Sunday, December 22, 2013

Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth

Deb in Barcelona
I was in my readers zone, oblivious to the rest of the world rotating around me, reading contentedly away, when I came across a quote. Not just any quote. A quote from my very mouth. Or at least my very keyboard. 

Only it didn't include my name. If I hadn't written it myself, I would have never known it was me who'd uttered it.

"Someone once said ..."
"I read that ..."
"Once upon a time there was a crazy lady writer who said ..."

Have you ever run head on into your own anonymous self in print? If you haven't yet, dear writer buddy, you will one day. It's a very strange sensation, indeed, to recognize your own words but realize no one else will.

Writers don't give quote credit where credit is due for many reasons. Sometimes they don't know who said it and are just too lazy to plug it in a search engine. Other times they mean no harm - they're just repeating something they heard and liked and want to share.

But sometimes they want the reader to connect the words they've "borrowed" with themselves; they're not blatant enough to outright plagiarize, but on the other hand, they're not upright enough to cite their references. And they think if they sort of schmooze the clever quote in among their words, their writing will magically be better by literary osmosis.

I once recognized a funny story lifted right out of one of my books ( not attributed to me, of course) that made the viral rounds. I was at first honored in a smug sort of way to realize gazillions of people were reading my story that was being forwarded to the vast corners of the earth.

But it didn't take long to realize that unless they knew who wrote those words, it was no honor at all. It then became to feel more like an insult and I became enraged at the audacity of whomever felt they had the right to steal the product I work so hard to produce. That's right. Stories are the products of authors, just like TV's are the products of Sony technicians.

I'll bet if I heisted a big screen TV on my back in the electronic showroom and tried to walk out with it, there might be a bit of a kerfuffle. Yet no one bats an eyelash when a writer's products are heisted.

So please, dear writer buddy, take the high road. Cite your references. And refuse to forward anything, no matter how rib-tickling or tear-jerking it is, unless it includes the writer's byline.  

Somebody wrote it. And one day, that somebody might be you.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Lay A Big One On Me

I saw this image and immediately fell in love.

If you're a rabid reader like me, how can you NOT feel the embrace depicted here? The love affair with the written word and all the deep emotions, exciting adventures and undiscovered worlds it has the potential to deliver?

It's a strong writer who recognizes that potential and vows to do whatever it takes to open up that vast world of promise to the reader. 

As primarily a nonfiction writer, I bristle when someone implies that creativity and imagination apply only to fiction. Bah! That's like saying you can't put sugar on your vegetables, and we all know green beans have never tasted better than with a sweet sprinkle. (Spouse discovered this decades ago and we've had very few leftover beans since.)

Creative nonfiction is an art and must be nurtured and developed like any other art form. Presenting what could be wearisome, boring  facts in a fetching and interesting way is a challenge that many don't appreciate until they try to do it.

The series I'm currently writing, Barbour's Take On Life series, deals a lot with scripture, which some people find tedious and dry, but I never have. The challenge is to transfer the light and life and inspiration I derive from Papa God's Word onto the written page so that the reader is drawn into the excitement.

So that her heart is engaged.

So that the words of LIFE pop off the page and embrace her with its hope and love, much like the picture above.

So as a writer, how do you bring words to life? As a reader, what do you look for in a book that makes it breathe, have a pulse and scratch it's nose?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nothing New Under the Sun

Our view while driving on Italy's beautiful Amalfi Coast
I was recently reading a blog post at the WordServe Water Cooler, by author Patty Kirk, about Bible passages that are excellent how-to examples for us writers. Many point out basic principles that would enhance the writing of any aspiring author.

I decided to expand upon Patty's examples and create a list of my own:

Luke 1:3-4: Before tackling the actual manuscript, careful investigation and some form of organization in compiling research data is a must. Outlines are also a good way of sticking to your point and writing orderly. The apostle Luke said it well: "It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account."
  • 2 Corin. 1:13: Cut the fluff. Edit out anything that doesn't move the story forward ... and it must he readable. Avoid excessive verbiage that floats in the atmosphere above the average head. Aim instead for the heart. Here's the apostle Paul's take: "For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you wil understand, even to the end." 

  • Song of Solomon 7:3-4: Poetic prose is lovely and flows across the mind as well as the tongue. Stylistic devices such as metaphors, similies, exclamations and hyperbole can be quite effective. Take a look at how Solomon (attributed as the wisest man who ever lived) uses these devices in this make-you-blush passage to his bride: " How fair and how pleasant you are, O love, with your delights! This stature of yours is like a palm tree, and your breasts like its clusters. I said, 'I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of its branches.' Let now your breasts be like clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and the roof of your mouth like the best wine." (Somewhat kinder than the beginning of chapter 7 when he compares her waist to a heap of wheat and her nose to the tower of Lebanon.)

