Facebook: Friend or Enemy?

Facebook. So what IS it about marketing on Facebook that makes us all cringe? I know I’m not the only one who wants to forget about it and get to work writing my next book!

But after a couple of valuable appointments with marketing gurus at the ACFW conference in September, and after reading last month’s post by Casey Herringshaw, I started looking at Facebook a little differently. It is part of our lives, and it can be a valuable asset to our writing careers.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Treat both your author page and your personal page the same. Both of them are seen by your readers and potential readers. Once you’re a published author, you don’t have a private life on the internet. If you aren’t published yet, act as if you are!
  • Stick to your brand. I write historical romance books. Most of them are Amish, with a foray into a western being published by Love Inspired next year. On my sepia horse and buggyFacebook author page, I share Amish tidbits plus a fun picture of cowboys once in a while. That’s what my readers expect, and I try not to disappoint them! And yes, when I have news about one of my books, I’ll post about that, too. But that kind of post is rare.
  • Post regularly. Some authors use a service like Hootsuite to schedule their Facebook posts, but I’ve found that I like to fly by the seat of my pants when posting on my author page. I try to post at least once a day, only because that drives up traffic. Regularity is a key to reaching larger numbers of my readers.
  • Understand that even if you aren’t a public figure now, you will be. (At least 040that’s the goal, right?) As you’re sharing all about your dogs, grandchildren or passion for hang-gliding, don’t forget to insert a layer of protection between you and your reading public. Certain things need to be kept private. You can give your readers quite a bit of information about your life – and let them feel like they know you – without divulging every detail.
  • Be friendly. Whether on your personal Facebook page or your professional one, the personal distance you need to maintain shouldn’t keep you from giving your readers9780373282777_p0_v1_s260x420 a genuine smile of welcome when they drop by. Let your voice shine through. Be inviting. Make them want to spend time with you in your books.
  • Be professional. Facebook is not the place to air dirty laundry, complain about or celebrate political events, or argue theological differences. Never, ever complain about your spouse, children, in-laws, bosses, or co-workers. And never, never, never (can’t say enough nevers!) complain about or divulge information about editors, agents, or anyone else in the writing business. What appears on the internet has a horribly tenacious way of sticking around.
  • Be a good neighbor. Don’t you love when your peers share your latest status with all of their friends? Especially when you’re trying to pull readers to your latest blog post or publicize the sale price on one of your books? Do the same for them.

Sometimes I think of Facebook as a necessary evil, one of the many things we need to negotiate in order to be successful in this modern life. It won’t last forever, but as long as it’s around, we should use it to our advantage. And meanwhile, enjoy it!

In Praise of Editors

facebook personPosting a comment online this morning made me suddenly hyperaware of the publicness of published writing. Publishing actually does mean, as I tell my students, making something public.

“Everything you write for a class, even if it’s disseminated no further than the classroom, even if I’m the only one reading it, is public writing,” I tell them. “Don’t tell me you just wrote it for yourself or attach a sticky note saying it’s just for me. Assume that whatever you hand in may be made public. That it’s already public. It was public the moment you printed it up and put it in my hand or clicked ‘attach’ and then ‘send.’”

copyedited manuscriptIt’s easy to forget that writing is public, though. Consider Facebook, where people often post sentiments best kept to themselves. However tempting it might be to rail or even to agree—by liking it—with someone else’s railing, I generally restrict myself to happy birthdays, comments about good-looking photos, and commiserations with others’ suffering.

Today I was doing just that: commiserating with a friend whose autistic child had just “had a huge meltdown . . . complete with yelling, food throwing, and tears running down his face” in front of, as she wrote, “almost everyone I know.”

It was a wonderful post, as those who’d already commented said, because it was so frank. So, as my students say, “relatable.”

