Thursday, September 29, 2011

Trying Different Approaches

This post was spawned by a horrific meal. I'm still attempting to digest the few bites I gagged down. I know it's bad when I spit a bite out into my napkin before my kids cry uncle. The terror on a plate?


Shrimp rolls.

Now I love shrimp, and I adore mayonnaise. Throw the two together with some pesto and a few vegetables and slap it all on a hoagie--the picture for the recipe looked delicious. Yet, somehow, someway, something went wrong. Kids-I-don't-care-if-you-have-ice-cream-for-dinner-but-you-do-not-have-to-eat-another-bite wrong.

The meal? A big, fat FAILURE. Still, I'm glad we tried it. The recipe had been sitting in my binder for over a year. It now is crumpled up in the trash can, making room for another recipe to try. It's no longer staring at me with its why-did-you-cut-me-out-if-you're-never-going-to-cook-me eyes.

My cooking to-try list is similar to my writing idea journal. I write down any nugget of an idea in there to come back and consider later. Some of the ideas have been napping in the journal for over a year. Others tempt me enough to think, yes, maybe that will work.

Inevitably, when I take time to think through and flesh out ideas, some, like the shrimp roll, look good but don't live up to their picture. Those I don't pursue. Others might not be flashy, but by the time I've worked through them, they're as hearty as Sunday dinner and just as satisfying.

Sometimes we have to be willing to send a few ideas into the trash to get to the prize winner.

Have you made a meal so bad you couldn't eat it?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

5 Easy Questions with Sarah Forgrave!

Every Wednesday, I ask a writer the same five easy questions. In an effort to support and promote fellow wordsmiths, I feature authors who write a variety of genres, from sweet inspirational to mainstream thrillers. The writers themselves may be aspiring, published, or  best-selling--all have made an impact on my life.

Thank you for joining me in welcoming…Sarah Forgrave!!

In a roundabout way, Sarah and I met through one of my critique partners. Sarah's name kept coming up, so I thought I'd better check her out, and I'm glad I did! Sarah is one of those writers I can't wait to meet in person--we write the same genre, belong to the same agency, and we're both writer moms. Sarah writes contemporary romance for the inspirational market.

Let's get to it!

1. Beverage of choice?

Water! Lots of it. With lots of ice. I'm also hooked on my daily cup of coffee, which usually comes in some form of latte. But really, I'm nondiscriminatory when it comes to java.

2. Any pets?

Do the cicadas in our woods count? They're very noisy at night, which I hear isn't much different than a new puppy. Seriously, though, our only real pet is a fish named Finny. That's about as high-maintenance as we can handle in my house. I let my kids get their fur fix with our neighbors' cats and dogs.

3. Dream vacation?

It's impossible for me to narrow this down because my bucket list includes wanting to visit all seven continents. I've made it to two, so I guess my dream vacation would involve visiting the other five. Hmm, it sounds like a sabbatical is in order.

4. What are you listening to right now?

Silence. Beautiful silence. (My kids are napping.)

5. What's for dinner?

Grilled tuna steaks with a brush of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a sprinkling of herbs (My favorites are basil and lemon-pepper seasoning). I'll probably serve it with steamed veggies and homemade fries. And if my sweet tooth wins out (Is it really a matter of 'if'?), I'll finish it all off with some ice cream.


Sarah, I love ice water and coffee. I'm trying to drink more water to replace my soda habit. It's working! And, yes, the cicadas count. I would totally use that if the kids start begging for a dog. "But we have the cicadas--we don't have room for another pet..." 

All seven continents? Ambitious! I'll visit Australia with you, but you're on your own when it comes to Antarctica! I'm so glad you were able to have some quiet time, and your dinner sounds healthy and mouth-watering. Mm-mm! Thanks so much for being my guest today!


Sarah Forgrave writes contemporary romance for the inspirational market. She's a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and won runner-up in the 2010 Genesis contest. She's also a regular contributor to the webzine Ungrind and her group blog The Writers Alley. When she's not writing, she enjoys all forms of exercise (or most of them anyway) and stays busy chasing the bundles of energy that live in her house--her husband and her two young children.

To learn more about Sarah's writing, head to her website, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.


Do you decorate your house for fall each year?
Enjoy your Wednesday!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Marketing Myths Busted

How do authors effectively market their books today? Most blogs and experts will steer writers to social networking through Facebook, Twitter, and starting a blog. 

