Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Interview with C. Hope Clark

Welcome C. Hope Clark to The Writing Kraft! Hope is the author of Lowcountry Bribe (Bell Bridge Books), founder of Funds for Writers and a great encourager to freelance writers everywhere.  Her Funds for Writers website is continually among Writer's Digest 101 Best Web Sites for Writers.

You can find Hope all over the web:

Lowcountry Bribe is available through Amazon

Hope has provided an amazing amount of advice in short order, so without further ado, here’s my interview with Hope Clark.


1. You worked with the USDA for 25 years. When did you realize writing was the career you wanted to pursue?
Actually, I wrote often in USDA. Writing probably brought my managerial talents to the attention of upper management. Once I became an administrative director with the agency, I wound up writing an amazing assortment of documents like strategic plans, budget justifications, award recommendations, congressionals, investigative reports, press releases, and so on. But it wasn't until a peer asked me over lunch why I didn't write for myself, did I take the time to ponder the answer.

Writing is empowering to me - in any form, whether fiction or nonfiction, technical or creative. So I started writing nights, after the day job, for me, to empower me as an individual instead of part of an establishment. That habit grew until I realized I preferred writing freelance to the daily bureaucracy and politics of government. Once I established a part-time income with my writing and set up a strict budget, I negotiated an early retirement from USDA and wrote full-time. But I've enjoyed writing in one form or another as long as I can remember. It took time to set my life up as a writer, and it didn't happen overnight. I wrote every spare moment when I wasn't on the job . . . sometimes slipping in writing moments during the job. Like those boring staff meetings! LOL

2.    At what point did you make the decision to move into writing full-time? Did you receive encouragement from family and friends?

The day job was wearing me out. It was intense, adversarial, and political. I was tough, but such an environment made for a grumpy Hope, and my family knew it. Once I saw the opportunity to take the leap, I sat down with the family and asked them what they thought. With one child in college and the other a senior in high school, I warned them that finances might get tight, and they might have to work a job to help pay for school. They had no problem with it. My husband agreed, but said I had to agree to accompany him to the next promotion he could find since I could write anywhere.  We wound up moving from Columbia, SC to Phoenix, AZ for three years. It was great, and I made lots of writing connections in that metropolis. But yes, I had support, but I think a lot of that support was the result of them seeing how much writing meant to me. When they saw how serious I was, and how devoted I was to the hours and deadlines, they respected me in the new role. They were great. Sometimes family and friends have to see our commitment before they respect what we do. By the way, my writing put both sons through college.

3.   What led you to start Funds for Writers?

I couldn't sell the novel! LOL FundsforWriters was happenstance, frankly. At a ladies' writing group in Atlanta, in 1998, I was asked to speak about online writing, and how it differed from print. I was still working for the federal government, an agency that handled grants and loans. I was writing for several websites. One of the editors I wrote for asked me to speak in her place at this meeting, since she was afraid of crowds. Sometime during the presentation, the topic strayed when the attendees showed concern about being unable to afford computers, printers, toner, etc. I started advising them financially, mentioning contests and grants and such, and the emails started flooding in once I returned home. I asked a journalist I knew about how to start a newsletter, which was new territory back then, so I could consolidate my responses to questions, leaving me more time to write for myself. Unbeknownst to me, that was the snowball catalyst needed to start an avalanche, and FundsforWriters took on a life of its own, overtaking my fiction writing with this sudden interest by writers everywhere. After a few months, I had almost a thousand writers on board. I accepted fate's nudge that this was a venture I needed to pursue, so I embraced it and went full speed forward.

4.  What's been the most enjoyable part about your writing career? The most difficult?

The most enjoyable is doing what I love from home. That's just freedom. The most difficult is staying on top of the profession. Writing changes fast, sometimes before we know it. We've gone from print to online writing to vanity presses to self-publishing to electronic publishing in a very short time. I still speak to writers who are balking at having a website, when they really need a blog now. People who are still trying to understand Twitter, don't realize there's Google+ and Pinterest. Self-publishing is now indie publishing with a spin. Keeping up is hard for me, so I can’t imagine how it is for someone only able to write and keep up in only an hour a day.  

5.  You had a lot of contest success with the first chapter of Lowcountry Bribe. What's one suggestion you have for writers on the fence about entering contests?

Get over it. No, seriously, most contests are legit. Like everything, there are some scammers. But it's not hard to recognize them. They don't identify themselves, by name, they have no history, and there is no rhyme or reason why they even exist. I can do an entire session on contests and how to judge them and note the red flags. But don't be afraid of an entry fee. Entry fees are needed to cover the prize money and the expenses of holding the contest, so be willing to pay them. Unless a contest has a deep-pocket sponsor, they have to charge a fee. But winning contests can make an agent, publisher, editor, or reader take you more seriously. You have to invest in your career. If you can't come off the dollars to tap into contests, classes and conferences, you'll faint when it comes time to promote your work. It's a business, and like any businesses, there are costs, expenses, and start-up needs. I know that my agent was impressed with my efforts with contests.

6.  What advice would you give writers trying to break into freelance work?

Do it every day. I shall repeat that. Write daily; submit as often as you can. Just keep doing it, keep putting it out there for editors and readers to find. Write for local magazines. Pitch stories to the paper. Offer your services to every business you know. Join the Chamber of Commerce. Pitch ideas to nonprofits. Query magazines. Particularly query trade magazines. Query blogs, especially blogs of larger companies or magazines. Query pieces for online publications. Write for anthologies. When you start off as a writer, you try to write for anyone who'll have you. I did. In doing that, I earned a few clips and gained a little notoriety. I learned to specialize once I'd dabbled in many directions, but still . . . when I see something that catches my eye, I pitch it, even if it's not my normal niche. Be flexible, and diligent. Just keep at it for the long haul, and things happen. And if you have a book in you, work on it once the money-making work is done.

