About Megan DiMaria

Megan DiMaria is an author and speaker who loves to encourage others as they journey through life’s demands and delights. Her two published novels, Searching for Spice and Out of Her Hands, tap into the dreams and desires of everyday women. In addition to writing contemporary women’s fiction, Megan has been a radio and television reporter, a Web content editor, a copywriter, and a contributing writer for newspapers and magazines. She and her husband live in suburban Denver, but they often travel back to their roots in Long Island, NY to visit family and get their fill of delicious Italian food.

Rejection!

Rejection is an ugly word, especially to a writer. But we need to keep it in perspective.

To help you put rejection into perspective, I’d like to discuss my shoes.

I have a pair of lovely leather shoes. I really like my shoes. They are stylish, look good with many types of clothing, and are comfortable to wear for many hours. I love, love, love my shoes.

A few months ago, I noticed my shoes were beginning to look worn out and were no longer attractive to wear with dress pants. I thought about purchasing another pair of shoes, and then I had the bright idea to bring them to a shoe repairman. The repairman put new heels on my shoes, polished the leather, and blackened the soles. After some effort and work, my leather shoes are spiffed up and look as good as new.

Now, if I offered my shoes to someone and they don’t love them like I do, should I be heartbroken? Does their rejection of my shoes make me less of a person? Does it make my shoes less attractive? Does it make me less worthy?

Think about it, I bet my shoes wouldn’t fit just anyone. They wouldn’t be right for a number of people with different tastes and different needs. But that doesn’t make my shoes less valuable or less worthy.

That’s the way I look at rejection. My manuscript (shoes) is polished and ready to go out into the world. But perhaps the agent/editor (consumer) needs a different size or is looking for a different style. It’s easy to look at the situation from this perspective and see that it’s not always personal when your manuscript (shoes) is rejected! Sometimes the rejection is not about the story or craft but for other reasons, some of them simply being reasons of timing.

Rejection is an ugly word, especially to a writer. But we need to keep it in perspective. If we’ve been gifted/called to write, then we should keep writing and polishing our manuscripts. After all, many successful writers have suffered rejection.

Now that you’ve gotten the fear of rejection out of your mind, put your new confidence to the test by planning to attend a writer’s conference this year. Many writers will testify that their career got on the fast track after they attended their first conference. You meet other writers, editors, agents, and learn about the craft and the industry at conferences. Your competence and enthusiasm for your writing gets a great boost by attending conferences.

Don’t stress about rejection, keep moving forward in your career.

How do you shrug off rejection? How do you keep it in perspective?

Answering Critics

Everyone’s a critic. Everyone has an opinion. And of course, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

But what happens when a critic or a reviewer or a book club member reads your book and doesn’t like it? What do you do when you read a cutting review of the book you toiled over for months (or years)?

Novelist Alice Hoffman had a book release in 2009 called The Story Sisters. She received a less-than-glowing review by The Boston Globe’s Roberta Silman. Unfortunately Hoffman wasn’t able to dismiss the review as one person’s opinion and move on. Gawker, an Internet gossip site captured all the dirty details. Lashing out on Twitter, Hoffman posted 27 Tweets in response to that review, including posting the contact information for Silman in hopes that Hoffman’s fans would call the reviewer out on the carpet.

I wonder if Ms. Hoffman is wishing she could take back her words. Well, actually — if she could take back her Tweets. I think that the answer to that is a resounding yes because her Twitter page is no longer online.

Very few writers please all the critics all the time, and most likely there is no writer who’s ever accomplished that feat. But the issue lies in how you deal with the criticism. It’s tough to receive negative feedback whether you’re a yet-to-be published author or one who’s had several books printed.

Some strategies to deal with the disappointment?

Call your agent/editor/mother/spouse/best friend/significant other and vent your frustration. Go for a walk. Write something. Take a nap. Write a private email to your critic if you must. Still, if the last option is your choice, first give it a day or two, and consider praying about the words you’ll deliver.

But don’t go and lose it online.

Perhaps the best course of action for Ms. Hoffman would have been to say nothing. What’s accomplished in slamming the reviewer for her words? It just doesn’t look professional, even if you think the other party acted poorly.

Author Angela Hunt cautions writers to never answer a critic publicly. That sounds like good advice. Too bad Ms. Hoffman didn’t receive such counsel.

