Reaction to the Kate Middleton nurse tragedy

The world was horrified to learn today that the nurse who patched two prank calling Australian DJs to Kate Middleton's hospital room committed suicide last night. The nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, was found this morning, and the police are not conducting a criminal investigation and believe there was no foul play. The DJs have since voluntarily suspended themselves,  expressing shock over the tragedy. (Soure: TMZ)
The Australian DJs who pranked
Photo courtesy of @hot30countdown via Twitter
For those who do not know the story, two Australian DJs called King Edward VII Hospital where Kate Middleton was staying for a pregnancy-related illness. The DJs used unconvincing "British" accents on the phone and expected to hung up on, but surprisingly, they were patched through to Kate's room by Saldanha. A second nurse then proceeded to disclose to the DJs a variety of Kate's health-related information. The prank made King Edward VII Hospital an international laughingstock, and it raised questions on patient confidentiality procedures in the UK. However, the world did not hate the nurses for making the mistake, and the hospital supported its staff after the incident. The Royal Family did not file a complaint either. It appeared as if the real pressure to Saldanha mostly came from herself, and she was unable to handle the situation. It's extremely sad to know that if she had only waited for a few weeks, then the story would die and another sensational one would take its place. Life would go on.

Suicides are always tragic, but this one is resonating throughout the world because of the magnitude of humiliation inflicted upon Saldanha. I am sure the DJs had no idea that their joke would lead to a death, and their phone call was silly, not cruel. It highlighted the lack of security within the hospital, but the second nurse did not give out any embarrassing information about Princess Kate. I understand why the DJs have suspended themselves from being on air, but how could they have known that a joke, not even a malicious one, could lead to tragedy?

This is not the only headline in the past year where bullying has led to suicide. In October, for instance, 13-year-old Erin Gallagher committed suicide because she could no longer stand the attacks she received from online tormenters. A similar story occurred in September with Canadian teen Amanda Todd, who was bullied online.

You may wonder why I mention the suicides of Erin Gallagher and Amanda Todd when I previously stated that the Australian DJs were not intentionally cruel and they did not harass Saldhana, the way Gallagher and Todd's online bullies did. The reason for this is that pranks and jokes at the expense of strangers can amplify its reach and hurt people just as much as online bullying. Playing pranks on a stranger may seem "cute" at the time, but if the pranksters do not know the person, then they do not know his or her mental state and whether or not that person can take the joke. After all, the majority of people do not like to be ridiculed, and there is a fine line when the jokester is being playful and being cruel. With the internet, ridiculous content can go viral, ie the Kate Middleton hospital story.

Some may argue that this is an isolated case of someone with a fragile mental state and that this incident should not stop others from having fun. However, I ask what is so great about having fun at the expense of others? What joy do people have broadcasting the humiliation of strangers? It's okay to post comedy about yourself or with the permission of the second party; and it's questionably okay to critique or parody someone who willingly put themselves in the public eye. However, normal people living quiet lives should remain respected and undisturbed. As Jacintha Saldanha's tragedy has taught us, sometimes a joke can run away from the person who created it, and it's better to be safe than sorry.

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

How to gain Twitter followers if you're not Kim Kardashian

Celebrities like Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber have millions of Twitter followers because of their fame, but how can a non-famous person gain even a fraction of a celebrity's audience? If you believe it will just happen by you being awesome, then good luck to you for playing the lottery, but for everyone else it will take a lot of work.

The following  process takes time, but if done right, it is a rewarding way to build and maintain an online audience.

Even those who are not actively trying to build a large amount of Followers will still more than likely have a few followers, which consists of friends, family, and people who like their content. This group of people should be who you engage with on Twitter first. Mention them in tweets. Retweet their content. Interact with them. In turn, they will likely spread your name through the Twitterverse through mentions and retweets and that will get your name out there. Furthermore, if they know you personally, you already have a strong connection with them, and at the end of the day, it is about quality and not quantity.

