Thursday, December 23, 2010

Don't Miss This One!

Hope you'll hop over to Suzanne Fisher's blog to catch the interview with award-winning author Debora M. Coty!

Suzanne Woods Fisher -

And have a happy and holy Christmas!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Head Hunting

So you're thinking of writing a book. You've got the storyline whirling in your head, your character profiles finished, and you're still toying with the ending. But that's okay. Many writers write organically and allow the story to bud and bloom as it grows, rather than following a strict outline.

What's your next major decision?

Simple yet oh, so important. Which voice are you going to use?

When I started my historical novel, The Distant Shore, I began writing in first person. After about six chapters, I realized it wasn't working - there were just too many details that couldn't feasibly be voiced through the eyes of my 6-year-old protagonist. A child that young wouldn't be able to perceive or compute all that I needed perceived and computed to bring the reader along on the journey.

So I did two things (at the suggestion of several editors): I went back and changed the story to third person, and I upped Emma Lee's age to nine, although the real life protagonist was indeed six when the story took place in 1904. Three years makes a world of difference in maturity level at that age, and enabled me to include deeper insights and more knowledge of how the world works for my character.

We're all pretty well acquainted with first person narrative voice. It has strong emotional connection with readers (they become the "I" in the story) and a level of intimacy not included as much in other POV's (points of view).  The format of tellling the story directly to the reader enables the writer to use quirky speech, idiosyncrasies, and share "secrets" unique to the first person voice.

On the flip side, the vocabulary is limited by the narrator's own vocabulary and life experience. In other words, a galley slave couldn't expound on the "detested inadequacies of the existing penal system," because he wouldn't normally use such words or lofty thoughts. Not could my Emma-Lee understand or describe the symptoms of familial abuse in her family as a 6-year-old.

In first person, the entire story is colored by only what is within the character's scope of knowledge and experience. Thus, the story may not be entirely objective, a quality some authors use as a literary tool to lead the reader in one direction throughout the book and then spring a surprise (objective) climax on them they didn't see coming until the protagonist's subjected bent becomes apparent at the end.

 Second person POV is rare in novels, although it's used more often in non-fiction. I frequently use second-person in my self-help books such as Mom NEEDS Chocolate and my upcoming Too Blessed to Stay Stressed. In these types of inspirational, humorous books, speaking directly to the reader lends an atmosphere of girl talk across a table while sipping mocha lattes.

Are you gettin' me, girlfriend?

Third person POV can be approached several different ways. Third person omniscient is a distant, overall perspective, as if viewing life on earth from an astronaut's viewpoint in outer space. Or God's perspective, which is, of course, all knowing, all seeing. The narrative moves freely in and out of character's minds. This POV isn't used as often as it was in, say, Dickins day, but it can work well with broad sagas of multiple characters and events.

Limited third person is a kind of compromise between first person and third person omnicient.Although the story is told about another person as in "he" or "she," the storytelling remains in the consciousness of a single character. It doesn't have to be the same character; in fact it makes for a rather boring book if the entire story is told in one POV. It makes for a more interesting plot and more thorough coverage if the POV shifts between 3-4 characters, but attention must be paid to smooth flow.

Above all, you must take care not to confuse the reader. That would create what I call an "eyeball wall" and you're in deep dung-doo if you do too much of that. They'll simply close the book and walk away.

Most creative writing programs teach that you shouldn't hop heads - shift POV from character to character - within the same scene. POV changes should occur naturally at chapter changes or with line spaces within chapters. However, I've noticed a growing trend to shift POV from paragraph to paragraph in some modern fiction, although I personally find it bamboozling at times. You begin to wonder, "Now who's thinking this?" and you have to go back and re-read to figure it out. Many editors would consider this poor craft or lazy writing.

Well, I hope this little head hunt is helpful in your publishing quest. Write on!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Creative Book Marketing 101

The following are ten highlights I gleaned at the Florida Christian Writers Conference from the Internet Publicity workshop led by Penny Sansevieri of AME Book Marketing. Be sure to check out Penny's professional services - she's got tons of great ideas!

1. 1500 books are published each day in the U.S.

2. Biggest book marketing secret: Know your audience! What does your reader need? That's what they'll happily come to your site to find. Research places you reader goes to narrow your focus and get the most bang for your marketing buck. Look at clubs, magazines, newsletters, websites, associations your readers frequent, then YOU go there too!

3. Your website is a 24/7 sales tool. Treat it that way. Make it interesting, informational (pertinent to their needs) and entertaining to your readers. Offer enough new and changing info that they'll want to come back often. (Note from Deb: I have my Twitter postings linked to my website so all I have to do it tweet a few times a day and evolving news appears on my website and my Facebook page as well - kills three birds with one stone!)

4. Keep your website home page simple and clean - about 250 words for easy navigation. Avoid music and moving parts, which can seem overwhelming.

5. Newsletter sign-up should be front and center, easy to find and workable by a click.

6. Make purchasing your books quick and easy; add Amazon links and offer PayPal or a shopping cart. Keep the choices to a minimum to avoid confusion.

7. Blogs are a good way to personalize your site and keep content fresh, but remember, take care what you write - your words are your resume!

8. Sign up for Google Alerts. (Deb's note: This is an extremely helpful tool that you should take advantage of if you don't already - I've done it for a long time now and it's priceless. Every time your name or work appears online, you'll get a notice and link so that you can monitor pubicity and share it with others.)

9. You should try to blog 1-3 times weekly, approximately 50 words each (so busy people can click over and enjoy your brief thoughts stress-free). Use pictures as much as possible for visual interest and to enhance searches.

10. Use creative blog titles (like this one - LOL!) to pique interest and use key words related to your brand that will snag searchers.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Clearing up Publishing Confusion

This is some excellent information I learned from Lynn Price of Behler Publications at the Florida Writing Conference in Orlando on 19/22/10. I've added some of my own editorial comments.

Publishing terms defined:

Digital printing: Sometimes mistaken for Print on Demand; digital printing is used by all publishers to create low print runs of less than 100 units. Even Trade publishers who use large print runs (see definition below) use digital printing for ARCS (Advanced Reader Copies) and backlist titles.

Print on Demand (POD): Books are printed only when ordered (usually low order runs) to avoid warehouses overflowing with unsold books; prices may be slightly higer than average. POD is often offered by small presses. The publisher pays up-front production fees but offers no distribution services. In other words, books are not usually on store shelves because they can't be returned and bookstores only carry copies they can return if they don't sell. Many POD presses provide assistance with editing and cover art. Most POD books are available online through Amazon or other Ingram and Baker & Taylor dealers such aas or

Vanity/Subsidy: The author pays all printing costs or the fees may be subsidized by the publisher (who pays partial fees). The author has little say in production or retail price, which is usually higher than average. The publisher offers various package fees and often charges extra for editing, cover design, and a host of other things that in my humble opinion should be considered basics. BEWARE of hidden fees that can add up fast.

Trade publishing: also called independent trade or commercial publihers. These are "real" publishing companies who provide their own editors, cover designers, distribution systems to bookstores, libraries and outlets, print ARCs for reviewers, and have standard return policies. They have distribution teams and sales teams who actually get out and pitch their titles to vendors. They have a vested interest in your book because their success depends on your success.

Self-publishing: The author is the publisher and provides his own editing, marketing, distribution, design and layout. He directs and funds the entire publishing process. He is responsible for purchasing his own ISBN number and with sufficient funds, may hire professionals to pitch his book to vendors. Some highly successful authors with readerships already in place choose to self-publish so that they may be in control of every detail of the publishing process.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Is Inspirational Romance your cup of tea?

At the Florida Writers Conference I attended (and at which I led two workshops) last weekend in Orlando, I was intrigued to learn the following 10 facts about "The Rules of Romance Writing" for the inspirational market:

1. There are 147 basic romance plots; these are used by all romance authors with minor variations.

2. 53% of all U.S. paperback books are romance fiction.

3. Christian fiction generally pays twice what secular fiction pays (in terms of author advances).

4. Christian romance book deals are usually trilogies rather than stand-alone novels. The second and third books are usually based on two minor characters from the first book.

5. A definite deal-breaker in Christian romance writing is to mention denominations, cursing, or sex acts, although sexual tension is perfectly acceptable.

6. In Christian romance, either the heroine or hero isn't a Christian; the believer tries to help the searcher work through his/her faith and by the end, the unbeliever comes around to seeing the light.

7. Romances are only considered romances if they have "happily ever after" endings. (I suppose that's why Romeo and Juliet was considered a tragedy.)

