Monday, October 22, 2012

Interview with Cynthia (cina) Pelayo, author and publisher of Burial Day Books

I am very excited that horror writer and anthology publisher Cynthia (cina) Pelayo has stopped by to talk about her chilling new book LOTERIA. I'm a big fan of hers and all that she has accomplished, and she was kind enough to spill with's readers about how to get involved in the writing community in Chicago and how she started her own publishing company. A must read for indie writers everywhere!

So cina, can you tell us about your writing background and what drew you to the horror genre?
I majored in journalism as an undergraduate at Columbia College in Chicago. I had always wanted to be a reporter. As a little girl, before I started kindergarten, I remember sitting at the kitchen table and my father would read the newspaper to me. That was always very important to him and it became important to me – to know and understand what is going on in my world. After Columbia, I worked as a freelance journalist for several local publications covering arts and community news, including inner city crime. I grew up in inner city Chicago and still live in the inner city, and so it was a strange experience to hold the responsibility of a reporter, to write as accurately and clearly as I could when arriving at a crime scene or writing about homelessness or drug addiction. 

My love of journalism soon became complicated. I had these grand dreams of becoming an investigative reporter for a great newspaper but that world is so small considering the closures of so many papers. Then, due to economic reasons I went back to school, obtained a masters in marketing and went on to work for a marketing research firm (my dreaded 9-5 that really takes more time out of my life than simply 9-5 Monday through Friday). While working full-time, I realized if this is what my life would amount to I would be miserable, because I already was miserable. I missed writing and sharing people’s stories.

I had always written short stories but had never really explored them too in-depth.I just knew I needed a creative outlet for my writing and fast. So I went on to pursue a Master of Fine Art in Writing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  I knew I wanted to write but I was torn what type of writer to be; non-fiction using my journalism background? I had never written fiction and shared it with anyone and I was unsure of where to start. I just started writing and what came out were dark tales. Horror just came naturally. Perhaps it is because I had seen so much suffering living in inner city Chicago and seeing firsthand the perils of gang, gun, and drug crime. Perhaps horror is my way of tapping into my upbringing and communicating the dance between good and evil that exists everywhere.

You recently released LOTERIA, a short story collection based upon a Mexican card game. How did you come up with the idea for the book?
I’m Puerto Rican. My husband is Mexican. For the holidays, when we’re killing time we play Loteria. I had always seen the game in the neighborhood bodegas, but had never played. It’s really like bingo except you match up the cards, not numbers. I became fascinated with the images – the hand, the little devil, death. They just seemed like very strange images to incorporate into a game. They seemed to be screaming to tell a story. 

Growing up, my mother would tell me folk tales from Puerto Rico, like that of a young girl who married a man who later turned out to be a devil, and it was funny when I learned that my husband’s culture had similar folktales told. Somehow I just connected the cards with folktales. I wanted to tell their story but not make it exclusive to Mexico. I wanted to dig up folk tales from throughout Latin American, Spain, Portugal and the Caribbean. I then wrote one short story or poem per card. For example, for the card El Gallo I wrote about an old man who is tormented by the chupacabra, the mythical goat sucker. For the card La Dama, I wrote about a stressed out tourist couple who had an encounter with La Llorona, the weeping woman damned to walk the earth searching for her children whom she murdered. 

Overall, I wanted to tell Latin American folktales that had yet to be communicated and I used a popular Latin American game as a vehicle to tell those stories. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
You may have heard this a thousand times and if you have, it’s because it’s true – read every day and write every day. Writing is a solitary life, and so, you also have to like yourself and the people in your head because you’ll be spending a lot of time with them if you want to be a writer. You have to be willing to spend long spans of time on your own, undisturbed, allowing yourself to write and explore your characters, their stories and the places they want to go.

