Thursday, December 13, 2012

Audience of One

In a recent blog post, literary agent Rachelle Gardner broached a question we writers - especially inspirational writers - all ask ourselves at one time or another: How do you validate that what you are doing is good?

It got me thinking. What is my feedback mechanism? Is it awards? Acclaim? Fame? (If it were, my writing career would be in the can.)

So how do I know I'm fulfilling the mission to which I felt Papa God calling me? What are my success indicators? What motivates me to continue writing during the dry times when little money is trickling in, book sales are low, and writer's block stymies all creative flow?

And wouldn't you know, the very day I was pondering these questions, I received a letter from a reader containing my answer.

I am privileged to receive quite a few letters from my readers that bless my socks off and reduce me to tears. Honestly, there is nothing – nothing – as soul-fulfilling as knowing that Papa God has used you as His tool for touching the heart and changing the life of someone for His glory. Here are excerpts from a few lovely letters I’ve received about my book, Too Blessed to Be Stressed, which recently received the 2012 Mom’s Choice award:

From Jenny G. in Massachusetts: “I just lost my dad to a heart attack last Saturday; he was also battling cancer. It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life. I read your book, Too Blessed to Be Stressed this week and it gave me a lot of hope and comfort. Thank you so much for helping me be strong in my faith.”

From Chelle L. in Texas: “Your book is such an inspiration to me. I started reading it and then put it down for lack of time, but the Lord prompted me to pick it up again during a season of fatigue and discouragement. It was just what I needed. Thank you for your willingness to share and be obedient to God’s call.”

From Erin C. in Ohio: “I just finished Too Blessed to Be Stressed and am already halfway through More Beauty, Less Beast. I just wanted to take a few moments to let you know how much of a Godsend your books are to me! I’m only 21-years-old but I’ve been a tightly wound stress ball pretty much since birth. My dad has recently been diagnosed with M.S., and watching the rapid deterioration of the body and mind of my hero has put me over the edge. I found myself crying in my car parked in some random parking lot the other day. When I finally calmed down, I realized I was in front of a Christian bookstore … funny how God does that, isn’t it? I went in searching for SOMETHING! At the time I wasn’t sure why I got out of the car or why I walked into the store. But what I do know is that God led me to the book section and the very first book that caught my eye was Too Blessed to Be Stressed. I read the first two pages and started to cry. I know He led me to that book because He knew I needed it right then! Your book has had an enormous impact on my heart. I am so thankful that the Lord gave you this gift and that you shared it with the world. I take both books with me everywhere I go and refer to them when I feel lost; I’ve found such comfort in them. THANK YOU.”

And from Cynthia G. in Florida: “I really enjoyed the chapter about faith through the hard times in Too Blessed to Be Stressed called “Lost and Found.” I was diagnosed with epilepsy 11 years ago. The medication has caused serious fertility issues. I was over the moon when we found out I was pregnant a few years back. Unfortunately God had a different plan and our baby made it to heaven before us. I was never able to conceive again and the doctors don’t think it would be a good idea anyway. You’ve been a blessing to me and so many others with your personal touch. Thanks again!” 

So there it is. The reason I stay motivated to keep my tush on the chair and keep writing. It's for Ginny and Chele, Erin and Cynthia - each of them my audience of one that Papa God has chosen to touch through the skills and abilities He gave me.

And that's more than enough.

Who is Papa preparing at this very moment to be your audience of one?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Permission to Reboot

My view from a fave walking trail in NC
Man. I'm tired.

Not physically, no. Not really emotionally - at the moment, I'm pretty much steady as she goes, Captain. Not spiritually, either. My relationship with Papa God is strong and sustaining.

So what is it? Why am I - the writer who usually bounds into new projects with both feet - procrastinating about starting my new book? How come my brain starts to shut down when I pull up a blank computer screen and stare at two intimidating words plastered across the top of the page: New Book.

(I learned long ago to write something when I'm facing a new title-less project just to start the creative flow. Sometimes the title doesn't break through until the piece is completed.)

So why is the flow dammed? And why do I have to fight all this guilt and embarrassment that I'm wasting time and being - GASP! - the Debbie-Coty-world version of the terrible awful (to borrow a delightful phrase from The Help) ... unproductive?

Been pondering on that lately and after much soul-searching, have finally come to the conclusion that it's okay to lay low for a while. To chill. To turn off and reboot. To intentionally turn away from the blank page and live life in real time without rushing away to my little writing cave every time something sparks a writing frenzy.

As ridiculous as it probably sounds to normal people (yep, we all know writers fall in the abnormal category), writerly types generally never clock out. Never. We're self-trained to always be on the alert for story possibilities, and to not let those elusive gems get away. Strike while the iron's hot. Jot your idea down on toilet paper, your palm, or a gum wrapper if necessary, and then follow-up with expansion of the idea into manuscript form as soon as possible.

For some inexplicable reason, writing my last book about fear really sapped my creative energy. It was the most difficult book I've ever written. I'm not sure why, except perhaps that interviewing dozens of people about their worst fears gave the Great Deceiver ample opportunity to do a wicked number on me. I developed a fear of fear. Or at least of writing about it.

