Monday, December 9, 2013

'Tis The Season

It's that time of year again, and everyone's focus seems to be on finding that perfect gift.  I understand how frustrating it can be to head to the local mall and spend hours flitting from one store to the next, only to go home empty handed or with something I "settled" on.  We authors are sitting on a goldmine of gift ideas not only for those on our own shopping lists, but dozens of others as well.  How do you use your gift of writing as a gift for others?

1--Let's start with the obvious--books make awesome gifts!  All of us know at least a few avid readers, so why not sign a copy or two of your work, wrap them up in pretty paper, and hand them out?  Or, set up a booth at a local craft or book fair and suggest your book(s) as the "perfect gift." 

2--Take Tip #1 a step further and offer to donate a portion of your profits from holiday sales to a charity or local homeless shelter, food bank, etc.  Offer a discount off the purchase price for donating a non-perishable food item or a small toy to be given to a needy child.   People will be encouraged to buy not only for the value of the book itself as a gift, but the added bonus of helping others.

3--Nothing says "I care" better than a handwritten note.  Is there someone you're thinking of who could use a word of encouragement during this time of year, or would simply love to hear from you?  Instead of picking up the phone, buy some pretty stationery and craft a meaningful letter to let them know they're on your mind.  If you're the poetic type, include a few original lines of prose.  They will cherish it!

4--Who doesn't enjoy looking through old photos and sharing memories?  Make up a small scrapbook or photo album and include a short story that correlates with each photo.  Reliving times past is the perfect way to spread the joy of the season.

5--Write the script for a short holiday play to be presented by your church, neighborhood playhouse, or just family members in your living room.  It can be fun and festive, or serious to reflect your beliefs.  Writers are often prompted to "show, not just tell" and this is one way you can do that!

Tap into that creativity and let me know what other ideas you might have in the comments section.  Wishing you a peaceful and joyous holiday season!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Don't Push Me Away!

Rejection.  As writers, we are more than familiar with the term.   It happens often to many of us, but never loses its sting.  Rejection is never fun and never welcome.  We tend to take it personally.  We allow it to ruin our ambition, to make us feel as if we have nothing worthy to offer.  It wraps us up in the blanket of "oh, woe is me" and won't let us go.  It comes in many forms, from the well-known letter from a publisher or agent to a less-than-stellar book review.  So, how do we unfold ourselves from rejection's grip and learn to use it to our advantage?

Wait--did I say "to our advantage?"  How is that even possible, you ask?

Negative feedback doesn't have to hold you back.  The next time you find yourself staring into the face of rejection, try these tips:

Rejection Letter--The publisher says you don't have what they're looking for.  So, what?  There are plenty of others out there!  Take the time to read the letter carefully, tweak your manuscript accordingly, and submit it to other companies.  Let each rejection you receive become a challenge to keep pushing onward.  Don't throw out your dreams of publication with the letter!

Negative Review--These always hurt, no doubt, but it's unrealistic to believe everyone will love your work.  Try to keep in mind that a review is simply one person's opinion and does not reflect the opinions of everyone.  Like the rejection letter, read the review carefully and take note of any ways you might be able to improve your writing.  Again, keep moving onward--for every one person who isn't satisfied by your work, there are probably ten or more who are!

Rejection from Readers--There will be times in your writing career when a reader gives negative feedback on your work.  Again, you can't expect everyone to love what you do.  People like what they like--it's as simple as that.  Keep that thought in mind and thank the reader for his/her input.  Unless you are getting the same feedback from a large number of readers, simply take it as a grain of salt.

What other types of rejection have you faced in your writing career?  How did you handle it?  Please feel free to share in the comments!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Speaking From Experience