8. A true romance is always written from the perspective (POV) of the heroine.

9. Per a recent survey, the reason Americans buy so many Amish books is because their lives are so hectic, they want to slow down. Even slower heart rates are reported while reading Amish novels.

10. The three current biggest selling Inspirational romance genres: Romantic suspense, Historical set in 1800 America, and Amish (even mainstream publishers are now starting Amish lines).

References for this fascinating and useful information are author Stephanie Burkhart and literary agent Mary Sue Seymour.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Opportunites to Make $$ and Get Published

At our recent Florida Inspirational Writer's Retreat, author Cheri Cowell presented "Often Overlooked Opportunities to Get Published." With Cheri's permission, I'd like to share some of these with you.

Cheri pointed out the extremely helpful but seldom used section of Sally Stuart's Christian Writers' Market Guide called "Topical Listing of Periodicals." Alphabetically listed are every online or offline publication that comes out weekly or monthly (hence the term periodical), divided by age group and topic. Many single article ideas can be tailored to more than one periodical if they are tweaked a bit and freshened by varying the slant.

This "literary regifting" technique is perfectly acceptable legally, morally and ethically, and is underused by up and coming authors seeking to expand their platform in acquiring clips and extra cash.

Other excellent ways to make a freelance living from writing while you're awaiting your big six-figure book deal are:

1. Book reviews (an estimated 100 paying peridocals SEEKING articles are listed); also many for music, video, concert and website reviews.
2. Writing Curriculum for Sunday School, Bible Studies, small groups and homeschool groups
3. Gift/Specialty items: greeting cards, games, gifts, journals, software, toys, novelty
3. Profiles/Celebrity Pieces
4. Photos: submit with or without an article
5. Fillers: puzzles, games, crafts, cartoons, facts, jokes, prayers, quotes, word puzzles, recipes, tips (fillers are in constant demand by almost every periodical that exists)

These are just a few of the creative ideas Cheri proposed; you may contact her at

Monday, October 4, 2010

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

I received a request this week from a fellow who attended one of my writing workshops. He wondered if I might look over the attached article he intended to submit to The Christian Voice, a wonderful little newspaper that has hosted my Grace Notes column for the past 5 years.

As this well-meaning gentleman's 5-page saga yawned before me, I realized there are some basic journalism elements that could stand repeating for aspiring columnists:

1. Article length should usually be less than 400 words (the equivalent of two double-spaced pages); many require even less; check the guidelines of your targeted publication for specific requirements. Include your word count in your header for the editor's easy reference.

2. Edit, Edit, Edit! Always double-space manuscripts and eliminate everything not absolutely essential to your point. Remember, this is not a rambling river book - it's a brief, tightly written squirt with a fire hose.

3. Triple check for punctuation and grammatical errors. Spell check is NOT fool-proof, especially with multi-words like to, too, and two. The polished condition of your piece is a key factor in whether it will see the light of print or not. The AP Manual of Style is generally considered the reference Bible for newspaper articles.

4. Use short paragraphs (2-4 sentences) and emphasize important points by one-line paragraphs. Study the layout of your favorite newspaper column. Remember, a column is narrow and long so the larger the paragraph, the longer the column will look without a break. You need ample white space, not solid black lettering filling the page (not reader friendly).

5. Expert-quoting is good, but you must cite your references or a legitimate source. For all the reader knows, you're making up "facts." Stick to your main point and don't chase rabbit trails.

6. Avoid stylistic devices such as bold, color, or underlines; go easy on the italics, but they are usually acceptable for emphasizing words or citing book titles. Many editors find these devices distracting and unprofessional. Stick with Times Roman size 12 font and omit the copyright statement or symbol at the end (sign of an amateur). If it's in print, it's considered copyrighted; it's redundant to state it again and some editors find it insulting (like you're trying to make double sure they don't steal your material, which they have no intention of doing anyway).

7. Beware of repeating phrases or use of cliches. Use power verbs; avoid wimpy adjectives ending in -ly and excessive adverbs. Say more in fewer words.

8. Avoid pelting the reader with too many questions. One or two will draw them into the piece, but more (without answers) will leave them feeling hopeless and unfulfilled.

9. Using "we" instead of "one" is a warmer way to include the reader and hook him/her on your topic. For example, "One should never eat saturated fats" becomes "We can avoid saturated fats by omitting fried octopus from our diets." Avoid a "preachy" tone and present your ideas as though you and the reader are exploring them together. The more involved they are, the more they're likely to keep reading.

10. Open with a hook (grab the reader's attention) and close with a bang. Tie the piece together with a bow (can be achieved by referring, in the last paragraph, to something from the beginning of the piece) and leave them with this gift of an applicable take-away they will remember.

Hey, if I can do it, you can do it. Write tight and have fun!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Preserving the Dinosaurs

Just read that Nielsen says the average book published in the US sells fewer than 250 copies a year and fewer than 3,000 overall.


I've also read that self-published books sell an average of 75 copies.

Double yikes!

No wonder the printed word is in peril! I don't believe print books are dinosaurs (yet) - just look around at all the people reading them in airports, on beaches and hey, if authors could open up shop in doctor's waiting rooms and on cruise ships, we could sell a gazillion.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Follow the Rules if You Want to Get in the Game

I received a call this week from a first-time author who was asking about the procedure for submitting a book manuscript to publishers. The gentleman stated he'd already contacted the same publisher who'd handled my last four books.

When I asked to which editor he'd queried, he sat in clueless silence.

"I don't know. I just sent it in care of the publishing house. Query? What's that?" he replied.

"You didn't send a query? What exactly did you send?" I inquired with a sinking sensation.

"Well, I sent my entire manuscript," he said defensively. "That's what the writers guidelines said."

This puzzled me, for in my previous dealings with this particular publisher, I'd always followed the accepted industry standard of first sending a one-page query, then if I received a positive response from the editor, I'd follow up by sending a formal book proposal. At that point, Lord willing and the creek don't rise, the editor would request the complete manuscript.

"Didn't the writers guidelines give you a specific editor's name? "

"No, at least I don't think so. I didn't really read it that closely."

I didn't know how to let him down gently. "Then I fear that your submission went directly to the slush pile. If it was addressed to no one in particular, that's who will open it. No one. And most traditional publishers are so busy these days, they'd never get around to reviewing an unsoliticied manuscript. That's why they request one-page query letters first, to weed out the manuscripts that aren't on their 'grocery list' that will just waste their time."

If you want to play a game, you have to follow the rules.

I looked up the Publisher's guidelines in my trusty Christian Writers' Market Guide (the writer's BIBLE) and I could see how the fellow could have gotten a bit confused. Although it does say "accepts mss through agents or authors" it meant that submissions are acceptable from authors, not just agents. Farther down in the listing it stated, "send e-query; proposal/3 chapters when requested."

Rule of thumb: Unless clearly stated otherwise, when submitting to traditional book publishers (that means publishers who pay royalties, NOT self-publishers or subsidy presses) follow the standard formula (in this order) :

1) One-page query
2) Proposal/sample chapters
3) Entire manuscript

Do your homework, aspiring authors! If you send unsoliticited material, it is highly likely that your time, expense and hopes will be dashed and it will land squarely in the slush pile.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tools to Tweet By

Are you on Twitter? I found a website that demystifies Twitter, and gives some helpful suggestions, too. 

Tools for Tweeting

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kindle Giveaway and Launch Party!

Starting August 14th through August 31st, the big blog tour for Amish Proverbs: Words of Wisdom from the Simple Life kicks off!

Revell and Litfuse Group have teamed up for a big launch party on September 1st, with prizes offered...including a grand prize of an Amazon Kindle!

Here's how to be a part of the giveaway:

Go to this link:
Suzanne Woods Fisher, public figure

Join the page if you haven't already, and click on Events for party info! 

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

This & That

Between trips to the mountains and beach (and my job as a hand therapist, of course), I've been feverishly working on the final chapters of my new book Too Blessed to Stay Stressed. I'm down to two chapters and just realized I've eeked over my final word count. Bummer.

Ironically, I suddenly feel stressed.

I had to pull one completed chapter because the person involved in the personal anecdote I used decided she didn't want to be included in my book, name and identifying details changed or not. BIG bummer. That's why it's important to ask permission to use real people in anything published - better to find out before it goes to print that in a court of law afterwards.

This Sat, 8/7/10, I'll be presenting my FREE writing mini-workshop, "So You Want to Be a Writer ..." at the Brandon, FL Family Christian Store from 1-2 pm. Then the following Sat, 8/14, I'll be taking part in a joint book signing event by 5 local authors at the Plant City, FL Truth Christian Store and Event Center from 11 am - 1 pm, followed by "So You Want to Be a Writer ..." at 1 pm.