So now I find that I need a bit more extended period than I'm used to in order to unwind and regroup. Papa has shown me that a longer recovery period will be required than the two weeks I had at the end of each of my previous five books before diving into the next one. 

Now I have to convince myself that not working on a manuscript is not being unproductive. (That unspeakable word is even hard for me to write.) Working on resting is equally productive. It's actually good for me. Not only will I be re-energized, I'll have renewed perspective on the business of living. It will give me something compelling to write about from outside the confines of a computer chair.

At least Benjamin Franklin thought so when he penned the immortal, "Do things worth the writing."

But not-thinking-at-all isn't such a bad thing either. Maybe just hanging out and being is sometimes superior to doing, as hard as it is for us production-oriented folks to comprehend.

My writer friend Rick Christensen at recently wrote a very touching blog post about the importance of lingering, and the impact a friend of his who was known for intentional lingering to enjoy every last ounce of a setting or situation had on Rick after the friend passed away.

Rick's point was that lingering is not the same as loitering. Or laziness. Or heaven forbid ... unproductivity. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. It's experiencing life to the fullest. Abundantly. Bursting at the seams.

I realized how very little lingering, or pausing, or reflecting I do in the course of an average day.

So I hereby give myself permission - and you too (if you need permission from someone) - to linger now and then. And to take it a step further and actually turn off and reboot. Take a cyber Sabbath. Or a week. Or even a month if you need it. And see if that dam doesn't crumble from the resulting gush. 


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Race is On

It's three months before the Feb 1 debut of my new F3 book (my pet name for Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate) but things are already revving up on the PR front.

Yep, most folks don't realize how early the wheels must start turning in order to be ready to squeal your tires in break-neck, drag-racing style on release day.

Galley edits are now completed (the galley is the final, final copy before the formatted book goes to press). Also called an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) by some publishers, the galley appears exactly as the printed book will - there really should be no mistakes at this point if the author and editors have done their jobs well. At least in theory.

Um, when that actually happens to me - no mistakes, I mean - I'll eat my favorite hat. 

The galley goes to the author for one last fine-tooth-comb look-see, so that he or she can't complain if a faux pas slips through into print. Usually, a minimum of three different editors have had at it before the galley stage, but sometimes boo-boo's still make it through. The author is the final check-rein.

The buck stops here, bro.  

Sometimes galleys or ARC's are sent to reviewers by the publisher, or in the case of self-published or small press books, by the author, if they are desired before the actual printed book will be available. This way glowing reviews hit the public eye right about the same time the book does, so a nice, excited buzz develops, which hopefully parlays into sales.  

My press releases are already going out, thanks to my industrious publicist, Audra Jennings, with Litfuse Publishing Group. Audra penned an awesome combination of  intro, teaser, basic book availability/purchase info, and suggested interview questions that she'll now (after my final approval) send to a vast array of contacts in her network.

These contacts include radio, internet, and TV hosts, magazines (print and online), interviewers, book reviewers, book dealers and sellers, and whomever else in the public specter that might be remotely interested in knowing about my upcoming book. And probably a few who aren't. They then contact Audra to schedule interviews. My last three books have each garnered an average of 25 interviews, quite a few excellent book reviews, and numerous speaking invitations.

So my job, over the upcoming three months before D-Day, is to compile clever answers to interview questions and prepare a new speaking presentation (or two) based on Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate, so that I'm ready to take off when that flare gun fires.

Gentlemen, start your engines!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wild and Wacky Interviews (Part 3)

I had just left the magical swiveling chair where my hair and make-up were overhauled in preparation for my appearance on an Orlando Christian TV network. 

Funny how you arrive at those places looking like you and leave looking like a country western singer.

As I took a chair in the waiting room to bide my time until the producer called me to the set for my interview, I noticed a 20-something man seated against the wall with a rather large rectangular case at his feet. He must be waiting his turn for an interview as well.

Hmm. Didn’t look like a trombone case. Could it be a tuba?

“What instrument do you play?” I asked, ever curious and always up for a good musical conversation.  

His sly grin should have warned me of the big surprise to come. “It’s not an instrument. And I don’t play him … he plays me.”

“Um, excuse me?”

At that moment, I noticed the sides of the black case move. Move. As in … move.

“Is there a puppy in there?” The words were no sooner out of my mouth than the whole case jumped about an inch off the floor, shimmied and contorted. Whoa! That was no puppy. Unless it was a hippo puppy.  

“Not exactly,” the man with the look of a mischievous 10-year-old replied. “Would you like to see?”

“Well, sure.” I was never one to turn down an adventure.

So that’s how I – all gussied up in my best suit, stage make-up, and poufy hair - came to make friends with a four-foot alligator named Ralph in the waiting room of a TV studio. Ralph was just one of the critters this gentleman used in his ministry to introduce school children to some of God’s more mysterious yet magnificent creations.  

At least he’d left the tarantula at home.  

“What would happen if you took that duct tape off his snout?” I ventured to ask.
“You’d be driving home with one sleeve pinned up,” he said with a lopsided grin.

