Thursday, January 31, 2013

Screen Test by Terry Burns


The seduction of the screen.

No, I’m not talking about the movies.

It seems like I spend most of my life looking at a screen. It’s how I work incoming and outgoing submissions, communicate with clients and editors, research markets . . . in short it’s how I work.

But then there’s social media that I have to participate in for the sake of visibility and name identification. There are hundreds of emails coming in demanding my attention. Time to pay the bills? Look at the screen. Get some rare time to write? Look at the screen.

Taking time away from the computer? Watch the big screen across the room for a movie or some football. Need to know what’s going on in the world? I don’t read the newspaper anymore, I get my news from TV news or online. Watch the screen. Even if I am watching the big screen the computer is pushed aside on an airdesk and the sound of a message coming in or other alert can pull me right back.

Make a phone call? Much smaller screen, but can do email and facebook there too. Now the screen is actually attached to my body if I am out and around. I just had a computer meltdown and was without it for several days. That should have been a relaxing respite but it wasn’t. I was stressing over getting it back up and the things I was supposed to be doing and wasn’t.

How much is too much? When things are competing for my time it is often one type of screen competing with another. I know it is a constant problem for writers trying to carve out writing time and balance it with other aspects of their life. I’m just the opposite, trying to carve out time away from the screens.

How about you, what’s your relationship with the screens in your life?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Platform By the Letters: A Beginner's Guide by Lisa Lawmaster Hess


If we writers had a dollar for every time we read or heard that word, the accumulated pile of cash might even be as large as the elusive advance we've been dreaming of. 

So, what is a platform? A wooden contraption? A blog? Social networking? Finally getting to that magic number of hits when you "Google" yourself? 

All of the above. And though you're probably safe without the traditional wooden contraption unless you intend to literally get up on your soapbox, the visual is a good one. Just as that wooden platform allows you to be seen in a crowd, so does a virtual platform, consisting of an online presence in a variety of places. Although the physical world doesn't allow us to be in more than one place at a time, the virtual world has no such limitations. 

And that is exactly what editors and agents are looking for in a publishing world with ever-tightening budgets. Authors (especially first-time, unknown authors) are expected to play a significant role in promoting their books. Consequently, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media have become integral pieces in the promotion puzzle. 

If you feel overwhelmed (and perhaps a little overexposed) by this whole concept, don't despair. The process doesn't have to be daunting. Read on, and take one letter at a time. In any order. In whatever time frame works best for you. Build at your own pace.
If, of course, you happen to be the lucky writer who has a book deal in hand and whose editor and/or agent is strongly suggesting you wave your flag from your platform, say, yesterday, you may want to build with a bit more alacrity. 

Pick up your hammer (or your mouse) and let's get started! 

Put yourself out there. This is the foundation of your platform. Anything that gets your name in the public eye qualifies. Book signings. Speaking engagements. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In. Like Legos, some building blocks have bigger pay-offs than others, but anything that makes a connection between you and your (potential) readership is a "plank." Online presences are the most universally noticeable, but e-mailing everyone in your contact list about an upcoming book-signing, speaking engagement or published article is a start as well. 

Let go of modesty - professionally speaking. This isn't so much a step in the process as a necessary mindset. You have to believe that there's an audience for your blog, your book, your Twitter posts and your Facebook status. Then, you have to engage that audience. Otherwise, why are you writing these posts in the first place? For writers who are naturally reclusive, this can be the hardest part...until they discover that posting all of their book signings, events and publishing coups online not only sells books, but builds relationships. These posts are also great exercises in writing tight and getting the same point across to different audiences in different ways. Keep your audience and the protocol of the space in mind, though. While an overwhelmed reader can scroll past endless self-promotion posts on Facebook, she may un-follow you if do the same thing on Twitter. 

Access other writers. Your best audience is other people who know what you're going through. This part can be the most fun because you're building relationships and nurturing your creativity through these interactions. The best place to find these folks is in the same online PR improvement stores you're already haunting - social networking sites - which can lead to following one another's blogs and careers, as well as sharing what works and what doesn't. Conferences and online forums are also great places to make connections, build camaraderie and share great ideas. 

