Running a Writing Workshop

I’m posting a series of handouts that I’ve prepared for past writing seminars. Here’s one on forming a writing workshop. A workshop can help you to be accountable to other writers and regularly produce pages.

Naomi’s Guidelines for Running a Writing Workshop

  • Determine goals and purpose with first the organizers and then the group.

Is it to help people get their creative works in better shape?

Is it to make them feel more emboldened and encouraged as writers?

Is it to build community?

(It also can be a process—you can start with one goal and then move into another.)

  • Meeting place: safe, neutral, convenient, well-lit with little noise distractions. Should be around a table.
  • The facilitator needs to control and direct the discussions. Set the ground rules and the time. Try to end promptly at the time stated. If people want to hang around, that’s their choice.
  • Ground rules:

People need to treat each other in respectful way.

What is shared in the group, stays in group. (Even domestic partners should not be told about details of someone’s story before its time.)


Should people e-mail or snail-mail their essays before the group? (Usually a week ahead of time is sufficient.)

If you distribute writings before the meeting time, have each person write his/her name of his/her copy and write notes in the margins i.e. good, effective, confusing, etc. If someone is so inclined, they can even make proofreading marks.

During the workshop, you can either have the person read the entire piece or else immediately launch into comments. After the reading, the writer should be in the “cone of silence.” The facilitator should then direct the discussion about the piece.  Always open with the work’s strengths and then move into the weaknesses. After people have made their comments, the writer is released from the “cone of silence” and can respond to comments.

Facilitator should make sure that certain people don’t dominate the conversation. Ask silent people if they would like to comment.

The facilitator can even make a list of questions that will apply to every piece or even individual pieces.

After workshopping a piece, everyone returns his/her copy of it to the author.  Individuals can request copies, but it’s up to the author’s discretion. Otherwise, everyone should erase/delete digital submissions.

How to Find an Agent

I’ll be speaking to the Stanford Club of Pasadena and the Stanford Professional Women this Sunday on the topic, Writing and Publishing in a Text(ing) World. For more information, go here:

I’ll be distributing a number of handouts. Here’s one of them:

How to Find an Agent (updated June 2019)

HOT TIP: Find 10 recent books that are similar (but not exactly like yours) and identify who the author’s agent is.


  • Look at a book’s acknowledgments.
  • Google author’s name and “agent.”
  • Look up Publishers Weekly reviews on (Barnes and Noble) or Google author’s name and “Publishers Weekly” and “review.”
  • Publishers Marketplace now have to subscribe to receive deal details.)

Find the latest information as many authors change their literary representation.

Publishers Lunch (free)


Bookends’ Jessica Faust on bad literary agents:

Once you’ve identified a potential agent, do your due diligence.

  • Research on querytracker (, Absolute Write Water Cooler, and Writer Beware.
  • Subscribe to Publishers Marketplace (or find someone who does) and pull up that agent’s deals over the past year.
  • Find the agent’s list of clients and find a fellow writer who is either on that list or knows someone on that list and get feedback.

Authors Guild’s advice on agency clauses and agency agreements:


Twitter: #pitchwars #pitmad



How to Sell Diverse Books

With the Oscar nominations and in our mystery genre, the Edgar announcement to come in a few days, observers are fixated on awards. But the older I get in the publishing industry, the more I’ve become fixated on sales.

There have been campaigns notably in the children’s literature to publish diverse books. Admittedly, if there are no diverse books to be had, those stories cannot reach readers. But releasing them is half the battle. How do you sell them?

As I cut my professional teeth at a Japanese American newspaper which catered to a niche audience, I’ve learned that you cannot merely use tactics employed by the mainstream and think that they will work for every book or movie, especially a diverse one. Of course, you need mainstream buy-in for a creative work to be a commercial success. But for a book with American non-white characters to truly have legs, I believe that you need to create different “interest tornados,” starting with the very community you write about.

For my debut Mas Arai mystery, I advocated that my publisher, Random House, place an ad in the newspaper that I worked at, The Rafu Shimpo. They did so, securing a quarter-page space that probably would have gotten a few inches in the Los Angeles Times for the same price. I gave the same paper a first-chapter sneak-peek in its holiday issue and held my launch party at the Japanese American National Museum instead of a bookstore.

