Monday, November 21, 2011

It's a Mystery to Me!

I thought I'd share a few tidbits from the Do/Don't list of Mystery Writing I received from Chantelle Aimee Osman at the Florida Writers Conference in October. I've added a bit of commentary as well.

1. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Jerry Jenkins espouses this rule as well; less is more. It engages more of the reader's gray matter to give them the bare essentials of description and let them envision the character as they like. 

2.Make your sleuth unique and use your own interests. The reader can tell when the author is enthusiastic; if you're writing about your own passions, it's sure to show.  

3. Use a means of murder that makes a statement about the character or villain.

4. Set up false leads and red herrings. This is a good idea for mysteries included in all genres. I threw in several red herrings in my historical novels The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails. It's more fun if you keep 'em guessing. 

5. Give two or three really pertinent clues. They can be something that's missing rather than present. You can even go back after you've finished the book and add them to strategic scenes. Kind of like foreshadowing.

6. Play fair with your readers. Give your reader a fair chance to figure out "whodunit". Don't be so transparent that your readers guess the end before Chapter 2.

7. Use only rational and scientific methods to solve the crime. Don't ignore the laws of physics or logic to solve the crime. Readers will be annoyed.

8. Make sure the reader feels justice was served, whether the good guy wins or loses. The good guy doesn't always have to win; sometimes the point is that he learns something he didn't expect and no longer wants/needs what he originally started out to achieve.

9. Don't make the villain obvious. Remember, they don't think of themselves as villains. Many authors these days show both sides of the coin to give their story more realism; they give the good guy a bad streak and the bad guy at least a few likable traits. Very few people are all good or all bad.

10. Don't give all the backstory at once. Drop is like a trail of breadcrumbs to intrigue the reader. A cardinal rule for all fiction: don't dump your load in the first chapter.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Slice of Heaven

The brown and tan calf caught my eye. I was driving by a field in early morning, sequestered tightly in my own little world of deadlines, duties and disconnects.

And suddenly there he was. A mere toddler in bovine society, I suspect. I braked to watch him. So full of mischief as he romped and cavorted and nose-butted the larger calves.and nipped at the tails of the mama cows who stomped him away in annoyance.

So full of life. So full of joy. He made me smile.  And a tiny seed of longing was planted in my chest.

And then just down the road, I passed a yard where a little blond girl in a blue dress was chasing a purple butterfly. Her innocent face wreathed in smiles, she leapt and sprang, running and laughing and running some more for the sheer joy of it.

Now that seed of longing in my innards was sprouting into a firm stalk of yearning. Yearning to once again do something for the sheer joy of it. Unhurried. Unstructured. Unrequired. Simply because I wanted to.

Yep, I remember feeling just that way a long, long time ago. How do I get that back? Can I get that back in the midst of my ever busy, urgent paced, production-oriented adult existence?

And then this weekend, at a writer's conference of all places, the opportunity presented itself.

I had just finished presenting "Ten Things Every New Writer Should Know" and was not only exhausted but a bit exasperated. Due to technical difficulties with the hotel meeting room, I'd lost ten minutes from my presentation which was already over-packed with trying to cram 90 minutes of information into a 75-minute workshop. I was still irritated that I'd been forced to omit what I considered the most important page of points and skip to a very rushed ending when the moderator stuck her head in the door to announce a two-minute warning.

I had two hours to kill before my next appointment, so I changed into my walking shoes, jumped in my car and drove to a nearby industrial park (which was abandoned on Saturday) and began pounding my frustration out on the oak-lined streets winding around manicured lawns of tall glass buildings and a lovely pond with its peacock-spray fountain.

After an hour I ran out of gas and sank onto a sun-dappled park bench for just a moment to regroup. With only the sounds of fountain spray, chirping birds, and squirrels scampering up broad oak trees to accompany my solitude, I soon found myself sprawled across the bench on my back. As the shade melted my tense muscles, a cool breeze rustled my sweat-soaked hair, and thin shafts of sunlight peeking through oak leaves warmed my skin, I watched wispy white clouds scuttle overhead. Every now and then a lazy hawk would bank left and glide unfettered through my field of vision.

And there it was.. An unexpected slice of heaven. The quenching answer to my thirst for that long-lost whimsical moment of childhood freedom. 

The thought then hit me: Why can't writers do this in their writing? Evoke that feeling of childhood summertime by their words? Do the fast pace, looming deadlines, and urgency of production in our lives and our careers prohibit finding this elusive feeling? And transferring it to others?

If we could but find this place, this slice of heaven, couldn't we reflect that peace through our words?

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pleasing Words

View from over the Atlantic heading to London
I was recently asked how one begins and nurtures a speaking enterprise, so I thought I'd outline what I think are the essentials.

1. Have something worthwhile to say. As a fledgling author, I received the excellent advice to become an expert on something that people want to know. Something that will uproot them from their easy chairs to come hear about. Something marketable.

So my first series of presentations were "Young Writers Workshops" geared toward middle and high school students. They were associated with my two YA historical novels, The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails. These fun, highly energetic, audience-responsive PowerPoint presentations became quite popular with homeschool groups and both Christian and public English classes. Most of my advertisement was using plain old elbow grease - calling or e-mailing every school I could find with my verbal pitch and persistently following up until I had a date nailed down.

I used this same technique when marketing my "So You Want to be a Writer..." workshop to adults when my book for aspiring writers came out, Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers. I also developed a nice one-page flyer featuring my author letterhead.

At this point, I also had a glossy, 2-sided professional bookmark created to hand out for inexpensive advertisement. It containing my book covers and bio (and website - most important for future contact!). Printrunner was my choice for quality work at a reasonable price. 

When I expanded into women's books such as Mom NEEDS Chocolate and my recently released Too Blessed to be Stressed, I prepared a half-dozen presentations featuring topics from my books that were universally sought after by women, such as dealing with stress, beauty issues, aging, relationships, finding balance, and tuning in to the Holy Spirit's guidance. 

2. Develop a professional brochure. I soon realized that my verbal pitch, flyer, and bookmarks weren't enough if I wanted to expand my speaking audiences. Prospective clients need something impressive in their hands, something to show their employers for approval before booking (especially if an honorarium is involved). So I sprung for a glossy, tri-fold brochure (Printrunner) which I display on my book table at signings and speaking gigs. I also developed an e-version, which proved to be more affordable and effective than snail-mailing brochures to churches and women's organizations all over the country.

