Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Terrific New Contest!

Summer 2014: Baby Blessings Shower

The Babies Are Arriving!

As you may have heard, my book Too Blessed to be Stressed has been busy birthing offspring; I call them my Baby Blessings. So far, the bouncing bundles of joy include:

Too Blessed to be Stressed 2014 Planner

Too Blessed to be Stressed Perpetual Calendar Too Blessed to Be Stressed Perpetual Calendar

Muy Bendecida Para Estar Estresada (Spanish translation) Too Blessed to be Stressed (Spanish)
The Bible Promise Book: Too Blessed to be Stressed Edition
Too Blessed to Be Stressed - Promise Book

Due next in July is the Too Blessed to be Stressed 2015 Planner and in September, the Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal, which is a hard cover version of the original paperback with additional space for Too Blessed to be Stressed 2015 Planneranswering “Let’s Decom-Stress” reflection questions and journaling. I’m planning cool contests to give away copies of each one to celebrate their birthdays, so be sure to subscribe to my blog to find out about all the freebies as the news breaks!
In the meantime, I’m throwing a baby shower in reverse! That means I give YOU gifts to celebrate! Keep reading …

A Baby Shower Like No Other
In celebration of my Baby Blessings, I want to see yours! Just shoot me an e-photo of your cherished baby (human, 4-legged or even 4-wheeled) on my CONTACT page by August 8th and you’ll be entered in the drawing to win the Baby Blessing (listed above) of your choice. Winning photos will be posted on my blog in mid-August.

If you haven't already subscribed to my personal blog, please do so that you won't miss a thing (this is my writer's blog; my personal blog is

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Breaking Into Print

I received an e-letter from an aspiring writer this week asking for tips on how to break into print (she's currently a college English major, focused on creative writing).

As I'm often asked for advice from young writers on how to get your feet wet in the sea of publication, I thought I'd reprint my response to her here. Much of it is my personal story. I hope you find something in my tale helpful for your own writing journey. Here was my reply:

I think you're wise to pursue creative writing in college; I sometimes think if I had, it would have saved me a lot of cramming and learning the hard way later (I majored in occupational therapy at UF). But I had no way of knowing I would turn out to be a writer - it was more Papa God's idea than mine.

I started writing professionally about 10 years ago at age 45 when my youngest chick flew the coop for college and I heard a still, small voice whisper to my heart (in a dentist's office of all places!) that it was time to chase the childhood dream He'd put in my heart to write.

I began with magazine articles and with a mentor's help (mostly to make me NOT look like the amateur I was), was able to get 10 pieces published that first year. Although the industry has changed dramatically during the past decade, I still believe it's the best way to go - take small bites (articles both online and print, blogs, etc) before tackling the whole enchilada (a book). I'm now blessed with over 130 articles published internationally, most of them based on personal anecdotes and life lessons learned. Many of them are laced with humor (I highly recommend this to promote sales - everybody likes to laugh!). 

From magazines, I moved on to a newspaper column (which I still write 8 years later), kind of a Christian Erma Bombeck slice of life perspective.

Both of these experiences were crucial to:
1) Pad my resume and provide clips for catching bigger and better writing gigs (and eventually an agent).
2) Provide experience for writing tight and learning the ropes.
3) Demonstrate to book publishers that I was a serious writer, knew my stuff, and that I was worth taking a chance on (publishing and promoting a book is a hefty and risky endeavor).
4) Begin building my platform for a future book career - growing a readership and establishing my writing voice.
5) Get my name "out there."

My first three books (two YA historical novels and a combo devo/how-to for writers) were published by a small press. This is another thing I advocate at my writing workshops: small presses. They will deal with unagented writers and provide many of the same things larger traditional presses do, except for large scale book distribution. Since the books are usually POD (Print On Demand), bookstores won't carry them because they're nonreturnable, but these days that doesn't matter as much because the bulk of sales are online and electronic anyway. You don't pay a penny with a small press and end up with a nice book to show for it. (As opposed to some self-published books with inferior covers and poor editing.)

It was only after I had three books under my belt that I was able to land an agent - these days you don't choose them, they choose you, but only if they feel your manuscript is completely ready, sell-able and polished (this means professional editing before submitting a manuscript to either an agent or publisher is an absolute must). As I alluded to earlier, the larger publishing houses only deal with agents. My agent, then, was able to open bigger doors to better contracts. My 14th book will be released this fall.

I'm sure you already know that an excellent resource is the Christian Writers Market Guide (for inspirational writers) and I highly recommend combing that highly valuable book for places your work might be a good fit. All the info you'll need is contained therein - follow submission guidelines to the letter.

If your writing is solid and of good quality, it's only a matter of time until you start placing pieces. And periodical publishing brings in a little income while you're learning the ropes (averages 10-20 cents per word, sometimes more). 