I am a firm believer in the power of social networking, but only if writers understand how social networking works. Many bloggers have written about keeping the "social" in networking, yet many new-to-publishing (traditional or self-published) authors are still making the same mistakes.

Wendy Lawton, agent and Vice-President of Books & Such Literary Agency, recently wrote "So What's an Author To Do?" (full post is linked) where she busts the myths that all social networking attempts sell books. In it she cautions writers about using Twitter, Facebook, and Blogging as marketing tools:

 "We talked about the drawbacks of Twitter yesterday. Do you know why it doesn’t work for most people? Because everyone sounds like everyone else... The same with Facebook. It’s a community. You need to invest yourself there with as much give as take...You don’t market to Facebook friends. You just live in community, so to speak... I also said blogging to promote books no longer works. Do you remember my exception? 'Exception: The writer who blogs to his/her well-established readership and has something unique and valuable to offer.'"
Wendy then goes on with detailed suggestions on marketing your book today. She summarizes:

"Remember–it is important to be fresh. Once everyone starts doing something it no longer stands out. When thinking about specifics, come up with the next big thing. This is not the time to copy other successes. You want to come up with the idea that causes other writers to say, “I wish I’d thought of that.” Here’s the key to all your marketing efforts: Keep your focus on the three unique elements– the author, the book, and your reader."
Wendy was very clear in the post that social networking does work, if used well. Her post brimmed with wisdom, and I urge you to read it if you haven't had a chance. Also, if you are at all confused on how to effectively build your platform through social media, pick up one of Kristen Lamb's books and follow her terrific blog, Kristen Lamb's Blog.

It's that time again, time to share good news!

Jessica R. Patch recently signed with Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary Agency! I'm so happy for her and thrilled we're agency mates! Congratulations, Jessica!

Jody Hedlund just signed another three-book contract with Bethany House Publishing! This means I have four more books of hers to look forward to. Congratulations, Jody!

And I may have announced it here before, but it's news worth repeating: my awesome critique partner, Wendy Paine Miller, recently signed with Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary Agency! Congratulations, Wendy! I am so proud of you!!

Do you have any good news to share?

Enjoy your Monday!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Line Judging and Critiquing

A few days ago, I was asked to line judge my daughter's volleyball game. I did not want to do this and I made excuses like, "I mix up my left and right all the time," but the asker assured me line judging was easy. After a few more lame attempts at getting out of it, I relented.

Mike Vondran playing beach volleyball, Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil January 3 2009.
Photo by over_kind_man  We didn't have this view at our game. We didn't have the Speedos either. :)

Line Judging ~

Although nervous I would mess up, I only had to make a few calls and the game went fine. Thankfully, I remembered the hand gestures properly and didn't make any mistakes. When the game was over, I felt good that I'd been able to contribute, and it really had been easy.

So why had I resisted so much?

I didn't want the responsibility. I didn't want to mess up. I didn't want to have to pay attention to anything but cheering on the team.

Critiquing ~

I thought about how similar my reaction to line judging and to performing my first critique for another writer were. I'd agreed to read and give feedback on a friend's chapters yet I'd never done it before. I was scared I'd mess up. I didn't want the responsibility. I didn't want to have to say anything negative--I wanted to be able to cheer the author on. But after I sent the author the critique, I felt good. I'd been able to contribute to the writer's understanding of her novel, and it had been easy.

It's been years since I did my first critique, and I still enjoy critiquing very much. Plus, all the practice has made me confident in my ability to give a fair assessment.

Strength ~

I've always been more gutsy when it comes to my writing career. I'm willing to take chances and be uncomfortable because I want to be published. The risks I've taken have helped me try more things in my personal life too, like agreeing to be a line judge for a game I've never played.

It's amazing how every step we take affects the other steps we'll take.

Have you become stronger in personal areas due to taking chances in your professional life?

Have a fabulous weekend!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

5 Easy Questions with Tiffany A. White!

Every Wednesday, I ask a writer the same five easy questions. In an effort to support and promote fellow wordsmiths, I feature authors who write a variety of genres, from sweet inspirational to mainstream thrillers. The writers themselves may be aspiring, published, or  best-selling--all have made an impact on my life.

Thank you for joining me in welcoming…Tiffany A. White!!

Tiffany and I met through the #MyWANA hashtag on Twitter! I was immediately drawn to her funny tweets and her delicious blog--don't miss her Tele-Tuesdays for help with your DVR list. If you haven't connected with her on Twitter, remedy that. Right now. You can't go wrong with such a smart, fun, generous writer!

