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An Exercise in Perspective

public domain dragon.pngOne of the best things about being writers is that we get to play with reality. When we craft fiction, poetry, and even creative nonfiction, we can bend and twist the boundaries of our identity, the identities of our speakers and characters, and even the world around us.

Of course, there are varying degrees of reality contorting. One could tell the first-person account of the life of a three-winged dragon in the fictional land of Ingatek, or one could write a poem that relays a factual account of an observation but simply tell it from the perspective of a different person.

“Playing” like this can be fun, exciting, and it works the creative muscle in our writers’ brains that makes us stronger writers. Even hardcore nonfiction writers can benefit from the cross training taking on different perspectives provides. Being able to see the world and events from another’s point of view forces us to notice different details, make different interpretations of events and relationships, and possibly reconsider our own place in the scheme of things.

So today I offer a simple writing exercise in perspective. Use it as a quick warm-up for the day’s writing, or take it and run with it as far as your imagination (and time) will allow.public-domain-child

Exercise: Consider a locale you frequently visit – it could be the library, a bar or restaurant, a park, or even a neighbor’s house. Create a list of at least twenty-five descriptive words associated with that particular place. Write fast and try to complete your list in 3 minutes or less. Using your list, write a short story or poem about being in the place from the perspective of a young child. Keep in mind appropriate vocabulary, how children relate to adults and other children, how a child’s breadth of experience (or lack thereof) might impact what/how he or she experiences in the same place as adult. And have fun with it! You never know where a writing exercise might lead…

Do you often write from different perspectives? Is there a specific process you use when “getting into character” that helps your writing feel more authentic? I’d love to hear about your method in the comments! And if you try the writing exercise, let me know how it goes!

The Writing Life: Lions and Tiger and Titles – Oh My!

books_public_domainIf you’re anything like me, you start writing because a character (or an interesting situation) comes to visit your brain. And you write and write and write and begin to bring to life the story. You start to get excited about your wonderful writing so you share bits and pieces of the project with your friends and/or fellow writers. And then, inevitably the question arises:

“So … what’s the title?” 

And you pause for a never-ending-moment before answering, “Uh … n-n-nothing yet.”

You say this even if it is titled because you only have a working title and no one in their right mind ever wants to share a working title because it is usually embarrassing or silly or unimaginative or anything but the perfect title you know your masterpiece deserves.

Speaking from experience, I can say this traumatic title trouble also happens with poems, flash pieces, works of nonfiction both long and short, essays, research papers, academic works … and yes, even blog posts.

So what’s a writer to do? 

Well, I wish I could give you a one-sentence magic answer … but sadly, I have yet to master that mystical power. However, I can give you a list of some pretty nifty websites that have helped me tack title trouble in the past. Here they are in no particular order:

    • From indiebooklauncher.com comes the post, How to Pick a Title For Your Book (doesn’t get more obvious than that). What I like about this post is that it presents a number of options to brainstorm – I particularly like the suggestion to look for snatches of dialogue.
    • I love this post from Scott Berkun entitled The Truth About Choosing Book Titles because he hits on what matters and what doesn’t, which helps when whittling down that endless brainstorm list of possible titles – I especially like #10!
    • The helpful Tucker Max over at Book in a Box has provided this detailed article aptly named Picking the Perfect Book Title covering everything from titular research to social media to your own gut – very helpful and full of jumping-off points for your title adventures.
    • Don’t forget the value of old-fashioned brain picking – friends, family, even strangers in the supermarket might have the perfect title on the tips of their tongues. My husband was instrumental in helping me figure out the title to a nonfiction piece I recently wrote for a workshop and the first thing everyone commented on was the amazing title.
    • Really stumped? Check out these random title generators from TaraSparlingWrites. I’m happy to see that if I were to ever write Chic Lit (highly unlikely), the title could be Where Smiles Might Tell — mysterious and strange, just like me!
        And when all else fails, keep in mind that if you decide to publish your baby via a publishing house, the editor and marketing peeps may make the decision for you! So sit back, relax, and keep writing. The title will appear, one way or the other. At least that’s what I keep telling myself!

Do you have any tips for title choosing? I’d love to read them and add your wisdom to my writing arsenal! So please – share away in the comments section!

Top Seven Takeaways from Writing Conferences (Part 6): Bang for Your Buck

one-dollar-billThe cost of attending writing conferences can range from my all-time favorite, FREE, to hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars. Additionally, a writing conference can last one day or multiple days, which, unless you live relatively close to the venue means a hotel room and meals out. How do you know which conference to attend in order to get the most bang for your buck?

