Conferences and Friends


writingWith the beginning of the ACFW conference barely a week away, you’ll see many posts outlining the reasons you should attend a writers conference, what to expect, how to approach editors and agents, and basic conference survival guides.

I’d like to tell you about my first conference (albeit not ACFW, but RWA) in San Francisco. The day prior to the start of the conference was the Faith, Hope, and Love chapter meeting, which was RWA’s chapter for inspirational writers. There I met three special, very gifted writers, Debra Clopton, Linda Goodnight, and Janet Tronstad.

We had hooked up briefly in a pre-conference chat room and decided to take in a few of the San Francisco sights together. It was an afternoon of laughter and fun, especially when we ended up on the wrong street car and found ourselves in the Painted Ladies section of town rather than at Fisherman’s Wharf. Long story short, we finally made it to our destination, but what impressed me most was not the sights of the beautiful Oceanside city, but how these women took me in. Me–a green newbie writer. The encouragement I received from them that day has fueled my writing efforts for years.

I have since met other wonderful woman, such as the dozen who formed the group called the My Book Therapy Ponderers. A God-ordained story that I’ll save for another post, but just as impactful in my writing career.

The key to a successful conference is making connections. Surround yourself with as many writer friends as you can to encourage you, pray you through the journey, and help you along the way. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. Get their business cards or write their names and emails down on a piece of paper. Then afterwards send them an email, or perhaps invite them to do a guest post on your blog. The key is to make new friends. It will be one of your best takeaways from a conference and an invaluable resource to the future of your writing career.

Your turn: What have you found to be the most valuable takeaway from a conference?

When the Bad Reviews Come {And They Will}

 

bad book reviews

“She needs to have more respect for the process . . . trying to claim that everyone should heal like her.”

The words pierced my heart.

Until then, I had enjoyed a couple good months of positive feedback, those heartwarming days after the release of my debut nonfiction book, When A Woman Finds Her Voice. The book hit #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases charts and then walked the Amazon {paid} bestseller list {in its genre} for a couple weeks in the top five. It also won some literary awards. But more importantly, my words were reaching the hearts of readers as comments like “inspiring,” “introspective,” “encouraging,” and even “life-changing” peppered online reviews.

That sort of feedback overwhelms a girl with God’s goodness, giving value to this shy writer’s words. To think He had somehow exchanged these primitive ramblings of one who simply longed to spread hope and had used them as encouragement for others, that’s humbling.

I’d finally felt the freedom to say it above a whisper: I am an author.

But then that two-star review hit my screen, attacking my sense of worth. It shouldn’t have, I know. Mentors warned me it was coming; they’d suggested I not even read it.

I didn’t listen.

I determined to mentally counter the negativity and then quickly return to my illusory sense of fulfillment. After all, I welcomed reviews—good or bad. Perpetual student that I am, I’m known to {relentlessly} solicit constructive criticism as an opportunity to learn. And here it sat, this chance for free education, this two-star review therapy.

But in a review-driven culture where we allow others to determine what we read, watch, eat, and even where we spend the night, how can we not be impacted when someone misunderstands our heart?

The judgement sliced soul deep, challenging insecurities I’d long ago buried.

This is the sort of vulnerability we open ourselves up to when we cast our words, our heart, into a public arena that holds potential for not just admiration and esteem but also misunderstanding.

You see, there’s nothing I’m more compassionate about than reaching the heart of a wounded woman and leading her to the restoring, redemptive feet of Jesus. But this particular reader didn’t know that, didn’t know me.

So how do we filter through these words when they come?

  1. We anchor. It’s crucial to anchor any negativity with perspective. We can’t allow disapproval to overtake our thoughts. For the one poor criticism, I had 49 positive reviews from folks who had been uplifted by my words. I worked hard to focus on those. {Very hard.}
  2. Bounce back. To feel defensive at first is natural, but if you find yourself wanting to respond negatively {as in hunt the person down on social media to blast them back}, walk away from the screen and refocus. Immediately.
  3. Consider truth. Ask yourself, “Is this true? Is the criticism valid? Did I somehow fall short?” If so, use this information in a positive manner and seek to write with excellence. However, if the negatives aren’t well-rounded and constructive, the point baseless, you simply have to let it go.