Let's get to it...

1.  Beverage of choice?

This definitely depends on my mood; mostly I crave Unsweetened Iced Tea, but occasionally require a chilled bottle of Woodchuck Amber or a nice glass of St. Louis Martini Cabernet to wrap up the day.

2. Any pets?

We have two cats, a dog, and a 135 gallon salt water aquarium. I’ve had Shady-cat since college; he’s a bit protective and tends to only like me. My best girl friends call him a dog/cat because of his size; he could probably eat many small lap dogs. Lucky (cat) and Shadow (dog) are both rescue animals. I found Lucky in the parking lot at work, and I credit him for my current relationship: my guy caught me trying to sneak him into the building, and he reluctantly agreed to “babysit” for the weekend. Here we are almost nine years later…Shadow is our geriatric dog. She’s currently taking thyroid medication, bladder control pills, and bronchial dilators. She has no idea that she’s not healthy and young anymore. My dad once said that if all dogs were like Shadow, every household would have two.

3. Dream vacation?

Definitely Italy. Having attended Catholic school for seven years, and being honored to sing for Pope John Paul II when he visited St. Antonio in the ‘80s, I’ve always dreamed of traveling to Rome and experiencing Vatican City first hand.

4. What are you listening to right now?

ESPN from the other room. I have to make sure that I hear any and all up to the minute updates to stay on top of my fantasy football team. I’m addicted, and a bit competitive. I must win!

5. What’s for dinner?

Baked Tilapia with baked pineapple and steamed veggies. Honestly, I could eat an entire plate of the baked pineapple, but I throw the fish and veggies in for good measure.

Tiffany, your beverage choices sound yummy. I'm adding St. Louis Martini Cabernet to my list. Mmm! I had a cat similar to Shady-Cat. She loved me, but she wasn't all that enthused about anyone else, and how sweet that Lucky played matchmaker--cats are blessings in so many ways. I'm sorry about your poor Shadow, though. It's really hard watching our pets grow old and frail.

Someday, when you take your dream trip, you might have to sing to the Pope again. Maybe he'll request you? :) And speaking of fantasy football, I'm not a participant, but I watch a lot of NFL. How are your players working out for you? My husband's running back got injured last Sunday. Sad times at our house! Thanks so much for being my guest today!


After working a decade in corporate America as an executive assistant, Tiffany is now writing her first fiction manuscript inspired by growing up in West Texas. Her story is centered on the world of high school football with a twist - murder.  She’s a member of several writing groups including the Warrior Writer Boot Camp, Row80, HP’s Writing Group, She Writes, and the Young Adult Sisterhood. Tiffany recently started freelance blogging and managing social media for a digital conversion company out of Tennessee.

Like most writers, Tiffany’s hooked on caffeine. When she’s not typing away, you can also find her attached to the television remote. She has a bit of a competitive side, whether it be bowling (high game is 289, of course that was a long time ago), or playing fantasy sports. She’s an avid sports fan who bleeds red and black for Texas Tech University.  Despite not owning cowboy boots, or a cowboy hat, she takes pride in being a Texan.

To learn more about Tiffany, head to her blog, Tiffany A. White's Ooo Factor, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Have you ever had an encounter with someone famous?

Enjoy your Wednesday!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Conferences: What Can You Offer?

Many of my friends are traveling to St. Louis for the annual American Christian Fiction Writers conference. I think it's safe to say many are beyond excited at the chance to meet friends, rub elbows with industry publishers, take workshops from esteemed authors, and hopefully pitch their books.

Emotions are high during these times. We're nervous--what if I don't have anyone to sit with at lunch? We're hopeful--maybe my dream agent will request my book. We're afraid we're forgetting something--did I remember my business cards, my business casual (whatever that means!) outfits, and my toothbrush? And we can't help but wonder if this trip will change our lives.

I will not be attending the ACFW conference this year, but many of my friends will. First, I'm praying you all have a safe trip and that the Lord blesses you deeply. Do not worry if you aren't super excited every minute. Our feelings can't take non-stop giddiness. It's normal to have periods of tiredness and confusion. But also, please take a minute to consider the following.

What can you bring to the conference?

No, I don't mean for you to bring an outfit, nail polish, or cool writing gadget. I mean, what do you have to offer to others? How can you give of yourself during these days?