I’ll be honest. When I first started my year of writing conferences, I had no idea what to look for to answer that question. I lucked out with my very first conference being a grant-funded (read: free admission) conference that happened to have amazing speakers and workshops. But after that, I ran the gamut of reasonable to ridiculous in pricing. And spending more money did not necessarily ensure a better conference.

So please. Learn from my mistakes. My lost money is cash in your pocket. Here are some tips I found useful when determining how to get the most for your conference dollar:

1. Do your homework.
Spend some time looking at upcoming conferences, the list of presenters, the schedule of sessions and workshops. Are there critique sessions? Pitch sessions? Networking activities? Who is the keynote speaker? If a conference costs $300 but three of the four sessions rank as an “eh” in your book, you’re probably better off at a different conference or waiting until next year. Not sure where to find conference listings? Poets & Writers has a database as does New Pages. In addition, START LOCAL. If you don’t need to get a hotel room, eat out as much, etc., you’ll automatically save hundreds of dollars. Check with your state’s writing associations, community and local colleges, bookstores, and libraries. That conference I mentioned above? The free one? That was run through a joint state and library grant program. public-domain-checklist

2. Know what you want to get out of the conference.
There are general writing  conference, genre-specific conferences, writing retreats, pitch conferences… The list goes on. Are you looking to land an agent? Improve a specific part of your craft? Rub elbows with other writers? A little of everything? Knowing what your goal is can save you money and more importantly, it can save you time. There is nothing worse than feeling like you spent a day in a conference that wasn’t worth your money when you could have spent that time writing. So my advice is to look for a conference that best meets your needs. Just getting your feet wet? A general conference is probably the best bet. Looking to grow in your chosen genre? Check out conferences run by your genre’s organization (e.g., SCBWI, Romance Writers, Mystery Writers, Christian Writers, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Writers, etc.).

3. Consider add-ons carefully.
Many conferences have optional “add-ons” that writers may choose to attend or not attend. These can be extra sessions, workshops, one-on-one critiques or feedback sessions, and so on. I’ve had good experiences with the add-ons and not-so-good experiences. The difference? Careful consideration of the added value. They may cost a few extra dollars, but they can also make the difference between a wonderful conference experience and a “blah” experience. The best money I spent was for an add-on at an SCBWI conference – I got more out of those three hours than I did the rest of the two-day conference. But be cautious – not all add-ons are created the same. I researched before adding on that extra session at the SCBWI conference, and in fact did not register for the other add-on even though it was on the same day. I used that time to write.

woman with money public domainWriting conferences can be a wonderful way to grow as a writer and to network with people who can potentially change your writing life. But unless you are independently wealthy, the cost of attending is something to carefully weigh against the benefit. I hope that some of these tips help when you decide which conference(s) to attend this year!

Do you have any other thoughts on how to get the most bang for your writing conference buck? Please share with us – we all like to spend money wisely!

What to Write When Nothing Comes

bored_by_publicdomainpictures.netMaybe you’ve been lucky and never drawn a blank when sitting down to write. But if you’re like me, you’ve sat. And sat. And looked up prompts. And doodled. And refreshed your coffee. Or tea. Or water. Or whiskey. You’ve told yourself, “Go!” then stared numbly at the screen. So you surfed the net, checked and deleted email. Answered the phone. Did the dishes. Dreamed up fanciful and creative menus for your family that you’ll never make. And decided to go to bed early (or late).

And promised yourself that tomorrow you’ll be able to get something down. trick_by_publicdomainreview.org

If this is sounding a little too familiar, I have a trick that helps when you find yourself thinking, “I have nothing to write about.” I’m going to describe it as it relates to poetry, but it could be used with any genre. I have found that when I’m stuck with nothing for my fiction, writing poetry can help shake things loose.

Okay, ready for the trick? Here it is:

Write the opposite.

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “What? This gal has really lost it. Write the opposite of what?!

Let me explain…

Take a poem – any poem. It can be one you’ve written, it can be a classic, it can be one you love, or one you hate. Go through it line by line and write the opposite of whatever the sentiment is in that line.

Here’s an example using Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken:”

woods_by_publicdomain


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both ….

To write the opposite, I could do something like this:

woods2_by_publicdomain
In the purpled woods, two roads collided 

and glad was I to find the path so clear ….

That is an off-the-cuff example that could use (a lot) of work. Regardless, it demonstrates what I mean. At least I hope it does!

To complete the exercise, I would go through every line. If all of sudden in the middle of this task something sparks and I’m inspired, I might drop the exercise and run with my new idea. If not, I’d keep at it, line by line. Then revise and make changes, look for better words and better imagery.

