Two Writers Walk Into This Bar . . .

Celebratory drinkWhat happens when two writers unexpectedly find themselves with a free evening together?

A nice dinner and a glass of wine? Laughter and bonding? Sharing experiences from both on and off the author trail?

Yes. All that, and new marketing ideas, too.

At least that was my experience two weeks ago when my agency colleague Anita Agers-Brooks made a short-notice trip my way and we were able to spend a few hours together – hours that had no agenda other than getting to know each other. And even though we write in different genres (Anita is a leadership guru, while I write humorous mysteries and memoir), we had much to offer each other in the way of marketing and business ideas. Here are a few nuggets from our impromptu party to spark your own ideas:

  1. Writing is a business. Do you treat it that way? Anita reminded me that I needed to file paperwork to become an LLC (limited liability company) as legal protection of my assets. We live in a litigious world, and a writer must be a good steward of her assets both spiritually and financially. As Anita pointed out, if you wait to protect your business till someone sues you (yes, it can happen!), you’re already too late. (And be sure to include Errors & Omissions insurance while you’re at it.)
  2. Goodreads.com is a publicity goldmine. Are you on it? For my new book release, 658 people entered my giveaway drawing for 3 free copies. That’s a lot of eyes on my book the day it released. And giveaways are just the tip of what you can accomplish on Goodreads. (Read this marketing tutorial on using Goodreads.)
  3. Pay attention to casual comments. After a pastor told Anita her book would be a good topic for a sermon, she found a template online for sermons. She plans to fill it out using her book and then share the template with pastors. She’ll get her message presented by pastors, and she won’t even have to be present! (Does that qualify as bilocation – being in two places at the same time?) I’m going to take her idea and see if I can make it work for me.
  4. Take ownership for your promotional campaign, because ultimately, the book is your baby. Both Anita and I have been surprised by the limitations even large publishers can have when it comes to marketing; our publishers can pull some big coups for us (Anita spoke to a filled college auditorium thanks to her publisher, and I’m getting phone-in radio interviews thanks to mine), but the local press and on-going events calendar that make up the bulk of your PR efforts remain in your own lap, not to mention getting your launch team recruited and equipped to spread the word.
  5. Learn from each other’s experiences. After spending an evening with a writer in the same phase of our careers, I feel like I may still be in the same boat. But now I know there are other boats traveling along beside me, happy to share their own tips and advice. In fact, maybe a small-group marketing retreat would be a good idea. Hmmm….

(FYI – I was kidding about the walking into a bar. Anita and I did walk around a golf course, however. The air was much fresher.)

Working with an Editor

Kariss manuscriptsThey say that all good things must come to an end. Sadly, the same holds true in writing. As you turn your manuscript in to the publisher, you abdicate your position as ruler of your own fictional kingdom in favor of an advisor who tells you all the wonderful things you did wrong and how you can fix them. (For example, my editor would have asked me who “they” is in that opening line.)

But this “bad” thing doesn’t actually have to be bad. In fact, think of it as iron sharpening iron. Who knows your story and characters better than you? And who better to help you improve than an unbiased person who likes to read and knows a whole lot about writing and how to craft a story?

I am by no means an expert, but as I edit my second book, I realize how much I learned while editing Shaken. As you prepare your book for the editing process, here are some ways to prepare yourself, as well.

1. Check your pride at the door.

First of all, realize your editor is there to HELP you, not hurt you. Don’t take it personally. I thought I understood that, but I didn’t really grasp it until I received my first round of notes. Then my pride took a nose dive and shattered in a very ugly pile around my feet. This process is meant to refine both you and your story. I tend to write in a steady stream of consciousness, wrapped up in my story world. It takes someone looking at it from the outside to show me where the issues are and help me to change them.

2. Kill your darlings.

In Texas, we call this “killin’ your darlin’.” Your editor believes in your story, too, or they wouldn’t spend countless hours helping you. They want to make it better, but sometimes that means cutting important characters or scenes you love. This is the part I hated in the editing process.

It is challenging to dig into your story, delete scenes, and create new ones where you originally imagined something different. There were times my editor suggested a line of copy or dialogue that made me cringe, not because she wasn’t right, but because it wasn’t in the exact voice my character would have said it. Here’s where camaraderie came into effect. She could see the holes. I could keep the story true. We made a great team. Killing my darlings made my story stronger.