7.  How important is blogging to writers breaking into the business today?

If you don't have a website that's regularly updated, then a blog is a must. Without a doubt. These days, agents, editors, publishers, and readers want more than your promise you'll write well. They want to read about you and see your personality in your blog posts. On top of that, your blog must be focused, so establish some sort of niche. It can be something as quirky as humor or a unique voice rather than a topic. 

Don't write a blog like you would a diary or journal. Carve out a unique angle that starts to brand you. And post to it regularly. Once or twice a month will not cut it. If you want to be known, you have to work at this business, and that includes your social networking and your blogging. A serious writer posts a minimum of weekly, and usually more. The posts must be of substance - on point or well-referenced. Make it worth your readers taking time away from their day. Your day is no busier than theirs, so convince them you are worth their investment. Only then, once you gain their trust, will you be able to convince them you are serious as a writer.

8. How did you land your agent? Did your reputation for Funds for Writers and your blog open doors that would have been more difficult had those platforms not been in place?

Actually, I think FundsforWriters meant nothing to most of these agents. Agents don't travel in the circles that FundsforWriters does. I pitched a dozen agents at a time, every two weeks, until I reached 36. Then I waited for three months or so. Some answered quickly, some slowly, and a handful not at all, but once I knew I'd been rejected by three dozen agents (after a couple of very close calls), I decided the book needed a rewrite. I spent a year rewriting the mystery (while running FundsforWriters and freelancing), with the help of a serious critique group I adore online. Then I went back and submitted the same way again, to different agents. Twelve at a time, every two weeks, then I waited. So after 72 agents, and almost two years' worth of research, querying and rewriting, I landed an agent. So I seriously think FFW had little to do with finding an agent. I think, however, that contests made a bigger difference, but the bottom line was the story itself and the quality of the queries. I wrote each one separately, targeting something unique with each agent, as if writing a personal letter. Bottom line, I proved I was serious and in this for the duration.

9. What new stories are in your writing future?

Books two and three of the Carolina Slade Mystery Series are already written. I'm researching book four. I'll freelance here and there with magazines and online publications and continue with FundsforWriters, but my fiction will follow Carolina Slade as long as the publisher loves her. Traditional publishing takes a little longer than self-publishing, but I like it that way. It makes me groom my writing to a highly polished sheen.

10. Feel free to add anything else you like!

Read as well as write daily. Read those who excel in your genre, or genres. You're better off studying the masters of your craft than attending a conference or reading a how-to book. And it's so much more fun!

Try to study the business a bit. Don't assume self-publishing is for you. Don't assume you'll sell a book without a platform. Don't think you only need a Big Six publishing house. There is no cookie-cutter right answer. You need to learn your options, over time, and make intelligent decisions about how to write, how to publish, and how to sell your work. Writing the book is such a small piece of the picture. And getting published doesn't mean you've arrived. When someone tells me they've published a book, my next question is how well is it selling, because in the end, that determines your reputation, and whether or not you can make a living at what we so love to do.

And if you want to freelance for a living, pour yourself into it. Know every magazine in existence or develop a pristine name for yourself as a quality copywriter. However you write, do it better than those around you. It's just that simple.


Thanks so much for your time and advice, Hope!


  1. If only it were all that simple, friend. There will always be a hand out in the writing market, and Hope's hand is no different. Sorry I have no good news for you here, but I make it a habit to not buy into the Writing Market, but to apply my talents and trades to the various GOOD markets out there, and am well published in the U.S. and overseas in Europe as a result.

    Everywhere we turn is another money scam that has the answer by just plugging in our credit card and here it comes - and within minutes of receiving the good news we are on our way, Hooray. Who are we kidding!

    Writing is hard work and REWRITING is even harder. Ask E.B. White, he'll tell you!

    I hardly think "Oprah - Hope" is going to help that many new writers any more that the use of Google for the information they also have at their finger tips.(AND it's FREE!) JUST go to a magazine site and read what they are looking for, and then follow their formula for success to a T ; cross your fingers and toes they like what they see. You can't make anyone buy your goods because you followed the formula, but you have a greater chance than someone flying by the seat of their pants who refuses to do it by the book - so to speak..

  2. Writing is indeed hard work, Grassroots. And every writer hopes to one day earn a living at the craft . . . i.e., become one with his hand out. My journey has taken many years.

    Yes, you can go to sites and read what they want, assuming they have guidelines posted, or you can read the publication and get the idea, but one has to know the magazine exists, or that it's legit, or that it's even taking submissions. It's very time consuming and a lot of writers barely have time to write, much less hunt markets. Many do not understand grants. Many have no experience with contests. So many are afraid of writing jobs in lieu of going freelance. So that's what FundsforWriters provides - three of the four newsletters being free.

    And yes, rewriting is hard work. Did it for over a decade for the novel, many times for magazine features. Still doing it. But I love being able to establish a platform while teaching writers. And all 43,000 of us get along famously. Would love to have you on board as well.

  3. Kirk
    Want to thank you for this nice opportunity. Good luck with your writing!

    Hope Clark

  4. My pleasure, Hope. Thanks so much for taking the time and sharing your knowledge and experience.