"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Publishing and Marketing Strategies: An Interview with Atilla Vekony of Wheatmark Publishing

by Bill Corbett, aka Will Edwinson

You grew up in an Eastern Bloc country. Would you like to share a little bit of that with our readers?

Certainly! I grew up in Hungary, behind the Iron Curtain. I know that may sound somewhat intriguing and even dangerous, particularly to an American audience, but growing up at that time as a child was quite uneventful. Looking back though, it is hard to believe today that such a political system and ideology actually existed, and that it did not that long ago.

You are the Vice President of Wheatmark, Inc., a publishing and marketing firm. Tell us about Wheatmark.

Wheatmark was one of the pioneers of the publishing revolution that started at the turn of the century. This revolution has enabled a lot more authors to have their books published by using digital printing technology. The combination of on-demand printing and the emergence of Internet booksellers like Amazon created the perfect condition for writers not only to get published, but also to get their books sold to a wider audience. And all this without the need for the all-powerful middleman, the traditional "New York" publisher.

While there are now hundreds of publishing outfits that can help you get your book published to varying degrees of quality, Wheatmark has always placed an emphasis on working with excellent writers with great manuscripts. Over the last several years we have shifted focus to educating our authors about how to build their author platforms, how they can be better marketers. Because, the truth is, no matter how great your book is and how well it has been edited and produced, if you don't have a platform and a megaphone, it will be a lot harder to reach your audience and sell your book.

You are also a senior faculty member at the Authors Academy, a service of Wheatmark. What are the goals of the Authors Academy?

As I mentioned before, after publishing the books of a thousand or so authors we realized the importance of educating authors about marketing. The truth is, just because a book can be brought to market relatively inexpensively, it does not mean that there is a hungry market waiting for its release.

And so we decided to launch the Authors Academy in 2010. Through monthly webinars, teleseminars, and other resources we teach our members the importance of building a list and engaging with their audience in order to sell more books.

We help our members build their online platform by building them a custom author website, a blog, and connect it with their social media accounts and an email marketing system to maximize their reach. We now regularly explain this method in a free webinar called "The One Way to Market Your Book," which you can sign up for at http://authorsacademy.com.

In your Authors Academy presentations you stress the importance of blogging. Can you expand a little bit about that here and tell us why you think blogging is important?

Blogging equals publishing, to put it simply. It's writing and publishing on a digital platform over a period of time. What you have to say today as a writer, you write it and post it on your blog today. Then tomorrow you write a new post, and so on. Your writing then is available on your blog for anyone to search or browse.

The reason why blogging is important for writers is because your audience is on the internet every day, looking either for the information or the entertainment value that only you can provide to your audience. If you don't put your writing out there, by publishing it online on your blog, the chances of people finding and getting to know you and your writing is significantly less than if you do.

Whereas in the past writers had to publish books and be placed on bookshelves in order to be discovered and to connect with their audience, today all you have to do is blog. Yes, publish books too if you must!

I recently read a blog that said blogs should be short. The author of the blog said that if you have to scroll down, you’ve said too much. What do you think about that?

I disagree with the part that you’re saying too much if your readers have to scroll down. A fascinating writer, a master wordsmith, much like an eminent composer, can go on for long stretches before the audience grows tired.

Yet I can certainly identify with the sentiment that a blog post should not be too long. You regularly see articles from top news organizations spanning several pages, each linked from the other, rather than one long endless scroll.

However, blog posts should be as long as it takes to communicate your message to your audience, so there is no hard and fast rule as to how long a post should be. There are many blogs that feature long, content-rich posts, as well as blogs that are very short. One such example is of a short blog is Seth Godin’s.

If what you have to say is complex, such as articles involving research, don't make it short just because you've heard blogs should be short. It is true that people reading on the internet have much shorter attention spans than people reading magazines or books. However, if your audience is interested in what you have to say, who is to say that they will stop reading before you've made your point?

Additionally, Google loves blogs with rich content that answer questions people might be searching for. That is how you can gain new readers to your blog: write about what your audience is interested in. They will find your blog through a simple Google search. Then, your readers come back to your blog if they liked what they read and if they believe you regularly publish meaningful content. Your blog should also have a mechanism to entice visitors to come back.

How do you think the publishing world and marketing have changed in the last decade, and where do you think it’s headed in the future?

The Internet is the best thing that ever happened to writers, authors, artists, musicians, entertainers, and generally anybody who is in the content creation business. But particularly writers.

It is a great time today to be a writer. For the first time in history, you as the writer have direct access to your audience via your own website, blog, and your own social media connections. Call it your own media company with several broadcast channels. You have the power to create something and with the click of a button publish it for the world to see, for your audience to consume it instantly. You don’t have to knock on doors and convince publishers--those controlling both media production and distribution--that your content is ready for your audience. You can build an audience online and interact with them whenever you want to. Your blog writing does not have to go through months and years of production before it is brought to market. Your writing can be published and brought to market minutes after you’ve completed your last sentence.

You should absolutely make sure that your books and e-books, anything you charge for, are professionally edited, produced, and are without blemish. Your blog posts, on the other hand, while they should not contain misspellings or grammatical mistakes, do not need to be as polished as your printed book.