3. Give them what they want to hear. Although during the 5 years of my speaking career I've been occasionally asked to speak on a topic off my beaten list (usually to fit into a theme the group has already established), I've almost always been able to tweak one of my existing presentations sufficiently to avoid creating a whole new speech. Unfortunately, not always. My husband still laughs about the time goofy, humor-writer me was asked to speak about "The Evolving World View of Christianity." 

When speaking to groups, humor almost always guarantees you'll be a hit (funerals are obvious exceptions). I've learned that not all humor translates well from the page to the mouth - some things are just funnier on paper and should stay there.

In my genre, audience participation is a must. I sprinkle numerous yes/no/are you with me? questions throughout my speeches and always begin with either a brief funny video or joke pertinent to the topic, and close with a crazy sing-along song. It's imperative that the listeners leave smiling ... and with your book in their hand.

4. Be prepared for smooth back room book sales. Assemble an appealing display of your books on an ample sized table (nothing's worse than having them all scrunched up on a too-tiny table). Arrive early to set up your book table using a nice tablecloth (that you bring) and props that will catch the eye and draw people to your wares.

I take a rolling crate containing an inexpensive (but doesn't look that way), unwrinkleable, white lace tablecloth that can be folded to fit any size table, a clear plastic upright brochure holder containing my brochures, business cards and bookmarks as the centerpiece, an upright flyer listing the book titles and prices, and several creative containers of colorful chocolates and cheerful silk flowers to liven up things a bit.

Create an easy-to-use spread sheet or inventory chart to keep track of book sales. I use one with my titles and prices listed on the left with a space on the right for hash marks to notate each book sold. I've learned the wisdom of requesting a "book table helper" at the time of the event booking who will be responsible for collecting money, giving change, and marking the inventory chart. It's just too hard to do all that, sign books, and chat with your new friends at the same time.

A successful speaking enterprise requires a bit of planning and preparation, but you'll find immense fulfillment in the gratitude you receive from the hearts touched by the Lord through your efforts.
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14, NLT

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spreading the Word

Promotion. A HUGE part of whether a book is successful or not. But there are so many options (endless ways you can spend your hard-earned money), what's a poor author to do?

Having tried lots of different things with my ten books, I've come to some conclusions about what does and doesn't work, what's worth the money, and what's not.

The first thing new authors need to realize is that it's going to cost money to promote your book. Oh, yes it is. There's no way around that unless you just hawk it to your relatives and be happy with your 75 total sales.

I recommend setting aside a minimum of $3,000 (hopefully this can come from your advance) as your promo fund. From this stash, I've found the most productive expenditures include good quality bookmarks sporting your cover, website and other titles (I use Printrunner online for beautiful, two-sided, glossy, full-color, relatively inexpensive bookmarks). These end up costing about a dime a piece and are your best way of advertising - hand them out liberally and offer them as "free gifts" at public events. People tend to keep them if they're good quality and will always have a reminder at their fingertips of your website and other books they might like to read. 

A full color brochure is also a must (again, Printrunner) if you're a speaker. I have print and online versions to fill all my advertising needs.

Book trailers are nice but have become somewhat mundane with everybody doing them, so my answer toward uniqueness has been to film a dozen 2-Minute Stress Busters to accompany the release of Too Blessed to be Stressed, which are posted on my website. Frequent reminders are posted on Twitter and Facebook, and go out in my quarterly e-newsletters.

Social media and e-communication are crucial these days. My e-newsletter contact list recently topped 3,000, largely due to a Kindle giveaway sweepstakes and blog tour organized by LitFuse, a publicity company I hired to handle my Too Blessed to be Stressed campaign. They've been outstanding in getting word of my new book out in cyberworld (tons of great reviews have racked up through the blog tour) and over 1,800 registered for the Kindle sweepstakes. It was engineered in a way to harvest all those e-dresses for my contact list. Brilliant!

These efforts have translated into 1,260 new visits to my FaceBook author page, and over 1,400 "likes" just since last month.

And even more exciting, Too Blessed to be Stressed hit #3 on the Amazon Bestseller List in the women/spirituality category. Way cool, don't you think?

A word of caution here: carefully check out the track record of the publicity company you're contemplating. I didn't with my previous book and the company I paid more than twice as much for (compared to LitFuse) did half as much and that not nearly as well. I felt like I had absolutely no control - like a victim instead of a client - and helplessly watched my precious money flush down the toilet.

LitFuse, on the other hand, came highly recommended by a writer buddy and offered a pick-and-choose services list from which I had total control of what my dollars would be used for. I opted for them to create and send out my press release to their extensive list of media contacts (from which numerous interview requests arrived), organize the 80-site blog tour which occurred over a 3-week time span, and advertise and run the Facebook Party.

These proved to be highly productive with minimal effort on my part.

One other promotional comment I just can't pass up: many new authors have idealized the traditional bookstore signing as the epitome of effective promotion. I've got news for you: it just ain't so. After dozens in multiple states over the last 5 years, I've concluded that it's not at all worth my time and energy to do a signing unless I'm in a location where I have a good sized fan base who I feel reasonably sure will turn out. It's totally embarrassing to have 6 people visit your book table, which is entirely possible if you're depending on store traffic alone.

During one signing, the only people who spoke to me were those asking where the restroom was.

At least I knew the right answer. But they looked at me kind of funny when I chased after them waving my book in one hand and a fistful of bookmarks in the other.

Hey, hungry authors do what they have to do.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How not to lose your head

I could tell Ralph just wasn't getting it.

Ralph - not his real name - had been interviewing me on live Christian radio for the previous 25 minutes about my new book, Too Blessed to be Stressed. Ralph was broadcasting from a station in the northeast and I've got to give him points for taking on the daunting task of a man interviewing a female author about a woman's book.

My publicist had sent him a copy of Too Blessed, but my first clue that he hadn't read my book was when he kept popping out questions like, "But what about men?" or "Don't you think men get stressed too?" when I'd relate some tidbit making a point about women's stress issues.

This was a women's book, for pity's sake. 

Then came the coup de grace.

With five minutes left of the interview, I could practically hear Ralph flipping pages, searching frantically for a final question to end with a bang. With relief in his voice to have finally hit upon a topic with which he felt comfortable, he said, "Oh, look - I see you've written a chapter about Martin Luther. Go ahead now and tell us about 'Luther's Legacy.'"


How on earth was I to tell this guy that Luther was a monkey. No, really. A ringtail capuchin monkey. And the chapter entitled "Luther's Legacy" was about little hairy Luther's human owner's unconditional love for him despite his propensity for creating constant trouble for himself. Not unlike the unconditional love our heavenly father shows toward us.