As word-weavers, this should become our default: in the face of bad reviews, let’s practice our ABCs to rebuild our confidence. Anchor. Bounce. Consider.

Okay, I’m curious now: How do you handle criticism?

Is Multi-Genre Writing Right For You?

to do list (2)One of the ongoing debates in the writing world is about the wisdom of writing in more than one genre. The reality, I think, is that most writers want to write in several genres and, in fact, may be quite good at it. My first projects were poetry, and then I moved on to magazine articles. Think pieces followed, as did newspaper humor columns. My first published book was a small volume about practical Christian spirituality, but then I found my stride in humorous murder mysteries (#6 is out in September, with #7 currently taking shape on my laptop).

Last but not least, a few months ago, my first memoir was published.

So, for me, the big debate about writing in multiple genres is a no-brainer, because I already do.

My experience of doing so, however, has made me recast the debate from a writing perspective to a publishing perspective, and, as a writer who wants to build a career as a published author, I offer my own pluses and minuses of working in a multi-genre career.

  1. Minus: If you think it’s demanding to build one platform, try building several at once. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but in my experience, it can’t happen simultaneously (unless you have clones of yourself ready to go – and in that case, please drop me a note at my website, because I could use a couple of clones these days). To launch a book, you have to be single-minded to make the best of marketing opportunities: appearances, talks, media, book clubs, etc. Your new book/baby needs attention 24/7, and if you leave it for a day or two to nurse along another genre, you find yourself playing catch-up when you get back to the newborn. I’m guessing it’s like having twins-one person can’t really hold two babies equally well, so there’s always some juggling going on. Same thing with two genres: you end up feeling like you haven’t been as successful as you could have been with just one book. At the very least, you don’t sleep much, because you’re trying to do the work of two marketing departments in one body.
  2. Plus: Working in two genres is exhilarating! You get to double the people you meet and the interests you cultivate. Your horizons expand and life is so rich with new experiences, it takes your breath away. It’s wonderful to be a writer!
  3. Minus: Publishers are very hesitant to take a chance on you in a new genre. The more you’ve established yourself in one genre, the less a publisher wants to take the risk of launching you in a different direction. Publishing is a business, and publishers have to respect the bottom line.
  4. Plus: If your genres share something in common (mine share humor and a love of nature), your fans of one genre are more likely to follow you into new territory, giving you a base readership on which to build and a headstart on creating a new platform.

Have you had any experience in multi-genre writing? Any insights to share?

Writing Inspiration from Anne Rice

Sometimes, what you need is a little inspiration from those that have braved the path before you. That’s really what this blog was designed to be– a way to help those who are a bit behind on the publishing path. To offer knowledge, encouragement . . . a helping hand.

Regardless of what you think of Anne Rice, she has “been there, done that.” I came across this interview on You Tube and found the information pretty interesting.

Hope it inspires you today.

What authors inspire you to keep perfecting your writing craft? What words of advice have kept you going?

Spiritual Marketing: Martha Carr

There are now endless marketing tips and tools available to everyone with every kind of budget. It has gotten much harder to know when to stay strong and push on through a marketing plan that’s not quite working and when to let go and see what happens. It’s a blessing and a curse for a writer.

TheKeeperI’ve been writing and publishing for a few years and I’ve been fortunate enough to get the chance to be traditionally published and to self-publish. I’ve had the chance to have no money for marketing and a healthy budget. The lessons I learned from the experiences have proved to be invaluable to my life as a writer but not in the way I expected, especially when it comes to marketing.