Another way to add planks to your platform is to become more visible. Choose something related to your chosen genre that meets a felt need with the public, develop an expertise and become a speaker. My niche is quirky women's humor so I developed presentations related to the topics of my inspirational women's books - stress, self-control, beauty, fear, unconditional love - and have spoken to more than 100 groups in the past three years. Back room book sales are usually quite lucrative and the exposure (mostly word of mouth) really boosts your following.

There's no magic formula that works for everyone - every writer I know broke in a different way. But I think the common thread is determination and perseverance ... and continuing to perfect your craft.

I would also recommend a subscription to Writer's Digest or another trade journal (that's where I learned more about the writing biz than anywhere else), and to also subscribe to writing blogs of those successful within your genre. There's quite a lot of good info in the archives of mine that you would likely find helpful: I'd also like to invite you to subscribe to my personal blog: to get a flavor for the ongoing process of connecting with your readers after the books are out.

Go where the decision makers are. Attend one or two writers conferences each year; do your homework before hand and prepare queries or one-pagers to pitch to at least three editors face to face (conferences are the only place you can do this so it's worth the $500 or so it costs - I've landed many article and/or book deals at conferences). 

Even if they don't think your piece is "ready," they'll give you invaluable input so that you'll see clearly where you need to go from here and next time it will be. These are the actual people who make the decisions what to publish... let them meet you personally and get to know you. Rapport goes a l-o-n-g way in the pub biz.

Realistically, you may not come out of the starting gate making a living off your writing income. Many or perhaps most of us have other jobs and write on the side. Some of the fortunate few do well enough to eventually quit their day jobs and only write, but not most. After a decade writing professionally, I'm only just now starting to receive royalty checks that have more than three digits. I never did quit my day job as an occupational therapist and don't intend to in the near future, although I have been able to cut my hours back to allow for more writing time.

And a HUGE must: learn to write a killer query. So immensely important.

Professional writing is truly great fun, although a lot of work. But when those letters from readers start coming in that thank you for changing their lives and touching their hearts with Papa God's love, you know it's all worth it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Radical Makeovers

My new book covers! 
What do you think? 
Woo Hoo!

Soooo exciting!

These are the new covers for my two historical novels, The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails. 

My publisher felt it was time for an update and I think they give Emma-Lee, the main character of both books, a fresh new look.

I actually resisted at first - accepting change has never been my forte. But I'm glad I relented now that I've seen what a very talented cover artist can do ... not really altering my perception of who Emma-Lee is, but enhancing the possibilities and engaging the imagination in all that she could be.

It was my desire to keep the distant storm clouds and dark edges on the horizon of The Distant Shore to symbolize the tragedy and mystery that Emma-Lee was thrust into on the island through no fault of her own. Not unlike many of the problems we face every day - problems not of our own making, but problems we must wade through nonetheless.

And the cover artist (whom I've never met or even spoken to) came up with the beautiful brightness and glorious sunbeams (if you read my books, you know how much I absolutely ADORE those symbolic fingers of our Creator reaching down to us in the form of sunbeams!) portraying Emma-Lee's emerging faith and hope in Papa God for Billowing Sails

The use of sunbeams is just another marvelously cool coincidence that isn't.

It's a grace note. An amazing grace note that proves to me yet again that Papa God is involved in every single detail of our lives. Even book cover radical makeovers!

P.S. If you've never read these delightful novels inspired by a true story, good news! They're on sale for $1.99 each for a limited time in e-reader version for both Kindle and Nook. And of course they're also available in print from and as well as anywhere books are sold.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Mentor Has Feathers

My Promo Mentor: Jo-Jo the Sand Hill Crane
It happened again yesterday.

I was enjoying my early morning prayer walk through a nearby patch of woods when my thoughts were interrupted by a loud honk/squawk/clicking racket from overhead.

Glancing up, I saw the same Sand Hill Crane I'd seen every morning at precisely 8:30 a.m. for the previous three days. He flew at the same height, in the same route - toward the south, banking off eastward at the intersection of the pond and strawberry field - all the while announcing his presence to the world in the same unmistakable, unmissable, unforgettable fashion. Honking/squawking/clicking at the top of his lungs. (Sorry for the clunky description but I double-dog dare you to try to put the call of a Sand Hill Crane into English!)

The key word here? Same. 

He did the same thing at the same time everyday. And he made sure the rest of the world was aware of it.

I assumed he was off a'courting some nice ladybird since it's spring and love is in the air. Incidentally, Sand Hill Cranes, like most birds, mate for life and take their marriage vows very, very seriously. We could learn something from them.

And as an author, it occurred to me that I could learn something from this guy. He's an expert at self-promotion.

The first day I saw him, he was simply of mild passing interest. Hmm. There goes a big noisy bird.

