Pet Writing 101

I began writing about pets more than two decades ago, on a Royal electric typewriter. At the time, we lived in Eastern Kentucky in a very small town that boasted a tiny library that carried a short shelf on how-to writing books. There was no such thing as Email or the Internet—at least, not for aspiring wannabe writers.

            My information came from an outdated version of the writer’s “bible” of the time, Writers Market. It listed the markets (magazines and book publishers), what they published, and how to approach them. I was working blind, sending out stories and articles to the named editor (who likely no longer worked there) and hoping I’d get lucky.

           Because I’d worked at a veterinary hospital, most of my work featured dogs and cats. Therefore, I targeted dog and cat magazines. After reams of paper, rolls of postage stamps, and enough rejection letters to paper the walls of my apartment, the Dog Fancy magazine editor took pity on me and explained what I was doing wrong. 

            I corrected the errors, and sold the very next article. Ain’t it amazing how much difference a bit of guidance makes?

            After learning about other writer organizations that offered that helping hand, the Cat Writers’ Association, Inc. was born. I served as the founding president for the first nine years, and this year returned as the president for our 16th annual writer conference.

            The CWA aids aspiring writers become published and supports professionals who have a special place in their hearts for cats. While the organization has a focus on cat topics, the annual writer conference offers seminars that address all writer needs and interests. If you have any aspirations for writing—and especially if you have an interest in pet topics—this conference is the place for you. At past conferences, I’ve garnered multiple artlcle assignments and even landed several book deals, including The First-Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats (just got another healthy royalty check on that one!).

            This year we’ll be in White Plains, New York which is about a twenty-minute train ride from Manhattan. Several New York editors and agents will attend the conference and meet with our members and guests. Editors from the same magazines that first published my work will be there. And because writing has changed so very much since I first began, sessions include topics such as “social networking” and website writing and more. 

            There also will be sessions by veterinarians and other professionals on topics near and dear to pet owners. What’s the latest in feline care? How can we budget the best treatments during economic downturns? I’ll share columns on some of these issues in the future.

            Two featured speakers will bring us laughter as well as wow-information. Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald from Animal Planet “Emergency Vets” speaks at the Friday night banquet—who knew, he’s a stand-up comedian specializing in pet humor? The Saturday lunch features Dr. Leslie Lyons, a researcher into genetic diseases of companion animals. I’ve interviewed Dr. Lyons on one of my previous Pet Peeves radio shows and she has amazing information to share. Saturday afternoon the entire conference moves from our hotel sessions to a cat show at the Westchester Conference Center, and holds a mass pet-book signing event featuring more than 25 authors who write about cats and dogs.

            Writers are a different breed. And those of us who write about cats and dogs are special. We do it because it’s part of what and who we are. Since those first very wobbly steps as a writer, I’ve been blessed to see my work published many times. More than that, readers have assured me that my work has made a positive difference in pet lives.

            As I begin work this week on my next (23rd) pet book, I hope those of you who have a dream waiting to happen take your own steps to make it happen. If it’s writing, maybe the helping hand can be found at the CWA conference–here’s the schedule.

I’ve learned over the years, though, that it’s not only the end result, but the experiences along the way that brings the greatest satisfaction. May your journey, whatever it may be, bring you great joy.

Amy D. Shojai, CABC is a nationally known pet care specialist, author of 22 pet books and the founder/president of the CWA. She can be reached through her website where you can sign up for her free monthly E—newsletter Pet Peeves.

Returning to the Land of Writing

Many months have passed since my last blog post. A lot happened, most of which kept me from posting–or even writing much. I can explain the reason for my absence in one word:


If you want the long story, read on. You see, I’ve volunteered for several years with the local high school, coaching voice and directing the music for their theater productions. Just before the Christmas holidays, the choir director was asked to resign (now THAT’S another dramatic story I’ll share over a strong beverage sometime!). Anyway, she walked out that Sunday during the intermission of the last Peter Pan performance, and the director of fine arts immediately asked me, “What are YOU doing next week?”

Uh…well I…Hmnnnn.

It’s incredibly flattering to be wanted. And frankly, the writing has been challenging with the economy taking a bite out of income, and cost of self-insurance rising. So when I was called for an interview for the job two days later, before I’d even sent in an application, I was ready to make a leap of faith. Another interesting note–that same Sunday in church, I’d made a direct prayerful plea to be shown a sign, given direction for what I needed/should do next in my career. And TA-DA! the choir teacher quit and I was offered the job. And so I became a choir teacher, started January 6, and school ended for summer break June 6.

It’s taken me this long to catch up on everything writing-wise that slid during that period. Don’t get me wrong–teaching choir, taking kids to contest, preparing for two concerts, and assisting with the “Thoroughly Modern Millie” production was enormously satisfying and challenging. But teaching was only a small part of the job. I didn’t have a teaching certificate, and was required to go back to school, take classes and tests myself, to qualify for an emergency license. In addition, teaching is not what it was during my school days. Or my parents’ tenure as teachers. Suffice it to say–

God has a wicked sense of humor–and teaches a pointed lesson. *s* I didn’t know how good I had it!

