2013 and 2014 GOLDEN HEART® Finalist

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wednesday Writing Roundup

Our top story today... sorry, my news roots are showing.  But I do want to start the writing links roundup with a site every writer should at least visit.  Author Brenda Novak has so many goodies here for writers, readers, and just about anyone else that it's almost hard to get away from her charity auction site once you get there.  I won two of the auctions last year and was able to get amazing critiques from two of the top agents in the business. 

Check out what's up for bids this year:  http://brendanovak.auctionanything.com/ 

More goodness from author Janice Hardy in her helpful series on becoming a more productive writer:

The Other Side of the Story: Forge Ahead: Ways to be a More Productive Writer, Part 4

This is good info for those of us in the query phase:  http://www.roniloren.com/blog/2012/5/23/what-will-make-an-agent-gong-your-pages.html

This is just brilliant and simplifies what a critique partner is and is NOT : http://www.yahighway.com/2012/03/strictly-objective-critique-partner.html 

Good info here from the DFW writers conference:


Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Writing Contests = Spinach

Photo by Tracie Broom- The Yum Diary
So, I did a post a few weeks ago about all the benefits of entering writing contests (Check it Out Here) even before you win, or even if you never do.  I had just sent off my first few entries ever, after completing and revising the heck out of my Young Adult novel.  It's so scary to put your work (and heart) out there for others to judge, but it's also important to do so, and I've found there's nothing better than a contest entry deadline to light a fire under your fanny and force you to complete and/or perfect that dreaded synopsis. 

That's just the entering part of the equation. Now comes the results phase, and so far, I'm loving it!  I haven't heard back yet from a few of the RWA contests I entered -- it's too early-- but I have heard from three. And I'm a finalist in TWO of them!  I just found out about one of them today.  **dances around the kitchen-- again**

I can't say every second of the process is pleasant. Along with the notifications, the contest administrators sent me the judges' scoring sheets, complete with comments about what did and didn't work for them. Guess which part I enjoyed more? 

Right.  The positive remarks are delicious-- chocolate chip cookies dipped in Cool Whip delicious.  My favorite ones are where they wrote "this is definitely a book I'd read"! 

The comments about what needs improvement are nutritious-- the written equivalent of spinach. I don't love it, but I eat it.  My body needs it, and my writing needs honest feedback from people who know what they're talking about.  And you know what?  After you get over the initial bitter taste (doesn't take long), you actually start to love the spinach comments, too, because who wouldn't want to know exactly what to do to fix their manuscript's faults and make it perfect before sending it out to agents?

No, I'm not being paid by RWA local chapters to promote their writing contests, but I do want to be paid to write eventually.  I'm a true believer that writing contests are a big step toward that dream. Try some-- you might like the way they taste. Good luck and keep writing!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Media Moment- Larger Than Life

photo by sky#walker

The most common advice you hear about giving an interview is to "Be yourself."  Sounds easy enough- you are yourself, so how could you ever not "be yourself?"

But if you've ever actually done a television interview, you know that it is indeed possible.  In fact, I've known professional broadcasters who struggled with this after doing live tv everyday for months, even years (including myself).  I've seen some co-workers, politicians, and interview guests who in the newsroom were funny, engaging, big personalities, but as soon as they got in front of the camera their "real selves" disappeared, and they became flavorless, carboard cutout versions of themselves.  I think some of it's nerves. Some is probably a desire to appear "professional".

You want viewers and potential readers to see the best version of yourself, which is always the most authentic version.  So how can you "be yourself" on tv? 

 One of the best approaches is NOT to try to memorize what you're going to say beforehand. This doesn't work well for tv reporters, and it's not going to work for you.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't think about the main points you want to get across before your interview. Definitely do that.   But don't try to memorize word for word what you're going to say- that only invites nerves and the memory blackouts that come with them.  Be confident that you know your stuff-- no one knows more about your book and about yourself. If you're trying to regurgitate a memorized speech, your tone of voice and your face will be stiff and uncomfortable instead of relaxed and open and capable of expressing a personality that viewers (and potential readers) can get attached to.

