho, and on bicycle trails in Illinois and Missouri.

Thank you, Sarah, for taking time from your busy schedule to visit, and congratulations on the release of your novel, Shifting Gears  You are an accomplished writer, reporter, photographer, editor --- and now a published novelist. What (or who) inspired you to become a writer?            
Sarah: My journalism career started early; I recall publishing a newspaper in elementary school with a classmate. I have no idea where the inspiration came from, however, I do know one of my relatives was a newspaper columnist in the 1800s. It’s a real treat to have some of her articles. 
 It seems like you were destined to become a reporter! One of your passions is long-distance cycling. How did long-distance cycling spark your idea for Shifting Gears, and what kind of research did you perform while writing your novel?          

Sarah: I had ridden across Iowa years ago. When this idea came along, as a former newspaper reporter, I wanted to do some firsthand research, so I signed up for a ride across Kansas. To train, I logged many hours on a bike trail in Illinois. My love of long-distance cycling was rekindled. So far, Idaho was my favorite state to ride. Next spring, my husband and I hope to go on a bike and barge trip in Holland.

 Traveling to Holland for a bike and barge trip sounds so exciting! Shifting Gears has been described as a relational novel, written in the style of Anne Tyler. What can you tell us about the characters and story line of Shifting Gears?         

Sarah: A reviewer really nailed it: “I enjoyed the writer's clear voice, the consistency of the book's purpose and progress as Meg and Josh traversed life together -- but not quite together. This was a careful drawing of the changing relationship of a mother transcending her care-worn past and navigating new realities with her ever more independent son. The author thoroughly explored the power and presence of the absent husband-father. The supporting characters were well drawn and the description rich and visceral as the two travel together through thick and thin across America.”  That is an impressive review! Now, onto the business end of your book. Shifting Gears was published by Astraea Press. Why did you choose Astraea to publish your novel, and how was your experience with them?          

Sarah: I discovered Astraea Press last summer and was intrigued by their concept of publishing clean fiction. They were exceptional to work with. The editors were wonderful and pushed me in a good way. Working on the cover with a lot of fun as the artist and I tried various approaches. I love the cover; it is colorful and inviting. You and the artists did a wonderful job. So, where can readers find Shifting Gears?

Sarah: It is available online through Astraea Press, Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble. In your full-time job, you are managing editor of the MSTA magazine. Will you please discuss submission guidelines for the magazine—who is eligible to submit, what kinds of submissions you’re looking for, etc.

Sarah: Our quarterly magazine is mailed to approximately 44,000 educators. I am always looking for good pitches from writers on a variety of education topics. For MSTA questions, please contact me at

You also are coordinator of the annual MSTA retreat at Bunker Hill. What can you tell us about the annual creative retreat—how did it get started, where is Bunker Hill located, when is the retreat held, who is eligible to attend, what kinds of speakers or workshop leaders are involved, etc.? 

Sarah: When I first started at MSTA, I spent a weekend at Bunker Hill, a rustic property that has a fascinating history and has been part of the organization since 1947. The tranquil property sits along the Jacks Fork River in the Ozarks. I was inspired during my first weekend and thought other writers could benefit as well. From there I started the annual fall Creative Retreat. This year it is for writers and photographers Oct. 3-5. Enrollment is limited and more information at This year, I am excited to welcome you and Lou Turner back to meet with aspiring writers. It will be a weekend to create and to learn.
 Another of your other passions is mission trips to Central America. How did you get involved in these service trips, and what can you tell us about your experiences?          

Sarah: This spring was my fourth trip to Honduras. We work with World Gospel Outreach, an organization that has been in Honduras for 30 years. We provide medical, dental, optical services and children’s ministry to neighborhoods. One of the aspects I like about the organization is how it partners with local churches and professionals to provide on-going physical and spiritual care. That is a worthy cause, and I'm certain it is also gratifying to make a difference in the lives of so many children. I do have another writing question: What are you working on now, and what’s the best way for readers to contact you to find more about your writing?     