For example, I ran the Twitter for an erotic blog, and the Twitter only had 200 Followers. However, the percentage of engagement with users was higher than other Twitter accounts I had managed. The reason for this is that not everyone is comfortable following erotic content, but for those who do, they REALLY LIKE erotic content. The Followers of that Twitter account repeatedly clicked on links, retweeted the blogger's work, and interacted with her. She didn't need large numbers because her niche was strong enough.

Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez have nothing to do with this article
For those who want to expand their following beyond people they know, the next step they should take is deciding their own brand. Who are they? What are they about? What content are they providing? For instance, I write young adult fiction, so I seek to follow YA bloggers, writers, literary agents, and avid readers.

Once you figure out who you are and who you want to connect with, the next step is to find and then add the people who share your interests. There are different ways to do this:
  1. Look at the "Who to Follow" list on the left hand side of your screen. The Who To Follow list is a list generated by Twitter of three people who share common interests with you.
  2. Type a keyword in the search box. Twitter will generate a list of tweets or usernames that contain that word, and you can then find people who tweet about your interests. 
  3. Think about another Twitter user who shares similar content to yours and add everyone she follows and who follows her. 
  4. Buy Twitter software such as Tweetadder that will automatically find followers based upon specifications that you set. 
After you Follow people, wait a few days and see if they follow you back. More than likely they will. If they don't, then I recommend deleting them unless you want to continue receiving their content. Otherwise, if they chose not to reciprocate following, then it is best to move on to someone else who is more responsive. 

By offering unique content and not appearing like a Bot (See my post from last week), people will start to follow you to see what you have to say. The methods you used from above to find people will also work in the reverse. They will also find you.

Note: Only writing quotes, repeatedly sharing the same links, only retweeting, and frequently writing several handles in a tweet does not qualify as unique content. In fact, that is behavior that will make people think you're a bot.

This is one of the hardest things for most people. Because Twitter is a live broadcasting tool, if you don't tweet daily, your tweets could get lost amidst the sea of messages. I recommend to maintain your social media presence to tweet morning, in the afternoon, and at night. However, there must be a balance. When you tweet, don't go crazy and flood the Twitterverse at once, annoying your followers. Each time you tweet, try to be strategic and only tweet three times at the most.

For details, please see my previous post: How to use trends on Twitter

Do you know of other methods to gain Twitter followers that does not include buying followers? Has anyone bought followers and if so, would you share that experience with this blog? Let me know. Thank you!

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

My post for the Horror Writers Association will go live on October 25!

The Horror Writers Association hosts a Halloween Haunts blog tour every year during the month of October to celebrate the holiday, horror writers, the genre, and the HWA.

This year, I participated, and my post about my love for children's and YA horror fiction will go live on October 25th, 2012 at

Please check it out if you have a chance. I will also be offering a giveaway of my Halloween-themed debut novel HELL'S GAME.

I will be a panelist at the Vegas Cine Fest International Film Festival!

Social Media Friday: Instagram 101 by Devon Libran

Actor and Producer Devon Libran stopped by today to share Instagram 101 tips for new Instagram users or for people who are thinking of using the photo-sharing site for marketing or social networking. He provides really solid advice, and for anyone who has social media questions, please connect with him at @DevonLibran - Instagram, @DevLibran - Twitter
T.Lo: Thank you for stopping by. For the readers, what qualifies you as an expert on social media/Instagram?
Devon: Well, I'm far from an expert, but I definitely understand the importance of establishing your brand and generating a web presence. Nike, Coke, Fox, all these companies have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram so why shouldn't I? I'm mindful of my brand and am in the process of creating a solid web presence.