We all have gifts to share with the world. After my first conference, I learned my motivations had been focused on me--how I could  make a good impression during my pitches, what information I could glean from the workshops, and how could I get another helping of that fabulous dessert??--but I walked away with an even better output. God used me to meet His needs.

I love meeting and talking to other writers. Introducing myself to strangers comes naturally to me. If I see someone with that helpless, lost, "I don't know anyone" stare, I have no problem merging them into the group I'm hanging out with. This is not something I am bragging about--it's just a trait God blessed me with.

Long after the conference, I realized I had never been there to promote myself and my book. I had been there to spread the writerly spirit, the support we all desperately need. Again, I can't take the credit. I'm just thankful God had His own plans for me.

So remember that, yes, you're there to promote yourself, to meet your friends, to pitch to agents and editors, maybe to sell your published books, but you're also there for another reason, one only you and God know.

Let your light shine.
Okay, the big day has arrived--the winner of a copy of Jody Hedlund's magnificent book, The Doctor's Lady, is... Julie Lippo!! Congratulations, Julie! My daughter originally picked Michelle Fayard as the winner, but when I e-mailed her with the news, she graciously urged me to pick another winner. Apparantly she couldn't wait and already has a copy! Wasn't that generous of her to pass the book on to someone else? If you get a chance, stop by her lovely blog, Bird's Eye View. And thank you, thank you to everyone who entered!
I finally broke down and published an author page on Facebook. Some of you have received invitations on Facebook to "Like" it. Thank you, in advance, for supporting me! Facebook is a fun place to mingle, so expect random observations about my day, my latest blog posts, and pictures (mostly of my mini-dachshund Sophie--that dog cracks me up!). There is a permanent link to "Like" my author page in the sidebar of this blog, or simply head to Thanks again!

What's your best conference tip?

Have an amazing Monday!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Publications I'm Enjoying

One of my favorite magazines is Everyday with Rachael Ray. I've subscribed to various cooking magazines over the years, but this one does such a great job keeping me engaged. One of the new features, "This Month's Menu," is a two-page spread of thumbnail snapshots for every recipe in the issue. Seeing a picture of the recipe greatly increases my desire to try it.

I recently saw another example of this type of feature on Wall Street Journal's online magazine. The interactive web page, The Off-Duty 50, has snapshots and links of 50 fall trends. Again, I found it very entertaining and time-worthy.

Katie Brown puts out visually delicious books on entertaining and cooking. I just borrowed Katie Brown Celebrates from the library. With full page pictures of decorations and recipes, the book kept me entertained for over an hour.

These are just a few examples of publications, online and in-print, that have succeeded not only in capturing my interest but in keeping it for future issues.

What publications or websites are keeping your interest lately?

(The winner of a copy of Jody Hedlund's latest, The Doctor's Lady, will be chosen tonight! If you haven't entered, head to this post, 5 Reasons to Read Jody Hedlund's The Doctor's Lady and leave a comment with your e-mail address by 5pm Eastern time! Winner will be announced Monday, September 19, 2011!)

Have you ever struggled with a crummy attitude? Head to MVRWA's blog today for my post, "Why a Crummy Attitude Hurts Us."

Have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

5 Easy Questions with Paul Greci!

Every Wednesday, I ask a writer the same five easy questions. In an effort to support and promote fellow wordsmiths, I feature authors who write a variety of genres, from sweet inspirational to mainstream thrillers. The writers themselves may be aspiring, published, or  best-selling--all have made an impact on my life.

Thank you for joining me in welcoming… Paul Greci!!

I've been following Paul's wonderful blog for years. I love stepping into another world--one with the occasional stray moose, a peek at exotic travels, or even an interview with another author. Paul also shares amazing nature photographs, many from his home in Alaska. Paul writes young adult and middle grade fiction, and I can't wait until the day I can buy one of his books.

Let's get to it!

1. Beverage of choice?

My beverage of choice is a smoky black tea called Lapsang Souchong. I start almost every day with two extra-strong mugs of it.

2. Any pets?

Currently, no. But, right now I’m taking care of a miniature dachshund for a friend. The dog’s name is Ka’u and he plays a pretty mean tug-o-war.

3. Dream vacation?

Funny you should ask. I mean, I kind of just got back from my dream vacation. Three weeks in Italy. We hiked in the Alps, ate great food—think pizza, gelato, chocolate croissants, cappuccino—swam in beautiful swimming holes in mountain streams, picked plums and figs from trees, and then walked around Venice for a few days before returning to Alaska. I’m still digesting the experience.