Take advantage of free resources. When I first started blogging, I paid a monthly fee to the site that hosted my blog. Later, I discovered that despite my technological inadequacies, I could blog just as easily and look just as professional on a free site. Don't make the same mistake I did, assuming that sites that cost money look more professional than a free site. Check out all your options and choose the one that best fits your needs.
Find a partner in crime. Blogging is so much easier when you do it with friends and colleagues. Ditto book signings. In addition, if you are one of the aforementioned reclusive writers, having a fellow author along takes the edge off and gives you someone to laugh with, as well as potentially drawing a bigger crowd. Take advantage of guest posts - invite people to post on your blog and accept (and pursue) invitations to do the same on other writers' blogs as well. 

Online presence is essential. Google yourself. Go ahead. What do you find? That's exactly what an editor or agent will find when they look you up after reading your query. Are you out in the open, or playing hide and seek? Bear in mind, though, that everything you write online - good or bad - contributes to your public image, so edit all posts in all forums for both quality and professionalism. 

Read widely...and then comment. Read in your genre, not only so you'll know what's out there and who's publishing what, but also so you can speak intelligently about the competition. Read blogs, too, and comment on them. Don't be shy, but do be polite and articulate because once you post, you can't take it back. And, if you get in the habit of commenting on editor and agent pages, these publishing professionals may recognize you when your query crosses their desks, or when you meet them at a conference. In addition, your blog comments will increase the number of hits search engines return when you type in your own name. 

Make sure you don't lose sight of your real goal. We are, after all, supposed to be writing content, not just tweeting and posting status updates. You don't want to find yourself perched atop that platform with no book to wave!
Unless you're in a hurry for some reason (the aforementioned book contract, for example), building a platform can easily be a weekend project - one that you undertake in small pieces over a period of time. Start where you are most comfortable (Facebook, perhaps?) expand from there, and from time to time, step back to review your work and see if it looks the way you want it to. If not, make changes to the content or the aesthetics until you have it looking the way you want it to. As your platform expands and you become more comfortable, seek out other resources on the subject to see where small tweaks can yield big results. 

For a writer, a platform is simply another work-in-progress. And who knows? Maybe you'll even learn to love the possibilities revision brings. 

reprinted with permission from the Institute of Children's Literature

Lisa Lawmaster Hess is a writer and retired school counselor on a constant quest for organization. The author of Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce, Lisa is currently at work on an ebook as a means of putting off revisions on her novel. She indulges her teaching muse as an instructor for community education classes and classes for retirees. Her blogs are The Porch Swing Chronicles and Six Children and No Theories.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Writing Like Horton by Andy Scheer

Some writers could learn a lesson from Horton. That's Horton the elephant, in whose mouth Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) put these words: “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.

Sometimes, to their detriment, writers don't quite say what they mean.

As Samuel Clemens wrote, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Take this inquiry I recently received, which began: “Your agency continues to peek my interest.”

It's nice that she's willing to glance at the agency. But “peek” means something far different from “pique”—or “peak,” such as the one named for Mr. Pike.

Spell check doesn't know the difference, so if you struggle with homophones, ask someone whose eyes you trust to review your cover letters, query letters, proposals, and first chapters—especially the opening pages.

You can't just trust an editor to catch everything. Consider this sentence, at the bottom of the first page of the introduction of a 2012 trade paperback from a well-known CBA publisher:

Whether you're an athlete, postal worker, missionary, or government employee, haven't you felt the insatiable draw of notoriety?

Notoriety? An insatiable draw to be “widely and unfavorably known”? In other words, notorious? I think the writer meant “widely known”—without the unfavorable aspect.

There's an old joke about a man struggling with English who tried to impress his date. Instead of telling her she was a vision, he said, “You're a sight.” She knew the difference.

