Going Up! How to Craft Your Elevator Pitch

Image“What is your story about?” It’s a simple question that rarely has a simple answer. If you’re like most writers, you have a tendency to go on and on, taking tangents, and often making the storyline seem convoluted and confusing. The listener’s eyes glaze over before you pause for a breath, and by the end of the explanation, the listener is looking around for a way to escape and you feel like you didn’t explain your story well enough to convey how fabulous it really is. That can be frustrating and embarrassing.

The idea of pitching the story to agents may seem even more overwhelming, but once you’ve crafted a succinct and compelling pitch, and memorized it so you can deliver it smoothly, you’ll be able to pitch your story to an agent (or anyone else) in less than 30 seconds.

And when I say less than 30 seconds, I mean LESS THAN 30 SECONDS. You should have your pitch so finely tuned you can deliver it in an elevator between floors if you have to.

You may not think that’s nearly enough time, but just remember: The more you talk, the more you talk the agent out of wanting to read your manuscript. Your manuscript will stand on its own merit; don’t sabotage your story before the agent has the opportunity to turn the first page.

Your pitch is something you need to spend some time crafting and memorizing, so you don’t freeze up when an agent says, ”Okay, tell me what your story is about.”

4 Components of a Good Pitch:
Your pitch capsule should be brief, comprehensive, engaging, and clear.

1.    Brief: Craft your pitch with as few words as possible.
2.    Comprehensive: Cover the main points of your story.
3.    Engaging: Choose to showcase your most interesting story elements.
4.    Clear: Keep your sentence structure simple and word choices easy to understand and easy to articulate (so you don’t trip over your words when you pitch).

In-person Pitch Format:

•        Start with the title and genre first.
That information immediately conveys to the agent where your story fits into the marketplace and allows her to focus on listening to your storyline instead of trying to guess what genre your story fits into.

•        Pitch capsule (less than 50 words is ideal)
Incorporate the character’s desire and main conflict or obstacle. The conflict doesn’t have to be stated directly; it can be implied by the difficulty in the character’s circumstances you’ve highlighted. Your pitch should be no more than 1-3 sentences.

•        Comparison works.
In addition to your pitch, you can also reference a similar author or books with a similar theme, tone, or style, to help the agent understand the way you’ve written your story.

Make sure your comparison is an accurate choice and don’t be boastful. Stay away from judgment language:

“My story is side-splittingly funny, entertaining, and riveting. It’s just as brilliant as the books by Author X.”

The agent may not think it is, and no amount of telling her you think it is will make it so.

Stick to simple statements that tell why you think your manuscript is similar in tone/style to a particular author or why it would appeal to a particular audience.

Practice Practice Practice

Once you’ve honed your pitch, practice it in the shower, in front of a mirror, driving in the car. Recite it to your friends, family, and moderately attentive pets. Become comfortable with your pitch, so the next time someone asks, “What is your story about?”—you have the perfect answer.

Dear Readers: If you need help crafting your pitch, creating a compelling query letter, and finding an agent who will fall in love with your story, you are welcome to join my 4-week workshop: How to Get the Right Agent for Your Manuscript. You can find out more about the class on my Workshops page. Contact me directly annette [at] annettefix [dot] com to sign up, or join my featured workshop via WOW! Women On Writing.com.
**Summer Special $249** June 4th, July 2nd, July 30th only.



I’d like to welcome author Catherine Larose to Annette’s Paper Trail for a quick stop on her blog tour for her recently launched memoir Any Color But Beige: Living Life in Color.

“After years of living a beige existence, Cat Larose, international color marketing expert, finally added a little color to her own life. All it took was a Paris sunset and a little red suitcase.”

She had me at “beige existence.” Before I even cracked open her book, um…I mean downloaded it to my Kindle app, I knew Cat’s story would resonate with me. I was always the girl who lived out loud in technicolor, but as I’ve gotten older, time has sandblasted me to a mute sepia.

Cat’s well-developed themes of dissatisfaction and desire for change are a universal wake-up call for women who need to bring new color into their lives, or get back the shades of a vibrant life they’ve somehow lost along the way.

Any Color But Beige takes you on Cat’s personal journey from her decision to leave a beige marriage through her evolution of finding the pulse of color in her life. The backdrop for her soul-searching and dating adventures spans the globe as Cat’s stories of love and loss vividly transport you into scenes that bring the places and cultures (and men) of South Africa, France, and Northern Italy to life. Any Color But Beige reads like a sophisticated chick-lit novel, light in tone yet intellectually satisfying. With every turn of the page, you live vicariously through Cat’s travels and travails as she searches for love and finds herself. Her engaging memoir is a great inspiration to live your life in color.

As an author, I’m not sure there is anything that compares to the feeling you have when you launch your first book. Cat had a fabulous book launch party in Montreal, and in the video, she takes you on a quick trip through that gorgeous cosmopolitan city to attend her special night. Take a peek; it will inspire you to live in color and pursue your writing dreams.

I decided to ask Cat a few questions about her thoughts on memoir writing and color, so grab a cup of tea and join us. And don’t forget to leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of Any Color But Beige: Living Life in Color.

Personally, I love memoirs—real people making real decisions in real life situations. I think it’s so much more personal for the author and relatable for the reader. Many writers consider memoir, but are hesitant to put their personal stories “out there.” What made you do it?

I think it depends on the story you have to tell. Some memoirs can be quite dark and heavy and that brings with it a whole host of complications involving not only the writer but also other people. My story centered on my journey, and I think there’s certain lightness to it. Everyone in the memoir advanced my self-knowledge even if their behaviors weren’t always exemplary. Even then, I took precautions by changing details to avoid any unnecessary complications or hard feelings.

What words of wisdom or suggestions do you have for the would-be memoir writers who are teetering on the memoir/fiction fence and afraid to take the leap?

If you’re going to worry about writing a memoir, if it’s going to keep you awake at night, then write fiction. It’s not worth losing sleep over. A good story is still a good story. And it’s still your story.

My thoughts exactly! A memoir is the author’s journey and it’s her personal story to tell, but I always wonder how the other “characters” feel about their starring roles. In your memoir, there are a variety of relationships (marriage, transition guy, no strings attached, et al.) that you explore in your evolution of personal color. Do any of the guys know they’re in the book? If so, how have they reacted?

Two of the men know I’ve written the book. One doesn’t know he’s in it. He hasn’t read it (he’s not a reader) but he says he’s very proud of me. As for the other man, he’s about to get his first copy. He’s the reason I wrote the book, so stay tuned…

I’m taking a little detour here, but I have to mention that I find color theory fascinating. What insights can you share about how/what color influences creativity?

There have been many books written about color psychology and the effect of colors on all aspects of our life. I think you have to consider your own personal preferences and creative tasks at hand. Vibrant colors stimulate the brain and pastels have a calming effect. So, in my sewing room I have pastel colors on the wall while the fabrics I work with are bright and colorful. In my office, I hang purple-colored glass crystals in my window to stimulate the creative process. Purple has been associated with mystery and magic and is perfect for the creative process, which remains a mystery to everyone.

So, what’s next for Cat Larose? Another book? More globe-trotting adventures?

I am working on a turning the book into a screenplay — just for fun. And a second book as well. My next adventure…I’d really like to hop a freighter and visit some exotic ports of call. I think that would give me lots to write about!


Readers: Be sure to head over to Cat’s blog and take her quiz Are You Living a Colorful Life? Then come back here and let us know your score! (I’m Flying Down the Highway with 64 color points. Based on some of the questions, I can see there are a few things I can do to add more color in my life.)

***Book Give-Away*** If you would like to be entered into a drawing for a (digital or print) copy of Any Color But BeigeLeave a comment and answer Cat’s question: 

If your life was a color — what color would it be? And why?


Catherine “Cat” Larose is an international color-marketing expert who travels the world selling color. A graduate of Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism, Larose previously worked in advertising, public relations and journalism. She is the voice behind the successful Café Girl Chronicles blog (http://cafegirlchronicles.wordpress.com/) and currently writing her second book.

Befriending a Blogging Clique: How Not to Become Cyber Toast

An author and newbie blogger friend of mine said she wanted to ally herself with a group of powerful mommy bloggers and promote her book to them, but she didn’t want to become the victim in a cyber remake of Mean Girls. So, I gave her a few basic tips that I thought I’d share here. The good news is there’s a simple way to begin developing a relationship with your topic A-List bloggers: comment on their blog posts.

Reach out. Read their blogs and comment intelligently. It will give you visibility with your target audience (her readers who are interested in your topic) when you begin interacting with the blogger.

Contribute to the conversation. If you have personal experience, knowledge or special insight to the topic, share your information and opinions by adding to the discussion. It helps build community with the other bloggers and introduces you to their readers in an organic, non-invasive way.

If you disagree with the point a blogger has made in her post, you can open a polite debate by expressing your position and asking a question that allows her to expand on her position. But that can be tricky and shouldn’t be done unless you have read and participated on the blog long enough to have established a relationship and know how the blogger will respond in situations of disagreement. Do NOT go to another blogger’s site and pick a fight. It might even be better to use a trackback and keep your differing opinions on your own blog if you think the discussion will become too heated.

Don’t sell. Think of visiting other blogs like going to a backyard party. Everyone is standing around talking about a particular topic. Then you walk in and say the equivalent of: “Hi! I’m not interested in joining the conversation, I just came here to tell you about my great book/product/service.” Bad move. That kind of behavior can get you duct taped to a cyber tree. You’ll draw attention to yourself and not in a positive way. Read your comment aloud before you press the submit button. If your comment sounds like you are promoting yourself and trying to sell something, rethink your wording. Sharing information vs. sharing information about something you have for sale are two very different things.

If the blogger feels you are using her site for your own book/product/service promotion, she may delete your comment and ban you from posting on her blog, or worse—call attention to your breach in etiquette by posting about your rudeness. I know bloggers who have dealt with sales-y comments in those ways. Don’t be a comment spammer. It places you, your book/product/service in a negative light.

Leave a trail. Make sure you post comments using your full name rather than choosing the anonymous option. Include the URL to your blog in the comment sign-in form; that will make your name “clickable” in the comments window, so readers can find their way to your blog if they are intrigued by what you’ve said or want to find more information about what you’ve shared.

If the comment sign-in form does not allow for a direct click-through to your blog, you can end your comment post with a one- or two-line signature block with your name and your blog or website URL.

If you’d like to follow that particular thread of conversation, you can select the option to receive email notices when someone else replies in the comment section. This is particularly helpful if you want to continue participating in the discussion or if the blogger’s call to action has encouraged other comments containing useful information you would like to receive.

Give props. If a blogger has a particular post that you think would be great information for your blog readers, write your own commentary about the topic (you can also use an excerpt of the content you’re referencing), and suggest that your readers visit her site. Include a clickable hyperlink (use the permalink) to the relevant post on the blogger’s site. It’s free advertising for her and increases her blog traffic, in addition, it shows her you’re looking to establish a relationship of mutual support. And, it allows your readers to see you as a filter when you provide another useful source of information.

Overall, the concept is quite simple. Establish your online relationships the same way you would in person—a little bit at a time.

What tips do you have that worked for you?

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Publishing is Changing: It’s Getting Scary Out There

For some of you professional writers out there, it may be time to check your shorts. The industry is going through a lot of growing pains and it’s likely affecting your bottom line. Sure, change is scary and no one likes to have their assets hanging out in the wind. But I don’t think it’ll become as big of a mess as some may anticipate.

All butt metaphors aside, I was inspired to write this post after I began to comment on another blog and realized what I had to say needed a post of its own. The blog post that fired up my mostly dormant synapses belongs to fellow scribe Jenna Glatzer who shared The Great Freakout of 2010: her concern with where the publishing industry is headed, its affect on her income, and her fears about the death of print books and bookstores.

Now, Jenna is certainly more accomplished than I and has had a very successful career in traditional publishing with both ghosting and writing her own books, but Jenna, girlfriend, don’t worry; as you’re discovering in 2011, you’ll be just fine.

There doesn’t have to be a Great Freakout of 2011 if writers embrace technology and new possibilities—and encourage others in the publishing industry to do the same. Change isn’t coming; it’s already here.

I have a couple ideas for publishers and bookstores that I think will help get the ball of change rolling a little faster.

If traditional publishing houses stop clinging to an outdated business model and completely embrace POD and digital technology, they have a better chance of surviving. Some houses use POD for their out-of-print titles, but not for new releases or backlist/consistently-selling titles. Most publishing losses and risks are the result of massive offset print runs that sit in the bookstores and wholesaler/distributor warehouses until they are returned, remaindered, or pulped because they didn’t sell. All the money wasted on indiscriminate printing could be used to publish more authors. Win-win-win for authors, readers, and publishers.

But some would argue that going to strictly POD and eBooks would put the final nail in the bookstore coffin. Bookstores have been struggling for a while and the recent bankruptcy of Borders foreshadows the future of the others.

Bookstores can survive if they, too, changed their business model. They need to build a community around a shared interest—reading. Bookstores should become a book-lovers social venue with couches, bean bags, and overstuffed chairs (instead of those god awful wooden spine killers) and host a solid calendar of events like author readings, book clubs, discussion groups, storytime for children, literacy tutoring, and maybe even some writing classes. Bookstores should have electronic display terminals where you can “flip through” books like Amazon’s search inside feature and either download the book immediately to your eReader, or if buyers want a print version, they can choose to step over to the bank of Espresso Book Machines or to a POD ordering center for to have the print book delivered to their homes or that store location. The bookstore can also continue to sell coffee table and gift-type books and book chotskies and reading accessories. Win-win-win-win for the bookstores, readers, authors, and publishers.

It may all sound a bit sci-fi-ish, but it *is* coming. And the longer it takes the industry to embrace it, the more struggling and suffering there will be for us all.

What ideas do you have for new directions in the publishing industry? Any predictions? I’d love to hear them.

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Free Kindle Coming Soon

Is it true? Will Amazon give away a free Kindle to any and every reader who wants one? That looks like what you can expect by November—just in time for Christmas 2011.

According to Tech Crunch, Kindle prices have been consistently falling for a good reason. It’s all part of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ master plan. The speculation is that every Amazon Prime customer will receive a free Kindle. Of course, Amazon may find a different way to bundle their eReader that will have mass appeal and compel all digital book consumers to flock to Amazon’s cyber shelves.

But what is the fall-out of this master a-Kindle-for-everyone plan? There’s a lot to consider.

As a reader, which would you rather have: tons of print books on your shelves, taking up space and requiring sturdy boxes and strong arms to move? Or a free, small, light-weight device where you can read/store thousands of digital books and take them anywhere you go? $25 for a hardback, $16 for a paperback, or $2.99 for an ebook? No contest, right? But what will happen to traditional publishers? They are still clinging to the print-book publishing model and will soon be sinking like a dinosaur into a tar pit if they don’t embrace digital and POD technology. Evolve or perish. The time is now.

With the increasing accessibility of digital and POD publishing, true self-publishing (not publishing via a subsidy/vanity press) has never been faster, easier, or more affordable. That’s a completely different blog post, but definitely something Amazon’s master plan will support and encourage.

With this free Kindle plan, it will force other manufacturers to also make their readers free, but aside from B&N (with the Nook), no other company has the same volume of digital content available. Easy. It wipes out the companies that can’t compete.

The publishing industry is changing at an exponential rate. Are you on board for Amazon’s wild ride? What are your fears? What changes will you celebrate?

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Writing in Books: Valuable Marginalia or Graffiti?

As a life-long bibliophile, it’s easy to admit I consider books so much more than merely ink on paper. You want to see me freak out? Use a book as a coaster for your drink. Crack the spine of a paperback. Or dog-ear the corners of the pages. When I’m reading, I bask in the peace some people find in church. Defacing a book is the equivalent of putting Cheez Whiz on a communion cracker.

That said, for decades, I would never even consider writing in a book. That kind of graffiti ranked right up there with the sacrilegious coaster thing. But I did pardon that sin for one exception: college textbooks. Why not? Everyone else was doing it. (Just try to find a used textbook *without* highlighting and margin notes!)

Yes, I, too, sullied those margins daily; it helped me learn the material, collect my thoughts about a particular passage, and served as a study guide to prep for tests.

When I began my self-study of the writing craft, I continued the practice as a way to mentally Post-It Note the concepts I wanted to remember. Somehow it seemed okay to engage with the content in a book where the author had provided a feast of information for my consumption. But what if I don’t like what the author is serving? Is it defacing the book if you counter with your own opinions in the margins? Apparently, that wasn’t uncommon in the eras of Charles Darwin, William Blake, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Walt Whitman, among others, who were known to write commentary in other people’s books.

In the Newberry Library, those books reside in a climate-controlled vault and are considered valuable *because of* the marginalia. According to that recent NY Times article, the margin notes are thought of as fodder for literary archeology, revealing insights to the readers of that time period.

Hmmm… I never thought of it like that.


Do you write in your books? Nonfiction and fiction? Does coming across the marginalia of others give you a greater insight to the book? If you’re a serial marginalia-ist, are you reluctant to embrace digital books?

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3 Things You Can Learn From Jack LaLane

“The only way you can hurt the body is not use it. Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it’s never too late.”

Jack LaLane, an American fitness guru, died Sunday afternoon at 96 years old and left behind a legacy, motivating millions of people since his first gym in 1936. This is a man who lived and loved his passion for health and fitness for more than 75 years.

So, how does his life relate to writing? I’m glad you asked. Because Jack LaLane’s “use it or lose it” and “it’s never too late” philosophies can be directly applied to your life as a writer.

Let me count the ways:

1. If you take care of your wellness by keeping an active lifestyle…

You live longer, with a better quality of life, and you can write more! This is something that has hit close to home recently. As I write this blog post, I can feel my back brace hugging my squishy muffin top. But that feeling, as restrictive and uncomfortable as it is, sure beats being flat on my back for a week, alternating between screaming like a wounded animal with every passing spasm and lying nearly comatose from a tablet cocktail of Motrin, Flexeril, Percocet, and Zanax. How did I end up like this? One word: atrophy.