T.Lo: What is Instagram and why should people use it? 
Devon: Instagram or "IG" is an iPhone and Android based app that allows its users to share and post pictures and experiences instantly.
T.Lo: Why should people who want to use social media to market their products/services use Instagram?
Devon: Well first of all it's FREE. FREE promotion and an opportunity to get immediate feedback from your current consumer and potential consumers. At 11 million members strong, it's safe to say it is a "popular" app. With an almost 1200% growth over the past six months (I'm not going to even attempt to explain that math) anyone looking to grow their brand or promote their product or services should immediately link themselves with a brand (Instagram) that's growing and developing in and of itself. (Reference:
T.Lo: How can one gain a following on Instagram? 
Devon: Start posting! Take great pictures and share with people what you have going on. Promote your IG on other sites that you already have followers or friends on. Do your own mini "Press release" that might read something like "Attention Facebook and Twitter friends... I'm officially joining the world of Instagram" post some of your favorite pics that have been sitting in your phone and watch it grow!
T.Lo: What are some other tips you would like to share to fully utilize Instagram?
Devon: Find others in your industry who are already on Instagram. Often I will see a casting director, producer or director post a picture of a script they're working on or a casting notice, and I'll immediately have my agent or manager give them a call. Since most of these posts are happening real time, I'll know about a project before its available to the general public. 

#Hastags #Hashtags #Hashtags these are one of the biggest benefits of Instagram. If you attach some applicable Hashtags to your picture it is instantly shared with everyone else who has posted the same thing. For instance common Hashtags I use are #LALiving, #Acting #Blessed. From there I'll, click on others who have posted similar things and if their pictures catch my interest they now have a new follower.
T.Lo: Anything else you would like to add?
Devon: As with all social media sites, BE MINDFUL OF WHAT YOU POST. I know it may be tempting to post a picture of a dirty joke or a night of wild activities, but stop and ask yourself 3 things before posting.
  1. Is this helpful or hurtful to my brand?
  2. Is this picture relevant?
  3. What will this picture say about me good or bad?
There's no blanket statement or judgement for what one should or shouldn't post, but it's safe to say if you have to think longer than 3 seconds on any of these questions you probably shouldn't post. I'm guilty of this myself and as soon as I ask myself the first question I have already made a decision about whether or not this should be posted.

T.Lo: Thanks again, Devon, for sharing tips on how to use Instagram, and especially how artists can use the site to help with their careers! And to readers, don't forget to connect with him: @DevonLibran - Instagram, @DevLibran - Twitter

FAQ: How do I copyright my work?

Writers frequently ask me about how to protect their work, and here is my general advice:

  • The second you create something i.e. put words to paper, then you own the copyright to your work.
  • Ideas cannot be copyrighted. If you tell people, "I have this idea where a robot marries a woman!" That idea is not protected. However, you write it, and that story is yours. Does that mean people cannot write a story about a robot marrying a woman once you wrote yours? That's iffy. If they have a unique take, then that may be allowed. You'd have to talk to a lawyer for specifics. The main thing you should be concerned with then is your execution, not your idea, because if someone steals your execution then that is an actual legal problem.
  • If you write a story and someone steals lines/paragraphs then that is plagiarism and a violation of your copyright. This is rare, yet it happens, so even though you own the copyright, what are further ways for you to protect yourself from this theft?
    • If you have a script, register it through the WGA
    • If you have prose, register through the US Copyright Office
    • There is no need to use a third party to register your work. They'll just charge you unnecessary fees for something that would take you a few minutes to do at home.
    • Registering is voluntary, but if you have something that you are sending out and want to protect, then I recommend you register. 
For more in-depth copyright information, see the US Copyright Office's FAQ page:

Agree? Disagree? Is there something I missed? Leave me a comment and let me know. Thanks.

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?

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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. 
  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. 

FAQ: What is it like to intern in Hollywood?

One way to break into any industry is to get an internship, and while some internships pay, most in entertainment do not. I have had three unpaid internships, one at a television show (The Late Show with David Letterman), one at a movie production company (Morgan Freeman's company Revelations Entertainment), and one at an industry newspaper (The Hollywood Reporter), so I have seen a spectrum of what's out there. I was very fortunate to intern at established companies, and while I was doing the typical intern duties such as getting coffee, making copies, and running errands, I also learned a lot from being in those environments and I used my time to figure out what I liked and disliked about each field.