If you're in the area and have a burning desire to know how to share your own story with the world, please drop by. I'll look for you!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Verses for Writer's

Dianne Butt's favorite Bible verse for writers:

“Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it...”

2 Corinthians 8:11, NIV

Diane writes a very helpful e-zine for writers. You can subscribe at:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Is Social Media Right For Your Book?

The following is an interesting article about effective book promotion from Reader Views newsletter.

by Irene Watson

I'm inundated with e-mails, newsletters, and tweets telling me "they" can help me climb the social media ladder and get high rankings, increased sales, and who knows what else. Let's face it, social media is over-hyped and many are attempting to make bucks for themselves as experts without concrete results for the authors. I also see many authors state they have launched a social media campaign because they have a Facebook page or are using Twitter. Unfortunately this isn't a social media campaign.

To have a social media campaign you must:
set a goal
develop a plan
identify tactics
execute the plan.

Deciding whether or not social media is right for selling your book is simple:
1. Accept that social media is over-hyped and it's not the silver lining that will get your book to the NYT Best Sellers List. It's very possible it will not make the list so accept it, or buy into it.
2. Recognize social media is only one marketing tool in sea of others. I've listed only a few examples below.
3. Decide whether or not your book is right for a social media campaign. It could be all your "friends" on your Facebook list already have the book or aren't interested in it. Or maybe your book isn't relevant at this time. As well, avoid spamming your friends. If they want the book, they will buy it after one or two invitations to do so.
4. Acknowledge that your book may not have social media appeal because you are an unknown author. You're not Dan Browne so you'll have to work 100 times harder on your campaign than his publicist would.
5. Understand that for social media you have to use the same business models as you would for any business: branding, research, reader retention, e-commerce, and generating leads. (See article on landing pages.) If you have a product for sale (your book) you have a business. Treat it like a business.
6. Realize social media isn't free. What? It's free to sign up on Facebook and Twitter. But, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about top-notch website/landing page and your time. Yes, you need to get paid for the work you do. Oh gosh, I almost forgot; Your Book Must Be Top-Notch. That means professionally edited, good character development and plot, is relevant and you must have credibility.
7. Be aware it takes more than 10 minutes a day to execute a successful social media campaign. Many experts tell you all you need to do is spend a few minutes and post on Twitter and Facebook daily or several times a day. Wrong. If you do that, that's all you're doing -posting on Twitter and Facebook and it's not moving the dial on the who-gives-a-crap meter.

Examples of social media tools:
Remember, there are many social media tools available so you aren't bound by just using Facebook or Twitter. Some others are:
MySpace - great for targeting the younger crowd.
Linkedin- more professional and business like than Facebook
Flickr - it's a good place for uploading photos of your book launch
Podcasting - needs to be relevant to your book but not a blatant advertisement for your book
YouTube - a place to upload your book video to. It's the second highest search engine.
HowCast - great place to post your "how-to" video
TubeMogul - upload your book video once and they distribute to other video sharing sites
Google Alerts - plug in key words pertaining to your book and you'll be alerted what blogs are commenting on that topic. You can then post a response leading back to your landing page. (However, don't spam your book!)
Blog - Have one. But, only if you are willing to post an article three or four times per week.
Articles - Write articles and post them on article sites.

These are just a few tactics that can be used effectively in your social media campaign. If you Google "Social Media Tools" you'll become exposed to hundreds of them. Do research and decide for yourself whether or not social media will actually bring sales of your book. One more reminder (I know, I keep harping on this!!) anything you do to market your book has to move the dial on the who-gives-a-crap meter of the potential reader. (And, that doesn't mean Mom, cuz Joe, or Aunt Mae - it means someone that doesn't know you.)

Source: Reader Views by Irene Watson

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's a Roller Coaster Ride!

I just adore author Terri Blackstock, don't you? I mean, even before she graciously shared a fistful of marvelous tips for our book, Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers, I fevorishly devoured every one of her novels and craved more.

Imagine my surprise when I recently got to the end of Terri's wonderful suspense novel, Double Minds, and found an afterword that seemed to be meant especially for me and well, ... and you!

I'd like to share an excerpt with you, fellow aspiring writer. When you get discouraged in the midst of your writing cycle that sometimes seems to lead nowhere, be encouraged. Even giants like bestselling Terri Blackstock experience the same thing.

Here's Terri Blackstock on the writing life:

"I think one of the things unique to the writer's life is that we do seem to be on a roller coaster. I finish a book! Hoorah! Everything's wonderful. Then I send it off and wait. Time passes. My spirts plungs. It's the worst thing I've ever written. Why, oh why did I send it when I did? I start scouring the newspaper for real jobs. Then I get the call."

"They Love it and are really goingt o publish it. Yes! Life is grand! Woo-Hoo!"

"Then I get the revision letter. It's horrible. They want me to rewrite the whole book, change the title, and think about a pesudonym. They hate the plot and think the wrong characters die. Oh, they want me to add a dog and a baby. "

"I plunge again as I try to pick up the pieces that are salvageable. But then it occurs to me how it can be done, and hey, that dog really does add to the suspense, and the baby will be worth a few boxes of tissue, so yahoo, I'm up again as I send it off."

"But then I can't pay my light bill, and the checks are starting to bounce, and that check from the publisher never comes. So I plunge again."

"Finally, I get paid and dance around singing, 'I'm in the money!' Then I write a check to Uncle Sam, pay that late light bill, my late insurance premium, and wonder how I'm going to make it on what's left over until the next check. "

"Spirits take another dive."

"That's the writing life. But I love the roller coaster. It's the ride God gave me, and doing it for the Kingdom of God is a privilege."

Well said, Terri. You're one of my heros.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Advance Celebration

What fun to receive a nice juicy advance check this week for my book Too Stressed to Stay Stressed! It's like a big hug from Papa God - affirmation of my calling to write and acknowledgement of the hard work and supernatural grace to get to this point.

Ephesians 3:20 throbs in my brain: "To Him who is able to do EXCEEDING ABUNDANTLY BEYOND all athat we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to HIM be the glory... forever and ever. Amen."

I'll take this opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions I've heard from aspiring writers about advances and royalties.

First of all, there is no free money in the publishing biz. You're expected to earn every penny you make from book sales. Royalties are the percentage you're contracted to make when each book sells (e.g. 10% royalty on a $10 book nets you $1). The advance is simply the publisher issuing you the royalties they anticipate from your first few months of sales in advance (hence the name).

If by some chance you don't earn out your advance (for instance they pay you $5k and your sales only bring in $3k), some contracts require you to repay the remainder. Others don't. Be sure you read the fine print before signing.

Advances are a rather prestigious thing within the industry - 5 and 6-digit advances demonstrate that in the eyes of the biz, you've really made it. Of course agents like large advances because they make a tidy little bundle up front. If I had my druthers as an ignorant author, I'd prefer low or even no advance, so I don't have to worry about earning it out. But that's just me and I don't say it out loud to avoid being stoned.

Publishers aren't stupid, so they rarely offer new or not-thoroughly-proven authors more than 3-5k advance (although there are exceptions), which means the book needs to sell at least 10k copies to earn out the advance and start collecting royalties. Some books never quite get to this point, making it unlikely the author will be offered a contract from that particular publisher again any time soon.

Most authors who have been there & done that warn newbies NOT to go out spending the advance in rampant jubilant celebration. I found this to be good advice with my first few books - I socked the entire check away and then was able to splurge on book-related purchases that really count for my literary future: a new printer, decent office furniture so I don't fling out of my swivel chair any more and most importantly, book promotion.

Yep, dear friend, book promotion takes $$$: Travel to book and speaking events, TV interviews, motels at times (sometimes these are covered by the host and sometimes they're not), decent clothes to attempt to look succesful, giving out free copies to important sources after the promo copies have run out, and most importantly, hiring a publicist or PR team to create the biggest book splash possible.

So put that Mediterranean cruise on hold when you receive your first advance. There will always time to sail after your 5th (or 50th) successful book!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Playing Chicken with a Duck

As I was driving down a narrow, seldom traveled back road today, late as usual, I spied something moving n the road ahead. Partially obscured by tree shadows, it wasn't until I was nearly upon it that I recognized the object in my path as a fat black and white duck waddling toward me down the center of the road.

I squealed to a stop about 10 yards in front of the quacky quacker but undaunted, she just kept bringing it.

When she wouldn't deviate from her preferred route straddling the center line, I laid on my horn. All she did was stop, stick her stubborn little beak in the air and park her feathered butt to roost right there. She had no pressing engagements; we could be there all day.