And at the end of the day, I’ll have a poem. At the very least, I’ll have made good use of the day and worked my creative muscles. Writing the opposite it harder than it sounds. It forces you to be creative, look for ways to describe emotions, places, and people. And it can result in some phenomenal poetry!

Don’t believe me? Give it a try! And let me know what you think.

I’m curious – what do you do when the muse is silent? I’d love to hear other tips and tricks! 

Top Seven Takeaways from Writing Conferences (Part 4): Logistics Tricks

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Ah, the thrill of walking into a room of strangers! Who doesn’t love looking for a place to sit and finding something to occupy yourself with before the action begins? Who doesn’t love negotiating the lunch line, eyeing all of the already-full tables of chatting writers, and trying to figure out who to approach to ask if the seat next to him or her is open?

Uh, the answer to all of the above would be me.

I would not be described by those who know me well as easily intimidated or particularly shy. But that’s because I have faked my way through and around and over my instincts to fear public domain imageavoid people at all costs. Instead, I’ve learned to smile and shake hands and speak with confidence. Still – while I don’t get anxious to the point of paralysis at the idea of mingling with strangers, I do get that uncomfortable flutter in my stomach at the thought of negotiating all of the logistics of events like conferences and open workshops.

That feeling brings me back to my school days. It’s a fear of being excluded, left out, unwanted. It’s a fear of being the last kid picked for a team. Of everyone laughing at a joke you’re not in on. It’s a fear of being the last one in the lunchroom, holding a tray of food and finding every seat is taken.

When I start to feel this way, I remind myself that at some point in school I probably was excluded, left out, and unwanted. I’m sure I was. But I got past it. I’m not twelve. Or even sixteen. I’m … much older. Plus, writing conferences are not like school. Not at all. Sure there are usually desks, and yes there is typically one person doing most of the talking. But trust me – they are different. For one thing, we’re all adults. For another, we’re writers. Writers are a friendly if eclectic and often quirky crowd. And many writers are very introverted. All of this spells good news for the shy peeps among us since there is almost certain to be another Nervous Nellie looking for a place to sit and someone to chat with before the show begins. Look for the person hunched over a smartphone. Chance are she is simply killing time, trying to look busy so she doesn’t look alone.

Of course, none of this meandering narrative provides you with direct help. That’s what the rest of this post is for.

Here are my top five tips (or logistics tricks, if you will) for navigating the less “writerly” part of writing conferences

1. Where do I sit during lectures/workshops?

lecture-hall public domainThe answer is – toward the front. And also on the end of an aisle or as close to one as you can get. Here’s why. You want to be able to hear (not all writers have great speaking voices … or microphones). You want to be able to see (most presenters hold up books, papers, examples, write on the board, or use the smartboard/overhead). You want the presenter to notice you when you raise your hand with a comment or question (if for no other reason than if you don’t, someone else will). And most importantly, you want to be able to get the heck out of Dodge (the presenter might be so awful you have to leave, you might need to use the facility, and after the session you want to be able to dart over to the lecturer with fabulous questions and insights).

2. Where to sit during lunch?

The answer is – sit with people.eating public domain

Okay, that’s an oversimplification. If you didn’t bring friends or acquaintances with you, I have found that one of two options works phenomenally. One, make a point to start a conversation with one or more folks in the session before lunch. If you find this person (or people) interesting, you have a lunch buddy. Two, sit anywhere. I’ve sat by myself a few times (when I was lucky to get to the lunch line in the first wave) and inevitably I was joined by other writers looking for company (or, more likely, a seat). I’ve held my breath and walked over to almost-full tables and been welcomed like a long-lost friend. Remember the first post in the series – networking is key. Make these lunch hours work for you!

3. Speaking of food… Should I bring my own? Risk eating what is provided? Or head out to a restaurant?

lunch public domainThe answer is – it depends.

I’ve done all three. I’m a fan of keeping things simple. And the easiest thing is to eat the food provided. It’s usually included or offered at a reasonable price. That being said, I have food allergies, I have Celiac, and I’m a vegan. You can imagine that standard conference food isn’t usually going to work for me. If you have any food “issues,” I strongly recommend contacting the organizers to make sure the meal you’re paying for will actually be something you can eat. Don’t email. Don’t rely on the box you checked when you registered. Call the organizers. Once I was handed a gluten-free tuna fish sandwich when I marked vegan and allergic to fish. It was gluten-free, but I couldn’t eat it. Lesson learned.

I have brought my own meal on occasion. It was fine, but tedious to carry about or retrieve from the (distant) car. And I went out to lunch exactly one time. I joined a group of women who invited me along. It was a nice experience, but far more costly than eating at the conference. Still, I made connections and had a good time. Of course, not all conferences provide food and in that case the decision is easier.