I know this because I've lived it. When I first started in television at 21 years old, I was anxious to project a professional-grown-up-newslady image.  I memorized every word of my live shots and managed to get them all out again on the air in the correct order. But I cringe when I look back at my archive tapes of those early days. Not only was my personal style somewhat... um... lacking (check it out) but the girl on camera only vaguely resembled the "real life" person that my co-workers, friends, and family knew. It's uncomfortable to watch for me and no doubt viewers felt the same. A couple of years and many, many hours of live tv later I moved on to my next job and took Cardboard Amy right along with me. I was admittedly better, but still trying to be "on tv" instead of being myself.

Then I learned a really helpful exercise that changed my entire approach as a news anchor. I worked with a consultant/coach in a room with a chair, a table, and a video camera.  I was given a script, and the consultant first asked me to read it on camera the way I'd normally read a script on the air. I did my best professional news delivery. Then he asked me to read it again as if I were reading to a roomful of pre-schoolers. I did, adding a more enthusiastic sing-song tone of voice and more facial expression.  Finally he asked me to read it WAY over the top, like I'd never dare to do it during a real newscast. I really went for it, making it larger than life, lots of vocal inflection, lots of facial expression. I felt ridiculous, but hey, it was just us, and no one else would ever see me making a fool of myself like that.

Afterward, we watched the videotape together. It was very obvious which one had been the "best read", the one that I (and any other viewer) would find most engaging on tv. Guess which one it was?
Yep. The one where I had felt like I was reading like a crazy person.  It felt so big, but it looked perfectly normal and so much better than I'd ever read a news script on tv. From then on I remembered that it's better to be a little larger than life, and when you feel like you're really out there, that's when you begin to reach viewers. It did a lot to help me get out of the cage of being "on tv" and to a place where I could "be myself" on the air.

This is something you can practice at home before a tv interview. Set up a video camera and have a friend "interview" you. If you need a list of questions you'll likely be asked, check this post: What They'll Ask-- What to Say

Do it a couple of times. First, the way you think it "should" be done. Then, a little larger than life. You'll probably find that your second try comes out looking a little more like the real you. Good luck, and keep writing!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wednesday Writing Roundup

I have to start today with a big Woo Hoo!  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've recently entered a few writing contests for the first time, and even before the first word was judged, I got so much benefit from the fire-under-my-heinie aspect of contest participation.

But this is even better:  I'm a finalist!  I know, it's not winning (yet!), and maybe I never will win one, but it's just so cool to receive that little bit of validation that (a) I'm not completely wasting my time day after day, and (b) I'm on the right track toward my goal of having my novel published.

If you're published already, you're sagely nodding and giving me an indulgent grin, and if you're like me and trying to get an agent and see that first book published... give contests a try! 

Ok... now to some really helpful writing articles I've found this week.  Hope they help you, too!

You can't write a great query unless you can answer this: What Is A Plot Catalyst?

Ooooh good one! 3 Chapter Critique from Janice Hardy

Why It's Important To Understand the News Cycle from the always-funny Speech Writer Guy

How to Keep Writing When ... Um... "It" Hits the Fan

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Media Moment- A Horror Story and a Happy Ending

Oh no! What did I say?
I started my career as a news anchor and reporter three weeks after graduation, making twelve thousand dollars a year. How glamorous!   Because I didn't want to spend my entire life living in a one room apartment eating mac n cheese for every meal, I moved every few years, making my way up the TV news career ladder to bigger television markets where the pay got better, the studios and equipment got fancier, and the work got more and more challenging.  (Also along the way... my hair and makeup dramatically improved.   :)

Whenever I left a job and started a new one, I usually found myself giving an interview about it to a local newspaper, magazine, radio station or cable show.  So if you're on the verge of doing publicity for your book, I feel your pain.  I completely understand any trepidation you may feel about interviews.  When I was the "interview-ee" I knew it was a necessary part of the job-- and I found it terrifying.  You're never really quite sure what they're going to ask you or what angle the "interviewer" is going to take.  For instance, I once had a morning DJ ask me live on the air how many men I'd seen naked.  Okay...