The second day, he made more of an impression. Hey, I wonder if that's the same bird I saw yesterday. He looks the same. Wonder where he's going. Wonder why he's going. Maybe I'll watch him a while.

The third day, he burrowed under my skin. Oh my gosh, that IS the same bird. How cool is that? I'm going to follow him and see what he's up to.

And that dadgum bird stayed in my mind all morning. I even named him Jo-Jo and went home and Googled Sand Hill Cranes to learn more about my new friend. And to me, suddenly he was.

My new friend.

I cared about him. I told others about him. I actually looked forward to the next morning when I could hurry out to see him again.

Just the way we writers want people to view us.

And how do we get to the point of burrowing under people's skin so that they care about us, tell others about us, and look forward to our next book? The same way Jo-Jo did: Stay vocal and visible.

Let me say that again because it's important: Stay vocal and visible. 

What does that mean to you? Pursue speaking opportunities? Guest blog? Write online articles? Show up and comment on websites and blogs frequented by your targeted audience regularly? Tweet ten times a day? Blog daily? Snag all the media interviews you can? Maybe all of the above.

Promotional guru Michael Hyatt has his accounts set up so that he feeds a template in the morning and tweets automatically appear 13 times a day and mini-blogs twice daily while he's busy elsewhere. He constantly shares good stuff he finds on other people's blogs, giving them full credit of course - an excellent way to foster networking so that they'll return the favor and eventually their readers become your readers.      

Sure, I know. You aren't Michael Hyatt with all his experience, funds and techy resources. But I'll bet there's still something you can add to your current self-promotional arsenal to make you more vocal and visible.

Go ahead. Give it some thought. Prepare to do some serious skin-burrowing. Become a Jo-Jo.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

We All Want to be Winners

Congrats! You won the literary award!

The words every author longs to hear but seldom does.

But wait! There's more reason to hope than you might think. Don't give up yet on penning "award-winning author" after your name.There are quite a few writing contests and literary awards out there that someone will win. It might just be you!

Here is a partial list of some of the more prominent annual Christian book awards. Bear in mind that there are even more than what you see here; all it takes is a little elbow grease and research to turn them up so you can pop your entry in the mail (or online for e-books).

  • EPCA Awards (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association): Gold Medallion Book Awards are given in five categories including Bibles, Fiction, NF, Inspirational, and Bible Reference. 
  • Christianity Today Book Awards: Ten categories plus Book of the Year.
  • Christy Award: Fiction only, nine categories including contemporary romance, historical romance, contemporary series, suspense, contemporary stand alone, visionary, first novel, historical, and YA. 
  • Rita Award: Romance Fiction only (named for Rita Clay Estrada, the first president of RWA, Romance Writers of America). Ten novels are proclaimed winners from the 2000 applicants each year. 
  • Selah Awards: Blue Ridge Conference Writing Contest; winners in each of  eleven categories including romance novel, contemporary/women novel, historical novel, suspense novel, speculative fiction, novella, inspirational/gift, YA, Bible studies, children, Christian Life, plus Book of the Year. 
  • Golden Scroll Awards: sponsored by AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) in conjunction with the CBA's International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) award Fiction Book of the Year, NF Book of the Year, and Author of the Year among others.
  • Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year
  • Illumination Awards: eighteen categories including Bible study, Christian Living, devotional, theology, self-help, children's YA, romance fiction, Ebook NF, Ebook Fiction, and more. 
  • Enduring Light Medals: rewarding exemplary Christian-themed books published since the year 2000.  Categories include Christian Thought, Devotional, Inspirational, Christian Fiction, and Christian Children's Book.

Most of these contests require less than $100 fee per entry (per category) and usually two copies of your book for the judges. All have deadline submission dates. Most are accessible to authors (as opposed to the publisher being required to submit the book) but it's a MUST to read the application instructions thoroughly so you don't defeat yourself before you're even in the running.

The Christian Writers Market Guide is a good reference for writing contests and awards and I always recommend that you Google the entrance requirements for newest developments/changes.

Go get 'em!  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Behind the Scenes of Book Publication

Our view of Italy's beautiful coast
First of all, let me say that this dreamy photo has nothing whatsoever to do with this post, but it brings back a happy memory from our European anniversary trip last year and I love it. So there it is. Hope you enjoy it too.

Okay, now on to business.

I'm nearing the March 31 deadline for completion of my new book, Too Loved to be Lost, so I thought I'd share what goes on behind the scenes at this stage of the publication game.

A few weeks ago, I started seeking endorsements (known as blurbs in the biz) from high profile people for the "Praise" page and/or back cover of my book. I'm fortunate to be acquainted with several wonderful authors who graciously read my chapter sampler and provided me with a lovely blurb I can either use as is in its longer form, or edit for a brief one or two-liner (which is what is often done for promo purposes).