4. I have choices for different sessions. How do I know which ones to take?

The answer is – narrow down your options, then do some homework.

First, I am a strong believer in signing up for at least one session that will get you writing. There are often workshop-type sessions (easily identified by the words “bring a pencil!” or “we’ll then put xyz to use!” and so on). Even if this session is offered in a genre that you typically avoid I say, take it anyway. In fact, the less familiar you are with the genre the better. You only grow when you stretch yourself. The active sessions are good for something else, too. They break up the day. It can be difficult to sit and only listen for six or more hours. These workshops will engage a different part of the brain and provide a boost to get you through the rest of the day.

Second, it is easy to cross off public-domain-checklist-300x199the things that don’t apply or appeal to you – or that do. If you write in a specific genre, look for genre-specific sessions. I attended a conference that offered sessions on writing thrillers, writing romance, fantasy world building… If those apply to you, grab them with both hands because they will probably fill up fast. Likewise, if you only write nonfiction, a fantasy world building workshop won’t be for you.But invariably, there’s a slot of time in which none of the sessions are appealing – or worse, all are appealing or “must-have” sessions. That’s when it is homework time.

So…

Third, do your homework. Research the presenters before the conference. Look at their publications. Read their bios. Sometimes a session title sounds tedious, but after reading the bio of the presenter you find that the woman leading it is in two rock bands, writes for a television series you love, and does stand-up comedy on the side. You can bank on that session being lively and fun! Or you find out that the session title that sounded amazing is being led by a writer you didn’t know you detested because he writes under a pen name. You don’t want to spend the entire session muttering under your breath and stabbing your notebook out of frustration. Taking a little time to learn about who is going to be holding your attention (or losing it) for an hour or more can be invaluable in choosing how to spend your time.

public-domain_largeAnd finally, know you will probably regret at least one session. You’ll walk out of a session that left you feeling “blah” only to hear laughter and applause coming from the room of the session you almost decided to attend. At lunch, your table mates will gush about how much they enjoyed and are taking away from a session you thought sounded about as appealing as stabbing yourself in the eye. It happens. My advice is to challenge yourself and make a list of at least three things you know now that you didn’t know before the session. For example, I attended one session that was a total letdown. I was angry and frustrated because I felt like I had wasted precious time and money. But I stuck to the challenge and made my list. One of the things on my list was, “I now know that there are forty-six ceiling tiles in room 103.” Sounds pointless. But I filed that away, and actually used that experience when writing a scene in which the character is bored out of her mind during a class. Not ideal, but I no longer see the session as a total waste because the experience was fresh in my mind so my scene was vivid and detailed.

5. When should I arrive? The website says check-in starts at 8am, but the conference doesn’t begin until 9:30am?

time public domainThe answer – as early as possible.

I know, I know. The awkwardness of standing around with nothing to do! The horror of waiting! Or for some of us, the horror of getting up early and anywhere on time! I get it. But here’s why I answer this way… Unless you live across the street, you want to give yourself time to find the place, get parking, sign in, grab a cup of joe (or tea or juice), snag a muffin or doughnut before they’re gone (or if you’re me, a banana), find out where the restrooms are, have time to ask any last minute questions, and study the map of the place to figure out where on earth you’re going. You don’t want to be a sweaty mess that runs in late, hands shaking from the stress of finding the venue and parking, miss the coffee and goodies, and start the day feeling behind. I’ve been that person. It’s not fun. Tell yourself the start time is the earliest time listed for arrival, and unless there is a record-breaking traffic jam or you drive for fifty miles in the wrong direction on the highway, you won’t be late. And you’ll have a little extra time to meet people, familiarize yourself with the schedule, and relax before the day begins.alarm clock public domain

There’s another benefit to arriving early. Most conferences begin with a keynote speaker. If you arrive on the earlier side of the morning, you can actually find a seat that meets the criteria I listed above. You’ll be able to hear. You’ll be able to see (I showed up slightly later – not late, but not early – to a conference this fall and had a great view of a pole for the keynote address). You’ll be able to sneak out to use the restroom – or at least get there first at the break (this is no joke for the ladies room – I’ve seen lines wrapped around the building). And you won’t be the person coming in late to hundreds of eyes that will inevitably turn and stare at you as you try to find a place to sit (or more likely, stand). So set your alarm and be early – not just on time. 

I hope some of this is helpful as you step through the doors of your next conference!

If you’ve been to a writing conference – or anything like a writing conference that presented similar tricky logistics – please share your tips and tricks! What has worked (or not worked) for you?

