Sunday, August 31, 2008

Writing Columns: Spreading the Word

copyright 2008, Aaron Paul Lazar

Award winning writer, editor, writing coach, and academic consultant, Noelle Sterne holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University in English and Comparative Literature. She has published fiction, essays, poems, and writer’s craft articles in many magazines and online resources, including Absolute Write, ByLine, Children’s Book Insider, Writer’s Digest special issues, Writers’ Journal, The Writer, and, most recently, the 2008 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. Her bio goes on and on, and is incredibly impressive.
In June, she interviewed me about the value of writing columns. This will be part of a larger piece that Noelle is writing, but I thought I'd share my answers here with you.

Noelle: Why do you feel a column is valuable for a writer?

Aaron: Columns provide multiple avenues to “spread the word.” Not only are they ideal opportunities for building name recognition and growing ones circle of readers, but they also provide connections with real live people, especially if they’re online and feature a “comments” section.

There’s nothing more satisfying than posting an article on writing advice, or even general “life lessons,” and receiving voluminous responses ranging from “thanks for sharing,” to “you made my day!” I love connecting with readers on every level, whether they are LeGarde Mystery fans or just plain humans with common passions or angst.

Of course, if readers enjoy your columns, they may well enjoy your books. So it’s a natural progression for column readers to ask questions about and then devour the series, one book at a time.

Noelle: What drawbacks, if any, do you see in a writer having a column?

Aaron: Okay, here’s the rub. Being asked to write a regular column is a coup, right? It’s a validation that a magazine editor or literary journal host believes in your work and thinks readers would come back to you, week after week, or month after month. What an honor! But there is a down side. The pressure can be tough to produce something fresh and new on a regular basis. And of course, it takes away from your pure writing time if you’re a book author.

I write “Seedlings,” a monthly column that started life at Bob Burdick’s “The Back Room,” literary journal, then moved into the Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and the Voice in the Dark Literary journal at I also host the (a social network) “Writing Essentials” group on Saturday mornings. The latter involves reading and approving/declining writing submissions for the day, depending on their quality and consistency within established guidelines. I also post an article each week, addressing group members. Sometimes I appeal to their “writerly” sides, with articles filled with writing advice or even book reviews. At other times I write about my life, or grandchildren, or dog. ;o) But I try to consistently show up (with the exception of vacations, severe illness or catastrophes) and touch base with the group on Saturday mornings. Of course, my weekends are packed with chores – so I have to rise extra early to prepare for this. It’s a big commitment, and one I don’t take lightly.

Noelle: What advice would you give to a writer who wants to pitch a column?

Aaron: I’m embarrassed to admit that I never had to pitch a column. They sort of "came" to me. LOL. That said, if I were trying to snag such a job from scratch, I would create my own “column” by branding it with a name, photo, and logo, and posting regularly on social or writers sites, such as or Murder By 4, a new blog that I host with three wonderful writers that appeals to both writers and readers. Murder by 4 just started in March, but we’ve seen amazing growth and the readership is soaring. Becoming a regular contributor to such sites will increase your name recognition and may result in someone else asking you to join their journal or newsletter.

Let me share what I mean by branding. For “Seedlings,” I chose a beautiful photo I’d taken of my tangerine Siberian Wallflowers. (see above)

Full of color, it epitomized my passion for life, gardens, and all things beautiful. It symbolized “me,” in that I am always either out in my gardens, or dragging my characters around their gardens, or picking bountiful baskets of vegetables and fruit from my gardens. While up to my elbows in soft earth, I’m always happy. You get the idea.

Next, I needed a header or blurb that represented what in the world it is I write about. I chose this, and also use it for my blog header.

The talented artist, Ardy Scott, at Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine designed this logo for me for their site.

While you’re creating your lovely stable of columns, by creating these bits and pieces that go with it – you are branding yourself.

And as long as your host(s) don’t mind you republishing your work, there’s no reason why one can’t post in multiple sites – social networks, writers groups, your own blog, simultaneously. It can get complicated, though. I have to keep a massive spreadsheet of all my reviews and columns to keep track of what posted where and when!

Be sure to have a collection of pieces you can draw on – if you are pitching a column, you need to “have” a column with multiple articles that you use to showcase your talents. Shoot for somewhere between 800 and 2000 words to start, but naturally you must comply with your host’s submission requirements in all cases.

Noelle: How did you get your column?

Aaron: I started corresponding with Bob Burdick (aka RC Burdick) after reading his wonderful mystery, The Margaret Ellen. (that’s another great topic, how reviews help increase credibility and internet presence) and falling in love with his characters and writing style. We struck up a friendship, and one day he asked me to write a piece about “The Writer’s Life.” I did, and thus was born the “Seedlings” columns. Prior to that I’d thrust all my writing energy into my novels. But it didn’t take long for this form – a bit more casual and folksier than my mysteries – to become addictive. Once established at Bob’s site, I also posted on my blog and other locations. Soon I was asked to do Seedlings for FMAM, and it grew from there.

Noelle: Any other comments? They are most welcome.

Aaron: If your ultimate goal is to promote your books through networking – a worthy endeavor – columns are a wonderful way to enhance the process. But don’t stop there. Be sure to join writers’ groups, read extensively and post reviews, keep your website fresh and exciting, and participate in as many library and book events as possible. I love reading aloud to my fans – and that has brought in new opportunities on radio and live events. Just be careful to balance these efforts so that you still have time to write!


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley of upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and and watch for newest release, Mazurka, coming in January 2009 and Healey's Cave, March 2009.

1 comment:

Marta Stephens said...

Balance. That's the key to everything, isn't it?

Nice interview and so on the mark about writing columns. I love getting feedback too. Even if I only get one, it makes my day.