Want a laugh? Here’s one author’s humorous response to criticism.

What’s your advice to someone suffering the sting of criticism or rejection?

Everyday (budget-friendly) Marketing Opportunities

When we dream of marketing, we think of big bucks poured into paid advertisements in magazines or online site, eye-catching displays in bookstores, engaging book trailers, or flashy billboards (hey, I told you it was a dream).

Don’t lose heart. There are opportunities for everyday marketing that cost little to nothing:

  • Blog—Maintain a blog.
  • Group blog—Participating with friends in a themed blog. The upside is that you don’t shoulder the entire responsibility to update a group blog. Our WordServe Water Cooler blog has 46 contributors.
  • Blog hop/blog tour—Spread the word about your book by creating a blog tour on friends’ and influencers blogs. If you’ve already published, perhaps some of your readers might be happy to participate.
  • Online radio—There are several programs interested in hosting authors. Email the hosts to see if there’s a good fit. Check out Virtue Radio Network or Blog Talk Radio.
  • eNewsletter—Whenever you do a book signing or author appearance provide a sign-up sheet for your newsletter. Also make sure readers can sign up on your website, and send readers to sign up from your blog or Facebook. Here are some different options for newsletter programs: Constant Contact, Vertical Response, Your Mailing List Provider, Mail Chimp.
  • Local radio—Yes, there still are local radio stations that would consider hosting you on one of their programs.
  • City and County TV stations—I’ve been fortunate enough to be a guest on two different local TV shows about books and authors. Both of them were affiliated with the community library system. Don’t discount this opportunity, both programs were re-run many, many times, and lots of friends and acquaintances mentioned they’d seen the show.
  • Local magazines/weeklies: send a press release.
  • Library events—contact your local library to see how they work with authors.
  • Booksigning/author events: My town loves to close down Mainstreet on Sundays from late spring to early autumn for a farmer’s market and merchant festival. The library district loans out its booth to local authors. Check with your library PR person or Chamber of Commerce to see if your area has opportunities like this.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Be available to speak in your community
  • Often employers will let you mention your new book in their newsletter.
  • Church/community newsletters might let your place a blurb.
  • College alumni magazine—Send them a press release about your book.
  • I put a notice and some bookmarks on the community bulletin board at my neighborhood rec center, and a neighbor I’ve never met bought four copies and contacted me to sign them for her. Isn’t that cool?
  • Charity events: donate $1 for each book sold at a local event.
  • Respond to writers’ loop emails, and be helpful. Get to know other writers because writers are also readers.
  • As soon as you have cover art, print bookmarks and pass them out everywhere! I give bookmarks to wait staff at restaurants, people in line at the grocery store, etc. Send them in Christmas cards.
  • Be brave: discuss your accomplishment everywhere—dentist, pharmacist.
  • Put a notice on your website that you will visit local book clubs and be available for conference call visits with book clubs.

Do you have any marketing ideas that you can share? Please do!

Writers — Develop a thick skin!

Do you remember how you felt the first time you confessed to someone that you wanted to be or was a writer? Did you heart pound and your palms sweat? Mine did.

Develop a thick skin if you want to be a writer.

Becoming a published author almost seemed too lofty a goal for little old me to aspire to. What would people think? Would they laugh at me? Scorn me? Ask me why I thought I could ever be successful?

When you made your proclamation saying you were an aspiring writer did the words tumble out in a torrent of excitement or did you choke them out, fearful that one day you would be forced to eat them, a bitter morsel?

Chances are, after a while your friends and family get onboard with your plans and even inquired about your progress or encouraged your efforts. And that’s a good thing. Because after you’ve overcome that initial fear of telling others you want to be published, you actually have to put your work out there for critique and for submission, and then you really need to toughen up and not let the barbs of critiques or the arrows of rejection take you down—at least not if you want to be successful.

Take heart. Be brave. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Find a quote or a verse of scripture that will speak encouragement to you. I know some writers who have inspirational quotes tacked up in their writing area or committed to heart. Bible Gateway or Quote Garden are good places to find words of emotional sustenance. This verse kept me writing and writing.

