Why the Ninja? And Other Great Questions Your Writers’ Group Will Ask

NinjaWriters are a strange breed. We pretty much live inside our own heads, which isn’t a problem as far as we’re concerned. In fact, inside our heads is a pretty great place to be. Kind of like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, where anything is possible, including eating a three course dinner in the form of chewing gum, or turning into a blueberry as punishment for being greedy (a little something we writers like to call poetic justice).

There is a downside, of course, which is that non-writers don’t always get our compulsive need to take ten minutes to compose a grammatically correct text while they’re standing in front of a wall of cereal boxes waiting to hear which one we’d like them to buy, or our propensity for bolting upright in bed at 3 a.m. and shouting “Yes! That’s how she did it!”
Which is why we writers need to seek out other writers–to convince ourselves that we’re not really crazy. Or, if we are, that there just may be a way to convert all that crazy into an actual career (yes, Dad, you can still call it a career if you don’t have regular hours, a place of work, or any viable income, per se).

A writers’ group is a fabulous place to find that support and encouragement. Connecting with people who have a mutual passion for wordsmithing and a mutual penchant for consuming copious cups of coffee daily–which is critical to maintaining both sanity and an ever-increasing word count.

One of the keys to an effective group is trust. Putting yourself out there as you share your work requires tremendous vulnerability, something we self-preserving writers aren’t that keen on. Remembering that other members only want to encourage you to make your work as good as it possibly can be is the secret to surviving (even embracing) the process.

Another key is honesty. Feedback such as “that’s the most amazing writing I have ever read; don’t change a single thing” is all well and good. Very well and very good, in fact. Only it’s not all that helpful. Something like, “I really enjoyed the dialogue between the butcher and the housewife over the meat counter at the grocery store, but I didn’t get why the Ninja darted out of the back room and grabbed a rump roast before back-flipping his way down the International Foods aisle” is much more useful. Now you can go back and read that scene over, realize that the Ninja, while really, really cool, is in fact unnecessary to the plot, and take him out.

Painful as it may be at times, a willingness to receive constructive criticism and honest feedback from people you trust (and who are always willing to make allowances for the fact that you live life on the outer fringes of reality, especially since they usually share the same postal code) inevitably leads to stronger, tighter, more excellent writing.

And there’s nothing crazy about that.

Are you part of a writer’s group? Have you found it helpful?

I’m a Glutton for Information!

French bulldogSelling books and signing them is a happy experience for any author, but if I had to name my favorite part of the writing process that leads to publication, it would be doing the research that goes into my books.

I love doing research. In high school and college, I was the student who jumped for joy when the instructor assigned a research paper. I couldn’t wait to dig through the library for books, or hunt down obscure magazine articles. These days, research is even more expansive (unending, even!) thanks to the internet, but I love it, along with the hands-on research I encounter in the course of writing manuscripts. I’m just a glutton for information, I guess.

In celebration of that nerdy writerly trait, here are a few of my favorite research moments.

  1. I got a personal, private tour of a donut shop. Need I say more?
  2. I spent hours in the dark one night with some good friends checking nets for owls to band. We never got one, but I did get to wear a really cool headlamp while we strung up nets in the woods and told funny stories to pass the time.
  3. I took a firearms safety course and learned how to shoot a gun. I put 19 of 20 shots into the center of the target, so you can call me Eagle Eye from now on!
  4. I puckered up for a kiss from a French bulldog at a Pet Expo and posed with rabbits running an obstacle course. (Yup, that’s me and the bulldog above.)
  5. I spent a week in January at one of the world’s premier birdwatching areas in southern Texas. It was sub-zero and snowing back home in Minnesota at the time, which taught me the critical importance of timing when it comes to planning research trips.
  6. I took my husband on a very special summer date night to watch 300+ Chimney Swifts go to roost in an old chimney stack at dusk. It was a breathtaking aerial display and possibly a once-in-a-lifetime event as the populations of these birds dramatically decline.
  7. I met a World War II veteran who worked as an ordnance officer, which led to learning about camouflaging British air bases to hide them from Nazi bombing raids.
  8. I got to sit in the mixing booth of Prince’s Paisley Park Studio while interviewing a pre-eminent Christian composer as he completed mixing his musical tracks for a new CD.

Do you count your research as one of the best parts of your writing pursuit? What is your favorite research moment?

4 Powerful Strategies for Claiming Your Promised Land

” … Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving …” (Joshua 1:1)

Photo/AnitaBrooks

Photo/AnitaBrooks

Standing on the banks of the Jordan, I look across to the other side, gazing at my “promised land.”

Perhaps you’ve been here, too. You’ve been given a vision. And you’re waiting to see your dream become a reality.