 

 

 

Pondering Poetry: What’s a Poet to Do?

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Poetry-cover-public-DomainI love to read poetry. It makes me feel in a way that little else does.

I also love to write poetry. If I am honest (and I believe I am an honest person), I think I mostly write bad poetry. Sigh. But every once in a while I get an internal “YES!” from something I’ve written. I wish I could get more of those.

Writing poetry is an interesting thing. If you ever want to stop a conversation in its tracks, mention you write and read poetry. Most Americans (in my experience) steer clear of the neatly-wrapped packages we call poetry. Even very successful poets rarely become rich or famous or widely read. (Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in line getting coffee ask the person in front of you who the current US Poet Laureate is.) And getting published can be challenging – it is often a matter of whether or not the particular poem is a good fit for a publication … or maybe even that issue. Did you just finish a masterpiece on running shoes that elevates this everyday item to the level of the gods? Great! Celebrate your genius! But if the journal has already accepted (or published in the recent past) a poem that mentions shoes, running shoes, running, etc., etc., etc. … keep hitting “submit.”

You may find yourself asking, What’s the point? Why bother writing poetry at all?

There are many answers to this question which come from the physiological to the philosophical arenas. The bottom line for most of us is that we can’t help it. We write it even when we don’t mean to write poetry. Or, you could be in an MFA program and find yourself in a class that requires you to write poetry (eh-hem… present company included). And as I’ve mentioned before, if you’ve never written poetry you can find plenty of reasons to start.

Here are a few articles I read this weekend to keep me motivated and excited about writing poetry.

  1. Five Reasons to Write Poetry by Vic Vosen
    I love things that are short and sweet but full of interesting information. Plus how could I resist an article written by an author with such a cool, alliterative name?
  2. Improving Your Writing through Poetry by Melissa Donovan
    This author explains how doing the work of poetry will help you improve your ability to connect to readers on multiple levels…
  3. Five Ways How to Write a Poem by Robert Lee Brewer
    Another shortie and sweetie. What I like about this article is that it offers concrete jumping-off points to get started…
  4. Un-think Your Poetry: How to Write Better Poems from Writer’s Relief
    Ahhhh… I feel a great weight being lifted just reading this article. This is how I tend to approach poems, and find that when I let go a little I tend to write better …
  5. Ten Tips for Being a Successful Poet from BBC News and Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion
    I was taught that if you want to be successful you should learn from the best, so this weekend I sought out tips from Sir Andrew Motion, poet extraordinaire. His fifth tip especially resonated with me…

Remember: Sharing Is Caring
With that in mind tell me … do you write poetry? Have you read anything that gets you excited about poetry? Or do you detest poetry – please tell me why! Of course, if that’s the case you probably didn’t make it this far. 😉 

 

The Writing Life: Top Seven Takeaways from Writing Conferences (Part 3)

Of all of the tips and takealight bulbsways I carry with me from my year of attending writing conferences, this one (#3 on the list, a list which is in no particular order) struck the deepest chord in me. This tasty tidbit was given at almost every conference I attended, but somehow at the most recent it was presented in way that caused not just one but several light bulbs to brighten over my previously dim head. Here it is in a nutshell:

Keep submitting.

Yes, that’s it. Deceptively simple. Two little words that appear, at first glance, quite obvious. We’ve all heard the story about one famous author or another whose bestselling blockbuster was rejected umpteenth times before finally sticking.

But what about the rest of us lowly humans? Those of us who are maybe submitting a poem or work of flash fiction? Those of us with a manuscript that probably won’t yield millions upon millions of sales (but is still a darn good book)?

Keep submitting.

image manAt the last conference I attended in 2015, I spent one of my precious time slots listening to a panel of writers and editors talk about submissions. And I’m glad I did because this is where I had my aha moment. One of the panelists, a co-founder of Tin House, explained that some writers do not let rejection stop them from submitting again. These writers do not wait before they submit wholly new pieces or revised pieces. And she explained that these writers tend to be men. Why men? Because they …

Keep submitting. 

In the world of literary journals, women are published less often than men (see e.g., VIDA). The panelists at the writing conference I attended seemed to think this is at least partially due to the way women submit. Or rather, don’t submit. According to the panelists (and several articles, such as this one, which I read after I got home), women are less likely to resubmit to the same journal even when encouraged to do so by the editors. Men, on the other hand, do. They …

Keep submitting. 