The job gave me wonderful experience, challenged me and I gained confidence in areas I’d never otherwise have done, helped me financially, and I think…no, I KNOW that I made a positive difference for the students. Training techniques for pets work on students, too! But more than all that, the experience showed me what I was meant to do.

And so I have returned to being a fulltime writer, a spokesperson for people and the companion animals they love. I’ll still teach, but do so through the written word, or my appearances. The High School choir program will go on without me–I did my job, as a place holder to maintain the program until the right person could carry on.

Now it’s my turn to focus on Amy.



OWFI Conference + Award!

Heavens to murgatroyd…it’s been NOVEMBER since I last posted. And I’ve got to tell you, God has a seriously wicked sense of humor. My last entry noted that I had streamlined  the regular deadlines and then…well, then God laughed.

A friend asked me for a major favor, and I was concerned enough about the economy that  I took a “real job” teaching High School choir when the director resigned one week before the Christmas holidays. Silly me, I thought that I  could still write after school and make progress. HA!

So, the school year finishes June 5. I have two choir concerts, and a week of tech rehearsals and performance for the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in the weeks ahead. It will be lovely to have my writing life back after that but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything–the students have been wonderful. Such raw talent, youth, and energy has been inspiring, if frustrating at times.

Rest assured, it’ll all become book material at some point.

Getting back to the title of this blog, though…I “outed” myself about the teaching gig at the conference this past Friday evening. Even had the audience doing a bit of choral gymnastics despite themselves, LOL! For the past several years, I’ve put together a presentation honoring those authors pub’d during the past year with a “Famous Author” event. This year, the group named me the “Honorary Life Member” for my contributions to the organization.


Truly, many others deserve this more. The organization has given me so much and furthered my own career that  it’s only fair to volunteer what time I can. So I’ve previously served on the board, run the contest, and last year was president and organized the conference–but this year, only ran the Famous Author event. Heck, that’s the most fun you can have  without a beverage! (or a royalty check with multiple commas).

 Anyway, I’m incredibly grateful for the honor. I would encourage anyone to volunteer to help in your various writing organizations. Trust me–you invariably get back much more than you give.

Here’s hoping it won’t be another 6 months before I’m able to post again!


Making Fiction Progress & Economical Suckisity

I will finish the first draft of the novel this month. No excuses. I’ve taken steps to streamline existing deadlines, and plan to say “no” to any extras this month. So weekends will be devoted to the columns and blogs, once a month I’ll do the Pet Peeves newsletter and radio gigs, and devote weekdays and most evenings to fictioning. 

I’m at page 200 on the first draft of DEADLINES, a thriller, featuring an animal behaviorist protag who happens to have a radio show called Pet Peeves. Go figure. *s* More later…I’m superstitious about jinxing things by telling too much. 

I’m also a bit superstitious about saying much about the acting biz. How many writers do you know who kept it a secret before proclaiming their status to the world-at-large, “Yes, I am a writer!” Well…I am a writer. I am also an actor. I’ve been acting longer than I’ve been a writer. So now have an NYC agent for my writing and a Dallas agent for my acting endeavors. If you know the current state of the publishing industry–the acting industry is a mirror image. Boy, do I know how to pick ’em or what?!

That said, on the writing front I received some nice checks in October for past work, payment for some kewl online article assignments and blogs, and a nice-size royalty check on the First-Aid book. Good economics. I have some contracts pending for ’09, and have several book ideas percolating with my NYC agent. Promising economics. Also had some promised ’09 jobs evaporate–and the Chicken Soup stuff remains up in the air. Sucky economics. Now I’m trying to decide whether to fund expensive flight/hotel cost for some major research trips, which might lead to some assignments…or not. Questionable economics.

The Cat Writers Association annual writers’ conference is this month (see and I’ve been nominated to serve as president. I look forward to the challenge, but am also concerned about the time necessary for the job. The current and incoming directors and past committee chairs are dedicated and insightful pros and that’s a major comfort.

On the plus side, my new Pet Peeves newsletter receives kudos, and the radio show of the same name garnered several award nominations. I’m also having a ball watching myself (and other experts) on the DOGS 101 show on Animal Planet. In addition to this LiveJournal blog, you can find me at MySpace, RedRoom, YouTube and FaceBook–a good thing for marketing and networking, but also a major time drain. So from now on, I’ll likely just write one blog, and copy to all these places.

If you want original musings, subscribe to the Pet Peeves E-newsletter. *eg*

All we can do is the best we can do during these challenging times. I’m grateful for the work I have, pray it will continue and that new interesting work comes with 2009.

Some extra hours in the day would be nice.

Pet Peeves Newsletter, First Issue

The first issue, sent this past Friday, has received rave reviews. It’s the same title as my podcast  and the two go together paw-in-glove. A winner of one of my autographed pet titles will be chosen the last day of each month from current subscribers. That means, if you’ve not yet signed up, there’s still time before the first drawing. Winners may even get a photo of their pet featured in the next issue.

Meander over to the htt:// site, click on the Newsletter page, and sign up. Lots of fun stuff in the works, and I don’t want you to miss out.

Nope, sorry, I can’t offer one-on-one pet advice through the newsletter–there just ain’t enuff hours in the day! But any feedback or suggestions for topics will be considered for a future issue.