Thursday, February 11, 2010

Interview with Sylvia Forbes - Part II

Part II of my interview with Sylvia Forbes focuses on Snowflake Press, and specifically on Bylines Writer's Calendar. The calendar on the left is the 2009 edition.

DV: I love Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar. The weekly testimonials of writers are so inspiring, and the resources to write down and organize annual goals are helpful. For several years, as publisher of Snowflake Press, you have produced this lovely and practical weekly planner for writers. When did you become the publisher of Snowflake Press? What inspired you to publish Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar?

SF: I wish I could take credit for thinking up Bylines, but all the credit goes to Linda Hagen Miller, a freelance travel writer in Washington. She published Bylines for two years, then became very successful at travel writing and didn't have time to continue publishing Bylines. She looked for someone who would continue her vision. I bought Bylines from her.

I started with the 2006 version, and have been publishing it since then. Bylines evolves each year, with new things being added. It contains substantially more now than it did in the beginning. For one thing, it is 24 pages longer. I've added a list of "literary holidays," pages for conference notes, a submission tracker form that can be copied, an expense tracker, mileage tracker, monthly office task lists for the full-time writer, goal-setting pages, and other things that hopefully help a writer keep organized. This year's Bylines has a list of Literary Festivals. Previous editions have had lists of Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning authors.

When I started, decided to put images of desks on the cover, as a creative setting for writers to imagine. With the 2008 Bylines, I started featuring actual desks of famous authors. I thought this might be helpful to writers to show them a variety of settings that inspired so much creativity. So far we've featured the writing desks of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Mark Twain and Will Rogers. I've got an idea for 2011, but writers are welcome send in suggestions if they know of a famous "writing desk" near them!

DV: As a writer, I find it so inspiring to see the the desks of famous writers on the front covers of each issue. I love that feature! Now that 2010 is here, you’ve already begun to plan next year’s calendar. What are you looking for in submissions for the 2011 issue of Bylines?

SF: Each essay reveals some aspect of writing. Some moment in a writer's life, or some realization about writing that might help other writers. I always enjoy humor, but I enjoy the serious ones, too. I like for the essays to have a positive message, rather than focusing on negative outcomes. It's hard to tell a story in 300 words or less, but writers have found many ways to do it.

Stories have included one on overcoming envy of another writer's success, how it is rewarding to be able to combine writing at home with taking care of one's children, how writing stretches the imagination, how writing has led a writer to have an amazing experience, and more. Writers have told about their divorces, death of children, overcoming disabilities and finding or changing careers, all in 300 word essays. Writers have compared writing to cooking, to rock climbing, to racing a car and to many other things. Humor is always good, but so is sincerity. We also take poems, if they're about writing.

DV: What would cause you to reject an essay? where can writers find complete guidelines?

SF: The entries that are most often rejected are those that are merely a bio of the person submitting. Complete guidelines are at, along with a few examples.

DV: Showing examples is very helpful. When is the deadline for submissions?

SF: This time it's March 1.

DV: What can writers expect from you if their submission is accepted?

SF: Once their submission is accepted, I send them a final, edited version. Hopefully we'll eliminate any last mistakes this way. Then, I ask them if they want their email address published in Bylines on the writer's contact page. Sometimes readers of Bylines want to contact the writers and compliment them, and writers have even gotten assignments from being in Bylines! I also ask the writers if they want their website to be listed as a link on the Bylines website.

Later, I ask them to fill out a brief marketing form. Using the information from the marketing form, I try to send out press releases about the author to their local newspaper and library, in hopes of helping not only sell Bylines, but helping the writer with publicity for his/her own career.

DV: You do a great job encouraging writers to get the word out about the calendar. I won a copy of this year's calendar on another writer's blog. I’m excited about the extra incentive you will be giving for the top three submissions for the 2011 calendar. Please tell us a little bit about those incentives.

SF: This year, it's more like a writing contest that has no entry fee! I choose 53 submissions for Bylines, and each will receive $5 plus a copy of the book. Then I will choose the top 3 essays, and those will receive $100, $60, and $40, respectively. This may not seem like much, but the first three years Bylines was published, they didn't pay writers at all! As Bylines becomes more successful, I'm trying to increase the pay rate.

