Friday, February 26, 2016

Grow Your E-mail List by Jim Hart

One of the best things you can do to grow your author platform is to grow an audience of subscribers to your blog. A healthy e-mail list is attractive to potential publishers.

Lack of author platform continues to become one of the top reasons we see proposals declined from a publisher.

According to a recent blog from Rob Eager e-mail is forty times more effective at “acquiring customers than all social media combined.”  That’s a bold statement. But consider that your e-mail list allows you to communicate directly to your readers. It’s more targeted than Twitter or Facebook. (BTW- I just noticed the Pope has 8.75 million Twitter followers, he should have no problem getting a book contract.)

A very effective way to grow your e-mail subscription list is to offer some free content as an enticement for a reader to subscribe to your blog. In the same blog Rob Eager addresses the myth that giving away free content could have a negative effect on current and future sales. He counters this by explaining “free content is a low-cost effective way to gain new customers.”

So what content do you have that you could format into a short, downloadable PDF?

·         An unpublished short story
·         A five-day devotion series
·         A short collection of your poetry
·         A handful of your favorite recipes that tie in with your current book or work-in-progress
·         A how-to manual for one of your hobbies

But whatever content you offer, it needs to have value to the reader. It should be something that they feel they may not be able to find elsewhere. Think about content that is unique to you as a writer.

In addition to using your blog to collect e-mail subscribers, using a site like Noisetrade is a great way to offer content to potential readers. Noisetrade originally started as a ‘pay what you want’ site for musicians to release content. They are also now allowing authors to offer content – everything from a complete book, to a short story. With Noisetrade the consumer can pay you a small ‘tip’ or download for free if they so choose. But either way they have to supply you with their e-mail address.

Remember the larger your e-mail list is, the stronger your online marketing asset becomes. And that could get you a J from a publisher.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Writing and Winter Car Washes

How could you make your project shine?

This weekend I finished judging more than 130 pieces of published writing for a national magazine contest. A few days earlier, in mid-February Colorado, I took advantage of a break in the weather to wash my winter-encrusted minivan.

This morning I reflected on the relationship of car washing and writing — especially revising.

I’ve been driving that minivan for nearly twelve years. While never flashy, it’s fabulously practical. I’ve hauled cargo for conferences and friends to concerts. With regular upkeep and occasional repairs, it’s still running strong.

But midweek, all I saw was the grime from four months of winter. Yet the forecast called for unseasonable warmth. Thursday after lunch the thermometer said 71 degrees. Time for me to wash the van.

The water from the hose was cold, but the sun shone brightly. I began spraying the van to loosen the crust. The suds, sponge, and spray performed their magic. In a half hour, my minivan shone.

But it wasn’t perfect. Yesterday before I drove to see a friend in a medical facility, I noticed a few spots I’d missed. A few moments with a damp towel, and those flaws disappeared. I drove to Denver no longer distracted by the van’s appearance. I could concentrate on my driving and the reason for the trip.

Purpose ranked high as a criteria as I judged the writing contest: how fresh and powerful was the idea being conveyed. Equally important was the writing’s result for a reader: the takeaway.

For the idea to connect required two components: the method used to convey the content and the quality of the writing. Were readers invited into the piece, made to feel welcome, and transported smoothly to the end?

All the contest articles had been published. All conveyed some potentially useful information. But few of them really shined.

Yet they could have. Most of the problems were obvious — and potentially easy to fix:
● Beginning on topic
● Staying on topic
● Speaking the reader’s language
● Taking a consistent approach
● Citing specific examples
● Using simple, direct prose
● Maintaining eye contact

When I washed my van, I did the best I could for February. With other projects pending, I had only a half hour. But that fixed the biggest problems.

My van wasn’t transformed into a new Lexus or a custom ’57 Chevy convertible. Just a clean Plymouth minivan ready to do its job. That was enough. As I drove to see my friend, I enjoyed the ride.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Hammer and Chisel by Linda S. Glaz

  Yes, it had to start somewhere.
   Hammer and chisel, reed pens and papyrus, quills on parchment, pens on paper, typewriters, word processors, desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and I-phones.
   We have come a long way.
   And the message is the same. An individual has a story to tell. And so he must.
   Still and all, what prompted the first man or woman to make up a story and tell it?
   Storytelling has certainly evolved. Early man passed along family and societal information via stories. Some spoken, some written. But at one point, an imaginative person took a simple idea and wove a tale. That might have been the first release of voices in the head.
   The next natural step was jotting down ideas and sharing them.
I laugh when I think of the first story I wrote for a class on an old typewriter. Then, one needed carbon paper if they wanted to keep a copy. And sending off to an editor meant copy after copy after messy purple copy.
   We’ve come a very long way and all for one reason: to tell our stories.
   Whether we chiseled them out of rock or made copies on our printers, we have stories to share. Ideas in notebooks in the middle of the night. Quick summaries on a computer. A scribbled note at a stop light.
   The stories must be told. Whether or not a writer uses a keyboard or a pen and legal pad, or whether or not the story is ever published, if a person is called, they must write.
   So chisel, or type, or share with a friend, but do tell your story.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Write as Often as You Can by Diana Flegal

Have you heard the idiom that says, Practice makes perfect? Doing something over and over again, is the best way to learn it well.