4. What are you listening to right now?

No music playing at the moment but a friend just introduced me to “I Love my Dog” by Cat Stevens, and that’s been playing in my car.

5. What's for dinner?

It’s harvest time around here. So, lots of fresh veggies from the garden. Peas, cabbage, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers…the list goes on, but last night we went out and I had fish and chips.

Paul, black tea is my favorite but I've never tried (or heard of!) Lapsang Souchong. Next time I head to a specialty market, I'll have to pick up a box. And don't you love those mini-dachshund's? Our mini-doxie is an eight pound bundle of personality named Sophie. Her favorite activities are attacking a stuffed bunny, barking at the mail truck, and cuddling on our laps--under a blanket of course! Naturally, after dog-sitting, you would find a song named "I Love My Dog," right?

Wow, three weeks in Italy is definitely a dream vacation, and it sounds as if you were able to explore the countryside. I sighed just reading your description. I'm also drooling over your dinner. All those fresh veggies--yum! Thanks so much for being my guest today!


Paul writes young adult and middle grade fiction. When he’s not writing he spends as much time as he can exploring the roadless areas of Alaska on foot and by kayak. Back in the day, he hiked 120 miles through the mountains of central Idaho without crossing a road. Paul also teaches English. In August his middle grade novel, Stranded, was awarded second place in the 2011 Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s Annual Contest.

To learn more about Paul's work, head to his blog, Northwriter, connect with him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

I picked up caramel apple dip this morning. What says "fall" to you?

Have a great Wednesday!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Sad Day

My uncle passed away last Friday. Unfortunately the news was not a shock. He'd been in poor health for a long time--an obscure lung disease forced a lung transplant, during which he suffered a stroke and never fully recovered. Some things in life make no sense to me. Like how such a vibrant, healthy, fun man could be incapacitated at a relatively young age.

I've always loved him. Growing up, our families were extremely close. Honestly, their kids, my sister and I felt more like siblings than cousins. My sister and I would sit in our window seat half an hour before they were due to arrive, and we'd press our noses to the glass, wondering out loud if the car approaching could be them.

My uncle and my dad were left in charge of us kids on numerous occasions. Once, we were loading the dishwasher and ran out of detergent. When we asked them what we should do, they told us to use dishwashing liquid. Thirty minutes later we had soap suds climbing the cabinets onto the counter! My uncle and my dad laughed as hard as we did.

We could get away with more with our dads, too. My cousin and I would grab an old sleeping bag and ride it down their wooden staircase over and over. Our moms would yell at us to stop after one go, but the dads? Nope. We'd get at least a dozen rides in before they told us to stop.

As I grew older, our relationship changed. My husband and I moved around a lot, leaving us less time to spend with our extended families. I wish I could have been there for my aunt and cousins for the last few years as they've dealt with extremely difficult circumstances.

Sometimes I wish I could have another weekend of riding down that staircase with my cousin--when our families were intact, healthy, and happy.

I guess I should be thankful I had it to begin with.

I am. I'm very thankful.

It's times like these I'm filled with gratitude for the Lord and my faith because I know I'll see my uncle again.

Have your relationships changed with your extended family as you've gotten older?

Enjoy your day.

Friday, September 9, 2011

5 Reasons to Read Jody Hedlund's The Doctor's Lady

The Doctor's Lady arrived in my mailbox and my heartbeat quickened as I skipped back inside. (Yes, I turn into a seven-year-old girl when extremely excited! And, for the record, I received a review copy from Bethany House Publishers.)

I couldn't wait to open this book! I knew from watching the trailer--embedded later in the post--it would be delightful. First of all, I love books set in the American west. Secondly, I adore marriage of convenience plots, and thirdly, I could NOT put down Jody's first book, The Preacher's Bride. Bonus points for such a gorgeous cover.

So I had to wait until I had a somewhat open schedule to begin reading The Doctor's Lady. I'm the type of reader who will ignore a house fire and zombie attacks if I'm into a book. When I found that pocket of time, I dove in and hoped my expectations weren't too high.

They weren't. I was BLOWN AWAY by this book!

Here are 5 reasons to read Jody Hedlund's The Doctor's Lady.