“Most of the time I suck it up,” my friend wrote, the “meltdowns, 10+ accidents a day, the stares, rude questions, the incomprehension on the faces of people around me, but today it was all too much, so I walked to the car sobbing my heart out.” She confessed, “it felt, somehow, like it was my fault,” and I sobbed too. For her. For her son. For sufferers of autism and their parents. For parents in general. Is there a more agonizing feeling than the unavoidable conviction that it’s somehow our fault whenever anything goes wrong—even something we didn’t cause and couldn’t have stopped—with a daughter or son?

It’s hard to respond to someone else’s pain in a way that doesn’t compound it, though. I learned that when, in the aftermath of a sexual assault at gunpoint, friends commented, among other intended condolences, that I was “lucky not to be dead.” I didn’t feel lucky and wished I was dead. Being told the contrary merely intensified those feelings.

I was thinking about that as I commented and (hopefully) didn’t make that error. Not this time, anyway—thanks to my best editor, the Holy Spirit, who, I’m convinced, translates our groans not only to God but to everyone else and (with some effort, in my case) bleeps our stupidest words. After telling her I’d cried, I advised her not to blame herself: she was doing the best and only right thing to do—loving her son—and doing it perfectly. So far so good, I thought—or anyway, I didn’t feel that tug in the direction of the delete key at that point.

BloggingI did feel it moments later, though, when I helpfully passed on a reassuring comment from a pastor’s wife eons ago when I was in the throes of parental shame about a problem with one of my toddling daughters: “God chose you, precisely you, for your girls,” she said, “because he knew you’d be the best possible mom for them.”

Sounds safe enough, I thought. And I was mightily comforted by that woman’s words at the time. God chose me to parent my girls. I was the best possible mother they could have. Everything was going to be fine.

But, as I say, the Holy Spirit apparently didn’t think so. In the fraction of a moment before I pressed enter, stories of parental abuse and neglect poured into my brain. A friend whose mom once told her children she hated them. Did God choose those children’s parents, too? What child, grown now but surely still suffering that meanness, might be reading my post?

The public is a tricky sea to navigate alone. Our kindest intentions, our most heartfelt theologies, have as much potential to mislead and hurt as to inform and uplift. Thank God for editors.

Adventures into the Unknown through Writing

Writers are dreamers. We capture daydreams in paragraphs on pages. We are also planners. We sacrifice hours now for hopes of communicating to future readers. We work in the present and have faith for the future.

winter happy girl 3

Dreaming, hoping, and planning are good activities. Yet, as a Christian who writes, my dreams belong to Someone greater than I am. The wise and practical words of James give me the perspective to keep my feet on the ground and remember my human limits, even as my hopes soar in faith.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this city or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that'” (James 4:13-15).

Even with our best plans and the wisest advisers, we do not know what the future holds. Businesses can come and go, altering the landscape of opportunities for us. The publishing industry is constantly changing. Our favorite bookstore may go out of business before our next book ships from the warehouse. Future events may change how people view our writing. We may become the voice that speaks to current needs, or our relevance may fade.

Such thoughts should not put a damper on our joy as writers. Whatever the dimensions of our window of opportunity, writing is a tremendous privilege. Our books can travel to places we have never visited. We can instruct, entertain, and comfort people who may remain unknown to us. They will know us through our words. As a Christian who writes, my words reflect God’s love for people and His message of hope. The chance to become a vehicle to carry that message, however imperfectly, is a priceless gift.

And so, on any given day, I plan. I keep writing. I dream of reaching more people. I stack books on bookshelves in far-flung bookstores in my faith-filled imagination. I bundle up and head outside into the unknown for an adventure. I do my best and expect the best of everyone working alongside me. But I know the outcome belongs to God. His will and His plans will prevail. And that’s good news for me and for everyone else!

What helps you face the unknowns of life as a writer?

How Many Words to Paint a Picture…?

Writers, editors, and agents like to talk about voice. That elusive thing that gets you published or doesn’t, that sets you apart from others. Much as people have tried, it’s a concept that’s difficult to boil down to a sentence or two.