Ah, yes – adventures. Just one of the fun perks authors have to look forward to when making the rounds of interviews after a book release.  Every author I know has a handful of hair-raising and often hilarious stories about book promo. What's yours?    

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wild and Wacky Interviews (Part 2)

Monkeys Hair 

The live interview had not been going all that well. I was discussing my new book (at the time), Too Blessed to be Stressed, with a Pennsylvania Christian radio host whom I'll call Dale. 

I was a bit surprised to have a male interviewing me for my clearly delineated "women's inspirational book," but that happens from time to time, and I've truly had some quite excellent male interviewers mixed in with the clueless. 

As it turns out, Dale was of the latter category.

By the reluctance in his voice, hesitant questions, and silent responses as I threw out my normal women-oriented humor, I could tell he wasn't in his confidence zone. We weren't connecting. The magical rapport between host and guest that makes for the best interviews just wasn't there.

It was obvious to me that Dale hadn't even read my book, but was working his way through the Table of Contents using the chapter titles and associated topics (which were listed in parentheses) to formulate seat-of-the-pants questions.

The coup de grace came during the final five minutes of the 15-minute interview. As Dale slogged his way through the TOC to the last section, he came upon chapter 32, "Luther's Legacy." I could hear the sunrise in his attitude and relief in his voice. At last, he was thinking, Something I can sink my teeth into.

"I see, Debora, that you've got a chapter here on 'Luther's Legacy,'" Dale observed almost gleefully. "I've done extensive study on the works of Martin Luther. Why don't you tell us about Luther's legacy as it applies to handling the stress in our lives."

There was nothing to be done but to break it to him as gently as possible. On the air. In front of thousands of his regular listeners.

"Um, Dale. I'm sure Martin Luther had a lot of wonderful things to say that would be applicable to the topic of stress, but this particular chapter is about a monkey. A monkey named Luther." 

It shouldn't have come as a surprise that when I later asked the station for a copy of the interview that they'd assured me would be taped, somehow the the recording machinery had developed a glitch and the interview was lost.

Go figure.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wild and Wacky Interviews (part 1)

Deb in London
Someone suggested, as I recently finished regaling a writerly audience with a couple of zany stories about my book interview misadventures, that I jot them down for posterity's sake. And a little literary entertainment.

A fine idea indeed.

So here we go with the first of three abridged versions of some of the stark craziness that goes on behind the scenes of  TV and radio interviews of, yes, even your favorite seemingly well-put-together and unflappable authors.

(Which is why, I presume, some authors flatly refuse to do interviews.)

My publicist arranged an interview with a very popular radio show host on a date when I was scheduled to be traveling with my husband. After unsuccessfully attempting to reschedule, I was forced to do the live interview by cell phone from the back seat of a moving vehicle -certainly no one's first choice, but in this case, it couldn't be helped.

In preparation, I packed the "cheat sheets" for my newest book, More Beauty, Less Beast (meaning the pages containing catch phrases and lucid discussion points I plan to use on the air so not to look like a scatter-brained ninny-muffin). Cheat sheets work famously for radio interviews, but not so well for TV, where you look ridiculous staring at notes scribbled on your hand or taped to your shoe.

Believe me, I know.

So on this ill-fated day, the radio host and I connected just as my husband turned the car onto a congested interstate. I had already done dozens of interviews about More Beauty, Less Beast since it's release a few months before, but going on-air still made me nervous. Especially live, where you can't edit or gracefully cover up mistakes.

I listened intently to the host's introduction with my key point-tabbed copy of More Beauty, Less Beast in hand and all my cheat sheets spread out across the car seat for easy reference. I was as ready as I'd ever be.

"Welcome, everyone, to our show today, " the host announced in her official radio voice. "We're so fortunate to have award-winning author Debora Coty here to speak about her book, Too Blessed to be Stressed."

Aack! What? Back the truck up! My mind flew in all directions at once, like frizzy hair in a gale. Did she say, Too Blessed to be Stressed? But I'm all prepared to discuss More Beauty, Less Beast!

Not only was that the wrong book, but I'd written two books since that one and had no idea what was in which. And I hadn't brought copies of anything but More Beauty, Less Beast with me!

I began frantically gesturing into the rear view mirror for poor long-suffering Spouse to pull over, which took several minutes for him to: a) catch on, b) stop asking if I was having a heart attack and if he should call 911, and c) jockey to the outside lane on the busy highway. Before the wheels even rolled to a stop, I flew to the trunk and began heaving luggage onto the shoulder of the road as cars whizzed by at 80 mph, all the while trying to keep a pleasant conversation going with the radio host as if all were well with the world.

Thankfully, I finally found a copy of Too Blessed to be Stressed beside the spare tire and by flipping pages wildly, was able to (sort of) present some semblance of an intelligent discussion for the next 30 minutes as slack-jawed, head-shaking Spouse reloaded the car and we tooled on down the highway.   

Stay tuned for my next Wild and Wacky Interview post.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Who's Your Daddy?

In England you Give Way rather than Yield
My last two posts have been on perfecting the basics of word-smithing.

I'd like to end this mini-series with one last Mt. Everest of writing: correct punctuation.