  •  Jeremiah 10:13: A wonderful example of sensory writing (using the senses of touch, taste, vision, hearing, and smell) to engage the reader in the scene: "When He utters his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens; 'And He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain. He brings the wind out of His treasuries.'"
  • Jeremiah 13:1-10: Use personal stories and anecdotes to make a point.  Jeremiah makes his point very well here with this personal account: "Thus the Lord said to me: 'Go and get yourself a linen sash, and put it around your waist, but do not put it n water.' So I got a sash according to the word of the Lord and put it around my waist. And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, 'Take the sash that you acquired, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a hole in the rock.' So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. Now it came to pass, after many days that the Lord said to me, 'Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the sash which I commanded you to hide there.' Then I went to the Euphrates and dug, and I took the sash from the place where I had hidden it' and there was the sash, ruined. It was profitable for nothing. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying ... 'This evil people , who refuse to hear My words, who follow the dictates of their hearts, and walk after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be just like this sash which is profitable for nothing.'"
  • Matthew 19:23-26: The Bible is full of parables and word pictures using commonly known, everyday objects to illustrate a higher point, many from Jesus himself, such as this memorable one: "And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Of course if you're an avid Bible reader (and I know you are), you'll find many, many more examples of the very things we're taught in writing workshops and conferences.

Not surprising, is it? That we get more than just life lessons from the Bible. The Book of all books. Like wise old Solomon said in the book of Proverbs, "There's nothing new under the sun."

*All scripture from NKJV translation

Friday, October 11, 2013

Whistle While You Work

Fla Inspirational Writers Retreat
Not long ago, during my workshop on creating book proposals at the 2013 Florida Inspirational Writers Retreat, one of the attendees posed an important question.

"When do you quit your day job?" she asked, a glimmer of self-employment hope in her eye. "I'm finished with my book now and ready to submit it to a publisher. When can I make writing my only profession?"

I took a deep breath.

"Well, um ... never." I replied with an apologetic little grimace, knowing my answer would disappoint her and the other wannabe full time authors in the room.

Fifty years ago, it might have been a realistic goal: writing a blockbuster book with the intention of becoming a full-time author. Making enough income from royalties and advances to have no other obligation except to spend your days tapping away at the keyboard. Even twenty years ago it was not unheard of. J.K. Rowling did it. Jerry Jenkins too. And a number of lesser known authors whose works lept from the starting gate and continue to sell well today.

And let's not forget the cyber-author phenoms who have sold e-books in the millions.

But for the average writer, it's probably not realistic to think you'll be able to quit your day job and live off your literary income within the next, say, ten years. Possibly twenty.

Why? One huge reason is that writing income is cumulative. The more books you sell, the more money you make. The more titles you have, the more books you sell. And the more years you've been churning out those best-selling books, the more titles you'll have.

The rub is that the books must sell well to produce significant income. Consider how many books you must sell to pay this month's grocery bill if you get 10% royalty on a $10 book. You'd have to sell nearly 100 just to pay for a week's gasoline. That's more copies than the average self-published book sells in its lifetime. And these days, traditionally published books average 3,000 total sales.

But don't fret. It's not such a bad thing to keep your day job. You'll be in good company. I still have mine (part-time occupational therapist for 33 years and counting), after 10 years, over 130 articles and 12 published books. I tell my writing workshop students that I need to work to support my habit. My writing habit.

 And here are a few other notable authors who wrote after work:

  • John Steinbeck ran a fish hatchery.
  • Harper Lee was a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines.
  • Stephen King was a janitor, school teacher, and washed hospital and restaurant linens. 
  • J. D. Salinger was the entertainment director on a Swedish luxury liner. 
  • Jack London stole oysters and then resold them. 

Ha! That last one cracks me up. Plus it helps introduce major reason number two: writing income is not terribly consistent. Some months are plump, some are lean. And those are inevitably when the A/C goes out. If you haven't any other income source to fall back on, desperation may lead you to the oyster beds.

Royalties generally only come in two or three times yearly, and you don't make ANY money in royalties until your advance is earned out. So if you received a $5k advance and your book only sells 3k copies, you'll never receive another nickel. Rule of thumb is that it takes around $10k copies sold to earn out an average advance, and after that you'll start making a modest income, which will gradually increase with the number of books you have out there still selling.

So chase your writerly dreams, dear friend, but do the math. And invest in some oyster buckets.  

*Special thanks for Kimberly Vargas for the list of author jobs in her 9/27/13 WordServe Water Cooler blog post

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mindless Munching

Oh, man. I just did it again. Without so much as a single conscious thought, my hand crept into my second desk drawer on the right and came out with a hunk of chocolate, which proceeded directly to my lips.

And now here I am, chewing away, like a cow with her cud, before I even realize that I'm mindlessly munching. Again.

It doesn't matter that this particular blob is not merely my regular chocolaty fare from my not-so-hidden stash - Snickers or Cadbury or Dove or on a really good day, Godiva. Nope. This particular chunk is from the seductive bar of expensive Swiss chocolate I brought back from my recent European vacation.

All the more reason I ought to be cognizant of every minuscule morsel I consume, right? I should savor every smooth, delicate molecule. Not just scarf it down while my attention is on my computer screen. Right?


So why am I now reaching for another pawful?