You are also the publisher for BURIAL DAY BOOKS, a boutique publisher of supernatural horror. Can you share with our readers how you created the company?
While I was at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago working on a Master of Fine Art in Writing I encountered a lot of discouragement from my peers and the faculty because I was a horror writer. While everyone was off writing these abstract poems or deeply emotional bits of prose, I was exploring villains and monsters. I found myself always having to challenge what it was I wrote. 

I felt banished to the basement as the secretive red-headed step child. So, what did I do in response to all of these emotions, feeling unwanted and underappreciated? I wrote. I wrote a lot. I researched a lot, pulling in my journalism background and I wrote some more. 

Through my work I learned that I wasn’t the only one that felt this way, that there were other students in other schools who had written darker, but literary works that their schools didn’t like. Then, I encountered something much more interesting, that horror markets had begun to skew heavily toward violence and gore. I felt blocked in: My school didn’t really give me the tools to branch out like I felt they were doing for others. I couldn’t find the right markets for my work, and again. Then, I was finding all of these people who had been writing for some time who just could not find a place for their work to be published. Therefore, I told my husband one day, ‘I’m going to start my own press. We’ll publish good, literary classic horror and we’ll do it for the authors.’

The whole point of Burial Day is to get exposure for emerging horror writers who write literary horror. I want them to succeed, to get book contracts (which one did shortly after appearing in our first anthology). 

Burial Day Books is going strong after two years. We have published a new authors story or poem each month. I post blogs about superstition and myth and last year we published our first anthology and this year we are set to publish our second anthology. I’m most proud of the work I’ve done with Burial Day. Sometimes, it takes people to ignore you, or to say you can’t do something to get you fired up.

You are very involved in the writing community in Chicago. What tips would you give to a new writer to also wants to get involved with his or her local writing community?
I’m a big fan of readings! In Chicago, there are many locations, indie book shops, pubs, and restaurants that hold readings. First, reach out to your neighborhood bookstore, find out if they have a writers group or if they hold monthly readings. Attend those events, introduce yourself to those readers/writers. There are also writer’s workshops that are conducted for free sometimes at art centers, cultural centers, schools and libraries. Those are great place to meet other writers, and learn about the tools for writing – for free. Finally, get in touch with independent literary magazines or publications in your area seeking submissions. Local publications love local authors.

So, get involved in the writing community by going where the writers go – whether they’re readings or workshops and then reach out to publications looking for submissions in your area and submit your work! What’s the worst thing they can say? No. 

Finally, get a few live readings of your work under your belt. If there aren’t any regular readings in your neighborhood, reach out to your favorite coffee shop, indie book shop or pub and see if you can schedule an event. Organize some folks to come and read their work to a live audience. They’re free to organize, as they bring people to the location, and reading your work to a live audience (while it sounds frightening) is a great learning experience. 

Thank you for sharing your information. Anything you would like to add as we wrap up?
I’m not a particular fan of writing groups, as those can go sour, but find a small network of dependable friends and family to review the drafts and final versions of your work. You want someone to tell you the truth if something is not working, and if something is working!

Also, you’re a writer – grow thick skin and take criticisms and rejections and move on. Yes, they hurt. Yes, they make you want to die. Yet, you learn from them and move on and become a better writer. 

Finally, if you’re a writer and you don’t carry a pad and pencil with you everywhere you go then shame on you! Carry your pad and pencil because you never know when the ideas will come.


CYNTHIA (CINA) PELAYO is the Publisher/Gravedigger of Burial Day Books.  Her short story collection, LOTERIA features 54 stories based on Latin American superstition, legend and myth. Her first horror novel, Santa Muerte, about the Mexican cult of death will be released in 2012 by Post Mortem Press. Pelayo is a graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Master of Fine Art in Writing program and she is a member of the Horror Writer’s Association.

Burial Day Books


Cynthia (cina) Pelayo’s website

Friday, October 5, 2012

How to create a successful Kickstarter campaign: an interview with Liz Manashil

One of the biggest challenges in getting a film made is finding funding, and for independent filmmakers who do not have cash or connections, crowd funding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo provide a possible solution. The art of fundraising, however, isn't easy, and not everyone who creates a campaign reaches his or her goal.  