1. Excellent Writing

Jody's passion for writing pulses on each page of this book. It's a smooth, fast-paced, incredibly researched romance novel. Her use of language triggered my emotions. I've selected a few passages that really stood out for me.
          - He lifted his face to a sky covered with a sagging dirty blanket of clouds. (I live in Michigan where every February and March I gaze up to a sagging dirty blanket of clouds.)
          - Through blurry eyes, she glanced at the deserted chest. The spiraling pattern of brass dots stared back at her, dull from the dust of their travel. (Four words in these two lines pack a whopping punch: blurry eyes, spiraling pattern. They convey everything I need to know, that the sight of the chest is extremely painful to her. My heart tugged just typing this in!)

2. Adventure

I had no idea this was going to be such an adventure. From the opening chapters to the final page, this book doesn't let up, and I loved it. Fast-paced, high-tension, and a bird's-eye-view of traveling across America before the West had been settled--each chapter kept me riveted. Indeed, I read it in less than 24 hours. It was THAT good.

3. The Romance

Authors of inspirational romance have a special challenge when writing romance. How can we show chemistry and affection in a Christian manner that speaks to the reader without crossing a line? Jody mastered it here. Priscilla and Eli each have huge emotional obstacles to overcome before they can love each other, but their growing admiration for each others' strengths coupled with their natural chemistry sealed the deal for me. I felt Priscilla's thrill to be near Eli, understood his instinct to not get too close, and fell in love with both of them as they continued their journey.

4. History

When I finished the book, it hit me how much I learned about American history. Every page brims with historical details that really brought the book alive to me. I really grasped the difficulties of traveling across the country before it had been settled, and it made me sympathize with the characters even more.

5. Twists

No spoilers, I promise!! But I will say that there are several twists that kept me on the edge of my seat. Wait until you find out who Priscilla's and Eli's traveling companions are! Oh boy! Good stuff.
Here is the trailer:

To celebrate the debut of The Doctor's Lady, Jody Hedlund is graciously giving away a copy to one of my readers! Simply include your e-mail address in the comment section below by Friday, September 16, 2011. This contest is open only to U.S. residents with a U.S. mailing adress. I will put all entries into a hat and have my assistant (that's fancy talk for one of my kids) draw a name. Winner will be announced Monday, September 19, 2011 here on my blog!

And, whoa, there's more!! Jody is hosting an epic giveaway! One lucky winner will receive a prize package worth $300, including an antique trunk, a gorgeous ring, and assorted other prizes. For more information about the contest, here's an easy link.

Enter the Be A Trailblazer Contest!


You've just discovered Puzzle Piece #4, in Jody Hedlund's BE A TRAILBLAZER Scavenger Hunt! If you want to learn more about the scavenger hunt, and earn 20 extra entries to her contest, visit this page on her web site:!

Have I convinced you to give The Doctor's Lady a try? Not yet? Read my 5-star review of The Doctor's Lady on Goodreads. And remember to

1. Leave your e-mail address in the comments below for a chance to win a copy!
2. Earn extra points for Jody's contest by clicking on the link
3. Tell your friends about Jody's contest! Click on the "retweet" button at the end of this post or click on the Facebook share button below this post.

Do you get giddy when you pick up a much anticipated book?

Have a terrific weekend!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

5 Easy Questions with Laura Pauling!

Every Wednesday, I ask a writer the same five easy questions. In an effort to support and promote fellow wordsmiths, I feature authors who write a variety of genres, from sweet inspirational to mainstream thrillers. The writers themselves may be aspiring, published, or  best-selling--all have made an impact on my life.

Thank you for joining me in welcoming… Laura Pauling!!

Laura and I met through blogging, and her intelligence and warmth captured me right away. If you don't suscribe to her blog, remedy that. She writes smart posts about the publishing industry, and she often analyzes books and movies based on plot structure. I always learn something! Laura writes middle grade fiction, and I know it won't be long until her books are on shelves.
Let's get to it!

1. Beverage of choice

My husband is on the search for the perfect smoothie but we have yet to find it. It seems to be very difficult to find that blend between yogurt and seedy berries. So if anyone has any good recipes please add them in the comments. (No seriously, I'm tired of drinking yogurt.) If you ask my kids, they'd say Dunkin Donuts coffee, and they don't mind that because they seem to get a donut from the deal. Sometimes.

2. Any pets?

If my daughter wasn't allergic to dogs, I'm sure my kids would've talked us into a cute little puppy. Instead, my son has a not-so-cute, I mean, extremely cute gerbil named Hercules who makes a lot of noise especially at night or when I'm alone during the day. Unfortunately, I mean, thankfully, he's only escaped once. Except now, my son's talking about his next pet - a snake! Yeah, no thanks.