I said that the Internet has been kind particularly to writers, because even though media such as voice recordings, pictures, and videos are much easier to consume than writing, when someone searches for information on the Internet, they complete that search by writing, by typing in their search query into a search engine. And search engines will always primarily index and serve up written content to these consumers. Therefore writers are the best match for this age of Google and content creation.

How can people get in touch with you if they have more questions?

I highly recommend that you download the "Author’s Guide to Choosing a Publishing Service" from our website at http://www.wheatmark.com if you’re pondering about the myriad of choices when it comes to publishing your book. I'd be also happy to answer any questions about publishing or marketing. To be true to what we teach regarding the importance of building your digital author platform, I'd like to challenge you to ask me any questions you may have either via Twitter (my account is @vekony or http://twitter.com/vekony) or on Google Plus (my account is +AtillaVekony or http://google.com/+AtillaVekony. That way other people will be able to participate in the discussion. But if you're not yet comfortable with these platforms, you can also email me at avekony@wheatmark.com.

You can also check out Bill's blog at the following address:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Marketing

by Sandra Lord

Following are my notes from William Hertling’s workshop Every Trick in the Book for Optimizing Sales and Presence on Amazon, presented at the Willamette Writers Conference last August 2013.

Marketing should include cover design, reviews of your book, and exposure. For goals, you should build creditibility, relationships, and momentum - getting your first 100 sales. Some approaches to your goals are: Experiment and observe what sells. Find readers who read books like yours. It’s essential to have a website. The site doesn’t need to be beautiful, but it must be effective.

Post Launch

1. Fans - answer e-mails, give them something personal, e.g., why you wrote the book. This makes a “super fan”. Keep in touch with them.

2. Reach out to communities that would enjoy your book.

Facebook Ads

List your book’s title, a short description, appeal to fans of a genre author. The cost is approximately $.50 per time someone clicks on your ad.

Landing Influences

Go to Google to see how your book is doing. “Google Alerts” tells you when a hit is made. Cultivate relationships.

Pricing Books

$2.99 book - on Kindle you make $2. Above $4.99 a book - not price competitive.
POD - $9.99. You make $2/book. If book is longer than 250 pages, you’ll have to price it higher than $9.99.

For those of you interested in self-publishing (his tactics can apply to traditional publishing also) go to Hertling’s website www.williamhertling.com for more good information. I also recommend his book, Indie & Small Press Book Marketing.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Interview with Idaho Author, Janie Quinn Storck

Tell us a little about yourself, Janie.

First, Linda, thanks so much for requesting this interview and giving me this opportunity. I was born in a small town in Alabama but grew up in Miami, Florida. My husband and I moved to Idaho where we lived for a number of years and then returned to Florida. After retirement, we moved to the mountains of western North Carolina. We have recently moved back to Idaho, our first love. I have had several short stories published in literary magazines, one of which won an award.

Your newest release is COYOTE SUMMER, a children's novel set in Idaho. What's it about?

Shy, small-for-his-age, Gary Ryan, twelve, from Ohio, is sent to spend the summer with his gruff grandmother in Idaho. She owns a sheep ranch and is tending the sheep herself this summer. At first he wishes that he'd never come, but then he meets a mysterious, young Native American man and gets involved with an injured coyote. There is magic and mystery and Native American stories involving coyotes.

What, in particular, motivated you to write this story?

I read a newspaper article about a recent widow in Wyoming who was returning for one last summer to tend her remaining sheep. While her husband was alive, they had spent a couple of summers tending their sheep and looking at the stars through telescopes and fell in love with it. Around the same time, I read about some Basque sheepherders and the story came together from there.

What age group is it for, and what do you think children will learn or take away from it?

It is for the 8-12 age group. I hope they will learn about how all life is connected and enjoy the comical stories about the coyote. I also like to insert magic in my children's books because children get far too much realism nowadays.

In 2011, you released an adult psychic thriller, FROM THE SHADOWS. Will you tell us what it’s about?

Anne Merrill, a reluctant psychic, leaves her home in Bermuda to become an agent for OSS during WWII. She soon finds herself in a psychic battle with her powerful, German-born, psychic father, Albert, as well as with an ancient, secret society, the Chhayas (Shadows) Society, that is attempting to help the Nazis defeat the Allies. During all this, she and fellow OSS agent, half-white/half-Navajo, Paul Bancroft, who is haunted by the shadow of a terrible hereditary disease, fall in love. Anne first plays cat-and-mouse games with a female Nazi spy in Istanbul. She is then sent to Berlin when OSS penetrates the Third Reich. The story is told mostly from Anne's viewpoint but also from Paul and Albert's viewpoint as the story action vaults from Bermuda to London to New York to Spain to Turkey and, lastly, to Berlin.

Did psychic espionage actually play a role in WWII, and was Hitler engaged in this and other aspects of the occult?