Over the last ten years that I’ve been writing, my activity level has dropped considerably and I’ve become sedentary—hour-after-hour, day-after-day, I sit at the computer. At one point, I put on a pedometer, just to see how much I moved in a day. I discovered that on some days I walk less than 200 steps. What has that done to me? My weight has increased by 30 lbs. and my muscles have lost tone, strength, and flexibility. How did I hurt my back? I spent six hours in the mall doing Christmas returns. How embarrassing is that?! I wish I could say: While cycling during the eighty-seventh mile of a triathlon, my wheel came off my bike and I crashed into a tree. That would be a much better reason to be in a back brace.

Jack was right: Use it or lose it. I don’t have to train for a triathlon, but I do need to make exercise a priority and a regular part of my daily routine, not use it as a reward when I get my computer work done. Because it’s never done. There will always be another chapter/article/interview/manuscript to write/edit/publish/promote.

2.  If you keep your mind sharp…

You can continue to write until you take your last breath. Ok, so obviously the body needs exercise, but so does the brain. While spending time in South Florida, a retirement landscape of aluminum walkers, I had the opportunity to people-watch in a completely different demographic than the helicopter-mom/Hummer3 set in The OC beach suburbia in California. And, after observing the locals, I can’t decide which is more scary: having a sharp mind trapped in a decaying, shrinky-dink body, or having an atrophied raisin-brain in an old, but functional body.

The thought of being in either condition in my golden years scares the crap outta me. I mean, I’ve had my share of raisin-brain days lately, but I think that’s because I’ve stopped doing something I’ve done every year for the last 20+ years: take classes to learn something new. I’ve always been an education and information junkie and in addition to countless craft-of-writing classes, I’ve taken classes to learn Photoshop, Tai Chi, kickboxing, archery, picture framing, knitting, bellydancing, henna tattooing, beading, tole painting, stand-up comedy, improv, American Sign Language, Italian, Zumba, and djembe drumming. Mental deterioration happens the same way muscles become atrophied.

Jack was right: Use it or lose it. I think it’s all part of finding balance in life—making time to learn something new, different, interesting. I used to sit down with a highlighter as soon as the community education brochure came in the mail and mark all the classes I wanted to take. It’s not a luxury, for long-term mental health, it’s necessary.

3.  If you let your muse out to play…

She will continue to create. But if you neglect her, your creativity will weaken just as significantly as any other muscle. Sadly, this I know. I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it has taken me to write this blog post. If you guessed more than an hour, keep guessing (and multiply that hour by four). I’ve never been a fast writer. My internal editor edits and re-edits every sentence before moving on to the next. But when I was working on The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, I’d get into “The Zone”—that place where my husband kisses my forehead in the morning and goes off to work, then returns later to find me unshowered, still in pjs, still writing, and I say, “Oh, you came home for lunch?” and he replies, “It’s dinnertime.” It’s been years since I’ve exercised my creative muscles (writing articles and interviews, editing and teaching don’t count to my muse).

Jack was right: Use it or lose it. The worst thing a writer can lose is her creative flow. It circles back to finding balance again. Move. Learn. Create. All three are equally important and need equal attention.

When it comes down to it, Jack LaLane was right. It’s never too late to take care of your body, mind, and soul. He has proven that if you take care of yourself and pursue your passion—both lead to a long and happy life.

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Take Stock of 2010: Did You Reach Your Goals?

It’s the end of 2010, and if you’re like me, you find yourself looking back over the year and evaluating your productivity. If I were to give myself a grade, I’d say C- for actual work accomplished.

I’m results oriented, so although I had detailed to-do lists longer than my legs set end-to-end, I don’t give myself any points for good intentions.

But I did manage to do a few things:

  • Donated copies of my book to libraries
  • Mentored a new Toastmasters member
  • Spoke on an online marketing panel at a regional writer’s organization
  • Interviewed by authors for two book projects (writing, single parenting)
  • Quoted in Dan Poynter’s most recent marketing book
  • Wrote freelance interviews and articles
  • Performed spoken word
  • Freelance edited articles & book manuscripts
  • Taught an in-person memoir class and online agent workshop
  • Hired to create two blogsites
  • Polished a family-feature script for Lifetime
  • Hosted/spoke at a social networking business seminar

Not much accomplished in 365 days. Yes, I’m pretty hard on myself, but I know how much time I had to work with—completely unencumbered by children, a traditional job, or domestic responsibilities (beyond two active dogs and a mellow, supportive spouse), so I can’t use those as excuses.

On a personal level, my accomplishments were even more sparse: I took djembe drum lessons, and joined/participated in book club, drum circle, and crafty-girl Meet-Up groups. Not much, especially for someone who has been a joiner and an education and information junkie for years.

I’m sure I’m not alone. With the economy causing people to lose their jobs and their homes, happiness is at a premium for everyone who is struggling. But now, it’s time to kiss 2010 goodbye and plan for a bright and productive 2011. A fresh start, diving head-first into a New Year brimming with possibilities and plans, optimism and opportunities.

My vision board for 2011. Visualize it and make it happen. That’s my plan. Care to join me?
Take some time on New Year’s Day or on Sunday to map-out what you want in your life for 2011. I turned my vision board into wallpaper for my laptop, so I see it everyday.

My personal theme for 2011: Balance.
I want it. I need it.

Dear Readers, What is your theme for the New Year? Have you created (or will you create) a vision board or list of resolutions to guide and inspire you toward your goals?

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Anti-Procrastination Project – Do It Now!

Artwork by Richard Krzemien
Artwork by Richard Krzemien

I have something to admit. (Isn’t that the first step to recovery?) My name is Annette Fix and I am the official Procrastination Poster Girl.

For the last 8 months, I’ve hit an all-time productivity low. Sure, I’ve been crazy busy, but I’ve been crazy busy procrastinating—rearranging my schedule to complete my tasks later later later tomorrow tomorrow, hey, I’ll just do it next week, starting on Monday.

Sure, I’ve gotten a few things done—wrote an article here, an interview there, a few editing projects, some teaching, but nowhere near my 2009 out-put. No creative writing. No blogging. No book marketing. And I’ve virtual dropped off the face of the social networking grid. In this noisy online world, I may as well be pushing up cyber daisies.

So, I decided it was time to hit the ground running. No more bumping my to-dos from one day to the next in my Google Calendar. Time to pull the bench splinters out of my ass and get back into the game.

And, right when I need it, the universe always seems to provide the perfect message to help me on my path. Yesterday, I opened an e-newsletter and found this article:

9 Simple Solutions For Procrastinators
by Christine Kane

Irony: As I started to write this article, I thought, “I’ll just go play one Sudoku game first.” I caught myself in the act and marched to my laptop.

People who say that procrastination is about laziness are probably the same people who think that anorexia is about not eating enough.

Procrastination isn’t about laziness. It’s about fear. It’s about perfectionism. It’s about overwhelm. We all experience it, and there are some tricks to help you get moving again.

Here are 9 ways to break the procrastination habit:

1 – When you get an idea, do some little thing to begin.

When I read Stephen King’s book On Writing, I noticed something. I noticed that when Stephen King gets an idea, he writes it. Immediately and imperfectly.

Most people get an idea. Then they sit there. They wonder if it’s a good idea. Then, they wonder if it’s a good idea some more.

Got an idea? Begin it now!

2 – All hail small chunks of time!

Lots of us complain about having no time. My guess is that we all have lots of time. It just doesn’t happen to be all at once.

Are you waiting for many hours of spare time to begin your idea, your project, or your taxes? Stop waiting! Learn to use the spare half hour that comes up here and there. (I gave myself 45 minutes to write this article just to take my own advice.)

3 – Agree to do it badly.

Set a goal to do it badly. Set a goal to show up. Let go of doing it ALL, or doing it WELL.

Some of my coaching clients’ biggest victories have a lot more to do with getting over perfectionism and fear, than they do about getting it all done perfectly.

4 – Commit aloud.

Call a friend and say something like this: “I’m going to spend the next hour working on creating my new product.” Then go do it.

Call the friend after the half hour and make her congratulate you. Repeat daily.

5 – Define quantities.

Nebulous goals make for nebulous results. “I’m gonna get my office organized” is a lot like saying, “We oughtta do something about Global Warming.”

Most procrastinators have a hard time defining quantities. We think everything needs to be done NOW.

When are you going to do it? For how long? Which part of your office? The file cabinet? Or your desk?

Define the goal and acknowledge its completion.

6 – Install this System Upgrade into your Mental Hard Drive: Less is More.

Have fewer goals. Have no more than three priorities for a week.


Because you’re not lazy. You’re just trying to do too much.

Find out what it feels like to accomplish one thing instead of not quite getting to everything. Wow – what a difference this makes!

7 – Do it first.

My first coach made me write songs first thing in the morning. He told me to schedule the 2-hour chunk as my first activity upon waking.


“Because you’re telling the universe that this is your priority. And then the universe lines up everything to align with your priority.”

Action grounds your priorities. It makes them real. It also makes your day easier because you’re not wasting energy thinking about this thing you’re supposed to be doing.

8 – Avoid nose-bleed activities.

Email, voicemail, web stats – any activity that bleeds itself into your whole day becomes a non-activity. It becomes a nose-bleed.

When you do it all the time, you never complete it. You just let it slowly drain the very life force from you. Define times for these activities. Then, turn off your email, your cell phone, your web stats, until that time comes.

9 – Don’t ask how you “feel” about doing the activity.

Have you ever committed to getting fit? And then when the alarm goes off, you lie in bed thinking, “Do I really feel like going to the gym?” (Like you even have to ask!)

Change this pattern. Make your decision the night before. Commit to getting up and going right to the gym, the computer, the blank canvas. Don’t have coffee and sigh and think, “I’ll probably feel more like it at lunch time.” You won’t!

If it’s a priority, don’t waste time asking yourself how you feel about doing it. Feelings are an easy out.

Christine Kane is the Mentor to Women Who are Changing the World. She helps women uplevel their lives, their businesses and their success. Her weekly LiveCreative eZine goes out to over 12,000 subscribers. If you are ready to take your life and your world to the next level, you can sign up for a F.R.E.E. subscription at http://christinekane.com.

(One thing I *did* do recently: I edited an interview with Christine Kane for the WOW! WomenOnWriting “Creativity Carnival” issue.)

SO…there we have it, dear readers. Nine great tips to kick productivity into gear. Are ya with me?

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Amazon and The 1st Amendment

…with liberty and justice for all. But the question is—justice for whom?

The self-published book The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-lover’s Code of Conduct is available on Amazon. Despite the cyber-wide calls for a boycott of the online megastore, Amazon has decided to keep the book available for purchase, citing the author’s 1st Amendment rights.

Now, I’ll start by mentioning that I’m a doting mother and have a law-enforcement background, so those two factors play a strong role in my disgust with the situation. Child molestation is a crime—legally and morally. The young victims are scarred mentally, emotionally, and often physically, for the rest of their lives. As far as I’m concerned, the rights of innocent and helpless children should ALWAYS come before the rights of anyone who seeks to exploit them for money or for prurient interests.

I don’t believe an “author” should have the right to promote, instruct, or encourage pedophilic acts. And I’m pretty sure the founding fathers of this country would drop their fountain pens and load their muskets to protect their children from pedophiles, no matter what the 1st Amendment says. And I would be right beside them with my Beretta.

Now, that being said, I’m also in the publishing industry and this situation raises serious concerns about censorship. September 25 – October 2 was banned books week when millions of readers (myself included) embraced the 1st Amendment and celebrated the freedom to read what they choose. And, as writers, we celebrated the freedom to write without fear of being censored.

So, I guess the question is—where is the line between social justice and personal liberty? On which side do you stand?

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I’d like to welcome author Linda Joy Myers Ph.D, to Annette’s Paper Trail, a quick detour on her blog tour for her latest book, The Power of Memoir: Writing Your Healing Story.

Last week, when I saw an opportunity to interview Linda Joy, an author, therapist, and the founder and president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, I jumped at the chance! My fascination with telling, reading, and listening to personal stories in short essay form, spoken word, and full-length memoir has lead to an addiction (the good kind) for reading memoir writing books. Of the many memoir craft books I’ve read, The Power of Memoir has been the most comprehensive in addressing the therapeutic and healing aspects of memoir writing. A gentle and wise guide, Linda Joy leads the reader-writer through the process of understanding, recording, and learning from painful personal experiences.

The Power of Memoir is a groundbreaking book that presents an innovative step-by-step program using memoir writing on the journey of emotional and physical healing. By drawing on the eight steps outlined in The Power of Memoir, you’ll learn how to choose the significant milestones in your life and weave together your personal story. You’ll discover how writing your truths and shaping your narrative propel you toward a life-changing transformation. The Power of Memoir offers the tools you need to heal the pain of the past and create a better present and a brighter future.

Today, Linda Joy offers wonderful advice about how to start collecting your stories, deal with the internal and external pressure of keeping family secrets, balance the light and dark sides of your stories, and silence the inner critic.

1. As you’ve discovered in your therapy work with clients and in your own life experience, using writing to heal is a very powerful tool. If a writer has a deeply personal and painful story, how should she begin to get it onto the page?

Start by considering the special moments in your life, the turning points that changed the direction of your life in a significant way. Make a list of these moments, at least ten to twenty, and write the significant event and when it occurred. Memoirists can feel overwhelmed by the large number of memories they have, so the turning point and timeline tools that I talk about in the book serve to help organize memories. We need to sift through to find the most important stories as a spine around which to build a longer work.

I also suggest that writers keep track of the “dark” and the “light” stories, so they are not overwhelmed by the more painful memories. And I advocate learning about story structure and scenes. A story, unlike a journal entry, must have a structure—a beginning, middle, and an end, and is constructed with an aim toward a goal and the unfolding of a plot where dramatic action guides the reader through the story.

When we write a scene, we find ourselves in the places and times of our lives in a kind of creative hypnosis. A story uses scenes to bring the past to life. A scene takes place at a particular moment in time, and draws upon the use of sensual details—smell, sound, texture, description, color, and taste, along with characters, dialogue, and action. In a story, we are both the narrator and the “I” of the story—the main character. This dual point of view helps to create a witnessing experience of ourselves as we write from our current point of view about who we once were, an artful weaving of then and now, past and present.

Alice Miller, a Swiss psychiatrist, says that being witnessed is a significant part of the healing process. Writing allows us to witness all the stages of our lives, and when we read others’ memoirs, we witness and empathize with them, thus deepening our connection with humanity.

To protect yourself from being overwhelmed by pain, create distance from the story. Write about what happened in the third person: “she” or “he” instead of “I.” Write as if you are watching the event unfold in a movie. Write a scene about a difficult incident, but make it turn out the way you wanted it to, ending it positively. Tell what happened before and after a difficult incident. Write around it, but not about the event itself. These techniques are protective as you prepare your psyche for deeper work.

2. I can see how writing from 3rd person would help detach from the pain of reliving the story, but what if a writer is torn between the desire to tell her story truth and the internal/external pressure to keep family secrets? What do you recommend she do?

It’s important first for the writer to get her story on the page, to write her own truth. Each person has her point of view and her own story that no one else can tell, so she needs to claim it, she needs to discover its wisdom by writing about it. This process creates a new perspective that brings forth layers of memories and insights. Exposing these layers is part of the healing process.

And there’s the hot topic in all my workshops: secrets. Secrets are energy magnets. The force it takes to keep secrets hidden is energy that could be used for growth and creativity. So often though, the shame and guilt associated with secrets keep feeding the darkness and the fear. Secrets maintain a great power over us, and we are diminished by them. We become co-conspirators to family dynamics that we don’t agree with and want to break away from. So we get caught in a conflict—to speak or not to speak? Do we remain closed and complicit, or open up and take the risk of losing friends and family, of being ousted from the family, or shamed once again into submission? These are choices that we need to make consciously and with care.

I tell my students to be open to writing two versions of the story: first, write for yourself, to clear out your emotional closet and sort the events that are jumbled up in your mind. Research has shown that writing the unadorned truth is powerful and creates changes in the brain—in other words: it’s healing.

When you put real people in your book, especially if they are identifiable, they should be notified. Even if all the portraits are positive, we’re exposing a real person to the eyes of the world. The convention is to have people read the sections they appear in, if you are on speaking terms. If not, change the names and identifying characteristics, even if that means changing names for the character, the streets, town and anything that exposes them. If published, the legal branch of the publishing company can vet the manuscript as well, but since so many memoirs are self-published, I think it’s important for people to keep these ethics in mind.

3. I believe that recording both the humor and pathos of your experiences makes for a better memoir. And in The Power of Memoir, you talk about balancing the light side and the dark side. From a therapy perspective, how does this help the writer and the reader?

Research has shown that writing positive stories about ourselves is as healing as writing about bad memories, but I’ve seem big changes when writers dig in the darkness for deeper levels of truth. We all want to avoid unnecessary pain, yet healing comes from balancing our system and not staying trapped in memories and negative feelings about the past. Our fears, anger, jealousy, insecurity, and hurt are real, but they can interfere with living with a sense of peace, forgiveness of self and others, and juicy creative energy.

The people I work with in my workshops have found it helpful to weave back and forth between the dark and the lighter stories to create a balance and recover from the heaviness of writing the painful stories. The path of emotional healing is like cleaning out an old wound: it hurts while we are cleaning it out but we feel better afterward.

Make a list of the dark topics or stories that you suspect are important, but you aren’t yet ready to write. List them by title or theme. Write down the age you were when these difficult times happened. Write down what you did to cope with the event at the time. How do you feel now about the incident? What would you have liked to happen differently? Place these stories on a timeline so you can get a perspective on the clustering of events.

Make a list of the light stories, stories that bring you a feeling of well being, happiness, contentment, and safety. They may include memories about love, spiritual experiences, and miracles. Stand fully in the light of the positive stories and feel them in your body. Hold the images of the positive stories while you consider the dark stories list. This technique helps to integrate the polarities of our psyche.

