Interview: Writer & Editor Sherri Woosley
Our next Write Out Loud interviewee is Sherri Woosley. Sherri is a writer and editor and owns Coffee House Fiction. I met Sherri through the Maryland Writers’ Association during events for the anthology New Lines from the Old Line State, where her story “The Man with the Patchwork Soul” is included. Sherri agreed to talk with us about her freelance business as well as Coffee House Fiction’s annual writing contest.
WOL: You offer writing and editing services at Coffee House Fiction. What types of writing and editing do you do personally? What types of clients do you take on?
SW: My taste is eclectic, but I love a good story. I’m working with two clients on manuscript-length works right now. The first is a collection of family stories from Germany circa World War II. The second features a feminist demon-hunter in Victorian England. It’s kind of fun to go back and forth. Coffeehousefiction has several talented editors, though, and so we are able to edit non-fiction, technical, and academic writing besides fiction*. Our website has editor bios so that clients can request a match, and I’m generally able to source editors with specialized skills through my network in those cases where an author needs a certain expertise.
WOL: How do you find clients, market your services and/or sell your work?
SW: I’ve got a listing in Writer’s Market that I update every year, and I take out ads in e-newsletters for a number of author-oriented publications like Writer’s Digest. I also maintain lists of all past Coffeehousefiction entrants and contacts at English departments for a number of colleges and universities. Finally, I buy keywords from Google and Yahoo for the three months before the end of each contest.
WOL: Why did you decide to become a (freelance) writer/editor?
SW: After I stopped teaching at University of Maryland I wanted to have a new project to challenge me, but something I enjoyed and that made me feel like part of a community. I worked on short stories that took place in Baltimore City – and wrote “The Man with the Patchwork Soul” – at this time. I didn’t really have a network of writers so I would send out copies to my friends who like to read, asking for their feedback. Looking back, it was probably rather like taking a freshman creative writing class where everyone is well-intentioned, but inexperienced. After judging the contest for several years and writing critiques I have become a better editor and I hope that it is making me a better writer.
WOL: Do you have a “day job”? If so, how do you make time for your freelance and/or creative writing? If not, how do you schedule your writing day?
SW: My day job is my four children. My son started kindergarten at the end of August and now I just have the twins at home. During summer I was only editing. It’s much easier to point out to someone else where they need more showing and less telling than to work on it yourself. I am also known for pulling out a story and red pen while in the waiting area at gymnastics and swimming. Now that school has started again I plan to use the twins’ nap time as my writing time. I believe it’s important to have the same time set aside each day – a way to exercise your creative muscle.
WOL: What portion of what you do is writing/editing and what portion would you say is other business related work (e.g., marketing, networking, querying, etc.)?
SW: I would say about half and half. Sometimes the marketing activities don’t interest me. It’s not the part I enjoy the most, but it is part of the cost of doing business. My husband helps me with the website and with the bidding on Google and Yahoo keywords.
WOL: Where is your favorite place to write?
SW: I have a secret room. Honestly. My husband built one for me. From our library you have to move a specific book to release a powerful magnet and then one of the floor-to-ceiling shelves swings open and behind it is the study where my husband and I each have our desk and laptops. The window opens onto the back deck so in really nice weather I can climb out the window to get some fresh air and then come back in to work.
WOL: Writer’s are often known for their vices. What is your biggest writers’ vice?
SW: In college I developed the really bad habit of eating my way through long papers – like the publication history of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. I would get a cup of raw almonds, a piece of French silk pie, leftover pizza, anything where I could take a bite, work, take a bite, work. Writing a first draft is so hard for me because the idea sounds so great in my head, but then the words don’t do it justice, and I have this internal voice telling me how horrid the story is and I should give up and become a dogcatcher or something. I try to take Anne Lamott’s advice in “Bird by Bird” and just write a sh%$*y first draft, just get it down, and look at it the next day. I will drink coffee, eat chocolate, drink wine, anything to force out the first draft.
WOL: I can so relate to that, as I think many writers can. And I love Anne Lamott. Her idea of SFDs helped me to start writing again after a long hiatus. What are you working on now?
SW: I’ve got the two manuscripts I’m editing, I’m promoting the January 2010 fiction contest, and I have a few more copies of the Coffee House Fiction Anthology 2009 that I want to get sold. I also have a short story, “Runaway Train” that I’d like to get submission-ready.
That’s all business. The exciting plan, now that school has started, is to work on a short story about an insomniac and a dead shark, and a longer piece that begins with a forest chase between an archer and a two-headed moose.
WOL: Speaking of the Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest, can you tell us a little bit about why and how you started the contest?
SW: About five years ago I started looking at fiction contests as a potential market for my short stories. As I entered I began wondering how many people had entered, how close mine was to winning, etc. That is, I wanted specifics about how I was ranking against the other stories. So, I decided to run a contest myself and see who entered, what the quality was like, and how if felt to be the judge. I recruited one of my best friends from college who had a Master’s in English, and my neighbor, an avid reader with advanced teaching and counseling degrees. The three of us loved reading the stories and discussing results.
Each year Coffee House Fiction has grown in its mission to help beginning writers. The contest is unique in that each entrant can now see his or her numerical score. We also added a critique service: for an additional fee, our judges provide a detailed written critique highlighting strengths and weaknesses. We’ve also added Guest Judges each cycle and rotated the judging panel so that we always have a fresh mix. This past cycle we decided that it would be beneficial to publish an anthology of best stories after each contest cycle – instead of just publishing online – so that the winners would have a product they could take to conferences or meetings. We have the anthology available from the Coffeehousefiction.com and on Amazon.
WOL: What is the deadline for submissions? What do you look for in a winning piece?
SW: The submission period for the contest is September through midnight on January 31st, 2010. We have a variety of winning pieces—we invite readers to review them at the website before submitting—from most genres. The key element is a story that draws in a reader and affects the emotions. I would say the most common problem we see is being formulaic. By the end of the second page we all know how the story is going to end. Another common problem is killing a major character at the end of the story. It’s like the author didn’t know what to do as they were approaching the word limit and panicked. One year was especially bad and the judges and I wondered if there had been a writing prompt circulating somewhere that you had to kill a character in 3,500 words or less.
WOL: Sounds like a great contest to enter!
Thanks to Sherri for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk with us. If you want to learn more about Sherri, her work and services, or the Coffee House Fiction writing contest, head over to coffeehousefiction.com now.
[*Disclaimer: I currently offer my editing services through Coffee House Fiction. I have not previously submitted to and/or won the Dame Lisbet Throckmorton Fiction Writing Contest, nor am I currently a judge of the contest.]
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