When you first expose your writing for someone to look over, be brave and be humble. Just because you arranged words together on a line, doesn’t mean that you’re going to get the next big literary prize—not even if your mother/spouse/best friend/child says so.

Putting your work out there for critique requires you to be humble enough to take suggestions and comments. One thing I’ve discovered is that you can’t defend your work. When I hear someone who submitted work for critique begin to defend or explain their work, then I know they’re still pretty green. They don’t want anyone to change a word or tweak a sentence. But the truth is, when your work is finally published, you won’t be able to sit alongside your reader and explain every scene. If your first readers don’t understand what you’re trying to say, then rewrite it.

Sometimes it’s hard to receive a critique, but it doesn’t kill you. You’ll be okay, the sun will still shine, and you’ll still be loved and respected by those who care for you. Our agent Rachelle Gardner wrote down her thoughts about being thick skinned on her blog. Take a look, be encouraged.

It’s difficult to hear negative words about the story you labored over. If you’re frustrated, that’s okay. Take a walk, call a friend, and write more words. Just keep moving forward. But don’t be too discouraged, there are always (or there should be) good points raised during a critique.

Becoming published won’t happen if you don’t work at it. Remember, some people dream of success, while others actually do the work to accomplish success. So write on!

What advice do you have to overcome the pain of critique/rejection?

Say what? — Writing believable dialogue

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, good dialogue is essential to the success of your work. Either the dialogue will draw the reader into the scene, or it will bore the reader—and as a result, she may choose to close your book without finishing it.

Know that good dialogue in books does not correlate to real-life speech. When you stop in the grocery store to have a few words with a neighbor the conversation is usually small talk. It doesn’t have to mean much except that you value the person enough to spend a few minutes chatting. But in fiction (and in non-fiction), dialogue exists to enhance characterization, support the mood, convey emotion, and control the pace of the story.

The first rule of dialogue is to avoid dialogue ping-pong. People don’t speak logically, and sometimes it’s more effective to answer a statement or a question with a question.

The following examples illustrate dialogue ping-pong and interesting pull-you-into-the-story dialogue:

Suzanne slipped into the seat across from Angela. The cool vinyl chilled her thighs as she scooted to the middle of the booth.

“Thanks for joining me, Suzanne.”

“You’re welcome. How have you been?”

“I’ve been fine, thank you. And you?”

“I’ve been better, thanks.”

Angela picked up the red menu. “What are you going to order?”

“I’ve heard the turkey sandwich is delicious.”

***

Suzanne slipped into the seat across from Angela. The cool vinyl chilled her thighs as she scooted to the middle of the booth.

“Thanks for joining me, Suzanna.”

“Did I have a choice?”

Angela slid the menu across the Formica table and flipped it open. “It was an absolute stroke of luck that I ran into Crystal at the flea market last weekend. If not, I would have never heard about your situation.”

Suzanne gazed down at the greasy menu. “I may just order tea.”

“I’ve heard the gazpacho is delicious.” Angela cocked her head. “And like revenge, it’s a dish best served cold.”

Good dialogue develops and establishes characters. Characters need to speak differently from one another. Give your characters a verbal tic—“Ya, know.” Have one character refer to dad as Dad and another call him Pops. Consider that characters may have different vocabularies with different people. A polished lawyer will speak one way in court, but when he goes home to the bayou, he’d speak differently.

Dialogue describes conflict, setting, and characters. Rather than writing, Angela was the kind of woman you couldn’t trust, have one of your characters say, “Look out for Angela. That girl will stab you in the back and then accuse you of carrying a concealed weapon.” Also consider that what is not said in dialogue is just as important as what is said.

Dialogue can control the pace of the story. To speed up the story, use short sentences with few action beats. This will give you a lot of white space on the page and create a feeling of fast motion. To slow down the pace of a story, put action beats, thoughts, or description into the story.

Avoid using dialogue as an information dump“Edward, I know you’re sensitive about people questioning your motives because of that incident that happened to you in high school when the principal misunderstood why you were leaving the campus early.”

Dialogue is more than a way to express your character’s words—it’s a way to express the world you’re inviting your readers to enter. And as long as you can write good dialogue, your chances of being published will increase!

I don’t pretend to be a dialogue know-it-all, so please share some of your tips and advice on writing good dialogue. Don’t be shy, what are they?