So do readers. We have the challenge—and opportunity—of writing in a language with a vast range of words with fine shades of meanings. Learn to write like Horton and you won't be notorious.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Everyone Needs Some Down Time by Linda S. Glaz

I was once told, “If you’re a writer,
you’ll never have any time to yourself.
So grab your five minutes whenever you can.”
And that’s pretty much true.
So what happens to an author who is also an agent?
No five minutes!
As with any other venture in your life,
you can’t function at 100% if  you are trying to
 live off the fuel at the bottom of the tank.
You need to be refreshed.
You need time just to sit and stare at
the clouds, at a bird, at a baby.
At anything other than the screen of a computer.
We don’t take many vacations, but this Christmas we
traveled to Alaska and Oregon to
We’re fortunate that we have family in both places, 
so the scenery was just a bonus.
I thought I’d share a pic I took of Mt. McKinley.
If you think it looks breathtaking here, well, it is.
Don’t try to live on five minutes alone.
You must allow yourself time each day to refresh:
A walk where it’s quiet and you can pray
A lunch date with a friend or family
A celebration for absolutely no excuse
Life can’t only be written about; it must be lived.

Take some time today and REFRESH!

Friday, January 25, 2013

How to Minimize Being Flagged by Spam Filters by Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Have you ever spent significant time researching and writing "original" content that you think might be informative and helpful to people, but once it's posted or your email newsletter goes out, you get little response? It's possible that you might have used some trigger words in the title or body that were tagged as spam and it went to people's spam folders, never to be seen again.

How many times have you used the words and terms: free giveaway, free book, book sale, discount? 

I have definitely used them, and I would guess that most of us have. Using these words will not necessarily land you in everyone's spam folder, but it could increase the possibility. Spam filters are set to various strength protection levels and some are more strict than others. Keep in mind that they scan more than the headline or subject line, but the entire email or blog post.

As technology has increased and evolved, spam filters now take into consideration many algorithms besides word and term usage, such as the IP addresses and domains to determine a poster's reputation. For instance, you might get away with using a specific term a few times, but if you are sending out multiple sessions of emails and posts from your domain or IP on a constant basis with the same terms, your info could get flagged and may start landing in spam filters. Other factors include abuse complaints and content scores.

Recently, HubSpot posted a list of commonly known words and terms that should be used minimally to keep your posts from going to the spam slush pile, The Ultimate List of Email SPAM Trigger Words. It's quite extensive and broken down under specific categories. Once you browse through this list, you may be left wondering what you can use! Keep in mind that this list doesn't mean you can never use these words, but you might want to limit them. It's just like the cliches in writing that we should only use sparingly and for the right circumstance.

It's best to keep your subject line short and to the point at 50 characters or less when possible. While you might want to establish branding your newsletter, if you use the same subject line each time, it will decrease the open rate. For example, News from Author Raymond Smith as the subject line each time, doesn't distinguish it from previous emails. What is different about this email than last month's email that would entice me to open it? Be creative, but not deceptive like the cliche of a used car salesman.


  • Sending out too many emails within a given hour or day. 
  • Too many exclamation points. 
  • Using all caps. 
  • Coloring fonts bright red or green
  • Design a Word doc and converting it to an html file

SpamAssassin is one of the best known spam filter for internal testing used by most marketers. Any email that scores 5 points or more is considered to be spam.

For More Info:
Best Practices for Writing Email Subject Lines
Spam Filter Trigger Words - Are They Important?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

You liked my book? by Terry Burns

You said you liked my manuscript, so why did you decline to represent it?

Good question.

I read a lot of projects that I enjoy the read but just don't have any place I can go with it. Has nothing to do with how good a story is or the quality of the writing, it has to do with being fair with the author.

All agents have different sets of contacts. Sure, we overlap a great deal, work with the same houses, but there are editors that are good friends of mine but they seldom acquire anything from me. Why? Because our tastes are very dissimilar and they tend to not like projects that I am drawn to. Other editors have much more similar tastes and as a result are much more favorable to the things that I've chosen to represent.