The reader needs relief too, as most readers will put a book down if there are uninterrupted dark stories. I alternated dark and light chapters in my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother so the reader could enjoy moments of lightness and joy while also finding out the story of abandonment and loss that weaves through the book.

If you find that you can’t stop writing a traumatic story, talk about it with a counselor or seek therapy and emotional support. It’s important to take good care of yourself. You have to be the judge of what you are ready to express. Be your own best friend.

4. Many writers are picked apart by their inner critic before they even get started on a memoir project. (Um…like me.) What specific techniques do you suggest to silence that destructive voice?

The inner critic is tenacious. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have an inner critic, and everyone wants to know how to get rid of it. The good and bad news is that the critical voice is a part of each of us, showing that we’re vulnerable human beings with doubts, fears, and worries, not that easy to throw away Often we internalize the voices of the family, whom I call the “outer critics.” When they’re alive in our head at the writing table, they become part of the inner critic harangue. The inner critic strives to enforce old rules silence and loyalty. It stops us from writing our truths, so we might forget that we have the right to write our unique stories—from a point of view that no one else has. Over time, we get too familiar with the negative inner voices, and we believe them. It’s a kind of negative hypnosis or brain washing that we have to conquer by writing anyway.

I had a terrible inner critic, vicious and hateful, but I noticed that at all the literary events I attended, each writer had some version of an inner critic. Yet they were up there, reading from published works! This gave me hope and I kept doing the exercises I suggest here, and showing my work to others, despite the inner critic’s attacks. Over time, my inner critic became quite tame.

It’s important to dialogue with the inner critic. If it says, ‘‘You’re stupid, you can’t write,’’ write, ‘‘Who taught me this? Where did my belief come from?’’ Explore these questions in your journal.

If it says, ‘‘You are so boring and not very good. What makes you think you can write?’’ answer back, ‘‘It’s true that I was bad in [fill in the blank with school skills], but I have written some good things before, and even [fill in the name of a friend, editor, teacher, family member] liked it.’’ See how this works—remembering times and events that counter the negative belief. This is a therapy technique that really works.

If you suffered humiliation when you expressed yourself in school or in front of family, write down those comments. For instance, “You always got the worst grade in spelling, and you always failed your essays.’’

Continue to contradict the critic. ‘‘My memoir isn’t about getting good grades. I’m not fourteen years old either. I’ve spent years writing, and I can hire an editor when I’m ready. Shut up and let me write.’’

Keep a list of the negative phrases in your journal, and work regularly to counter each accusation with positive, assertive statements. Some of the negative phrases will simply melt away after being acknowledged. See if you can label the origin of the phrase or voice. Keep an ongoing list of the critic’s attempts to stop you, and keep creating positive, affirming responses. Then get on with your writing for that day.

“Shut up and let me write!” I love that. The next time my inner critic rears her snarky head, that’s the response she’s going to get! Linda, are there any final words of wisdom or encouragement you’d like to share with aspiring memoirists?

  • It’s important to listen to the whispers of desire to write your story and capture the moments of your life that are important to you. From these beginnings, a lot of important stories can emerge, and soon you will have a book.
  • Don’t listen to your inner critic or negative family comments about writing your memoir. In fact, don’t tell them you’re thinking of writing one, and they will not get anxious!
  • Draw upon family photos to help you picture events, people, clothes, houses, and weather. Writing from photos helps remind you of those times, and puts you back in the scene.

Last year in a workshop one of the presenters said, “A published writer needs talent, training, and perseverance. All published writers have perseverance.”

I would like to add that writing a memoir demands courage, perseverance, training, and emotional fortitude.

Start today, and be brave—write your story!


Readers: Post your questions for Linda Joy in the comments section and share your thoughts. Do you have trouble balancing your light side and dark side? Are you struggling with revealing family secrets? Have you tried writing as therapy? Jump in and let’s talk about it!


Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D., MFT, is author of The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story. She’s the President and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and a family therapist in Berkeley. A prize-winning author of Don’t Call Me Mother and Becoming Whole, Linda Joy is a speaker, editor, and writing coach, and offers online teleseminars and workshops at www.namw.org.

Visit Linda Joy’s website and stop by to read her blog.

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What Did You Do in 2009? Take Stock of Your Accomplishments

For the last week or so, I’ve anxiously anticipated the arrival of 2010. I wanted to leave 2009 far behind. It felt like a wasted year without anything noteworthy to show for those 365 days. Why? I didn’t feel like I accomplished anything I wanted to do. My book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, didn’t become a bestseller and I didn’t get a publishing deal for my next book—the one I still haven’t written yet. So, why wouldn’t I be in a hurry to chalk it up as a loss and move on?

Then I read a tweet on Twitter, posted by one of my fellow writer tweeps who mentioned the importance of taking stock of the year’s accomplishments to help boost your sense of career (or creative) achievement. That got me thinking. Well, I did get a couple nods in two award contests I entered. My book premise did catch the eye of a television producer… Hmmm…lemme see what else I could add to my accomplishments list. So, I pulled up my handy-dandy Google calendar (love love love that thing). Starting in January, I checked each month to see what I did throughout 2009.

And HOLY A.D.D., Calendar Man! I did more than I thought!

My 2009 Accomplishment List:

Worked as Senior Editor for WOW! WomenOnWriting.com, sold partner share in company
Joined Toastmasters, completed Competent Communicator Manual in six months
Completed National Speaker’s Association ProSpeak program
Hired to speak at national writing conference, regional writing organization, and local writing groups
Taught in-person and online workshops
Wrote an ebook “The Hungry Writer’s Guide to Tracking & Capturing a Literary Agent”
Invited to blurb an author’s book
Did bookstore readings and book signings
Took my book on a month-long blog tour
Was profiled in regional writing organization newsletter
Guest blogged and interviewed authors on my blog
Offered a TV series option for my book
Published articles on WOW! and in NSA newsletter
Invited to do radio interview on Playboy radio (chickened out)
Hired to do freelance manuscript analyses
Attended Book Expo America in NYC, met my agent face-to-face
Named one of the “70 Nonfiction Authors to Follow on Twitter” by Mashable
Guest appearance on a publishing industry talk radio show
Exhibited at West Hollywood Book Fair
Attended Miami Book Fair
Made finalist in Foreword Magazine’s 2009 Book of the Year Awards
Received honorable mention in life stories category of Writer’s Digest’s Self-Published Book Awards
Joined a memoir critique group
Guest appearance on West Hollywood cable TV talk show
Took an online workshop about how to write for the Trues
Started two new writing projects: a TV pilot and new memoir
Completed Zumba Instructor Training workshop
Took a week-long vacation to Cancun and a week-long trip to Florida (to scout for a new home)

Whew. It think that’s it. What did I learn from this exercise? Note to self: Enjoy the journey. Embrace the process. Do a little each day and by the end of the year, you’ll have accomplished more than you ever thought you could.


Ok, dear readers, I challenge you to make your own list. Tell me, did you meet your 2009 goals or exceed them? Or, like me, did you just go with the flow, follow your interests, stay open to opportunities, and see what happens?

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Was Santa Nice to Your Muse?

By now, you’ve unwrapped all your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa gifts, played with all the cool stuff, and braved the Russian-bread-line return areas in your local mall to get store credit for those gifts that missed the mark. So, let’s take stock of the leftover booty (not to be confused with the ever-expanding booty from eating holiday dinner leftovers).

Did your family and friends stick to your meticulously prepared wish list? Did you receive a stack of gift cards, so you can choose your own gifts? Or did they shop from the heart and buy you a light-up globe/music box/ decorative plate combo thingy covered with airbrush-painted ceramic and glass dolphins because you once mentioned you like dolphins?

For Christmas ’07, my Danish Prince (aka, Santa) gave me a MacBook Pro (my favorite writing-related Christmas gift, ever) which I dearly love—both the prince and the laptop. I just have to say, if you’re in the market for a new computer in 2010, or want to put it on your wish list for next Christmas, I highly recommend an iMac and/or MacBook Pro. They are definitely worth the investment.

This year, my Wonderboy (aka, The Elf) gave me a gift certificate to Brighton. And he checked off a practical item on my wish list: a backup battery for my MacBook Pro—for those extra long hours I’ll be sitting in the sand on Hollywood Beach while I compose my next great American novelty. And, to help remind me to actually move during the day (so my computer-chair-shaped ass is bikini worthy), The Elf also gifted me with a BodyBugg digital display—another practical, wish list item. It’s a great motivation tool to be able to see how many calories you’ve burned (or not) during the day.

Hubby calls me Gadget Girl, and I have to admit, I do love my tech toys, but I took two of the hottest Christmas must-haves OFF the list he made for me for this year: the iPhone and the Kindle DX. I’m at home on the computer too much for the iPhone to be useful. And I want to wait to see who comes up with the best eReader. Call me skeptical, but I’m not an early adopter who got stuck with Beta instead of VHS. So, Santa, knowing me like he does, gifted me with a Nikon Coolpix s70. Now, I can capture great pictures at events, book fairs and signings, writing conferences, etc., without lugging a chunky camera around like a Disneyland tourist. And, as a bonus, it’ll be easier to take spontaneous snaps when I’m around the house.

My gifts this year weren’t as “writerly” as they have been in previous years, but I did receive a pretty Vera Bradley pen and pencil set from one sister-in-law. My other sister-in-law gave me a gorgeous pair of Brighton silver earrings—not at all writerly, but what girly-girl doesn’t love jewelry?!

And, as a special gift for my muse, I bought a book to tickle her creative fancy: Taking Flight: Inspiration and Techniques To Give Your Creative Spirit Wings. I’ve always wanted to try mixed media and collage art, so I thought I’d indulge my latent artistic desires. Yes, this is my new “Hey, what’s that shiny thing over there?!” writing distraction.

But even more than being a gadget girl, I’m a bibliophile and information junkie, so I’m eagerly awaiting my best gift of all: the Writer’s Digest $50 gift certificate from my honorable mention in the life stories category of WD‘s 2009 Self-Published Book Awards. The notification email said it would be sent out “toward the end of the year”—so, hey, that’s tomorrow, right Jessica?

I’ve already chosen the books I want:
The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters by Karl Iglesias (Because who doesn’t like reading tips from multimillion-dollar writers?)
On Writing Horror by Mort Castle (Because everyone has that one coronary-scary story they want to tell)
On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels (Because it’s the best genre for writing fog-your-eyeballs sex scenes, and combined with the horror-writing techniques, I can write about my dating experiences)
Bullies, Bastards, & Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Morrell (Because I think I exhausted all the personality traits of my exes and exBFFs in my book The Break-Up Diet:A Memoir)

Maybe it’s a Gemini curse, but there are far too many interesting things to learn and try and pursue and experience and do. I guess it’s good I have another 40+ years to try it all!


Ok, dear readers, it’s time for you to join the show and tell. What are your favorite writing-related, practical or muse-inspiring gifts? Share the details of gifts you’ve received and/or gifts you gave to yourself (or your favorite writer).

Take a Stand: Give Your Female Character Something to Believe In

Don’t let your female characters be defined by weakness. Strong characters make history and enduring stories. Fifty-four years ago today, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white man. (You go, girl! Sit down for what you believe in!) Her action set in motion the Montgomery Bus Boycott, making Rosa an icon of resistance, and catapulting the Civil Rights Movement into the national spotlight. How’s that for driving the plot with deliberate character actions?

Sometimes it’s too easy let a character get whisked away by her circumstances. But, by letting her become a passive victim, follower, pawn, or the dreaded token arm-candy, you lose the opportunity to drive the story proactively from a uniquely feminine perspective and you risk creating a character that is unlikeable to readers because of her weakness.

Do you want your female protagonist wielding a machete against Jason Voorhees (scary Friday the 13th hockey-mask guy) or do you want her running and tripping through the woods drenched in her own fear and snot? Think strong. Write strong.

So, maybe your story doesn’t require your female character to go Rambette on Black Friday wearing a tubetop of AK bullets; you can still create a character who is smart and capable as well as flawed. Think multi-dimensional. No paper dolls allowed. You must give her something to believe in. Something to stand for. Something that comes from the core of her being. Something that will resonate with readers.

Character-Driven Plot 101:

  • Give your protagonist a goal.
  • Present her with obstacles to overcome.
  • Make her take deliberate actions to reach her goal.
  • Show the consequences of her actions.
  • Allow her to grow (arc) from her experiences.
  • Bring closure to her story by revealing the outcome (good or bad).

BTW, you get bonus points for making her a real superhero like Rosa Parks.


Dear Readers: What challenges do you have when creating your female characters?

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nolimitsI’d like to welcome author Sara Morgan to Annette’s Paper Trail. Sara is on a blog tour for her recently released motivational business book, No Limits: How I Escaped the Clutches of Corporate America to Live the Self-Employed Life of My Dreams.

Refreshingly candid and honest, this career-minded guide helps professionals determine if self-employment is their ticket to a better life. Written by a successful, independent software developer, rather than a career coach or consultant, this straight-to-the-point book offers readers practical and useful advice for how to get started on their path to self-employment. It also informs the reader what the major benefits to self-employment are, along with identifying who is best suited for self-employment and what things these people will need to consider.

As someone who is highly allergic to cubicles, office politics, pantyhose, and sensible shoes, oh yeah, and has an incurable aversion to being told what to do, I knew I’d be able to relate to Sara’s book. This slim volume is a quick read and a perfect primer for office dwellers who dream of making a break for it and running out the corporate door. Sara shares her story and practical tips for taking that first step toward self-employment freedom.

I asked Sara some questions specifically for my writer-readers, so grab a cup of tea and read on…

What would you say are the top five traits a writer must have to be successfully self-employed?

Good question. I would have to say the number one trait is optimism. You have to believe in yourself, even when no one else does. You have to be able to take the inevitable rejections that occur to even the best writers, turn them around, and make them into opportunities. You can not do that if you are a pessimist and I really doubt anyone who is a chronic pessimist could succeed as a writer.

Beyond that, I would list the other traits as being passionate, creative, disciplined, and a finisher. If you are the type of person who always starts writing projects, but never finishes them, you will likely not succeed. Be honest with yourself on this one.

In No Limits, you mention an interesting study that was done about trusting instincts vs. rational thought. The study showed better, more accurate, decisions were made when participants relied on their instincts instead of using higher-level cognitive functions. Please tell us how you feel it relates to knowing when to launch into a fulltime writing career.

I think it especially relates to being a writer. Good writers who get recognized do not just follow blindly along with the flock, always taking the safe road. At times, you may have to write something that logically makes no sense, but that your instincts tell you is right. Listen to your instincts. That is the voice that truly knows best.

In the Good Advice chapter, you say: “Don’t be afraid to do something that has no immediate financial payback.” What do you mean by that?

In writing, this is especially true. Many well known writers spent years writing manuscripts that were never published or articles that were hardly read. These days a lot of writers spend time writing things that are posted for free, just to get exposure. That is ok, as long as you are refining your writing skills and getting your writing out in front of more people.

I’ve belonged to writing critique groups for years and I think they serve as a wonderful testing ground for new material. In No Limits, you talk about becoming a feedback machine. How can writers implement your concept?

It is natural to reject criticism. It is kind of a self-protective feature we are all equipped with. Sometimes this is good, but very often people offer criticism with the best of intentions. You need to develop a thick skin and not see the criticism as an attack, but rather an opportunity for improvement.

I know I struggle with finding a work/life balance. What tips do you have for other work-a-holic writers who find it hard to push away from the computer?

Remember that you are not doing anyone any favors by working too hard. In fact, you are probably just hurting yourself and your writing by stressing yourself out. It is not worth it. Work smarter, not harder.

You suggest to the newly self-employed: “Surround yourself with things that inspire you.” What inspires you?

Lots of things. Music is a big thing, but I also find inspiration from other people who have succeeded, despite big odds. I also love inspirational quotes and have them posted all around my house. You need to keep yourself energized any way you can.

I agree completely with a section in your book where you talk about how persistence pays off. I heard a quote once: “The only difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is persistence.” Why do you think persistence is so important?

Because rejection is inevitable. There are just too many writers in the world for it not to be the case. The ones who become famous are ALWAYS the ones who kept writing, even when no one thought they should. Believe in yourself and eventually others will too.

Please share any final words of self-employment wisdom you feel writers should take to heart.

Just keep doing it, especially if you love it. What you need most in life is passion. Without passion, there is no purpose and without purpose, there is no hope. Hang in there. Stay strong and focused and strive to make each day the best of your life.


Readers: Post your questions for Sara in the comments section and share your thoughts. Have you taken the plunge to full-time writing? If not, are you making plans for your great escape?


Sara1Sara Morgan is a former web developer who escaped Corporate America four years ago and has never looked back. To inspire others, she recently wrote No Limits: How I Escaped the Clutches of Corporate America to Live the Self-Employed Life of My Dreams. You can find out more about Sara and her book by going to www.nolimitsthebook.com, or join her online community of like-minded people looking for a more balanced work life at http://nolimitsthebook.ning.com.

You can also register for a free upcoming teleseminar she is hosting. The teleseminar will offer freelancers and small business owners advice on what to watch out for when establishing a web presence. You can register for the event at http://www.nolimitsthebook.com/nolimits/teleseminar.aspx.

Perfectionism and Competitiveness: Are You a Winner or a Loser?

winningHas perfectionism or competitiveness ever strangled the joy out of your muse? Both traits can be creative suicide for a writer—or, at the very least, they can rob you of a much needed desktop Snoopy Dance.

Example: Today, I received an email from Jessica Strawser, editor of Writer’s Digest. I felt a flutter of excitement and knew it had something to do with the results of the competition I entered back in May. The subject line “Your Self Published Book Entry” was a pretty solid clue I was right. My muse whispered, “Get ready to dance. It must be good news or you wouldn’t have gotten an email.”