What was wong with this chick? Here's a 2-ton van versus a 5-lb bird and she thinks she can win? Steel and chrome versus webbed feet and tail feathers? C'mon!

And we both obviously felt we were entitled - that we had more right to be there and own the road than the other.

It occurred to me, as we stared each other down, halted at an impasse because neither party was willing to give an inch, that I was witnessing a metaphor of my writing life.

How many times am I rendered immobile by silly obstacles that I allow to hinder pursuit of my writing goals? Obstacles of my own making or even small speed bumps that I allow to swell and loom over me like the Alps?

The thing blocking my path may seem like an immovable precipice to me, but in reality, it's the size of a duck.

In trying to remove this pecking roadblock, I discovered that horns don't work, opponent size doesn't matter, time is not a factor and rank is irrelevant. But there IS a way around it. It just takes effort and a plan.

So I got out of the car in the 95 degree heat, walked right up tot he obstinant entree, nudged her with my foot and scrambled to avoid her anpping beak. Squawking her annoyance, she finally moved, herded to the side of the road by my perseverant shooing.

My hot and sweaty lesson? Don't waste your time playing chicken with a duck.

Regardless of your formidable advantage, you won't win unless you formulate a plan, are willing to leave your comfy air-conditioned vantage point, put a little sweat into it and execute.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

All Work and No Play Makes Debbie Eat Chocolate

I've been working feverishly on my new book manuscript, Too Blessed to Stay Stressed, and have been struggling to find down time. In that vein of thought, I'd like to share an excerpt from Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers about the importance of taking a break.

The following is from my chapter, "Making Time for a Cyber Sabbath."

When I worked at McDonalds as a teenager, I got so overdosed with the smells and sight of fast food that when I was off duty, the last thing I wanted was a burger or fries. Somehow the writing profession doesn't work that way. The more we write, the more we want to write; the more we need to write.

It's an addiction. The computer absorbs more and more of our attention. We become cyber-junkies.

Writing evolves into not just five days a week, but gradually six, then seven. The "I'll only be a few more minutes" we tell our kids turns into two hours. They finally give up.

As demanding as Jesus' life was, He still managed to find a quiet place for rest and prayer. And none of us have work that is more important than Jesus'! Our weekly respites, like His, can provide renewed perspective, regeneration of energy, and time to invest in the lives of those most precious to us.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Title is Born

Sooo excited to finalize the title of my newest Barbour book this week; after bantering back and forth, my wonderful editor and I agreed on a doozy: Too Blessed to Stay Stressed. It's the first of a series for frazzled women and I've been amazed about the feedback I've received in the few days since the announcement was made.

"Oooh, I need to read that book now!"

"Want to interview me for your book? I'm the expert on stress!"

"Can't wait to sink my teeth into that one!"

"Hey, I could write a few volumes about stress!"

Just affirms that today's women are trying to keep so many balls in the air, we're feeling the strain. We yearn for relief from the fray. We want to stop the madness!

I'm so happy to be able to share with my frenzied friends some of the things Papa God has been teaching me - practical pathways to everyday peace. Of course, sometimes my foot slips off the path and I end up ragged out and battle-weary at the end of a busy day. But I think that's all part of the plan. We have to experience the worst before we can appreciate the better.

And that what makes a terrific book - when we pour ourselves and our experiences into print. Our passion transfers and then transforms the reader as we go through our own metamorphosis.

So we mustn't begrudge our hard times or grueling experiences. We may just be doing book research and not know it!

May your blessings overshadow your stressings!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What a Rip!

The appearance of another of my funny anecdotes lifted from my book without permission and circulated by mass e-mail this week without any attribution whatsoever prompts me to reprint passages from Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers.

These excerpts are from my chapter, "Excavating Ethics."

"I fear that the general public and we writers are woefully uneducated about copyright infringements. Amy Cook, Writer's Digest legal expert, states that 'Original stories, poems and quotes are all copyrighted materials, whether they exist on a piece of paper or a computer screen. If you don't get permission from the people who hold the rights, then you're stealing their material.'

"Writers new to the field need to make themselves aware of the pitfalls and dangers of sloppy literary license. We may steal rights without even realizing it. Christians, in keeping with our goal to lead others to Christ by our living example, should hold the bar high in the realm of moral standards. "

"Written material on the web is not considered public domain. Using a reasonably sized quote is acceptable, but the source must be cited. Even paraphrased thoughts should include attribution so that the reader is not deceived into believing the thought is original."

So for crying out loud, let's not "borrow" material without giving proper attribution to the author, and the next time we pass on seeimingly harmless forwards of cute little stories with no mention of who wrote them, remember they had to come from somewhere.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Small Press Options

One outlet for publication many authors don't consider is small presses. They start swinging away in big leagues (pitching to traditional publishers) and then if they strike out, figure there's no other option but to skulk back to the dugout and settle for self-publishing.

Wrong! (On both counts: I believe self-publishing may be the best option in some cases, and read on for another great idea!)

I was fortunate enough to have my first two novels, The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails picked up by Vintage Romance Publishing, a small press from S. Carolina that at the time only dealt with clean romance-oriented historical fiction. VRP later started a non-fiction inspirational line (among other lines; check out their website) and accepted Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers, the book that spurred this writer's blog.

The bottom line was: as an author, I was not ready for the big time publishers. It was an honor and a thrill to be accepted by any publisher who thought my work was good enough (with a bit of editing, of course) for print.

A thrill, incidentally, that sucks many novice authors into self-publishing. Some self-publishing companies or vanity presses don't advertise as such and the budding writer thinks they are submitting their masterpiece to a traditional press. They don't realize that everyone's work is "accepted" by these less-than-upfront companies until they are hit with a hefty fee.

Please note: legitimate traditional publishing houses and small presses DO NOT charge the author a penny! Their money is made only upon the sale of the book, which is why they're picky about which work they choose to produce.

In general (not true for every small press), small presses produce 12-30 novels each year, most with small print runs (ave. 5,000) or POD (Print on Demand). Most are trade paperbacks and graphics, cover art and editing is handled by the publisher. Translation: you don't have to seek your own editors or cover artists; they do it for you.

Several notable small press glitches: there is often no book distribution or marketing system in place, so that is left to the author. Get your running shoes polished up and ready to roll. Plus, if your book is POD, chain bookstores won't carry it and you'll have difficulty getting prestigious review sites to look at it.

But the good news: I was able to get my POD books in many gift shops, independent bookstores, and even some chain stores on consignment. And I found plenty of second-tier review sites who were happy to give me excellent blurbs for my PR notices and book cover. The average Joe doesn't have a clue about level A vs B publishers and reviewers; as long as you have a quality product, that's all they'll notice.

There are usually no advances offered by small presses, and royalty rates are relatively low compared to larger presses, but take my word for it, it's a great place to get your feet wet. Editors are motivated to help you and are intimately interested in the success of your book (because it's their bread and butter, too).

In my case (and that of many other authors with whom I've become acquainted), my small press books were an excellent hook for snagging an agent, who then was able to open the door to larger publishers and more lucrative contracts.

So when you're weighing your options, don't forget small presses! Sometimes ya just gotta knock a few grand slams in the minor leagues before you reach the majors.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Avoid the Dreary Query

Query letters are an essential element to getting your book/article noticed by the people who matter. The ones who make the decisions to publish or toss your agonized-over words carelessly in the slush pile . . . agents, editors and eventually publishers.

Don't take queries lightly.

Basically, a query is a 1-page pitch that should reflect the tone, content and your thinly disguised passion for your piece. It must display your writing skills (NO typos, use perfect grammar and punctuation, "show" don't "tell" by NOT stating the obvious, etc.) and in short, give the editor a juicy taste of the delectable fare yet to come when they request part or all of your manuscript.

Did you catch the part about passion? Very important: NO dreary queries.

You must stand out head & shoulders above the other hundreds of queries the agent scans that day - you have about 7 seconds to make your impression before she moves on to the next one. So without overstating your case ("This is positively the Harry Potter series!"), throw out your baited hook in the first sentence (the distinguishing feature of your book), include genre and title in the first paragraph, a brief bio in another paragraph (remember, this isn't about you, it's about whether your book is marketable or not) and exit your book description quickly by way of a clever but subtle cliffhanger.

The trick is to make her want more without appearing that you're trying too hard.

Spend hours, days, or even weeks reducing your story to one or two powerful sentences that will make the editor or agent sit up and take notice. Anything but brief is just plain grief to an overworked, underpaid agent or editor, so KISS (Keep It Short & Succinct)!

