Monday, November 25, 2013

Before You Send Out to Readers by Tristi Pinkston

So you've gotten your manuscript ready to go out to readers. You're excited because you know how close you are to being ready for submission . . . you'll get this feedback, you'll make the suggested changes, and you're finished, right? Well, pretty close. But don't think this step is going to be a piece of cake. That's a mistake a lot of writers make -- they hurry and get the manuscript out to readers before it's really ready. 

Here are some tips to help you get that manuscript as ready for readers as you possibly can -- keeping in mind that if you take out the glaring problems now, your readers will have an easier time spotting the more complex problems.

1. Go through and do a search for "was." Most of the time, when the word "was" is used, you can change it to more of an active voice. Instead of saying, "She was sitting on the porch," say "She sat on the porch." This brings your reader into closer contact with the story, and it eliminates the repetitive use of "was." However, don't forget that "was" also helps us understand when something happened. "He stood when she came in" has a different meaning than "He was standing when she came in." So don't get rid of "was" entirely - just when you can without messing up your meaning.

2. Go through and do a search for "that." Most of the time, "that" is used when it's not needed. "She thought that he'd be there to pick her up at three." Take it out and see what you've got ... "She thought he'd be there to pick her up at three." It's the same thing, but "that" gets repetitive and makes your sentences wordy. But again, the same caution goes here - don't take them all out because sometimes you do need them.

3. Go through and make sure all your punctuation is still there. I've noticed when I edit for people that as they take out words they've been told to take out, sometimes the punctuation gets taken along with it, erased accidentally by the cursor being in the wrong place. 

4. Go through and take out fully 3/4 of your adverbs. Keep only the ones that are absolutely needed -- most are indicated by the context, anyway, and aren't necessary. For instance, "She whispered quietly" - a whisper is already quiet, so you don't need to say "quietly."

There you have it -- four steps to help make your manuscript ready for readers. These aren't the only things to watch out for -- there are many -- but these are the most common mistakes and the most common detractors from the story. With these things out of the way, your readers will be able to concentrate on the things that remain and help you polish the story until it shines.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion by Tristi Pinkston

We've all heard the term "shameless self-promotion."  I've used it myself quite a bit.  Today I want to get on my soap box a little bit.  You don't mind, right? 

Self-promotion is absolutely crucial to every form of business.  It doesn't matter if you're a car salesman, or if you work in a clothing store, or if you are a makeup girl, or if you are a construction worker.  In each of those jobs, you are selling yourself - your skills, your experience, your know-how.  You are presenting yourself in such a way that your employer and your customer can feel confident in you and the job you are going to do.  Filling out resumes, going for interviews, meeting with prospective clients - these are nothing more than selling yourself and your abilities.

When you write a book and enter the big, bad world of marketing, you're doing exactly the same thing you've done every time you've entered the work force.  You're informing people of a skill or ability you possess. 

Let me ask you a question.  Say you're in the middle of a job interview, and you are asked, "So, I hear you're good at typing."  Would you answer, "Oh, I don't know about that.  That other applicant you just had in here is a lot faster."  Or would you say, "Yes, I'm pretty fast." It's a pretty simple choice to make, isn't it?

So why do we downplay our writing?  Why do we feel that we need to apologize when it comes to talking about our books?  We say "shameless self-promotion" as though perhaps, at some point, we might have felt the need to feel ashamed, but we're going to shake that off for a second.  There is no need to ever be ashamed of the product you have produced as long as you know you did your very best on it.  If you turned out something you know wasn't up to your potential, then you can make a decision to do better next time.  But "shame" is not something that should ever be associated with something you created that came from your gut. If you really, really are ashamed to admit that you did it, then ... why did you do it? 

Now that we've talked about the "shame," let's talk about the "self-promotion."  Go back to the analogy of the shoe salesman.  A woman walks into his shop and says, "Hi, I need a pair of shoes."  He pauses.  Should he say something?  What if he shows her a pair and she says she doesn't want them?  He would be crushed.  Humiliated.  Rejected. 

Um ... no, he's going start showing her shoes, right?  Of course.  That's his job.  And it's your job as a new author to talk about your books.  He has shoes to sell, you have books to sell.  If someone doesn't buy your book, it doesn't have to be a devastating thing - it just means that those shoes didn't fit.  Someone else with feet of a different size will soon come into your life, or your shoe store, and you'll be able to make that sale. 

So, let's encapsulate my little lecture.

1.  Stop being ashamed to talk about your books!
2.  Stop feeling as though you have to apologize!
3.  Get some confidence - talk about your book in an upbeat, positive way.  Let other people know it exists. 
4. Never downplay your accomplishments.  Don't say, "Well, it's just a little story about ..." No!  Smile and say, "It's a great story about ..."