I love public speaking--now, that is.  I used to hate it.  In fact, in years past, just the very thought of speaking in front of a group would put me into such a state of panic that I would almost become physically ill.  Now when I look back on those days, believe it or not, I can't for the life of me understand why I ever felt that way.  Public speaking engagements carry so many positives for an author that you can't afford not to do them, at least once in a while.  But what if you, too, find yourself shaking, sweating, and stammering when placed behind a podium?  Maybe these tips can help:
  • Know Your Topic:  Nothing causes a presentation to take a nose dive faster than a speaker who doesn't have knowledge of his topic.  I don't recommend speaking on any subject you don't have personal experience with or aren't willing to thoroughly learn or research.  Sticking to what you know has its benefits, and you'll be less flustered if the presentation goes off-course a little.  
  • Practice Makes Perfect:  Practice your presentation in front of friends and family, allowing them to provide honest feedback.  Does your voice trail off at the end of a sentence?  Do you make adequate eye contact?  Do you speak clearly?  Does your presentation cover interesting points or does it ramble on endlessly?  Use the feedback you get to improve the areas that need improving and strenghten your overall performance.
  • Timing is Everything:  Inexperienced or nervous speakers tend to either cut their presentations short or go over the time allotted.  Be sure you know exactly how much time you're expected to fill, and time your speech to stay within the limits.  I personally write my presentations to allow for at least 10-15 minutes of question and answer time at the end, or a writing activity--whichever is appropriate for the event.
  • Stay On Topic:  Many times a speaker gets a question or a comment from the audience and veers completely away from the original topic.  If this happens, go ahead and address it, but don't spend too much time away from the subject.  Gently guide everyone back to what they came to hear and learn.  Always keep in mind that you're on a schedule.
  • Relax and Have Fun:  Don't approach your presentation like a stuffy college professor.  Relax and enjoy your crowd.  Smile, make eye contact, and be animated if that's your personality.  Keep the audience interested by speaking in a conversational way, avoiding a monotone that's sure to bore everyone there.
Remember, speaking engagements are a great way for you to reach out to those who may be interested in reading your book and/or becoming writers themselves.  Don't be afraid to get out there and do it--the more you do, the more comfortable and experienced you'll become.  Happy writing--and speaking!

*Photo courtesy of Google Images

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sweet Success!

Recently, my family had the privilege of seeing rock legend Elton John in concert.  Whether or not you are a fan of Elton's music, you can't deny that the man is a success.  At the age of 66 he continues to record music, tour extensively, and sell more records than many artists could ever dream of.   So, as I sat in the concert arena with my ears ringing and my throat hoarse from singing the strains of "Crocodile Rock", I started to think:  what made him the iconic celebrity he is today?

Hard Work:  If you've ever seen Elton perform, you know he's no slacker.  His concerts are two-and-a-half hours of non-stop energy.  He puts his all into every note he sings and every note he plays.  His tours generally encompass most major cities in the United States as well as some overseas.

Dedication to His Fans:  He knows what they want, and he delivers.  Elton made it a point to involve his audience, often inviting them to sing along with him, enticing them to clap to the beat, and addressing them after each song with a bow.  He thanked them for being there and believing in him, noting that they were the reason he does what he does.

Attention to Detail:  The stage was set perfectly, sound checks were done, a glass of his favorite beverage provided to keep him from getting cotton mouth.  Lights flashed at appropriate times, speakers were adjusted for the perfect sound.  Merchandise vendors knew what items to recommend, ushers made sure everyone found their seats, ticket takers made sure no one "slipped" in who hadn't paid to be there.  Every T was crossed, every I was dotted.  No detail was overlooked.

Working with the Right People:  Over the years, Elton John has networked with some of the finest in the industry, and in doing so, has helped boost himself to super stardom--Bernie Taupin (songwriter), Nigel Olsen (legendary drummer/musician), and of course, Billy Joel.  He has connections and uses them wisely.

How does all this relate to writing, you say?  Think about it.  If we work hard at our craft, remember the role our readers play in what we do, pay attention to detail in our work(engaging stories, strong characters, thorough editing), and surround ourselves with others who can help boost our careers, we are sure to find success as authors.  Elton's an artist, and we are as well.  Keep on the "Yellow Brick Road" and maybe someday you'll see your name in lights, too!  Happy writing!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

You're The Inspiration

I was having a chat with my niece during Easter dinner about music, particularly songs and artists from the 80s.  This is a favorite subject of mine: having been a teenager during that era, I hold a special fondness for the tunes which used to vibrate the speakers in my car, shake the windows in my home (but only when Mom and Dad weren't home!), and are responsible for at least 60% of my current hearing loss.  Even today, when I hear certain songs and artists, I'm reminded of a simpler time--of people, places, and events that helped shape me into who I am today.  It's for this reason that my Forever Love Series is set in the late 1980s.  And, thanks to a 45 rpm version of "I Can't Hold Back" by Survivor, my beloved Mitch Tarrington became a musician.