One of the aspects of voice is how you write descriptions. This is one of the unique fingerprints of your writing that makes it possible for people to tell you apart from another writer. It’s part of your unique gift for storytelling.

Honestly? Descriptions are hard to get just right. If only we could attach pictures to our stories. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea, really, having a nice photo or rendering of what we pictured every hundred pages or so in order to assure ourselves that our readers got it, that the scene we so carefully tried to describe was fully absorbed by them, no room for communication errors. Unfortunately (or maybe not. Haha), the picture thing isn’t an option, so we have to keep practicing using our words to create a picture in our readers’ minds that bears some resemblance to what we were seeing when we wrote it.

Mucho Lake

How would you describe this picture? Are you a writer who would write long paragraphs about the blues and greens? Would you make an effort to explain the way the road curves around the lake, without so much as a guardrail? Would you try to capture the wilderness feeling of the picture? Write about the trees? Or would you just tell your reader that it’s a mountain lake straight out of a fairy-tale and leave them to fill in the blanks?

If everyone reading this post wrote about the scene above, even if we set strict limits on the number of words you could use, every single example would be different. Every. Single. One.

Here’s what I do think writers need to know…there are generalizations about readers’ preferences that are true. And while writing isn’t all about some set of imaginary “rules,” reader preferences are things to pay attention to if you ever want to have readers (or if you want more readers). If you’re a Hemingway-esque describer and you think less is more…readers of historicals might feel like you’ve robbed them of one of their favorite parts of the story. If you describe the interior of a house and take several pages to do so in a suspense novel…you’ve lost that target reader (you know, unless there’s blood on the furniture or something, but still…).

Use your words to help us feel part of the setting, to help us see it. But use them appropriately for your genre. Also use the words you enjoy reading. Do you skim long description paragraphs? Are they your favorite part? Or are you somewhere in between? How you answer those questions should have some bearing on how you write.

Know your reader.

Know yourself.

And make your setting come alive with your words in the unique way that is yours alone.

Top 10 Ways to Finish a Book

Kariss editingAs I write this, I have just finished up a few days in St. Louis at the ACFW conference. Any other attendees feel like they drank from a fire hose? I’m still digesting all I learned. Still thanking God for orchestrating the meetings He did. As I talked to published and pre-published authors alike, a trend began to emerge.

Those who want it bad enough have the discipline to finish.

Unfortunately finishing doesn’t immediately equal a contract. Some pre-published authors have multiple completed manuscripts stuffed in drawers still waiting to be read. To you, I say, “Keep writing and keep pursuing publication!”

To those working on the first book and struggling to finish, life happens. It happens to those with deadlines. It happens to those with contracts.

It happens.

In the publishing world, life revolves around deadlines, and somehow you have to find the will and way to “let your yes be yes” and fulfill your commitment. Editors want to know you can finish and finish well before they invest in you. Before you comment with the specific circumstance that hinders you from finishing that manuscript, let me just say that I get it! And I want to help.

My creativity is officially angled towards my third book now, and as I work to finish that one in the next ten weeks, I can confidently share with you what it took to finish Shaken and Shadowed and what it will take to finish Surrendered.