I borrowed the following examples of the undeniable importance of proper punctuation from Sue Miholer (, a wonderful writer and editor who spoke at the Florida Inspirational Writers Retreat.

Note the distinct and astounding difference in meaning of the paragraph below with just a few simple changes in punctuation:

Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy - will you let me be yours?

Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and infereior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Big wow, huh? In the first example, Gloria has the major hots for John. In the second, Glo wants to shed him like two-week-old leg hair. The exact same words were used for each, but sentiment completely shifted with the re-placement of a few commas, periods, and question marks.

My point?

We must proof our work and pay careful attention to how we use - or misuse- punctuation. Excellent references are Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, The New Webster's Grammar Guide, and The Chicago Manual of Style.

If we're not careful, we might one day inadvertently shed new light on even our own lineage with one missed comma:

I'd like to thank my parents, the Pope, and Mother Teresa.
I'd like to thank my parents, the Pope and Mother Teresa.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is There an "A" on Your Forehead?

Rainbow at Niagara Falls
Following up my last post on mistaken word identity, I thought it prudent to touch on a few other common mistakes that stamp an infernal "A" (for Amateur) on the foreheads of wide-eyed, unwary new writers. 

The first, and most insipid, is the use of passive voice verses active voice. Passive means "being done to" as opposed to the active "doing."

Example of passive voice: "Johnny found himself lost because he was reluctant to ask directions." Active: "Johnny got lost because he was reluctant to ask directions."

Or passive: "A good time was had by all" versus active: "Everyone had a good time."

A subtle difference to you, perhaps, and possibly some readers, but a red flag to editors. They figure if you're sloppy or ignorant in writing passively, you're probably sloppy and ignorant in other writing basics and therefore not worth their precious time.

Another faux pas I see repeatedly in the work of fresh writers is the use of two spaces between sentences. Regardless of what your high school English teacher told you, these days only a single space is used after punctuation. Another red flag to editors that labels you with that big A.

Speaking of punctuation, in case you didn't know, there are vastly different opinions out there on the proper usage of commas and semi-colons. I received a 2-page manifesto from one of my publishing houses on their guidelines for commas. And of course those hard and fast "rules" differed greatly from those of my next publisher.

I've seen writers nearly come to blows at writer's conferences over semi-colons.

The answer to this conundrum? When in doubt, stick with the Chicago Manual of Style for books, and the AP Manual for newspapers and magazines. As long as you're consistent, any editor worth their ink will accept your well-written manuscript, knowing they'll be copy editing it before publication anyway.

Then there's the over-the-top creative use of tags (speaker attributions) that actually distract from dialogue instead of enhancing it. "Said" is generally considered an invisible tag, and although you don't want to overuse it by polka-dotting the page with it, you mustn't yield to the temptation to dress it up in a prom gown either.

"Mary retorted," "Lulu intoned," and "Peter rebutted" may seem clever at the moment of inception, but consider that they may become what I call "eye-ball walls" to the reader. That's anything that stops the smooth flow of mental images (like a movie playing in your head) and makes the reader think, "Wait. What was that?"

If your reader has to stop, back up, and reread anything you've written for clarification, you've just flunked Writing 101.

Try to avoid tags at all, especially in two-person dialogues. Instead, cleverly use beats (little snippets of action) to show who is talking, rather than stating the obvious. This also serves to keep that all-important movie rolling in the reader's head rather than reduce your dialogue to talking heads.

Annabelle stretched a tentative hand out to pat Jason's cheek. "I've always believed in you."
"I just don't know what to do." Matt rubbed the back of his neck as he paced the floor.  

Many of these far-too-common errors will be nipped in the bud by a professional editor, which I keep saying ad nauseum is an absolute MUST before your manuscript is submitted to a publishing house editor or agent.

Remember, the competition out there is fierce, and with an unpolished manuscript, you're entering battle with your chain mail down around your ankles and a big red "A" stamped on your forehead.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mistaken Identity

Deb and Baby Blaine settling a dino tiff in Canada
I recently noticed, while reading the published newsletter of an author buddy, the statement, "I'm anxious to see my new grandson."

Now this is an accomplished professional writer - make that award-winning, best-selling author of dozens of wonderful books - and she, like many of us, sometimes slip-slides down the slope of mistaken identity.

Mistaken word identity. 

Did she really mean anxious, as in "worried" or "fear about some contingency" (Webster's definition), or did she mean eager, (enthusiastic desire")?

Although there might have been an element of nervous tension about meeting the bouncing baby grand for the first time, I'd be willing to bet the farm that her anticipation and excitement were more in the eager camp.

Anxious vs eager - just one of the many tricky word pairs that often suffer mistaken identity.

Can you readily tell the differences between these commonly misused couples?

Elude/allude                              past/passed                            illicit/elicit
except/accept                           further/farther                         then/than
i.e./e.g.                                     every day/everyday                compliment/complement
counsel/council                          principle/principal                   whose/who's

I have to admit, I often screw up except and accept, and have been known to illicit a response now and then. And is there anyone who really has a handle on further vs farther other than the brilliant writer kid in the movie, Finding Forrester?

