Everyone has a book in them

You’ve probably heard this before, right? Maybe from an English teacher or a counselor or a friend. They are right, you know? We all have minds and imaginations and experiences that we can use to write a story. We tell stories all the time, so why not write them down? We tell our friends about the nice (or nasty) person at the store who stole your parking place or crashed into your cart or took the last bag of chocolate chips. That’s a story.

Often I hear, “But I’m not sure where to start.” That’s the cool thing about writing, you can start anywhere. The beginning. The middle. The end. It doesn’t matter, really. Just start. You can put the pieces together later.

Everyone has a different “process” and no one way is the only way to go. Some writers are more comfortable on a computer, some with a pen and paper. There have been times I’ve even used a recorder and transcribed the content later. Whatever method you use is fine. The key is to try different ones until you find the right one for you.

We all have unique lives, but share many common types of experiences. When you write them down and then share them you find just how many people “understand” or “relate” to your story. Everyone knows someone who has fallen in love, lost a person close to them, experienced illness and despair. Writing about it is cathartic, it really can be!!

I’m not saying you have to pour your sadness on the page, but you can use those emotions to write a rich story that other people can feel in their own way. And I promise you, they will.

This year I met a lovely young woman who had been through a lot of physical trials and illness. Most days she’s a bright shining light in the room, but she has her troubled times, too. We all do. She loves to read and write, but like all of us has a bit of trouble getting started. So I bought her a brand new pink notebook and pen. When she wants it bad enough, she’ll do it and I know we will all be richer for her sharing.

You see, storytelling is not only communication but giving. We have to open up ourselves to let the words come out. We have to tell the inner critic to shut up until it’s time to edit. And don’t be fooled, we all edit, lots and lots. It’s how we mine the jewels from the garbage. That’s a quote from my first writing mentor and I’ve never forgotten them. (Thank you, Emily Hanlon.)

Share your stories, my friends. Share your ideas, your dreams, and your sadness. Share with the human community the conditions that are uniquely human and you’ll see how good it feels to give.

Holiday Gifts

Santa readingEvery year I make a list of those folks (family & friends) who I’d like to give gifts to and what that item might be. If I have no ideas, then I reach out and ask. If that doesn’t bring any helpful hints then I ask their closest family member. If that doesn’t help, then I ask them to go to lunch and look for hints or just take them shopping. This can be a whole lot of fun.

Not very scientific, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any foolproof method. If you have one, I do hope you’ll share it. The budget is generally about the same each year, depending on age and the cost of their holiday dream gifts, which most people can’t afford. No Lexus from this century is affordable, no matter how much I want one.

Getting older means I have most things I need and holiday gifts are more for things that are “wanted.” No one likes a gift with a cord unless specifically requested. No vacuums or irons, please. However, today’s tech gadgets are an exception, we just need to know there is a teen around to help us program or set up said tech gadgets. Am I right or am I right?

I love going to arts & craft fairs and book festivals this time of year. You can get the coolest stuff that someone has put their heart and soul into. And I am so unable to create many of the wonderful things that others have made. For example, I can’t for the life of me make a circular scrubby. Now you know.

There’s ALWAYS a book out there that will appeal to others, depending on their genre preferences and situation. Even the occasional reader will enjoy a book that you have picked out just for them. I like to pair up stories or characters (feisty people love the feisty family series) that I think my giftee can relate to, and it usually works. The other nice thing about books as gifts, you can pass them on to other eager readers when you’re done reading them. Share the joy!

Christmas TreeI hope you have a happy and healthy holiday season.

Inspiration

I thought you might want to meet the inspiration for my new novel, the working title is Finding Grace. It’s set in 1893 during the Oklahoma land rush. This woman homesteaded, alone, and built a life for herself as an entrepreneur, artist, teacher, shop keeper, and photographer. She’s my husband’s great grandmother. Meet Minnie Hoopes and her class of pupils.

Minnie, the teacher, is in the middle of the back row.

#4 The Writer’s Journey…

Never really ends.

Once you’ve put your book out there, do regular marketing, then the next step is tostart another story.

If you don’t have any ideas, then go for a long walk and see if something doesn’t pop for you. Inspiration can come from anything and everything, just be open to it.

If you’ve got more ideas than time to write them, pick one and get started. Keep an IDEA NOTEBOOK handy and jot down the other ideas, just in case your memory is iffy like mine.