That being said, I’m fairly certain (okay, I’malpha wolf actually certain) that not all women fall into the “shrinking violet” category. And not all men are the fearless alpha males of submitting. I don’t think it matters. I think what matters is the takeaway – submit like you are the alpha. Don’t take rejection personally (though do take feedback into consideration). Don’t wait a year or longer to resubmit – editors receive hundreds, even thousands, of submissions so strike while they still remember your name.  If a publication accepts you, don’t worry about letting someone else have a turn – send more or your own work! And above all …

Keep submitting. 

successNot submitting to journals? Trying to get a full-length work published? That’s fine. This advice holds for manuscripts, too. Listening to the panelists, I was embarrassed that it took me this long to truly accept the obviousness of what they were ultimately saying, even if they didn’t say it outright: the decision to accept or reject is subjective. And because we human are imperfect, editors and agents make mistakes. Looking back at some of the famous cases of authors who were rejected again and again only to eventually make it big, we can imagine editors and agents who were/are kicking themselves at the missed opportunity.

The lesson?

Keep submitting.

How about you? Do you have any submitting (and submitting … and resubmitting …) success stories? Have you thought about giving up but decided to stick with it? What inspires you to keep sending your stories and poems in to publishers? I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

The Writing Life: Top Seven Takeaways from Writing Conferences (Part 2)

As I explained in Part 1 of this series, over the past year I made it a point to go to a multitude of writing conferences. From big, national conferences to small town gatherings, I attended over a dozen conferences, drank lots of too much coffee, and took copious notes. In this series, I’m sharing with my readers my top seven takeaways from the experience.

In Part 1, I talked about the importance of networking and mingling with other writers (and agents … and editors … and illustrators …). Read on to find out my second takeaway!

business-concept-3-1615030Number Two – Authors Need to Market for Themselves

At most of the conferences, there was a session or panel or workshop (or two or three) dedicated to marketing. At first, I ignored these sessions thinking they were relevant only to those authors who were interested in self-publishing their books. (And believe me, from what I heard at these conferences, if you are planning on self-publishing your baby you absolutely want to investigate marketing, self-publishing, and the world of ebooks.)

But after attending a few conferences and seeing this topic over and over and over again while at the same time hearing writer after writer talk about these sessions, I decided to attend a few myself (here is where the networking from Part 1 comes into play – had I not been talking to these authors, I would not have learned how important these sessions are for all authors no matter where in the process you find yourself).

What I learned about marketing blew me away.

I had assumed that once your book was accepted by a publishing house, marketing would be done for you. After all, isn’t it in the best interest of publishers to have their books sell? Yes and no. It turns out publishers like to put most of their eggs in one basket.

What does this mean for Average Joe (or Jane) Writer?

Let’s pretend Big Publisher has $100 to spend on marketing 10 books. Chances are that he or she small-change-1240648will put $90 into marketing one of the books and spread the remaining $10 over the other nine books. Smaller publishing houses have less money to spend, so while your book may get more attention there is likely to be a smaller budget.

This boils down to a fairly simple result for most authors – Average Joe or Jane Writer will need to pick up the slack with marketing if he or she wants his or her publication to experience the best possible sales and build his or her name. 

How do writers go about this? We all know writers who tweet incessantly about their own books, but this simply doesn’t work. At least not according to the many successful (often best-selling) authors I listened to over the past year who were involved in marketing their own works.  What does work is a combination of activities and connections with other writers and book-friendly community partners.

What follows is a list of some the ideas and suggestions I gathered from the various conferences. Take the ideas, tweak the ideas, leave the ideas – it’s up to you. But know that when the time comes to market your work you should be prepared to be actively involved in the process.

Author Marketing Ideas

  1. Promote other authors’ books. This seems to work especially well if you can join a group of like-genre writers who will do the same for you. Instead of tweeting or blogging about your own book, offer to do a review or giveaway of their books and ask them to do the same for you.
  2. Tie marketing into workshops at community events – but be sure you are truly providing a value to the community (don’t just try to sell your books).  For example, at the local Arts & Wine Festival, offer a creative writing session (or two) to aspiring writers or teens … and at the end offer to sign copies of your book.
  3. Start a “Read Local” challenge. Band together with 15-20 other local authors, create a poster with your books, and spread the word. This works especially well with YA and middle grade books where schools can compete to see which can read the greatest number of local authors in a given time period. However, this could also work with adult readers and local libraries.
  4. If you write YA or middle grade, offer to do school visits. Be sure that the teachers prepare for your visit school-desks-1418686(i.e., the children should know the book and have questions ready). Also be sure your books are available to the students through the school or classroom library. Schools usually pay authors for these visits, and rates vary based on your geographic region and how long your visit lasts.
  5. Offer to do writing workshops at local schools and community colleges. You can charge for the workshops and offer to have copies of your books available for sale/signing at the end of the day.
  6. Giveaway Skype visits to schools and community groups. Offer to do a 15-20 minute Q&A for no cost through a website or Twitter giveaway.
  7. Donate a few copies of your books to underprivileged schools/community groups/events.
  8. And lastly, remember that the best publicity is publishing additional books. The more titles you have to your name the broader your audience and the more marketable you become. So write, write, write!