Be sure to address the recipient correctly (NO Dear Sir or Madam or To Whom it May Concern), include a SASE and NEVER utter the #1 novice faux pas: "I have written a fictional novel." You will get nowhere but the slush pile by repeating yourself. (Wouldn't that make a great name for a rock band: Repetitive Redundancy?)

You have either written fiction or a novel, not both. It's like saying I'm a female girl.

Remember, your book is judged by your query to determine it it'll ever get a chance to be judged by its cover. So make your query work for you rather than against you!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Misconception: Everyone Will Be Interested in My Book

An editorial by Irene Watson at Reader Views

Misconception: Everyone Will Be Interested in My Book

Why is this a misconception? The reality is you aren't writing the book to "everyone" or "general public" because there isn't such a thing. Think about it. Does every book in the book store or on Amazon appeal to you? If you answered no, it just proves that "everyone" or the "general public" isn't interested in every book - you are the "general public." If you answered yes, then you are in denial...big time. Ask yourself: Will left-wing politics appeal to me? Will horror appeal to me? Will poetry appeal to me? Will a novel appeal to me? And, so on. And, ask yourself: Will I buy this genre? It's doubtful you answered yes to each one, therefore you will not fit into the assumed category of "everyone" or "general public." I'm amazed how many authors actually think they write to the general public without giving it thought or research. These same authors attempt to market to the masses and in the end become very disappointed that the book isn't selling.

For example, just recently a reviewer brought to my attention that some of the content in a book didn't have upper case when it should have and considered this as an editing issue. When pointed out to the author he explained to me that his subsidy publisher rep suggested this type of writing because it was "hip" and follows the pattern of how texting is done. That's fine, however the issue was the book wasn't written to the "hip" generation - it was written for middle-aged men having relationship challenges. The other issue is the rep is obviously the "hip" generation and doesn't understand the importance of writing to the target audience. It was a bad match as well as bad advice. Just one issue, such as this, could create loss of the author's credibility with readers in what potentially could be a powerful self-help book.

The most important aspect of writing is to identify your audience before you start writing. (This is the same audience you will eventually market to.) Writing a book isn't just writing a book. I can venture to say most authors have never even thought of this aspect but it ends up being the most important. And, from some of the books we get in for review, I know the author hasn't given this any consideration and in the end is disappointed that the reviewer didn't flip head-over-heels about the book.

Let me give you some hints on what needs to be done. First of all, you need to be extremely specific on knowing who you are writing to before you start writing. Again, I repeat: before you start writing the book. You need to create a persona with demographics. For example, you need to know your reader's fears, hopes, attitudes, core values, emotions, lives, needs, desires, age, gender....basically, everything you know about your best friend. Why? you ask. The answer is simple: So you know who you are writing to! There is no other answer.

But, there is more. For example, if you are writing a non-fiction book you need to know how your reading audience absorbs information. Are they methodical and need hard data, logical presentation, and are detail oriented? Or are they spontaneous and are quick to make a decision, don't need hard data and want their problem solved this minute? Or are they humanistic and prefer to read stories of real experiences so they can relate or parallel? Or are they competitive and are success/goal oriented, highly motivated but require options?

As well as knowing how the target audience absorbs information, you as the author needs to know how the target audience reads. In the case of the middle-aged-men with relationship challenges I spoke of above, it is doubtful they would find much "hip" in lower case texting type of writing interspersed in the book. They probably want the facts and a quick fix and would find these editing issues a distraction, especially if they are the methodical type and want logical presentation.

If you have written a nonfiction book and didn't know which persona you were writing to it's a good possibility you've set yourself up for disappointment. Bottom line: You need to know who you are writing to.

But, this isn't only for nonfiction books. It's also important to create a persona and write to that specific audience when writing fiction books. And, again, I'm saying: There is no such thing as general public when writing a book.

Source: Reader Views

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Reaching the Purple Mailbox: The Importance of Goals

About 8/10 of the way through this morning's run, I wanted to stop. I mean I really wanted to stop. My legs felt exhausted, my heaving lungs were throbbing and my muscles burned like little condos afire.

Everything about me screamed, "Stop! Just quit right now and this misery will end!"

But I didn't. I pressed on through even more exhaustion, throbbing and burning. Know why? One word: goals.

A month ago, after losing my second consecutive tennis match by running out of gas in the third set, I decided if winning in my chosen sport was important to me, I must do something to increase my potential to do just that: win. So improving my endurance to sail through three sets became my long term goal.

In order to achieve that long term goal, I set short term goals of: 1) Running 4 days per week, and 2) Start with half my neighborhood loop (about 3/4 mile) and add another block each week. I measure my distance by mailboxes as in, "I can't stop today until I get to the Smith's purple mailbox."

Sounds logical and achievable in theory, right? But when sweat starts to flow and muscles begin seizing in protest, the only thing that keeps me going is eyeing that purple mailbox in the distance and not allowing myself to cave - despite every atom in my body desperately trying to convince me otherwise - before I cross that self-imposed finish line.

My long term goal would end up as a dandilion in the summer breeze without those all-important short-term goals.

Such is the deal in our writing careers. Many of us have the long term goal of publishing a book, or X amount of articles, or just seeming our names in print. But have we spent sufficient time developing realistic short term goals to achieve that end? Goals such as writing 500 words a day, 5 days a week, or submitting one article each month, or attending two writing workshops this year to sharpen my skills so I get fewer rejections.

Reaching those purple mailboxes actually gives us a high. A sense of accomplishment. A boost in the ole self-esteem. We begin to think, "I can achieve this short term goal, and the next one tomorrow, too. And before I know it, that long-term goal that appears so far away today will be just an arm's length away. "

And once that long term goal is in the bank, it's time to set another. When I first started writing seven years ago, my long term goal was to see published during my lifetime one book of fiction and one non-fiction, and 20 articles. To my utter astonishment, that goal was achieved within two years, so I adjusted my goals to double that. Since my 11th book and 90th article just came out last month, it's time to tweak my goals again.

So that as a writer, I can, like you, keep running for those purple mailboxes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Travels with Charley

Last weekend, I was up in Oregon visiting my college-aged daughter. While at the Bed and Breakfast, (ah, bliss! A lovely hotel room all to myself!) I came across the book Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck is a hit and miss author for me. Loved some of his work but not all. Travels with Charley, though, is a hit.

In 1960, when he was almost 60 years old, Steinbeck set out to rediscover America. He was accompanied only by his French poodle named Charley, and he traveled the length and breadth of the country. One adventure after another. All true!

Loved this paragraph in particular:

For weeks I had studied maps, large-scale and small, but maps are not reality at all--they can be tyrants. I know people who are so immersed in road maps that they never see the countryside they pass through. Suddenly, the United States became huge beyond belief and impossible ever to cross. I wondered how I'd got myself mixed up in a project that couldn't be carried out. [Here's the part I like...] It was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day's work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.

This last weekend, while in my delightful B&B, I finished up the notes and groundwork for a novella that is due September 1st. Steinbeck's words spoke to me!

And now...I better get busy...

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Real Test

The call from the Women's Center was surprising: "We've got a homeless woman here who lives in her car. She's written a book and would like to see about getting it published. Since you're an author, we wondered if you'd mind speaking with her."

I cringed quietly (didn't want the counselor to know how annoyed I was) and replied, "Well, I'm kind of busy right now with two speaking events coming up next weekend to prepare for and a book proposal my agent wanted yesterday."

No reply.

Enter conscience. I had volunteered to help the charity "in any way I can." And I had just finished writing in my speech on "Becoming a Barnabas" the incriminating statements, "A true Encourager must be willing to be used whenever, however, and for whomever God places in her path. That means willingness to be available, even if it means interrupting our own busy schedules for unexpected developments."

Yikes! Time to put my conviction where my mouth is.

So regardless of my private eyerolling and preconceived ideas that that this would be a waste of valuable time, I met with "Lynn" in the lobby of a church where we could sit in air conditioned comfort to discuss her manuscript.

To my utter astonishment, it was good. Very good. She was a bit rough around the edges in appearance (who wouldn't be, living in a car?) but was articulate and well educated. Lynn had been working on her memoir for nearly two years and had painstakingly typed it into book form on a computer at the public library.

I found her story fascinating and well written, and with some good editing, I believe it has commercial potential.

When we first met and she reluctantly turned over her well guarded manuscript to me, I could read the fear in her eyes. Or was it distrust? Probably both. Her tension was palpable. For a moment, I thought she might snatch the bundle of papers out of my hands and bolt for the door. But after I completed the first chapter, I'll never forget the light in her eyes and relief on her lined face when I aasssured her it was one of the best firsts drafts I'd ever encoutered.

Her smile was absolutely radiant!