Why do authors write about the things that they do?  Where do the ideas come from?  While the initial inspiration for my books was born from an actual dream, I tend to take a lot from the things around me.  Sometimes a song will spark my muse; other times, a TV show or something I observe while I'm out and about in the world.  I find that ideas and inspirations for writing are everywhere, if one will only take the time to find them.  The way to your readers' hearts may very well be found in words from the waitress at your favorite restaurant, a painting at the local museum, or the child playing hopscotch on the school playground.  Maybe doing some people watching at the local mall will inspire a new character, or provide you with some traits you can use to spice up a current one.  Will your hero sweep the girl off her feet and carry her to that mansion you pass on your way to work each day?  Or will she rescue him from a life like the homeless man you read about in the newspaper?  One never knows.

Ideas and inspirations are everywhere, and you need to be ready when one hits you.  Carry a small notebook in your pocket, handbag, or briefcase to jot down things that spark your interest.  Invest in a handheld recorder if that works better for you.  Then take what you've gathered, mix it with your own imagination, and build a world that your readers can get lost in, if only for a few hours a day.  What inspires you? Share with me in the comments.  Happy writing!

*Photo courtesy of Google Images

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Try It, You'll Like It!

How many of you remember the cereal commercial from several years ago featuring a little boy named Mikey?  His brothers would adamantly attest to the fact that Mikey wouldn't try the new cereal because "he hates everything."  Much to their surprise, however, Mikey did try the new cereal and he liked it!  Mikey discovered something new, his brothers were amazed that he stepped out of his comfort zone, and the company probably sold another box or two of cereal.  Everyone was happy.

Let's face it--we've all been Mikeys at some point when it comes to our writing. We fear trying something new because, well, what if we can't do it?  What if we don't measure up to other authors or books?  What if no one reads/likes/wants to publish our story?  Let's stop right there and visit a scene from "Waiting for Tomorrow."  Mitch is trying to protect his pregnant wife from harm by insisting she take it easy on the job.  He comes up with a few "What if (this or that) happens?"  Dana's response--"What if a meteor comes crashing through the roof and hits me?  What if I walk outside and get run over by a five-year-old rollerskating down the sidewalk?  What if we have an earthquake, and I fall into a big crack in the earth?"  Her point?  We can either live our lives in fear of the what-ifs--which most likely will never happen--or we can take a chance and possibly discover something new and exciting.

So, what is it that you've been wanting to do?  Have you been yearning to explore writing another genre, delve into the task of self-publishing, organize a writer's conference or maybe speak at one?  Perhaps you're at the beginning--you have a story to tell but are afraid to get started with the writing.  You only have two choices--stay put or move forward.  The former is safe and secure, but leads you nowhere.  The latter can lead you to places you never imagined and to successes beyond your wildest dreams.  What are you waiting for?  "Try it, you'll like it!"  Happy writing!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Feeling Stronger Every Day

You've done it.  You've finished that manuscript, you've gotten published, you've won an award or two for your writing.  You've done signings, interviews, started a blog and a website, and had your picture in the local newspaper.  You've been invited to speak with writer's groups and at local conferences.  You've found success as an author, and because of that fact there's nothing else anyone can tell you about the literary world that you don't already know.  You're an expert.  All you have to do is sit back, write, and reap the benefits.  Right?

I say "wrong!"  It's my personal opinion that the absolute worst thing a writer can do is start thinking that his success means there is nothing else he can learn.  Let me ask you this:  How would you feel if your doctor stopped keeping up on the latest medical techniques and advances simply because he'd earned his degree?  Would you feel like you were getting the best possible care from him?  Of course, you wouldn't!  Why, then, as a writer, would you ever feel like you were providing the best material to your readers if you failed to continue learning ways to improve upon your craft?

There are so many resources available to us as writers that can help us be even better at the art than we are.  Writer's conferences provide an excellent way to network with other authors and learn from those who have forged the path ahead of you.  I may hear the same presentation a dozen times, but I never fail to learn at least one new tidbit that I can use in my writing.  Another great resource are what I call the "self-help" books.  Browse your local book store or online retailer and you will find a book to guide you through any literary subject imaginable.  I have several and use them often!  Join a writer's group, start an interactive blog, engage in social networking.  Do what you like, but whatever you do, don't stop learning.  You'll be surprised at how much more successful you can be.  Do you have other ideas on this subject?  Let me know in the comments.  Happy writing!