So, I opened the email and read: “One of my most enjoyable tasks as editor of Writer’s Digest is passing along good news to writers. This is one of those fun occasions. It is my pleasure to tell you that your book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir in the Life Stories category, has been chosen as an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest 17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. Your book will be promoted in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest. In addition, you will receive a letter, a Notable Award Certificate and $50 worth of Writer’s Digest Books.”

When I read the words “honorable mention,” my heart sank. It felt like I’d received a thanks-for-participating ribbon like the ones handed out in grade school. Instead of elation, I immediately told my muse she would have to work harder next time. Write a better book. Tell a more compelling story. Something. Something to make it win. It didn’t matter to me that there were probably hundreds of writers who didn’t receive an email at all. It mattered that my book wasn’t good enough to win.

Yes, I am self-aware enough to understand that my reaction is self-flagellation. My perfectionism and competitiveness are the same personality traits that made me hound my university English professor about why I received an A- in one of her classes and an A in the other. Why the A- grade? What could I have done differently? Better?

I know I’m tough on myself and I’m competitive. I believe there is always room for improvement—in anything and everything I do. But today, I realized how much joy I lose when I let those tendencies run roughshod over the moments I should be celebrating: the milestones, the acknowledgments, the good reviews, etc.

So, I’ve decided that when I receive my March/April issue, I’m going to frame the magazine page my book title appears on as a reminder to be joyful and grateful for my accomplishments. And I’m looking forward to expanding my writing craft library with my $50 worth of WD books!

Ok, dear readers, I showed you mine, so what are your writer demons?

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YouCantDrinkAllDayI’d like to welcome humor author and syndicated columnist Celia Rivenbark to Annette’s Paper Trail. Celia is on a blog tour for her latest book, You Can’t Drink All Day if You Don’t Start in the Morning.

From the author of the bestselling classics We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier and Bless Your Heart, Tramp, comes a collection of essays so funny, you’ll shoot co’cola out of your nose. From religion to recipes, from car-pooling to cat-whispering, Celia Rivenbark dishes up new essays about the old south, the new south, and everything in between.

I curled up with Celia’s book each night before bed (my only available pleasure reading time) and often woke my husband with my giggles. Even in a comedy club, I’m a smiler. It takes a lot to make me laugh aloud. And as a writer, I can appreciate a great image captured by a funny turn-of-phrase. I have to say, my two favorite essays were “Poseable Jesus Meets Poser Ken”—a hilarious analysis of Walmart’s action figure collections, and “Japanese Moms, Meet Most Honorable Uncrustables”—classic commentary about  competitive mothers and their lunch-packing competitions.

Some of my other favorites: “Gwyneth Paltrow Wants to Improve Your Pathetic Life”—a great lampoon of celebrity role models. “I Want to be a Margo but I’m Really a Sha-nae-nae”—more fun than you can have actually trying on jeans and bras (and contemplating the landscape of your “trimmage”). “Lessons Taught Here”—a sweet and poignant essay about Daddies and dementia. “No TV? I’ll Put My Carbon Footprint Up Your Behind”—for anyone who has a thing or two to say about staycations and green living.

While you settle in with a cup of tea to read Celia’s interview about humor writing, I’m off to make myself one of her scrumptious recipes: You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw Apple Enchiladas. I love the smell of cinnamon baking…

Celia, your slice-of-life essays have been compared to Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry, two wonderfully prolific American humorists. What inspired you to start writing a humor column?

I became a humor columnist by accident. I made a pitch to my editor at the time to write restaurant reviews, but after an exhaustive presentation with charts and graphs and a bunch of crap about my educated palate, he just said, “Nah, that shit gets expensive. Hey! You’re kinda funny; why don’t you write a humor column instead?” I wrote one, it got a good response and I kept doing it for a lot of years. The only thing that makes me different is that everybody could write a humor column for a few weeks. It takes a different sort of animal to grind it out week after week, year after year, constantly trying to develop a larger audience. Bombeck did four columns a week at her peak and that just slays me. There will never be another one like her.

Where do you find the inspiration for your essays?

I was raised in the rural South. When you have an aunt who makes bedroom slippers out of maxi pads she glue-guns little pink roses to, you have no choice but to find inspiration around you. Oh, and there’s that whole pop culture thing. As long as the words Heidi Montag Pratt exist, finding the funny won’t be hard.

That’s hilarious! You can’t get better material than that! I know many comedians who labor for months over reworking the punchlines to their jokes. Do you follow any particular structure or outline when developing each essay or do you write off-the-cuff?

Off the cuff. I usually don’t spend more than 30 minutes on a newspaper column; an essay for the book takes longer, of course. If a column takes longer than a half hour, there’s a very good chance that it sucks.

When you put together your humor collections, how do you select the stories? Do you connect them through a theme?

Sometimes I group them as in “Husbands,” “Kid Stuff” and like that. In Belle Weather, the book had a home-improvement theme thanks to the year I spent remodeling a kitchen in our 85-year-old house. It was painful at the time but turned out to be pretty good fodder for a book.

Belle Weather obviously proves the old formula: pain + time = comedy. What tips do you have for scribes who want to “write funny”?

When I feel a bit blocked, I read a little David Sedaris or Jack Handey to get my mojo back. Or I’ll read The Onion online or watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm” because Larry David is, hands down, the funniest man in America. That usually gets me back on track. Right now, I’m reading a wonderful new book called And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on the Craft. It’s a terrific collection of interviews with top humor/comedy writers on how they got their start in the business. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to write humor for a living.

You’ve certainly made a career out of it! You’ve branded yourself as a Southern humorist. How important do you think it is to find a humor niche?

I didn’t brand myself; this is who I am and it’s what I do. My books aren’t restricted to Southern humor. If you read them, there are plenty of essays that have nothing whatsoever to do with the South. That said, I do think that Southerners are fortunate in that we’re raised to be great storytellers and we love to embroider the truth to the point of absurdity.

How challenging is it to have personal essay collections published?

If you’re asking if it was hard to get published, it really wasn’t. I was fortunate because an editor approached me about putting my newspaper columns into book form. That first book, Bless Your Heart, Tramp was published by a small local press and I sold copies out of the trunk of my car. I had some lucky breaks in exposure and the book ended up on the Southeast Booksellers’ best-seller list. This led to a call from Jenny Bent who was already representing Jill Conner Browne (the very successful Sweet Potato Queen) and was scouting for more Southern humor writers. She sold my second book almost immediately and has repped the others since. I was very, very lucky but you also have to remember that I’d been writing professionally for 20 years at that point. Dues had been paid.

What last words of wisdom do you have for aspiring humorists?

Don’t go to “how to write funny” classes or workshops. Humor can’t be “taught.” You’re either funny or you’re not. How do you know? Do people often say, “Hey! You’re funny! You should write that stuff down!” If they do, go forth and do just that. If no one (outside your loving family) has ever said that, humor might not be the best route to go and you might want to try another genre. I grew up as a class clown, prankster type. I was in it from the get-go for laughs and that has never changed.

If you’re funny, be willing to work for free if it takes it. Get published any way you can, even if it’s a column for a shopper or an obscure alt weekly. Get your name out there. Also: When you write humor, you have to take a few risks. Don’t pussyfoot around, terrified of making enemies or pissing off your friends. There will be haters out there who don’t get the joke and there’s nothing you can do about that. Except laugh.


Readers: Post your questions for Celia in the comments section and share your thoughts. Have you ever tried humor writing?


celiarivenbarkCelia Rivenbark has won national and state press awards and is the author of the humorous essay collections: Bless Your Heart, Tramp, We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier, Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank, and Belle Weather: Mostly Sunny With a Chance of Scattered Hissy Fits. Her latest essay collection, You Can’t Drink All Day if You Don’t Start in the Morning, was released in September 2009.

She lives in Wilmington, NC, with her husband and daughter.

Visit Celia’s website and follow her tour! You can read Celia’s humor column at The Sun News.

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Fearless Confessions, for webI’d like to welcome memoir author Sue William Silverman to Annette’s Paper Trail. Sue is on a blog tour for her latest book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir.

Everyone has a story to tell.

Fearless Confessions is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper. Sue covers traditional writing topics such as metaphor, theme, plot, and voice and also includes chapters on trusting memory and cultivating the courage to tell one’s truth in the face of forces—from family members to the media—who would prefer that people with inconvenient pasts and views remain silent.

Silverman, an award-winning memoirist, draws upon her own personal and professional experience to provide an essential resource for transforming life into words that matter. Fearless Confessions is an atlas that contains maps to the remarkable places in each person’s life that have yet to be explored.

Today, Sue offers some great advice about plot, point of view, authenticity, and memory truths.

Of the writing craft books I’ve read lately, few have resonated enough to cause me to underline passages and make notes in the margin. Fearless Confessions had so many sections where techniques and concepts jumped off the page, begging to be highlighted for future reference.

I’ve chosen four of my favorites to have Sue share with my info-hungry Paper Trail readers.

1. I’ll dive right into the craft pool. Sue, please explain the difference between horizontal and vertical plots and the reason writers should create a story that has both.

In Fearless Confessions, I developed the concept of two plot lines in order to help memoir writers better understand how to examine the entirety of their narrative.

The horizontal plot line reflects the external events of your story. Imagine texting a friend and telling her what just happened to you: As soon as I sat down on the airplane, this stranger started to talk to me. He was handsome. A great smile. But he wore a wedding ring.

It’s the action in your story.

The vertical plot, on the other hand, reflects your emotions, thoughts, and insights. But what should I do about this man, this married man? He seems like just the kind of man I’ve always been looking for, but…

It’s the internal response to the action.

In short, by weaving these two plot lines together, throughout, you are able to reveal the external action as well as, emotionally, show how you respond to it.

2. I’m intrigued by your concept of using “depths of view” rather than points of view. I’d love to have you explain how “The Voice of Experience” and “The Voice of Innocence” affect the story.

Unlike a novel, which can have several different points of view in it, a memoir, instead, explores various aspects of you. You’re exploring the depth or core of yourself.

One aspect of yourself, then, is conveyed in what I call the Voice of Innocence. Here, using this voice, you relate the facts of the story— the surface events in the past that actually happened. It’s the voice that portrays the raw, not-yet-understood emotions associated with the story’s past action: How you felt, what you did at the time the events actually occurred.

For the Voice of Experience, on the other hand, imagine the writer “you,” now, sitting at your desk writing, trying to make sense of these events that happened to you years earlier. It’s a more mature voice that deepens the Voice of Innocence narrative with reflection and metaphor. It’s a more complex viewpoint that interprets the surface subject.

You need both voices in any given memoir in order to bring the whole of the experience fully alive. You need, of course, to convey the story of what actually happened in the past while, at the same time, you need to bring a more adult perspective to bear.

Using these two voices you are showing, in effect: This is what happened to me in the past; this is how I now, with more wisdom, feel about it looking back.

3. Those who know me know I live my life authentically. In your chapter “One Secret, One Word, at a Time” you talk about how telling your secrets allows you to be an authentic woman and an authentic writer. Why do you think this is important for writing memoir?

When I write a memoir, I’m spending an enormous amount of time with myself, delving deep inside, to fully understand any given experience. If I’m going to hold back or sugarcoat experiences, I’m not being authentic either with myself or my readers. Now is the time, in my solitary writing room, to take a serious look at the most intimate moments in my life in order to write about them. What a gift! What an opportunity!

4. I completely agree. This also leads into another area of authenticity—writing the truth. With so much skepticism facing memoirists after James Frey’s book, A Million Little Lies (um…I mean, Pieces), I’d like you to share your thoughts about the concept of “memory truths.”

While it’s not at all acceptable to make up facts willy-nilly (like Frey), memoir also isn’t journalism. It is based on how I recall events from my past, knowing that memory is just that—how I remember things—my own personal version of events—or, what I call in Fearless Confessions, “memory truth.”

So while I never make stuff up, my interpretation of events forms a reality that is uniquely mine. I write my truths—how I understand my own life—as clearly and precisely as possible. At the same time, of course, the interpretation of my life is subjective. How could it not be? But readers understand this, and that’s what they expect and want.

If you want to read a factual account of something, read a historical document. Though, of course, even historical events are open to interpretation, aren’t they?

They certainly are! Thank you for sharing your thoughts about memory truths. I know a lot of writers are concerned about maintaining integrity in telling their personal stories. Sue, are there any final words of wisdom or encouragement you’d like to share with aspiring memoirists?

My hope is that you are patient with yourself as a writer, that you give yourself plenty of space and time to develop your craft. At the same time, I hope you find all the courage you need to tell your truths, tell the stories that, perhaps, you’ve hidden for years. Give yourself permission to break silences, speak your truths. I hope you all write your own confessions—fearlessly.


Readers: Post your questions for Sue in the comments section and share your thoughts. What are you doing to make sure you write authentically? What do you think about the concept of memory truths?


Sue SilvermanSue William Silverman teaches the low-residency MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (Norton), is also a Lifetime Television movie. Her memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father I Remember You, won the AWP award. Her new book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir is available in bookstore and on Amazon.

Visit Sue’s website and check out the Fearless Confessions book trailer.

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Tips for Freelancers: How to Write a Great Query Letter

AFor the last two years, I’ve been Senior Editor at WOW! Women On Writing, an online magazine written by, for, and about women in the publishing industry. During my editorship, WOW! was selected for the Writer’s Digest list of “101 Best Websites for Writers” in 2008 and 2009.

This month, I announced I’m stepping down from the position to focus on my own projects: marketing my book The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, increasing my speaking appearances at writer’s conferences and organizations, and working one-on-one with writers enrolled in my workshops and coaching programs. (And yes, starting my next book.)

But I wanted to share with freelancers a few tips I’ve compiled after reading thousands of query letters that have crossed my cyber desk.

I’ve taken a couple questions I’ve been asked and used them to present my tips:

Q: What do you consistently see that bothers you most when reading submissions?

A: My biggest irritation is when writers query without taking the time to read the publication and familiarize themselves with the content. WOW! is very obviously a women’s writing magazine focused on the craft; yet, I received countless queries about health, beauty, and fashion. Don’t submit fiction and personal essays when you see WOW! only publishes how-to articles and interviews.

Freelance Market Research 101

  • Study every section of the magazine to see what type of content they publish BEFORE you query.
  • Check the word count.

WOW! articles are content rich and more like print magazines in length. The standard 500-600 word online article is about 1500 words too short.

  • Request/review the submission guidelines of both online and print magazines to find out what the editors expect.
  • Check the editor’s desk section or masthead for the name of the person you should address in your query.

WOW!, a publication FOR women, clearly run BY women, often receives queries addressed to “Dear Sir.” It’s an immediate pass because it shows the writer is lazy and careless.

Query Submission 101

  • Run spell check, especially if you are sending an e-query. Don’t let the informal feeling of email keep you from sending a polished, professional query.
  • Read your email query aloud before you send it. You’d be surprised how much the spell check misses.

Do whatever you need to do to make sure your query is clean—correct spelling, solid grammar, and proper punctuation. If a writer doesn’t take the time and effort to make sure her query is immaculate, editors know she’ll be just as careless with her submission.

  • Bring something to the table.

WOW! often receives email from writers who say they would like to write for the magazine, but have no idea what they have to offer. Telling an editor you are a writer who wants to write is not the same thing as showing an editor you can actually do it. Know your expertise or figure it out, so you can bring something to the table. Editors are always looking for fresh voices, but you must be able to provide content that has value to the publication’s readers.

Q: After a day spent delving into the slush pile, can you tell us what compels you to accept one piece of writing over another?

A: At WOW!, there isn’t a slush pile. All queries and submissions are given equal attention and considered on their own merit. No matter which publication you query—online or print, you will be competing with freelancers who have queried on the same topic. The writer who best conveys how she will execute the proposed idea gets the assignment.

Questions an editor asks herself during your query evaluation:

  • Is the topic of interest to our readers?
  • Does the freelancer have the chops (expertise/ability) to write the article she is proposing?
  • Does she have a great hook and a fresh spin on a familiar topic?
  • Has she fully fleshed-out her idea with  an overview or outline of her intended article?
  • Has she listed her sources, or prospective sources for quotes?
  • Does she have a strong voice?
  • Has she come up with a unique title?

The magazine may choose not to use the title of your submission for the published article, but if it’s memorable—like “How to Hog-tie an Agent”—it keeps the query on our minds, rather than it getting lost in the mix with all the other queries titled: “How to Get an Agent.”


Queries should include clips or some sort of writing sample. At the very least, a link to a blog post written like an article. If you are serious about freelancing, you should have a blog that showcases your writing ability and includes a page of links to your published clips.

Show us that you know how to structure an article for the web:

  • subheadings
  • short paragraphs
  • bullet lists
  • sidebars
  • content-rich article with no excessive wordiness

Don’t send out anything less than your best work. If you expect to get paid, make sure what you write is worth the money.

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Mashable: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Social Media

mashableWriters, if you haven’t yet taken the head-first plunge into networking and promoting yourself and your writing through social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogging via WordPress or Blogger, it’s time for you to join the online revolution. For a great go-to place for social media news and information to get you up to speed, check out Mashable.

All of this “online stuff” may seem daunting to writers who spend their time in quiet seclusion, creating characters and engaging stories, or writing to share information or a message. I know a lot of you feel that in social networks there is just so much noise, so many people… The technology is advancing so quickly. How could you ever keep up? Where do you begin? What do you do to get your message out there? How do you get noticed? What is it really all about? Does any of it really matter?

The answer is—Yes, it does matter. Social media is a great way to get your message heard, to reach out to people with common interests, and to make a difference. There are so many positive reasons to embrace and participate in social networks and not a single negative reason not to.

Here’s a quick-start overview of basic tools to get you going in the right direction:

  • Explore the articles in Mashable’s How-To List
  • Carve out a piece of cyber real estate for yourself—establish a blog. (I recommend WordPress.)
  • Begin to expand your social networking circle by joining Twitter.