ARGGH! Here comes that familiar self-incriminating Saint Paul thing whomping on my psyche:

"I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don't do it ... I know perfectly well what I'm doing is wrong ... but I can't help myself" (Romans 7: 15 -17, NLT).

 Paul must have been a choco-athlete like me. I just know it. He didn't want to admit it because it was probably a big no-no to scarf cocoa in ancient Jewish culture. He understands me far too well not to be. And you, too, writer buddy! It may not always be chocolate, but mindless munching seems to be a universal problem with writers - I hear them grumbling about it to each other all the time at writing conferences.

If you've written for more than a week, you know the system. Write a sentence. Chew while you think about the next sentence. Mastication spurs imagination. Write another sentence. Chew some more. Go back and rewrite the first sentence. Ah, you know this one's a winner. Chew madly in celebration as you type. Repeat process. Finish the page and finally notice the empty Frito bag in your lap. Upturn the bag of crumbs into your mouth to get one good final chew so you can start the next chapter and fetch another bag.

Someone else who understands me is humorist/author Karen Scalf Linamen. I remember reading in one of her books (can't recall if it was Hand Over the Chocolate and No One Will Get Hurt or Chocolatherapy) about the time she decided to train herself to stop mindlessly munching while writing. So she filled her usual go-to candy dish with doggie treats and placed it high above her computer desk so that she would have to stand to reach it.

She soon became engrossed in fabricating her new chapter. The first time she came to, she was holding a doggie treat to her lips and opening her mouth. Ack! She threw it on the ground with a little scream. The little brown bone must have fallen out of the bowl because she had no memory of standing to retrieve it. Yucko. She would have to be more aware of earthquakes and wind gusts in her writing studio.

The next time her consciousness emerged, her hand was reaching into an empty candy dish as she stood chewing something extremely crunchy. It tasted faintly of chicken. And to add to her horror, the piece on the floor was missing. But her little dog had been outside all day. 

So tell me writerly friends, do you, too, struggle with mindless munching ... the chocholaty variety, Purina, or otherwise?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Becoming a Crossover Author

Deb in Speaker mode
I recently received an e-mail from a fledgling author asking for suggestions about finding a publisher for her manuscript. When I asked, "Is your book Christian or secular?" she replied, "Both. I want my book to be a crossover. My hope is to draw the secular to Christ through the book. I teach Christian principles in my book but I quote only four scriptures. Many great author/speakers like Joel Osteen, John Maxwell and Dave Ramsey do this."
The kind of audience every speaker loves

I believe my response to this well meaning gal is pertinent to many beginning authors:

Yes, I'd say pretty much ALL faith-based author/speakers that I've ever met have that same goal - to draw the secular to Christ through their books or presentations. The problem is that agents and publishers will scoff if you answer that question in that way, because to them, books are only sold to book buyers (bookstores, etc) by being one or the other, not straddling the line.

The hard truth is that non-Christians rarely pick up Christian books (intentionally), and sometimes get extremely angry if the book mentions even one scripture if it was marketed to them as secular. I just read a blog post about a very ugly incident to that effect that was written by a Christian agent about someone who bought her client's book that wasn't advertised as Christian, but contained a subtle Christian message. The buyer was highly offended, considered it false advertising, demanded a refund, and groused about it all over the internet.

Apparently this happens all the time. And vice versa, of course. Perhaps it's not fair, but it's the way it is. You pretty much have to have the overall label Christian, Inspirational, or NOT to make any headway with first agents, then publishers. They operate by labels and if you can't, they won't waste their time on you.

The "great author/speakers" you mentioned are all labeled Christian by the industry and have been able to carry over to a general audience (not secular, but general) because of their enormous platforms they've built through years of promoting their work as pertinent to both worlds. It's unlikely that you or I will achieve that in our lifetimes, unless we manage to land a national television audience or internet show that draws millions.

Oh, no one says you can't start out billing yourself a crossover author, but it will just make the path bumpier for you. Once you're established in one side or the other and have obtained a loyal readership, then you have a better chance of successfully crossing over.

One solution is to do what I did and pitch your book as "written from a Christian perspective, but seeker-friendly." That way pubs know you're in the Christian camp, but your manuscript has gift book potential or would be unoffensive for those not particularly looking for a "Christian book." I get letters all the time from readers who have bought my books for their non-believing friends because they were, "just the non-intimidating, gentle faith-sharing message I've been looking for."

You know, it's like the advice given to newbie writers who try to write by their own rules instead of adhering to the established rules of the trade: Sure, you can write like ee cummings or Hemingway if you want. But you're NOT ee cummings or Hemingway and you'll very likely still be trying to get published ten years from now because you haven't paid your dues to become ee cummings or Hemingway as they did.

Wait until you've proven you know how to follow the rules before you break them.

How about you, friend? What has been your experience in crossing over?  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tackling One-Pagers (Part 2)

With a good one-pager, you've got it made in the shade
Please review Part 1 in my previous post before proceeding with this post so we're all on the same page (pun intended, snicker, snicker).