Write as often as you can, in as many places as possible,
for as many years as you are able.

In the car, or the local juice bar.

While gazing at the stars, or listening to a guitar.

On the mountain top, or down in the valley.

Writing is what a writer does.

I can hear my daddy now, "Kitten, you're a poet, and you don't know it- your feet are Longfellow's!"

Writing as much as you can is good advice if you want to hone your writing skills. If I tried, I might, given enough time and effort, actually become a fair poet. (Did I just hear a collective groan?)

Bloggers get better at blogging AS THEY BLOG.

Novelists become better writers AS THEY WRITE.

But practice alone will not make one a great writer. As James Scott Bell cautions us here, we do not
want a brain surgeon cutting into our head that has only practiced on others, but never studied the brain and it's intracacies.

One also needs to study the craft of writing. Although each writer will have their particular voice, there is a right and a wrong way to go about it. There is a plethera of great writing resources on writing nonfiction, fiction, poetry, articles, devotions, and short stories. Use Amazon's search window to find the book to meet your particular need and situation.

The first novel a fiction writer crafts, might end up in a desk drawer and serve only to prime the pump, but the second or surely the third is often the book that catches the eye of an editor or agent.

Writers Advance Boot CampWriting Conference Season starts for me this weekend at the Asheville Christian Writers Conference held at The Cove in Asheville, NC. With a great group of instructors, writers can choose workshops based on their particular interests, and enjoy hanging out with those that 'get them'. Look for a conference near you or plan your vacation around one. Many writers I know make a particular conference an annual event.

Writers, please give a shout out in the comment section for your favorite conference.

And bloggers, check out this great Pinterest board to follow offering great blogging advice from Laura Christianson of Blogging Bistro.

Be patient, stay the course, study the craft of writing, and write as often as you can.

What is the weirest place you have written from, or the most exotic? (remember, this is a G-rated site).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Stay Yourself by Andy Scheer

It’s okay not to fit the mold.

I don’t usually try to be different. But often when I see where the crowd’s going, I find more attractive choices.

The day after the Super Bowl when Facebook blazed with accusations about the halftime program, I had little to say. I’d never heard of two of the performers, and had never knowingly listened to the third. One glance at their costumes convinced me I should devote my attention elsewhere. So I sliced a piece of homemade raspberry-rhubarb pie and concentrated on not spilling a single crumb.

Today while working on an editorial project, I kept myself on task by playing 1940s recordings by Count Basie and Glenn Miller. Yesterday, it was symphonies by Felix Mendelssohn and piano solos by jazz pianist Art Tatum.

Why? I like the music. Over decades of browsing garage sales, I’ve accumulated a massive LP collection that includes classical, old jazz, bluegrass, Celtic, pop hits of the 1960s and ’70s, and others that fit into what my children called “Dad’s weird music.”

It’s the same with my books. I’m always on the lookout for authors whose approach fits my quirky tastes. Sometimes I’ll be charmed by a bestselling author, but more often the volumes that line my shelves come from niche publishers. Will I try someone new? Absolutely! But most often when a title jumps out at me or I get a recommendation from a real friend.

As for the “if you liked this, you’ll love that” computer recommendations, I’m not convinced. Ten minutes ago, ebay sent me an email labeled “our top picks for you.” Of the four musical “top picks,” one was by a singer whose name I first saw two months ago. The second was by a deceased pop artist I despise. A third was by an old group barely on my radar. And the last was by someone completely unknown.

How ebay made its conclusions, I’ll never guess. The only music I’ve bought via online auction in the past year was by traditional jazz groups. (Anybody else like the New Black Eagles or the Firehouse Five Plus Two?)

Am I bothered that I seldom find my kind of music on commercial radio or books I like on the bestseller lists? Not really. I’m thankful the Internet can help create community and make otherwise obscure work accessible. As a consumer in this new, golden age of easy media access, I find that it’s easier to stay myself.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Last Season of Downton Abbey by Linda S. Glaz

On Sunday nights, you can still hear the sound of sniffling and tears. From individual homes to Season Six parties, the sobs aren’t because Lord Grantham is ill, they are because it’s probably the last time we’ll see Lord Grantham ill. The last time Mary will find a new beau, and no doubt the last time we’ll empathize with poor Edith being rejected.

Sadness over the last episode of Downton is nothing new. Readers have experienced the same type of withdrawal for centuries.

Stephanie Plum will have to choose between Ranger and Morelli eventually or there will be a revolt against Evanovich. Sue Grafton is going to reach Z before long and then what next? 

Successful writers are able to keep their readers returning book after book. With no closure? 

Amazing. And still the hungry readers return time and again, dollar after wonderful dollar to get another installment.