Twitter is one of the easiest and quickest ways to get your social networking feet wet. I wrote a post about Twitter back in August last year that also included a video tutorial. Since that time, Twitter has gone even more mainstream and has been used in so many great ways to connect with people—even by our current president!

On the personal side, Twitter has been directly responsible for my book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, being optioned for adaptation to a cable television series; book sales; reviews and interviews on high-traffic websites; increased traffic on this blog; visibility and personal connection to major players in the publishing industry—and just this morning, I was surprised and excited to find myself on Mashable’s list of Nonfiction Authors to Follow on Twitter! All of it has grown organically from sharing what I’m thinking and doing, providing help when I can, commiserating and offering support, chatting about random topics, and generally enjoying the people I meet. That’s what it’s all about.

Writers, if you need some help getting yourself and your writing out there, I have an upcoming workshop, Online Author & Book Promotion, that launches in June. You can drop me an email with any questions you have or sign up on the workshops page.

Social media is here to stay. It will only get bigger and better with an incredible global reach and so many diverse and wonderful ways to use it. Check out this video interview with Mashable’s Pete Cashmore about Social Media for Social Good.
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I’d like to welcome author Elizabeth Fournier to Annette’s Paper Trail. Elizabeth is on a virtual book tour for her recently launched memoir
All Men are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates.

In her book, Elizabeth chronicles her true life dating spree as a marriage-minded mortician in her mid-30’s. Set off by her broken engagement, she enlists everyone in sight to set her up on blind dates in a passionate quest to meet just one really great guy. Armed with a 10-point list of dating criteria, skintight jeans, and flash cards on Nascar, football, and micro-breweries, she spends one full year doing the blind meet and greet. Names are changed to protect the rejected as she humorously dishes dot-com hotties, compulsive bloggers, and tattooed graduates of the Gene Simmons School of Dating. Bridget Jones would be proud of her American cousin.

“This book is fantastic! It was so breezy and fun, and will be an excellent beach read.” – Shelley Kurtz, KVAL-CBS, Eugene, OR Morning Anchor and long-time Pacific Northest Newscaster.

When I was approached by the WOW! Women On Writing blog tour coordinator about hosting a stop on Elizabeth’s tour, I was excited to have the opportunity to pick her brain. As a memoirist, I’m always curious to hear how other writers have approached putting their personal stories onto the page to be released into the world for all to read. So, I asked Elizabeth how difficult it was for her to relive embarrassing or uncomfortable experiences in her writing.

Elizabeth said: “Writing my memoir was not exactly pleasurable. I had to relive 77 dates. Um, that would be 77 blind dates that never parlayed into a second date. But I was on a mission. I had a plan and put it on the fast-track which ultimately netted a wedding ring and a published book, yet getting to that point was a bit emotionally grueling. I suffered through it in order to give women some inspiration, hope, and to provide you all with a fun story (at my expense)!

I kept in perspective that I was the protagonist in my own memoir, the tour guide. It was I who was driving the train out of dysfunction junction. This provided a lot of clarity for me which in turn motivated my internal drive to write the book. The funk turned into spunk. I worked through the prickly task of writing about one disappointing night after the next.

I did the classic show up and throw up. I sat at the computer with a Super Big Gulp perched next to me and out it all came. I just typed and typed. The finger strokes on the keyboard became rhythmic. Words appeared on the monitor and I was truly amazed at how fast the page filled.

Next, I corrected spelling. I used the Spell Checker function and cleaned it all up. Of course, this meant words spelled incorrectly might now be an entirely different word, but that occasionally gave me a fresh perspective and new direction. A word randomly would appear that triggered a new thought or two. I added and subtracted sentences to make it sparkle.

Finally, I read it all aloud, laughed at my wackiness, and changed sentences to make me laugh even louder. I kept on keepin’ on.

So what advice can I give a budding memoirist?

Write the narrative you feel passionate to write, and keep it private until you are finished. Don’t tell anyone you are writing a memoir. Protect your creativity.

Organize your writing into small chunks. Undertake your life one manageable portion at a time. Allow yourself to jot notes and craft bits that aren’t necessarily in chronological sequence. Don’t worry; the finished result will rock if you stay true to yourself.

Dig deep. Tell a story. Explain the details. Give the audience a picture. Yeah, it was Monday and you were heading to work. Were you in the car, bus, or on foot? What did you smell, see, or hear? Were you eating, drinking, or reading anything? Talk to us. Share your life. You, my friend, are interesting.”

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? If so, what personal story would you share? Or what would keep you from writing it?


ElizabethFornierAfter Elizabeth got over her dream of being a Solid Gold Dancer, she promptly headed into the local funeral home and asked for a job, any job. She became the live-in night keeper which meant she resided in a trailer in the far reaches of a large, hilly cemetery and slept with a shotgun near her bed. It was the scariest summer of her life.

She is currently the voice of the autopsy exhibit in the forensic wing at the United States National Museum of Medicine and a full-time mortician. She is also a ballroom dance instructor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. But she couldn’t resist writing the story of her unusual method of dating that led her to the love of her life.

To learn more, visit Elizabeth’s website and stop by her blog.

Walk and Work – Get Off Your Butt

walknwork-station-12I spend an average of 12-14 hours a day on my computer: checking and responding to email, social networking, editing articles for WOW-Women On Writing, doing analysis and editing of book manuscripts for clients, working on a TV series adaptation of my book The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, and writing the first draft of a new book project. That’s a lot of sedentary chair time.

As writers, it’s really hard to carve out time to take care of ourselves physically. I don’t know about you, but it seems that whenever I do take the time to go to the gym or out for a walk, I have so many story ideas that come to me when I have absolutely no way to write them down.

Then I saw a piece about the work and walk station on 20/20. I knew creating a treadmill computer workstation would be a great way to continue creating and drop the 30 lbs. that began padding my small frame little-by-little over the last six years. Finally, a way to get back into those Size 0 jeans! How’s that for multi-tasking.

So, I asked my handy-dandy hubby (a general contractor) to build something for me, using my HealthRider R60 SoftStrider treadmill. He suggested we repurpose a Pottery Barn ladder bookshelf to hold the computer. Hubby removed the lower shelves, then bought and cut a laminate board (from Home Depot) to fit around the treadmill console and work as a keyboard and mouse table. He secured the board to the treadmill handles by extra-strength Velcro strips (and it doesn’t budge). The height of the table is perfect for me—keeping my shoulders/elbows at a 90 degree L while I walk and type on my ergonomic split keyboard. (Yes, I’m using a Microsoft keyboard with my iMac until Apple comes up with one.) I have a wireless mouse, and also internet wi-fi throughout the house, so my work and walk station is complete with everything I need. Though I may invest in a set of external speakers, so if hubby wants to watch a DVD, he’ll be able to hear it over the sound of the moving treadmill. The best part about the way this station is constructed is that the Velcro allows the keyboard table to be removed easily, so the treadmill can be used normally.

walknwork-station-2My next foray into creating the ultimate active writing space will be to see how/if I can use a headset and Dictate, Apple’s voice-recognition software, to “write” my next book while I get into shape.

And, of course, I still have to decorate my creative space. I’m so excited! I’m considering creating a giant vision board on the entire wall around my workstation, or maybe a colorful, hand-painted craft and inspiration word cloud… Stay tuned for future posts showing my completed space—and an update about how my computer-chair butt has been transformed into a fitness magazine booty!

What are you doing to stay in shape? Do you have a fitness routine that works with your writing and computer-time schedule?

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I’ve always been a fan of writer’s conferences. It’s a great way to gather new information to improve your craft, and stay connected to the creative pulse by networking with other writers.

A few weeks ago, I spoke at the 94th annual Missouri Writer’s Guild Conference in Cape Girardeau, MO. It was a wonderful event set in a lodge an hour outside of St. Louis.

I had such a great time. I also discovered that it’s a challenge to find the opportunity to spend time with fellow speakers and attendees, hear pitches, and conduct three sessions—all in two days. The weekend passed so quickly! I really enjoyed working with the MWG staff and chatting with writers. And I did want to say, it was an absolute pleasure meeting YA author and remarkable woman-around-town Christine Taylor-Butler; bubbly and engaging thriller novelist Barri Bumgarner; a true southern lady, award-winning mystery writer and novelist, Marcia Preston; television writer-author and hilarious Hollywood storyteller, Lee Goldberg; and Harvey Stanbrough—a consummate charmer and poet, nominated for a National Book Award, a Pulitzer and a Pushcart Prize—who should definitely win an award for making me blush several times!

In addition to enjoying the social aspects of my first professional speaking engagement, I held a three-hour memoir writing workshop, an hour-long session about how to find the right agent for your manuscript, and an hour-long session about online author and book promotion.

I received wonderful responses from the writers who attended my sessions and I was really glad that all the great information I was so excited to share didn’t make anyone’s head blow up. One YA writer in particular credited my help crafting his in-person pitch as the reason an editor in attendance requested his manuscript. That’s such an awesome feeling—to know I helped a writer get one step closer to his publishing dream. I’m officially addicted!

As I mentioned at the conference, this summer I’m launching my online workshops—my writer’s conference sessions on big time steroids. And I thought I’d let you, by loyal blog readers, know the registration link is up and running. So, check out my workshop page for details. Sign up soon; there are a limited number of spots available.

See you in class!

Blog Tours: Take Your Book on The Cyber Road

blogtour In-person book tours are a great opportunity to meet readers, but even multi-store/multi-state tours have a limited reach. A blog tour has the potential to introduce your book to readers across the globe.

What is a blog tour?

A blog tour is a series of guest “appearances” on blogs that relate to your book’s topic and/or have an audience of readers who would be interested in your book. Bloggers agree to host a virtual event to promote your book, and it provides new and interesting content for their readers. It’s a win/win partnership.

Your guest appearance can include an original article or commentary you provide, an interview conducted by your hostess, a book review, or any other promotion agreed upon by you and the blogger.

Benefits of going on a book blog tour:

  • increased visibility for your book
  • connect with readers
  • develop your online presence
  • drive traffic to your blog and/or website
  • possibility for book sales

That’s 5 great reasons why you should get started now!

How do I plan my road trip?

Locate blogs that focus on the topic of your nonfiction book, or the theme and scope of your fiction book, as well as, blogs whose readers are your target audience. Begin by searching any of the hundreds of blog directories like TechnoratiBlog Catalog, and Blogher. Take note of high-traffic blogs and blogs with high reader interaction (a lot of comments).

If you haven’t already done so, download the Alexa Toolbar for your Firefox browser. It’s a useful tool to evaluate the traffic of the blogs and websites you visit. Check the ranking of the blogs on which you would like to appear; if their ranking is in the 20 millions (or listed as “no rank”), making that tour stop might not be the best use of your marketing time. [*Note: The lower the number, the more traffic the site receives. For example, The New York Times website is #99 in the world.] But, do keep in mind that any blog where your article, interview, or review appears will be archived indefinitely and available to anyone who searches the internet for your name or book title. It means more hits show up on Google and other search engines. That’s how you develop your internet presence.

Is there anything I need to pack?

Yes! The two most important things you need to have before embarking on a blog tour is 1) A book. 2) A blog or website. That may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many writers take off on the trip before their bags are in the car. Don’t begin your blog tour until your book is available for purchase in stores and/or online. If readers become excited about your book, they want a way to buy it immediately. If it’s not available, you risk the chance of them forgetting about it—and that means you lose the opportunity for book sales.

Don’t begin your blog tour until you have a blog or website set up. If readers are interested in you and/or your book, they want a way to find out more. Without the ability to click through to a blog or website, you lose the opportunity to develop your following. Personally, I recommend a blog over a static website—it raises your visibility with the search engines, and it allows your new-found followers to interact with you. Don’t start your tour and miss out on selling books and developing your audience by forgetting the necessities—your book and your blog.

How do I prepare for each blog stop?

Ask the blogger what topic she would like you to write about or whether she would like to ask you some interview questions. Ask for the word-count range she prefers. Read her previous posts and familiarize yourself with the type of content she provides—whether it’s informative or entertaining. Read comments from her readers to get a feel for her audience.

What do I include in my guest post luggage?

Craft your guest post or interview to highlight your topic knowledge, your personality, and promote your book.

Provide the blog hostess with

  • a brief bio
  • your book cover and headshot images (low-res/web-optimized jpg files)
  • the links to your blog and/or website, and to your book’s listing on Amazon
  • a well-written post or thoughtful answers to her interview questions
  • a signed/personalized copy of your book for the blog hostess (optional, but recommended)
  • an offer to provide a signed copy for a free drawing for her readers (optional)

Should I check in with the visitor’s bureau?

On the day your guest post goes live, leave a comment inviting the blog visitors to ask questions and comment on your post, and tell them you’ll monitor the blog and respond. Be sure to checkmark the box to be notified when new comments are posted. It will help you keep track of the blog visitors who want to connect with you. Think of your blog tour like a neighborhood party. Readers will be stopping by for conversation. Fostering the back-and-forth exchange will help you develop your following by allowing readers to get to know you.

What should be on my tour itinerary?

Online Magazines

If you can get a high-profile online magazine to do an interview with you, you have the opportunity to reach more readers than you would with an individual blog. But, like with the personal blogs, you need to provide some value/interest for the magazine’s readers.

Interview on Betty Confidential
Women’s general interest ezine

Interview on WOW! Women on Writing
Writing-related ezine

Writing Blogs

Writing blogs are a perfect choice for your blog tour, especially if your book is a how-to aimed at writers, or if you provide services for writers such as editing, ghostwriting, workshops, etc. Writer bloggers enjoy having informative guest posts about the craft, and interviewing other authors about their writing process.

Article: Who Really Cares About Your Story, Anyway? How to Write a Memoir with Universal Appeal

Article: Discover the History Within Your Memoir

Article: D.I.Y. Publishing—Is It an Option for You?

Article: The Author Promotion Circus is in Town—Start Juggling Now!

Interview: Capturing Your Voice and Emotion in Memoir

Interview: About Memoir Writing

Interview: Step-by-Step Through the Writing Process

Interview: What it Takes to Keep Writing Despite Your Busy Life

Reader and Topic Interest Blogs

Reader blogs are the best place to connect to your target audience. Readers love hosting authors, helping promote their books, asking questions about the writing process, and having authors write about themes or topics in their books. Choose blogs that have readers who fit your demographic, would resonate with your story, and be most likely to purchase your book.

Commentary: Homeschool Mom Steps Outsitde the Box and Dances on Top

Commentary: February 14th – St. Romantic Expectations Day

Commentary: Seeking Prince Charming, White Horse, and Sunset

Interview: Putting Your Life onto the Page

Interview: Opening Up in Print

Review Blogs

Review blogs are a great way to have coverage of your book done by readers who have a web presence. It gives your search results some variety when reviews come up alongside your articles and interviews.

Review by Reading Writing & Stuff that Makes Me Crazy

Review by Confessions of a Book-a-holic

Don’t forget your map!

Taking your book on a blog tour is one of the most cost-effective and time-saving marketing techniques you can use to promote your book, develop your online presence, and connect with readers all at once!

For a wonderful step-by-step resource to help you plan your blog tour, check out: http://quickest.blogbooktourguide.ever.com and you can join the Yahoo listserv bookblogtours for more help getting started.

Enjoy the journey!

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I’d like to welcome Writer’s Digest Book’s author George Singleton to Annette’s Paper Trail. George is new to the blogosphere, but brave enough to jump in with both feet! He is just gaining momentum on the blog tour for his latest book. Today, George offers his sage advice about staying current with literary trends.

peptalksIn Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers, acclaimed Southern story writer and novelist George Singleton serves up everything you ever need to know to become a real writer (meaning one who actually writes), in bite-sized aphorisms. It’s Nietzsche’s Beyond Good & Evil meets Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s cough syrup that tastes like chocolate cake. In other words, don’t expect to get better unless you get a good dose of it, maybe two.

Accompanied by more than fifty original full-color illustrations by novelist Daniel Wallace, these laugh-out-loud funny, candid, and surprisingly useful lessons will help you find your own writerly balance so you can continue to move forward.

Read Contemporary, Literary Work If You Plan to Publish Contemporary, Literary Work

By George Singleton

I teach at a school wherein prospective students must send in a portfolio of ten or so pages of their own work, either poetry or fiction. They write an essay, also. Their high school counselors send in transcripts and letters of recommendation. Then, the students show up in February or March for an interview, plus a workshop where they’re given prompts, just to make sure that, indeed, they didn’t pay off someone to write a portfolio, et cetera.

In the interview, my chairperson Scott Gould and I always start with the same question: “Tell us what you’ve been reading.”

There are three camps, at least. There are the students who say, “I love that woman who wrote the Twilight series, and I love Stephen King, and I love Anne Rice.”

“Do you read any contemporary poetry?” we’ll ask. I don’t know why.

“Edgar Allen Poe!” will be the answer.

It’s not like we weren’t warned earlier, what with the vampires, zombies, cutters, slashers, unpronounceable character names, lack of rising action, ghosts, et cetera.

The members of the second group say things like, “I love Shakespeare. I love everything there is by Shakespeare. Shakespeare, Cotton Mather, Hawthorne, the Brontës,” and so on. They’ll name off every writer they’ve had to read in a regular high school English class.

“What about poets?”

What else: “Emily Dickinson!”

And then there are the students—who normally have high grade point averages—who say, “Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Tobias Wolff, Jill McCorkle, William Gay, Tom Franklin, Dale Ray Phillips, Wendy Brenner, Best American Shorts Stories, New Stories from the South, Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever, Thomas Pynchon, Madison Smartt Bell, Michael Parker, Jennifer Egan, Barry Hannah, Clyde Edgerton, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Stevie Almond, Cary Holladay, Moira Crone…”

We’ve not gone wrong with these students yet. Now, it’s important to know the writers of the canon—especially if you plan on being a contestant on Jeopardy!—but if one wishes to be published at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it might be helpful to know what kind of writing is being published in magazines, journals, and by the publishing houses.