DV: That's very generous. I imagine you will get tons of submissions, and I bet it won't be easy to pick the top three essays. What’s the best way to find out more about Sylvia Forbes, Snowflake Press or Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar?

SF: Visit for more info about the Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar. Visit for more info about my writing.

DV: Do you have any other words of advice or wisdom for my blog visitors?

SF: Keep writing!. It's easy to have self-doubt. When you get discouraged, immerse yourself in reading books on writing, read well-written books of any genre, network with writer friends and focus on the positive. Also, support your fellow writers by celebrating their successes, too.

DV: That's good advice, indeed. Thanks again, Sylvia, for being a guest blogger here today, for sharing information about yourself and for letting us know more about Snowflake Press and the Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar.

Don't forget, if you post a question or comment for Sylvia, you will be entered in the random drawing for a copy of the 2010 Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar. One winner will be announced on Monday. More importantly, don't forget to submit your essay to Sylvia by March 1.


  1. Hi Sylvia:
    Can you give writers some ideas on essay topics you'd like to see but don't and ones that have been overdone?

    Thanks for the great interview, Donna and Sylvia.

  2. Hi Sylvia,
    You've inspired me to put something together for submission for the calendar. Enjoyed the interview.
    Thanks to you and Donna.

  3. Sylvia,

    You are such an inspiration to other writers and so supportive. Thank you for selecting my essay for the 2010 Bylines Calendar.

    Thanks for the tip for the almost job. It turned into a learning experience. Now, I'm off on a tangent with a new idea. Might be getting with you for some marketing tips.

    Keep up the good work! I love the calendar and have bought one each year since you have been publishing them.

  4. On this gray day, I was feeling a little blah. Thank you, Donna and Sylvia, for the postive boost this morning.

    Sylvia, your comment about helping other writers is great because it seems to me that writers are one group that really do help one another achieve in their fields.

    Also, the comment on your awards from the Guild about different judges gave me some good food for thought. I never thought of it that way.

    I have just recently found out about Bylines Calendar, but I am sharing the news when I can.

  5. Thank you, Donna, for writing about Sylvia and the opportunity to submit to the Bylines Calendar. I'm going to send it on to the members of our local chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild. Even with her busy freelance schedule, Sylvia has sent me some writing/publishing leads, which I really appreciate. ~ Amy

  6. Hi Everyone,
    Thanks for your comments. I'm sure Sylvia can answer all your questions.

  7. Thanks Donna, Darn, I missed the first part of your interview with Sylvia. I got to read it. I hope I can find time to submit. Sylvia, you have some great ideas. What you are doing encourages other people to stay focus and run with it.
    Mary Nida

  8. The word "calendar" is deceptive. Sounds like Byline is so much more than that! I'm looking forward to finding out more.

  9. I had no idea Bylines had so much to offer the writer. Fantastic info, Donna and Sylvia. Thanks for the great blog.

  10. Hi, Margo!

    Great question on essay topics.

    As far as topics I don't want to see, there are mainly just two. One is the submission that's really only a bio and not a story at all. We leave two sentences at the end of each submission for the writer's bio, so writers do get to promote themselves on the page. But just to promote themselves and tell what they've published for the whole 300 words really doesn't help other writers or give them any insight about improving/publishing their own writing.

    The other topic that I don't think is helpful is the "I write because I must" story. Most writers become writers because they enjoy writing, so it's not really helpful to read 300 words about what everybody already knows.

    As far as stories I really like, that's a much harder question. There have been literally hundreds of wonderful stories. I'm am continually amazed at the "aha" moments that writers have experienced, the great advice, the lessons learned, the funny moments, the tender truths, and so much more that writers have shared about their careers. The essays are my soft spot. Even if Bylines had nothing else in it but the essays, I think it would be worth publishing.

    For an inside tip, I guess I'd say that stories tied to holidays are harder to find. For example, who has a true and relevant story about their writing that is somehow related to the 4th of July, or to Groundhog Day?

  11. Hi, Joy!

    I'm glad you enjoyed the interview, and I'll look forward to receiving your submission. You might also want to know that to improve your chances of getting accepted, you can submit more than one essay.

