Catherine Rankovic

Writer, with 30+ years' writing and publishing experience, 20+ years' teaching experience. Last book read: Mrs. Lincoln by Catherine Clinton.

Jul 03

If Not Now, When?

"If it's good, it will eventually be published." Tess Gallagher said this to our class twenty years ago. It is true. (Cringe.) Yes, it's true.

I didn't want to wait for "eventually". I mean, Tess published her first book at about age 30, the age I was then. And I didn't want to take a chance that somebody who was somehow incapable of appreciating my work now would find it to be good -- "eventually."

I hate to be patient or advise any other writer to be patient, because they won't be. So I'll say "Have confidence," and "Keep writing."

You believe what you write is good, don't you? That it's literature? If it's good, it's like any other good literature, like Twain or Dickens or Dickinson or Cather or what have you: It'll keep! Have faith that one day you'll know exactly where to send it, or what to do with it, or that someone will ask for it. Keep writing because "eventually" will come. It will surely bring with it requests for other things you've written. "We'd like to see more of your stories -- do you have any?" "I heard you read your poems at ____. Want to do a reading for us?" (And at that reading is an editor, or someone who knows someone who publishes chapbooks, and if your poems are truly good. . .)

If what you write is good, "eventually" will come. So stock up now!
Jun 24

Do Real Writers Write Every Day?

It is said that "real writers write every day," but of course that is a myth.

I once was in conference with a famous writer. (It was E. L. Doctorow.) The first thing he asked me was, "Do you write every day?"

I said, "No. I have to work."

His manner changed. I understood that my answer had disqualified me in some fashion; that it proved I was not truly committed, and had no future in the big leagues. The rest of the conference was perfunctory.

I didn't think it was a rude question at the time. I had read, over and over, that some writers were "too lazy" or "not disciplined" if they did not get up two hours earlier in the morning or use their after-work time to write. I tried those things, for about three days each, and couldn't see straight, much less think straight.

"Do you write every day?" E. L. Doctorow is a fine writer. But that question proved he was not a teacher.

Maybe writers who do nothing else can and should write every day, but writers with responsibilities other than writing can get too burnt-out. Tired. Depleted. And if you feel that way -- you are exactly what you feel like!

The following coping idea came from a writer with a full-time job. She tried writing in the evenings, but at best put in a spotty half-hour. The results were not worth her efforts. Weekends had to be spent on housework and errands. So she told herself:

Okay, no writing Monday through Friday. Period. You are not to go near pen and paper on those days. Writing is permitted on the weekends only -- and then only if you feel like it.

The first week she rejoiced in her freedom from the mental burden of "writing every day."

By Friday night of the second week she could hardly wait to get to her computer. She did her housework and schlepping on weeknights, didn't short herself on sleep, and on Saturday and Sunday, rested, she got good chunks of time to sit down and write. She's a real writer.
Jun 21

The Green Light for Creative Writing

EXERCISE: 1. Close your eyes and picture a traffic light, any type you want. 2. Make the light turn green. 3. Hold the picture of the green traffic light in your mind. Try to hold the picture for at least 15 seconds. 4. Picture the green traffic light whenever you think or hear stuff like this:

"I can't get an agent" "Writers never make money" "Nobody wants the kind of stuff I write" "Artists are doomed to be outsiders" "I wish I'd been born with another talent"

Gently, shine the green light on these thoughts. You have a green light to write -- whatever you want -- and be great.

Having trouble picturing a green light? Draw a traffic light. Draw rays coming out of the green lamp.

Every time you see a green light, no matter where you are, tell yourself, "That's the green light for my writing."
Jan 13

Sneaky Self-Promotion for Idiot Authors

Dying to get their books into bookstores, or sell bookstore stock, authors actually do these things:
  1. Artificial Insemination: After printing colorful card-stock promotional bookmarks featuring the title and purchase information for one’s own book, an author sticks these bookmarks into store copies of bestsellers.
  1. Disturbing the Universe: A writer in a bookstore surreptitiously moves her books closer to the front, or turns them from spine-out to face-out, or re-distributes the bookstore’s stock of her book among several subjects or shelves. She doesn’t realize that the bookstore is a business, that she is not the first writer to do this, and that the bookstore clerks know the shelves as they know their own faces; after all, they have arranged the books, often to specifications given and paid for by the publishers. It is their job eight hours a day to maintain this order.
  1. The Secret Book Signing: A writer enters a bookstore, finds his own books and secretly autographs all the copies, knowing that autographed books are considered defaced and cannot be returned to the publisher, and hoping this will force the bookstore to keep all copies on the shelves until they are sold.
  1. The James Frey Awards: A writer has golden medallion-type stickers printed with the name of a fictitious award, enters the bookstore and sticks them onto his book covers hoping this will attract attention.

Not yet dead of embarrassment and shame? Pretend you are not the author, and sell a copy of your book to every used-book dealer in town. At least it’ll be shelved in a bookstore. (A tip found online.)

Jan 06

P.S. I.R.S.