3. Fight for your story.

This may seem to contradict the previous point, but trust me, it doesn’t. Like I’ve said before, NO ONE knows your story or characters better than you. Here’s where discernment comes into play. At the beginning of the editing process, my editor asked me to cut several characters. No matter how much I played with this request, something didn’t sit right. So I fought for these characters, explained the role they would play in future books, and stood my ground. I knew keeping them would benefit the story. Once I explained their importance (and not just my emotional attachment), my editor listened and immediately replied with ways I could make these characters even stronger than what I had in mind.

It turns out that the characters I fought to keep have been some of the favorites for readers. If you know in your gut something needs to stay, fight for it. Just make sure to check your emotional attachment at the door and identify exactly why this piece adds to the story.

So, take what I’ve learned. Add your own insight. And I’ll add to the list after I finish this round of edits. I never want to be a bratty author who says I know best. I do want to collaborate. Yes, I know my story, but I need people who will help me make it better. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities. Bring on the next challenge.

What lessons have you learned while working with your editor?

The Curse And Gift of Being Called to Write

giftThere are days you totally get Jeremiah. He decides not to speak anymore, but the words burn like a fire shut up in his bones (Jeremiah 20:9). Even when you can’t write, the words burn inside, don’t they?

How often have you wished you were just normal? On those days where you’re trying to fit it all in: a full day of work, a kid’s basketball game, dinner and laundry, and somehow you’re supposed to find writing time too? There’s the agony of staring at a blank page and watching your book drop in Amazon rankings.

You’ve even decided to quit. Often. Finally, a friend or spouse tells you to stop tormenting yourself. “You’re a writer,” they say. “You know you’re not really going to quit writing. You always come back to it.”

So, if you can’t walk away from writing, isn’t it time to look at it from another perspective? “I suggest you learn to write not with blood and fear,” Jane Yolen writes, “but with joy. It’s a personal choice.”

And there is joy, lots of it.

First, you were chosen. Like Jeremiah, before you were in the womb, God chose you. Whether you started writing as soon as you could hold a pencil or didn’t begin writing until some life event pulled you to it later on, whether writing holds financial success for you or not, being a writer is a role you were personally designed for by your Creator. If that isn’t joy, I don’t know what is.

And then there’s what drew you to writing in the first place: the thrill of a coherent story coming together at last with characters who walk off the page; that zone, where reality falls away and you’re virtually swimming in your story world; and words become so sharp and real, you’d swear you could taste them.

You were the one blessed with heightened senses and the words to go with them. So while your walking partner says, “Oh, isn’t that pretty?” you see how the thick tree cover on the forest trail washes the sunlight green, and how the Spanish moss drapes from the tree limbs like ornaments. You have words to describe the warm breeze rippling across your face and how the coos of a mourning dove bring the summer evening alive.

You have the privilege of exploring and enfleshing ideas (ideas, by the way, you almost certainly would never have come to unless you’d spent day in and day out with your fingers on the keyboard). Writing brings the joy of discovering new worlds.

And when you’re done, and the book is published, you receive emails saying things like, “I read your book and was so moved by it, I turned back to page one and read it again.” Wow, you think, did I actually create something that could do that?

You did, because you were blessed. In spite of the tortuous days of staring at a blank page, and wondering how a person can be pulled in so many directions without being ripped apart, you were given a beautiful and multilayered gift by God when He called you to write. It’s a gift you love to give back to Him, and when you’re having a thorny writing day or month, you need to remind yourself of that.

5 Ways to Drive an Editor Crazy

13761150586648bAs an aspiring writer, I thought editors had horns on their head and pitchforks perched beside their desks. After all, they sent me form “no thanks” letters after I’d slaved over an obviously brilliant manuscript. They ignored my letters and phone calls, and seemed to take joy in waiting months before replying to my oh-so-urgent emails.

Now, as both a seasoned writer and an editor for a large faith-based website, I’ve learned that editors are people, too. We love finding new voices to publish, and we try to be gentle when doling out rejections. Sure, we have our quirks, and we make mistakes. But mostly, we’re word-loving, gentle souls who find joy in a well-placed modifier.

When provoked, however, we can lose our literary minds. Several habits don’t just rub us the wrong way—they make us want to run down the street while still in our bathrobes, shouting Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” until we puke.

Here’s how you can speed that process along:

1) Treat Guidelines as Optional.

      Don’t bother reading writing guidelines; don’t even visit websites or read back issues of magazines. Send a totally inappropriate submission. In your cover letter, tell the editor that while you’ve never taken the time to familiarize yourself with their publication, you’re sure that your work is perfect for them. file3781288474089

       2) Respond viciously to rejection letters.

      When you receive a letter stating that “your submission doesn’t meet our current needs,” fire off a hateful email, chastising the editor for his lack of taste. Even better: use bad language and post your vitriolic thoughts all over social media. (This habit works well if you never want to see your work in print. Those bridges are so pretty when they burn!)