Oh, man. I shot up a rhino-in-the-road prayer for help. How was I going to get out of this one without a car wreck?

A half-dozen ways to handle the situation flashed through my head during the momentary gap of silence that followed. But as you know, silence on live radio is a BIG problem. So I decided to go with my first impulse to simply laugh about it.

"Ha-ha!" (what I hoped was a pleasant and not desperate laugh.) "Well, Ralph, there were no theses or nails involved with this Luther. He was, in fact, a monkey."

Thankfully, although Ralph was silent at first, he eventually saw the humor in the situation as I imparted some of Luther's crazy exploits and we ended on a light, companionable note.

Vehicle swirved. Wreck avoided. Thanks, Lord.

Media interviews can be hairy, for sure. Although part of the package sent to the newspaper reporter, radio host or TV interviewer contains "suggested questions" that you've compiled (and studied ahead of time and conveniently know the answers to!), it's been my experience that they're rarely ever covered. I don't know if interviewers resist being told what to ask and prefer to wing it, but I can only remember a few times when we actually got past the first suggested question before the interviewer ventured into uncharted territory.

Even when they haven't read the book, which is the majority of the time.

A good interviewer can fake it well, having previously acquainted themselves with the fast-read stuff: the foreword, back cover copy, endorsements and table of contents to get the gist of the material. They might even thumb through a random chapter or two and highlight a few points that struck them.

But they're depending on you, the author, to grab whatever ball they toss out and run with it, adding your own interesting and preferably humorous tidbits and sound bites. And the shorter the interview, the sharper and deeper the sound bites need to be.

That's why, particularly for radio interviews conducted by telephone, most authors surround themselves with cheat sheets from which they can draw clever and pertinent zingers to redirect most any question to. We may not have the answer to the specific question the host asks, but we have a good answer to some question and if we skillfully redirect our answer to our prepared response, the listener is satisfied, the host is happy, and we end up looking like we halfway know what we're talking about.

The key is to compile easily accessible main points from your book and keep referring back to those when off-the-wall questions throw you for a loop.

I finally wised up with Too Blessed to be Stressed (after fumbling inanely through my last 3 books searching for info I couldn't seem to locate during interviews). I tabbed and labeled key points. Now I can flip right to whatever it is I'm looking for, no muss, no fuss. And no embarrassing air silences which I have to end by saying, "Well, golly, I can't seem to find it, but I think I said ..."

So what about you? I'd love to hear your stories. How do you get out of hairy situations without making a monkey out of yourself?


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Break a leg!

Barbie Turns 50
Someone sent me this cartoon and I almost busted a gut. I hope I'm not breaking some copyright laws by sharing it with you.

Speaking of busting things, a lady walked up to me last week at a writer's meeting and spurted out, "You're Debora Coty.You broke my leg."

"I broke your ... um, excuse me?" I looked down and sure enough there was a walking boot at the end of a long-leg cast sticking out the bottom of her shorts. Gulp. I'd never seen her before in my life.

"Well, you didn't really break my leg, " she clarified, "but I broke my leg because of you."

Now at this point I wasn't sure if I was dealing with a stalker, a lawsuit, a nutcase, or a wacky sense of humor.

"Yep," she continued, "It was your book, actually. Someone gave me a copy of Grit for the Oyster last Tuesday night and Wednesday morning when I woke up, that was all I could think about ... getting downstairs and starting that book I'd heard so much about. So I flew down the stairs and kind of missed the last step."

Wow. Can't say I've ever been accused of bodily injury with words before.

Thankfully, she didn't hold it against me and turned out to be a kindred spirit. A delightfully wacky sense of humor, after all. After the shock wore off, I loved it.

Now when I'm getting ready to go on stage for a speaking gig and someone says, "Break a leg," I can truthfully say, "I already have." 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Story Shape-Shifting

The first pink shafts of sunrise peeked above the hazy purple-blue horizon this morning as I made my way to the beach from our Daytona timeshare.

I'd been killing time in my room reading the new issue of Writer's Digest since that ding-dang rooster crowed in my head at 5 a.m. (Guess I've read too much Stephen King but there's something creepy about cavorting about on a dark beach by yourself before dawn.)

I was drawn to the WD interview with New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah, in which she said this about her approach for writing fiction: "Somehow, no matter how carefully I plan, I discover that errors in conception occur. I try to write my way out of those problems, allowing the characters' evolutions to show me the truth of the story."

That thought was still percolating in the coffeepot of my brain at 6:30 when I trod across the wide expanse of white sand toward the gentle early-morning surf. An "Aha!" moment suddenly overtook me when noticed variations in the beach sand that had somehow never registered before.

When you first step off the boardwalk, you encounter what I call "S" sand (because of it's many "s" word characteristics): soft, sugary, satiny, squeaky sand that feels like silk when you run your bare toes lightly across it. You just want to roll in it like your dog and coat yourself with it like a powdered doughnut.

Next comes the clumpy sand that has felt the kiss of the incoming tide; not a deluge, just enough to slightly dampen it and make it form clots and deep imprints from your footsteps.

Then you hit the hard-packed sand that has been beaten down into a quasi-cement-like quality from the relentless surf. The surf that has now retreated with the tide, leaving a sand highway for bikes, 4-wheelers, and the occasional car to traverse without fear of getting stuck. Footprints don't register on this surface; it's too compacted. You can walk up and down this swatch of sand all day and never leave a trace that you'd been there.

At last you reach the foamy surf and dig your feet into the soft sand beneath the lapping waves. This sand is pliable and fluid, forming gullies around your heels and burying your tootsies beneath it's ever-changing, ever-adapting undulations.

So much like the writing process,  I realized. From the first delightful, satiny, soft wisps of an idea that take root and then are watered by the tide of inspiration and relentlessly worked and reworked until they feel very nearly set in cement. But then, as the story begins to take shape on paper, the nuances and fluidity of the characters' character present surprise gullies and undulations you never saw coming in your detailed plot plan.

 Like the love story in my historical novel, The Distant Shore, when my plot outline called for a love affair between Aunt Augusta and the island doctor. As I was busily writing the first draft, somewhere around chapter four, out of the clear, blue sky, I noticed Aunt Augusta making eyes across the room not with the dapper doctor, but with the burly sea captain.

"Oh. My. Gosh!," I actually exclaimed aloud. "It's not the doctor, it's the captain!" I truly never saw that coming.

I then had to go back and rework the first three chapters, writing the doctor down and the captain up.  

And the sand shifted beneath my feet. But it made for a much better story, and a deeper, richer book.