Well, the point is, as a writer who is head and shoulders above the mundane pack, you should know the difference and be able to detect an incorrect usage immediately. (That means you're proofreading your work, right??) I guarantee you editors know the difference, and your blunders in substituting one for the other might mean the difference between publication or bewilderment at receiving a steady stream of rejection slips.
I hope this subtle remainder about alluding mistaken word identity and the impotence of proofreading your manuscripts will help you develop better work principals and disciple too take you farther along the every day rode to righting success.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Herding a Book to Press, Part 2

Deb's new book releasing Feb, 2013
As I mentioned in my last post, the process of getting a book to press is a lot like herding snakes.

If you haven't read it yet, scroll back and catch up by scanning my last post. There. Now we're all on the same page ... when the real work begins: book release day.

But before I say another word, what do you think of the brand-new cover for Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate? I like it very much - especially the surprise butterfly, which is symbolic of the freedom from fear we talk about throughout the book. Kudos to the Barbour design department - great job, guys! 

Okay, back to snake herding. Preparation actually begins about two months before release date when you need to get your publicity/promo plan set in place.

I usually order about 500 (or more) bookmarks with my new book featured on front, endorsements and a list of my other books with my website on back. Full color both sides, glossy and nice. No wimpy paper bookmarks, please. Remember, this is your best and most inexpensive form of advertising. Create something you can be proud of, and pass them out liberally. If you buy them in bulk, they'll only run between 10 - 15 cents each. I use Print Runner online.

Then, begin to make connections with media outlets, bloggers, and book review sites. If you or your publisher can get your galley to reviewers ahead of your release date, all the better. Then you hit the ground running as soon as the book hits outlets, posting your glowing reviews everywhere you can. (Ignore any that aren't glowing ... there will always be at least one.)

Either hire a publicity firm (I use LitFuse Publicity Group) or do the legwork yourself, but it's a great idea to do a blog tour of at least 50 well-traveled sites (LifFuse sets up an 80-site blog tour for me) to get the word out about your book. I also do a Facebook party (which LitFuse arranges and runs) with awesome giveaways, which attracts a lot of attention and gets your readers revved up.

(Not to mention yourself - FB parties are boatloads of fun!) 

And you're off to the races. Advertise your speaker services - featuring a topic related to your book, of course - and accept all the invitations you can. Plan to devote about four months immediately following your book's release to all the traveling and promo related to spreading the good news. Most publishing companies have PR departments which can help you, but the lion's share of the promo responsibility falls on the author.

Once you've got those snakes wriggling in the right direction, you're ready to tackle herding something really challenging.  Like 2-year-olds!

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Process of Herding a Book to Press, Part 1

Wow - I do apologize for my tardiness in posting lately. I've been holed up in a mountain cabin for the past three weeks working feverishly to beat my deadline for my new book, Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate. 

And I'm happy to report it's finished! For now. But not forever. Let me explain. 

 With work finally winding up on the third book in my "Take On Life" series for Barbour Books, I thought you might like an update on the process of getting a book to press. It's not quite as easy as writing it and simply turning it in. Oh, how I wish it were! It's more like herding snakes.

What happens is this: You're given a deadline for completion in the contract which you signed back when you negotiated the deal with your publisher. It, like most other fine contractual points, is negotiable. They'll usually expect 4-6 months to finish a partially completed manuscript, but that can vary depending on a lot of factors. In my case, I agreed to a smidge over 5 months to write the thing from scratch.

I had only previously written one sample chapter, which I included with my proposal. Since this was the third book of a series and they were already well acquainted with my writing, they accepted only one chapter, but usually a minimum of three are required for a new series or a stand-alone book.

Since I was super busy promoting the second book of the series, More Beauty, Less Beast, which had just been released about the time I signed the contract for the fear book (which didn't have its final title until about a month ago), I wasn't sure when I was going to find time to write. Traveling, speaking and conducting interviews to promote a book drain more energy than you can imagine ... not just living-day-to-day energy, but creative energy as well.

But I HAD to get the next book done. My contract said so.

So I budgeted out how many words I should write each week of my allocated time to complete it, with two spare weeks at the end for self-editing before turning it in. My contract called for 50k words, so a simple math equation provided me with my weekly goal, which I then divided by 7 to get a daily word count goal.

Then I knew that I must, as the commercial wisely instructs, just do it. 

So I did. When interruptions arose (as they inevitably do), and I wasn't able to log my daily word count, I made up for it before the week was out so I wouldn't fall too far behind. Then the two weeks at the end were used to go over the entire manuscript with a fine-tooth comb - that's called line editing - not just once, not just twice, but three times. And I was still finding things that needed to be tweaked.

Then after I submitted the completed manuscript, the waiting game begins. But I mustn't forget to mention that hitting that "send" button somehow cues my agent and editor (how do they know???) to begin elbowing me about ideas for my NEXT book. Yeesh! Is there no such thing as down time?

Okay, so we're still about 6 months away from my release date, Feb 1, 2013, sometime in November, I can expect to hear from my publishing house editor for the first round of edits. She doesn't make the changes, only suggests which changes that I'm to make. We arm-wrestle over any discrepancies of opinion that might arise, and then the usual course of action is that I yield and make the changes so she won't resort to a full body slam.