I remember the years that I spent wandering through the wilderness on the road to publication, wrestling with my doubt, fear, and unbelief. I recall the first time that I considered writing a book. It seemed impossible, doubting that I would ever see my dream fulfilled. Now, I find myself on the shore, looking across to my promised land.

But wait! How can I navigate the rough waters in front of me? The manuscript deadline? The marketing? The on-going platform challenges? What other obstacles will I face as I try to ford the river to my promised land?

I sense the enemy of my soul preparing for another onslaught of roadblocks and dead ends.

Lord, help me!

I inhale slowly—one, two, three, four. Then, I exhale, counting to seven. I inhale again, counting to eight. As I repeat this focused breathing, trying to avoid another panic attack, I relax.

An encouraging promise from God’s Word dispels my fears, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous …” (Josh. 1:5-6 NIV).

When I read through this passage, Joshua affirms the promise of the Lord’s presence. He also repeats an exhortation: “Be strong and very courageous.”

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (7-9)

Joshua calls attention to four powerful strategies for claiming our promised land.

  1. Obey God’s Word. After the Lord assured Joshua of His faithful presence, He also instructed him to warn the people of the importance of obeying everything He had commanded them to do.
  2. Meditate on God’s Promises. The LORD also reminded Joshua of the importance of lifting up His Word—meditating on His truths and confessing His promises day and night.
  3. Surrender fears to God. The LORD instructs Joshua to encourage the people to surrender their fears and discouragement to Him, promising to always be with them.
  4. Prepare for battle. As I look across the deep waters of the Jordan into my promised land, I read another warning about impending warfare.

Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own … the Lord your God will give you rest … but get ready for battle … (11-14).

Will I still have battles in my promised land of rest? I think this scripture gives me a clear answer to this question.

We must always be aware of our weaknesses, vulnerability, and dependence upon God. As Christian writers, we are called to lead others to claim God’s promised land, too.

So, get “ready for battle … You are to help them until the LORD gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them” (14-15).

Are you prepared to claim your promised land?

Photo/AnitaBrooks

How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells — Part 1

Nonfiction Readers Want in a BookYou can have the greatest book idea in the world, but if it won’t sell, what’s the point in writing it? Unless you simply want to leave a legacy for your family and friends with no concern for sharing the message with anyone else.

As a Christian author, I’m driven to offer lasting hope to those who might read my words. So it’s important I wisely choose the subjects, the titles, the content, the marketing plan, and the future books listed in my proposals. There’s a lot I still don’t know about this process, why some titles are purchased while others languish, but I’ve certainly picked up a few secrets. Some of them, I wish I’d known earlier. Maybe what I’ve learned will help someone else in the place I was a short time in the past.

  • The first and most important thing is choose your subject(s) wisely. But with so many books in existence, and a plethora of authors scrambling for attention, how do you find a fresh subject to write about? Here’s one of my secrets. I listen to others, but I also listen to myself. Both of my initial book titles came about that way. With First Hired, Last Fired, someone said to me, “Anyone can be replaced.” I automatically replied, “Is that really true?” Voila, the subtitle, How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market was born as Greg’s variation from my first take on the idea of being irreplaceable at work. My second title happened when I heard myself say to someone, “You know, there are things in life we learn to get through, but no matter what anyone says, we just won’t get over.” A little tweaking and tightening later, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over became a book that a lot of people say they or someone else needs to read.Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book Cover

Listen to your own conversations. What scares us? What are we complaining about? What confuses us? What aha moments do we encounter and why? What works and what doesn’t? How have we discovered hope and healing? For Christian authors, what does the Bible say that’s relevant to 21st century issues, in the here and now?

  • The second most important thing is titling. I’d say the process you use to choose a topic works as well for picking a title. What grabs you? Can you turn a cliché upside down? Is there a pithy quote you can tweak to make your own and spread the message in your topic? What do you hear yourself and others say?

For subtitling, follow the advice of Alice Crider, my former coach and agent with WordServe, “Make a promise you can keep to the readers in every subtitle.” Anytime someone offers us a solution to a big problem, we’re interested. Right?

  • For this segment, I’d conclude with the power of valuable content. Slapping a few words together will not provide opportunities to grow your career as a professional author. Do your homework by reading books on writing well. Hone your craft constantly. Connect with other professionals and barter for editing/critiquing services; look for that rare mix of honesty and encouragement. Karen Barnes Jordan deserves credit for every book of mine that’s sold. You can have the best concept in the world, but if you can’t communicate it clearly, it’s lost on potential readers and they will tune you out.

In part two, I’ll share insights about marketing and future books. No proposal worth its words will sell without showing you have great message promotions in the hopper. There’s a basic formula to writing a non-fiction book that sells, the key is in following it all the way through.