I have to agree with Ms. Hannah. As safe as it might feel trucking down the hard-packed road, feeling the security of not getting stuck if we only stick to our meticulously plotted outline, we writers need to be willing to immerse our feet in the surf and allow the tide of our characters' desires, quirks, and true personalities to shape-shift the story in the way it was meant to be.        


Monday, July 4, 2011

Achieving Success

In a recent blog post, literary agent Rachelle Gardner posed the intriguing question, "What's really more important to you, the money you receive for your work (writing), or the work itself?"

I don't know about you, but my first unbridled response was to throw my hands into the air and cry, "Tis but a moot point! Inspirational writers sometimes make enough money to cover ink, but not necessarily paper, too!"

But then I realized Rachelle wasn't really asking for stark realism here; she was asking about priorities.Would you rather pull in cold, hard cash, or would you settle for pauperhood if only your books and articles could be distributed to readers far and wide?

In other words, would you rather be rewarded for your writing, or would you rather people read your writing?

I suspect we'd all answer that question differently at different times in our writing journeys, but as a Christian writer - a writer who feels called to write by Papa God himself - how do we achieve success? What is the fuel in our tank? What keeps our Chevy on the road?

As I was pondering this conundrum, I came across an obscure but very enlightening Old Testament story in 2 Chronicles 25: 6-10. You really need to read the entire chapter to get the whole overview, but in a nutshell, Amaziah, King of Judah, went to a lot of trouble and expense putting together a foreign mercenary army to augment his own small army to fight his enemies. Then a prophet of God rebuked him, saying, "God is not on their side ... you go by yourself and be strong. God and God only has the power to help or hurt your cause" (verse 8, TM).

Then Amaziah, a cheapskate after my own heart, said, "But what about all this money I already paid out to hire these men?" (verse 9a, TM).

The unnamed prophet, in true wise prophetic form, shot back the zinger that zipped right into my gut like a fiery arrow: "The Lord can give you so much more than that" (verse 9b, NIV).

I can just see the prophet slowly shaking his bearded head, muttering under his breath Oh, c'mon, you dope. Don't you get it? We're talking about GOD here! And I have the distinct impression he was talking to me.

Why, of course He can give us so much more than we bargained for. And certainly more than we deserve. Somehow I'd forgotten that. The creator of the universe is not constrained by mere money. God and only God has the power to help or hurt our cause. Not brilliant marketing or New York Times bestseller lists, or how many interviews we can land on national TV.

Money may buy your new wardrobe and airline ticket for the Today show, it may enable you to hire J.K. Rowling's publicist to get your own Larry Porter novel into every child's bookbag in the free world, it may even pay for a printer that doesn't smear red ink across your book flyer.

But money has no power to make your book "succeed." No matter what you do or don't do. God and only God has that power.    

I remember a time a few years ago when royalties and advances were of utmost importance to me. I was just getting started in my writing career and truly needed capitol for day-to-day expenses, not only for practical items like postage to mail manuscripts (it wasn't all electronic back then) but also for promotional things like bookmarks, brochures, and editors (it's important to polish up that manuscript before submitting it and letting the publishing house editors to have their way with it). And then I blew a wad on a publicist who I felt did a half-hearted job. It seemed like a very pricey mistake. I shed hot tears as I watched the dollar signs fly out my window.

And let's not forget the traveling expenses that go along with book promotion and speaking events. Those are very often right out of the author's pocketbook. At least until you become well enough known that groups are asking you, rather than you begging them.

So I sought after paying gigs. I needed money. I wanted money to accomplish the promo I thought I needed. More money, then more yet. It never stops. There's always something else you can do to push, push, push your book out there. Always more reviewers, always bigger venues and more people to reach. I lived with a constant burning sensation in my belly that I wasn't doing enough ... I needed to do more, be more, find more ways to catch up with the really successful authors who were a household name.

Now, a few years, a few hard knocks, and a few smarts later, I'm willing to concede that my little army is enough. It may not be impressive to the world, but even without the expensive mercenaries, it'll be quite sufficient to fight my literary battles and win victory on the specific battlegrounds the Almighty has chosen for me.

How do I know?

Because the nameless prophet was right. Success is not achieved by buying a bigger army. God has already given me more than that.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Scoop on Queries

Merritt Island photo taken before writing The Distant Shore
I recently received questions from several aspiring writers concerning book queries so I'd like to revisit that topic.

A query is a one-page, single-spaced (normally manuscripts and corresponding letters should be double spaced, but a query is an exception) pitch letter to an editor or agent. The goal is to receive a request for more material - either a book proposal (another whole can of worms covered in a previous post), or a partial or full manuscript.

So the goal of your query is to introduce your topic, describe your book, and pique interest for more by doing it in a unique and entertaining way.

In order to achieve this goal, you must put serious thought into your query. That means time and energy. You need to include a clever pitch for your book, a brief bio, and your marketing strategy (how you intend to help sell your book). Unless your name rhymes with bowling and you write books about boy wizards, you're expected to get out there and market your book. Do you do event speaking? Do you blog? Have you a website?

Mention these if you do and make sure they're updated and ready for visitors. You can bet if the agent or editor is interested in you, they'll be visiting your website or blog.

Research by way of Writer's Market or Christian Writers' Market Guide the name of the appropriate acquisitions editor (many publishing houses have a whole host of editors; make sure you're sending your precious baby to the correct one). NEVER write to Sir or Madam or To Whom It May Concern. This may seem silly or trite to you, but it's not to them. It shows you care enough and are professional enough to do your homework.

Don't risk the slush pile over something you can control.

Be aware that not all publishers deal directly with authors; some only deal with agents.Whether they do or not will be listed in their submission guidelines. Obtain and follow the submission guidelines exactly - it's a good idea to not only obtain info from the Market Guides, but also go to the publisher's website for the guidelines posted there as well.

Make a short list of publishers or agents who look like a good match for your book - publishers and agents both have specific topics/genres they're looking for. Don't send a cat query to a dog agent.

If you're a non-fiction writer, be sure to list your platform information in your query - why you're an expert on this topic and why people will buy your book. But resist tooting your own horn too much; editors dislike (hate seems too strong here, but it's pretty close to the truth) aspiring authors to make claims like, "My book is the next Gone With the Wind." or "I'm going to make you a fortune."

Keep your word count to 100,000 words or less - very few, and I do mean VERY few first time authors will get a second glance when they pitch an epic novel. If your book is too long, consider breaking it into two books and pitch a possible series.