Once this final editing process begins, you're expected to give up life as you know it for about two weeks. Hurry, hurry hurry. As soon as you finish first round edits and turn in the corrected m/s, within a few days, it magically returns to you from yet another editor with more suggested changes. Or you might luck out and only have a few. But the process usually goes three rounds before you're presented with the galley, the finished product which shouldn't need any more changes. It's up the author to go through it one last time, checking every single word and punctuation mark, to make sure it's as perfect as it can be.

Then the galley goes to print. And within a few weeks, usually around three weeks before your scheduled release date, your beautiful brand spanking new book arrives in the mail, along with your "author copies." The number of these depends on what you negotiated for in your contract. Many times, it's between 20-50, but I always request 100 to give away at book events and for promotion.

And the real work begins. You dive in over your head into the promotion ocean, which I'll talk more about next time. So stay tuned for the next episode of, "As the Printing Press Burns ..."    

Friday, May 25, 2012

What Editors WISH They Could Say

Photo by Marion Crawford
Like most authors, I get asked, from time to time, by aspiring writers, if I could spare a minute or two (what they really mean is a week or two) to look over their newly completed manuscript and give them feedback.

The problem is that complex and misunderstood word, "completed."

In the words of the infinitely wise Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, "You keep usin' that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."

After trudging through the muck of a raw, you're-obviously-not-smarter-than-a-fifth-grader, unproofed manuscript, I (and every other author/editor in the world) have attempted to sugar-coat my outrage at the audacity of this selfish person to ask me to waste my precious time when they obviously haven't even lifted a finger to truly complete their manuscript.

Let me make it simple. Completion = writing first draft + editing + rewriting + editing + rewriting + editing + rewriting + editing + editing + editing. If you've gotten this far, then you're serious enough to hire a professional editor to catch what you've missed and polish your work to a gleam before submitting it.


If not, please let me be of further assistance. I recently ran across this (real) editorial response that made me not only laugh out loud, but jump to my feet, throw my fist in the air and yell, "YES!!" just like I did at the end of Babe. (Don't roll your eyes - I know you did too). Notice how this editor starts out biting-her-tongue nice and then the cat begins to claw its way out of the bag.

Please, please, dear aspiring writer, do your spit shining before submitting your manuscript. Don't ever deserve a letter like this. I've omitted the names to protect the guilty. I really don't know why.

Dear Arrogant Idiot,

I am sorry, but I cannot be a part of this. Your manuscript is nowhere near ready for anyone to read, much less buy. It is extremely rough and I am finding that merely editing it is totally inadequate. There are entire sections that make no sense, and many areas demonstrate redundancy and extremely awkward constructions. The disorganization and lack of direction make it difficult for your readers to follow your thought processes.

Honestly, AI, I've spent almost an hour on one page trying to figure out what in the world you were trying to say.

After struggling through this horrendous manuscript, I find that you are not a writer, no matter how badly you want to be one. You will always have to self-publish because no editor of any reputable publishing house would read more than a few lines of your manuscript before tossing it in the trash. I fear that you will be cheating people by selling even one copy of this grossly inadequate book.

You need a reality check, AI. You cannot write! You are self-deceived and delusional. Find something else you are good at and develop it to the best of your abilities. Writing is not it.

Most sincerely,
Editor with a splitting headache


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Insight into WriterSpeak

Deb at a book event for Mom NEEDS Chocolate
I frequently get asked by aspiring writers to clarify writerspeak terms, so here's a few that I thought might be helpful to those just getting their feet wet in the sea of publication.

Copyright: Exclusive legal right to an artistic or literary work that is original and fixed in tangible form. Copyright exists for the life of the author + 70 years.

Permission must be granted from the copyright owner to use more than two lines of a poem, song, or passage. A copyright owner can be tracked down at

Public Domain: Work available for public use, usually because the rights have expired (e.g. the author is long dead and more than 70 years have passed).

Libel: A false printed statement about a living person that may damage his/her reputation, occupation, or business. Libel does not apply to stated opinions or dead people. Corporations and products can be libeled as well as individuals; beware of stating false statements as opinion (there's some gray area here but I wouldn't chance a lawsuit).

Invasion of privacy: May include intrusion upon seclusion (people have a legal right to their privacy), public disclosure of private facts (e.g. medical problems, sexual practices), false light (false portrayal that would be offensive to "reasonable" people; can be positive or negative), and commercial appropriation (using someone's name or image to endorse a product without permission).

I hope this helps un-muddy the water a bit. Special thanks to Jennie Miller Helderman for her excellent educational information that contributed to the above.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Flying by the Seat of my Pants

Deb in London Metro
Whew! It's been quite a whirlwind since the March release of More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming Your Inner Ogre. Hence the irregular blog posts. My apologies if you've noticed.

But then it's always crazy-busy for a few months when a book first releases. Just during the months of March and April, I've had twelve radio or podcast interviews, two bookstore signings, and nine speaking engagements.