From a couple of nonfiction books I read, Hitler was described as being an explorer of the occult mysteries. And, supposedly, Himmler, as well as others around Hitler, was deeply involved in belief in the occult. It was said that the rise of the Third Reich was meticulously contrived and orchestrated. The ceremonies surrounding some of Hitler's banal speeches were said to have been occult-inspired and superbly stage-managed to control the people. And in England, there were psychics who met together to raise their powers to keep the Germans out of England. Also, supposedly, British Intelligence, and probably OSS, put a few psychics and astrologers on the payroll. And there was the wife of a high military official who, purportedly, could 'see' enemy ships and submarines at sea. And, at least in one instance, her information helped the Allies to sink some German submarines. Also, during WWII, a Jew, executed by the Nazis, was reported to have used paranormal powers to help the Polish resistance. In WWI, there were dowsers who were able to locate mines, traps and drinking water with success. And there were a few reports of psychic abilities being used in battles.

You've lived in a number of places. What made you want to return to Idaho?

My husband and I have traveled extensively, including visiting all of the lower 48 states. Early on in our travels, we fell in love with the West. I think, in some strange way, I was always in love with the West from childhood. And for people growing up in a big city, Idaho's remoteness appealed to us, as did its wide-open spaces. There is a spirit about the West that you don't find anywhere else in the country.

What part of writing a novel is the most fun for you? Developing the idea? Doing the research? Or writing that first (or last) draft? Or some other aspect of the process?

I love doing research. In fact, I have to control myself or I could go on researching forever and never start writing. I must insert here that I greatly miss the old card-catalogs in the library, as I would start out looking at one subject and find connected subjects in the card-catalogs that would open up new ideas, new vistas for me.

Writers tend to be quirky when they sit down to write. Some write in their PJs; some have to have a pot of black coffee, or tea. Others get the brain cells flowing with some dark chocolate or a glass of wine. Some like silence; others like music. Some can write anywhere; others only in their offices. What works for you to get the creativity flowing?

The chocolate sounds appealing, as I am a chocolate fiend. Seriously, I need absolute quiet and really write best in my office. And I am not a morning person, so it is most always in the afternoon. But I don't have any other quirks about writing.

Do you believe a writer has to wait for the muse? Or do you believe the best way to get a novel written is to go at it like any other job and apply thy bottom to the chair and thy fingers to the keyboard?

I have always tried to approach writing as a job. Perspiration more than inspiration. If I didn't approach it that way, I don't think I'd get much writing done. The muse can be very fickle.

Besides being a writer, you are also an accomplished artist. As a matter of fact, you did the cover art for COYOTE SUMMER. How do these two forms of creativity complement each other in your life?

For me, drawing and painting is a fun-type activity that I mostly do for relaxation. It is a different way of being creative, a different way of seeing things. I only wish that I had more time for it, but my writing is what is most important to me.

Are you working on a new book?

Yes, I am close to publishing another book. It is a contemporary romantic-suspense, with emphasis on the suspense elements. I am a big fan of Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels (aka Elizabeth Peters) romantic-suspense books. And I know from a book catalog I get that Mary Stewart books still sell very well. I also have another romantic-suspense novel and another middle-grade children's novel completed and waiting in the wings. I am also now doing research on another novel that at this point I could not categorize.

Thanks again, Linda, for giving me the chance to do this interview.

You’re most welcome, Janie! Thank you for giving us this opportunity to learn about your work.

Review Excerpt from Pam Brewer, book reviewer for the Idaho Statesman:

“FROM THE SHADOWS is a frightening look at what the world could be if psychic powers were used for evil. This is a psychological thriller that keeps you turning the pages until the end. It grabs you from the beginning, taking you through a roller coaster ride of emotion. Storck has done an excellent job of mixing history, espionage, and romance. Recommended.”

You can purchase Janie’s books through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Interview by Linda Sandifer

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Feast in the Elements of Craft

By Karen Finnigan

After a lifetime of reading, you think you know what goes into a story. And, in a generic way, you do. Plot: Check. Conflict: Check. Compelling characters: Check, check. But in today’s publishing world, thousands of other stories also have plot, conflict, and compelling characters. Above average use of these components isn’t good enough anymore. It takes some special forces to lift a story beyond the ordinary if you want to make the cut with agents and publishers these days. The Excellent stories, the Chosen ones, contain specific components that lift them from ho-hum to page turners. Elements you’ve maybe admired in books you’ve read without being able to put your finger on exactly what they are.

This was my state of mind when I arrived, hungry for advanced craft, in Portland, Oregon, and shuttled with Sandy Lord and Richard Rice from the airport to the Sheraton Airport Hotel for the Willamette Writers Conference. I attended workshops on the craft of writing from Aug 2-4. During those three days, I only had short breaks for buffet lunches. I did not bring enough note taking paper and ended up taking notes on the backs of handouts. Condensing what I learned here is like cutting a 120,000 novel to a book jacket!

FYI, the book most commonly referenced by workshop presenters as an example of excellence was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I had not read it, but I had seen the movie. And I’d heard plenty about it from my granddaughter, who found it so compelling she asked for bow and arrows for her birthday and who named her latest kitten Katniss after the heroine in Hunger Games. (That was before the vet told her the kitten was a boy, but I digress.) When I returned home, I borrowed my granddaughter’s copy of the book and read it so I can also dissect what one workshop presenter called a brilliant plot.