Self-promotion is hard.  It's hard to get up the courage, it's hard to know what to say, it's hard to find that balance between talking about yourself and coming on too strong, and it's also hard to know when you shouldn't bring up your books (and yes, there are times when you don't want to promote, generally in times of social politics, but that would be a blog for another day).  You can learn how to master all of these skills, but you've got to practice them, and regularly.  Hiding behind pillars and potted plants will not make you a master of self-promotion - you've got to get out there and do it, and you'll find your own stride and what works for you. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Tortoise and the Hare by Andrea Pearson

The biggest piece of advice I can give to any author or writer anywhere, including myself, is this:

You are NOT in a race. This isn't about who gets published first, who writes the most, who has the most readers, who has the most sales. Honestly, it isn't. If you find yourself getting caught in the trap of, "So-and-so is doing really well - I need to step up my work and catch up," then know that the only reward for that sort of thinking is misery, burn-out, and more jealousy.

If you aren't happy where you are right now, what makes you think you'll be happy with just a little bit more? 

How to convince people, though, that what they're doing--what they're capable of--is enough? That their honest effort, even if it isn't as much as someone else's, is what counts? 

You must measure hustle, not sales. The effort you are putting into your work NOW is what is most important. Stop thinking about how everyone else is doing! You'll never be happy if you're constantly in competition with them. 

The satisfaction you feel when you look back on a month of honest effort is something to journal about. And make sure you do, because those journal entries will become words of strength when you're struggling.


Getting off of my soap box. :-)

Oh, one last thought: slow and steady wins the race. Don't act like the hare; be the tortoise. :-)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Writer's Block: Conquering It Just Like Any Messy Room by Stephanie Fowers

“Clean your room!”

Raise your hand if you remember this moment. Your mom looks narrowly at the mess of your room and packs you inside and says you can’t leave until it’s clean. Well, to any eight-year-old, spinning straw into gold seems an easier task than picking up the stacks of clothes and toys and school projects. And instead of tackling the mess by picking up one toy…and then another…and another, what do you do? Well, of course you sit in your room all day—singing prison songs and running a metal cup against the doors. Slight exaggeration, but who hasn’t lost a whole Saturday to this kind of procrastination?

So you’d think we’d learn.

But have we?

After all those years (I won’t say how many), you sit at your computer, ready to write the great American novel and you are (check the following):

A- Reading blogs (like this one)
B-Checking stats on Amazon
C-Looking through pictures
D-Checking Facebook
E- Basically doing ANYTHING than writing your story.

Oh, the delights of writer’s block. It’s comparable to standing in the middle of your messy room and being told that you cannot leave until it is finished. So how do you tackle that mess like you did in the old days?  The first step is figuring out what’s stopping you from cleaning that room (yes, I have every intention of pounding this analogy into the ground). Is it frustration, exhaustion, a lack of motivation, a life imbalance, boredom, feeling overwhelmed, getting stuck, laziness, or a drop in your creativity? Maybe you just don’t know where to begin.

Well, let’s listen to your mom on this one:

Goal Clean this room!”  I want to write a book. Great. Not good enough. One, it’s too overwhelming. Break it down into smaller goals (story idea, outline, chapters). And two, make it meaningful—make your goal for writing your book resemble a mission statement (what, where, why, how, when).

Prioritize “This room looks like a pigsty!” Your goal is important. Put it on the list of all your other priorities and see where it lies. Everything you place behind your writing will come second to it. This will give you an idea of how much time you should dedicate to it.

Sacrifice “You are not going to bed until this is done.” This means you might not get as much sleep, you can’t watch as much TV, the kitchen won’t be as clean, etc. Be aware of this before you begin.

Deadline “This had better be done by the time your father gets home.” You will have so many words, chapters, books, etc. done by end of each day, week, month, etc. No matter if you make it, working toward a deadline will increase your productivity.

Writing Schedule “Put your things away when you get home from school.” Treat your writing like a job or like you’re preparing for a marathon. Set aside a specified time to write. 

Checklist “Make your bed first.” There is something satisfying about checking off that list, so make one daily: 1-Give Mary a motivation. 2-Find a reason she gets mad at John. 3-Write the “I can’t pay the rent scene.” And then check, check, check it off.

Reward “I’ll give you a sticker to put in your sticker book.” If you work until a specified time, you can: 1-Watch your favorite TV show. 2-Read a chapter from that book. 3-Hang out with husband, friends, sister, dog, cat, whoever. 4-Take the kids to the park. 5-Make dinner. Whatever it is, make sure it’s tempting.

Feng Shui “How can you live like this?” Do you write better in a hole-in-the-wall cafĂ©, a dark corner with a dingy light, in a garden with a view over the city? Figure it out. Try all sorts of places and keep track of which settings worked best for you, and change it up sometimes.

Sit “Just get it over with.” Turn on your computer, pull out your chair, and get in.