I also asked my publishing house editor and my agent to give some thought to coming up with a few potential endorsers within their various circles of influence. Hopefully that will glean some nice results. 

For the last two weeks, I've been busily self-editing, which consists of grinding through the manuscript repeatedly, spot-treating (locating and making content problem areas better) and correcting errors. 

Spot-treating got easier for me with this book (as compared to the previous four) thanks to the wise advice of Dr. Angela Hunt. I attended a posh luncheon in Angie's benefit a month or so back and she suggested her booklet, Track Down the Weasel Words to help me with the tedious chore of self-editing before submission.

True to its cover promise, Angie's book supplied "strategies to revise and improve your manuscript," which happily augmented my tried-and-true system I'd long ago derived and revised from Browne and King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. 

I suppose that resource sounds peculiar for a nonfiction writer, but I cut my teeth on fiction and have found the precepts go hand-in-hand with creative nonfiction storytelling, which pretty much describes my current writing style.

Angie's suggestion to compile a list of your "weasel words" and plug them into the search and replace feature on your computer system was a terrific time saver for me and I'd like to pass it on to you.

The list of commonly overused wimpy words/phrases (which Angie recommended) I entered into "search" (typed in space-word-space) and then replaced with the very same word in all caps, again with a single space before and after the word, were:
it                    that                        just
was                there was               of the
were               there were             started to

The purpose of capitalizing these problem children is to make them jump out at you during your next pass through the manuscript, giving you the opportunity to see how overused they are (or hopefully not) and substitute a better word or phrase to tighten up loose writing.

For example, I was shocked to find that "it" appeared over 300 times in my book. Yikes! Some I decided to leave (can't do much with "Take it to the bank"), but others were quite expendable, making my writing all the better for the deduction.

"He tried the doorknob. Surprisingly, it turned." became "Surprisingly, the doorknob turned."
"As clearly as if he had spoken it aloud" became "as clearly as if he had spoken aloud." Simple, right? Yet so much more streamlined and professional (especially from an editor's viewpoint for those of you preparing to submit to an agent or publishing house for the first time).

Searching "of the" turned up dozens of sloppy overuses such as: " minutes of the meeting ..." which became "the meeting's final minutes."

Rooting out "there was" found many sentences like: "I knew there was nothing I could do." which became "I knew I could do nothing on my own."

I also noticed a few overly-repeated weaselly stylistic devices that are my own personal nemeses: em-dashes and italics. I was able to replace many of the em-dashes with semi-colons but there was still a hefty flock of pigeons left. I was flabbergasted at how many I use without knowing until a clever little tool like this digs them up. I tried to limit italics to no more than three per page (which was a struggle for me - hey, I talk in italics!) because I recognize that I'm actually removing the oomph by trying to emphasize too often.

So what are your personal weasel words or stylistic devices and how do you deal with them?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How Do You Say Papa God in Spanish?

I just received my first reader letter regarding the Spanish version of my book, Too Blessed to be Stressed, which was released last month and is being distributed by Wal-Mart, Choice, CBD, LifeWay, and a host of national and international distributors under the Casa Promesa imprint of Barbour Books.

That in itself is a huge blessing - Barbour, who published my last six books, has marvelous and widespread distribution, but never before has one of my books received this much attention.

 Wow! Wal-Mart! For a writer, that's the big time! It's like a new actress being invited to appear on Good Morning America - woohoo!

But even more of a blessing is to hear from a reader that Papa God has used you as His instrument to touch a heart. That's why I do this. For me, that's what it's all about.

So this lovely gal, Dary, wrote a note to me in Spanish (to be expected, I suppose, from the reader of a Spanish book.) The run in my hose is that my Spanish vocabulary wouldn't fill a teacup. (Barbour hired a professional translator to format the book.)

Thankfully, I have a wonderful Hispanic friend who graciously translated Dary's letter for me. Dary wrote that Too Blessed to be Stressed has transformed her life. It has been a great blessing to her and has made her laugh a whole lot. She asked if I would "pretty please" have my other books translated into Spanish for the benefit of women like herself who are not fluent enough to read them in English.

Dary closed by thanking me for allowing myself to be "used by the Lord to help, uplift, and restore women."

Wow! If that doesn't light a fire in your writer's heart, the wood's wet!

Next up, the Bible Promise Book: Too Blessed to be Stressed Edition will be releasing in April. It's chock full of scripture related to all kinds of topics women deal with daily, including worry, simplifying, coping with loss, setting priorities, faith, worship, trust, and many more that were included in Too Blessed to be Stressed. It includes excerpts from my original book, but actually goes above and beyond what I had space to do, listing many, many additional Bible verses to help women stay afloat in the stress-pool of life by being encircled with the life preserver of Papa God's Truth.