Never use the term, "fictional novel" - a blatant beginners mistake and you've just branded yourself an amateur. It's either fictional or a novel. The terms are redundant and you only need to use one.

Do some research on the agent or publishing house and comment on some of their previous work that you've enjoyed, or better yet, compare your work to some of their previous work. (They obviously liked that book or they wouldn't have published it!).

It's always good to have one or more self-published books under your belt before you query traditional publishers, but be aware that they don't consider you a "previously published author" if you're self-published. Simply state that you're self-published and your titles, and if it's impressive, the number of copies sold. (Self-Published books average 75 copies sold, so if you can state 2000 or more, include it.)
Agents are awesome (I love mine: Greg Johnson of WordServe) because they open doors you can't as an author. Unfortunately, it's not easy to get a literary agent to represent a first book, but if you've self-published or used a small press for previous books, you have a leg to stand on when querying an agent. Research and query them the very same way you would a publishing house. Standard agent commission if 15% and it's well worth it for all the work they do on your behalf. They don't get paid a penny unless they sell your book, so they're highly motivated and often full of great ideas to help you improve your manuscript. 

Look for sample queries in the two market guides listed above and plan to spend as much time perfecting your query as you would a manuscript. You only have one shot. Don't miss.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I got to move it, move it!

As the release date of my newest book, Too Blessed to Be Stressed, rapidly approaches (it's August 1 - yay!), I'm focusing on the promo engine, the roaring machine that will hopefully propel my book into the great, mysterious "out there."

I thought I'd share with you a few things writers must take into consideration when mapping out their PR campaigns.

1. You can't control who reviews your book and who passes, but do your durndest to get review copies into the hands of every possible candidate. Reviews DO matter and you want as many high profile reviewers as possible.

As a new trend (likely that of the paperless future), the publisher for Too Blessed to Be Stressed has decided to post the galley, or advanced reader copy (sometimes called ARC), on an online site called NetGalley. Previously, hard copies were sent out prior to the book's actual publication. My publicist (I've found it in my best interest to hire an outside publicity company, but many do it themselves) and the publishing house PR person, then interested parties responding to my press release to NetGalley, where they register for free membership and then have access to my yet-to-see-hard-copy book.

Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I'll have some nice reviews coming out about the same time as the book.

2. Land as many media interviews as you can ... the best way to get word out.  Radio interviews are easier to get than TV, but shoot for both. Newspapers are still alive and well and looking for interesting new local news to cover, so don't forget to query your hometown periodicals and send press releases to the appropriate editors. I once received a call 6 months after the fact from one local newspaper columnist who had kept my press release and wanted to feature my book in a full page piece on local authors. Too cool!

3. Stop by bookstores and introduce yourself to owners/managers, showing them a copy of your book and offering to sign stock. This is a clever way to sell books - people are much more likely to purchase signed author copies and get this juicy tidbit: signed books can't be returned! So the bookstore will keep those copies until they sell, rather than sending them back to the distributor to make way for newer books coming out a month or two down the road.

4. Readings and signings don't draw as many people as they once did, so come up with creative ways to spread the word of your book. I shot a dozen "2-minute Stress Busters" that we'll begin posting on YouTube in July and continue through September. Hopefully, people will like these humorous little stress-reducing tidbits from my book and tell their friends, creating a viral effect.

Okay, so what are some of your promotional ideas? I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Growing a Beanstalk (part 2)

This is the second excerpt of an interview conducted by Joanna Bloss of Shinebright Design about my marketing techniques. (Be sure to scroll down for Part 1.)

What's the best marketing decision you've made?

Overcoming my fear of all things computer and embracing the cyber future.

What's your biggest business challenge in the next 12 months?

Promoting two upcoming book releases (both by Barbour Publishing): Too Blessed to Be Stressed (August, 2011), and More Beauty, Less Beast (March, 2012).That means press releases, blog touring, book signings, media contacts, and a FaceBook Party on August 25 (a Kindle and a collection of my books will be among the prizes given away).

How do you stay motivated to grow your business?

I like to eat.

What's one more thing you wish you could do over again regarding marketing?

I wish that earlier in my career I had tune into pithy writing advice blogs like literary agent Rachelle Gardner's and had access to books like Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers. I would have saved myself scads of capital, effort, and dead-end rabbit trails by learning from those who have been there, tried that.

Any other parting words of advice?

View rejection in your business (mine is writing) the same way jockeys see horse poo. An inevitable hazard of your trade. Just step over the piles, wipe the nasty off your boots, and move forward.  

Many thanks to Jo Bloss of Shinebright Design for reprint permission.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Growing a Beanstalk (part 1)

Okay, you've planted your bean (written your book). Now comes the watering, fertilizing and nurturing part in order to grow a healthy, sky's-the-limit beanstalk. So how do you get word out to an ever expanding audience? How do you invest in your marketing future now so that your next book will fare even better?

Read on for some tried and true ideas on expanding your online contact list.

This is the first of a series of excerpts from a recent interview conducted by Shinebright Design: I had the honor of being one of their first clients when I started sending out e-newsletters several years ago and I was also co-author of Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers with Shinebright's founder, Joanna Bloss.

First class work by a classy company! See for yourself - if you're not already receiving my free quarterly e-newsletter, be sure to sign up at

Q: Debora, over the past five years, I've seen your e-mail list soar from a few hundred to upwards of 2,000! What's your secret for growing a great list?

A: It's really no secret, just a determination to create an online community by following a simple plan:

1. Gather email addresses at every speaking event by offering a prize to the person who can guess the closest number of chocolate kisses in a large glass jar. I don't wait for them to come to my book table to sign up (they won't) but instead come to them by passing around a clipboard while I'm speaking (subtle peer pressure).

I make it clear they're signing up for my newsletter and thank them for helping me out (nice people like to help others). I make a big deal out of playing the guessing game and give good prizes. People need to get something out of signing up for your newsletter and it's even more motivating if it's fun.

2. Network at writers conferences and book events. I transfer email addresses from the business cards I collect directly to my contact list. People are happy to receive news about the new friend they've just made and will gladly follow your progress.

3. Create an interest in my work through my books, two blogs, media interviews and articles (online and paper). I also advertise my website at every opportunity (in bios, beside my signature in all correspondence, on the back page of my books, mention it in every interview, etc.) where a sign-up box for my newsletter is highlighted on the home page.

4. Drive people to my website through contests, giveaways and word of mouth, where hopefully while they're there, they'll sign up for my newsletter. Keep info fresh on the website to draw them back; a Twitter feed on my home page has gotten excellent feedback.