Because of my experiences, people have asked me, "What is it like to intern in Hollywood?" My answer is that it's educational but tough. In addition to the usual entry-level tasks, entertainment interns also must deal with long hours, demanding personalities, and having to find their own financial backings to survive. The pros to internships are that a person can get their foot in the door, meet people, and possibly land a job at the company. Overall,  if one is serious about their career in entertainment, an internship is worth it. (Writer Dina Gachman breaks down all the things she had to do as an intern, and while those tasks weren't fun or glamorous, she thinks those who complain about their opportunity need to "Grow a pair." Check out her hilarious and informative blog post here.)

However, there is a downside to entertainment internships. Unscrupulous people will employ interns for assistant positions that should be paid, some people will verbally abuse their interns, and some companies have no clout to actually help their interns advance their careers. My best advice to avoid a bad internship is to research the company before you agree to intern, and if you do take an internship and get the vibe that it is not going to help you, then know it is okay to quit. If you quit early, they will probably understand but not give you a reference, but if you think the company is shady, then why would you want to list them anyway?

California and Federal laws have strict internship rules in place. I will not go into the laws in detail, but the basic rule is that the internship should be beneficial to the intern, not the employer. (For more detailed information, see this NY Times article or this site.) While this doesn't mean that an intern can sue a company if he finds menial labor inconsequential to his career, such law suits have happened in the past. In 2011, two interns who worked on Black Swan sued Fox Searchlight because their internship allegedly did not meet the Department of Labor rules for what constitutes an unpaid internship. The lawsuit against Fox Searchlight was thrown out, and you can bet that those two never worked in Hollywood again.

So in conclusion: What is it like to intern in Hollywood? It's hard work and unglamorous, but if you're willing to do the grunt work, then the benefits outweigh the negatives. However, the benefits may not come right away, so it is up to the potential intern to decide whether or not she is okay with that and go from there.

(I make fun of entertainment internships in my short story THE FUNNY LAUGHS SHOW, which is featured in my first book REALITIES: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. The collection is available in paperback and e-book on

FAQ: Should I self-publish my fiction?

I have self-published, and I shout that to the high heavens! Am I embarrassed? No. Have I found success with self-publishing? Yes. Do I recommend others to follow this path? It depends.

I say that "it depends" because I think writers should evaluate their reasons for self-publishing before moving forward. So if you are considering self-publishing, you should ask herself the following questions (This quiz I made was posted a week ago):
  1. Have I exhausted all avenues of trying to get traditionally published? This includes query letters, writer conferences, and asking people for referrals.
  2. Is this material at its best? Am I 100% sure that there is nothing I could do to improve the book's plot, characters, or other story elements? 
  3. Is this material fully edited? Is it free of typos and grammatical mistakes?
  4. Do I have the time and/or money to invest in producing the best product? (A book free of mistakes and formatted well that has professional marketing materials)
  5. Do I have the time and/or money to market this product?
  6. Do I have a thick-enough skin to handle criticism from the public? 
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, then you should not self-publish.

Self-publishing is a very difficult task to do well, and a powerful debut matters. A similar example would be if "Joey" goes on American Idol. Even if Joey has talent, if he isn't ready and blows his shot, America isn't going to give him a second chance, and they're going to move their attention to another potential superstar. If anything, they'll remember Joey as that guy who sucks, and if he wants a second chance, he's going to have to beg for it.

Why would a self-publisher put themselves in that same predicament? It is better to present to the public when you are ready than to rush things and blow your one chance to make that crucial first impression on your audience. Remember, readers are already wary of buying self-published books because of the stigma of their poor quality, so don't give them a reason to never come back to you or a reason to write you a poor review.