What obstacles are you hitting in your efforts to sell your projects?

Creative Marketing Ideas

The WordServe Water Cooler would like to welcome guest blogger Charise Olson sharing some of her unique marketing ideas for her novel.

Welcome, Charise!

LC_TheRoaringRedwoods_compressedOne Saturday over two decades ago, I straggled into a church clutching my Diet Coke because it was way too early to do such a thing on a Saturday and I didn’t drink coffee yet. I was there for a marketing workshop. The audience members were all folks like me— working in social services and non profits, needing to promote our services.

Marketing isn’t what I went to school for and I saw it as something that had to be done, rather than a true essential part of my real work.

Sound familiar?

But that workshop all those years ago, gave me a great foundation to further serve my clients and now, as a writer, my readers.

The presenters talked about creativity and making natural connections—more than worrying about strategy or manipulation. They talked about using your passion for your cause as a launching point for your campaign. Here are two key points and some specific applications to our books:

Focus on Adding Value: Try to think about what you can offer, as opposed to what you hope to receive.

Application:

1.  I approached a local historical museum and suggested we cosponsor a book event for The Roaring Redwoods (my historical fiction set in the area). This appealed to them because it was no cost/work for them and offered something different on their calendar. This appealed to me because my event would get out to their extensive mailing list.

2. I belong to a Facebook group celebrating the time period of my project (1920s). These are all people who love my time period. Instead of posting links (“buy my book!”), I have posted pictures from my research to share. For Christmas, at my fictional Riverwood Lodge, I invited group members to suggest menu items. My project got “out there,” but in a way that was engaging and fun for the whole group. Bonus: one of the group members provided invaluable help with a plot line involving race cars.

3. Newspapers now have fewer reporters, shorter deadlines, and a need for more content. However, many are cutting their book columns. When I contact a paper, I have an article ready for print. I write the article as a feature, not an ad. Find the unique angle (local author, clever research, entrepreneur spirit) and help make their job easier.

Go to Where Your Target Audience Goes: The example from the workshop was for a group finding it impossible to reach people about good nutrition. The suggestion was to go to Farmer’s Markets and Food Banks to find people already seeking food and then share the nutritional project info.

Application:

1. Any time I see readers, I spend time trying to find a way I could market my writing in that venue. I noticed that a local coffee shop chain displays art work by local artists on a rotating basis. I asked how artists are selected, and the process was easy. I suggested that I and other local authors use our covers as an exhibit. It was then suggested we could have a reception or related event at the shop, too. Um, okay, if you insist . . .

2. My book’s setting is near a high tourist area, and what do we do on vacation? Read. So, in seeking those reading vacationers, I am placing business cards and, where possible, copies for sale at gift shops and hotel lobbies.

While these ideas may not work precisely for you and your books, I hope they illustrate how we can use our creativity and powers of observation to find new and interesting opportunities to share our work with readers. All in a way that might not feel like quite so much work for us.

What have you learned about marketing that made it easier? What unique/creative efforts have you tried? Anything you’ve wanted to try, but haven’t yet?

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Olsen-Image-56Charise Olson writes California fiction. It’s a lot like Southern Fiction, but without all the humidity. Her historical fiction is published under the pen name Leo Colson. The Roaring Redwoods* is now available in episodes. A collection of the first five episodes will be released March 2015. It is set in 1920s California with an ensemble of characters. Love, Honor, Money…and the laws we break to keep all three.

Olson’s contemporary fiction (under her own name) will release in Spring 2015. More info and her blog Prayers and Cocktails can be found at chariseolson.com

*The Roaring Redwoods is written for the general market and does contain strong language and adult situations.

Let’s Get Serious About Serials

The WordServe Water Cooler is pleased to host guest blogger Becky Doughty.

Welcome, Becky!

When I finally decided to “get serious” about my writing, I quickly discovered I had to have a platform. As so many new authors learn, platforms are hard to build, especially with fiction.

I created a website and started a blog. I found a small circle of authors who opened their ranks and let me squeeze in. We traded guest posts and gained a few more followers from each other. I blogged about my family, about my writing. I blogged about my past sins—you know, the good stuff, like witchcraft and broken marriages. That should have brought them flocking, right? I blogged about gardening and chickens and making bread and home schooling and prayer and whether or not one should blog….

EC-Collection-Cover1I created a Facebook Author page and set up my blog to automatically post there. I linked everything to Twitter, too, and created Pinterest pages with images of what my characters might look and dress like, where they might live and work.

But because I had no books published at that point, I was essentially inviting people to my fancy new restaurant and handing them menus of what they could expect to order on some ambiguous day in the future…. Then I wondered why they didn’t come back every time I announced a new dish being added to the menu.

I needed a way for my visitors to actually “sample” my wares. A serial novel.