Sarah: I have another fun story I am working on. Readers can find me at I'm looking forward to learning more about your next book. Any final thoughts or anything else you would like to add?

 Sarah: Donna, thanks for this opportunity. I am really looking forward to our fall weekend, when the air has a slight crispness to it and the leaves begin to change.

Thank you, Sarah, for your answers to my questions, and I look forward to seeing you at Bunker Hill again this fall!

If anyone has a question or comment for Sarah, please feel free to leave them.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Chicken Soup for the Soul Call Outs: Dreams, Miracles, Moms -- and More

Summer has arrived. June was a busy month, so I haven't posted often on my blog. 

To make up for my absence, I have some calls for submissions for stories and poems from Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Each month I look forward to reading the Chicken Soup for the Soul Inner Circle Contributor Communique. In addition to photos of book signings, giveaways, and an inspiring note from publisher Amy Newmark, the "Inside Scoop" section announces upcoming topics.

The July 2014 issue includes several book topics with projected publication dates in 2015. The following is a sampling of planned topics and submission deadlines. 

Dreams: How have dreams impacted your life? Deadline is December 31, 2014

Hope and Miracles: What events have caused you wonder and astonishment or given hope for a better future? Deadline is October 30, 2014

Thanks to My Mom: Do you have a story or poem of thanks about your mom or step-mom that will make readers laugh, cry, or nod in recognition? (No general tributes or biographies or eulogies.) Deadline is September 30, 2014.

But wait! There's more.

You can find the complete call-out list along with more details on the Story Submission page. Also, be sure to follow the submission guidelines. And check the Story Submission page often for changes and updates.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sci-fi Anthology Submission Opportunity from Walrus Publishing: Building Red - The Colonization of Mars

Walrus Publishing is seeking submissions for a sci-fi anthology with the title of: Building Red: The Colonization of Mars.

Photo courtesy of NASA
The Building Red Anthology editor, Janet Cannon, wants: 

  • "Themes along the lines of genetic engineering, terraforming, and resources" (Click here for details)
  • Thoroughly researched submissions
  • Unpublished, well-written, and well-edited stories 
  • Word limit: 1,000-6,000
  • No gratuitous violence or erotica
Deadline for submissions: November 1, 2014

Writers whose stories are accepted for inclusion in the anthology will receive:

  • One-time payment of $25 
  • Five free contributor copies
  • 50% off copies that contributors purchase
  • Expected publication date is Spring 2015
Please read complete guidelines, which specify document type, margins, font, etc.

Questions? e-mail

Good luck if you submit. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Special Announcement: Compass Flower Press Uncertain Promise Anthology Deadline Extended

Have you ever wanted to be published in a professional, theme-driven anthology?

Have you ever wanted to win a big prize for your writing?

Here's a chance to do both.

How? AKA Publishing and Compass Flower Press are actively seeking submissions for their Uncertain Promise anthology contest, and they have extended the deadline until June 9.

What are the editors looking for in submissions? Fiction and Creative non-fiction, but not poetry. 

How big are the prizes?

First place is $1,000; Second place is $500; and third place is $200.

What is the word limit? 3,000 words.

What does the theme Uncertain Promise mean?

Here are some examples from the AKA website: an unexpected outcome (joy, satisfaction, renewal, despair, emotional growth, etc.) from an otherwise routine or mundane circumstance. The uncertain promise might be an unspoken commitment from a friend or lover falls through due to misunderstanding or unforeseen happening, a career failure or future crashes--or ascends--depending on the outcome of a single event. These are some of the editor's ideas, but writers are welcome to use their imaginations and interpret the theme broadly. 

May I submit something that's already been published? No. Unpublished submissions only.

How about simultaneous submissions? Yes, but please note that on the entry form and give immediate notification if your entry is accepted elsewhere.

How are the entries judged?

Fiction and creative nonfiction submissions are read and evaluated anonymously by two editorial boards. Submission does not guarantee acceptance; acceptances that make the final cut are forwarded to independent judges for possible award of cash prizes. 

Each published contributor receives one free copy of the anthology.