What about you? Do you have any tips or tidbits for author marketing? Have you engaged in any of the above tactics or done something on your own? I’d love to hear about it in the comments box! The more we share with each other the more we grow!

The Writing Life: The Importance of Connecting with Other Writers

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**

aloneWriting is a mostly solitary act.  We may venture out to eavesdrop on coffee-shop conversations or to “gather material” in other crowded places, but much of our work is done in a chair, in our head, alone.  And depending on where in the world you live and/or your schedule, it can be challenging to meet with other writers on a regular basis.  The groups either don’t exist, exist too far away from your home to make attending a meeting realistic, or meet at times that conflict with that other thing you have going on, commonly referred to as “life.”

Even those of us fortunate enough to both live in areas where writers’ groups thrive and had the magic scheduling gods smile upon us struggle to make honest-to-goodness connections with our peers.  Instead we may chat at the meeting or get together but not speak to the other members again until the next meeting; or we may sit quietly, gathering material nodding and observing and smiling, but avoiding deeper conversation.

This is a huge mistake.

I know what you’re thinking. Or at least what I might be thinking if I were reading this.

Who are you, oh writer-come-lately, to judge and tell other writers what they should and should not be doing when it comes to making connections?

I can’t argue – I am new to the writing newscene (at least in a public sense).  I have just started submitting my work and have only a modest number of publication credits to my name, not scores of impressive journal titles. And I haven’t even finished my first book let alone published it.

So what can I offer?

I can offer my personal experience. I’m someone who avoided making these types of connections for a very long time. I’m someone who refused was afraid to admit to other people that she is a writer. I’m someone who has changed her ways and started forging connections.  And I’ve seen firsthand how these connections have helped me grow and thrive, both as a writer and a person.

You don’t have to take my word for it.

There are countless, far more impressive writers who have talked about the significant role these connections have played in their lives and careers.  If you’re interested in reading more, all you have to do is Google and find page after page on the topic.

Instead of rehashing what these very smart people have already written, I thought I’d share a piece of my story to illustrate how forging strong connections has improved my writing life.

The Life and Times of One Small-Town Writer

Main street road sign, Iowa, USA

Okay, I admit that subtitle is a little dramatic. But we have to get our kicks somewhere, right? After all – writing is a solitary occupation, as we just discussed, and as I write this I’m sitting in The Hole, by myself, with nothing but a cup of coffee and some 90s tunes rocking in the background for company. So thank you for allowing me my dramatic entrance. =)

In all seriousness, though, I am one small-town writer out of the thousands (millions?) across the country, the world. And when the big, bright “you’re-a-writer-gosh-darn-it” light bulb went off over my head and I realized I wanted to venture into the world of publication, I knew that in order to find my way I needed to find other writers.library

I started by talking to a published writer I met through the local library. He worked there and was very willing to share his story with me. He told me about getting his MFA, keeping his day job, self-promotion at local festivals and fairs and libraries. And he commiserated with me about the lack of area writing groups.

Just admitting to this one person that I was a “Writer” and having him take me seriously gave me a boost. My world began to change.

conferenceI then attended a local conference where I applied (and was accepted!) to take part in two workshops with published, bestselling authors.  Instead of giving in to my shrinking violet inclinations, I networked with these authors and the other writers in the group.  We exchanged emails, and I actually took the next step – I sent follow-up emails.

And my world changed a little more.

The authors encouraged me, gave me feedback and a swift kick in the rear. Because of their encouragement, I decided to pursue writing.  I told tell my husband my goal and determined to get my MFA.  It wasn’t until I was solidly embarked in the program that I found the courage to submit.

Can you guess why?

My fellow classmates.  I made a few strong connections. I reached out and encouraged them to submit certain pieces, and I was blown away Group of people studying together in cafewhen they did the same to me.  I was even more shocked when some of the pieces I’d submitted based on their encouragement landed and stuck in literary journals. I asked the administration if there was a way we could expand on this type of support, and I was thrilled when the program advisor agreed and started a Facebook group for current and past program members. It’s been a wonderful way to connect outside the classroom and learn about the various “wins” my classmates and program alum find in the writing world.

I attended a few more writing conferences and exchanged information with other writers. Several of those brief connections turned into long email conversations with invitations to attend local poetry workshops, writing critique groups, and information about local publications looking for authors.