Indie filmmaker Liz Manashil recently ran a successful campaign on Kickstarter to raise money for her debut feature film, Bread and Butter. She was kind enough to stop by and answer questions about why she turned to crowd funding, how she ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, and what others can do to also be successful with their own campaigns. 

Teresa: Thanks for stopping by! First off, what is your project about, and why did you decide to fund through Kickstarter? 
Liz: My project was to fund my first feature entitled "Bread and Butter." Crowd funding was just hitting the mainstream, and I had no means of funding the production of the film with my own money- so I took some time and did research on which avenue was the better one for me: Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Time and time again, I was prompted to go and do Kickstarter- there's something about the drama and risk of Kickstarter that inspires people to give money in a way that Indiegogo cannot channel. 

Teresa: How much did you ask for? 
Liz: I asked for 35k, and I was terrified we would not hit our goal. We met our goal I think a day or two before the deadline and raised over a thousand more than our goal number! 

Teresa: How did you prep for your Kickstarter campaign?  
Liz: In prepping I reached out to volunteers in the community to help me gather a list of film blogs to contact to help promote our campaign. I also reached out to a good friend of mine who is a composer/lyricist, Robert Hill, to help write a catchy and transparent song to inspire people to donate money. The song was called "We Need Money" and the concept revolved around a clunky looking kids show involving music and puppets. I cast and wrote a Kickstarter pitch video with my boyfriend who is also a writer/director.

Above is Liz's Kickstarter campaign video "We need money" You can also check out her Kickstarter page at:
In addition I had friends help me post the links in forums, online and via twitter. Every few days I would send out a mass e/mail to friends and family- and throughout the campaign I would send personal messages thanking people for their kindness. A good portion of time was devoted to asking people to donate incentives for the campaign. People were incredibly kind, we were very lucky. 

Teresa: How did you choose your fundraising goal? 
LizI chose my goal by picking the absolute minimum we needed to start production on the film. I looked at the most recent successful campaigns by my colleagues. It wasn't a number that was calculated through long involved research. We chose the number that we had to raise. 

Teresa: What were some challenges you faced during your Kickstarter?
Liz: The challenges that I faced were all personal ones. I felt so tacky reaching out to friends and family and asking them for money. I felt selfish and irritating. The majority of people I reached out to, however, responded positively and supportively. I had assumed everyone would hate me, maybe they do! But we still hit our goal! Before we start to fundraise, however, I reached out to people who had led successful campaigns. They told me the same thing again and again: Get Over It. Get over asking for money. Just do it. 

Teresa: If you could do it again, would you do anything differently? What would that be?
Liz: I think I would have asked for more! We are now in a phase of donator fatigue. A lot of people have donated to KS projects already, they have supported their friends and supported projects they believed in. Now donators are tired of donating. We're in a situation where people have to be extremely savvy in how they run their campaigns. If I read a mass e/mail that sounds like a robot, I immediately delete it. 

Teresa: Any other advice you'd give to someone who wants to use crowdfunding?
Liz: Pick a lower number. Due to donator fatigue, underestimate yourself. With Kickstarter, a lot of people will continue to give after you hit your goal, pick a number you feel secure you will hit. 

  •  With Kickstarter, they have an "all-or-nothing" policy. If a person does not reach her goal, then she receives no money and her backers do not have to pay. 
  • Indiegogo, on the other hand, allows Flexible Funding, which means if a person does not reach his goal, then he may keep the money raised but he must pay a higher percentage fee to the website. 
Teresa: Thanks so much for sharing your crowd funding experience. Anything you'd like to add?
Liz: Running a Kickstarter campaign was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. Random strangers will astound you with their generosity. It was a fantastic validation that there are people out there in the world who want to support your dreams.