*Photo courtesy of Google Images

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Just The Facts

It's happened to all of us.  You're engrossed in an awesome story and falling in love with the lead character; for all intents and purposes here, we'll call him Mitch.  (hey, don't judge me--I have to get a plug in for my books when I can!)  You learn early on that Mitch has beautiful, piercing blue eyes, the kind that grab you, hypnotize you, and pull you in for the kill.  You can almost see them yourself, and are feeling it, too.  A few chapters in, the author mesmerizes your senses even more with a scene where our sweet hero is engaged in a loving moment with his wife, and she descibes the way Mike's hazel eyes sparkle when he smiles.

Hey, wait a minute.  Did you say "hazel"?  Weren't they blue a few chapters ago?  And who the heck is Mike??

As the reader, you stop and wonder what in the world happened.  Did poor Mitch have an eye transplant the author neglected to mention, and his donor's eyes were hazel?  Did he decide to get colored contact lenses?   Did he enter the Witness Protection Program and change his name?  Did you read it wrong the first time?  You double-check.  Nope, you were right.  They were blue, and he was Mitch.  The author goofed up.

Inconsistencies in writing are actually more common than we authors would like to think, and they are something that can easily be avoided.  We sometimes get so caught up in telling the story that we neglect to pay attention to the details.  Perhaps you wouldn't do anything so drastic as what I cited in my example, but similar mistakes can definitely happen.  It can be something as simple as the way a character spells his name, what kind of car he drives, or his favorite color.  Series writers like myself have to be even more careful about using the same details in each installment.  How do you avoid inconsistencies?  The best way is to make notes of the details you feel are most important so you have something to refer to if the muse gets jumbled.  Also, should you decide at any point during your writing to change one of the details--a character's name, for example--be sure to comb through all parts of your manuscript to make sure it is changed throughout.  Ask your editor to be on the lookout for inconsistencies as well--don't let them get into print! (I accidentally had this happen--I had the wrong character refer to his wife, Cindy--and he isn't married!)

Paying attention to detail is crucial to avoiding inconsistencies that can cause your writing to appear unprofessional and unpolished.  Do you have other tips you can share?  Let me know in the comments.  Happy writing!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I Get So Emotional

This Is Anger Management Stock Image - Image: 10781681

As writers, it's our job to show our readers how our characters are feeling.  Like real people, our characters will most likely experience a myriad of different emotions based on factors such as their circumstances, surroundings, or interactions with others.  Unlike real people, our characters can't express those emotions without our help.  So, how do we do it?

A key point that we need to remember is that human beings express emotion in both verbal and non-verbal ways.  You can often determine one's emotional state simply by observing factors such as speech pattern, facial expression, and body language.  There are often physical and psychological changes that take place as well.  In order to properly convey the feelings of the character, a writer must take all these factors into consideration.  A good place to start is to think about the scene and what emotion the character is experiencing.  How does one express that particular feeling?  For example, if he is angry, his face may turn red, he may narrow his gaze, grit his teeth, or set his jaw.  Breathing may become rapid, he may sweat, or tense his muscles.  The character may yell, speak with an edgy voice, or even say nothing at all.  No matter what, however, more than one factor will take place to express the emotion.  Keep in mind, too, that not everyone expresses emotion in the same way.  One angry person may scream and throw a tantrum; another may sit quietly and sulk.  Be sure that your character's expression is as unique to him as it would be if he were a real human being.  Your readers will quickly lose interest in "cookie-cutter" characters.

When creating an emotional scene, a writer also needs to remember that "less is more."  You absolutely want the reader to "get into" your character and know how he is thinking and feeling, but you don't want to slow down the pace of the story by using twenty pages to do it!  Do your best to avoid long, drawn-out emotional scenes that don't keep the pages turning. Using strong indicators like body language that the reader can interpret and dialogue or interaction with other characters can help with this.  Injecting emotion into narrative is fine, but, again, be careful not to overdo.  If the writing is strong, the reader will "get the message" right away, and you will keep his/her interest in the rest of the story.

Remember that well-rounded characters make for well-rounded stories that will keep your readers engaged and coming back for more.  Happy writing!

For more info on how to show emotion in your characters, check out "The EMOTION Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression" by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

Photo courtesy of Dreamstime