I work for my clients, but in initial contacts it is much more like I am working for the editors. I'm trying to establish those relationships, trying to understand what they are looking for, and work at helping them find it. But once I establish interest in a project then I am strictly representing my client. This task is much easier if we tend to like the same type of project.

I come from the writing side of the industry rather than the publishing side. I'm very sensitive to tying a project up and then finding I have no place to go with it. If that happens I have it tied up with little chance of success so for all practical purposes it is off the market. I wouldn't want anybody doing that to me and I don't want to do it to anybody else.

For that reason part of my process in evaluating a submission is to not only decide if I like the book and like the writing, but do I see a clear path for it? Not that I guarantee to sell one, just do I see some people in my contact list that I'm sure are a possibility for it. If I don't then another agent with a different set of contacts might be a much better match for it.

It's all about being positioned to effectively represent it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 By Cindy Sproles

Platform, platform, platform. Where do we begin? It's easy. You begin with your email address.
Texting has overtaken the phone while email has breezed past the post office. When email came into existence we found it fun, never anticipating it would become the businessman's way to communicate. Who would have thought?
Families set up email accounts and from that, individual accounts, whose addresses became as unique as the people themselves. Now we stand at the threshold of a new era. One where instant gratification is most important. So what does that mean to the writer? What is the impact for you? It could be devastating.
There are many pros. Just the fact a manuscript can be sent electronically within seconds - cover letter, proposal and entire manuscript in one transmission, definitely makes the cost of postage null and void. Editors no longer have to carry large briefcases filled with submissions when, with the flip of a switch, they have them at their fingertips. Technology has made paper clutter manageable. What a plus for the writer. Correspondence has become instantaneous. Writers can submit to multiple editors, agents and publishers with one simple email. It's wonderful.
But what about the editor or agent receiving the email? With the creative mind of writers, email addresses become a true headache for the editor or agent.
Imagine this:
You're an agent. You've just left a conference and asked for 15 writers to send you their work. By the time you arrive home and turn on your computer, here's what you see. get the idea? Right?
Not only are these email addresses less than professional, they appear somewhat...well...risque'. As an editor, I can tell you first hand, I've received some pretty questionable email addresses. Though there is humor in these addresses, it's time for the writer to grow up and meet the publishing world with professionalism. How can we be treated as a professional if our branding comes in the form of lollipoplickinggal...?
For the editor and agent, these emails are a disaster. Here's why?
*Scams come in various forms from sneaky ploys to get money to less than desirable websites. Junk fills our email box and it's hard to know what to trust and easy to delete what seems "questionable."
*Viruses are attached to some of these emails. Some spam programs pick out obscure email addresses and dump them into spam, simply because phrases or key words raise a red flag. And if a virus is attached, it can destroy an agents full list of stored work.
*It's hard to respect a writer who's email address paints an unpleasant picture in your mind.
So how do we fix this?
Start by thinking of yourself as a professional. As a writer you are in business for yourself. It's important you have an email address that is both professional and respectful of the work you do. Develop an email address that is recognizable to you as an individual. Begin with your name. For example, years ago, when I began my own email, I set it up under my ministry. i.e. mountainbreezeministries@... Though this is a respectful email address, it doesn't identify me to an editor. More than likely, they don't know who Mountain Breeze Ministries is. Not only that, but by the time you add the remainder of the email address (the carrier), it's way too long.
As I became an editor, I learned the importance of sending an email that identified me to the receiver. I developed a professional email address that clearly stated to the receiver who was sending the email. cindyksproles@....
For those  people in the professional world who worked with me, it was easy to identify my email. They can remember Cindy when Mountain Breeze easily slipped their minds.
Most email carriers allow you to forward your email to a secondary account. And I do that. I allow my cindyksproles email to forward to my mountainbreeze account which is the workhorse account. For those on the professional side, there is no issue in locating me when they need me and I'm respected among my editor and business peers.
For me, it's almost too late to change the mountainbreezeministry email. For years peers have finally grown to know who mountainbreeze is, so by the time I figured out the importance of an email that was easily recognized, the retraining process became difficult.
Your assignment this week is simple. It's all about looking at your personal branding. How do you want people to identify with you? What do you want them to picture when they think of you? And more so, when you send that manuscript to an agent, will they remember YOU?
Perhaps you have a website and your email runs through that. Develop an email address through that site that identifies you in a professional light.
Utilize your name or first initial and last name into an email address that makes it easy to locate. Of course there are tons of John Smith's. So the chances of getting is slim but you can become creative. JohnSmithDevotions or J.Smith100@... Use your imagination to make a name for yourself.
Look over your personal branding. What is the theme of your blog or website? Is your name clearly stated on the site other than under ABOUT? Is there an email address that matches you and your branding. SusieSmithWrites1@....
If you don't have a website, blog or a professional email your assignment is to begin to research and develop this all important first step to building a platform.
Blogs from are relatively user friendly for the beginner. WordPress blogs are a bit more advanced but again, fairly user friendly. Companies such as offer web building tools that teach you along the way and provide support should you get stuck. There are individuals who specialize in building websites and blogs you can easily maintain
The point is, your platform as a writer begins on this very basic level. Your email address. If you do not have a business email, get one now. Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, ComCast, Charter, all provide free email addresses. When you type in your email address, if is says something on the order of sassygalinboots (I got this once from a writer), then get a new one.
Begin to build your platform with a professional and recognizable email address. 
This article is provided for by Cindy Sproles and is part of basic training for Writers Advance Bootcamp. Check out this North Carolina writers conference at