A one-pager basically contains the same information a query letter would include, and should answer the following questions:

1. What qualifies you to write this book? (Your platform; keep your bio BRIEF - they can and will look up your website if they're interested so no need to list it all here.)

2. What is the book about? (Short synopsis: make it interesting and craft a killer hook first sentence.)

3. What's the basic pub info? (Word count, page count - approximate if book isn't completed, genre, bookstore category, completion status - how much longer will it take?, format, endorsements.)

4. Who is your audience? (Age, gender, special interests - do your homework and be specific!)

5. Why will this book be marketable? (What makes it stand above the rest of the pack?)

6. How will you assist in marketing? (Outline your marketing plan, and it should include numbers - your current social media followers and how you intend to market to them.)

Obviously, since all of this is to be included on ONE  page, each question should be answered in one paragraph if possible, two at the most. Write tight and keep the emphasis on the book, not on you.

One-pagers are valuable PR ammo and should be created with extreme care. They often open doors to book contracts. Make no mistake: This is your audition with this agent or publisher and your first impression COUNTS. If it doesn't pique their interest, it will be the only sample of your writing they will ever see.

You have one shot ... make it count!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tackling One-Pagers (Part 1)

If someone could build Stonehenge, you can build a one-pager
Mini me. Proposal in a nutshell. Hope on a rope. One-pager. One sheet. Oh, just shoot me. My last prayer.

I've heard all of these terms used to describe the same thing: THE most important item you'll carry to your next writer's conference. Your one-pager.

A one-pager is a single-spaced sheet of paper you'll hand out to editors and/or agents as a convenient (much easier for them to carry than a dozen bulky proposals pushed on them by rabid author wannabes) follow-up to your verbal book proposal presentation.

Trust me - I've spoken to enough editors to know they'll appreciate you thoughtfulness in considering their overburdened rotator cuffs and this will bode well for you during decision time.

A one-pager should include your contact info (write it on your letterhead if you have one), working title and subtitle prominently displayed, your head shot (professional, please, NOT a cell phone snapshot!) and should be written in the tone in which your book is written.

Describe the storyline/synopsis in third person present tense (using "is" instead of "was") and the idea is to make the reader (editor/agent) want to hear more. Writing your bio in third person enables the editor/agent to see how effective (and impressive) it would appear in promotional materials if they offer you a contract.

Your writing should be tight, concise, well crafted, and thoroughly edited. Include any slogans or tag lines that create promotional appeal (like a movie teaser: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in to the water.")

I don't know any experienced writers with a manuscript at the proposal stage who don't approach writer's conferences without their one-pagers. If the editor/agent to whom you've pitched your book idea is interested in following up, they'll have everything they need to convince their publishing house team that your project has promise, and to get in touch with you to request a partial or full proposal. After that ... Lord willing and the creek don't rise ... the next request will be for your manuscript.

There are certain points about your book that must be included for your one-pager to be effective. Stay tuned to my next post for the clincher!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Word Fun

Deb enjoying a proper view of London
I ran across some more very cool word facts I thought you might enjoy.

"Fickleheaded" and "fiddledeedee" are the longest words consisting only of letters in the first half of the alphabet. (I use fickleheaded at least once a day, don't you?)

The lunula is the half-moon shaped pale area at the bottom of fingernails.

"Ma is as selfless as I am" reads the same spelled forwards or backwards.

The only number (spelled out) from one to one thousand that contains the letter "a" is one thousand.

"Underground" is the only word in the English languish that begins and ends with the letters "und."

Commonly misspelled words:
all right
calendar (I screw this one up every single time!)

And there's another misspelled word in this post ... did you catch it?

Okay, I confessed. Now what's your spelling word nemesis?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Can't Win 'Em All

Deb's favorite Banyan tree from Billowing Sails
While emailing an award-winning journalist that I love, love, loved her recent article, I casually mentioned that I have a new book out and if she'd happen to like a copy, I'd be happy to send one right along.

I think I'm performing a little savvy publicity move, right? Maybe, just maybe, she'll like my book enough for a mention in one of her articles to her big - no, HUGE - readership.

I'm practically salivating over the possibilities, so when she responds in the affirmative, I'm dancing on sunbeams. Big woohoo!!

Fast forward four weeks. Still no word from my new ticket-to-paradise journalist BFF, but she's written another article that I wish I had. It's really, really good. So good that I'm back at my computer zipping off another congrats-on-a-grandslam-piece email.

Within an hour, I see in my inbox a reply. With heart dancing pitty-pat, I click on what I hope is a note stating, "I'm so glad you wrote again - it reminds me to tell you I'm planning a two-page spread on your exceptional writing career and this fantastic book, Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate. When can the newspaper photographer schedule a photo shoot?"

But what I find is a bit different. It's a lone sentence thanking me for my kind words. And after her signature, a tacked on P.S. mentioning that oh, yes, by the way, she liked my book and is loaning it to her cleaning lady.