Clear Distractions “No, you can’t play Barbies in there!” Put the phone on silent (not off, just in case emergencies), turn off the Internet. Can’t work with family and/ or friends in room? Work while they sleep, put headphones on, distract them with each other (let them play and if they won’t—put them to work, or involve them in their own hobbies) or remove yourself from the room (this works when you have a writing schedule, so that loved ones know they can have you at certain times).

Inspiration “Put some music on if you have to.”  A little entertainment goes a long way. Listen to music while you write. Pin up pictures on your desktop (yeah, I cast my book with my favorite actors). Change the font and color you're typing with—you can change it all back to boring Times New Roman later.

Balanced Life “You have until the timer goes off.” Not getting enough social interaction, exercise, fulfilling other responsibilities, etc.? Then take a break—just make sure you set a time to start again.

A System “Rake it up!” Yes, I raked my room—it helped me get organized. I’m also a big-time outliner. But everyone has a different strategy. Some tackle the biggest obstacle first while others start small. A few prefer to go from one side of the room to the other (or shall we say beginning to end). Find what works best for you.

Resolve Technical Problems “It looks like a tornado went through here!” Don’t feel overwhelmed. Identify the reason you are stuck in your writing—do you not know how Billy breaks out of jail? Write it down as a question and address it in a brainstorm.

Productivity “If you just got it over with, you’d be outside playing with Molly by now.” Start writing, even if it’s out of order, or if it’s not the writing project you thought you’d be working on that day, or if you hate what’s on your screen—you’ll eventually get some gems out of it.

Brainstorming “Go get your big brother to help you.” When stuck, it’s helpful to tell someone where you are in your story and where you are trying to go and then ask how to get there. Usually, by the time you’re done explaining what you need, you’ve already come up with a solution.
Support Group “You did such a good job!” Find people who love what you write and write for them, feed them chapters, have them threaten to break your knuckles if you don’t deliver on those chapters—they’re sometimes called a writing group.

Enjoy Yourself “Would you stop cleaning your room and be a real kid!” Okay, that’s never happened per se, but that DOES happen when you’re writing. We’re writers because we love it. And if you’re NOT loving it then maybe it’s because you NOT approaching your writing like it’s a messy room. So roll up your sleeves and defeat that writer’s block. I promise, it’s going to be a work of love.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Author Interview: Marie Higgins

Today we are joined by author Marie Higgins. Click here to learn more about her.

Q. Marie, you've published a whole lot of books. How long does it take you to write one of your novels?

A. Usually - if nothing happens to my life to stop me - I can write a book (80,000+ words) in about six weeks. But that's if the characters continue talking to me and my life or my job doesn't stress me out.

Q. Are there any genres you have not yet written that you'd like to?

A. I would like to try my hand at YA. I have actually thought up a series, but I just need to get to it.  I think I'm afraid to write it because it won't have as much romance as my other stories. lol

Q. What do you consider to be the most fun part of being an author?

A. Doing interviews like this! :)  Actually, the most fun part is creating the next great story, and having readers tell me how 'amazing' the story was, and hearing them tell me they cried in certain chapters. Love hearing that!! It makes everything worthwhile.

Q. What is the funniest/goofiest thing a fan has ever said to you about your books?

A. Believe it or not, most of my readers are nice. lol  They usually don't say anything goofy, but I did have a wannabe writer read one of my stories and emailed me to say she 'saluted' me for writing such an intriguing story.

Q. If you haven't gotten any goofy fan mail, you're seriously missing out. I'm tempted to send you some myself. Okay, what advice do you give authors who struggle with writers block?

A. I tell authors to keep writing - anything. Keep your muse working. Keep it active. If you're not writing, then read something. Somehow you need to keep those creative juices flowing. I've had writers block many times, and my muse thinks it needs a break, so that's when I pick up a book and read...or read back through one of my stories that I'd written years ago. That usually jump-starts my muse.

Thanks for joining us today, Marie! It was fun to chat with you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Author Interview - Andrea Pearson

Today we are joined by author Andrea Pearson. You can more about her here.

Q. You are the Executive Director for Indie Author Hub. What all do your duties entail?
A. I help plan conferences, make decisions, and break up fights. The usual stuff. :-) Okay, so there haven't been any fights yet... but if one does happen, I'll be ready! :-) I also coordinate projects between other members of the committee and make sure things run smoothly in all areas.

A. You have recently started writing in a genre you call "soft horror for teens." Tell us about that and how it differs from other books in the horror genre.
Q. My newest series, Katon University, is based on and influenced by horror writers of the early 1900s and late 1800s. At that time, authors focused more on creeping their readers out by using psychological things, rather than gore and violence. I'm using those methods and am gearing this series toward teen girls - there will be romance and a guarantee that the main characters don't die in the end.

That's where my books differ from others in the horror genre. It's been a lot of fun so far, and I'm very excited that the first book, At the Well of Madness, will be published later this year or early next year.
Q. The Key of Kilenya, the first book in your first series, has been in the top 100 on Kindle for free eBooks in its genre for over a year. How did you achieve that amazing feat?