5. Try to make my newsletter content interesting, fun, and appealing to my target audience (women) by including recipes, cute images and swatches of humor ... stuff women like and will tell others about.

*Stay tuned ... More ideas coming in the next post!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Humor Rules!

Okay, 'fess up. Have you played with your wenis today?

Now don't start blushing - wenis is indeed a real word, and believe it or not, an actual part of your anatomy. One that you, no doubt, never knew you had. Go ahead, guess where your wenis is. Really. I'll give you a hint: it's above your belly button (whew!) and below your Adam's apple. Everybody has not just one, but two. And the older you become, the more droopy your wenis gets.

Give up?

The wenis is the loose skin on the back of your elbow. Honest. I ain't funnin' ya. But that's my goal.

As a humorist, I'm often posed the question, "What's the secret to writing funny?"

Part of the answer is obvious: Writing funny first takes thinking funny. Maybe not gut-busting hysterical, HAHAHA-funny, but at least unexpected, off-the-beaten path funny. Take wenis, for example. It's a LOL term that I found on a list of words that just plain sound funny as they roll off the tongue, along with "hornswoggle," "kinkajou," "rumpus," "wonky," "skuttlebutt," and "bumfuzzle."

Notice something those kooky words have in common - the use of hard consonants. For some strange, marvelous reason, words containing hard consonants - k, j, g, t, p, z - elicit grins simply by their guttural sounds. Yes, it's krazy but true and it's called the K Rule. This nifty little humor tool has long been used by comics to subconsciously coax laughs from their audiences and by writers, especially in newspaper headlines or book titles, to amuse their readers.

And drive sales.

Another cool tool humorists employ is the Rule of Three. Yep. Yours, mine and Uncle Sam's. Tom, Dick, and  hairless. Get it? You set up a series of three commonly used words or phrases, and then throw an unexpected wrench in at the end. Something completely out of line with the other two to grab attention and jar your listener or reader from his mindless hibernation. Shakes up the gray matter and will likely draw a laugh. Or at least a raised eyebrow and any reaction is better than none.

One my favorite humor mechanisms, which also relies on successful misdirection, is the cliche contortion. Like the Rule of Three, you're setting up the reader by leading him to expect a certain conclusion to a familiar cliche, then jerk the chair out from under him at the last minute.

For example, "She ran like the wind" becomes "She ran like a fat rabbit in front of a skinny coon dog." Or Lyla Blake Ward's clever book title, How to Succeed at Aging Without Really Dying. Ha! That one makes me snicker every time I see it.

If you've read my book, Mom NEEDS Chocolate, you'll already know that much of my humor is driven by anecdotes ... funny true stories, the spice of life that people identify with from their own goofy experiences. Wonderful examples of writers who lean heavily on anecdotal humor are Dave Barry, Karen Scalf Linamen, Patsy Clairmont, and the late, great Louis Grizzard and Erma Bombeck. We love to hear about the almost-unbelievable-but-so-ridiculous-it's-probably-true things that happen in real life. And we learn life principles from not just our own experiences, but from the entertaining escapades of others.

I've received so much positive feedback from my stories resonating with readers that I'm using the same anecdotal approach with my upcoming books, Too Blessed to Be Stressed and More Beauty, Less Beast.  

And of course, timing is the key to great humor, both verbally and written ... placement of the punchline after a perfect buildup. For inspirational writing, it's when and where to strategically make your point after using a slam-bang-up story to prepare the reader to receive it. Like preparing to indulge in a top sirloin, your preamble is the marinade that softens and flavors the meat for peak enjoyment.  If the timing is off and you take a big ole bite of the steak before it's finished cooking, you're going to miss the climax of the experience.

And the point.

Good humor allows for slight lapses and perhaps an occasional moment of dead air. But great humor slams the nail down on the hilarity coffin. Bob Hope was the master of verbal comedic delivery, and one of his joke writers, Martha Bolton, is an excellent contemporary example of nailing written humor with perfect timing. That woman cracks me up!

 So remember, humor is a terrific way to hook readers, whether fiction or nonfiction. Humor lightens the atmosphere, softens the heart and cracks opens the closed mind.

Now, let go of your wenis and write on!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Snag Your Board and Let's Boogie

I was chatting with my agent recently and he casually dropped a line that made me want to grab my pom poms and do a couple of cartwheels.

"So how's business?" says I.
Slight pause on the other end while I steel myself for more publishing-is-down-the-toilet news. Seems like that's all we hear lately from the media.
"Well actually ... it's great!" says he, sounding surprised to hear himself say it.
"Great? Did you say great?"
"Yes I did. Despite the doomsday predictions that print books are going the way of the leisure suit, sales are solid ... better than they've been in a long time. People are still writing books - good books - and publishers are still buying them."

Well ain't that just the best news you've heard today?  It seems that although e-books may well be "the tidal wave of the future," print books will continue to crest high enough to surf on. Especially as gifts. They haven't yet figured out a way to wrap up an e-book in a pretty bag with a festive bow to take to your Aunt Hilda in the hospital.

And this is a good thing. A very good thing.

So you just keep editing and tweaking and polishing that manuscript. Plan on it coming out in e-and print versions to float in all ebbs and flows of the publication sea. Perseverance will pay off.

These are some swell promotional and marketing ideas that have come across my frontal lobe recently (some proposed by other authors and agents via various and sundry articles, conversations and blogs):

1. Give away chapters or shorts - tease and entice readers with individual bites of your luscious pie.
2. Publish shorts (for 99 cents or less) in your genre through such as Smashwords to get your name/work into more hands (and hopefully readers will check out your other books as well).
3. Contests/giveaways on your website - advertise via Twitter and FaceBook to drive people to your website.
4. Offer a freebie for signing up for your newsletter on your website (I draw a free book winner quarterly from the names of those signing up on mine).
5. Offer bonus material (downloadable from your website) in your books or articles - something educational, useful or entertaining that's related to your topic, such as updated material, teleseminars, videos, or audio instructional materials, games, contests, a prequel or sequel featuring characters from your book, and related books you'd recommend (not necessarily yours).

So grab your surfboard and hang ten, dude!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What's your Brand?

Branding. The not-so-new buzz. The term seems to be dropping into every conversation these days like a pesky mosquito on a sweltering summer night.

I understand, of course, the concept of branding, which is not at all new. The idea of stamping oneself or one's product with a recognizable symbol goes back to the caveman's club.

Childhood memories of Mr. Whiffle (representing a particular brand of T-paper, as my granny delicately called it), Ronald McDonald and Minnie Pearl's price tag dangling from her straw hat bear evidence of the effectiveness of branding. If promotion has been successful, you see the symbol and you instantly think of the product or person it represents.