Three days in a row I sat in on the workshops presented by story fixer and author, Larry Brooks. He gave us nearly 5 hours of meaty tips on how to add power, tension, and force to our own stories. He explained how there are three layers to creating a story: conceptual phase or the search for story. We aren’t done with this phase until we know our ending. (I’m pretty sure I’m still in this phase with my current story.) Next phase is the Premise phase where we apply the three-act structure to our concept. You know, have a good idea what’s happening at our first plot point, our mid-point, our dark moment, and in our climax. Last phase is the actual writing. Some writers do all these phases in their head as they go. Others need the formality of organizing it outline style. There is no right way, he said. Whatever works for you is the right way.

But writers who think they are finished once they get that draft committed to computer/paper may be selling their book short. Larry wasn’t talking about technical stuff here as much as intangible forces.

In short, too many stories are technically competent, but still have something missing. Larry’s bottom line: Analyze whether your story is as powerful as it can be. You can find Larry Brooks on Storyfix.com. You can hire him to analyze and add power and force to your story. If you can’t afford that, you can buy his books, Story Engineering, and Story Physics, where the forces are explained in detail.

I also attended intermediate-level workshops by multiple other presenters. The topics ranged from Effective Motivation, Maximizing Tension, Dialogue, Making Your Protagonist Sympathetic. And I visited the Manuscript ER more than once (where I found out from a published author I’ve probably been marketing my novel all wrong).

I also pitched two agents. The first said my story sounded fascinating, but not “edgy” enough for her list. True, I don’t have a bow and arrows in my story nor exploding fireballs. But maybe other elements needed a second look. I refined my pitch over breakfast with encouragement from friends. Then I met with the second agent who does deal in literary fiction. She listened to my pitch and said to send her my opening chapters!

But I did not send off the chapters the day after I arrived home. I had also attended this agent’s workshop on what makes a novel publishable--and, again, taken copious notes. She said she looks in the first two pages for the dramatic hook, the story promise, or if you like, the question that’s going to be answered by the end of the book. I checked for that in my manuscript. She also said the first sentence is crucial for drawing her in. Gave mine another look. I thought about all the other craft stuff I’d learned in relation to my opening chapters and quickly reframed Chapter Two to (I hope) maximize the tension. Only then did I email my chapters.

Now I am sitting back, hopeful, but still digesting all I learned. I was so hungry for writing advice, and boy, am I sated. The Willamette Writers Conference definitely put on a feast for writers. Workshop presenters gave me a lot of the meat and potatoes, but kept it real too. Not once did anyone anywhere say writing a novel was a piece of cake.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


by Maxine McCoy

“SWSWSWSW stands for: Some will, some won't, so what--someone's waiting.” Jack Canfield

We work for months (sometimes years) on a book. We know the characters, care about them deeply, apologetically put them in edge-of-the-seat difficulties, and then save them in the end. We wrap them in a shroud of love and send them off to an agent or publisher, waiting expectantly to hear that they love it as much as we do ... and then one day the rejection slip comes.

If we're going to be successful writers, they tell us, we're going to have to learn to deal with rejection. So exactly how do we do that? How do we get past the disappointment, the damaged self-esteem, the shattered confidence, the loss of hope? I've read a lot about this subject recently and could list pages of rules to overcome rejection, but, it seems to me, it can be narrowed down to two points:

1. Attitude:

“We keep going back, stronger, not weaker, because we know we will not allow rejection to beat us down. It will only strengthen our resolve. To be successful, there is no other way.” Earl G. Graves

Now that is a positive attitude.

We need to decide what attitude will bring us the most success. Then we need to decide what thoughts will create and uphold that attitude. Thoughts are like the water that trickled down solid rocks and eventually, through persistence, created the Grand Canyon. Thoughts are powerful.

They cause emotion. Emotion added to an intention creates reality. We know our thoughts are creating what we want them to by being aware of how we feel. If we're happy and optimistic, our thoughts are working for us. If we're depressed, disappointed, and have feelings of hopelessness, our thoughts are working against us. We can only get rid of an unwanted thought by replacing it with another one that serves us better. This principle is like exercising. It works, but you have to put forth the effort.

2. Perseverance:

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from the editor is a precious package. Don't consider it rejected. Consider that you've addressed it 'to the editor who can appreciate my work' and it has simply come back stamped, 'not at this address.' Just keep looking for the right address.” Barbara Kingsolver

I love to read about the rejections received by our best-selling authors. It always gives me hope.

Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen's Chicken Soup for the Soul - 130 rejections, sold 125 million copies.

“It's impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.” That was written to George Orwell by a publisher responding to his submission for Animal Farm.

“Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull.” Jonathon Livingston Seagull sold 44 million copies.

“The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” That was from the rejection slip for The Diary of Anne Frank.

Stephen King threw his Carrie manuscript into the garbage after countless rejections. Luckily his wife dug it out and sent it on. It sold 4 million copies and we know what happened after that.

“You have no business being a writer. Give up.” Written by a publisher to Zane Grey.

There are probably pages of such rejections, so I'll just end with the story of the man who holds the record. Jack Creasey collected 743 rejection slips before he sold his first book. Over the next 40 years he published 562 full-length books under 28 different pseudonyms.

Now that's perseverance.

When sending out your next manuscript, just remember, “Some will, some won't, so what--someone's waiting.”