A. The main thing was having it be a perma-free eBook, which means it'll be free for a long time, and the other was having multiple books in the series available. Since then, I've focused on releasing books frequently, and The Key of Kilenya has done really well as a result. It's been very exciting.
Q. What are some of the things you enjoy doing when you're not writing?

A. Spending time with my hubby and baby girl! :-) I'm very blessed to be married to a man who loves what I love: reading, hiking, art, biking, music, and watching movies. I get to spend time with them while enjoying my favorite hobbies. :-)

Q. I've heard a rumor that you enjoy Doritos. Do you prefer the original Nacho Cheese, or one of the other flavors, such as the Cool Ranch? And did you ever taste the limited edition Jumpin' Jack when it came out about twenty-two years ago, and what were your thoughts about it? Were you disappointed when it was discontinued?

A. Ha ha! I LOVE Doritos. If I let myself, I'd eat a whole bag in one sitting. And funny you ask about the cheese... IT'S THE ONLY WAY TO EAT DORITOS. I remember when the Jumpin' Jack flavor came out, I was so appalled by the idea of something other than cheese being used, that I refused to try them. I still haven't tried more than two other flavors: Cool Ranch (thumbs down) and the spicy flavor (fairly decent, so long as there's cheese involved. :-)). If given the choice, I will always choose nacho cheese over every other flavor. :-)

Q. I'm saddened that you never tried the Jumpin' Jack, because it was awesome. Anyway, moving on ... 
What is your typical writing schedule like, and how has it changed since you had your baby? 

A. On normal days, I'm awake about half an hour before the baby is up and get in a bunch of writing. Then she wakes up and I take care of her needs. Then I put her on the floor next to me to play while I get in another hour of writing. Then we spend some time cuddling and playing together and eventually, when she goes down for a nap, I do more writing. I get in most of my work before noon. After noon, I focus on other things: household chores, dinner, church callings, etc.

Before I had my baby, I was all over the place. :-) Having her around helps me maintain a schedule - something I desperately need in order to be functional.
Thanks for interviewing me! :-)

And thank you for letting yourself be interviewed. We appreciate all you do for our group!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Should You Have a Website or a Blog? by Tristi Pinkston

It’s important that you make your presence felt on the Internet as soon as possible. Even before you have a product available for purchase, you should let the world know who you are, so that when your product is available, your name is already familiar.

But should you get a website or a blog? Here are the advantages and disadvantages of both:

On a website, you can post sample chapters. You can separate your information onto pages, which is neat and organized. You can have a store included on the site, as well as reviews, links to articles, etc. You can hold a lot of information on a site and it can be as complex as you like. You can do any design, any color, any font, and upload any pictures.

Disadvantages to a site – if you don’t know how to set it up and maintain it, you will need to hire a webmaster. It takes a little bit longer to change things on a site – everything is done in html and that requires going in a layer. There is also a charge for the site and for the domain name -- you can pay as little as $6.95 a month all the way up the scale, depending on what company you go with.

With a blog, you can do everything you could on a site. You can set up pages for your sample chapters and reviews, and you can also set up a store. It's also a place to share your random ramblings we all have from time to time. 

The advantages of a blog are pretty good. You can change things around as much as you like. You don’t have to write code. You can interact with your readers through comments. If you don’t like a blog, just erase it. There’s no need to hire anyone to maintain it – it’s very user-friendly. And in most cases, it's free.

So what’s my advice? Should you get a site or a blog? Personally, I think you should have both. There are advantages to both, and you’ll find that some people don’t enjoy reading blogs, so send them to your site. Others prefer blogs, so communicate with them that way. And whatever you do, make sure to link them to each other.

Think of your website as being like a job resume. That's where your static information will go - the stuff that doesn't change as frequently. You'll probably find that your site is a little more formal, and that you don't need to update it very often. Your blog, on the other hand, is like a personal interview. It's where you get to create the most interaction with your readership. You'll update it frequently and it will be a little less formal.

The main thing is that you create your online presence as quickly as possible so your readers know where to find you. There are few things in life (well, okay, that's a little melodramatic, but you get my point) more frustrating than wanting to visit an author's site or blog and not being able to find them. If you can be found, you can generate sales. And sales are awesome. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Let's Not Be So Negative by Andrea Pearson

A while back, Smashwords interviewed Jonathan Maberry, a NYT Bestselling author. One of his responses, about being positive online, really stuck with me. And I know it's geared to writers and the writing field, but MAN is it applicable in every day life and conversation. Here's a quote from it (I've edited it for content (he swears a few times):

"Negativity does not sell, but a lot of writers seem to use it as a way of getting heard. Sure, you’re heard ... and then ignored. If you want to vent, do it over beers at the next Stoker banquet. We’ll all listen. But don’t put it online.