A friend who used to work at Heyday Books in Berkeley told me her company strove to meet people where they are–at churches, community centers, etc.–instead of forcing them to crossover into places that they were not used to going. There are a number of African American book clubs; in the past, I’ve heard of them being women-centric, but I just learned of a men’s book club here in Los Angeles. It takes a bit of digging, but if you are an author who are writing ANW (American non-white) stories, I think that it’s imperative that you not only look high but also low, on the ground level.




Soho Crime to Publish Chicago Historical Mystery

The book contract is signed, so the official announcement is out: CLARK & DIVISION, my historical mystery set in 1944 Chicago, will be released by Soho Crime next year. Thrilled! I’m still working on the novel, so stay tuned for posts regarding research. If you subscribed to my newsletter, you have more details. Just go to my website’s home page and click on “Join E-mail List.”

Weight Loss and Writing

Writing is not conducive to weight loss. In fact, being such a sedentary active, often fueled by one too many jalapeño potato chip, See’s molasses chip or bottle of sweet tea, it can lead to the weight gain.

I’ve always been an active person–in the past, I’ve run in half-marathons or played in basketball leagues. And now with Tulo, the hyper Jack Russell, regular dog walks as well as strength training have become my regular routine. But that hasn’t prevented extra pounds from accumulating around my middle. I called it natural middle-age weight gain and just acquired more tunics from Japan.

I was content with my roly-poly state, but there’s something in my family history that I can’t ignore. We’ve been hit hard by the “C” word, cancer. My three grandparents had cancer; my father, stomach; and my mother, ovarian. Mom has beat the odds and is currently as healthy as she can be at 83 years of age. The rest succumbed to the disease.

My gynecologist has told me that losing just 10 pounds will decrease my chances of getting several different kinds of cancer. That was finally the incentive that I needed. I reluctantly joined the Kaiser Healthy Balance program, which is similar to Weight Watchers in that there are weekly weigh-ins and group discussions. I really didn’t want to participate in these one-and-a-half hour sessions, once a week for 16 weeks. (I’m currently in week seven.)

Instead of being a discouraging experience, I discovered a group of charming, motivated and smart individuals from all walks of life. They had helpful tips that I’ve integrated in my life. Steadily, every week, weight has been falling off without that much sacrifice. The Kaiser plan stresses a plant-based diet with lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Nothing is “banned”; it’s all about portion control.

It’s interesting that my weight loss goal coordinates with the writing of my current manuscript. The percentage that I have left to go is about the same. Somehow the discipline of eating well and being physical active has helped me to be more productive in my writing sessions. Discipline is sometimes seen as a dirty world, but there can be a beauty to it, a “habit of being.”




Reassessing Crap

In one of my favorite writing books, BIRD BY BIRD, Anne Lamott discusses writing “shitty first drafts.” It’s a necessary evil for writers and sometimes I forget to extend that truth to my own work.

On Christmas of all days, I printed out my work in progress, got comfortable on our Costco couch and started reading. By the end of my draft I determined that it was crap.

I couldn’t believe that I had been so excited about what I had been creating–the foundation seemed strong, the structure dependable, the characters lively and authentic. Then why did my story seem to fall apart in certain key moments?

I took a break, ate Chinese food with the extended family while also playing some rounds of Switch video games with my 9-year-old nephew (soundly beaten every time) and then returned back to the manuscript. I figured out the err of my ways. First of all, with the holiday busyness, I had failed to totally immerse myself in my writing. I didn’t take deep dives and fail to stay underwater. Instead I was dogpaddling in shallow waters so that I could keep an eye on what was happening around me. As a result, I had just taken sections that I had written earlier in my outline and stuck them where I thought they had belonged. As a result, it was not seamless. The stitching was crude and the fabric totally wrong. Why was I having my characters say things that they never would for the sake of advancing the plot?

So later that evening I removed the ugly stitching that connected these sections and began to completely overhaul what I had written. I’m still working on it now, but I’m realizing that it wasn’t all crap. Only that some of it was.

Happy New Year!