3. Dream vacation?

Tough question. I'll put it this way, for our anniversary my husband wanted to hike and sleep at an AMC hut. So for us both to have our dream vacations we'd have to split up. He'd live in the woods and pretend to be a pioneer, and I'd rent a house on the ocean so I could watch the sunrise over a steaming cup of coffee and my laptop. I could run on the beach, talk walks...etc. Except, if there were no monetary limits, I'd love to backpack through Europe with someone who knows what they're doing. And then crash in the evening at my magical traveling beach house.

4.What are you listening to right now?

Like right now? Since it's morning and I haven't started writing yet, I'll be honest. In the background, are the groans of pirates dying, ninjas fighting knights, and dinosaurs crashing a castle - otherwise known as my kids. When I'm writing a first draft, the story dictates the music, so I've been listening to Enya and I'm on the search for music like that. Any ideas? Anyone? 

5. What's for dinner?

My husband will be at his fantasy football draft, so I'm making the kids pizza. And I'll have salad. Sometimes I feel like such a mom (I try my hardest to ignore the fact that I drive a mini van and my kids play soccer). 

Too funny, Laura! We make smoothies for breakfast sometimes, and our fave recipe is: a lot of ice, one cup of yogurt, a quart of strawberries, one banana, and a scoop of protein powder. I'm so glad I'm not the only one suckered into having a rodent for a pet. Our guinea pig just won't escape either. And your dream vacay bears a strong resemblance to mine--a week at the beach with plenty of time to putter around the area. No pioneering allowed!

I wish I had some music to recommend. It seems as if there are French artists who share an Enya-like sound, but I can't think of any off the top of my head. Maybe see if iTunes will suggest something and try to borrow a CD from your library? That's the "mom" in me, coming out. Yeah, I drive the mini-van too, and we have soccer games this week. I just pretend my ride is a Mustang convertible. :) Thanks so much for being my guest today!


Laura Pauling writes middle grade and young adult novels, sometimes funny, sometimes dark and twisty, but always with heart. On her blog, Laura Pauling, she breaks down published novels and movies to discover the secrets of story structure and likes to open discussion on publishing industry trends and issues. To learn more about Laura's writing, head to her blog and follow her on Twitter.

So, what did you have for breakfast this morning? (We're in a breakfast rut.)

Have a happy Wednesday!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day!!

Happy Labor Day, all of my American friends!

Do you spend it with family/friends?
Do you relax or party?
Will there be decadent desserts involved?

We're keeping it low-key, relaxing, and yes, an ice-cream cake will be involved. :)

For everyone who has to work today, I'm sending you virtual coffee, a large pan of brownies, and a hug.

Happy Monday!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Preparing For Success Part 3: Standing Out

Preparing for Success is a three-part series targeted to aspiring writers. Any writer who decides to pursue publication, whether through self-publishing, e-publishing, or traditional publishing enters a crowded, competitive field. For most of us it will be a long, bumpy, confusing ride. If we use our unpublished time wisely, we will stand out from the crowd and our hard work will pay off.

Standing Out

At some point on our journey from aspiring writer to published author, we become aware that half the human population seems to be trying to get published. Agents’ in-boxes are full—they request few manuscripts and take on fewer new authors. Traditional publishers have a limited number of slots to fill each year. New e-publishers pop up monthly, but some are better than others, and many, many writers are self-publishing with mixed results. For every author claiming to make thousands of dollars every day, there are many more who’ve sold less than fifty copies.

So how do we stand out from the crowd? How do we get our manuscripts requested? How can we position ourselves to appeal to publishers? Or if you're considering self-publishing, how can you stand out from the thousands of other books emerging each month?
The most important thing we can do to stand out is to write a good book. That’s why the first two installments in this series are so vital. Without a good book, none of our efforts will matter. The majority of our effort should be on writing, learning, revising, and improving.

Eventually, our writing becomes publishable. We aren’t making newbie craft mistakes. We’ve figured out how to write sympathetic characters and strong plots, and we maintain high tension, fast pacing, and create unique premises. But will this be enough?

By studying blogs, reading articles by industry professionals, and talking to other writers, I’ve found five areas we can use to stand out from the crowd.