(He then uses Twilight as an example, where a lot of authors/writers talked online about how stupid and awful it was. Then he said agents and editors pay attention to these sorts of things, that they know that Twilight brought a lot of money into the industry and will avoid you for slamming it and other crappy (but potentially successful) books.)

"So, what do you put out there? Think about a party. If there’s someone who is whining and moaning and someone else who’s getting folks to laugh and loosen up, which way do you drift? If a kid in a playground is constantly whining about the quality of the toys, and another kid has turned a cardboard box into a sideshow funhouse, who’s getting more attention? Who’s going to be remembered in a positive way?

"And, even if you are a naturally cranky, snarky, sour-tempered pain in the butt, for goodness’ sake share that with your therapist or priest. When you go online to promote yourself and therefore your products, try not to actually scare people off your lawn."

I loved this quote. And like I said, I know it's geared to writers and the writing field, but it is definitely applicable to anyone. Every time we post something online, we're "promoting" ourselves. And don't we want people to remember us in a positive instead of negative light?

People who complain and whine all the time about how horrible and hard life is, and how other people who don't deserve success are getting it, tend to be ignored - except by other people who whine and complain a lot. Whereas people who are uplifting, complimentary, and positive are cheered on, then supported when they need support. They put a positive spin on everything, which is so much more attractive than a negative spin. Let's be "an example of the believers, in word, in conversation" (1 Tim 4:12), by seeking (and writing/posting) things that are "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy" (13th AofF).

This applies not only to people who are wanting to be traditionally published, but those of us who are indie authors. None of us can afford to lose readers (agents/editors) because of one temper-tantrum article we post.

To read the rest of the interview, including the parts I cut out of the above quote, go here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Class Notes - Finding Time to Write

At our recent IndieAuthorHub conference, Rachel Ann Nunes taught a class on finding time to write. Here are some notes on that class, as provided by Roseanne Wilkins.

Whether we want to admit it or not, all of us are writing for money. If we were writing for pleasure, we wouldn't be attending classes and finishing our books.

In order to achieve success, we need to treat our writing like a business. We have to set aside time every day for writing, just like a job. And like a job, we need to be able to tell friends and family that there are some hours of the day that are just ours - for writing.

With that said, we all also have lives. It's important to stop if the moment requires it. Children are especially important, and there are some moments when we just have to stop and share some time with our kids because our moments are finite and they will be grown before we know it.

We need to prioritize and accept that we can't do everything. We don't need to fix gourmet meals. We need to delegate to those around us as much as possible. We need to say "no" to activities when we feel pressure to say "yes." Remember that when we're saying "no" to one thing it's so we can say "yes" to another. 

You don't have to spend every moment writing. You can take time for other things you enjoy. It's a matter of priorities and not doing things others might put pressure on you to do. 

If you have someone who isn't valuing your time, you need to make your time valuable. Turn off the phone. Don't answer the door. Be strict about your writing time. And have writing time every weekday, like a job. Any words you write can be edited, but if there's nothing to edit, you won't get anything finished. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Author Interview - Maria Hoagland

Today we are excited to chat with Maria Hoagland, the Membership Director for Indie Author Hub. You can learn more about her here.

Q. Maria, many of the Indie authors in this group published traditionally first and then began to self-publish. Tell us a little bit about why you decided to self-publish first, or the circumstances that led to that.

A. I published indie from the start. I didn't start my publishing journey with that in mind, of course, because when starting out, all I knew was traditionally published, so that's what was in my mind. So I did the write, edit, submit, reject, lock-in-a-drawer-and-forget-it-for-a-year-or-two, repeat cycle twice, before I really got serious about publishing. That was about the same time I started attending a certain writers' conference and learned more about the industry. Because my novel was written for an LDS audience, I started pitching to publishers in that market who liked the idea, but told me that women's fiction doesn't sell well. I submitted to a few more smaller presses and got some helpful feedback, but at the same time, I was getting frustrated at the time it took to hear back from publishers (because I thought I had to do them one at a time). The best part about having to wait while the manuscript was being assessed was that I took the time to research all my options and decided I liked the independent publishing route. By the time I finished my second novel, I didn't even submit it to publishers because I was satisfied that indie pubbing was the path I wanted for my career. I might find I make that decision each time I'm finishing a new book, or I might just stick with indie. I love that we're looking at ways to help each other and that, I think, will only bring success.

Q. How many words do you typically write in a week?

A. Like my running, that varies way too much to have a "typical." I love having occasional challenges like Camp NaNoWriMo to get me motivated and bump up the word count, but I do find it easy to put writing off until after my "day job" (I work part-time as an ESL tutor) and my family duties. My goal this month is to set a better schedule and "Just Do It!"

Q. Are you an outliner or do you fly by the seat of your pants.?

A. I am definitely an outliner. I bless the day I heard about Scrivener because before that, I literally carried around index cards with scene ideas on them. Now I jot them on Post-It Notes, arrange them on my wall (as learned in Elana Johnson's "Cat" class), then transfer them all into Scrivener. I don't always follow the outline, but it sure makes it easier to just jump in wherever I am and write a scene.