I can't look at a boob pop without thinking of Dolly Parton, so effective are her Dolly Lollies in Pigeon Forge.

It's not so easy for writers to brand themselves. Well, maybe not Stephen King or J.K.Rowling, who are successfully branded in their respective genres. But what about us lesser mortals? Especially those like me who dabble in different genres? What is my brand? What could possibly set me apart from other writers to make me instantly recognizable?

Surprisingly enough, I found out last week at a writers meeting.

About fifteen of us were seated at tables forming a square in a large room when a new writer walked in. Having never met any of us before, she looked around shyly as she took her seat and I noticed her glance settle on me. She continued to stare (in a friendly sort of way), and when, a few minutes later, she was asked by the leader to introduce herself, she blurted out, "You're Debora Coty, aren't you?"

"How did you know that?" I asked with a creeping suspicion that the IRS was sinking to new levels with their spying.

"It's the hat," she replied, nodding at the black floppy hat adorning my head. "I've read you for years and in your pictures, you always seem to be wearing a hat."

Well blow me over with a feather. My hats? I've worn hats for decades, mostly because they're kicky and fun and I don't like to wash my hair every day. The fact that they weren't cool or trendy never bothered me. My kids grew up rolling their eyes over my hats and begging me not to wear them when their friends were around. Why, I have stacks and stacks of hats cluttering my closet. It looks like the Cat in the Hat exploded in there.

But somehow it never occurred to me that people might actually associate me with my hats. I guess since I couldn't see them atop my head, I figured nobody else was all that aware of them either. Funny how we never really see ourselves as others see us.

Anyway, I started paying more attention to how many pictures there are on my website and book covers and business cards of me in hats. Quite a few, to my surprise.

So are hats part of my brand? What do you think?  I'd love to hear if you (my other three readers) consider hats part of my persona as a writer - like Alfred Hitchcock's round belly or Clark Gable's mustache.

Or maybe just symbolic of the goofy, lazy girl who doesn't invest in shampoo.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

P as in Ptooey

I always thought it devilishly ironic that God called me to be a writer. For most of my life I've struggled with what my speech therapist friend calls dysnomia - the inability to come up with the word for which I'm frantically searching.

I suppose I come by my affliction naturally; I grew up with my mother reminding me to throw my dirty clothes in the refrigerator and to make sure I took my toothbrush to church.

Although my retrieval system appears to be a bit more sluggish since I passed fifty, some days I can pull those elusive rabbits out of my mental hat before the tree out front grows a new branch and feel like I've actually done pretty well.

Today was not one of those days.

On my early morning prayer walk around the neighborhood, I noticed a beat-up pickup truck parked on my street with a large fellow smoking inside, taking in a panoramic view of all the surrounding houses. He was in no apparent hurry to be elsewhere.

Okay - no harm, no foul.

Forty minutes later, when I took my dog out for his dooty duty, I caught a glimpse of said truck still loitering in the same spot with said slacker now in the passenger seat still gawking at said houses.

Now, normally I wouldn't consider sticking my nose in someone else's abnormality, but we've had a rash of neighborhood robberies lately, including my next-door neighbor, whose house was sacked in the middle of the day after a suspicious van had been seen parked down the street while two fellows with clipboards went door-to-door doing a "survey."

So I wasn't taking any chances. I jotted down the truck's description and tag number and made an immediate call to the sheriff's dept. Wouldn't hurt to just check him out.

The problem came when the dispatcher asked me to clarify the tag letters I'd just told her and I drew a complete blank. The first one was a W and for the life of me, I could not think of any W words (well, there's one right there, isn't it?) Then came a B and P and wouldn't you know, I was a deer in headlights.

Finally, after staring at the blank screen in my head for what seemed an eternity, words finally appeared. Strangely enough, they were words I rarely ever actually say aloud. I spit out, "W as in wombat; B as in boob; P as in pinhead."

Oh, for pity's sake. And I call myself an inspirational writer.

As soon as the dispatcher unsuccessfully stifled a snicker, and my husband stumbled out of his home office laughing like a dadgum hyena, I felt M as in embarrassed. With a little luck, she'll never know who I am. Please tell me police stations don't have caller ID.

I wanted to explain to her that writers are sometimes X as in eccentric but more often K as in Crazy.

But I have a sinking feeling that she'd just roll her I's.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Busting Ghosts of Haunted Writers

I've been re-reading Anne Lamott's highly respected how-to for writers, Bird by Bird, and several thoughts really resonated with me.

First of all, the title itself is the first lesson any writer must learn. Anne describes a time from her childhood when her older (high school aged) brother was completely overwhelmed by the enormity of a school report on birds that he had put off the entire semester until the night before it was due. Anne's father, with words of wisdom that apply to all facets of life, advised his son that the only way to accomplish any daunting job was to break it down into small tasks.

"Take it bird by bird."

Wonderful advice for writers, of course - especially those facing the mind-boggling task of writing a book. I know when I've signed a publishing contract and the initial glee and jubilation has passed, I often find myself facing a blank computer screen with panic rising in my belly.

Where to start?
What topics to cover?
How to break the chapters up?
How not to break me up in the process?
I just can't do it! How could anybody do this?

It's ever so helpful to take my eyes off the humongous aviary flocking with thousands upon thousands of winged creatures and focus on one little wren. Ahh. Now that's do-able.

Anne also speaks of literally looking at your work through a 1" square frame in order to concentrate on one small section at a time. She actually keeps such a frame on her desk. It reminds her that the most giant puzzle (book) starts with tiny pieces that must be dealt with one by one. Bird by bird.

Another of Anne's statements really resonated with me. She was speaking about the voices in your head that distract you from writing, and called them "banchees and drunken monkeys." Oh, so extremely well said. I couldn't label them better - the screaming banchees of urgent interruptions that just can't wait (real or unreal).

The drunken monkeys that swing your fickle thoughts from tree to tree and everywhere in the jungle but where they're supposed to be. For people like me - a step beyond ADD - those darn monkeys are a huge challenge to productivity. It's amazing how much ground those monkeys can cover in no time, especially if you're fighting a deadline like I am now.

I really must get out my tranquelizer dart gun and pick off some of those drunken monkeys. Today.

And finally, Anne spoke of the "ectoplasm" of a fictional character - finding out what holds him together. His essence. Is it faith? Work? Hope? Relationships? Loyalties? Longings? (My contributions.)