Keep It Positive

No matter WHAT they might ask you, your job is to keep it positive.  You're there to make people aware of your book (or other project).  You have a main message you want to get across-- most likely it's what your book's about and the audience to whom it's targeted.  The more interesting you make it sound, the more likely readers and listeners and viewers are to buy your book.  And it certainly won't hurt your sales if the audience finds you likable.  That happens when you keep it positive.  No matter what.  You're not angry or flustered by silly DJ's and questions about nudity-- you're on a mission to promote your book, and nothing can stop you!

You might wonder why on earth I'd even bother to point this out, thinking "Of course I'm not going to go in there and gripe about my lousy day or the publishing industry or how I don't really like my book cover or how long it took to get an agent or criticize other authors or my genre."  Because you don't intend to say any of those negative things, and good for you.  But you might anyway.

It Can Happen

It happened to me.  Early in my career, when I was 24 years old and leaving my second anchoring job in Tennessee for a new one in California, I was asked by the local newspaper to do an interview.  The reporter was a guy I'd seen around town frequently on the job and also at social events such as outdoor concerts, etc.  I believed him to be a friend.  He proved he was not.

During the phone interview, he asked questions about my new job, how I felt about leaving my current station -- all the usual stuff.  I told him honestly that I loved the station and my co-workers there and had been very happy.  He apparently wasn't satisfied.  He kept coming around again and again to questions about the state the of news business. He asked me things like "What should be changed?"  "What's wrong with tv news?".  Knowing I was far from the expert on these topics, and being happy as a clam with the news business, I kept replying that basically I didn't know the answers to those questions or really have anything to say about them.  He kept at it.

Because I was young, eager to please, and had been trained my whole life in Southern politeness, I didn't cut him off and hang up.  I wish I had.  He kept pushing and finally asked something to the effect of: If you HAD to change any one thing about news coverage in general, what would it be?  I finally replied that if I HAD to pick one thing, I guessed it would be that we could do more in-depth stories on issues that we usually didn't have time for, because of all the regular news coverage we were doing.  I think I called it "issue reporting".

Well, he finally had the answer he was looking for, and here's what he did with it: made me look like an ungrateful, know-it-all complainer.  That one little half-hearted answer that he bullied out of me was the focus of his whole story, though we had spoken for about 30-40 minutes on the phone.  He even took a sentence I'd spoken at the beginning of the interview and pasted it together with a sentence I'd said at the end, to make it look like it was all one thought.  I was horrified, devastated, and ashamed to even show my face to my co-workers in the newsroom the next day.  And yes, they looked at me like the back-stabber they believed me to be.  I still shudder when I think about it.

Yes, that was a horror story, and yes, it can happen, but don't let it stop you from doing interviews. Let it prepare you.  They're not all like that-- I had many good experiences.  Any interview is a great chance to get free publicity, and you should by all means seek them out and do them-- just be prepared.  Know the message you want to get across and be in control of it.  Be intentionally  positive.  Don't give an interviewer the chance that I gave that newspaper "friend" of mine to twist your words.

Don't Go There

If an interviewer tries to turn your interview in a negative direction, just don't go there.  You can even respond to an asinine question with something like: "I really have no idea, but let me tell you what I'm excited about...."  and take it off in your own direction. 

You often see professional athletes do this to perfection when they're invited to criticize a teammate about an on-field mistake.  They'll respond to the negative question with something positive like, "We're all professionals trying our best out here, and I'm just glad to be part of the team."  Bland, but effective at shutting down the potential negative flow of the interview.  When an interviewer senses that you can't be led in a negative direction and you're simply not going to "go there", they'll usually back off.

I've always regretted that I was too naive to understand what was happening to me during that long- ago interview, or how to prevent it.  But I sure learned-- the hard way.  Now you don't have to. :)  Good luck, and keep writing!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Promotional Points- Pink Power!

What's more effective than using a promotional product like chocolate or bookmarks or custom microfiber cloths to promote your books?  Using LOTS of promotional products together!

I recently attended a book-signing in Rhode Island for new author Jackie Hennessey and her humorous gift book for moms,  How to Spread Sanity On A Cracker.