The first book that I ever published was Realities: A Collection of short stories. It compiled two stories that were already published and one new story that I had submitted to contests but had never found a publisher. I put the three together because there was a common thread to them--they were fictional representations of three unique stages of my life (high school, college, and post-college.) To publish this book, my friend and I formed a company, Bart Engima, and we published our work through that channel. Technically, because we formed a company we were "independently" published and not "self-published" but really, it's all the same. If people see you are published by a company that isn't mainstream, they tend to group the two together. Plus, to do this "form-my-own-company-then-publish-through-Amazon" is actually becoming very common so there's no point in trying to hide it.

"Even though the quality of my self-published stories was good, the cover was good, and the interior was good, only people I knew personally were buying my books."

The next book I published was The Other Side: A Collection of Short Stories. Like Realities, I published through Bart Enigma, and this book consisted of three stories that I had tried to publish through literary magazines and contests but had no success. I knew that the quality of the stories in The Other Side was some of my best work (in particular my short story "Angels") so I went ahead and published. One thing I noticed, however, was that sales of my second book was less than my first book. This is when it really hit me how hard it is to be a self-published writer. Even though the quality of my self-published stories was good, the cover was good, and the interior was good, only people I knew personally were buying my books.

With this experience, I came to the conclusion that if I were to self-publish again that I would only do it if I had exhausted all of my other options. After all, the average sales number of a self-published book is 100-150. The average sales number of a book from a first-time writer from a mainstream publisher is 400-500. While neither sales figures are blockbusters, there is still a large discrepancy.

Despite the cons, in 2012, I chose to make my young adult novel debut by self-publishing. I knew that I had something special with Hell's Game, and I knew that there was nothing more I wanted to do with the story. I entered the manuscript in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, and it made it to the Second Round. Although it didn't advance further, Hell's Game received two incredibly positive reviews, and those reviews gave me the confidence to move forward. I attempted to traditionally publish the book by querying agents. I literally queried a hundred agents who represented supernatural young adult fiction or adult horror. Only two were willing to read the manuscript, and the rest ignored me or sent a standard rejection.

It pained me to think that Hell's Game wasn't going to even get a shot in the marketplace, and I figured, since no one in the mainstream publishing world was going to even read something that Amazon editors stated "read like Stephen King" then why not just self-publish? Who cares if my sales are less than 100? It was better than zero.

In April of 2012, I released Hell's Game, and amazingly young adult bloggers were willing to read something that agents wouldn't even give a chance. Through the bloggers' help and the support of my Facebook and Twitter communities, Hell's Game cracked the top 100 of Amazon's Spine-Tingling Horror List for two days. I was stunned, and I felt blessed and grateful.

So if you are thinking of self-publishing, here are my pros and cons:

  • Self-publishing is fast and easy
  • You have the freedom to release whatever you want, and you no longer have to wait for the approval of the literary "Gatekeepers" (agents and their assistants)
  • Self-publishing sales are historically lower than those of traditional publishers
  • You will be in charge of your own marketing and editing
  • You may publish something that isn't ready
  • Self-published books still have a "stigma" of being poor quality
  • It is hard for a self-published book to stand out amongst the crowd

Quiz: Should I self-publish my novel or short stories?

I have self-published, and before I proceeded, I asked myself the following questions:
  1. Have I exhausted all avenues of trying to get traditionally published? This includes query letters, writer conferences, and asking people for referrals.
  2. Is this material at its best? Am I 100% sure that there is nothing I could do to improve the book's plot, characters, or other story elements? 
  3. Is this material fully edited? Is it free of typos and grammatical mistakes?
  4. Do I have the time and/or money to invest in producing the best product? (A book free of mistakes and formatted well that has professional marketing materials)
  5. Do I have the time and/or money to market this product?
  6. Do I have a thick-enough skin to handle criticism from the public? 
If you are considering self-publishing and you answered "no" to any of these questions, then you should not self-publish because you are not ready. 

Agree? Disagree? Want to know more?  I will get into more detail about self-publishing on July 23rd! See you then!

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.