What I discovered has felt like an obvious answer and has given me back my love of writing. Years of frustration over marketing had slowly taken that from me till I wondered if I wanted to write anymore. That’s when I paused and started listening from within and finally got an answer.

First, remember that when it comes to the actual writing, we all have a calling, an urge to write in one style or another and it’s pretty difficult to get us to stray from it. Mine is to write a series of thrillers, the Wallis Jones series, that include big conspiracies and average families searching for a way to deal with it all. For some, the answer is God, while others keep searching, hoping for a different answer.

No matter how many times I went and tried another style of writing, I eventually came back to that mix.

Marketing, however, is altogether different, especially in a quickly-changing world full of experts who say they can help sell your book. I’ve tried quite a few of them and with both good and bad results. In the end, it was all a lot simpler than I was trying to make it.

The answer was to live life on life’s terms. In other words, if there’s enough in my budget to do some marketing, then consult with the experts, weigh the options and set out with a plan. Keep the focus on the one plan and invite God into the entire process.

Instead of focusing on how many books were selling, my attention shifted back to what motivated me in the first place. I wanted to write because I had something to say. The fun returned because it was no longer about the outcome. So much of marketing can be about outcome if you let it.

That’s where I’ve started using spiritual marketing as my guide and letting go of the results. My part is to just do the piece of marketing that’s due today and then stop. I find myself sitting down to write without gritting my teeth or thinking about who might want to read it. I’d still like to sell a lot of books but my stomach doesn’t lurch when someone asks me how many have sold and I don’t feel compelled to hunt down opportunities.

I’ve got a plan in place for The Keeper that is reasonable and in line with my current budget for time and money. Outcome is out of my hands and I turn it over daily to the one place I know will be able to do something with it. I do my part in all of it but I’m not making sure everyone else is also doing their job. Until I adopted the idea that God would need to be part of the marketing as well, it was never enough. But for me, spiritual marketing means God can get me wherever He wants me to be so I can be assured this is my journey and relax into it.

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MarthaCarrMartha Carr is a journalist and author of five books, including the Wallis Jones series. The 2nd thriller in the series, The Keeper has just been released. http://www.wallisjonesseries.com/.

 

The Juggling Act of Marketing While You Write

I learned a lot from the publication and release of my first bookInstead of dwelling on what I did wrong or inefficiently, I’m focusing on improving those areas when Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over releases in April, 2015 via Barbour Publishing.

Authors on Facebook

Mention Tiny Excerpts from Your Work in Progress

For instance, while writing my first release, if I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have held my enthusiasm back. I would have let my natural flow of excitement transfer into some of my Tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn shares, and Pinterest pins. I wouldn’t have sold to people, but would have offered a few teasers, a new sentence, a punchy line taken from my project, while I was writing it, getting people interested early. Word of mouth is still the best marketing vehicle around.

I would have blogged about the process more. (Something I just started doing on my Writing Wednesday posts.)

Authors on YouTube

Open Yourself Up to Your Audience with YouTube Videos

I would have posted a few videos on YouTube about struggles, victories, disappointments, encouragements, life interruptions, cave-dwellings, along with other writing downs and ups. Adding more visual author media to marketing efforts enhances the experience for readers. This allows audiences to read tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language, as well as words.

I would have listened to Michael Hyatt’s fantastic audio series, Get Published!, while I was writing, not shortly after my book released. Then I would have acted on many of his insider suggestions.

While I juggle writing, marketing my current book, pre-release marketing for my new one, family, friends, speaking, coaching, and the occasional unexpected crisis, I’m also celebrating a few things I did right on the first go around.

Michael Hyatt's Get Published

I Highly Suggest This Audio Series for Publishing and Marketing

I made new connections, and built some solid and life-long relationships with people who can benefit my writing career, but more importantly, are now my friends. We help each other, encourage, pray, and genuinely care about what happens to each other, more than we care about what happens with our careers.