I actually enjoy the events themselves, once I get there and begin to meet all the lovely people. It's the physical traveling that gets to you, and the inability to spend any focused time on the next book. And that deadline looms large just around the corner.

Such is the struggle of all contracted authors: you must actively promote one book while you're working feverishly on the next. Sometimes when people ask you about something you've said, you can't remember what's in which book. Or you can't even remember what on earth they're talking about - I've had to ask a few radio hosts to quote me to me so I'll know what I said.

Anyway, I've often wished for Toast Master experience but for the last few years I've been so busy speaking that I never properly learned how to speak. So I'm going to remedy that next week by attending an in-depth workshop for speakers up in Georgia. (Ha! How many people in this country can say "up" in Georgia?)

I'm looking forward to it but at the same time, am quite nervous that I'll find out I've been doing it wrong all this time. Over 100 speaking gigs over the past three years, and I hadn't a clue what I was doing, just flew by the seat of my pants. I know what I like to hear in a speaker and I try to give that same thing to the audience: a few laughs, some helpful take-away points, and a lot of good stories.

I guess I'm really a storyteller beneath it all, and that's where my heart lies. I could sit and listen to a good storyteller all day, and learned early on that if I ever see an audience begin to drift, I can always bring 'em back with a juicy story.

What's a story you've heard that has had an impact on your life? Something that really stuck with you. I'd love for you to share it with me. 

Well, enough rambling for now. Got to work on speeches for two upcoming events. Sure wish I knew what I was doing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Self-Publishing Online

Many people are researching self-publishing these days so I thought you'd find this info interesting. 

Here are some check-list items for uploading your manuscript to Amazon, which were shared at a recent workshop I attended by Lisa and Gina Nardini, sisters who recently self-published the children's middle grade book, The Underwear Dare, available both print and e-copies.

The Nardini sisters made over $12,000 the first year their book was released, so I would say whatever they're doing, they're doing it right!\..

1. Edit thoroughly
2. Develop a website for your book
3. Update your Facebook page and start collecting friends
4. Start a Facebook page for fans of your book
5. Set up a Twitter account and a Blog
6. Prepare a Press Release
7. Order business cards and bookmarks
8. Pick a fictitious name for your publishing company
9. File paperwork for this fictitious company
10. Choose your front and back book covers
11. Develop a marketing plan; include giveaways (order at least 50 extra copies)
12. Start thinking about tags (key words that describe your book)
13. Come up with a great hook
14. Think of at least ten friends you can send your book to for a good review
15. Plan a Facebook launch party for your book

Now you're ready to upload to Amazon.

Here are a few more crucial things to do after your book releases

1. Donate copies to your local library.
2. Link to other good (similar) books on your website (this will drive traffic)
3. Put photos and all the books on your Amazon Author page on your bio.
4. When using Twitter, use hashtags frequently, your link, and retweet often
5. Follow connected authors on Twitter by searching hashtags
6. Use Listmania on Amazon for free advertising (get on a list of books similar to yours)
7. List up to 15 tags (key words that describe your book on Amazon); tag words in your title, subject, tie your book to other "big" books, etc.

So how about you? Are you considering self-publishing online?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Best Reason in the World for Hairy Legs

Woo Hoo - it's finally here! More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming Your Inner Ogre, the second book in Barbour's "Take On Life" series hit bookshelves on March 1.

And its author hit the floor running.

I realize that most folks don't have a clue what goes into a book launch and why for about six weeks following the book release authors look like they just slid off their Harleys after a cross-country jaunt without a helmet or Twinkies (the bare essentials).

So now is the time to explain why I can't meet you for lunch this week, why I won't be running any extra laps around the grocery store, and why I couldn't in a million years help you learn origami this month.

Since publishers closely follow book sales during the first eight weeks after a book comes out, authors must put all their fragile eggs in one basket and throw every bit of their weight into selling as many books as humanly possible during that time period.We know that publishers will take an impressive start into consideration when considering another book contract. And a slow start can work against you in the same way.

What makes an impressive start?

Well, that varies, but most authors agree that sales of 4-5k books during the first two months would do the trick, with the goal of at least 10k sales by the 4th or 5th month. If sales don't exceed 15k by the 7th or 8th month, you really won't have much of a leg to stand on in negotiating your next contract.

How do authors increase sales? By getting out there and generating interest by:

Nook (literally) & cranny,
Kindle a fire under readers
Speak to as many groups that can stand you
Saturate the media, including radio, TV, and newspaper interviews
Blog interviews and book reviews
Plaster your book cover everywhere
Set up book signings and/or readings (See my Event Schedule at
Run cool contests with great prizes (Like my "Name My Next Book" contest at
Have a FaceBook Launch Party (mine's on March 22, 8 pm ET on my Amazon author page - join the fun!)

Yep, making your book visible (and yourself by proximity), is vital. Of course all these things take an enormous amount of time, energy, and foresight. We actually have to start the ball rolling about two months before the release date, sometimes longer. Some bookstores require signings to be scheduled 2-3 months in advance, and many newspapers must be notified at least  8 weeks ahead of book-related events in order to print notices or book release announcements.