Q. What television show would you consider your guilty pleasure (if you have one)?

A. Through the years, Northern Exposure and LOST have been my favorite TV series. If I had to choose one now, it would probably be Once Upon a Time or Elementary, but I'm looking for something more like the first two I mentioned, if anyone has any good suggestions for me... 

Q. How do you choose names for your characters?

A. You hit a nerve with that question. For my first book, even two, it was easy. I picked names I liked, checked to make sure the name fit the age (on social security records or baby name websites) and all was good. Until I realized I used some of the same names for both books without realizing it!! Big oops! My advice: keep track of the little names--the side characters you don't think matter. That's where I messed up! This time around, I'm having a lot more trouble choosing names with my WIP because I've been told I "can't" use the name for my MC that I really, really want. I'm told that name didn't exist circa 1970 but more like 1990. Which is true, but ... I don't want to stick with the top 100 names of that birth year if I don't have to. I want this character to be unique. What about the rest of you? What would you do in my situation?

Didn't mean to hit a nerve, but maybe we can help Maria out. What advice would you give her, readers?

Thank you for joining us, Maria, and thanks for all you do for our group!

Monday, August 19, 2013

We Need a Hero! by Marie Higgins

What is the purpose of writing a story?  Any story no matter what genre.  What exactly are the authors trying to get you as a reader to feel?

First off, authors will create true-to-life main characters.  What does this mean?  This means that our main characters (hero and/or heroine) will have faults.  Our heroes will not be the perfect Prince Charming we have seen on the Disney movies, but they will have blemishes (usually more than one) in their personalities.  Sometimes they’ll have tough problems that seem impossible to overcome.  They will make mistakes along the way.  They’ll start to improve on their faults, but then something happens and they’ll stumble.  But, being the hero of the story, the character will always pick himself up and forge onward, ready for whatever stands in his way.  He doesn’t need a red cape and tights … or a magic sword that fights fictitious dragons, but he’ll do the best he can, and in the end, he will prevail and overcome.  He'll save the day. 

I know you’re agreeing with me so far, aren’t you?  Well, did you know this?  Writers create their stories to take you as the reader out of your everyday problems into an imaginary world.  It’s our job as writers to make you think of nothing else but the story and what’s happening with the hero and heroine, and if the villain is about to attack, or if the train is going to be robbed, or if the killer is hiding in the shadows just waiting for the exact moment to pounce on the good guy as he walks by.  We as writers want you to hold your breath in fear—or anticipation—or exhale a relieved sigh when all is well … for now, anyway. 

No matter what kind of story you read, everyone needs a hero.  Everyone wants a story that takes their mind out of their own problems and lets them pretend—if even for a day or two—that they are someone else.  That they are invincible.  That they are the man all women swoon over, or they are the woman all men fall over themselves trying to meet. 

Romance writers especially want their readers to fall in love with the characters so that they can experience once again (or maybe for the first time) what it feels like to fall in love, or what it feels like to lose someone and have their heart broken—only to have it pieced back together a few chapters later.  Every reader needs a happy ending!  And in my opinion, if you have read a fiction novel and haven’t received the happy ending that makes you smile or sigh with happiness, you aren’t reading the right genre!  

In today’s world, there are so many obstacles to overcome … so much heartache in the world … so much sadness over losing someone we love.  Why not put all of that pain on the back burner while we indulge ourselves in a great story?

Come on, I dare you.  Let an author be your hero!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Improve Your Health, Increase Your Success by Cami Checketts

As writers, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with our WIPs, Facebook likes, reviews, blog tours, or a hundred other things that can consume our time. Add to that list the real-life responsibilities of family, homes, and jobs, and you quickly realize you don’t even have time to brush your teeth, let alone establish and maintain healthy habits. But I’m here to tell you that making time for good health will pay off in the end (and I’m not just talking about the money saved in blood pressure medication). 

First of all, what is good health? It is not paying for the gym membership, tugging on the Spandex, and vowing never to eat anything unless it’s leafy and green for the rest of our lives—nobody wants to be caught chomping leaves in Spandex.

The basics of good health:

#1 – Adequate sleep: 7-9 hours per night. (Can be tough if you have little ones. Believe me, I haven’t slept well in over fourteen years.)

#2 – Healthy diet: Moderation in all things. I love the 80/20 rule. 80% of your diet should be comprised of healthy, whole, unprocessed foods. 20% can be those extras that you really, truly enjoy. My 20% is all chocolate (I’m eating ice cream with hot fudge as I write this). I love chocolate. It keeps me sane. I try to choose wisely my 20% of “unhealthy foods.” I’m not going to waste calories on pumpkin pie, but offer me chocolate and we’ll be friends for life.