My writing world was growing.

Group of people jumping for joy

This fall, I finally got on board with creating a writing platform. I joined the Writer’s Digest Platform Challenge, run by poet and editor Robert Lee Brewer. Through the program, I met many amazing writers. Some just starting out, some with dozens of books to their names.  And some of these writers have gone on to become what I consider good “online” friends.  They’ve boosted my moral when I was feeling desperate about my current writing project, they’ve sympathized when I wrote about my real-life antagonist, and they’ve cheered me on when I had pieces accepted for publication.

But more importantly, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to read their amazing work, hear their stories, learn about their writing process. These writers have shown me other ways to do things, options to try when the well runs dry, and offered a place to turn when I feel like giving up.

And my circle continues to grow. At the Baltimore Writing Conference just last weekend, I met several women writers who connected me with additional support groups designed to help women authors in a world that publishes (and awards) far more men than women.  And just yesterday, I received an email from one of these women with a proposal to collaborate on a project.

I may never be a bestselling Cultura Image sync Capture/Cortex - may have been withdrawn. VUNauthor, but I feel like in so many ways I’ve already won. I’ve embraced who I am. I have a growing community of writing friends and supporters. And I love where these connections are taking me – the future of my writing world.

Need help building your community?

Check out this article by New York Times bestselling author Joanna Penn: 5 Ways to Connect with Other Writers. In this post, Penn offers tips on how to make these all-important connections.

Do you have a writing community? How has it impacted your writing life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section! You never know when something you share will change another writer’s life – so don’t be shy! Share away!

The Writing Life: Best Tips for Finishing NaNoWriMo

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**

finish lineThis is my first year taking on the month-long challenge that is NaNoWriMo. And so far, I’m pleasantly on track. Not ahead, not behind. Right on target. But every day, the words come more slowly. The looming mountain ahead feels higher and steeper than it did week one.

Bottom line? I’m starting to get worried about finishing.

So last night, I took a few hours and did what procrastinating writers everywhere do best – I surfed the web.  And read. And surfed. And read some more.  And I found some of the best tips for finishing NaNoWriMo on the web.

Because I want you to finish, I’m hoping my wasted writing hours will mean less procrastination for you. Take advantage of my surfing trip and check out these helpful articles and posts for finishing NaNoWriMo.

My personal favorite way to write when the well appears dry? NaNoWriMo Word Sprints on Twitter. I don’t know what it is, but just having that page up while writing motivates me to plow through and have something on the page before they yell, “STOP!”

Note: I’m only including five of the many, many, MANY articles I read because, well, the truth is you need to be writing and so do I!

When you’re through reading the wise words of these WriMo sages, get writing! The end is near – so write on!

TIPS FOR FINISHING NANOWRIMO
brought to you by World-Class Procrastinator, Kat McCormick… 

  1. From WritersDigest.comHalfway There: Finishing NaNoWriMo Strong by contributor Cris Freese

    This tidy article offers creative and inspiring tips from past finishers and writers to get you through the second half of NaNo.  My personal favorite? Bring wine!

  2. From WritabilityHow I Won NaNoWriMo in 9 Days by writer Ava Jae

    I know what you’re thinking… nine days?! You and I may not be aiming to pull off a 9-day feat (or if you’re behind maybe you are), but regardless of timing the tips and tricks used by speed writer Jae will help you power through toward the finish line.

  3. From Write It SidewaysHow to Get Past the NaNoWriMo Danger Point and Finish Your Novel by author and coach Hillary Rettig

    This article offers some tips I’ve read before, and some I haven’t – but they are presented in a different light that made something “click” in my brain. I especially like the tips about writing nonlinearly and examining your fears and pitfall (procrastination-busting at its best).

  4. From Kirsten Lamb’s Blog8 Elements to NAILING Your Plot & Owning NaNo by, you guessed it, Kirsten Lamb

    While this post is not specifically about finishing NaNo, Lamb points out flaw that will stop you from completing your story and provides insights on what is needed to avoid/fix them. I especially appreciate the section on the core story problem (or lack thereof).

  5. And last but not least, from CreativeLiveHow to Break Through Writer’s Block: Show Up & Bring a Pen by Hanna Brooks Olsen

    What I like best about this post is how straightforward it is – if you want to break through the shiny ribbon at the NaNo finish line, there is only one thing to do – WRITE! Olsen does offer some tips on how to write when the words don’t want to come, but overall this article was a swift kick in the rear for yours truly.

Any of these tips resonate with you? Or if you’re a past finisher, please share your best tip in the comments section and stop a WriMo procrastinator from spending more precious writing time surfing the web …