Just a note. . . . self-publication can be tax-deductible.

Jan 02

E is for eBook

The writer now has control. You can fix it so your book is available as both a downloadable eBook file that anyone can download into his or her computer -- and as a printed book. This latter as long as someone places an order for a printed copy.

I've explored two reputable companies that do this: and Lulu is simpler. You do it all yourself, and you can choose to be your own publisher or let your publisher be Lightning Source has district sales reps, support via E-mail, a bunch of manuals, and you should be set up as your own publisher already, and have bought your own ISBN.

Both companies will distribute your book through the normal channels and also online bookstores such as Both let you keep all your rights to the material.

With that kind of control the writer now has certain responsibilities. To wit:

1) You have to have a finished manuscript and the confidence that you can do this.

2) There's an initial outlay of money to publish such a book. But not a lot. Can you scrape up $100?

3) You have to follow directions and certain rules, and there's some legal stuff, and tax stuff if you make any money.

4) You can't publish just anything. Porn, for example, or pirated material, is not allowed.

5) You must proofread the copy, lay it out in book-style pages (some cheap or free software programs can help you do this), for turn the file into a distilled pdf (using Adobe software). And you provide the cover, unless that's a job you want to farm out to a graphics professional.

6) If you catch a mistake in the book after it's gone into distribution, and you want to fix it and reprint, that'll cost you mucho dinaro, or, as the Serbs say, mlogo slan, which literally means "much salt."

7) Your publishers make the book available, but they don't market or promote it. You do. A lot. There's a saying I hate that's painfully truthful: "Success is an ongoing effort." (spit-spit-phewie!)

8) Your publishers and distributors take their percentages, just as in the real world, and what's left belongs to you.

9) You have the "self-published" stigma, at least for now. The only way around it is to have kick-booty material! A darned good and worthwhile book that people will want to buy! Ah! That was what those old-fashioned publishers wanted! Does your book have what it takes?

I'll jump in first, and tell you how the water is.

Jan 03

Unagented YA Manuscripts Sought

Wide open market for UNAGENTED young adult fiction -- a new Harlequin imprint, actually -- reported on Tricia Grissom's Coffee and Critique blog. I know that you know somebody with a YA novel, so please pass the information on.

Jan 02

Spring Course in Advanced Creative Nonfiction

If you're working on nonfiction and need a workshop, I'm teaching an evening workshop called Nonfiction Seminar at University College, Washington University, this spring. It's a 3-credit workshop course for memoir, essay, biography, travelogues, and nature writing; or narrative, as-told-to and other forms of creative nonfiction. The course emphasizes professionalism and publishability.

The course meets Tuesdays, 6:00-8:30 p.m., begins January 13 and ends May 5. I am happy to answer any questions. Please pass the word. Thank you.

To register, go to and click "Courses and Registration" The course number is U11 313, under English Composition, and tuition is $1495.

I'm also teaching a course Thursday evenings, same place, U11 323, called The Art of the Personal Essay.

Jan 01

Shame on You for Selling Your Books

If any empire deserves to crumble, it's publishing as we have known it. This good New York Times article discusses online amateur book dealing. When you sell your used books on Amazon it bothers publishers no end because they get paid for the book only once. Maybe like their writers they should get used to being paid only once.

By comparison, a publisher of eBooks can charge for every download, although texts must be priced more affordably. But easy and instantaneous transactions mean the publisher sells more -- even when downloaded books get passed around. More sales and no middlemen mean a bigger chunk of the profits can go to the writers -- not the current lousy 10 to 15 percent.

According to the article, brick-and-mortar bookstores must go down with the ship, and that's sad. But the best ones will adapt, mostly the smaller independent ones. They've been pulling for the writers all along, and we will pull for them. Don't confuse the demise of traditional NYC-centered publishing with the demise of books or reading.
Mar 02

Aw, Do I Have to Do My Own Publicity?

snail_bookevalI had energy and time enough to either

a) work on finishing my writing and sending it out, or

b) do advance publicity and my marketing setup for upcoming events and the release of Meet Me: Writers in St. Louis (still at the printer's).

I chose "A" and am not sorry.

But I learnt JUST NOW that if I left publicity up to others, it wouldn't get done, not even by the sponsoring organization, St. Louis Poetry Center:

Catherine Rankovic and Ed Boccia will read their poetry Tuesday March 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Focal Pointe, 2720 Sutton Blvd., Maplewood, MO, 63143. This event is part of the Poetry at the Pointe series sponsored by the St. Louis Poetry Center. Free. For information call (314) 973-0616.

I swiftly wrote the above notice using a handy formula called the "five W's." For publicity and news purposes it will never let you down. It states "Who, What, When, Where, and Why", and – welcome to the 21st century! – "How Much?" Also, for "Where," it has become very important in the age of GPS to indicate the whole street address including the zip code. Keep it short! That way, editors will keep their meathooks off of it.

"Ask not" how YOUR event was the one that got lost in the welter. "Ask what you can do to fix the problem caused by neglecting your own publicity."