      3) Never turn in an assignment by the deadline.

Deadlines aren’t set in stone; therefore, ask for repeated extensions, paying no attention to the panicked tone of your editor’s responses. Don’t worry that you are one of several dozen moving parts in the publishing of a website, magazine or compilation book. Take all the time you want—the world does, in fact, revolve around you.

       4) Take up all your editor’s time.

Ask repeated questions about the contract or terms of your publishing agreement. Don’t get an agent or other professionals to weigh in on your questions. Don’t network with other writers so that you can learn from their experiences. Pester the editor with texts (preferably to her personal cell phone, if you can dig up the number) about when your piece will be printed, how many readers you’ll get, etc.

And finally:

5) Refuse to accept changes in your manuscript.

Since you have received your talent from God, treat every word as His direct quote. Don’t let an editor make changes to your beautiful masterpiece. Fight over each letter and punctuation mark. Don’t choose your battles. Take offense at questions. Die on every single hill.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nasty email to delete…and I need to look up the lyrics to a certain parody song.

Help! My Life’s a Tilt-a-Whirl and I Wanna Get Off!

I watched the pink and orange eventide rise behind the bare-limbed trees lining our backyard.

The day was gone again.

Lost in a shuffle of orthodontist and doctor appointments, car pooling, awkward schedule changes due to the weather (again), blog posts and interview questions due yesterday, and a hopelessly floundering manuscript, life felt like a tilt-a-whirl and I wanted to get off.

How in the world could I keep the pace my life was going? How could I meet everyone’s expectations? How could I make sure I was being a mother and a wife first?

Through Me, I heard Abba whisper.

I’d recently forced myself to become diligent about reading the Bible again, after “forgetting” to make it a daily habit despite the five Bible applications on my smart phone and the three hard copies in a dust-covered stack on my bedside table.

No wonder I felt lost.

No wonder I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore.

I can’t.

Be still, He whispered again. Anything is possible through Me.

I can’t.

But God can.

IMG_0785Obviously He’s not going to write the blog posts for me. He’s not going to drive my kids to the orthodontist. He’s not going to bathe the five nonagenarians at the hospital for me during my nursing shifts.

But His power, through my heart staying centered on Him, can be made perfect.

And I can rest, knowing everything in His will to be done, will be done.

Eventually.

Writers or not, we all have times we feel lost and overwhelmed, insufficient and incapable. But if we keep our eyes on Him, He will renew our hearts. He will accomplish infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

And best of all, we can rest in His peace.

 “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ … have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”

Colossians 3:15-17 (TMV)

Dear Mom Who Wants to Write

mom who wants to write

I usually have stains on my shirt. I sweat a lot from picking kids up and down all day, and if I am talking to you in a public place with my children in tow, I am typically looking out of the corner of my eye to ensure they don’t run away.

I’ve been a mom for over thirteen years. It’s the one part of me that is constant. Whether I am grumpy or happy, chubby or thin, motivated or lazy, I’m always a mom.

About six years ago I admitted to a quiet desire to write. Not just “please excuse Evangeline from school on Tuesday because she had a doctor visit” write, but the other kind. The writer-possibly-author kind. The produce-readable-work kind.

With my husband’s support, I rearranged our family’s schedule. Instead of doing housework, making doctor appointments, and keeping the ship running smoothly at home, the things I used to do during the three short hours when my youngest was at preschool, I wrote. Our family adjusted. Sure, our house was messier but everyone pitched in more. Some days I ignored laundry. Some days I ignored my kids. Life went on, things got done, and I got to write.

When I typed on my trusty old laptop, I felt closer to my true self. I was still mom to Lainie, Zoya, Polly, and Evie, but I was also Gillian, the person who liked to examine life and craft sturdy sentences that hopefully, when put together, built a story.

Today, my first book is published and I am working on a second. I love my work, but this writer/mom business is still a challenge. Every day I reconcile writer and mom and try to make both parts add up. I’m a walking checkbook that needs a continual balance. Ethal Rohan once said, “Essentially, I have three children: two daughters aged ten and seven and my writing. I strive to do my best by all three.” Due to sickness, doctor appointments, homework, and soccer practice, writing doesn’t always happen for me. But I keep going. And I write.

If you are a mom who wants to write, here are a couple of thoughts that may help you today:

1) Start writing.