Scott likes to say, “If you go get knee surgery, do you want a doctor who pores over medical journals from a hundred years ago, or one who keeps up with the latest medical technology and procedures?” There’s no better way to say it. If you wish to be published these days, shouldn’t you know trends, countertrends, audience needs, and the like? The only way I know how to fully get a grip on these things is to subscribe to a literary magazine or ten, plus the slicks, plus keep up with something like the New York Times Book Review.

Now, I understand that people are going to say to me, “Hey, that Twilight woman and Anne Rice and Nicholas Sparks make a whole lot more money than literary writers.”

My answer to that is always, “In America, we buy and consume a lot more bologna than we do filet mignon, but that doesn’t mean it’s better for us.”


Readers: Where do you weigh in? Mainstream or literary fiction? Would you rather leave your signature in tomes of timeless literature? Or have a million dollars worth of bologna in the bank?


george-singleton-lgGeorge Singleton is the author of four collections of shorts stories and two novels: These People Are Us (2001), The Half-Mammals of Dixie (2002), Why Dogs Chase Cars (2004), Novel (2005), Drowning in Gruel (2006), and Work Shirts for Madmen (2007). He has published one book of advice: Pep Talks, Warnings, and Screeds (2008). His stories have appeared in magazines such at The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Playboy, Book, Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Ninth Letter, and North American Review, among others. He’s had work anthologized in nine editions of New Stories from the South, plus Writers Harvest 2, A Dixie Christmas, They Write Among Us, 20 Over 40, Must Be This Tall to Ride, Love Is a Four-Letter Word, and Behind the Short Story: from First to Final Draft. His nonfiction has appeared in the Oxford American, Best Food Writing 2005, Dog Is My Co-Pilot, and Paste.

George lives in Dacusville, South Carolina with his clay-artist wife Glenda, 11 dogs, and a cat.

Visit his website at www.georgesingleton.com. And pick up a copy of Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds today!

Book Award Contests Take the Money and Run

cute-duckling-scamI was emailing back and forth with a new writer friend who passed on a link to me for an upcoming awards contest for self-published books. She loved my book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, and thought I should enter the contest.

Now, she’s fairly new to the publishing game, so I tried to put myself back into a pair of shiny newbie shoes and see the excitement of it from her perspective—instead of looking at it through the eyes of my crusty, well-worn cynicism.

Then I thought: “Hey, wait a minute!” This snarky ol’ broad (me) has learned a thing or two by taking quite a few tricycle trips around the publishing block. So, I decided I need to warn the newbies: keep them from falling into the open manhole (er…personhole?) of wasting money and hope on award contests that don’t deliver the gift-wrapped manna from the publishing gods that they often promise.

I went to the link she provided and decided to read the contest FAQs to see what this “opportunity” was all about. Ok, I’ll be honest, I went there to gather good fodder for a blog post. And I knew I’d find it. One claim I came across made me choke on my own spit. (Don’t try to pretend you’ve never done that before.) I thought this particular claim was either wonderfully egocentric and naive, or insidiously misleading for a clueless newbie who may not know any better:

“What makes _________ Book Awards so special?
The ________ Book Awards is the only awards program of its kind because cash prizes and/or awards and maximum exposure (even possible representation) with a leading New York literary agent are given to the top 70 books entered.”

I won’t even talk about how much of a hot mess that sentence is. But, seriously? Claiming it’s the ONLY awards program of its kind?! Um…no. Not gonna fly.

The top self-pub awards: ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year (11 years); The IPPYs (13 years); Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards (17 years), and The Nautilus Book Awards* (10 years). These awards programs are actually worth entering. Long-standing proof of excellence? Yep. Respected judging panels? Got it. Industry-wide recognition? Check.

Newbies, grab a Q-tip. Clean out your wet-behind-the-ears ears and listen closely: If the awards contest you plan to enter DOES NOT have these qualities—step away from the PayPal button and go make a cup of tea. My favorite is Zen Mango with honey. Pour me a cup while you’re at it.

Here’s the deal, there are soooo many book “awards” sites that are all primed to take your money. They may be legitimate awards contests: Yes—you pay the entry fee and have the chance to win some prize money and you get a medal/trophy/ribbon or gold-plated mouse pad. And maybe a literary agent will look at your book (or maybe not, you’ll never actually know). But, no one in the industry takes those awards seriously. And while you are crossing your fingers and toes, hoping to win, the person hosting the contest is laughing all the way to the bank with your money and the money from hundreds (maybe thousands) of hopeful author/publishers just like you.

Don’t be the author who helps fund his first-class ticket to Barbados.


*Editor’s note: Thanks go out to a reader for catching my oversight in mentioning the Nautilus Awards in my original post. The Nautilus recognizes books that inspire spiritual growth, conscious living, and positive social change. And I can’t think of a better reason for a book award!

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Media Training Will Help You Teach Ellen A New Dance

ellenOprah is great, but my goal is to get the opportunity to teach Ellen a new dance. I’m not famous and my book isn’t a bestseller (yet), but in preparation for that eventuality, I figured it was time to kick my media game up a notch and learn what it takes to get booked and be a great guest, so I can get my message out there.

I signed up for a three-day workshop, Excellence in Media: The Language of Impact, hosted by Joel Roberts. Yes, the Joel Roberts, a dynamic, big-hearted, former prime time talk show host for KABC Talk Radio in Los Angeles. And I have to say, it was probably the most solid info I’ve ever gotten from a seminar. Joel definitely knows his stuff and he did a great job teaching everyone to implement his techniques. By the end of the weekend, I saw a huge improvement in the way everyone pitched themselves and performed in their mock interviews. My head buzzed with ideas of how to showcase my expertise and experiences for the media.

I can’t even begin to sum up everything I learned, but here are a few basic points Joel covered in much greater detail:

  • Watch the show you want to be on as often as you can, especially during sweeps (Nov. Feb. May) to see the types of segments that bring the biggest audiences.
  • Check the show websites in the middle of the week, at least weekly for segment updates.
  • The segment producer is your first audience. Pretend you are face to face during the initial pitch call. Smile and bring your energy to your voice.
  • Do not be afraid of controversy. It’s a show segment dream.
  • Check for incidents in the news that you can use to tie in to your message. The best topics are topical.
  • Use interesting elements from your life to sell your story.
  • Take your passion with you, don’t tone yourself down.
  • Anytime you can take an accepted idea and turn it on its ear—that’s myth busting. Media wants the counter intuitive element.
  • Key message points should be delivered in 1 minute = units of impact, nuggets of wisdom, sound bites.
  • Your power as a communicator is a balance between your humanity and your expertise.
  • Decide what you are claiming and what you are not. You are either a guru or a witness. A guru knows what’s best for you. A witness shares their experience and says derive from it what you will.
  • Do not pitch books/products, services, businesses; pitch issues. Do the producers work for them.
  • If you want people to move, you have to move them. What moves others about you? Find the nuclear core of your idea. Grab ‘em fast and keep ‘em long.
  • Prompt the attack you want to defend against. Provide the suggested questions that will give you the opportunity to answer in the way and with the content you want to.
  • Never give away your trademark phrases to the reporter in your sample questions—have the pearls come out of your mouth in the interview.
  • Every show has a population target, only two axis on the graph = young/old and male/female. (Oprah = Women 28-65; Howard Stern = Men 18-35)
  • If you can’t skew your message to the demographic of the show audience, you’re dead. Find a way to be inclusive with your message.
  • Don’t have only the story. Have take-away tips for the audience. How can they replicate your success?

Overall, Joel’s workshop was so comprehensive that I’ll definitely use his pitching and interview techniques to craft my current and future messages for the media. There was one thing in particular he said that really resonated with me. You see, I often sing from the rooftops about people and products/services I think are of great value, but I have a tendency to be more humble and subdued about my own contributions. Call it an anti-arrogance gene. In response to this, Joel said:

“It is essential to be comfortable demanding the attention of the public. Anything short of that won’t do. You deserve the attention of the media. Humility is not the denial of your gift; it is acknowledging the source of your gift and then giving it fully. By the time you go to the media, you should stand for your value, your contribution, and the solution it provides.”

Well, there ya go. That’s just what I needed to hear. Now, it won’t be long before I’m teaching Ellen my signature Booty Bounce.

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Write and Give a Voice to Poverty – Blog Action Day ’08

Today, I’m dedicating this post to Blog Action Day. One of the things we have to remember is that, as writers, we have the ability to draw attention to important causes, inspire action, and demand change. Our words add to the collective voices, speaking out and raising awareness, calling for something be done to end domestic and world poverty.

I don’t want to get political because that’s not what this blog is about. Beyond the obvious failings of our government to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem, we must remember not to discount the power of people who care. Please visit this list of organizations who are actively working to end hunger and poverty around the world. Give and participate in any way you can. These people are fighting and speaking out to end poverty and they need our help. Today, more than 11,800 bloggers are making their voices heard in support of the fight against poverty.

There is wealth in this world—money and heart. By sharing resources and educating those who are less fortunate, we can end poverty, but it will take nations of people working together to make it happen.

Poverty is everyone’s problem. Think about that the next time you say, “I’m starving. What’s for dinner?”

Hand-sell Your Book Successfully

When it comes to promoting your book at a festival (or a bookstore event), the most important thing you can do is reach out to readers. Your personality is what sells your book. The more approachable and engaging you are, the more likely you are to attract readers to your table.

Your goal should be twofold—to meet and form a personal bond with readers, and to sell books. The reader wants an experience. Before your story has the opportunity to whisk them away on a literary journey, you can begin the adventure by making it personal.

This last Sunday, I promoted, signed, and sold my book, The Break-Up Diet: A Memoir, at the West Hollywood Book Fair. It was my second fair this year and I really had a great time interacting with the readers and writers who came to the booth. So, I decided to offer up some tips for successfully hand-selling your book.

The biggest mistake I’ve seen authors make at book fairs that I have attended as a reader and where I have displayed as an author is when the author sits behind the table like a chunk of driftwood. Just the act of being there in-person isn’t enough.

Smile and Say Hello
Greeting someone is the #1 action that encourages people to respond favorably to you. I often ask if the person is a reader or a writer. Book events attract both. If the person responds that she is a reader, I ask what she likes to read. That opens a dialogue where you both can discuss your favorite books and you can segue into telling her why you wrote your book. If the person responds that she is a writer, I ask what she likes to write. That opens a dialogue about the writing process which gives you the opportunity to talk about writing your book.

If Your Book is Informational Rather Than Narrative Based
Open with the same smile and friendly greeting, but ask about their interest in your topic. If you’ve written about anything “how-to” from Dealing with Aging Parents to How to Break into Modeling, you can engage the person by asking about their experiences. Sharing common ground and offering tips based on your book is a great way to invest the reader in your expertise. You have information they want/need. Sharing some of that freely in conversation will encourage them to learn more from your book.

That Little Thing Called Sales
Everyone has a different style and comfort level when it comes to selling and promoting their books. I’m not a hard-sell kinda girl. I enjoy meeting people and talking to them about my story. I’d rather they have a great experience, remember me as an author who is genuine, and then buy my book later, than have them walk away feeling hustled. But that’s just me.

Just by engaging the reader, you’ve established a connection with another human being and it allows you to share about your book. The aggressive hard-sell turns off the potential reader and doesn’t encourage a good experience or a willing book purchase.

In a previous post, Promoting Your Book at A Book Fair – Part One, I suggested promotional ideas to help you create a visually attractive display and included a comprehensive list to make sure you have all the items you need for a day at the book fair. Many of these promotional items can also be used to dress-up your table at bookstore signings.

What if They Looked but Didn’t Buy?
If someone is truly interested in your story or the information you have in your book, they will buy it in their own time. Make sure you have promotional materials they can take away with them. Many readers I encountered picked up a bookmark and said they buy their books on Amazon, so they can get the discount and free shipping. So, remember your twofold goal—bond and sell. If you’ve established a solid connection with the reader when you met them, and they didn’t buy immediately, the sale will come later when they are ready.

Follow Up
If you’ve followed my suggestion to have a guestbook on your table (Promoting – Part One), remember to ask the readers who buy your book (and the people who are interested in your story, but didn’t purchase a book) to sign your guestbook and leave their city and email address. Offer to let them know when you will be in their area and tell them you will let them know when your next book comes out. If you have a reading group type book, offer to do a Q&A with their group. For an informational book, offer to do a seminar for their group or organization. It can be in-person or a telechat.

Once you return home, enter their email addresses into your database and send them a quick note to say you enjoyed meeting them, include a link to your book website, and invite them to follow you on your social networks.

It’s all about making a connection. No matter where you promote and sell your book, you want to make sure to leave a positive and lasting impression on your reader. They will become your biggest word-of-mouth marketers and they will be there to support you when your next book comes out.

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Establish Effective Writing Goals

One of the biggest struggles freelance writers and aspiring novelists face is establishing a daily writing schedule.

In the the workforce, an employer assigns a time that the workday begins and ends, as well as the time and length of lunch and breaks. Work-at-home writers have the luxury and curse of defining their own schedules. It’s often difficult to carve out the time to write when juggling traditional employment, domestic responsibilities, and caring for children.

The best way for a writer to meet her daily word count is to set effective writing goals. It’s not enough to say: “My goal is to be published by the end of the year.” Goals need to be measurable, meaningful, and attainable.

Attainable. It’s always great to dream big. The NYT Bestseller List. Oprah’s Book Club Selection. Appearances on the Tonight Show and Good Morning, America. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. Post those images on your Vision Board.

The distance between where we are and where we want to be often seems insurmountable. Establishing effective goals can help close that perceived gap. Baby steps. Bird by bird. There are a number of ways to describe the same concept of taking manageable and doable steps toward reaching our goals.

If your dream is to become a self-supporting, full-time freelance writer and leave your day job, make an action plan to get you to your destination. Outline each individual step. Take a business course for freelance writers, so you know how to properly set up your new business. Examine your knowledge base and decide what markets you want to pursue. Join something like Premium Green–a resource for information and market listings and an organization of supportive women freelance writers on a private listserv.

Perhaps you’re a freelance writer and you’ve always wanted to write a novel. Take the steps: take a novel writing class, come up with your premise, outline your story, do any necessary research, join a local or online critique group. Give yourself a challenge to get moving: join other aspiring novelists and participate in National Novel Writing Month. Each individual step you take brings you closer to attaining your dream.

To set attainable goals, you must be realistic about what you are able to achieve. If you set goals like winning next year’s Oscar for Best Original Screenplay before you’ve taken your first screenwriting class, you are setting yourself up for failure. Make the goals do-able.

Measurable. It’s always good to want to become a better writer and be successful in your writing career, but those aren’t measurable goals. You can only gauge your progress toward your goals by using concrete and measurable results.

Define your goals in terms of time and number. “I will write X number of pages this week.” “I will submit five queries by Wednesday.” Don’t get bogged down by over-scheduling yourself. You won’t feel any sense of accomplishment if you pile too much on your goals plate. Take those cliched baby steps one-at-a-time. You have to crawl before you can run, grasshopper. It’s best to have success at a few incremental goals than failure with a lot of big ones.

Meaningful. The most important point I can make is to remind you to run your own race. Set goals that are meaningful to you. It’s not about keeping up with other writers. There will always be someone who has received more accolades, achieved greater financial success, or acquired more publishing credits. In the end, reaching your writing career goals should be personally satisfying to YOU.

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Create a Vision Board for Your Writing Dreams

Last week, I was visiting a friend and noticed a large collage on a poster above her desk. She was excited to tell me about her “vision board” which contained images and words she had clipped from magazines. She told me she uses the board as a daily reminder and inspiration to pursue her dreams.

I thought it was great idea and immediately began thinking of what I would choose for my own vision board.

Today, while I was thinking about what to post on the blog, I was poking around in a pile of papers on my desk. I came across a hastily jotted note to set up another Girl’s Day Event with my writer friends. We try to get together once a month to get out from behind the computer and pretend we have a life. So far, we’ve had a painting day, a park picnic, lunch and art walk in Laguna Beach, Chinatown excursion, Garment District shopping day, and pilates day. I thought a Vision Board Day would be fun. So, I Googled “vision board” to give me some ideas on how to set it up.

That’s when I came across a great blog (http://www.christinekane.com/blog) and found an article I wanted to share with my Paper Trail readers. After you finish reading this article, be sure to stop by her blog. She has tons of great articles about finding ways to be creative.

How to Make a Vision Board
by Christine Kane

What is a Vision Board?

A vision board (also called a Treasure Map or a Visual Explorer or Creativity Collage) is typically a poster board on which you paste or collage images that you’ve torn out from various magazines. It’s simple.

The idea behind this is that when you surround yourself with images of who you want to become, what you want to have, where you want to live, or where you want to vacation, your life changes to match those images and those desires.

For instance, before I ever started performing music and I had no idea how I’d ever get a gig, write enough songs, or assemble a press kit, I drew a picture of myself in a bar with people watching me perform (I’m a terrible visual artist, so I actually had to label the people “people!”). And though it wasn’t the only factor in making it happen, I had a calendar full of bar and coffeehouse gigs by the next year.

My drawing was a kind of a vision board. Vision boards do the same thing as my drawing did. They add clarity to your desires, and feeling to your visions. For instance, at the time I did my drawing, I knew I wanted to play in bars and coffeehouses. (I have since left the that circuit, and I’m performing in theatres and at conferences. But in my early twenties, I wanted to play in bars and coffeehouses. I was pretty clear about that!) Taking the time to draw it out, even poorly, made it indelible in my mind.

There are several methods you can use for creating your vision board. I’ve written about each one below. You can choose which one works best for you, depending on where you find yourself on this path of creating your life.

Supplies you’ll need for creating a Vision Board:

– Poster board. (Target sells a really nice matte finish board. I highly recommend it.)

– A big stack of different magazines. (You can get them at libraries, hair salons, dentist offices, the YMCA.) Make sure you find lots of different types. If you limit your options, you’ll lose interest after a while. When I facilitate my women’s retreats, I always make sure we have plenty of Oprah, Real Simple, Natural Home, Yoga Journal, Dwell, Ode, Parenting, Money, Utne, and an assortment of nature magazines.