I proved myself capable as a professional writer and marketer. Building credibility and practicing integrity at the foundation of your career provides a solid footing to propel you forward as you move ahead with new books, articles, and posts. I see myself as a slow and steady author, who will win the race through consistency and solid growth. I’d rather experience longevity, versus a fast start that sputters in a flash.

I made some marketing mistakes, but didn’t let them become catalysts for giving up. Instead, I evaluated where things fell apart, and used those insights to make informed decisions and new plans. Some things I need to cut out completely, but most only require a few tweaks, and my updated marketing plans will prove more profitable.

Believe GodBut the most powerful thing I did right the first time, and am continuing to do now, is this: I am not leaning on my own understanding. Instead, I am asking God where to invest my talents. Who are the readers? Where should I market? What is the best use of my energy? When should I time marketing efforts? How should I balance the juggling act of marketing while I write?

In the end, none of us knows the perfect marketing plan. But, those who succeed exhibit similar qualities. Guts, consistency, resolve, humility, a teachable spirit, listening ears, watching eyes, and a quitting-is-not-an-option determination. No matter how much juggling is required.

What do you know now that you didn’t know before about marketing?

Organizing Ideas into an Outline

Image

The bridge between brainstorming great ideas to fill the blank pages of your book and coherent writing that communicates your message to readers is a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline.

But how do you begin to organize all the puzzle pieces of ideas?

Organizing Ideas

Organizing Ideas

Write down your random ideas

Like someone preparing to solve a jigsaw puzzle, you need to gather your ideas without worrying how they fit together. Collect your thoughts on a piece of paper or type them down the page of a Word document. If you must, scribble on a napkin as creativity strikes. Decorate your desk with post-it notes. Just capture the ideas and spread them out like puzzle pieces on a table.

When writing my first book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I thought of illustrations and concepts that helped to communicate the main concepts in a certain chapter. I knew those ideas would shape the paragraphs yet to be written, but I needed more time to figure out how to make those ideas flow together. My first step was to capture those ideas and polish them into gemstones in their own isolated and random paragraphs. The process of stringing the gemstones together to make jewelry would come later.

Look for relationships between ideas

How do you begin to work a section of a jigsaw puzzle? I usually start by grouping together the pieces with similar colors or the pieces that have complementary shapes. Like a jeweler preparing to make a bracelet out of polished gemstones, I think about patterns. Before writing an outline for a book, I consider the relationships between the ideas in the chapter. Do I need to present the ideas in a chronological order? Should I arrange concepts next to each other in a way that creates contrast between different ideas? Should I build reader interest by adding a little suspense into the chapter, carefully delineating the problem before sharing the solution?

This grouping process helps me begin to write sections of an outline and start to order the sections of the chapter. If I have created paragraphs in the chapter itself, I cut and paste my ideas and write a few transitional sentences. I am on my way to filling those blank pages.

Make the central idea the focal point

The key to ordering the puzzle pieces correctly often involves finding that one central piece that helps you place all the others in the right place. In making jewelry, a jeweler will often select one gemstone as the focal point. When I write an outline, I ask myself what idea is the most important for the message I want to convey? Depending on my organizational pattern, that idea may need to come first, last, or even in the middle of the chapter. Placement of that idea is not about position so much as focus. Every other idea in my chapter will drive attention to that one main concept. Once I choose my central idea, the chapter outline falls into place. Writing the chapter is now as easy as filling in the blanks underneath each section of the outline with supporting details.

For non-fiction writers, a chapter-by-chapter outline is an essential component of the book proposal you will send to publishers. Deep into the publishing process, that outline may help you make structural changes to your book in order to sharpen your message. However important the outline may be to editors, think of that outline as a gift to you. It is your map through the thick forest of your ideas, keeping you from wandering off the path, and safely leading you to your destination. It will help you meet your deadlines on time and keep the ink flowing onto those blank pages. The time you spend writing your outline is an investment. So, go ahead, open the box, dump the puzzle pieces onto your desk, and outline your next book!

What method do you use to organize your writing?