Just think about that! There's someone out there waiting for your manuscript.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Looking Back on the Rendezvous Conference

Sandra Lord and Karen Finnigan share their impressions of the Idaho Writers Guild Rendezvous Conference, held May 2-4 at the Boise Convention Center.

How did this conference compare with others you have attended?


It's more casual than an RWA conference, more intimate than a really big one like the Willamette Writers, which made it just right for me. It also had more varied activities than any I've attended. Examples were the First Book Treasure Valley benefit raffle, the practice pitch sessions, and an author reading contest. All of this in addition to excellent workshops.


The conference was smaller, more casual, which was a big plus, and had many friendly male attendees, especially Les Edgerton, the mystery writer. The workshops were top notch. There was a very friendly atmosphere during the three-day conference, from the attendees, published authors, editors and agents, and bookseller.

What workshops most benefited your career?


In the “Loglines, Queries, and One Sheets” workshop, screenwriter Lance Thompson listened to my pitch in the group and helped fine tune it. His comments gave me confidence to go into my pitch session later. Author Alan Heathcock's workshop, “Five Requirements of an Exceptional Story,” was a master class on writing.


I liked the “Role of the Agent in Publishing.” Claudia Cross had some good tips on how to contact an agent, and what her agency does for the writers.

What did you learn about the Idaho Writers Guild?


The Guild was friendly and welcoming to those of us from out of town. They put on an extremely professional and well-organized event that had something for everyone--from beginner writer to expert. Emphasis definitely on getting published. I found out they meet weekly in Boise, so most any week you are over there there'd be a meeting to attend. But they're looking to expand across the state too.


I joined the Guild and get their newsletters, but what really impressed me was how friendly and helpful the Board was to us from out of town.

What was a conference highlight?


Banquet night for sure. Elegant food. An inspiring keynote by bestseller C.J. Box. Picking up Richard Rice's contest prize! Visiting some more with agent Claudia Cross and bestselling author Rachel Gibson. The banquet had presenters assigned to various tables, and attendees could choose which one to sit at. We got there early and chose Claudia's table. Another highlight was winning Alan Heathcock's writing hat. A swarm of writers wanted to trade or buy it from me, but I said no, that would be bad karma. It's now above my computer for inspiration.


I agree with Karen. Banquet night. The excellent chicken dinner, a dessert to die for, and sitting at the agent's table.

Were you satisfied with your agent appointment?


Definitely. The goal of an agent appointment is to have the agent ask to see your manuscript, and I accomplished that. Claudia Cross asked some unexpected questions about my story, and I can only hope my answers were satisfactory. That's the sort of thing for which you can't totally prepare. But my pitch itself went very well.


Yes, yes, yes. Claudia Cross was very personable and made me feel at ease even after I spaced it for a minute during the pitch. She had some good questions about my novel and seemed pleased at my answers. Most important, she asked to see my complete novel. Whoopee!

What did you learn about publishing now and in the future?


I learned that e-publishing and traditional publishing are no longer either/or propositions. Agents are watching the sales of books on Amazon.com and reaching out to offer contracts. Also, some NY publishers or agencies are developing their own e-sites to launch new authors prior to putting them into hard copy. As for self-publishing, the sky seems to be the limit.


E-publishing and self-publishing (print or e-pub) are becoming a big thing now. The stigma of doing it is a thing of the past. Agents are keeping a close eye on sales and reaching out to authors. Some agencies have their own programs to aid self-publishing authors.

Any last thoughts to share?


The venue was great. The downtown Hampton Inn had covered parking, so I left my car there for the duration. The distance between our hotel suite and the convention was a two short blocks in spring sunshine. Our Idaho Falls group (Sandy, Carol Stilz, Mary Ann Cherry and me) found the walk to and from the conference was all part of the fun!


Seeing old friends again and having great roommates was super fun. The Boise Center offers many delightful attractions. Our group certainly enjoyed the good food available there--especially the bash bash shrimp and tempura vegetables, salads at Protos, hamburgers at Five Guys. Then there was the wine tasting at the Snake River Winery and dark chocolate fudge at the candy store close to our hotel. Okay, so we ate a lot, but it was sooo fun.

--compiled by Sandra Lord

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Words ... a Gift to Share

by Carol Stilz

Words can weave us together and join our hearts…or break them.

As we approach Mother’s Day, I recall projects using words and pictures to create special gifts for moms and other very important people in our lives. While these projects can be easy enough for a young child to do, with guidance, the prompts for these projects are useful in writing memoirs, essays and fiction.

One of the simplest gifts is a picture with words surrounding it. Begin the writing in the upper left corner, along the edge of the picture, wrapping the words around the picture or photo. The word wrap may be along the edge only, may be written on a paper or cloth frame, or may wind its way toward the photo at the center. The latter looks something like a chambered nautilus. Perhaps the center could be an object such as a sea shell collected on a beach trip with the gift recipient. Frames for these projects are endless, from handmade poster board size9” x 12” to canvas stretched over a frame. I’ve seen shadow boxes made from repainted shallow kitchen cabinets to antique window frames.

This project can be extended to create a scrapbook or a photo collage that can be printed on a computer or through one of the companies online that specialize in photo books. Each Christmas I receive one of these books featuring important moments in the lives of my grandchildren designed by my talented daughter, Kathleen.