– Glue. Not Elmers. (It makes the pages ripple.) I like using Yes! Glue or Rubber cement. Glue sticks are my second choice because they don’t last.

Before you begin your vision board:

No matter which method you’re choosing, have a little ritual before you begin your vision board. Sit quietly and set the intent. With lots of kindness and openness, ask yourself what it is you want. Maybe one word will be the answer. Maybe images will come into your head. Just take a moment to be with that. This process makes it a deeper experience. It gives a chance for your ego to step aside just a little, so that you can more clearly create your vision.

Put on soft music. My favorite music for activities like this is Anugama Shamanic Dream I and Shamanic Dream II. I love these CD’s for massage or any activity where you want to keep your mind quiet.

The Five Steps of Creating a Vision Board:

Step 1: Go through your magazines and tear the images from them. No gluing yet! Just let yourself have lots of fun looking through magazines and pulling out pictures or words or headlines that strike your fancy. Have fun with it. Make a big pile of images and phrases and words.

Step 2: Go through the images and begin to lay your favorites on the board. Eliminate any images that no longer feel right. This step is where your intuition comes in. As you lay the pictures on the board, you’ll get a sense how the board should be laid out. For instance, you might assign a theme to each corner of the board. Health, Job, Spirituality, Relationships, for instance. Or it may just be that the images want to go all over the place. Or you might want to fold the board into a book that tells a story. At my retreats, I’ve seen women come up with wildly creative ways to present a vision board.

Step 3: Glue everything onto the board. Add writing if you want. You can paint on it, or write words with markers.

Step 4: (optional, but powerful) Leave space in the very center of the vision board for a fantastic photo of yourself where you look radiant and happy. Paste yourself in the center of your board.

Step 5: Hang your vision board in a place where you will see it often.

Three Types of Vision Boards:

1 – The “I Know Exactly What I Want” Vision Board

Do this vision board if:

– You’re very clear about your desires.
– You want to change your environment or surroundings.
– There is a specific thing you want to manifest in your life. (i.e. a new home, or starting a business.)

How to create this vision board:

With your clear desire in mind, set out looking for the exact pictures which portray your vision. If you want a house by the water, then get out the Dwell magazine and start there. If you want to start your own business, find images that capture that idea for you. If you want to learn guitar, then find that picture. I remember at the last retreat, one woman yelled out, “If anyone finds a picture of a little girl with red hair who looks happy, give it to me!” And someone else yelled out, “I’m looking for a Cadillac!” Pretty soon, a lively trading session began. Following the five steps above, create your vision board out of these images.

2 – The “Opening and Allowing” Vision Board

Do this vision board if:

– You’re not sure what exactly you want
– You’ve been in a period of depression or grief
– You have a vision of what you want, but are uncertain about it in some way.
– You know you want change but don’t know how it’s possible.

How to create this vision board:

Go through each magazine. Tear out images that delight you. Don’t ask why. Just keep going through the magazines. If it’s a picture of a teddy bear that makes you smile, then pull it out. If it’s a cottage in a misty countryside, then rip it out. Just have fun and be open to whatever calls to you. Then, as you go through Step 2 above, hold that same openness, but ask yourself what this picture might mean. What is it telling you about you? Does it mean you need to take more naps? Does it mean you want to get a dog, or stop hanging out with a particular person who drains you? Most likely you’ll know the answer. If you don’t, but you still love the image, then put it on your vision board anyway. It will have an answer for you soon enough. Some women at my retreats had NO idea what their board was about, and it wasn’t until two months later that they understood. The Opening and Allowing Vision Board can be a powerful guide for you. I like it better than the first model because sometimes our egos think they know what we want, and lots of times those desires aren’t in alignment with who we really are. This goes deeper than just getting what you want. It can speak to you and teach you a little bit about yourself and your passion.

3 – The “Theme” Vision Board

Do this vision board if:

– It’s your birthday or New Years Eve or some significant event that starts a new cycle.
– If you are working with one particular area of your life. For instance, Work & Career.

How to create this vision board:

The only difference between this vision board and the others is that this one has clear parameters and intent. Before you begin the vision board, take a moment to hold the intent and the theme in mind. When you choose pictures, they will be in alignment with the theme. You can do the Theme Vision Board on smaller pages, like a page in your journal.

Some things to remember about vision boards:

– You can use a combination of all three types of vision boards as you create. Sometimes you might start out doing one kind, and then your intuition takes over and shifts into a whole different mode. That’s called creativity. Just roll with it.

– Your vision board might change as you are making it. I was just talking with a friend of mine who said that she had been making a vision board for the new year. The theme was all about what she wanted in this year. Then, as she pulled pictures and began to lay them out, the theme changed into a simpler one about her everyday life and the moments in each day. It surprised and delighted her to experience that evolution. You might find that you have little epiphanies from making a vision board.

Make a Vision Journal

Another option is to use these same principles in a big sketch book. Get a large sketch book and keep an on-going vision journal. This is especially effective if you’re going through many transitions in your life.

I welcome anyone who has created a vision board to write your own experience in the comments…

Reprinted from Christine Kane’s Blog: Be Creative. Be Conscious. Be Courageous.
First published February 1st, 2007

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Random Bits & Bytes of Book Promotion Advice

Recently, I attended a panel discussion about book marketing and promotion because it’s always good to consider tips from other authors and marketing professionals. You never know when someone might share an idea you haven’t thought of, or will say something that resonates with you in a new way.

Here are some of the suggestions I’ve gathered:

Write about something you have a passion for.
Hopefully, this was something you considered before you began writing. It’s definitely something to keep in mind. You’ll be working on writing, publishing, and promoting your book for a long time–many years, so make sure it’s something you will have a tireless passion for.

Connect with your target audience. Craft your marketing copy for the visual impact that will appeal to your demographic. Ask yourself these questions: What do they want? How do they communicate? What media do they use? What are they reading? Where do they live? Make a visual board of whom they are and write/promote to that visual.

Don’t rely on someone else to do your publicity. No one knows your product better than you do. Don’t ever give up. When you are contacting media outlets, if you get turned down, realize that “No” is only temporary—it just means “No right now,” not “No forever.” Make contact calls to radio stations and create a relationship with the show producer or assistant. Don’t ask, “Are you busy.” They are always busy. Call with a specific point to make and explain to them how your information will entertain or inform their listeners.

Develop a diverse promotional plan. Always give out postcards and leave them places—you never know who will pick them up. Nothing is ever too small—go to everything and promote, promote, promote. Set Google alerts and follow up with journalists who write articles about your topic—introduce yourself and offer to be a source for any of their future needs. Connect with a charity that ties in with your book. Keep your mind open to any marketing possibilities that arise.

Maintain a blog. This has become standard piece of advice, but you’d be surprised how many writers have still not taken the plunge into the blogosphere. Once you do, pursue opportunities for blog tours. Post on topic relevant blogs. There are many ways you can promote your book online. Join social networking sites and get involved in the groups. Create video trailers. The internet is moving toward video everything.

Use Amazon to your advantage. Read the popular books in your genre/topic, go to their book pages on Amazon and post a review. Use “Author of __your book title_” in your signature. Create a Listmania and So You’d Like To list of books in your topic/genre—and include your book. Align yourself with the bestsellers.

A book is only one part of your platform. Your platform is everything you do that goes along with your book that you can sell. Information is the most important commodity. You can have a book for $10 and offer a course for $99. Think of all the other possibilities of things you can create related to your product. An author of a humorous relationship book about not kissing frogs created toad bags, frog shirts, frog notes, etc. You can go to a licensing show to sell rights for other merchandise related to your book. She is now shooting “frogisodes” for downloads on cellphones. Continually ask: what other things can I provide?

Repurpose your content any way you can. People want information in a variety of formats. You can conduct teleclasses, in-person workshops, and webinars about the info in your book, sell special reports or tips booklets. The more ways you can find to repackage your content, the faster you will be able to grow your business and reach your readers.

Get proper speaker training. I received a call a few days ago from Mark Victor Hansen’s office (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and during our discussion, his marketing assistant mentioned that Mark’s philosophy is that speakers should be writers and writers should be speakers. So, if you are following this growing trend and you plan to speak on your topic, don’t speak without training. Mark has a seminar coming up November 7-9 that can start you on that path. You can look into training opportunities with The National Speaker’s Assoc. (NSA). Some of their local chapters have a program called Pro Speak. You can also join a local Toastmasters to help hone your skills.

Post an audio excerpt on your website. Audio Acrobat is a $19.95 mo. service that has the ability to create audio messages you can place on your website, blog, and emails or newsletters. Check out the way it’s used on www.speakerservices.com. Speakers need audio on their site. No one is going to hire you without some sort of demo.

Become a shameless self-promoter. Understand that what you are doing is valuable. Tell people about your book because you know your information may help them. Connect with what you have to offer and believe in it. Consider your return on investment–for your time, effort, and money–in everything you do to market your book. Put together a marketing plan and be diligent with following it. Stay focused. There is only so much time in a day, but you need to be flexible enough to change your plan if you need to. Look at what is most strategic for your goals.

If you are selling a story instead of information, ask: What is in this memoir or novel? Where is it set? Target the individual audience of the kinds of characters, careers, sports, etc., in your book. Tie in to trends. There is no time window when a book becomes old. Jane Austin is still selling books.

Keep your eyes on the news. No matter whether you’ve written fiction or nonfiction, if any news ties in to topics or themes in your book, you can use the current event to renew interest in your book. Timing is everything. If you see something, jump on it immediately. Tie it to an event or a holiday. Find gift shops or organizations or companies—think beyond the bookstore.

Don’t let your books sit on the shelf. Do whatever you can to move them! It’s never too soon to begin marketing your book and building your platform. And it’s never too late to get started.

On your mark, get set—PROMOTE!

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Write Now!

It’s not often that inspiration shows up on my mental doorstep, insisting I stop whatever I’m doing and indulge the urge to spill creative juice all over the page.

As a matter of fact, I haven’t had a creative writing burst in years. Sure, I’ve penned articles, interviewed authors, and blathered about one thing or another in blog posts, but I’m talking about the act of storytelling—the writing process that makes my heart sing.

I miss the early mornings when I dove headfirst into the first draft of my memoir, The Break-Up Diet and the next time I looked up from the screen it was dinnertime and my husband was standing over me asking, “Have you eaten or had anything to drink today?” It always felt like waking up from a dream and realizing the world was still functioning outside of my writing bubble. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so content as when the images were forming in my mind and the words were filling the pages.

A couple days ago, inspiration showed up. The scenes of a new book flowed through my head: the settings, the characters, the dialogue—it all came in a rush like water over a broken levee. I stared at the ceiling of my bedroom and it continued from 1:30am to 3am when I finally willed it to stop, promising I would get up and write it all down in the morning.

But I didn’t.

When morning came, there were too many other things that needed my attention. Duties. Responsibilities. The never-ending, daily To Do List. I’ve always honored my commitments to others before my needs, but I can’t help feeling a little slighted—even when it’s my own doing.

So, I’ve decided I’m going to give myself permission to write because it makes me happy. I’ve promised my muse that I will enter NaNoWriMo this November. And it’s a promise I intend to keep.

Are You On Twitter?

The question of the day: What are you doing? It’s simple enough to answer–but you can only use 140 characters to do it.

That’s the premise behind a growing social networking phenomenon at Twitter.com.

The posts are called “tweets” and they allow you to let friends and colleagues know what you are doing at times throughout the day (or night). It’s fast and easy microblogging that is much like an instant message that can be sent from your computer or your mobile phone.

But, what is the point of adding just one more thing to do to an already overflowing social networking calendar? That’s a question you will have to answer for yourself. There is only so much time in the day to research, write, market, pursue publication, and…oh yeah, have a life.

What can you do to make Twitter a productive social networking choice for you?

  • Meet and network with fellow writers.
  • Follow posts about topics or people of interest.
  • Promote your own book, blog, or articles.
  • Post mini lessons or tips that help establish your brand.
  • Keep track of trends.
  • Reach out to your audience.

And my personal favorite: keep yourself accountable for what’s on your to-do list. Nothing will keep you on task like announcing what you are working on to the entire list of your followers!

Take a
peek at who is saying what on Twitter. Go to Summize.com (bought by Twitter). Type your topic into the search field and you can see who is talking about writing, blogging, book promotion, parenting, cooking, gardening, relationships, etc. It’s a great way to have an immediate finger on the pulse of your topic.

Some Twitterers to follow:
Peter Shankman – HARO/Help A Reporter – http://twitter.com/skydiver
Seth Godin – Unleashing the Idea Virus – http://twitter.com/SethGodin
Penny Sansevieri – Red Hot Internet Marketing – http://twitter.com/Bookgal
Denise Wakeman – The Blog Squad – http://twitter.com/BlogSquad
BloggersBlog – News and Trends in Blogging – http://twitter.com/bloggersblog
Pete Cashmore – Mashable – http://twitter.com/mashable

If you sign up, look me up: http://twitter.com/AnnetteFix
I’ll be the one talking about Jen’s cat’s banana addiction.

Here’s a great Twitter tutorial (tweeted by fallenrogue, one of my tweeps):

Tweet to you later…

A Change of Perspective

old-lady-on-motorcycle1Now that I decided to get back on the workout wagon, I set aside time in the morning to go to the gym. And the other day, I was huffing and puffing my way through a step aerobics class, and I looked at the woman beside me. She was older, yet moving deliberately through the series of steps, methodically, though much slower than the younger ladies in class.

I have been attending the same class, without any regularity, for the last four years. And whenever I show up, she’s always there.

When the instructor told the class to grab floor mats for the abdominal exercises, I leaned against a post to catch my breath and between heaving gulps of air, I grumbled that I felt like I was going to drop dead.

The woman turned to me and said, “Keep at it. It gets easier if you stay with it.” Then she mentioned she had been trying to persuade her daughter to come with her to class. “She’s only 68, but she thinks she’s too old. I keep telling her, it’s never too late.”

That was one of those ah-ha moments for me—when simple wisdom echoes like a thunderclap. I thought about so many things I didn’t stick with because they were difficult, and all of the things I told myself it was too late to begin. Writing poetry. Mastering a foreign language. Learning ballroom dancing. Trying scuba diving and skiing.

I think sometimes that can happen with our writing, unless we remember the two most important things: It gets easier if you stay with it. And it’s never too late.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, open up a blank document and write. It’s never too late to get started!

Grammar: Slips, Trips, and Falls

When it comes to grammar, word usage, and the finer points of writing (or speaking) the English language, there are so many rules to remember—and so many opportunities to make mistakes.

Here are a few basic tips to help you understand the more frequent causes of slips, trips, and face-plant falls in your writing.

Lie/Lay/Lain and Lay/Laid/Laid
This is one of the top 10 most common mistakes.

INCORRECT: I like reading more than laying around watching TV.
CORRECT: I like reading more than lying around watching TV.

Lie means to rest. (The dog lies in the yard.) It’s an intransitive verb and doesn’t need a direct object. You can’t lie something; however, you can lay something.

Lay is a transitive verb and means to place or to put. Use lay when you can substitute the word set. (She lays the book across her lap.)

The past tense of lie is also lay. So, this is what those sentences would look like in past tense:
The dog lay in the yard.
She laid the book across her lap.

The past participle of lie is lain.
The dog has lain in the same spot in the yard for a week. (Yes, she’s still alive, it’s just her favorite spot.)

The past participle of lay is laid.
She has laid the book across her lap at 3pm every day since Sunday.

The best way to avoid making a lie/lay mistake is to memorize how the two verbs function:
I want to lie on the beach. I lay on the beach last Saturday. I have often lain on the beach.

Lay the book on the table. She laid the book on the table. She has laid the book on the table many times.

Subject – Predicate(Verb) Agreement

There are 12 different rules of subject/predicate agreement, but I’ll only cover the most common rule that trips many writers.

INCORRECT: The cost of basic necessities such as gasoline and groceries have risen exponentially.
The cost of basic necessities such as gasoline and groceries has risen exponentially.

It’s common to mistakenly pair a plural predicate with a singular subject (or vice versa) when the subject and predicate are separated by a phrase containing singular and/or plural nouns.

In the sample sentence above, the cost is the subject that has risen exponentially. Always keep your eye on the subject.

Who vs. Whom

INCORRECT: Whom shall I say is calling?
Who shall I say is calling?

This rule is easy to understand when you take a minute to mentally rearrange the sentence and exchange the who with she and whom with her.

Who = she
Whom = her
The correct choice is who because she is calling.

It also works with whoever/whomever.
INCORRECT: Tell the story to whoever you want.
Tell the story to whomever you want.

Whoever = she
Whomever = her
The correct choice is whomever because you want to tell the story to her.

Between You and I vs. Between You and Me

INCORRECT: Everyone overheard the disagreement between you and I.
Everyone overheard the disagreement between you and me.

The first sentence may sound correct, but between is a preposition and prepositions must be followed by an object. (Remember the preposition tree from grade school? A preposition can be in a tree, on a tree, near a tree, under a tree, over a tree, for a tree, etc.)

I is a subject/nominative pronoun (as are he, she, we, and they).
Objective pronouns: me, you, him, her, us, and them follow a preposition.

INCORRECT: Everyone overheard the disagreement between you and they.
CORRECT: Everyone overheard the disagreement between you and them.

Me vs. I

I know… You thought we covered that confusing usage in the last example. Well, not quite. Some people automatically assume that if the sentence sounds more formal, it must be the correct word choice. Wrong.

INCORRECT: He brought pizza for Angela and I.
CORRECT: He brought pizza for Angela and me.

Again, think about the preposition tree. In this sentence, Angela and me are direct objects. (Hint: Remove Angela, keep the pizza for yourself, and the correct word choice will be obvious.)

Another grammar slip often occurs in sentences when than or as is used.

INCORRECT: She is smarter than me.
CORRECT: She is smarter than I.