For more information about Bread and Butter, go to

Social Media 101: Facebook vs Twitter
Twitter 201: Key terms and functions

Friday, August 31, 2012

How to use Trends on Twitter to increase your social media visibility

On twitter, you may have noticed tweets that seemed random such as "I hate ham sandwiches #StuffYouDidntKnowAboutMe," and you may have wondered 1) why are people sharing such weird information and 2) what does that # followed by a phrase or a word mean?

What you are witnessing is the participation of "Trends" (See the screen grab below), and it is not only fun to participate in them but participating can  connect you with strangers, gain followers, and increase your broadcast visibility.

"Trends" appear on your home page, and it is a list of key words or hashtags that a large group of people are Tweeting about at that moment. This list always changes and updates. You may notice some trends have the "Promoted" symbol next to it, which means someone paid for that listing, but all of the other trends are just actual trends that people are talking about. (NOTE: I never participate in the Promoted trends, and I am curious to see if anyone actually does. Please leave me a comment on your thoughts on the subject!)

To participate in trends, here is a step-by-step guide:
  1. Find the Trends section on your homepage. Find one that interests you, and click on the link. (For instance for this example, I clicked on "#ThingsThatMightAnnoyADem.") Then you will see a feed of all the recent usages of that trending hashtag. These tweets come from people you may know/follow, but oftentimes, this feed will show you a slew of strangers.
  2. You can connect with strangers by Retweeting the tweets you like. Once you Retweet them, they will know you interacted with them, and they may reply or Follow you. 
  3. You can also find new people to follow through the feed. If you like what they have to say, go ahead and Follow them and maybe they will Follow you back.
  4. To participate in the trend, write your tweet and include the trending hashtag. If you wrote the hashtag correctly, once you click on the published tweet's hashtag, it should take you to the respective Trends page. 
  5. If you wrote unique content, there is a high possibility that people will Retweet or Follow you. To retain their attention, send them a Thank You by writing a tweet and mentioning them. Also, follow back. 
  6. Lastly, never plagiarize another person's tweet and try to pass it off as your own. That's a big no-no. Also, avoid sending out too many trending tweets. I would recommend no more than 5, unless the trend is a top 10 list or something like that. 
Thanks for reading, and please leave me a comment if you agree or disagree.

Follow me on twitter at @teresalo_tweets 
 "Like" me on Facebook!

Social Media 101: Twitter vs Facebook
Twitter 201: Key Functions and words to know
How do I copyright my work?
What are some good websites to self-publish my work?

Monday, August 20, 2012

FAQ: What are some good websites to self-publish my work?

Aspiring writers have asked me how they can get their work published, and they often express frustration with obtaining their first job. Many outlets such as newspapers and magazines will not hire newbie scribes for paid gigs, and if a writer is new, then how can they create a body of published work to get noticed and become "experienced"? It sounds like a circular problem, but luckily, with the internet, writers can bypass the old school gatekeepers and make a name for themselves by self-publishing.

Below is a list of self-publishing options:

1. Blog!  Blogging through sites such as Blogspot, Tumblr, or Wordpress is one of the fastest and easiest ways to get one's writing out there, and blogging has evolved from the "Here's what I ate today"-diary stuff to a more sophisticated approach of sharing a writer's knowledge on a particular subject. Nowadays, blogs that share unique, fresh content can create a substantial readership base, and this can lead to making money through advertisements. For instance, a popular home decor site could become sponsored by Home Depot or a cooking blog can become sponsored by Whole Foods. The key to having a blog is to have a theme/topic and stick with it. 

2. I previously wrote a Online Dating Column for, and what I liked about the website's format was that: 1) It paid by how many unique readers read my articles 2) It was an established user-content-generated website with millions of readers 3) I was my own editor and could come up with my own ideas and publish at my own pace 4) Examiner was a legitimate online news brand that allowed me to gain access to interview people and attend events as press. When I was a writer for Examiner, I had a thousand readers a month, which at the time I did not think was very much. However, I had a thousand readers of a niche market, and I don't think I would have gotten that exposure if I did not write for this site.