I was able to offer a few tips and recommend a professional editor I know. But most of all, despite my initial selfishness, I was able to encourage this aspiring writer who had received much discouragement and disappointment from life in recent years. I gave her a copy of my book, Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers and invited her to our monthly writing group and a free writing mini-workshop I'll be doing at a local bookstore soon.

We hugged as kindred spirits when we parted ways, me to my nice home in a safe neighborhood and her to her rusty car packed with all her earthly posessions.

Yet I was the one most encouraged.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Interview with award-winning author, Ruth Ellinger

Can you give us a little bit of information about your publishing history?

I have been writing magazine articles, short stories, periodical columns, and literature for over thirty years for both secular and Christian publications. My writing interests cover a wide variety of genres including everything from garden articles for Ogden to a recipe book that went to three printings. My real love, however, is writing for the Christian market. In 2005, my first full-length historical fiction was published and was my first experience in writing fiction. This was an entirely new genre for me and I felt very unqualified. I have just completed the third book in the ‘Wildrose’ series and it has been quite a ride. I am actually beginning to enjoy writing historical fiction.

When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?

After my first draft of The Wild Rose of Lancaster, book 1 in the Wildrose Series, I began to seek a publisher. I should have waited until it was the FINAL draft. It would have been far more impressive. I thought my first draft was the final draft. It was my limited experience in fiction, but I soon learned I had only begun. The revisions came next.

What struggles have you had on the road to being published?

Concerning book publishing, the time element is always a challenge. As a pastor’s wife, I have many other obligations and I must lay aside writing time to attend to ministry needs. I do this willingly but the interruptions do get me off track when writing full-length historical fiction. So far, I have met only one deadline. Yikes! Fortunately, my publisher is very understanding.

What has been the best part about being published?

Several things come to mind. Of course, it is always thrilling to see your book on the shelf at the bookstore. Most importantly is sharing the message of God’s love and biblical/Faith principles to anyone who might read your book. It is so rewarding to receive a letter or email from someone who has been inspired or blessed by your unique way of sharing the gospel. Meeting other authors and writers who share your writing ambitions is also a blessing and encouragement.

Will you share with us how you come up with ideas for your books?

The Wildrose Series is based on the lives of the colorful and passionate people in my ancestral lineage. I have always loved stories from childhood, and my paternal grandmother inspired me with her love of God, family, and events that shaped the lives of our ancestors. I tucked these great stories away and filled in the blanks. A book was born.

Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?

I have a loosely structured outline with a list of significant events, characters, and a time frame organized according to chapters. I estimate the word count I want for each chapter and try to stick to this count. However, sometimes my plans go in another direction when one of my characters begins talking or acting on their own, so I change my outline to fit the character. So, yes, sometimes the story comes as I write. I like my writing best when this happens.

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your book?

My goal in writing inspirational fiction is to reach out to my readers with the message of God’s Sovereign love for His children and His willingness to forgive all who seek Him. I want them to carry away the expectation that -- “because He lives,” they can face the complexities of life with hope and courage. This has been a theme in the Wildrose series.

What are your dreams for your writing?

Mostly, the same as the above question except…it would be really great to have my books sell without doing all the promo. I would much rather be sought after than seek after readers myself. I am getting lazy.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given/learned in your life as a writer?

Revise, rewrite, reword, rewrite. Then rewrite again.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a writer for publication?

I wish I had known how important it was to join a writers’ group and attend conferences where good instructors and teachers offer their expertise and assistance. Going it alone is not an easy road.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

I don’t know of any writer who would say it is smooth sailing right into publication. It is hard work with long unpaid hours. I must average about 1 cent an hour. My thirty-year portfolio as an article/story writer paved the way for the launch into book publication, but even then, I piled up some rejections before I landed a publisher.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Eighteen long months.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/she is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

I don’t have an agent and I don’t really need one with my present publisher. There are pros and cons to having an agent. I like being free to plan my own agenda and don’t want the hassle of complying with agent requirements. I have looked into acquiring an agent and this route doesn’t seem to be a fit for me. Too much ‘Highlander’ in me. It probably works well for some though.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?
A super smart, hard working publicist. (some are not)

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Self-promotion is not my strong point although a certain amount is necessary. I cannot be the shameless self-promoter. It’s just not in me. I do just what is necessary to keep my publisher happy and to keep me happy too. I have a website and blog online. I have no time to twitter, my face, your face, buzz—whatever else comes down the pike. I promote my books at a variety of events at libraries, festivals, book fairs, bookstore signings, and workshops. I have a loyal readership who help spread the word. Wow! That’s enough for me!

Where can readers find a copy of your book?

My latest book, Sword of the Wild Rose, will be released April 24, 2010 and will be shortly posted online and available at your favorite Christian bookseller very soon. It is available online from CBD,, and can be ordered from most online booksellers such as Barnes & Nobles, Borders, etc. In regions of interest such as the Midwest, my books are available in ‘Choice” book racks as well. You can also order autographed copies from my website. Cross your fingers for an in the works deal with Target and Cosco.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sometimes it's Just Roadkill

Did you hear about the Pennsylvania man who was arrested after trying to resuscitate a possum on the side of the highway?

Nope, I ain't funnin' ya.

According to the article in the 3/27/10 Florida Times Union, a 55-year-old , um, gentleman (and I use the term loosely) was a apparently bit tipsy on his way home one afternoon. Several witnesses called in a report of a man kneeling in the road before the deceased animal, attempting to give it mouth-to-mouth resucitation.

You just can't make up stuff this good.

While we may never understand his motives, one can only assume that he was an animal lover with passions gone awry. Or eww-y in this case. A possum? Have you ever seen a possum up close and personal? That species must have been last on God's to-do list and he ran fresh out of eloquence. A wee, cuddly puppy or an adorable fawn I might understand, but a possum?

It wasn't like our guy had just hit the thing with his car; witnesses said the possum had been "dead a while." Wouldn't you love to read that police report?

Anyway, it occurred to me that trying to revive one of my old manuscripts is kind of like that. I pulled the thing out of its bottom drawer with the intention of infusing it with life and giving it one more shot at a future. After all, I spent many hours of effort and energy on that ill-fated plot years ago; why just bury it without first pulling out the electric paddles?

But you know what? It was too far gone. It had no pulse. No heartbeat. No dying breath. So I got out the coffin.

As much as writers hate to admit that every single thing they write isn't golden, we must face hard, cold facts. Sometimes it's just roadkill.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

3 Characteristics that Help in Pursuit of Publication

Author Judy Hedlund posted this on her blog.

My daughter sat at the piano and plunked at the keys. “Mom, I already know all my songs. Can I stop practicing today?”

I looked at her timer. “You still have ten minutes left.”

“But I don’t have anything else to practice.”

I cocked my head at her and gave her my you-know-what-I’m-going-to-say look.

She sighed. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

“Exactly.” I smiled. “Practice ahead. Take initiative. Surprise your piano teacher by learning a new song she didn’t assign you.”

In the last post, we talked about reaching for our dreams. To start, we have to believe in ourselves. But it’s not enough just to want something and have confidence that we can attain it. We also have to work for it. Really hard.

My daughter may never become a concert pianist, but when I teach her to work hard in her piano practicing, I’m equipping her with the lifelong philosophy that if she wants to accomplish something, then she has to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

In the wake of the Winter Olympics, I talked with my children about this very philosophy. I asked them how hard they thought each Olympic athlete had to train to even make it into the Olympics, the hours, months, and even years, most of those athletes devoted to become as good as they are.

We need to dream big and believe in ourselves. But if we have Olympic-size dreams, then we have to give it Olympic-size effort. Here are three characteristics that have helped me:

1. Diligence: I made a diligence poster for my children that outlines the definition: Work that is done hard, thoroughly, steadily, and carefully. In our modern culture, diligence is often a forgotten word. But if we can learn to cultivate daily habits of approaching our writing time with diligence, we'll have a much easier time reaching our dreams.

2. Determination: The dictionary defines determination as "the act of deciding definitely and firmly." I think of it as making up our minds to stick to the task and see it through to completion. Maybe that means we'll finish the book instead of stopping halfway. Perhaps it means we keep querying even after rejection. We decide what we're going to do, and we don't stop until it's done.

3. Drive: Not everyone has a Type A personality, but we can all still strive to excel. Instead of letting the competition scare us, we let it sharpen us. Instead of being satisfied with status quo, we shove ourselves to the next level. We sweat, cry, and ache with the pain of reaching high, always attempting to pour more into each story we write.

No Olympic athlete ever won a gold medal without putting forth incredible effort. As writers, we shouldn’t expect to reach the ultimate gold of publication without the same kind of dedication to our craft and stories.