For one year, around the 10th of each month, I blogged a 10,000 word episode of my serial novel, Elderberry Croft. Readers could “taste” my fiction for free, with a promise of more to come every time they visited.

Well, Elderberry Croft has turned out to be more than just a sampler platter on my website. It has remained one of my bestselling series and books (it now comes in a complete collection and there’s a holiday sequel, Elderberry Days) since I began publishing the episodes. It’s been my most productive method to building an eager and faithful readership.

Six Suggestions for Serious Serialists:

  1. A serial novel is not simply a novel broken up into parts. That often frustrates readers. A serial novel should be written like television episodes, each episode essentially a short story with a beginning and an end, but linked to the other episodes by a foundational storyline told over the duration of the serial, one that culminates in the final episode.
  2. Your serial novel should be the same genre in which you primarily write. It’s an excellent way to gain readers, but if you usually write historical romance and your serial novel is a dystopian sci-fi thriller, you’re going to have some disgruntled readers who come looking for more Katniss and only find Sir Liam Drake and the White Rose of Kilarney County.
  3. Write ahead. I did not always do this. Translate: There were many months I lost sleep and suffered great anguish over how I was going to pull it off.
  4. Create memorable characters and storylines, especially the main characters whose stories link the episodes. If your readers don’t care about the foundational story, one “off” episode will send them running.
  5. Post a few “extras” in between episodes to keep readers happy. In Elderberry Croft, Willow Goodhope has a thing for elderberries (imagine that!). I posted elderberry recipes and home remedies, elderberry body care products, crafts, and elderberry lore.
  6. Listen to your readers’ comments. I’m of the mindset that authors should steer clear of reviews. Reviews typically tell us more about the reader than they do about the author’s work. However, in the case of serial novels, this is a perfect opportunity to get to know what your readers like, what they want to read about, and then adjust your story accordingly!

This is a great way to publish a book. When you’ve written the final episode, gather them all up and release them in one complete collection. Voila! You have a full-length novel!

And don’t forget to take a break from “serious” now and then, and simply enjoy the journey!

What are your thoughts on serial novels? Have you ever tried to write one?

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becky-doughty-author1 Becky Doughty is the author of the best-selling Elderberry Croft series, the controversial Waters Fall, and the voice behind BraveHeart Audiobooks. Raised on the mission field among the indigenous tribes of West Papua, Indonesia, Becky’s ministry is through the written word. Her heart is for people living on the edge–that fine line where grace becomes truly amazing. Married to her champion of more than 25 years, they have three children, two of whom are starting families of their own, and they all live within a few miles of each other in Southern California. You can connect with Becky via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

Writing Off The Leash

11021249_10205885141785471_6207685168227967330_nToday was the first day above 32 degrees Indiana has seen in forever, so I went gallivanting with my gaggle of golden retrievers. They haven’t had a real walk since the extreme cold came around, so they were giddy. The oldest one (the darkest brown) literally skipped down the street and back. They held their noses high and curled their tails and could hardly keep from tearing themselves from their leashes and running free.

Prior to the walk I’d been at my women’s Bible Study where we talked about 1 Thessalonians 2 and how Paul, Silas and Timothy had to press on with their mission and message despite often overwhelming suffering and odds. In verse 2:2 Paul writes, “Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition.”

While not necessarily a Paul-worthy struggle, writing novels does not come easy to me. I write, delete, and rewrite several times over before I get a scene–let alone a plot–to come out right. I question my calling, my ability, my gumption. I call my agent and freak out. I call my husband and freak out. I freak out to my friends on Facebook. But the longer I write, the more I realize that often what hinders me are my own doubts and hang-ups and attempts to write something perfect instead of just…

…writing.

Ray Bradbury, in his book, Zen and the Art of Writing, says as writers, “What we are trying to do is find a way to release the truth that lies in all of us.”

Truth is hard to find. We have to dig for it in the places of our hearts which would rather be left alone. We have to hack through icy corridors of our soul which would rather remain frozen shut. We have to distance, if not remove ourselves, from a world which begs us to tidy up, straighten up, and shut up. Because we can’t release truth into our writing unless we allow ourselves the permission to write poorly, the wisdom to write something wrong, the unencumbered freedom to write the worst thing the world has ever seen.

Beautiful writing, like truth, only emerges when we allow words to roam unhindered across our screens, when we throw off the baggage of perfection and tune out the voices which tell us we are not capable of the task before us.

If you’re called to write, you probably already know the process is a battle, and that you have to be prepared to stay the course despite the worst of odds, the cynicism of the marketplace, and the opposition–whether self-inflicted doubt or another rejection.

My challenge to you is to write off the leash.

Don’t give up.

Spring is coming.

And the words will, too.