If you’re a linear thinker, then plot, plan and outline. If you’re like me and are easily distracted, the start where the story started in your head. Write a scene. Then another and another. You may have to fit them together like a puzzle, but that can be fun.

The point is there is no perfect way to write a book. There is your way, and you will have to discover it for yourself. Authors will generally share their experiences, but each of us have our own individual path to follow.

Find like minded writers and create a critic group or book club. Brainstorm, commiserate, and celebrate with one another. No one truly understands the writer’s journey unless they are on it.

Writers Journey Goes On…#4

You’ve written a novel. It’s published. Now what, do you ask? I hear the echoes of the Carpenter’s singing “You’ve Only Just Begun.”

How do you let people know THE BOOK is out there? Does any one care? Word of mouth is a pretty good start, tell everyone you know. Social media is a good way to get the word out there. Visiting libraries, offering books in exchange for reviews on Goodreads.com, shout it from the roof top?

Okay, maybe that isn’t the best way to do it, but you get the idea. “Get the word out.” Ways to do that might include bookstores, retail establishments that feature something that might be in your book. Clubs or special interest groups your story would appeal to. For example, if your main character is an avid knitter you have a built-in niche audience. Contact knitting shops or knitting groups and talk to them about your story. You may have to donate a book or two in order to get things started, but that’s a good way to get it out there.

Enter your novel in contests. The fees are generally reasonable and the audience is potentially huge and if you win, you get to talk that up, too.

Marketing is time consuming and expensive. You are not only marketing your new book, but you’re marketing yourself. Do you have a built in audience somewhere? Think about it. Does your book appeal to a certain age, gender or group that you can share it with? Ask around. Think outside the box. We are involved with people at work, at play, at church, at school, everywhere. How can you reach them?

One of my personal favorites is bookmarks. Everyone needs a bookmark and they are an inexpensive investment. There are lots of online printers that will help you design one with your cover and tag line front and center. Hand them out where people like to read – bookstores and libraries, especially. I’m always losing and picking up new bookmarks. Gone are the days when I use the receipt or a ribbon to hold my place. I have a stack of bookmarks and they are generally for books I read and enjoyed.

Talk to other authors and watch what they are doing. One of my favorite authors, C.Hope Clark has an amazing newsletter (Funds for Writers) and built a huge audience for her fiction with that. She gives great advice, too.

Genre fiction will appeal to genre readers, for example, sci-fi readers will try new sci-fi novels and share.

Also, I can’t emphasize enough the power of a book review. I review every book I read on Goodreads, Amazon, etc. Whether I liked it or not, I share my experience. Readers look at reviews to find their new favorite book, believe me. And once they find their favorite author they will read everything they publish.

More next time.

The Journey Continues, #3

You’ve written your manuscript. You’ve edited it more times than you can count. You’ve found a publisher. You’ve edited again. What’s next? Cover art and jacket blurb.

Many publishers request input from the author for the cover. What is important in the story? The house? The battered kitchen table? The lace curtains billowing in the breeze? The publisher chooses the art, folks, 99% of the time. If you are lucky, you can give them suggestions, but in the end it’s out of your hands.

Do covers always represent the story? I’ve been lucky. A friend of mine who writes romance told me a story about getting a cover for her book that represented absolutely nothing in the story. I seem to remember cowboy boots were central and here were no cowboys in the book. She brought it to the publishers attention, but they didn’t change it. Someone really wanted those boots on the front, no matter what. If I recall, the book didn’t sell well.

The outside of your novel will hopefully grab the reader’s attention. It’s interesting and represents the story. The Victorian house that the ladies lived in was a character in Feisty Family Values. There were roses in the yard and it was fall. The cover was fantastic. It made you want to peek in the windows for the characters inside.

If the artwork gets your attention, the blurb pulls you in. What will happen to whom inside? Why would someone want to read this book? A short tag line, created from the text can be catchy. Frankly, blurbs are hard for me. I want to tell too much. So all my blurbs have been shortened by the publishers. Short excerpts have also been used, as well as professional reviews. I was honored to have the NYT Bestselling author, Dorothea Benton Frank review Patchwork Family. It was prominently displayed inside the first page.

Both pub houses have done things just a little bit differently. I’ve loved the result. The last two novels I have published myself and hope that I successfully chose the art and blurbs that make folks want to read them. Don’t forget the art is the first impression. Make a good one!!

Stones in the Road, Step 2

The writer’s journey can be quite the adventure. You never know what is around the next bend in the road, or behind that rock, or just how far it is to the next milestone.