  • Turn off your inner editor and write. I’m not a scientist, but I feel the tug of war in my brain when I try to think technically while thinking creatively. Write. Be creative. Edit later.
  • Pick your favorite caffeinated beverage and keep it handy. I became a coffee drinker about a month after I signed my first contract.
  • Select a time of day, place, and schedule that works for you! I’ve tried to become a morning person, but my best writing happens at night. Why fight my body clock? I love to sit in my room or on my patio in the quiet of the night with a candle burning and my creativity racing full speed ahead.
  • Alert your cheerleading squad. I have a group of about 20 ladies who consistently ask me about my writing schedule. They know when I have a deadline. They help me process. They are my test subjects when I need a reader’s perspective. They see the tears, laughter, creative passion, and the frustration. They know and they encourage me. Find your team.
  • Set healthy boundaries. I work full time, write on the side, volunteer in a young adults ministry, have Bible study, and time with friends and family. BALANCE is key.
  • Know that life will happen and work around it. This year, I’ve experienced family emergencies, my brother’s wedding, ministry situations, work crises, and somehow the writing gets done. I set my schedule and adjust when necessary. If I miss my word count because of something I can’t help, I make it up.
  • Cook ahead of time. Don’t forget to work out. Take care of yourself! Eating correctly and working out gives you energy to juggle everything.
  • Prioritize what’s important. For me, it is making sure to focus on the relationships I currently have. The Lord has sovereignly placed me in my city, my family, and my job right now. I need to be present where I am while saying no when necessary to hibernate and write.
  • Trust the Lord. He knows your journey. When you feel like nothing is happening, trust that He is working behind the scenes.
  • Just do it! Finish strong! You will go from pre-published to publication. But it takes discipline. And chocolate and caffeine. But mostly discipline. And prayer. Tons of that.

What else would you add to this list?

To Write a Book Someday, Share Your Writing Now

8139708904_9a1d1783d4_bSome people will tell you the defining characteristic of a writer is that he or she is someone who writes. There is truth to that perspective, but it fails to offer a complete picture. It also gives many “aspiring writers” an excuse to be nothing more than journal keepers: diligently plucking away at Moleskine memoirs or first-novel manuscripts that have zero chance of getting published, ever.

The point here is not a matter of quality. It’s about privacy.

The reason why many written works-in-progress will never see the light of publishing day is that they are stowed, always and forever, in a drawer or on a hard drive where they have no risk of being evaluated by a second person. The writers of these works will never be writers because they will never have readers. They exist completely outside the writing market, and the only critical eye they allow to view their work is their own.

If you think that one day you’d like for people to read your writing, then you should begin by inviting people to read your writing now. Here are five ways readers can strengthen your writing and make it even more worth reading:

Readers help you get over yourself. It’s not uncommon for writers to feel uncertain or insecure about what they’ve written. Will this technique work here? Am I being clear? Am I using a marketable concept? Does anybody else care about the subject? Without readers to help confirm where and how a piece of writing is hitting its target (and where and how it’s missing its mark), these uncertainties and insecurities often grow and fester. But when you prioritize feedback, typically you get it. As a result you might find that your sinking suspicions will be confirmed. Some of your assumptions might be challenged. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by rave reviews. Whatever the case, you won’t be stuck wondering anymore, and that will help light a clear way forward.

Readers identify strengths in your work. Encouragement and affirmation give extra fuel when you’re trying to produce a manuscript. So ask your readers to note the places where they laugh out loud, hold their breath with anticipation, get caught by surprise, can’t stop turning pages, or are struck speechless. That paragraph you’re thinking about deleting? It might be your readers’ favorite part. Give them a chance to tell you so.

Readers identify weaknesses in your work. That poetic metaphor you’ve taken days and months to craft? It might be so complex that it’s confusing your readers. The story you’ve built a whole chapter around? Your readers might be bored out of their minds.

As the writer of a work, you will undoubtedly feel more attached to it than your readers will. Because of your heightened emotional attachment, you’ll probably miss seeing some of your writing’s flaws. You might even be blind to enormous holes in the work. Let your readers open your eyes to the problems you don’t see, so you can take the opportunity to fix them.

Readers expand your perspective. You are only one person, so your outlook on the world is limited and skewed. You have strange views about certain things, and some of your views simply haven’t been challenged in a way that forces you to clarify them well or charitably. Readers can help you identify the odd little points in a draft, the ones that either are or seem arrogant, stingy, dismissive, hyper-emotional, you name it. Points like these will jut out in unseemly ways, always subtracting and distracting from good work, unless someone will be so kind as to call your attention to them, so you can know to improve them.