If you sew, you can create a quilt, using these picture squares printed on cloth via computer. A smaller project is a pillow, perhaps writing with fancy pens on fabric, or embroidering the words on the fabric, then sewing the pillow or framing the work of art. This format takes “refrigerator art” to a designer level through your imagination.

Of course, the simplest project for a very young child is a card with the picture on the front. The words spoken by a child can be written by the helper. For the child’s signature, why not use a handprint?

Enjoy using language and illustration to create a unique gift, sure to impress a special someone.

Prompts for gift giving and for writers follow. I like to use these prompts when making character sketches. Some I have used in journal writing. Others I have assigned in my writing classes. If you approach this list with a playful spirit, you will laugh and be amazed at what you have learned.

Write a list that begins with the words below and add to it each day.

1. I wonder…
2. What if…
3. I want to know more about…
4. What’s important to me is…
5. Courage is…
6. Love is…
7. I have a dream…

Brainstorm for 10 minutes focusing on one of these topics:

People who are important to me and why
People I admire
People I want to meet
People who are important in my neighborhood
People who wear hats
Places I want to visit and why
Places I like to play
Places where I feel safe
Places where I hide, see shadows, hear songs, smell good smells, etc.
Things I like to do
Things I do well
Things I don’t understand
Things I’ve done alone
Celebrations I enjoy
Funniest experiences in my life
If I had three wishes…
I laugh when…

Use pictures to tell a story. Draw pictures and make up a story to go with your drawings. Or, cut pictures from magazines and catalogs to make up a story to go with the pictures. The key to this exercise is the pictures come first, and then you add the words.

From the files of Carol Curtis Stilz, reprint only with permission please.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Courage to Write

by Sue Anne Hodge

I once had lunch with author Sue Grafton and nearly wept with joy when I found out anxiety accompanies the first and last word of every book she sits to write. The eight other hopeful writers seated at her table reacted with sighs, smiles, and one even laughed out loud. What a relief to find out fear is felt by writers at every level.

So, what can a writer do about this anxiety? One could let fear take on an altruistic disguise by employing the I-can't-say-no-syndrome. This is one of my favorites. Make yourself so busy helping with truly admirable tasks that you don't have time to sit at your keyboard. Or another ploy dear to my heart is the I-come-last-syndrome: I just need to dump the garbage, throw in a load of wash, walk the dogs, go to work, make dinner and clean up the kitchen ... then, if there's time left, I'll write.

What is the remedy for fear, anxiety, ploys that push my story out into the cold?

First: I need to remember that a gift of storytelling is valuable. Where would our world be without its storytellers? I need to ascribe worth to my talent. Yes, I said the (gasp) five-letter word: Talent. For even if I've yet to sell my mystery series, I have completed two books in that series. Two books that have won first and second place in different writing contests I've entered.

Second: I need to grab my fear, anxiety, feeling of worthlessness by the throat and wrestle all into submission! Then, like many writers, including multi-published ones, pull on my boots, cowboy-up, sit down, and type the first word on that blank page.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Golden Memoirs of a Romance Judge - Part One

by Sherry Roseberry

I recently had the opportunity again to judge five books for the Romance Writers of America in the 2012 Rita contest. This time turned out different than when I’ve judged before as four out of the five entries were in separate categories. Odd! When I was done, I came away with two problems.

1. This is for kids?

Even though I gave the Young Adult 50 out of 50 for excellent writing, in depth characterization, and intricate plot, I would not let any of my grandchildren, who might be interested, read it. Unlike others, where there was no question what I was reading, I kept forgetting this was a YA until reminded that some of the main characters went to high school. Also, I was very disappointed with the language, namely taking the Lord’s name in vain, and the sexual content; topping the list with an attempt at seduction of an older man.

Isn’t this leaning a bit much on the adult side for tweens and young teens, a large age group who devours YAs? In my steadfast opinion, it is! This is also the same impressionable age group and a good portion of the fan base who is gaga over the singer, Justin Bieber. Don’t we, as authors, have an obligation to make sure our books are appropriate for our fan base?

2. Don’t rush it, please!

I’ve judged for many years in many different types of contests. What I’ve gleaned from my “vast experience and sizeable knowledge” –(I know that’s a bit strong. Okay ... a lot strong, but who’s writing this?) –is that many pre-published and published alike rush the awareness. Even though I gave them extremely high scores, that was the main problem I found on two of the entries I judged, particularly with one of them.

When he/she first meets her/him, and they are instantly at a 9 out of 10 on attraction, there’s not much to build on and many pages to fill until you type those two immortal words: The End. A book can and has become tedious with just the emotional elements to carry the story, especially if the plot needs an extra punch. At least it does for me. I find I need more substance to a story than how hot Jane and Sally thinks Dick’s body is.

Disclaimer: This, of course does not include erotica. (Although, you’d think that was what I was judging with one entry.) I assume they have their own set of rules. If they have any at all.