One can only hope her cleaning lady is a book reviewer for the New York Times.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pruning Pains (Editing is not for Sissies)

Editing can be gut-wrenching. As every writer/self-editor knows, whacking your darlings is never easy. You feel wounded with every slash of the red ink; your heart pangs with every press of the delete button. You agonize as you ruthlessly hack and snip and chop words and phrases that you struggled to create in the first place.

And then when you're finished, you're never sure if you've actually improved anything. Maybe you've just shortened the torment.

But then you run across a masterpiece of editing and you understand why it's necessary. Why you must muscle through the painful process in order to birth a living, breathing baby. A perfect living, breathing being.

I was watching the wonderful film, Sabrina, the other night, and one of those editing-masterpiece scenes slapped me across the face. (It wasn't the original with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, but the the remake with Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear as the fabulously wealthy brothers Larraby.)

As the story goes, Sabrina, the Larraby's awkward, frizzy chauffeur's daughter who has grown up on the mammoth Long Island estate completely smitten with David, the dashing, carefree young brother (Greg Kinnear), undergoes a metamorphosis while working abroad. She finds herself in Paris. Or at least a stunningly drop-dead gorgeous version of herself that knocks the socks off hapless David upon her return.

The problem is that David is now engaged to a beautiful physician, the daughter of another mega-wealthy New York business tycoon, and a multi-billion dollar merger between the Larraby Corporation and this gal's daddy is hanging in the balance.

David's older brother Linus (an adorably deadpan, seriously nerdy Harrison Ford), begins to court poor confused Sabrina to sabotage the budding romance between her and David. He will woo her, win, her, and then dump her in Paris in order to save the financial day. But his brilliant plan runs amok when he accidentally truly falls in love with Sabrina and she with him.

And here's where the editing masterpiece scene comes in. 

Linus has just realized he can't follow through with his plan to unceremoniously dump Sabrina in Paris (although he doesn't understand why he suddenly feels this way) and he's spilling the beans to her in his usual hard-nosed, calloused way.

One can imagine the writer scribbling away at the original scene, pouring out all the juicy stuff that is obviously playing through the brain of clueless, never-before-been-in-love Linus. There is so much that could have been said here ... and likely was said in the first draft. And maybe even second draft. But none of it made it through the ruthless editing process. The dialogue is sparse. It's basically barren. But because of Linus's no-nonsense, business-only personality that has already been established by the excellent script, it works. It WORKS. Big time.

So here's what Linus intones in his gravelly monotone voice in response to Sabrina's impassioned, "Why did you lie to me?"

"There was a marriage.
There was a merger.
You got in the way."

That's all. But with all the volumes left unsaid, it was more than enough. More is not better in writing, especially dialogue. And this dozen or so words was beautifully haunting in a lingering-in-your-soul sort of pain.

So what's your favorite example of excellent editing? I'd love to hear it?


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Keeping Your Tank Full (Achieving Goals - Part 2)

Lovely London
Refresh your memory of the first half of these goal-achieving tips by scrolling down to my last post.

Done? Okay. Here are the rest:

#6. Get up. Get out. Seek inspiration. And don't feel guilty about it. Read what you'd like to write, watch film versions of your favorite books. Get your creative blood pumping. Expand your possibilities.

#7. Get smart. Go to workshops and writing conferences, join online and live writing communities. The goals and achievements of other people will fuel your own. 

#8. Read your own best stuff. Remind yourself of your God-given gift and watch the magic reappear. Remotivation will inspire bold new goals and give you a kick in pants to go after them.

#9. Get a writing buddy. Someone who understands the craziness of the literary life. Meet regularly to share your goals and encourage each other to stick to them. Keep each other accountable.

#10. Celebrate successes, however small. Make a big deal out of achieving short-term and long-term goals. Splurge on a Dove bar when you finally finish today's 800-word goal. Buy yourself a new hat when you complete that manuscript. Take Spouse out to his favorite restaurant when you get an article accepted for publication.

Celebrating goals that you've worked to achieve will keep your tank thirsty for more fuel. And that's what will propel you over the finish line!

So, writerly friend, what fills your goal-setting tank?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Keeping Your Tank Full (Achieving Goals - Part 1)

Looking up in London
Goals, goals, goals. The bread and butter of the writing life. Set them. Refine them. Achieve them. Set more. Repeat ad nauseum.

I think now and then it helps to receive a little creative input about the goal-setting/refining/achieving process. At the very least, it gives us a figurative wedgie to goad us into action. 

So here are ten ideas to get your literary goal-producing juices flowing. 

1. Ask yourself: Why am I doing this? What do I hope to accomplish today? Tomorrow? By next year? Then follow that question up with another: What do I have to do to make this goal possible? Jot down your answers and tape them to your computer desk just over the monitor so you can see them daily.

2. Assess your time management. Are you getting the most effective use of the limited writing time you have? Are you using your prime creative time to do your most important writing, or are you frittering that time away answering e-mails and doing busywork, leaving your primary writing project for when you're mostly-dead?

3. Schedule how much daily time you will allot to online activity, and STOP when the gong bongs. Don't let social media become the boss of you.