Readers make the process realistic. If your writing aspirations are real, then you’re going to have to accept the reality of readers at some point. Get used to feedback now, and critiques won’t make you crazy later. Write with readers in mind now, and it won’t feel strange when they’re a part of the process later. Start learning what readers are interested in now, and then when your defining moments as a writer come, you’ll be prepared to deliver for your readers.


YOUR TURN: Respond in the comments: How have readers helped your writing? What kind of readers give the best feedback? What keeps you from pursuing readers?


Photo credit: cogdogblog cc

How to Write a Page Turner Using Movie Trailer Tips

How to Write a Page Turner Using Movie Trailer TipsAn editor once commented in a pitch session I attended that writers should learn to write better pitch sentences from analyzing how movie trailers grab viewers. The remark stayed with me. Isn’t holding a reader’s attention all through a novel what writers hope to do? While acknowledging the importance of sales and awards, I’d argue that authors measure a story’s real success in whether readers stay up past their bedtimes while flipping pages.

With an eye toward fostering more sleep deprivation, then, let’s take a look at what makes movie trailers so compelling.

Movie trailers have the advantage of being visual whereas books can only use words, so comparing them isn’t fair, right? Yes and no. It’s true that moving pictures can grab attention with ease. However, readers use their imaginations to create mental images. It might even be argued that these self-generated images have more charm for them. Storytelling is always a partnership between the writer and readers, with the writer initiating storytelling and readers carrying it through. How well the writer does her part determines how fluently readers can do theirs.

How to Write a Page Turner Using Movie Trailer Tips

To make my points, I’ll be referring to the movie trailer for The Hobbit 3.

  1. Prompt the reader. In the Hobbit 3 trailer, we are given to understand that both war and a dragon threaten, and that some characters will survive and others will not. The viewer is cued with enough information to spark the imagination but no more than is needed. Doling out the right amount of information in just the right timing is an art that leads your reader effortlessly through your story. This is an acquired skill that must be practiced. As you get the feel for this, ask for feedback from a critique group to help you gauge the results of your efforts.
  2. Involve the senses. In vivid color and with Celtic music setting the mood, the movie trailer evokes more than sight and hearing. Can’t you smell the sulphur from the fire-breathing dragon’s flames, feel rough stone beneath your bare feet, taste fear as the hobbit faces the monster?
  3. Surprise readers. The trailer starts in a meditative mood that immediately gives way to surprise as the dragon sweeps through the village. Having something unexpected happen right off the bat in each chapter will carry your reader from surprise to surprise. This must be true to the story and not manufactured to gain attention or readers will know.
  4. Pack your story with emotion. The trailer brings us into emotions of fear, tenderness, grief, watchfulness, sadness, uncertainty in leadership, and fierceness, and all in the space of a minute and a half. Emotions must evolve from the organic story, not trumped up.
  5. Minimize backstory. In the trailer, someone (Bilbo) who has come all the way through the story looks backward to tell it. Within the framework of the story, however, you will notice that the characters don’t go into backstory. They are too busy dealing with events going on around them. In your novel, if you have enough happening, you won’t have much time for much backstory either.
  6. Employ pithy dialogue. Apart from the words of the song, the trailer has only six sentences, with three at the beginning that establish the story. Dialogue that conveys a wealth of meaning in a few words helps maintain a rapid pace. Use slower dialogue at points of rest, but don’t linger.
  7. Hook the reader. The trailer’s last sentence, with Gandalf challenging the characters to follow him one last time, is a hook and invitation designed to draw viewers into theaters. In the same way, leaving readers with a question at the end of each chapter will propel them into the next. I’m not suggesting ending on a cliff hanger. That becomes melodramatic and tiring. Rather, engage readers with the intriguing story you are telling.

What other things do you think writers can take from movie trailers and/or movies to enhance their stories?