I like that ... ectoplasm. The word alone dredges up visions of Bill Murray in Ghost Buster garb. I picture green goo dripping off chandeliers and globbed all over basement library card catalogs.

But the point is well taken. Ectoplasm is the internal make-up of people, real or fictional. The evidence of their presence. Not only is it important to discover the nuances and foibles of our fictional characters, but how about in real relationships as well? How often do we really study the ectoplasm of our potential friends or even foes? Not often enough, I fear.

So who ya gonna call?

Maybe Anne Lamott.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sometimes You Just Have to Barry Your Soul!

These are two of my favorite people in the whole wide world - my sister Cindy flanking me on (your) left and my bosom-buddy-since-we-got-bosoms in the sixth grade, Jan, on (your) right.

Would you believe we're this cheerful in the nosebleeds at a Barry Manilow concert?

Yup. I'm a fanilow. Don't you dare smirk. What's not to like about mushy love songs? Or a 68-year-old heartthrob hobbling around the stage after a hip replacement?

Although he looked a bit like he was wearing a Barry Manilow mask from 20 years ago, he sang like he was 30. It was a magical night. The power of words and melody carried me right back to my youth when daydreams of dashing men on white horses sweeping me off my oxfords seemed incredibly possible. I found myself smiling inanely through many of the songs and singing along at the top of my lungs with the rest.

Don't know that I would've spent that much on a ticket if Jan hadn't twisted my arm, though.

But my point here is the amazing power of words to transcend reality, time, place, space, even earth suits to transport us somewhere we just can't get to any other way. As a musician (piano teacher for 20 years), I believe that melody certainly adds a depth and dimension to lyrics that is quite unique to the medium of music.

But books work in much the same way to stir emotion, jumpstart motivation, and soothe ruffled feathers. Words without melody are no less transcending.

So now my blood is perculating with excitement to make some magic that touches someone's heart through my writing. Can't wait to get started.

What motivates you to place derriere in chair and poise fingers over keyboard?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Are we on the Border of Book Extinction?

Books. Are they a dying art?

If you put a lot of stock in headlines, you might think so, with one of the three American mega-booksellers filing Chapter 11.

Yep, it's true, according to an AP online article I just read by Mae Anderson. Borders is filing Chapter 11 after 40 years as a trend-setting, latte-sipping, book-pedaling national icon. One third of Borders' 600+ stores will be closing within the next few months, all of them superstores which are now losing upwards of $2 million a day.

Apparently Borders lagged behind Barnes & Noble and perhaps BAM as well in hopping on the electronic bandwagon and has struggled for the past five years as online book sales grow and hard copy sales diminish. They owe millions upon millions to publishers and it seems everybody wants their dough. Now.

With the distribution of books now eeking out to Walmart, Target, Sams and Costco, people who still want hard copies have turned to the cheaper outlets, despite the lure of big box bookstore cappachino and triple chunk brownies while you browse. And we musn't forget the incipid monster, Amazon, which has gobbled up much of the online business for both hard and e-copies.

The statistic that made me saddest in the article was that book sales fell nearly 5 % in 2010 in all outlets, except Walmart, which wasn't included in the tracking system. I certainly haven't stopped reading; if anything, I'm reading more than ever before.

And you surely couldn't prove people aren't reading as much if you hang out at beaches, airports, or dentists offices these days. All you see is a sea of book covers. What gives?

Now, I've never had any special affinity for Borders (or Books-A-Million for that matter), because B & N has always been the most congenial in working with and encouraging new authors. When my first book came out, I naively called all three to inquire about getting my book on their shelves. BAM and Borders ignored me completely - even rudely - but B&N kindly took the time to explain the ropes (which meant they said in a nice way that the chance of first books landing on major bookshelves is about as good as big Bird becoming a congressman).

But at least they responded and treated me like a human being.

Anyway, despite the fact that I've never stepped food in a Borders or BAM since then, I still hate like heck to see them go under. I hate to see any bookstore go under, especially the dozens of small family-owned bookstores run out of business by the mega-stores when they first erupted on the scene. There are still a few indies still holding on by their fingernails and when I get the browse craving, those are the ones I head to. My business may be small, but it's still better than nothing and I'd sure like to see them stay open.

So what can a Kindle-owning, girl-turned-author do? Cry a tear and hold a candle at the brick and morter funeral, I guess.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Writer Celebrations

I believe people don't celebrate nearly enough. Life's too short not to cheer, leap for joy and get giddy over accomplishments, big or small.

We should get out the tiarras, bake chocolate cakes and throw confetti at every possible opportunity. After all, it's the little victories that makes life fun, right?

So in honor of yesterday's completion of my new book manuscript, More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming your Inner Ogre, I decided to post some writer funnies that make me smile. Hope they do the same for you!

Writer: "I want to write in the worst way."
Editor: "You've managed to do just that."

I didn't become a writer for the money; I became a writer despite the money!

While watching a family of woodpeckers pounding a dead tree in our back yard one day, I commented to Spouse, "Can you imagine beating your head against the wall for a living?"

With a knowing grin, he replied, "Isn't that what writers do?"

Monday, January 17, 2011

Is Stealing Really Stealing?

In reading the recent issue of "Writer's Digest" (if you don't subscribe to a writer's trade journal, shame on you!) I came across a piece by David Corbett describing a writing exercise designed to develop "Originality."

I was fascinated by Mr. Corbett's statement, "The best advice I ever received on writing in general was Oakley Hall's two-word bomide: Steal Wisely."

This touched on a subject I'd been thinking about a lot lately.

How far is too far when "borrowing" ideas from other writers or for that matter, from you own previously published work?

It's long been a practice of writers - and encouraged at writing conferences and workshops - to glean material from the ideas of others. You should always read other authors' work in the genre in which you're writing, they say, to keep a steady flow of new ideas sparking your own creativity. Certainly don't plagerize, but take a basic concept and expound upon it using your own voice and flair. There is no copyright on ideas.

I've actually done quite a bit of this, and was delighted to run across Mr. Hall's wonderfully descriptive phrase.

Steal Wisely.

From a perspective of integrity, I don't think of this practice as stealing at all. I wouldn't do it if I did. It only makes sense to me that greater input produces greater output and heaven only knows when you're in the middle of a project, you need all the fresh input you can get.

For instance, I'm currently writing More Beauty, Less Beast, and am reading all the beauty-themed books I can get my hands on. The trick is to not lose your own voice in the voice of another author, but to extract a thought, marinate it in your own juices, and see if something worthwhile (printable) pops out of the pan.

Anyone care to share their thoughts or experience on this subject?