It is the best and most difficult advice. We are busy. Time and energy are hard to come by, and we have kids around who, frankly, aren’t too happy that we pay attention to our computers. Get up an hour before the kids. Ignore the dishes once they are down at night. Kate Hopper, an author and champion of mama writers, says you don’t have to write every day to be a writer. Finding time to write with children is tricky but even if you carve out one hour a week to sit down and put words together, you are on your way.

2) Find blogs about motherhood and writing.

Information is free and available when you have time to view it. Two blogs to check out are www.MotherhoodandWords.com and www.motherwritermentor.com.

3) Learn the craft.

If you want to be published you must write well. Writing muscles take time to grow. Pick up Kate Hopper’s book, Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. Join a writing group at your local library. Take a class on writing. There are classes both online and in real life. I have a mama friend who took the online class called The Momoir Project. She loved it.

4) Don’t give up!

Writing with kids at home is a challenge. But women have done it with great success. J.K. Rowling has three children. Toni Morrison is mother to two. Mary Higgins Clark has raised five kids. I have a lot of friends who are juggling motherhood and getting words down on paper. If you have a desire to write, make it happen.

Writing makes me a better mom. And my work helps form my daughters, too. They are empowered by watching me pursue and achieve my goals. They see that I am happy. They understand they can have more than one dream in life, and with God’s help, they can do things relatively well most days.

So from one mom to another, I say go for it.

I’m cheering for you,

Gillian

Travel to Write, Write to Travel

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” St. Augustine

I’m an Irish girl, both by heart and by blood. As a teenager, I remember dreaming of visiting Ireland and Scotland and seeing the hallowed halls of my ancestors’ castles. The idea is more romanticized than real – the Lynch castle in Ireland is now a bank and the Chisholm castle in Scotland is a renovated weekend getaway.

Kariss - IrelandAs a kid, I loved studying the old folk tales, imaginative stories of the tricks and heroism of the wee folk. I grew up on a steady dose of faith and fairy tales. One nursed my convictions, the other my creativity. Three years ago, my dream came true. I spent three weeks on the British Isles. I didn’t see any of the wee folk, though I walked through the fairy gardens at Blarney Castle.

But this rainy tour wasn’t the beginning of my adventures. The travel bug bit me in middle school, and since then I’ve tried to visit new states and new countries, fascinated by the culture. Nothing stimulates my creative side more than exploring new sights, scents, and scenery.

Over the years, I’ve learned this serves me in my writing. All the sensory details, the tiny quirks, the cultural differences influence my settings and characters. I’m learning to identify different textures, not just what they look like but how they feel. I identify different scents with different people and memories. Color takes on vibrancy all its own, enhancing character features, scenery, and what the character experiences.

My travel stimulation reached new heights when I visited Haiti a couple of years ago. I had written and finished my first book, Shaken, which is partially set in Haiti around the time of the earthquake. I researched, talked to those who experienced the earthquake and those who visited before and after, and watched documentaries and the news. But when I finally had the chance to experience this tiny island for myself, I walked away changed with a perspective that enhanced the editing of Shaken.

Kariss - HaitiI remember the stifling humidity and heat as I stepped off the plane. Haitian men stood waiting in the small hangar where they tried to take our luggage off the conveyor belt and then quickly exit to the street as we chased them, hoping we would pay them to get our luggage back. While corralling our luggage was a challenge, I silently cheered their ingenuity and resourcefulness in a poverty-ridden city.

I caught my first glimpse of Port-au-Prince as I hopped in the back of a pick-up and gripped the seat as we played chicken on a two-lane highway, winding past people walking less than two feet from the side of the road. An old man bathed in plain view. Women balanced enormous baskets or jugs on their heads as their daughters trailed behind them with smaller cargo. The air reeked of garbage and burning plastic. Plastic bags that used to hold water littered the street.

Kids ran past in oversized American hand-me-down clothes or no clothes at all. Buses called tap-taps, that looked like a skittle pack blew up, wove in and out of traffic, people hanging onto the back of the cab. The people are down-to-earth and friendly. Those that work, work hard, and the kids are curious and intelligent.

ShakenWhile travel shows me the differences in this wide world, it also shows me the similarities. I noticed that the cement block homes on this tiny island resembled the colored homes in Ireland. I learned that cultures are not as different as we think, that people are people, no matter where you go. I learned to look at the human condition, the driving motivations behind actions, the heart, the hurt, the dreams.

Travel shapes my writing. Haiti certainly shaped Shaken, and adventures I had years ago in Ukraine shaped a few scenes in Shadowed, book two in the Heart of a Warrior series.

So, let the travel bug bite hard, and choose one new city, state, or country to visit each year. What places, people groups, or cultures have influenced your stories?