#3 – Moderate amount of physical activity: Try to fit in at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. The activity should be something you enjoy and something you can make a part of your life. Go on a bike ride with your family, lift weights or use exercise bands while you watch Duck Dynasty (that show seriously cracks me up), use a walk as a way to clear your mind, park farther from the grocery store, play tennis on your Saturday night date, run down the stairs to talk with your children instead of yelling down them (yelling never works for me anyway—my boys have trained their ears not to hear my voice). The list could go on, but you basically want to find something that fits with your lifestyle and that isn’t drudgery.

So how can being healthy make us more successful and able to reach our goals?  
#1 – Increased productivity: Exercise makes you more alert by increasing blood flow to the brain and helping you to accomplish any task easier. Good nutrition and getting enough sleep also boost your energy levels, which helps when trying to accomplish a huge task.

#2 – Stress relief: Exercise releases serotonin, which stimulates mood and emotion and helps you handle stress better (maybe I just need more exercise to deal cheerfully with my 2yo).

#3 – Less illness: Being in good health will decrease not only your number of sick days, but minimize the chances of getting diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and dementia.

#4 - Optimizes your brain’s learning capacity: Being healthy really does make you smarter. I need all the help I can get on this one, as my boys tease me about what an airhead I am!

#5 – Improves your skin, hair, and posture. When you look and feel better, it helps you to succeed. 

#6 – Exercise makes you happy, improving mood and self-confidence.

#7 – No more fuzziness. When I eat crappy, I get fuzzy in the head (am I a weirdo like that?) but a good meal helps me think more clearly. Exercise also helps me have a clear mind. I love going on a walk or run and having all kinds of ideas come for dialogue or action scenes.

The bottom line is that being healthy really will make you feel better and increase the amount of work you can accomplish. I know it’s hard to carve out time to exercise, cook healthy food, or get enough sleep, but give it a try and you’ll be surprised how much better you feel. Take it a bit at a time. I recommend baby steps. Focus on one health improvement each month, just one little goal like drinking more water or using some exercise bands. The next month, make another goal, and so on until you’ve gradually made lifestyle changes that will add up to huge results in good health and the other benefits that will result. Good luck!

“Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity.” Mayo Clinic, July 23, 2011,
“How does exercise improve work productivity?” by Julie Boehlke, April 17, 2011,

Friday, August 2, 2013

Writing Great Back Cover Copy by Julie Coulter Bellon

Lately, I've been helping authors write or revamp their back cover copy, and I even taught a class on it at an indie publishing conference.  It always amazes me how little time authors seem to spend on the second most important thing in selling and marketing their book - the back cover copy.  Besides the cover, the first interaction your reader will have with your book is the back cover copy, and it can make or break your book sales.

So, let's look at some tips for writing great back cover copy.

First of all, NEVER summarize your book.  The back copy is not where you do a synopsis at all.  The back cover is where you entice and intrigue your readers to pick up your book.

Now that the NEVER DO is out of the way, what do you do?

The Legwork

1.  Figure out the stakes.  Will someone die?  Will the world end?  Will she get the guy?  What are the stakes of the book?  This will play a big role in your back copy.

2.  Work up a thirty-second elevator pitch of your book.  If you can describe your book in thirty seconds, you've got a head start on your back copy.

Now you have somewhere to start. What's next?

1. Take your stakes and figure out a tagline, one sentence that encapsulates your stakes.  My new novel's tagline is "Are you ever really innocent until proven guilty?"  I just helped another author with her tagline and it ended up being, "On their world, being an elemental means you will be hunted for your skin."  So, you see a tagline is something that hints at the stakes in your book.  Make it catchy and memorable.  Don't bog it down.  Too many times I've seen, "This is a book about love and betrayal."  BORING.  Use your creativity.

2.  Use your thirty-second elevator pitch to pull out the important events in your book.  Most times, great back copy just covers the inciting incident in your book.  My new novel, Ashes Ashes, has back copy that is mainly centered around my hero's bad day at work, and since he's in hostage negotiation, that means someone usually dies.  He comes home, sees smoke coming out of his neighbor's house, and so he goes to help.  But the beautiful and mysterious house guest doesn't want his help  - because she's in trouble herself. Usually if you can use your inciting incident, you can hook your audience, hint at the big plot, and write some great back copy.

3.  Use compelling language with a splash of hyperbole.  It's okay to grab your readers with "unimaginable consequences," "a decision that will change mankind forever," or "can he trust anyone around him, including the woman at the center of it all."  Leave your reader feeling like this is a story they definitely have to read.

4. Great back cover copy is generally not over 200 words long.  You have to be concise and really sell the book without being verbose.  Cut out the fatty details - they only bog down your back cover copy.  Get to the meat of it and entice and intrigue your readers.  This is your chance to sell yourself, and you don't want to blow it.