    No more than one story per writer will be published in any edition of Bylines, but if three writers submit a story on rejection, for example, and one of those writers also submits an equally good story on networking at a writing conference, that one writer has improved his/her chance to be accepted, because when possible, I try to choose stories that are on different topics, rather than publishing multiple stories on the same topic.

    Good Luck!

  12. Hi, Linda!

    Thanks for the kind words. I think pretty highly of your work, too.

    Hopefully both our careers will continue to grow, and we can continue to support each other along the way.

  13. Hi, Bookie!

    I think it's important to find a group of at least a few writers that you can be a part of, to support each other. Writing, like any other career, has its down days, but others can help get you through them.

    I know of one writing group of five writers that I really admire. They critique each other's work honestly but supportively, share market and contest info, and rejoice at each other's successes. They are some of the most published writers I know. What is impressive about them is the pile of awards they ALL win when they enter contests. It just shows how powerful helping each other can be.

    As far as judges, even though I enter contests, I try to take awards with a grain of salt. We each have our own favorite topics, favorite words we use and other preferences when it comes to writing. Judges do, too - that's just the way life is. I think that when you place in the top three, that's showing that you did a good job on the writing. Whether or not your story is actually chosen as #1 may sometimes be more about the judge's personal preferences. (Or maybe that's just wishful thinking when I don't place #1?) In any case, even just getting an article written and entered places a writer ahead of many others, as far as determination and will power in wanting to do well at writing.

    Thanks for helping to get the word out about Bylines!

  14. Hi, Mary Nida,

    I hope you will submit! I'm always ready to read a good essay.

    You're right about focus. Setting goals and staying focused on them can help writers more than they might imagine.

  15. Oh, I LOVE the Bylines Desk Calendar (and I'm not just saying that 'cause I'm lucky enough to be in it :-)

    LOVED the literary holidays this year, but I'm also a big fan of making writing goals, (and achieving writing goals :-) and you can't help keeping on track with this calendar's lists and such.

    Now, I've got another goal to get to. (Holy cow, March 1st? That's like just around the Feb. corner!)

    (Thanks, Donna! Oh, and Part I was good stuff, too, Sylvia!)

  16. Hi, K9friend,

    I agree that "Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar" is a misnomer. The weekly planner part is only about a third of the book. Maybe it should be called "Writer's Toolbox," or something else, because there are many more things in it, including a two-page list of good books on writing, and 2 pages of helpful online websites for writers.

    But that's what it was called for two years before I took it on, and I didn't want to lose the following it had already built up. So it continues to have that name.

    What do you think - should the name be changed now, after it's been published for seven years?

  17. Hi, Claudia,

    Thanks for participating! I hope you will consider submitting to Bylines.

    If you haven't ever seen Bylines, I hope you will take a peek over someone's shoulder to get a better look, if you see them with a copy! :)

  18. Hi Sylvia! What a wonderful job you're doing with Bylines. I had no idea, either, that it contained such a wealth of information. I certainly want one since learning all about it! If I don't win one here, I'll definitely buy one. I hope to get something submitted as well.
    And since you asked, I think a name change might be a good idea. There's probably lots of people out there that don't understand exactly what it is, because of the name....besides the fact that the full name is quite a mouthful! Maybe you could have a contest to choose the new name! Thanks again for all the great advice!

  19. Oops! I forgot to thank Donna for the interview! Great job! Great questions!!

  20. Hi Donna and Sylvia,

    Thanks for the great interview and tips. I love the great advice. I'm working on my submission. I think the calendar is a great way to stay inspired on a daily basis.

    Tricia S.

  21. From Sheree Nielsen
    Saturday Writers

    Hi Sylvia,

    I enjoyed your interview with Donna. I am so enthused that I am working on polishing up a submission for Bylines and maybe even a poem.

    Thanks for all the great advice. You are inspiring.

  22. Hi Cathy, Becky, Tricis, Sheree,
    Thanks for stopping by and posting a comment. I think Sylvia plans to return over the weekend to answer more questions.
    If not, you can contact her directly via her website.
    Happy writing!


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