To show an example on how to build on awareness, I cannot think of a better example than a 1934 movie staring Claudette Colbert and Clark Cable, It Happened One Night. The story is about an out-of-work newspaper man who rides a bus and shares a cabin with a tycoon’s spoiled, runaway daughter. At first meeting they irritate each other, and, for awhile, it doesn’t improve much from there, particularity in the socialite’s point of view. In fact, even though circumstances throw them together, she doesn’t learn his name until a third of the movie is over. Now that’s building!

The funny thing about IHON is that on the last day on the set Ms. Colbert said, “I just finished the worst picture in the world!” Why is that so funny? It Happened One Night was the first movie to win the Oscar grand slam: actor, actress, director, screen play, and of course best picture. But the ironic part is, the “worst picture in the world” ended up becoming the blueprint for the modern romantic comedy, and therefore a pattern for those of us who write romance.

To Be Continued

Look for “Memoirs” Part Two coming soon to your favorite local computer.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Another Reason to Write a Prologue

by Bill Corbett

There seems to be a lot of chatter these days about whether we should include a prologue in our novels. Here are some thoughts on why we might ought to consider a prologue. It has to do with marketing. I’ve been listening to some marketing seminars lately. All the marketing gurus say marketing is as much our responsibility as it is the publisher’s, and we must use the Internet via our blogs and social networks to do our marketing. It seems that in this era of entitlement thinking, people expect some kind of freebie, so in order to build our audience list, or platform, if you will, it was suggested that maybe an excerpt from the book might be something we could give away. A prologue might be a good freebie for this purpose. It might serve as the hook needed to get them interested in buying the novel. A compelling scene from the novel’s interior might work well also.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Art of the Critique Group

by Karen Finnigan

I love those blogs that consist of a list. If I could create one, it would sound neat and tidy and imply there are answers to all our publishing dilemmas, like these:

Ten secrets to getting published.
Eight traits agents want in a client.
Six tips for writing a successful pitch.
Top three ways publishing will be different a year from now.
The number one reason a book idea stands out.

I would not try to create a list listing the secrets of successful critique groups. I don’t think they’re so easy to pigeonhole. Not that any of the above are easy either, but critique groups provide such unique challenges. For starters, each individual writer brings different talents and expectations to a group.

Some members write by the seat of their pants.
Others outline every scene in detail.
Some rewrite umpteen times.
Others can turn out a quality first draft.

Some of us want to be critiqued with brutal honesty. Give it to us straight, we say. Lay it on thick. We can take it. It’ll toughen us up for the real world of publishing.

Others prefer we go gently on their creative efforts, want lots of positive feedback for what they do well, praise being the sandwich bread into which are spread a few mild suggestions.

Some have outgoing personalities that relish the give and take of off-the-cuff talking.
They thrive on the show and tell of sharing every time and might enjoy a leadership role.

Others are shy, preferring structure, where an agenda guarantees they’ll get a turn to talk or read. They might beg off easily or wait in the wings to be asked if they brought anything.

Some hate agendas and don’t see the need.

Some watch the clock and see time as a pie to be divided fairly.
Others measure time by creative moments.

Some prefer critiquing the storyline like a beta reader.
Others can discuss the nuances of characterization and motivation.
Still others like to get down in the weeds and correct grammar.

Some come for treasured friendships that go back decades.
Others come once and never return, though we never know why.

Some see traditional publishing as their holy grail.
Others are thinking about e-publication or self-publishing.
Still others are content to write for the joy of it and leave their writing in a bureau drawer for their literary heirs.

A few are too tired, sick, weary, busy, distracted to write.
And maybe, every meeting, someone is secretly thinking about quitting it all.
A different someone each time.

But I do think we have this in common--a need for mutual support of our writing dreams, camaraderie, and once a month lunch out. It’s a list, I guess, but barely.

So, it’s not surprising that frustrations will occasionally surface. But for all the dissymmetry, it’s still preferable to not having a critique group at all. Through the din of personalities and differing styles, goals, and pen colors, there is headway made. There are glimmers of inspiration, commiseration over rejection letters, writing news brought from conferences, names of agents taking submissions, and contest deadlines. A few guidelines are helpful maybe, like toss your lunch wrappers, share your email addresses, and take turns talking. But nothing heavy, mainly because I’ve decided managing these groups is too akin to tacking jello to a laptop. In short, I think keeping a group going is more art, less business.

I see each meeting as a little incubation room, where we are free to learn our craft with each other as validators, but without the spotlight of the entire world watching as we clean up our mistakes. We celebrate successes together too, of course, because that’s an art form too and definitely worth incubating.

Maybe some of you saw the recent interview with actress/comedienne Amy Poehler. Either the Sunday paper or online news, I forget. But I definitely remember something she said: to paraphrase, she was glad she had been pretty much left alone in her 20s to practice her craft with no spotlight on her. Some of what she did was good, some was bad, but all of it gave her experience and maturity to handle the success she now has.

May we each someday (soon) share her creative experience with success. May we each look back when we are published or republished and think the same of our humble and imperfect critique group. That it was worth it. That it gave to us more than it took from us. That it readied us, step by step, along the journey to our dreams. That, when we get ready to write our list of thanks for the inspiration, our writing group is right up there.

Maybe even number one.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Did You Know ...

by Maxine McCoy

I've learned some interesting facts here and there that maybe you already know, but maybe some of you don't. I thought I'd share just in case. They all have to do with focus.