If you’ve accomplished the first steps, writing, finishing and editing your manuscript, then hold onto your knickers, the next step’s a doozy. Finding it a publishing home.

With my first novel, I was so proud of finishing it that I couldn’t wait to find an agent or publisher. I started sending out queries (Writer’s Market is the best resource for that information. It’s available online and in print.) Each agent or publishing house has their own set of submission requirements that must be followed to the letter or your request will immediately be filed in the trash bin.

If they ask for three pages and an outline, that’s what you send. If they ask for the first chapter and a synopsis, that’s what you do. No more. No less. This shows them that you can follow directions. A query letter gives them a hint about what you’ve written, who you are, and why they should care to read your manuscript.

Whatever their guidelines are, follow them. Edit your submission BEFORE you send it. If there are typos, grammatical errors, or some other oops, it will not be read. It will be trashed. Hundreds of queries and submissions are received daily and weekly by agents and publishers alike. If you can’t do what they ask in the proper form, they don’t want you or your work. There is too much competition out here (millions of manuscripts).

I tried the biggest publishers and agents first and didn’t get very far. Setting my sites on smaller houses got my submission read. My rejection file was filled with notes and letters, some of which were copies and some had “ink.” INK IS GOOD. It means they liked it enough to comment. A good first step, my friends.

Many times it takes months before you receive a response to a snail mail query and submission. With email and electronic submissions, that time has been shortened. BUT, it’s easier to say no thank you in an email. Quicker, too. Don’t give them an excuse to reject you. Give them what they ask for and you’ve got a better chance of being read.

When my first novel received comments like, “this is a good concept, flesh it out” or “submit again after you’ve edited” (even though I’d edited it several times), I realized my manuscript wasn’t quite ready yet. My enthusiasm for having finished the manuscript did not make up for the need for additional editing and rewriting. I sent out 75 queries/submissions and although I did have some requests for more material, those magic words “we’d like to publish/represent this novel” didn’t come. Rejections, however, did.

After an extensive rewrite, more editing from colleagues and beta readers, I felt Feisty Family Values was as good as I could make it. I sent out 25 more queries/submissions, this time to smaller publishers and agencies and within a few weeks I had a contract for publication.

It was edited and vetted yet again by the publisher, then put on their calendar for eighteen months later. OMG. I was going to be a published author! From the time I began writing the story and the day it hit the shelves was ten years. A decade. I sure wish I’d started sooner.

The Writer’s Journey, Step 1

A friend of mine asked me to blog on the writer’s journey. First off, if you aren’t a writer you don’t realize what it means. It’s one of those things you have to experience to understand fully, but I’ll try to explain the first steps.

Picture walking barefoot, up a rocky incline, with a splintery staff, torrential rain, wind gusts buffeting you every step of the way and the mountain keeps rising above you. That’s right, you feel like you’ll never reach the top. You hurt and you’re discouraged by the slippery path.

Okay. Now. Writing is much the same. You spend hours pouring your thoughts onto the page, wondering if you’ve painted a clear picture and who in the world will care to read it. You realize writing is harder than you every imagined and making what is in your mind make sense on the page is beyond challenging. Does the world I’ve created make any sense? Does anybody care?

This is a glimpse into 75 percent of the writer’s journey. HOWEVER…

You will learn along the way, how to avoid the sharp rocks on the path. Your feet with get tougher, your legs stronger, and you’ll wear the splinters off the staff that is helping you to stay upright. You’ll find others along the way, others just like you who have dreams and visions of a story they want to share.

You’ll help each other. While each of us is on our own individual path, we cross the paths of others. When we do we will commiserate, support, vent, and celebrate each other’s achievements.

When you’re totally focused on the story, you enter another world. A world you’ve created. You meet characters in that world that want to help you tell this story you’ve envisioned. The excitement will bolster you for the times when the words just won’t come. You’ll use every ounce of energy you possess to make your story come to life and when it does, you’ll feel accomplished.

You’ve birthed a bouncing baby story. You’ve labored and breathed through the pain, now it’s time to tidy it up for others to see. For the layman that means “edit.” Edit is a four-letter word. Edit is what reveals the jewels from the garbage, and we all write garbage from time to time. Edit will polish and comb the baby’s hair, put on it’s best duds and make people want to know the story.

So, to recap. Writing is a journey of discovery and pain, enlightenment and joy. Writing well is hard and will take dedication and total commitment to doing the best you can. I’ll talk more about what happens when you’ve finally written that story later, so stay tuned.