3. Createspace/Amazon's Kindle Direct For those who have prose to share, one of the best and biggest self-publishing companies is Createspace, which is an Amazon affiliate. I used Createspace to self-publish my books  and I had a very positive experience with the service. (See my article about self-publishing: Should I self-publish my fiction?) Through Createspace, one can make professional books that will be sold through Createspace, Amazon, and various other sites, and unlike other presses, books are only printed when one is purchased, which makes it a low/no cost option for the author. After a person sets up a book through Createspace, he is given the option to create a Kindle version. A person also can skip the printed books and only do an e-edition of his work.

4. EZArticles This site is similar to Examiner. Its focus is user-generated content, it has millions of readers, and it allows a writer to upload well-written, original articles. However, unlike Examiner, a writer's work is reviewed by two editors before it is allowed onto the site, and unlike Examiner, writers can use pen names. I have not had personal experience with this website. However, I am impressed by the articles I have found here, and I noticed that EZArticles often pop up in my Google searches, so the SEO is very well-done.

5. If a writer knows he has the expertise to write quality online content but perhaps does not want to deal with self-publishing websites that pay only if readers click on his work, then is an option. This site pays writers per written item (ranges from $49-150/per item), and writers can apply for jobs writing tweets, blog posts, press releases, Facebook posts, etc in a variety of subjects. Writers must submit samples to be approved to submit for certain topics. For instance, if a writer is an expert on healthcare, he submits a healthcare article. Once approved, he is only allowed to apply for healthcare-related writing jobs through the site.

What do you think of the list? Are there any that I have missed? What has your experience been with any of the aforementioned sites?

Follow me on Twitter!
"Like" me on Facebook!

Social Media 101: Twitter vs Facebook
Twitter 201: Key Functions and words to know
How do I copyright my work?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Social Media 101: Facebook vs Twitter

The biggest motivator and the greatest desire for all human beings is not money or power or anything else materialistic. The greatest motivator and desire is to be appreciated. After all, think of all the favors you have done for people because you cared about them and they showed gratitude when your work was finished. Then think about how miserable and unmotivated you were at a job where your boss never acknowledged your accomplishments or even seemed to know your name. No matter how much money you were making, you probably were one foot out the door.
The biggest motivator and the greatest desire for all human beings is not money or power or anything else materialistic. The greatest motivator and desire is to be appreciated.
Now that you know the fundamental psychological incentive for all people, you can apply that not only to your real world experiences but to Social Media.

The key to success in Social Media is to engage and acknowledge your audience. Don't just bombard them with "Look At Me!" tweets or Facebook announcements. Show that you appreciate their interest, and that you are as interested in them as you want them to be interested in you.