4. Scarf chocolate. Seriously. Chocolate triggers endorphins that can make you feel infatuated .. falling in love with your project is a surefire way to get it finished and promoted with the utmost enthusiasm.

5. Consider all the writing you do as skill-building fodder. Even e-mails and less-than-stimulating research. You can't change the fact that these are a necessary part of the writing life, so give them your best creative effort and make them the best writing they can be.

Stay tuned for #6-10 on my next post. See you then! 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot (Improving Your Speaking Skills - part 2)

The day Deb learned not to stand behind a podium
In case you didn't notice, this is Part 2 in a series, so before you do anything else, scroll back to Part 1 to refresh your memory on the first five tips to improve your speaking skills.

Now we're ready to boogie on down the road ...

6. Focus on one theme per presentation. You may add subheadings or points, but don't muddy the water of your one central theme. Repeat it at the beginning, middle, and end of your speech.

7. Include humor to keep your audience awake. Mix it up. Boring is BAD. Use personal anecdotes, illustrations and props liberally. Sandwich seriousness between slices of humor so that the listeners will go away with plenty of meat but simultaneously feel entertained. 

8. Have the audience participate whenever possible. Use volunteers to demonstrate a point. Ask questions and respond to the answers. I like to throw in a funny sing-along song at the end of my women's presentations so that everyone leaves energized and smiling.

9. Prepare a list of what you need and give it to your host ahead of time: CD player, DVD player, lapel mic, small props table, large book table, small music stand for your notes (NOT a podium built for a 6'2" man - see example above), someone to run the AV equipment at your cue, etc. Also make sure you've discussed and agreed upon your fee ahead of time; payment after services rendered is customary.  

10. The close of your speech should be all about take-away. What truth did you want your audience to take home from your talk? In what way will this truth help their quality of life? Was self-application or follow-through expressed clearly? Come across as a friendly cheerleader eager for them to succeed, not as an unconcerned lecturer of dry knowledge. It's cliche but true: Nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.

So what do you think, speakerly friends? Is there anything else you would add?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot (Improving Your Speaking Skills - part 1)

Dynamic presenter. Effective communicator. Awesome speaker.

Are these how you'd like to be described after your next speaking gig?

Of course you would. That's the goal for all of us writers-turned-speakers. But sometimes it doesn't feel terribly achievable. After all, we didn't sign up for this. We only wanted to write ... to hang out in our bathrobes and curlers expressing ourselves on a nice safe sheet of paper without having to worry about our appearance.

Or fumble-tongue mistakes.

Or the judgment we perceive sleeting down upon our heads from unsympathetic gawking eyeballs.

We feel, like Sean Connery so eloquently expressed as the reclusive writer in the fine film, Finding Forrester, "Writers write so readers can read." I'll add another caveat to that: "...and so speakers can speak." Put another way, let someone else get up in front of people and leave poor timid writers alone to do their jobs in their dark, secluded writing caves.

But somehow it happened. The publisher considering the manuscript you've slaved over for-ev-er dropped the bomb: "We'll only seriously consider publishing your book if you'll seriously consider hitting the road as a speaker to promote it."

Gulp. And so it begins. Building your platform. One plank at a time.

I'd like to offer some nails to help hold those planks together and establish a firm foundation for your speaking platform. Some of my suggestions are adapted from the SCORRE Conference I attended last year, a fantastic training workshop for speakers put together by Dynamic Communications International president Ken Davis, and Michael Hyatt, platform-building guru, best-selling author, and former Thomas Nelson Publishers chairman. (I highly recommend you Google SCORRE Conferences and attend one if you're planning a reluctant speaking career). 

And some of my suggestions for improving your speaking skills are from my own experience gleaned from speaking to approximately 200 groups over the past four years.

1. Whatever you thought the point of your speech was, rethink it. The real point is to help each person in your audience in some way. Forget yourself; what can you do for them?

2. You need to know more about your subject than most of your audience does. That means preparation: research, knowing it, living it, and sufficient practice in sharing it effectively.

3. Practice in front of your own reflection; observe distracting mannerisms like swaying back and forth (many moms do this subconsciously), jerky head movements, unpleasant expressions, too few or too grand hand gestures, blinking or lip-licking that appears unnatural.

4. Tape yourself. Listen for gaps, awkward connective phrases like "uhs," "umms," and "okays." Beware of monotone delivery (vary your tone without sounding like a World Series radio announcer). Pace yourself (not too fast or too slow). Work on understandable diction.   

5. Clearly define your objective when preparing your presentation. What do you hope to accomplish?

For the sake of avoiding long-windedness, this list will be continued on my next post. Stay tuned ...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Awaken the Sleeping Giant: Writing Buddies

Writing Buddy Workshop on Merritt Island
My long-time friend and fellow inspirational writer, Ruth, had a dream the other night. An odd dream. 

In her dream, Ruth and her husband were in bed, sleeping soundly. Suddenly, in the darkness of midnight, she was awakened by a presence in the room. 