5.  Research how other authors have done it.  If you are still at a loss, go look at the back cover copy of famous authors in your genre.  That can spark ideas and creativity for your own work and help you see the pattern of how to intrigue and entice your readers.

6.  Don't forget to proofread.  There's nothing that will make me pass on a book faster than seeing grammar and spelling errors in the back copy.  If the author can't spell it right there, chances are the book isn't that great either.  The back copy is the reader's first interaction with you.  Make it great!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Which Stage Are You In? by Andrea Pearson

All right, authors and writers! I want you to go check out Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog post titled The Stages of an Indie Writer. This applies to all of you: traditionally published, aspiring, self-published. Then come back and tell me which stage you're in. :-)

Seriously: I can't stress this enough right now. Every single author I know who has signed with a publisher has become disenchanted after seeing how things actually go or are actually run. Some of those authors go on and sign with other publishers - usually Indie publishers where they're treated much better - but even then, I still hear frustrations.

Only a couple of my author friends are really happy where they are. The thing is, when we start thinking seriously about getting published - when it occurs to us that this could actually happen to us - we become in love with the dream of being traditionally published. And dang, those publishers make things look so good! 

But the truth is, traditional publishers aren't doing very well. Not only that, but the ones who ARE doing well still mess things up ALL the time by: assigning the wrong title to books, not ordering books on time for launches, sending books to the wrong bookstore for said launches, having to push back publication dates multiple times because the cover art wasn't finished on time or the book wasn't sent to the printer (oops! Sorry! they say), putting together covers that are really bad, messing up editing, and NOT MARKETING. That's the biggest complaint from pretty much every author I've met about their publisher. 

Publishers promise a lot of things and then don't fulfill those promises. And authors these days, after signing that freakin' fantastic contract, and finally feeling like they're actually "there," come to the bitter realization that publishers are humans, that they make mistakes, and that one of the biggest ones is how much work they'll put into your book to make it go big. If you aren't James Rollins, Patterson, or Stephen King (or any other huge author), you're going to be expected to market yourself. To put your own money into your book to get it out there. And if your book flops, it's on you, you don't get reprinted, and your book is pulled from shelves.

I'm not against traditionally publishing, actually. There are one or two publishers out there who are doing things right. But technically, they aren't even trad. publishers. They're Indie publishers.

Anyway. Regardless of which stage of becoming an Indie Author you're in, please make sure you know full well what you're getting into. Do your research! Read books about publishing.

And realize this: publishers are watching self-published authors. Self-publishing is the slush pile now. Those of you who are sending your manuscripts out into the ethernet might want to consider making some money while waiting for that dream to come true. :-)

Making money... Mmmm... I sure love doing that. :-)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why I Chose New Book Covers by Monique Bucheger

How much decision-making power does an author have over the cover of their book? The answer varies between 0% and 100%.  Those numbers are greatly affected by whether the author is indie or traditionally published, and how much creative control the author is offered or insists on.  Some publishers allow their authors no say, some will listen to the author’s thoughts, and some will allow authors to have final decision-making power, though this is rare.

In my case, I can have 100% say. However, as long as my covers depict my main character, her horse, and a farm scene laid out with a font easily read in thumbnail size, I leave the rest of the cover up to my illustrators. I have had two, and each has brought a unique style to the mix.

My first set of book covers were a labor of love by a very good friend, Gary Rasmussen. As an artist, author, and horse whisperer, he drew beautiful horses and ranch backgrounds. His horses were magnificent and caught the eye of many tweens and teens.

However, most middle-grade books tend to have a more animated look than my original covers. I happened across Mikey Brooks, whose work interested and enchanted me. He fell in love with my characters and sent me a cover he drew on impulse. I loved it, so we discussed other projects, including YouTube video trailers, paper dolls, other fun extras, and a picture book.

Gary draws his covers and then paints them with watercolors. Mikey draws the picture by hand and then colors it on a computer.  Each man’s technique has a unique look and feel, with their individual talent and dedication to their craft shining through each illustration.

Because computer animation makes it easier to tweak colors, scenes, expressions, fonts, sizing, and scene elements, it is easier to change small details or large ones without putting the project on hold for long. My second illustrator, Mikey, and I decided to collaborate on a picture book featuring my main character as a precocious three-year-old.  Mikey has a lot of experience with picture books, having written and illustrated several. Gary agreed that all of my books should have a similar look, so Mikey created new covers for my Ginnie West Adventure series.

The added bonus to Mikey’s method of illustrating is that we can quickly produce new pictures for projects such as the YouTube trailers of my books. Then he converted some of those pictures into illustrations for my books—both print and e-book, and coloring pages for promotional purposes.  As an indie author, I have complete control over what my books look like, but I am smart enough to let Mikey do his thing, which is make awesome illustrations for my books.

Book covers must hint at what the story is about. They begin the promise of the author to the reader that they plan to at least meet their genre expectations.

Most of all, great covers are important because people really do judge your book by them.