I spent years fiercely chasing my writing dreams. And today, even with publication in my grasp, I still work long hours and push myself to be diligent, determined, and driven.

Believe in ourselves, but also expect much from ourselves.

Dream big, but work fiercely.

Monday, March 29, 2010

In the Beginning, There Was No Prologue

Our writers group a few nights ago engaged in a lively discussion about prologues. It seems many beginning writers - including myself - depend on prologues to drop a healthy dose of backstory into the reader's lap before officially beginning the story in chapter one.

My personal experience has been finally deleting every precious word of the sweated-over prologue for my first historical novel, The Distant Shore, based on the advice of a publisher who, although he rejected the manuscript, kindly took the time to give me a few helpful suggestions.

The book was eventually accepted for publication - sans prologue - and I must admit that it's a much smoother read.

Just this morning, I ran across the same topic in the March/April issue of Writer's Digest. The following is an excerpt from the article, "Lessons Learned From an Author Turned Agent" by Jennifer Lawler:

"While reading the umpteenth slow-starting novel manuscript that crossed my desk one afternoon, I found myself practically screaming, 'Throw away the prologue! Just throw it away! I never want to see another prologue in this lifetime!'

In fact, in all the submissions I've looked at, I have yet to read a prologue that has improved a manuscript. Good stories should start where they start, and not before or after. You need to work the backstory into the story, and not just shove it into a prologue.

Only after I'd had that reaction did I realize that one of my own novels - in progress at that very moment - started witha prologue. The prologue was there because it was the image that popped into my head when I first started wiritng. As I neared the end of the book, I knew the prologue no longer served any purpose, but I loved it! I thought maybe no one would notice it didn't really work.

Now I realize that someone would notice. I was so attached to it that it physically hurt to chop it out, but you know what? Getting rid of the prologue did improve the book. Immensely."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rejection Lessons

At College Admission Time, Lessons in Thin Envelopes

Few events arouse more teenage angst than the springtime arrival of college rejection letters. With next fall's college freshman class expected to approach a record 2.9 million students, hundreds of thousands of applicants will soon be receiving the dreaded letters.

Teenagers who face rejection will be joining good company, including Nobel laureates, billionaire philanthropists, university presidents, constitutional scholars, best-selling authors and other leaders of business, media and the arts who once received college or graduate-school rejection letters of their own.

Both Warren Buffett and "Today" show host Meredith Vieira say that while being rejected by the school of their dreams was devastating, it launched them on a path to meeting life-changing mentors. Harold Varmus, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine, says getting rejected twice by Harvard Medical School, where a dean advised him to enlist in the military, was soon forgotten as he plunged into his studies at Columbia University's med school. For other college rejects, from Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy and entrepreneur Ted Turner to broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw, the turndowns were minor footnotes, just ones they still remember and will talk about.

Rejections aren't uncommon. Harvard accepts only a little more than 7% of the 29,000 undergraduate applications it receives each year, and Stanford's acceptance rate is about the same.

"The truth is, everything that has happened in my life...that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better," Mr. Buffett says. With the exception of health problems, he says, setbacks teach "lessons that carry you along. You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity."

Famous 'Rejects'

Warren Buffett
[REJECTS1] Bloomberg News; Buffett family photo (inset)

Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
After Harvard Business School said no, everything 'I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better.'

Meredith Vieira
[REJECTS2] Getty Images; NBC Universal (inset)

'Today' show co-host
Had she not been rejected by Harvard, she doubts she would have entered television journalism.

Lee Bollinger
[REJECTS3] Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal; Baker City High School (inset)

Columbia University president
To 'allow other people's assessment of you to determine your own self-assessment is a very big mistake.'

Harold Varmus
[REJECTS4] Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal; Harold Varmus (inset)

Nobel laureate in medicine
Rejected twice by Harvard's medical school. One dean there chastised him and advised him to enlist in the military.

Ted Turner
[REJECTSJ3] Bloomberg

Rejected by Princeton and Harvard. 'I want to be sure to make this point: I did everything I did without a college degree.'

John Schlifske
[REJECTSJ2] Kevin J. Miyazaki for The Wall Street Journal

President of Northwestern Mutual
Lesson he learned from Yale's rejection helped him years later counsel his son, Dan (standing), who was rejected by Duke.

Tom Brokaw
[REJECTSJ1] Getty Images

Broadcast journalist
Harvard rejection prompted him to settle down and stop partying. 'The initial stumble was critical in getting me launched.'

Mr. Buffett regards his rejection at age 19 by Harvard Business School as a pivotal episode in his life. Looking back, he says Harvard wouldn't have been a good fit. But at the time, he "had this feeling of dread" after being rejected in an admissions interview in Chicago, and a fear of disappointing his father.

As it turned out, his father responded with "only this unconditional unconditional belief in me," Mr. Buffett says. Exploring other options, he realized that two investing experts he admired, Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, were teaching at Columbia's graduate business school. He dashed off a late application, where by a stroke of luck it was fielded and accepted by Mr. Dodd. From these mentors, Mr. Buffett says he learned core principles that guided his investing. The Harvard rejection also benefited his alma mater; the family gave more than $12 million to Columbia in 2008 through the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, based on tax filings.

The lesson of negatives becoming positives has proved true repeatedly, Mr. Buffett says. He was terrified of public speaking—so much so that when he was young he sometimes threw up before giving an address. So he enrolled in a Dale Carnegie public speaking course and says the skills he learned there enabled him to woo his future wife, Susan Thompson, a "champion debater," he says. "I even proposed to my wife during the course," he says. "If I had been only a mediocre speaker I might not have taken it."

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger was rejected as a teenager when he applied to Harvard. He says the experience cemented his belief that it was up to him alone to define his talents and potential. His family had moved to a small, isolated town in rural Oregon, where educational opportunities were sparse. As a kid, he did menial jobs around the newspaper office, like sweeping the floor.

Mr. Bollinger recalls thinking at the time, "I need to work extra hard and teach myself a lot of things that I need to know," to measure up to other students who were "going to prep schools, and having assignments that I'm not." When the rejection letter arrived, he accepted a scholarship to University of Oregon and later graduated from Columbia Law School. His advice: Don't let rejections control your life. To "allow other people's assessment of you to determine your own self-assessment is a very big mistake," says Mr. Bollinger, a First Amendment author and scholar. "The question really is, who at the end of the day is going to make the determination about what your talents are, and what your interests are? That has to be you."

Others who received Harvard rejections include "Today" show host Meredith Vieira, who was turned down in 1971 as a high-school senior. At the time, she was crushed. "In fact, I was so devastated that when I went to Tufts [University] my freshman year, every Saturday I'd hitchhike to Harvard," she says in an email. But Ms. Vieira went on to meet a mentor at Tufts who sparked her interest in journalism by offering her an internship. Had she not been rejected, she doubts that she would have entered the field, she says.

And broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw, also rejected as a teenager by Harvard, says it was one of a series of setbacks that eventually led him to settle down, stop partying and commit to finishing college and working in broadcast journalism. "The initial stumble was critical in getting me launched," he says.

Dr. Varmus, the Nobel laureate and president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, was daunted by the first of his two turndowns by Harvard's med school. He enrolled instead in grad studies in literature at Harvard, but was uninspired by thoughts of a career in that field.

After a year, he applied again to Harvard's med school and was rejected, by a dean who chastised him in an interview for being "inconstant and immature" and advised him to enlist in the military. Officials at Columbia's medical school, however, seemed to value his "competence in two cultures," science and literature, he says.

If rejected by the school you love, Dr. Varmus advises in an email, immerse yourself in life at a college that welcomes you. "The differences between colleges that seem so important before you get there will seem a lot less important once you arrive at one that offered you a place."

Similarly, John Schlifske, president of insurance company Northwestern Mutual, was discouraged as a teenager when he received a rejection letter from Yale University. An aspiring college football player, "I wanted to go to Yale so badly," he says. He recalls coming home from school the day the letter arrived. "Mom was all excited and gave it to me," he says. His heart fell when he saw "the classic thin envelope," he says. "It was crushing."

Yet he believes he had a deeper, richer experience at Carleton College in Minnesota. He says he received a "phenomenal" education and became a starter on the football team rather than a bench-warmer as he might have been at Yale. "Being wanted is a good thing," he says.

He had a chance to pass on that wisdom to his son Dan, who was rejected in 2006 by one of his top choices, Duke University. Drawing on his own experience, the elder Mr. Schlifske told his son, "Just because somebody says no, doesn't mean there's not another school out there you're going to enjoy, and where you are going to get a good education." Dan ended up at his other top choice, Washington University in St. Louis, where he is currently a senior. Mr. Schlifske says, "he loves it."