And Downton’s writer created the same environment. One that lured us in and has been able to keep us returning through financial crises, war, romances—good and bad, and, of course, the constant battles and strange friendship between Isobel and Violet Crawley.

Wait! That reminds me of the peculiar love/hate relationship that exists with Ranger and Morelli. Really!?! How does she do that?

A good writer for either books or movies is a good writer. It’s that talented individual who continues to tell a wonderful story. Who not only draws the reader in but keeps him or her drooling over the next installment.

I have to ask, as you proof your story, are you going to be able to keep your reader turning pages?
Think outside the box. Think Downton. Will readers be begging you for just one more season?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Writing With Style by Andy Scheer

Get ready for a new reference guide.

Besides a dictionary and various Bibles, I keep two reference books at fingertip distance: the current edition of The Christian Writer’s Market Guide (2015–2016) and The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style.

Whatever my current editing or writing project, I find myself checking Robert Hudson’s 400-page guide to everything from Abbreviations to Zion.

The dozen-page section that lists capitalization style for various religious terms is itself worth the book’s price. But there’s so much more: virtually a university-level course in writing, editing, and publishing.

If you don’t yet own a copy, you should. But you might want to wait a few months.

A fourth edition of the manual — the first major revision in more than 10 years — will be released this July. Zondervan says they have expanded and revised the guide to keep pace with a digital environment.

Considering that the current guide’s pages on “Computer- and Internet-Related Words” include spelling and capitalization guidance for dial up and floppy disk, that new edition is probably due.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Contrast: A Great Writing Tool by Diana Flegal

Light/ Dark



Every good story has the push/pull of contrast. A character we love to hate. A crisis that requires a hero or a problem that needs to be solved.

But how it is woven into the story line is the key to its success.

A few questions I always ask when doing a critique are: Are the characters believable? Is this a plausible situation or just random tension thrown into the plot line? Sequentially, is this doable?

In the book Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life, Charles Shultz and his Peanuts comic script often expressed the thrill and the agony of the writing life. Snoopy penned these lines in one comic strip: It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly a shot rang out. The maid screamed. A door slammed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! “This twist in the plot will baffle my readers”, said Snoopy. (Might just be one reason Snoopy was always receiving those rejection slips).   

One does not want to baffle their readers.

Literary Devices shares here examples of the way contrast is employed in some well known writing.

I would imagine as you read this blog a particular story you enjoyed, or a movie you have recently seen, popped into your mind.

A few that came to my mind as I constructed the list above were: Fiddler on the Roof, War and Peace, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Les’ Miserables, You’ve Got Mail, Alice in Wonderland, and even Forrest Gump.

Take some time and think about each of the books you have recently read and list the ways their characters were in contrast, or ask yourself where and when in the story their situation changed, or love was won or lost. There is always contrast involved in the evolution of your characters.     
And definitely stop by and peruse these many Snoopy images on the writing life. Caution though, you might just get a stich in your side from laughing so hard.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What’s in the Front of Your Book? by Andy Scheer

Don’t leave out a section you need.

The nonfiction manuscript I just edited ran some 64,000 words. But as I first scanned the file, I saw the author had forgotten something important: a table of contents.

Don’t laugh. Of all the sections readers expect in the front of a book, it’s one that authors most often forget. (Perhaps they’re concerned they don’t know on which typeset page each section will begin. But it’s much easier for the typesetter to plug in those numbers if there’s already a Contents page in place with the names of the chapters.)

Some other sections to include in the front of your nonfiction manuscript: some expected, some optional:

● Half title page: with just the book’s title
● Title page: book title, subtitle, author name(s)
● Copyright page: indicating primary Bible translation and date, plus any secondary translations
● Contents page with chapter numbers and titles
● Dedication page (optional)
● Foreword page (optional)

At the end of your nonfiction manuscript, you might also want to include these:
● Acknowledgments
● Appendices
● Endnotes

Every manuscript is different, and you’ll always find published exceptions. But if you want the element included in the final product, remember to insert it in the initial manuscript.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Are You a Cold and Timid Soul? By Linda S. Glaz

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

My brother was an incredibly talented man and never knew it. He was an amazing writer. Wrote VERY much like Rod Serling. And, he was a prolific writer. An idea one minute, and a complete story the next.

One day, in a particularly courageous moment, he decided to send what was my favorite out to a publisher. In short time he received a rejection. When I asked him about it, he simply said, “They don’t like my writing.” End of story, end of writing career. Not one more word on paper.

He accepted only defeat and on the word of just one person. My heart broke for him, because he was a brilliant writer and had only to keep the courage, await the victory, stand firm in the knowledge that his was a worthy cause.

How many others give up with the first rejection and remain cold and timid souls instead of jumping into the arena and fighting to victory?

And how many will fight for their dreams? Continue on in the face of defeat to fight another day.

Most of us can tell who you are. You stand tall, your face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood of determination as you hold your first contract in your hand.

Based on an earlier post from 2012...Linda S. Glaz