How much does it cost to enter? 
Non-refundable entry fees ($US) for each category are $18 for electronic submission (paid on website) or $15 for mailed submission (paid by check or on website.) Compass Flower Press and AKA-Publishing are imprints of the independent and self-supporting publisher, AKA:yola, LLC.

How many times may I enter? No limit on submissions, but each entry requires a separate entry fee.

Where is AKA Publishing located?

315 Bernadette Drive, Ste 3; Columbia, Missouri 65203

Where can I find more details? Visit the AKA website for complete details and entry instructions.

Who can I contact for more information? 
E-mail: OR click through the contact email on the website (be sure to note “Anthology Submission” in the subject line.)

What else do I need to know?
All submissions—both snail mail and e-mail—will be notified via e-mail upon receipt.

Prize winners and entries selected for publication will be posted on

Note: As a board member of AKA Publishing, I get to help spread the word about this opportunity to fellow writers.

Monday, May 12, 2014

When Riding a Zip Line Watch Out for the Noodle

Last Friday, my sister Kathleen and I, along with some of her former co-workers and 50 other brave souls, met bright and early at the YMCA in O'Fallon, MO, for a bus trip to the Trout Lodge at the YMCA of the Ozarks in Potosi, MO.

The day started out great. The early morning weather was sunny and mild with just a hint of clouds. Before we boarded the bus, our hosts at the Y provided fruit juice, bottled water, and brown paper sacks of snacks for our trip.

Due to an accident on the highway, the bus ride took longer than expected, but we enjoyed a movie on the way.

Because of our late arrival, Kathleen and I weren't able to participate in the GEO-caching event that had already begun. In a nutshell, the task involves taking a GPS tracker and making your way through the woods using longitude and latitude markings to find landmarks. Maybe next time.

Instead, we joined some friends for a pontoon ride around the lake. Our pontoon driver/guide was enthusiastic and knowledgeable. She pointed out special features of the lodge, the horse trail ride path, and the location of a pair of eagles' nest. Her passion came through as we rode across the lake.

During lunch, the weather took a turn for nasty, but we were safely inside the glassed-in dining room, with a spectacular view of the lake, as hummingbirds flitted about their feeders and lightning zigzagged across the dark sky.

Also during lunch we debated if we should try the zip lines. We decided if it rained we wouldn't do it. By the time we finished eating, the sun reappeared and clouds fluttered away -- so did our excuse.

Our group of ten was last to go, so after walking about half a mile to the launch site, we were able to observe the first group and get some tips before getting harnessed up and ready to soar.

When Kathleen took to the platform I watched for her reaction. For years she's wanted to try zip-riding, but has been talked out of it. But after seeing men and women in the first group in ages ranging from their 40s to their 80s take to the platform, she worked up her courage, and so did I.

After putting on a helmet, we were instructed to run from a platform down an incline, where we would be launched. After a successful first trip she was handed a noodle to try and hit a red-white-and-blue target at the end of the ride. After hitting the target, she returned with a huge smile and a thumbs up.

So far, so good.

My first trip was amazing. I ran off the platform and down the incline and was lifted into the sky. My ride lasted only a few minutes, but the view was lovely. Zipping past evergreens and the winding trail below, I had a great view of the dogwoods in bloom.

Not to be outdone by my sister, I decided to try my luck at hitting the target with a noodle and opted for blue to match my helmet. Just before my ride began I asked for final instructions on how to hold the noodle while also holding onto the rope.

Um. I was so focused on my hands I forgot about my feet. I made it off the platform then stumbled on the incline.

I scraped the top of my right foot and twisted my left knee--the one I've had surgery on. Ouch!

But I persevered. Although my dignity took a hit, I held onto the noodle, swatted but missed, the target, and finished the ride.

After removing my helmet and harness and being treated for a flesh wound, I hobbled back to the lodge. My knee swelled up, and it has been painful to walk on, and much to my disappointment I missed the Heart Walk on Saturday.

You might wonder: Would she do it again?

Yep. I would. It was an amazing experience, a feeling of gliding through the fresh air among tall trees with the ground below.

But next time I think I'll skip the noodle.