The following is a list of tips for two of the most popular social media sites, Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Timelines:
Find me on facebook!
  1. Facebook Timelines are for personal use, and for this account, it is best to only add people you know and want to gain access to your personal information. (If you choose to add strangers or people you don't like there are some restrictions on their access that you can place, but those Friends still are able to send you direct messages and event invites.) If you stick with only having actual friends as your Facebook friends, you can interact and engage with a select audience who is interested in what you have to say and vice versa.
  2. Facebook is more intimate a social media medium than Twitter, so you should respect other people's decision not to add you as a Friend and vice versa. Only send requests to people you know. 
  3. When Facebook Friends write on your Timeline wall or send you messages, RESPOND! It seems like such a simple concept but you would be amazed at how often these things get ignored. When Facebook Friends reach out to you, you ignore them, and they see you active on Facebook, it hurts their feelings. The best way to avoid this scenario is to not accept Friend Requests from people you do not know. However, if you know someone personally but just don't like them, you should still respond politely or you may suffer the real life social repercussion of that person thinking you are a jerk. 
  4. If you do not want to/have time to respond to wall posts, then it is best to remove your wall.  As of now, I am not aware of a way to stop Friends from sending you direct messages. Direct messages from Friends should be answered in 24 hours or less.  
  5. In my opinion, it is okay to not respond to non-Facebook Friends, especially through direct messages. An option to avoid the situation all together is to set up your account to only receive direct messages from Friends.
Facebook Pages
  1. Facebook Pages are for business use. These accounts work best if you are a public figure or have a business. What's great about Pages is that it is meant to serve as an announcement board for people you may not personally know, and with Facebook Pages, your audience does not expect you to interact personally with them. They will be satisfied to be acknowledged through a Thank You post on your wall. 
  2. If you join Facebook solely for marketing purposes, you can create an account solely as a Page and avoid the Timeline all together. 
Follow me @teresalo_tweets
  1. Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a mass broadcasting tool (unless you set your account to private, which I think is a total waste of time. I will write about this in an upcoming Social Media Friday post.)
  2. Unless you are a celebrity, no one wants to read your "Look at me" posts. Just writing mundane comments about yourself will not attract followers, and may even lose you followers. So what constitutes quality content? Be unique. Be funny. Be informative. Think of it this way. What kind of content would make you want to Follow a stranger?
  3. To attract Followers, you must not only tweet quality content on a consistent basis, but you must also engage with your audience. This means acknowledging people when they Mention or Retweet you. A simple "Thank you" with their handles in the tweet will go a long way. 
  4. If someone follows you, follow back! This acknowledges that you acknowledge them. However, if that person is posting obscene content, suspicious links, or other questionable behavior, then it is okay to unfollow them. That person may be a Bot anyway.
  5. Don't over-promote yourself. Providing quality content will bring people's interest to you organically. Avoid being annoying by tweeting to people "Hey read my book!" "Hey, check out my album!" Start a conversation and let that person discover your work on their own through their connection with you. Being annoying will lose you followers. 
Related articles by Teresa Lo
Twitter 201: key terms and functions to know 
How to use trends on Twitter

Monday, July 2, 2012

Should you pay for a M.F.A. program?

I am a big proponent of education because unlike material things, education is something that can never be taken away from you. However, the cost of some educational programs are very steep and can leave many graduates without a job and with a large amount of debt. So what to do?

There are some graduate programs such as medicine that offer a good return on one's investment, but for M.F.A. programs, is it worth it to drop $50,000 to $100,000 when there is a high possibility you may not "make it" as an artist? My answer is this. Paying for a M.F.A. is worth it if you are realistic with your expectations that you are paying more for a life experience, and that you may never earn back the money you spent. Think of it as a two year sabbatical where you get to meet people who share your interests, learn from creative professionals, and work on your craft. On the other hand, if you expect to gain employment, sell your script or novel, or gain exposure/prestige from a M.F.A. program, then it would be wiser for you to save the money you would've spent on a program and instead work in the field you desire to learn more about. This way you will be in the industry, meet key players, and educate yourself through life experience. (If you want to find out how to get a job in the industry, that's another post entirely, but I will say that to work in entertainment you do not need a M.F.A. Next month (August 6) I will publish a post about what it is like to intern in Hollywood.)

I do want to note that a small percentage of people do get agents, sell their scripts or novels, or get jobs from participating in M.F.A. programs, and I also want to say that they are a small percentage and not the norm. If you want to pay for a M.F.A. program because you think you may be a part of this percentage, then just be aware that this is more of a gamble than a solid investment.

Thankfully, there are quality graduate programs that do not cost a fortune. I found this great resource online from, and they compiled a list of reputable colleges that offer free or low-cost graduate programs, including M.F.A. creative writing programs:

So in conclusion: should you pay for a M.F.A. program? If you have the funds and have realistic expectations of what you will get from the program, then yes. If the program will put you into debt and you are looking to propel your career, then no. It would be a better financial decision to educate yourself through work or to attend a free or low-cost program.