 Jackie has a PR background, and it shows.  She's self-pubbed, and that makes it even more valuable that she understands how to present an attractive, professional image and a pulled-together promotional campaign.

Jackie used social media to spread the word beforehand, and when people arrived, they saw a colorful, cohesive presentation that drew them in.  It was attractive, coordinated, and just plain looked like fun. Here's a look at her setup:

At Barrington Books in Barrington, RI

Obviously, Jackie's a big fan of pink, and the color matches the content of her vibrant, fun, mommy-commiseration-and-recipe-filled book.  She used several different promotional products to set the scene: a table cover that matched her book's cover art, bookmarks that did the same, a poster, and custom-imprinted mints that readers could take home with them and continue to enjoy after the event was over. 

She also added attractive extras like color-coordinated floral arrangements on the table, a looping video playing on a tabletop tablet, pretty foil-wrapped chocolates (always a good idea!)  and even brought along some chips and cheese dips made from recipes found in the book.

Jackie (with her biggest fans) and her setup in another location

It all makes for a fun scene and shows Jackie in the best light.  She presents herself as "the real deal", and let's not kid ourselves, if people don't like the packaging, they're not buying the package. That's why publishers work so hard to make sure book covers present an alluring, intriguing image. Right? Promotional products customized to your book take that one step further, surrounding your public appearances (and you!)  in that image as well.

How can you apply a little Pink Power (or blue, or red, or zombie-greenish-gray) to your book promotions?  Good luck and keep writing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wednesday Writing- Worth-it Webinars

By Olga.Belobaba                                       

After finishing the first draft of my first complete novel (which shall never see the light of day) three years ago, I started researching the publishing process to find the answer to "what comes next?" 

At the time, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series was still (or back?) at the top of the bestseller lists.  I'd seen in an interview that she'd mentioned writing query letters and sending them to agents, so I went to her website to find out more.  There, I read that she'd learned about the submissions process from author Janet Evanovich's website, so that's where I went next.  That eventually led me to the prolific and incredibly helpful blog of literary agent Kristin Nelson, Pub Rants.  It contains a feast of information on just about every aspect of the process, and after devouring that, I started clicking the links she had listed on the side of her page, leading me deeper and deeper into the world of author, agent, and editor blogs.

It's amazing to see how generous the literary community is, and thanks to that, I've grown so much in  my understanding of the publishing business and in my knowledge of the craft of writing.  I've also written (and revised and revised and revised!) another book.  This one may actually be worth something.

I learned that the first step toward becoming a traditionally published author is writing a good query letter, and it's not easy.  In fact, in spite of the countless blog posts and articles I've read on the subject and all the incarnations my own query letter has gone through, I still don't think I had quite grasped it until recently. 

I must be an auditory learner, because what finally got through to me was taking part in a webinar on the topic, given by Sara Megibow, another successful agent with the Nelson Literary Agency.  Natural, good-natured, and plain-spoken, Sara explained exactly what matters in a query, what agents do and don't want to see, and she read and evaluated letters sent in by participants in the real-time webinar (I found the archived version later, unfortunately, and settled for watching it after the fact).   She also answered emailed questions from participants, and the end result for me was the proverbial lightbulb switching on.

The webinar was presented by Writers Digest, and because I'm nothing if not thorough, I signed up for another one, this one given by agent Kathleen Ortiz of  Nancy Coffey Literary.  She was fun to listen to, has a great personality, and was also really helpful.  Though both webinars contained some information I'd read before, some of it was new, and all of it was enhanced by actually hearing the agents share their perspectives. 

I would have paid the live webinar fee of $89 if I'd had the chance (it included some feedback on each query from the agent), but because I found them later in their archived form, I paid $29 for each, which seems like nothing compared to the value of the help I received.  I'm not saving anything if I'm spending my writing time toiling in confusion on my query, making mistakes that will take my letter (and my manuscript) out of consideration and send it to the trash bin of an agent's email file.

Writers Digest offers a new webinar each Thursday on some aspect of writing and publishing, all presented by people who know what they're talking about: agents, editors, authors.  Maybe one will give you that "aha" moment you've been needing, too.  Good luck and keep writing!