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Last First Time by Andy Scheer

I'm a third of the way through a novel I yearn--and dread--to read.

I recently saw on Aaron Elkins's website that Dying on the Vine will be the final book in his Gideon Oliver series. I started reading them soon after he launched the career of the “skeleton detective” with Fellowship of Fear—back in 1982.

Long before Bones or the Bug Man, Elkins was using his background as a physical anthropologist to craft classic mysteries—with clues in the bones themselves pointing to the victim's identity and the cause of death.

After seventeen novels, Elkins has announced Oliver's retirement. He's had a good career. I hope Elkins will continue to craft freestanding novels--or add to his other series. I know I'll re-read Dying on the Vine, just as I've re-read all the previous tales.

But I'll never have another chance to accompany one of Oliver's stories for the first time—unsure whether I've found a clue or been distracted by a red herring. As much as I'll enjoy a return trip, I'll never again experience the same anticipation.

I'm loving Dying on the Vine, set in and around a vineyard in Tuscany. But I'm already missing Dr. Oliver, his wife, Julie, and how Elkins conveys the flavor of exotic places with detailed descriptions of food and drink.

I know even successful series have to end. Jack Aubrey, Travis McGee, and Stuart Brannon have all taken their last ride. And Kinsey Millhone is approaching the end of the alphabet.

But I think it's better not to know, before reading, if a book is the end of the line.

Monday, January 21, 2013

What Made Me Say That? By Linda S. Glaz

Y*I*K*E*S* !
While I was massaging a young patient’s shoulder a few years ago, he informed me he was headed to California to be in movies. I had to ask. What will you be starring in?
Yikes! But before I could engage the filter on my mouth, I said, “Does your mother know what you’re planning to do?”
Now, I’d like to say this had a happy ending, but let’s face it: I should never have made the comment, and certainly didn’t want to find out that his mom was proud of his future vocation. Yikes times two…
My point is, no matter what we do, how we normally react, we sometimes do and say things that are inappropriate, timed poorly, or just show a different side of ourselves.
Do your characters ever do and say things that are not in keeping with their normal personalities? Do you allow them to be “real”?
Have I learned to curb my comments always? No. Will I try harder, probably, but if faced with a similar situation, I have no doubt I’ll say, “Does your mother know what you’re going to do?”
So, what made me say that? Because as a mom, that’s my nature. In my work place it shouldn’t be. I knew better, but in the end, we are often who and what we shouldn’t be. And that’s what makes us living, breathing human beings.
Let your characters be the same!