Startled and discombobulated, and not sure whether the intruder was friend or foe, she glanced about the room wildly until her eyes settled on a figure in the doorway.

Whoa. What a frightening sight. It was me! Her good ole' writing pal Debbie standing there grinning in my jammies. And in the dream, I bounded over to her bedside, proclaiming, "I just had a great story idea; scooch over and I'll tell you all about it!"

So poor befuddled Ruth quickly scooched over toward her husband, nearly knocking the sleeping man off the bed in the process, and I climbed in bed beside her, nestling happily down into the warm covers. There we lay, the three of us, as if this were the most normal thing in the world.

Writing buddies. All writers - aspiring or advanced - need them.

Maybe not to crawl into bed with us in the middle of the night, no. But certainly to bounce our ideas off, critique our work honestly, and to provide us with accountability when we can't seem to keep our butt on the computer chair. And more important than anything else, to truly understand and sympathize with the crazy frustrations we go through in slogging through the mud on the path to publication.  

No matter where you are in the process, you need a writer buddy. I need a writer buddy. All God's chil'ren need writer buddies.

You never know where relationships with writer buddies will lead. I co-wrote a book with one of mine. I co-founded an annual writers retreat with another. Yet another wrote a piece about her writer buddy relationship with me that was published in a national trade journal.

So don't go it alone. Ditch the isolation blues. Grab a chi tea latte and a table at Starbucks to hash over that problem spot in your manuscript with your writer bud.

Just, for heaven's sake, stay out of her bed.   

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cool Word Contest

Deb making new friends
I ran across these cool word facts recently and thought you writerly types would appreciate them.

+ "Facetious" and "abstemious" are the only words that contain all the vowels in the correct order.

+ "Almost" is the longest commonly used word in teh English language with all the letters in alphabetical order.

+ "Teh" means "cool" in Thai. It's pronounced "tay." (Now you can tell everyone you meant to do it when you make typos like the one above!)

+ "Fortnight" is a contraction of "fourteen nights," which has been generally replaced by "two weeks" in modern English.(Of course all you Shakespeare groupies already knew this!)

+ If you were a Lone Ranger and Tonto fan, you'll like this one: "Kemo sabe," meaning "all knowing one," is actually a mispronunciation by Native Americans of the Spanish phrase, "quien lo sabe," meaning "one who knows."

+ "Rhythms" is the longest English word without the normal vowels a, e, i, o, or u. 

+ "Ough" can be pronounced in eight different ways. Here's a sentence containing them all: "A rough-coated, dough-faced ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough, coughing and hiccoughing thoughtfully." (Note from Deb: These days we spell it "hiccuping," but this is the acceptable old-world spelling.)

Okay, now for you word geeks, a few for you to figure out (don't cheat by looking them up!):

1. What's the commonly used word that's spelled the same in English, French, German, Swedish, Portuguese, and Dutch? (Hint: Travelers use this word frequently.)

2. What's considered the toughest tongue twister in the English language? (Hint: It has something to do with ill livestock.)

3. Name the only English word that ends in the letters "mt." (Hint: It's something you probably did last night.)

4. What is the only spelled-out numeral whose number of letters in the word equals the number? (If you're observant, I've already given you a really BIG hint!)

5. What's the longest word that can be typed with only the left hand? (Hint: It's the out-of-date plural form of a well known profession.)

E-mail me your answers at and I'll send everyone who gets all five correct an autographed copy of my new book, Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate.   

Happy wordsmithing! 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Unrequited Love

Deb's Book Signing
In my books, I tell a lot of stories. Some funny. Some poignant. All true - well, at least they're based on truth - and many are about people I know.

In fact, it's a standing joke among my friends that you'd better watch what you say around Deb because it very well might end up in a book. 

So fair's fair. It's time to tell a hilariously embarrassing story on me. One that seems especially fitting a few days before Valentine's Day.

I had a book signing yesterday at a local bookstore. We (the manager and some awesomely loyal readers and faithful friends in my community) were celebrating the release of Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate. 

The morning looked promising enough. When I arrived twenty minutes early for the well advertised event, three people were already waiting at my book table for my signature in the copies they'd already purchased before I got there. Super duper.

I happily chatted and signed copies of F3 with the first two as Rick, a dear man from my writers group whom I had known for several years, stood back in gentlemanly fashion to let the others go first. He really is a truly nice guy, this Rick - an excellent writer on his own merit and always supportive of my books, even my current series for women.

When it was his turn, Rick plopped two books in front of me, stating cheerily, "One of these is for Joy, and the other is for my niece."

"Great," I said, flipping the cover open. I didn't know Rick's wife, but I was sure if she was married to this perpetually smiling man, she must have a dandy sense of humor.

"For Joy," I penned inside the flap, "I love your husband!"

I was intending to write more but at that moment, Rick, who was peering at the inscription as I scribbled, hesitantly broke in. "Um, Deb ... do you know Joy's husband?" he asked with a strange little quirky grin on his face.