  1. Querying
* Research agents and editors. Verify they represent your genre. Read interviews, take notes on their blog posts, and find out who they represent. Follow their query instructions precisely.
* Before you send a query letter for a novel, ask yourself the following:
1. Is my book complete? An agent might request your full the afternoon you send the e-mail. You will look very unprofessional if your book isn't done.
2. Have I gotten feedback on my novel? If you're the only one who has read it, don't query yet. Find a critique partner or hire a freelance editor first.
3. Is my query letter personalized? Do not send a form query to multiple agents.

The Query Letter: Basic Tips
a.   Use an easy formula such as Hook, Book, Cook.
* The hook is the paragraph where you write your basic premise in an engaging way. The goal is to make the agent or editor want to read more.
* The book is a paragraph sharing important details such as word count, genre, if it’s one in a series, and if it is completed.
* The cook is a paragraph listing your qualifications to write the book. Include previous writing credits, writing organizations you belong to, if you’re in a critique group, and any other fact that establishes your authority to write the book.
b.   Personalize the query. Be specific. Use the agent’s name and give a brief reason why you are querying her.
c.   Proofread the query thoroughly before sending it. If possible, have another writer critique it for you.
d.   Follow the agent’s query instructions exactly.

  1. Conferences
If you’ve been querying without getting requests, or you aren’t sure who to query, head to a conference. Choose one that offers agent and editor appointments, and research the agents and editors first. Pitching in person increases your odds of getting a request. Even if no one requests your book, they’ll often give you a reason why. This information is priceless! Conferences allow you to make a more complete impression on an industry professional. Plus, the workshops are great places to learn about craft, career, and the industry.

  1. Social Media
a.   Many agents write blogs, have Facebook pages, and are active on Twitter. If you aren’t following your target agents, why not? Hundreds of other writers are interacting with your dream agent. Who do you think the agent will notice on a query letter—the writer who comments regularly on the agent’s blog and retweets her posts? Or the complete stranger?

  1. Platform
a.   Whatever publishing route you travel, a platform is vital. Platform is basically your audience—the people you can sell your products too.
b.   Your product is not just your current book. Your product is your current and future body of work. In some ways, the product is you.  
      We don’t want to sell just one book, right? We want readers to purchase our future books, pick up our novellas, and spread the word about our writing. This is why I recommend all aspiring authors to build a platform early. Join Facebook, chat on Twitter, read and comment on blogs, start a blog, publish a website, practice speaking in front of your local writer’s group. With time, these will add up to a solid platform.
c.   Today’s publishers want to see numbers. They prefer authors who have an audience, even if that audience is small and growing. They also want a great book written on deadline, and they want the author to play a prominent role in selling it. 
d.   Unfortunate fact: Many agents will not request aspiring writer’s books if the writer does not already have either a website or a blog. Blogs are free, easy to work with, and simple to re-post across social networks. Think about starting one if you haven't already.
e.   If you’re considering self-publishing, you need a platform more than the average writer. Hundreds of thousands of books have been self-published on Amazon, Smashwords, and other sites. Few review sites exist, and your book will not be sold in a Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, or major bookstores. Traditional sales techniques don’t work well when it comes to selling books. You can tweet about how great your book is ten times a day, but you’ll only turn people off. It takes time to understand how social media can help sell your books. And it takes time to build relationships online.
f.   If you want to build a platform, but everything about it overwhelms you, read my post, “17 Simple Steps To Build a Fiction Platform.”

  1. Generosity
Publishing is a very small world. You’ll be amazed at how often the same names pop up in blogs, articles, e-mails, conferences, and social media sites. Every day, we have an opportunity to share something good with the world. Be generous, be kind. Every writer is plagued with problems—maybe not every minute—but each phase has its own challenges. We need to support each other. And when we support each other, we can’t help but spread our joy for other writers. Generosity and joy always stand out in the world.

Preparing for success in today's publishing world takes unique skills. It takes courage, confidence, humility. It takes strong writing ability. And it takes being able to market yourself as an author. Many writers have taken these steps and have found the success they longed for. It isn't easy, but it's worth it.

On a happy note, I'm so excited to share this good news with you! Wendy Paine Miller, my dear friend and critique partner, signed with Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary Agency this week!! If you get a chance, stop by her blog and congratulate her. She's an amazing writer, and I'm excited to see where her journey takes her! Congratulations, Wendy!

Also, Sarah Forgrave, one of my favorite bloggers, just announced she signed with Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Agency! I'm thrilled for Sarah and extra happy to have another agency-mate! Congratulations, Sarah!

Do you have any tips to stand out in this crowded field?

Have a fantastic weekend!!