All Aboard the Creative Team Train!

trainUnless you work with a co-author, the act of writing is indeed a solitary activity.

Selling your writing, however, is anything but. (Think book signings, audiences, store owners, readers, reviewers, friends, foes…)

And that’s a good thing, because if you were the only person involved in marketing your book, you might never want to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) ever again. A one-person sales force means when sales don’t meet expectations, you’re going to have to fire yourself. Then who will you talk to during writing breaks?

Yes, your publisher will be doing some of your selling, but that can range from simply listing your book in their catalog to assigning you a short-term publicist to whatever the big publishing houses do (which I understand is much less than they used to do!). If you want to drive your sales-train – instead of just being a passenger going along for the ride – you need to be the chief engineer, reaching out to all those folks and activities I listed above.

But as engineer, you also have another job besides sales manager: you need to oversee the creative effort that goes into preparing the infrastructure upon which your promoters will depend.

You need your own creative team: a group of individual contributors who shine at what they do and share your enthusiasm for your writing projects. Yes, it’s going to cost you some money, but I’m convinced it’s worth the expense when you assemble the right team to get the sales prep done.

Here are the team members I couldn’t do without:

Website designer. A professionally designed website is essential for communicating your brand and presenting yourself as a professional author and speaker. Find the designer who ‘gets’ you, because she’ll come up with other marketing ideas for you to try. I confess, I put this one off for a long time, thinking my basic (but amateur) website was sufficient. My redesigned site offers me more ways to connect with readers, and offers readers more reasons to revisit the site.

Video producer. I’ve had two book trailers done, and I plan to do more in the future as I expand the ways I use them. Working with the same experienced producer saves time and effort – he has my stock materials on hand and a clear understanding of how I want to present my work. He also has a vested interest in my success, since his business grows from referrals.

Key local media contacts. I know the local newspaper staffs well, which means they pay attention when I send press releases. Many of them have contacts in the wider media community, as well, and they are generous with sharing information and ideas.

Social networking experts. I have the best in the business, because I subscribe to (and read) their newsletters and blogs. What I have learned from these gurus has rapidly added both depth and breadth to my social networking comprehension and usage, and their desire to help writers succeed is evident. My go-to sites are: Social Media Examiner, startawildfire.com/blog, Post Planner blog, socialmouths and Michael Hyatt.

Are you riding the train of book marketing, or are you the engineer?

Frozen in Time: Writing and Healing

Photo/LeahSchultzHealing … is change from a singular self, frozen in time by a moment of unspeakable experience, to a more fluid, more narratively able, more socially integrated self. (Writing and Healing, Charles Anderson & Marian M. MacCurdy)

These words challenged my heart. Am I “frozen in time”?

The writing process helps me work through the painful trauma of my “unspeakable” experiences. It enables me to view my story from a more objective viewpoint, melting my frozen numbness, offering me hope beyond the icy boundaries of emotional bondage.

Helpful process. When I write about traumatic events, I often sense fear closing in on me like the twisted, frozen branches of a tree—wrapping its bone-chilling claws around me, choking the inspiration right out of me.

When I work on certain writing projects—like my book proposals—I freeze. I can’t control my thoughts, and chaos emerges, stealing my creative energy and organizational skills.

I try to forget some things for fear of stirring up painful memories, but they resurface when I least expect them. Often something unrelated triggers a memory—like a smell, a song, a picture, a person, or a place. Then, panic sets in again. And I freeze from the memory, unable to cope, until I regain control of my thoughts and reactions.

Healing narratives. Sometimes I‘m not sure how to begin composing my healing narratives. But I know the writing process will bring restoration. So I just start writing, even if I don’t know where the process will take me.

Do you fear writing certain projects? Are the stories too painful to consider? Do you fear the memories will trigger hidden emotional scars? Can we escape being “frozen in time”? Yes!

Hopeful vision. I long to write my stories without fear of a panic attack rooted in painful memories. But sometimes the writing process seems impossible. Luke 1:37 promises, “… nothing is impossible with God” (NLT).

I’ve observed the power of writing and healing as a writing instructor. Many students seem compelled, like I am, to write their own gut-wrenching narratives. And many of those writers come out of their secret hiding places, free from their emotional bondage. They experience change and healing—“to a more fluid, more narratively able, more socially integrated self.” And they begin to live new stories, delivered from their “frozen in time” memories.

As I write my healing narratives, I pray that I have the faith and courage to tell the stories that matter most and encourage others to experience the power of writing and healing.

What stories have you written that have brought healing to you and others?

Photo/LeahSchultz