My pen froze in mid-air. "What do you mean?" I asked, a premonitory seed of doom sprouting somewhere deep in my innards. "Isn't that you?" 

Suddenly it hit me. The conversation Rick and I had had several months before about the mutual friend who was my professional hand therapy colleague and his next door neighbor. Joy. 

Uh, oh.

We hooted with laughter at the same time as we realized my mistake.

I just hope Joy does the same when she sees the written confession of her husband's love affair with a crazy writer who oughta stick with just signing her name. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

You, too, can do Extraordinary

Aspiring writers often ask me tips on how to get published. They do this, well meaning enough, while showing me their "completed" manuscript, which they finished writing just yesterday and think is ready to submit to publishers and editors and agents and anyone else in the free world who'll appreciate their exquisite work of art.

My answer: Let me tell you a story.

Last year I got a new kitchen floor. The sample tile was so beautiful, shining like a slice of sunshine there in the store, I couldn't resist. I was was tired of the dull, lifeless, uninspiring tile that had besodded my kitchen for decades. (I don't think besodded is a word, but it should be.) I was ready to wow unsuspecting house guests and awaken every morning to a cheerful, gleaming floor.

But a strange thing happened once we got the tile home and installed on the kitchen floor. Within a few weeks, it began to lose its luster, become boring, quite ordinary. Annoyingly ordinary.

Every time I mopped and air dried my new floor - like I always had my old floor - it was dulled even more by dried water spots. I asked around and tried many expensive gadgets, products, and techniques that I'd been told would restore the glow, but nothing worked. I was extremely disappointed that I'd put so much thought, effort, and work into my new floor - which I knew had wonderful potential, for I had witnessed it firsthand - but no one would be able to see it.

And then one day, out of sheer desperation (guests were coming soon but the floor needed mopping), I grabbed two old terrycloth towels from my linen closet and donning one on each foot, ice skated around the newly mopped kitchen to speed up the drying process.

Oh. My. Goodness. The tiles gleamed like a newly polished silver tea service. The shine was nearly blinding. Gone was the ordinary. Present was the extraordinary. Big wow! The gorgeous floor I knew was there all along became a show-stopper and immediately caught the attention of every single person who walked in my house from then on.

Manuscripts are a lot like a kitchen floor. Ordinary is fine. Ordinary is functional. Ordinary is what everyone has. It is sufficient enough for you to say, "I've written a book." But it will likely remain unpublished and end up in your bottom right desk drawer, appreciated by no one and gathering dust.

But with a bit more work - okay, a LOT more work - that manuscript can be copy edited, content edited, and rewritten until it's polished and gleaming and extraordinary. Extra-ordinary; above-ordinary. The wow factor will suddenly appear. Your piece will shine brightly enough to attract the attention it deserves and will very likely eventually GET PUBLISHED. 

So take my advice. Have your manuscript professionally edited by a specialist in your genre. Someone who knows how to ice skate in terrycloth booties.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Slap on the Chaps and Hit the Promo Trail

Well, it's book release time again and my promo stallion is chomping at the bit.  

Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate hits bookstores in less than two weeks, so it's time to hit the promo trail once again. Nobody ever said this writing journey was easy, and believe you me, I've got the saddle sores to prove it.

It takes a lot of planning to get those doggies movin' and keep 'em movin' movin' movin' ... rawhide! (If you're humming that TV show jingle right now, you're as old as me!)

I received my first media interview this week from CBA Retailers + Resources magazine, and it was a great start:

"Books about fear typically aren't fun to read, but this one is. Coty's humor is natural and unforced, and she strikes the perfect balance of lightheartedness and seriousness. Her chatty, relaxed tone will put readers at ease, and her approach to Christianity is genuine and non-preachy. This book would make an excellent group study, but it's also valuable for individual use."

That review - perfectly timed to coincide with my book release date - was possible because my astute publicist sent out pre-pub (also called galleys or ARCs for Advanced Reader Copies) weeks ago. Also strategically timed are articles set to come out in two different newspapers - one next week, and the other the following week.

My first interview about F3 was last night with Dottie Coffman and will air today on several weekday radio shows in the Atlanta area and on two different internet radio shows, and Several other radio interviews are already lined up and new requests should start trickling in almost daily via my publishing house PR department, and the freelance publicist I hired. 

I have a local LifeWay bookstore signing scheduled for Feb 9 (from 11 am - 2 pm at the Brandon LifeWay on 169 Brandon Town Center Dr if you're in the Tampa vicinity), and my big FaceBook launch party is on March 7 at 8 pm EST. Click on this link to find out more and sign up to win awesome prizes that night  I hope you'll plan on joining me for a real blast with fun folks from all over the planet. 

Invitations to speak at Valentine's and Mother's Day events are beginning to roll in, and I'm in the process of nailing down dates for engagements from Alabama to North Carolina to south Florida.

It's a fun time, a busy time, and also a time to be extremely grateful to Papa God for the opportunity. And I truly am.

So the new calves (books) are branded, roped and corralled. Now I just have to figure out how to get them from the ranch into the wild, wild west. And east. And north and south!