Rejected once, and then again, by business schools at Stanford and Harvard, Scott McNealy practiced the perseverance that would characterize his career. A brash economics graduate of Harvard, he was annoyed that "they wouldn't take a chance on me right out of college," he says. He kept trying, taking a job as a plant foreman for a manufacturer and working his way up in sales. "By my third year out of school, it was clear I was going to be a successful executive. I blew the doors off my numbers," he says. Granted admission to Stanford's business school, he met Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla and went on to head Sun for 22 years.

Paul Purcell, who heads one of the few investment-advisory companies to emerge unscathed from the recession, Robert W. Baird & Co., says he interpreted his rejection years ago by Stanford University as evidence that he had to work harder. "I took it as a signal that, 'Look, the world is really competitive, and I'll just try harder next time,'" he says. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame and got an MBA from the University of Chicago, and in 2009, as chairman, president and chief executive of Baird, won the University of Chicago Booth School of Business distinguished corporate alumnus award. Baird has remained profitable through the recession and expanded client assets to $75 billion.

Time puts rejection letters in perspective, says Ted Turner. He received dual rejections as a teenager, by Princeton and Harvard, he says in an interview. The future America's Cup winner attended Brown University, where he became captain of the sailing team. He left college after his father cut off financial support, and joined his father's billboard company, which he built into the media empire that spawned CNN. Brown has since awarded him a bachelor's degree.

Tragedies later had a greater impact on his life, he says, including the loss of his father to suicide and his teenage sister to illness. "A rejection letter doesn't even come close to losing loved ones in your family. That is the hard stuff to survive," Mr. Turner says. "I want to be sure to make this point: I did everything I did without a college degree," he says. While it is better to have one, "you can be successful without it."

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Are we creating a generation of literary robots?

I taught a Young Writers Workshop at a public high school last week and was totally unimpressed by the lack of creativity and basic writing skills demonstrated by the 11th grade students in attendance.

Now, this is certainly not true about every group I teach, but sadly, many of these kids could not express themselves using basic grammar and punctuation skills. I could barely read many of their stories. Original thoughts? Very few. A good example was the writing exercise where they were asked to freshen up stale cliches by creating a 2010 metaphor, for goldies as "Marching to the beat of a different drummer" or "Love at first sight." Only two of the 40 students came up with something remotely clever; something that wasn't just a thinly veiled regurgitation of the example. I felt like I was addressing a group of masked robots.

It was a little depressing.

Then today my niece, a freshman in a community college English class, showed me her timed writing pop quiz: an essay she wrote on the spot during class. How refreshing!

Now I understand Andie is an aspiring writer (a chip off the ole auntie block), and an intelligent little buggar at that, but I couldn't help but beam at her cohesive writerly skills and the depth of her insight on the assigned topic, "The difference between love and infatuation." Here's an excerpt:

"Far too often , the emotionally-driven society of the United States confuses the fleeting passion of infatuation with the steadfastness of unconditional love. Individuals in this culture proclaim their undying love for pizza and, in the next breath, tell the world how devoted they are to their significant other.

If two people love each other, it is logical that infatuation will turn to love; however, couples often make rash decisions and marry before the thrill of infatuation has died. For a while, they live in bliss together, believing that life after marriage is a real-life fairytale. They soon realize that married life, in essence, is not that different from single life.

Consequently, there is a sense of disappointment at the lack of perfection, which is often followed by regret or boredom. In addition, people often discover that the person they married is not the glorified, idealized image they once thought them to be. The climbing divorce rate may be a result of this disappointment, which is rooted in unrealistic expectations.

In contrast, actual love is not a fleeting emotion, but a deeper, more meaningful connection between two people. It is founded on certainty rather than impulse and is not likely to fade when problems arise. Those who are in love generally have a more realistic view of marriage as opposed to those who are blinded by emotion."

Whoa! Can you see why I'm a proud aunt?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Reviews Sell Books

This article is from Reader Views, a review site for small press and self-published books.

Every author wants glowing book reviews with quotable sentences to use as testimonials. A good review makes readers flock to the bookstore to buy the book.

But how do authors get their books reviewed? While the process is not difficult, the book review industry is changing. Today’s authors must designate a portion of their marketing budget for book reviews, and they must know how to use those book reviews to sell books.

Why Are Book Reviews Important?

More than 200,000 books are published each year. Less than 2% of those books sell more than 500 copies. We’ve all heard the saying, “So many books. So little time.” People don’t want to waste time or money reading books they won’t enjoy, so they rely on book reviews to help them make buying decisions. Your book will stand out if it receives positive reviews from reliable reviewers.

Where Do I Get a Book Review?

There are five top book reviewers: Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, Midwest Book Review, and The New York Times; however, if you’re self-published, it is unlikely your book will be reviewed by any of them. Reviews from local newspapers and magazines will only help you sell books locally. Furthermore, print publications are phasing out book reviews. So where can an author still get a good book review? The Internet.

Online book reviews are becoming standard, and your book’s review will reach a wider audience on the Internet. Online reviews level the playing field for self-published authors. Today, people are less inclined to read paper magazines and newspapers. They go online for information. Reviews posted at Amazon and other online sites are more accessible than print reviews. Reader Views ( and RebeccasReads ( are examples of reliable online book reviewers of both traditional and self-published books.

Free vs. Paid Reviews

Authors generally expect free book reviews; that was standard in the twentieth century—advertisements paid for the book reviews in print media. Today, however, authors must cover the cost of book reviews. A book reviewer may spend hours reading a book and writing a review, and he deserves compensation for his work. Consequently, authors must budget for the cost of book reviews. Authors are recommended to budget for mailing out a minimum of twenty books for review.

How Do Paid Book Reviews Work?

Paid reviews have multiple advantages. Most publications that offer free reviews do not guarantee a book review because of the volume of books submitted. Only by paying for a review can one be guaranteed. Reputable book reviewers will provide a review within a specific timeline—two weeks is standard. They will also provide a review tear-sheet for your use, and give you permission to quote the review, provided you credit them. Many reviewers will also post your review online at such places as their own website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ezine Articles, Goodreads and Authors Den.

Several online book reviewers, such as Reader Views, will give you the option of a free or paid book review. Reader Views will review the book for free provided one of their reviewers is interested in it. If no one opts to review it after three months, the book is returned without a review. If authors do not want to wait three months for a review, an express review can be purchased to guarantee a review within two weeks.

Several book reviewers, including Reader Views, also offer various publicity packages ranging from a single book review, to written and podcast radio interviews, virtual book tours, and book videos. Such packages allow authors the opportunity to get book reviews and publicity within their budget.

Just because you pay for a book review does not mean a good review is guaranteed. It is better to receive an honest review than one that gives false praise. The reviewer’s reputation is at stake here; readers will not appreciate being misled to waste their time and money on a book that does not meet their expectations.

How Do I Use a Book Review to Sell Books?

Before you do anything with your book review, make sure you know what permissions the reviewer has given you for using the review. Are you allowed to use it in whole or only a certain percentage? Can you reprint it or quote from it?

Once you know your rights, some suggestions for using the review to help sell books are:

  • Post it to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ezine Articles, Authors Den, Goodreads, Myspace etc. if the reviewer has not already done so.
  • Quote from the review on your book cover and the inside end papers. (If your book is already printed, use the review when you run a second printing).
  • Include the review in your press kit to gain more media attention.
  • Post and distribute the review at your book signings.
  • Post the review on your website.
  • Send copies of the review in your email newsletters.

Final Comments

More information about book reviews will be covered in future articles. But for now, here are a couple closing points:

  1. Be professional. Send the reviewer a thank you note. Whether you receive a positive or negative review, the reviewer has done you a favor. The reviewer’s comments will help you improve your next book or the next edition of your book. Even a negative review can be used to build a positive relationship with a reviewer, who will appreciate your professionalism. The book world is a small place and you do not want word to spread that you are difficult. Seek to build long-term relationships with book reviewers, and through them, with your reading audience.
  2. Be prepared for the book review to increase your book sales! A good review is worthless if you do not have copies of books to sell. Be prepared to fulfill your book orders so your customers are satisfied. After all, you want your book to be a bestseller!


Tyler TichelaarTyler R. Tichelaar is editor and contributing author of Authors Access: 30 Secrets for Authors and Publishers, the regionally bestselling Marquette Trilogy and the newly published Narrow Lives. He is the Associate Editor of Reader Views.

As the Associate Editor at Reader Views, Tyler has interviewed over 200 authors, written more than 60 book reviews, and edited and evaluated manuscripts for publication.