To give you some idea of how all this plays out, I have four radio interviews scheduled during just the first two weeks of March (more later), and 13 speaking events during the 7 weeks following the release date of More Beauty, Less Beast. Notices or articles should come out in four different newspapers, and my PR gal is diligently working on several TV interviews as we speak.

Whew! It's a whirlwind all right, but you know it's coming when you sign up for this gig. Or at least you hope it will because that means you're having a book published. You tell yourself you can rest later, and hope that low sales don't dictate that this will be your last book. If things go well, and another book contract rolls down the chute, you'll be doing it all over again in about six months.

So there you have it. The reason why girl authors (even authors of Beauty books!) with new releases have greasy hair, starving families, and hairy legs.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Keeping Our Writerly Spirits Up

A cool shot of the sunset on our way to England
I've been bustling around getting ready for the March 1 release of my newest inspirational women's book, More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming Your Inner Ogre. 

Between arranging speaking gigs, filling out blog interviews, and writing articles, I managed to squeeze in a 3-day trip with Spouse to sign permit papers that our builder needed for a much-anticipated addition to our wee Smoky Mt. cabin.

It was incredibly cool seeing the room and porch that had been mere whimsy in my head for so many years actually coming to fruition. (Check out the photo I posted on FB).

Not unlike writing a book, really. It's absolutely amazing when the plot and characters that have been bouncing around in your head for ages finally take physical form in your story. No more wondrous feeling like that in the whole world!

Must be a little like the Almighty felt when he first created a zebra.

Anyway, since we can't be there to oversee the construction work (we live 9 hours away),  it's kind of like being in one of those reality shows where you come home to find your house has been remodeled while you were away. I just gave the builder my 3rd grade skill level stick drawing of the house in my head and he's taking it and running with it. Talk about blind trust!

But what I really wanted to talk about was what happened in the Franklin, NC bookstore near the hotel in which we camped out (couldn't stay in the cabin with the construction mess). Spouse and I had an hour to kill so we did one of our favorite things and browsed the awesome goods at Dalton's Christian Bookstore. It was a weekday evening and although I had been there before on previous trips, I didn't recognize any of the sales clerks.

While I was selecting the books I wanted to purchase, I looked around (as I always do in bookstores) for my own books and located both Everyday Hope and Mom NEEDS Chocolate. But I couldn't find Too Blessed to be Stressed, my book just released last August :(

I was so bummed.

I couldn't be happy that this wonderful store graciously carried my other two recent books, no. Instead I began obsessing that they'd intentionally passed on the other one because my writing just wasn't good enough. Mine just didn't measure up to the other books on the shelves. (I know, I know - this reasoning makes no sense at all when they carried my other two books, but since when does self-condemnation make sense?)

So I worked myself into a grand funk, digging my I'm-such-a-lousy-writer-everyone-hates-my-book pit deeper and deeper until I stood at the checkout feeling terrible about myself. It's a wonder buzzards weren't circling overhead.

The teen clerk went about her business ringing me up while I stood there feeling like a big fat failure.

It was then that I noticed from the corner of my eye, someone staring at me. It was the store manager, Lisa, whom I'd only met once and that was six months ago. "I LOVE your new book!" she burst out. "We read from Too Blessed to be Stressed every morning in our staff devotional time and we all laugh our heads off. I've recommended it to so many people. Did you see our display?"

Um, no, I hadn't. And so I just jumped to rotten conclusions and started beating up myself.

Why do we writers do this? Is it only me, or do you struggle with constantly flagging writerly self-esteem too? Can you share with me some of the ways you shake the funk?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ignited to Blog

Snow-dusted flowers at our mountain cabin
I have to admit that I'm one of those people who sometimes dashes off the starting line with topnotch intentions and great expectations, and then somehow gets side-tracked completely off the racetrack onto a rabbit trail.

Blogging's like that. I start out well, faithfully posting weekly on my two blogs (besides this one primarily for writers, I keep a personal blog as well:

But then I get immersed in a writing project, most recently my book coming out in March, More Beauty, Less Beast. I begin to blog less and less frequently, and the next thing I know, it's been a month or more.

Sigh. Not good, Deb, not good.

So knowing I needed a little cyber shot in the arm, I attended a blogging workshop last night, conducted by Daphne of Torch Designs ( and was amazed by the following blogging trivia:

  • According to Neilsen, 181 million public blogs are currently in existence.
  • During the last 24-hours, 88,000 blogs were created.
  • Posts perform best on Thursdays and Fridays; worst on Saturdays.
  • The best posting times are in the early mornings, between 5-6 pm (just after work hours), and late nights when people are cruising.
  • The worst posting time is during 9-5 daytime work hours, when minds are preoccupied.

I don't know about you, but I find these facts fascinating. And motivating! With all those gazillion blogs floating around in computer world, I want mine to be one worth your time. One that stands out. One that you send your friends to.

So I'm planning to make a few changes, research what would best meet your needs as an aspiring writer, consume more roughage, and return to regularity. Well, maybe not the roughage part.

Can you give me a head start, reader friends? What are some of the things you'd like most to see in a writer's blog? More personal stories? Less? How-to's? Tips? Famous author quotes? Article references? What floats your literary boat?