Did you know that:

Dean Koonz said it's been proven that if you write every day your subconscious will begin to do your writing for you. Here's what I know about stimulating your subconscious to write for you. While you're sleeping and in the recesses of your consciousness while you are doing other things, it will be putting your story together for you. What you'll be aware of consciously is that suddenly the problem in chapter four will resolve itself in your mind. That precise wording in the prologue you couldn't get just right will come to you in perfect order, seemingly from out of the blue. The first line of your novel, that most important line of your book, will pop into your mind and it will be ideal. Your subconscious is a genius and it wants to please you. You just have to ask it, not in words but by focus.

In Characters Make Your Story, Elwood suggests we carry a notebook around with us and jot down habitual expressions on peoples faces, habitual postures, etc. An easier way would be to choose an actor you want your character to look like, pick a movie he was in where his actions would be most like your hero's. (If your hero doesn't fit any particular actor, you can put together different features of various ones that do.) You can watch the DVD with a notebook in hand, writing down just how the voice sounded when he was alarmed, the way he walked when he was discouraged, the expression on his face when he looked at the heroine – the raise of his eyebrow, the twitch at the edge of his mouth. You'll be able to observe his facial expressions, habitual postures, clothing, walking gestures, speech, the sound of his voice – all aspects of him. You can watch the DVD over and over so you can focus on details, details, details.

In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle says it actually takes about 10,000 hours of practice time to become what our society determines a genius. The Bronte sisters wrote wonderful books before dying at a young age. In the biography of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell, it was said the young women were geniuses, that their talent was magical and they were natural-born authors. Juliet Barker, Oxford historian, proved that isn't true. From a very young age, the Bronte sisters wrote stories to entertain each other. The stories were, as Barker put it, “slap-dash writing, appalling spelling, and non-existent punctuation.” Their plots were most often bad imitations of magazine articles and novels of the day. Their little books, at first, lacked any sign of genius. That doesn't take away from their impressive achievements. They produced a lot of wonderful literature, but they had to learn and practice like the rest of us. They just started at a very young age and were totally dedicated to gaining the knowledge. Coyle shows how hours of what he calls “deep practice” can make anyone a genius, whether in writing, art, music or whatever we focus on. His book explains how to do deep practice.

In The Power of Focus, Jack Canfield tells us “Do you know the #1 reason that stops people from getting what they want? It's lack of focus. People who focus on getting what they want, prosper. Those who don't, struggle.” Jack should know. His Chicken Soup For The Soul series sold more than any other book ever published. If we have two or three hobbies, a busy social life, and work two jobs, we won't have much of a chance of becoming a best-selling author. We need to write every day, dwell on details about our main characters, and continue learning and practicing our writing skills. It all comes down to focus.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Social Networking—Phooey!

by Bill Corbett

My publisher and many of my writer friends tell me I need to come into the 21st century and start social networking, because when it comes to marketing our books, that’s where it’s at. If anyone is capable of creating chaos working on the Internet, it’s me, but I decided to give in and sign up for one of the social networking websites, anyway.

I signed up for this social network and after I had the account set up they said: “Congratulations, conclude the following two easy steps, and you’ll soon be networking on ********with all your friends”. The second step after setting up the account was “find friends.” At least I interpreted it as the second step. It would have made more sense to me to have made this the third step after completing the profile page.

There was a list of possible friends that they suggested. Where they got them I don’t know; some of them I recognized so I said: “Okay, I can do this,” and I clicked on that button thinking I could friend the ones I wanted, one by one. Not so. All hell broke loose. The blasted thing sent out friend requests to everyone on the list, all at the same time. There were many I didn’t know from Adam’s off ox, and really didn’t want to friend. Apparently they all didn’t want to friend me either, because not long after these requests went out I got a note from this company that said I was sending friend requests to people that I didn’t know. “We don’t want you to do that,” they said.

No joke. Anyway, after much frustration, I finally found a button I could click on that would friend these people (the ones I knew, and who knew me) one at a time. I proceeded to do so. Then I got a note from the networking company saying that I had been blocked for seven days because I was still friending people that I didn’t know, or who didn’t know me!

That’s when I said to **** with it. I searched and finally found a button that would permanently deactivate my account. I’m through with social networking. From here on out, I’ll hire someone to do it for me.

Bill Corbett is a two time AP award winning columnist. He is also the author of a national award winning book, Buddy…His Trials and Treasures, and has numerous awards for his contributions to IDAHO magazine. He is also a contributing writer for IDAHO magazine.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Quote by Samuel Johnson

by Sue Anne Hodge

As writers we know how lonely the writing life can be. How frustrating. I found a quote by Dr. Samuel Johnson that helps me: "Sir, he who would earn his bread writing books, must have the assurance of a duke, the wit of a courtier, and the guts of a burglar."

I especially love the burglar part. Writers do steal ideas for there are only so many themes. We do steal snippets of overheard conversation, then tweak those words to fit a particular scene. I know at times I do steal a facade of assurance to overcome fear of a blank screen, tricking my muse until my own courage takes over. Guess if I were a real burglar, though, I'd be a cat burglar ... I do like cats. Now writers take this advise and get busy putting on your cloak of assurance, wit, and guts.