In a comparison using than or as when the last portion of the sentence is dropped, just tack on the missing words and the proper word choice will be obvious.

She is smarter than I am.

With a little practice and a true love for the written word, grammar really can be fun!

I had an early start. On Saturday mornings, in between my favorite cartoons, the 1970’s Schoolhouse Rock! commercials took my Generation-X mind on a musical grammar train with songs like “Conjunction Junction,” “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here,” and “Verb: That’s What’s Happening.” As a matter of fact, I remember having quite a crush on Verb Man.

But I’ll save you from listening to me reminisce while singing the lyrics; instead, I’ll share a list of 31 random writing tips emailed to me by a fellow scribe. I’m sure it’s making the rounds like the urban legend about the tourist’s missing kidney.


1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.

4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

5. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)

6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.

7. Be more or less specific.

8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

10. No sentence fragments.

11. Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.

12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

14. One should NEVER generalize.

15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

16. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

19. The passive voice is to be ignored.

20. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.

22. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

23. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.

24. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

25. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.

26. Puns are for children, not groan readers.

27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

28. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

29. Who needs rhetorical questions?

30. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

And the last one…

31. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

Now, get on that grammar train!

And for a fun grammar resource, check out Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips Blog.

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Pushing All the Right Emotional Buttons

As a woman, I already have a corner on the emo market. Actually, if you are anything like me, you can pretty much set a clock (or at least a calendar) by exactly when your mood swings are about to reach E-ticket carnival ride proportions. Something someone says, something you read, something you see, can trigger an emotional response. The key is to find a way to understand and use your emotional hot buttons. Once you recognize what stirs your thought, your ire, your passion–then you can begin to craft those emotional hot buttons into your stories and use them to create the same feelings in your readers.

The same technique with a slightly different angle can be used when you apply it to marketing. Analyze the things that make you respond positively and negatively to things like advertisements and book cover copy. Once you figure out what makes YOU want to purchase or read a book, then you’ll be able to craft your marketing materials to appeal to other readers in the same way

Marketing expert Penny Sansevieri explained it well in a recent article that I will share with you. (Yes, I seriously think the sun shines out of this woman’s butt when it comes to marketing.)

Tapping Emotional Hot Buttons
I talk a lot about “tapping into emotional hot buttons”–so much so that in a recent class I taught an author stood up and said: “Ok, enough already! Everyone talks about emotional hot buttons but what are they?” Good question and I suspect it’s one many of us in marketing forget ourselves from time to time. So let’s look at some of these emotional triggers. What makes people buy, read, or join whatever it is we’re selling.

We want what we don’t have. This is pretty basic. We want what we don’t have. We want more money, we want to be fitter, healthier, sexier, smarter. Some of us (ok, most of us) want more time. We also desire to be popular (come, admit it, even the most modest of us desire popularity). We want more security but we also want to have more fun. We want to be smarter and with all the data out there, we want to be “in the know.”

We want to keep what we have. Once we have whatever it is we desire, we want to keep it. Books on keeping relationships strong, keeping marriages working, staying on your diet, keeping the weight off, keeping your job, whatever it is—these thousands of books are a testament to the fact that once we have what we want, we don’t want to lose it.

We want to avoid stuff we don’t like. Let’s face it, we’ve all ‘copped out’ at some point or another. We want it the way we want it and the icky stuff, well, let’s avoid that altogether. How can you help someone avoid doing stuff they don’t like? Thousands of books have been written on this topic. Everything from reframing, to repositioning a particular topic, even less painful ways to end a relationship.

We want to be liked. It’s a pretty standard human emotion. We want to be liked, or at the very least respected. Being ‘in the know’ makes us liked, doing and saying the right things in social situations makes us likable. While some would argue “I won’t sell my soul to be liked,” it’s still a very strong thread in our culture. From buying the right shoe, to purchasing the right house. We want to be liked or rather, like everyone else.

We want to be unique. On the heels of the above statement this may not make sense, but in a world of sameness we also want to be unique. Not so unique that we’re walking down the street with pink hair (with all due respect to my fabulous hairdresser who from time to time dons a pink-do), but we want to be seen as individual, and independent. You’ll see a lot of this in car commercials. The next time one of the car manufacturers is trying to sell you a car on TV, watch the ad closely. In not so subtle ways they’ll tell you the car is what everyone else wants or has, and yet at the same time it has your own personal thumbprint of uniqueness.

So now that you know what emotional hot buttons are, how to do you tap into them? Well, first off find out what your book does for the reader. Whether fiction or non-fiction it doesn’t matter. There’s always an emotional trigger that gets someone to buy something. We all buy from emotion, it’s that simple. So figure out what the emotion is (and there might be several), and then tap into that emotion. You can tap into an emotion through engaging words on your website, through blog postings, ads, a video trailer of your book, whatever it is, if you’re not pressing their buttons you’re probably not making the sale either.

Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com

I swear, between singing Penny’s praises and regularly pumping my favorite writing gadget at conferences, the Alpha Smart, I should should be rolling naked in piles of affiliate cash. Alas, I am far more altruistic than capitalistic and I like telling people about awesome stuff.

If you have any cool products or newsletters to share, drop ’em in the comment section.

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Fill Your Writing Well

As writers, we internalize the sights and sounds around us and use them to create the images that move our readers.

But, when the crispness of these images fade in our own minds, it’s time to leave our quiet, secluded writing room and venture out to collect more sensory detail to fill our depleted well.

Our setting, characters, and dialogue depend on our ability to recall the visual details of locations, behavior and emotions of people, and nuances of human interaction.

10 Ways You Can Restock and Refresh Your Image Well:

  1. Spend a warm, sunny afternoon people watching from the patio of a sidewalk cafe—make up stories about their lives.
  2. Take a walk along a trail canopied by large trees—inhale the scent of mossy piles of fallen leaves.
  3. Go to a petting zoo or pet store—touch and play with the animals, notice the feel of their fur/feathers/scales, their scent, and the feelings they evoke.
  4. Stretch out on a blanket in the grass under a tree in the park—watch the way the sun peeks between the leaves and feel the breeze lift your hair.
  5. Build a sand castle at the beach or collect shells—feel the texture against your fingertips and breathe in the smell of the salted air.
  6. Walk around an outdoor marketplace or farmer’s market—listen to people talk to each other and the shop keepers.
  7. Get on a bus and watch the city go by—look at the design of the buildings, the different types of cars and their drivers, and the people on the street.
  8. Go to a fair, pier, or amusement park to ride a roller coaster, ferris wheel, and carousel—tune in to the feelings these rides evoke in you.
  9. Attend a live music event—let the sound move through you and dance with joyful abandon.
  10. Build a bonfire and roast marshmallows for s’mores—feel the warmth, watch the flames dance and blacken the logs, smell the tang of burning wood, taste the sticky sweetness of the marshmallows.

In addition to filling your well, these jaunts remind you to enjoy your life—outside of your writing room.

What are your favorite ways to gather sensory details?

Podcasting: Lend Me Your Ears

I know I missed the technology boat quite a while back, but I’ve recently discovered PODCASTS! (Yeah, and that round thing called a *wheel*.)

Now, I’m hooked! I’ve enjoyed listening to interviews with authors, experts speaking on every conceivable topic of interest, authors reading excerpts of their books, and even took a slight detour to listen to the Average Joe American talk about his day.

And that’s when it dawned on me: “Hey, what am I waiting for? I need to try podcasting!”

Well, being the resident technotard, I’m always giddy when I find information about some *new* cool way to help me market online–especially when the information is tied up in a neat package and explained so I can understand it.

And I figured there might be a few of you out there who, like me, are doggie paddling like crazy in the deep end of the Web 2.0 pool. So, I thought I’d share a little podcasting life raft…

*Life raft provided by Penny Sansevieri (I know, not surprised at all, huh?)

Powerful Podcasting
If you’re looking for a shortcut to get your consumers to buy, it might be through their ears. Auditory response is one of the strongest senses we possess. Have you ever wondered why you can remember the tune of a song (“It’s a small world”) but can’t remember an article you read in the paper just this morning? That’s the power of audio. Sound is invasive, intrusive and irresistible. That’s one reason why I’m always telling authors about the power of speaking engagements: sound sells. Many of us incorporate sound into our marketing plans through radio, but there’s something even more powerful for you to consider and it’s called podcasting.

If you’ve always dreamed of having your own radio show, your dream is about to become a reality. It seems only yesterday we were telling you about the power of blogging, but today we’re looking at something equally, if not more, powerful. In its simplest term, podcasting is an audio blog and it’s another exceptionally powerful way to spread the word about your book and message. Several years ago when Internet Radio came on the scene authors were vying for airwaves on the ‘Net. But while Internet radio is still going strong, it’s also very expensive. Most shows cost upwards of $800 a month, plus show hosts need to obtain their own program sponsors. Podcasting, on the other hand, is a fraction of the cost. Here’s how it works.

Podcasting, just like blogs, sits on the Internet but instead of sitting in a written file, it’s saved in an MP3 format that can be transferred to any mobile music device like an iPod. A podcast can also be subscribed to through RSS or syndication feeds. If this seems complicated, it’s not, the entire process will take you about an hour to set up, if that, and once you do, you’re off and running.

Most podcasts require an external mic on your computer, but I’ve started using a system through Audio Acrobat http://bookmkr.audioacrobat.com/ that will allow you to call into a pre-assigned number and record your podcast from anywhere: your office, your car or while on a trip! Then the audio file is saved into the system and sent via their publication tools out to a variety of “feeds,” which in essence sends the audio blog out onto the Internet. Now you might wonder how someone will find you and your podcast. Well, you might be surprised. While your first recording might go unnoticed, your second and third will not. Here are some tips for getting the right podcast for you and then getting the world to beat a path to your audio blog door!

Topic: First, you want to find a niche and ideally one that ties into your book or message. While topics on religion and gambling are two of the hottest podcasts right now, if your topic doesn’t tie into these it’s best to stay away from them. Go online to iTunes or Podcast.net and see who’s talking about your topic and what they’re saying, then plan to be different!

Structure: So how will your podcast be structured and how much time should you plan to spend on a podcast? Truthfully, I’d recommend only 10 to 15 minutes. Unless your podcast is truly compelling or in an interview type format, listeners don’t usually have the attention span to listen longer. Don’t force people to listen to long-winded audios, cut right to the chase, share your information in tip-like, informative nuggets and you’ll find listeners subscribing to your podcast like crazy!

Make a plan: If you decide to do this, try mapping out a few podcasts in advance and plan to offer your information on a daily or, at the very least, a weekly basis.

Setting up your podcast page: When you utilize Audio Acrobat for your podcast, you’ll be able to include a link to your website. Remember the idea behind the podcast is promotion, so the URL you send them to should reflect this. Ideally you won’t want to send them to your home page but rather a page just for your podcasts. You can include a listing of prior “shows” as well as a way for them to sign up for future updates, your newsletter or perhaps a link to your book or store.

Chicklets and other geek terms: So what’s a “chicklet?” Well, it’s that little orange square that has the letters XML on it. You will click on that to subscribe to a feed. If you obtained your podcast through Audio Acrobat, these chicklets are created for you and you can just cut and paste the HTML into your website or have your web designer do it for you. I copied the HTML language into my blog and let visitors subscribe that way. If you use another podcasting service, they should supply you with the language to create this on your own.

Syndicating your podcast: So if you’re going to do a radio show you’ll want listeners, right? Now I mentioned that if you use a service like Audio Acrobat the system will send the feeds for you to about 16 services, which is great, but there’s still more work you can do. First, you should consider getting a syndication link on Feedburner.com. This way people can copy your link into their feed reader (we’ll cover this in a bit) and get updated every time you add a new podcast. You can access this feed service at: Feedblitz www.feedblitz.com

Feed readers: If you’ve spent *any* time on the ‘Net you’ve no doubt seen those little XML chicklets we mentioned earlier. When you click on them it takes you to a page of confusing text, but it’s the link that you want to copy and paste into your feedreader. When we talk about syndicating a blog, this is what we mean. The reader you have really doesn’t matter and there are quite a few to choose from. If you Google “Feed Readers,” you’ll pull a bunch of them up for you to try. I use SharpReader www.sharpreader.com and love it.

Podcasting, besides being a great promotional tool, is a terrific way for you to verbalize the passion you have for your topic. Go an inch wide and a mile deep with your message, offer helpful advice or spout your opinion. Be creative or controversial or a little of both. The bottom line is this: podcasting is not only fun but it’s a great way to spread the message about you and your book. Use it correctly and you’ll see even more readers beating a path to your door.

Need a podcast recommendation?

Powerful Book Promotion Made Easy: You can either subscribe to it on our website (see below) or check us out on iTunes: Powerful Book Promotion Made Easy.

Wishing you Podcasting and Publishing success!

Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com

Sex Sold Here

sex-sold-hereSex sells.

You see it portrayed everywhere—magazines, television, and billboard advertisements for clothing, perfume, and items like cars and hamburgers. Movies, television shows, and even children’s cartoons and video games are full of sexual images and allusions. American society has more sexual references than any other country in the world, and nowhere else will you find such mixed messages.

Adult films are bad. Erotic literature is good. Exotic dancing is bad. Nude modeling for art is good. Sex with someone you love (outside of wedlock) is bad. Sex within marriage (even if you can barely tolerate your mate) is good.

How do these mixed messages affect the characters in your story and the story itself? No matter which direction you choose to go and what specific choice you make—in language, imagery, and character motivation—you are likely to offend someone’s moral sensibilities.

Where does an author’s responsibility lie? With the organic nature of her story and voice of her characters? Or with protecting the sensitivities of the reader?

How much, as writers, should we censor our content?

20 Ways to Get Traffic to Your Website

Today I’m sharing more great online marketing tips from Penny Sansevieri. I swear, I’m going to ask her to adopt me. I’m going to show up on her cyber porch, stuff my big ass into a basket, don a frilly bonnet, pin a note to my shirt, and then ring the doorbell.

She’s definitely my online marketing mentor (even if she doesn’t know it). Because I need all the help I can get and she always seems to have all the answers I’m seeking.

So, if you haven’t done it yet, sign up for her Red Hot Internet Marketing Newsletter. It rocks. And you can thank me later.

On to the good stuff…

Embarking on an Internet marketing campaign doesn’t have to be difficult, tricky, or complicated. Here are a few simple ways (20 in fact) that you can easily implement to get tons of traffic to your site right now!

1. Write articles: believe it or not, this is an incredible tool for driving traffic. Well-written, relevant articles can net quite a bit of activity to your website. Don’t forget to add your URL in your byline. Articles should be 500 to 2,000 words in length. You can send articles to sites like: articlecity.com, goarticles.com, submityourarticles.com, and ezinearticles.com.

**Annette’s Note***Do not post your articles to these article syndication sites if you have sold or intend to sell them to print or online publications. You’ll piss off the editors and devalue the articles. However, using a syndication site will give you exposure and allow anyone to use your article for their audience, so weigh the pros and cons and figure out what you want: published clips or random exposure.

2. Social bookmark *everything*–and I do mean everything–you can bookmark each page of your site and each blog entry you post. While this might seem tedious, it’s worth it. You’ll see a strong increase in traffic if you social bookmark each page on your site and each of your blog entries.

3. List yourself in the best directories–you’ll have to pay for this but since most people don’t do this (since everyone’s looking for a freebie) you could really enhance your traffic by getting a listing: http://dir.yahoo.com, www.business.org, http://botw.org/.

4. Get yourself listed at: DMOZ.org–it’s not easy to get listed there, but worth the effort.

5. Review: if you can review hot new products or books within your market, head on over to Amazon.com and start positioning yourself as an expert. In order to do this effectively, you’ll want to create an Amazon profile and make sure and sign each review with a reference to your URL (your website). You can also go to epinions.com and revoo.com to review products as well.

6. Offer a freebie on Craigslist: you’ll be amazed at how much traffic you get from a single Craigslist ad. The key here is to send people to a page on your site and make sure they have to sign up for something (like your email newsletter) before they can grab their freebie. That way you’re not just getting traffic, you’re also building your list.

7. Create a “recommended by” list on your Del.icio.us page–you can do this by logging on and creating an account at del.icio.us and then tagging articles, blogs, and other content you think is important to your readership. Then offer this page as a resource site. You can add a link to this page in your email signature line or on your web site.

8. And speaking of your email signature line–do you have one? If you don’t, create one. Believe it or not, people do follow these links. You’ll be amazed how many folks read email signature lines. I have one and change it several times a year, depending on what we’re doing or promoting or what books I have coming out.

9. Lend a helping hand: you can be an answer person at Yahoo Answers–you don’t have to spend hours on there, but maybe a few minutes a week. Make sure and include a link back to your site following your answers.

10. Set up a social networking site using Facebook.com, Linkedin.com, or Squidoo. It’s free and easy to do, just don’t forget the all-important link back to your site!

11. Make sure your blog has an RSS feed so if you capture a reader you don’t lose them if they forget to bookmark your site or blog.

12. Join relevant groups at Yahoo groups. You’ll find everything from groups on growing your small business, writing books, finding your passion, even underwater basket weaving. I dare you to find one that isn’t right for what you’re promoting. When you do find the right group, join and participate as you can!

13. Podcasting is another great way to drive traffic. Start a podcast by going to Audio Acrobat http://bookmkr.audioacrobat.com/. There are other programs you can use, but I love Audio Acrobat. You can record the podcast over the phone quickly and easily and then hit the “send” button on your computer once it’s recorded and the system will syndicate it to 27 podcast directories including iTunes. It’s a great way to let people know about you and your web site!

14. Start a blog and then once you do, start commenting on other people’s blogs, linking to them from your site or adding them to your blogroll.

15. Inbound links: don’t squander your time (or a perfectly good link) on smaller low-traffic sites. Instead spend your time going after high traffic, high quality sites. Good sites should have a PR (page ranking) of 4-6 depending on the market. You can find out what a site’s page ranking is by downloading the Google toolbar which comes with a PR feature built in.

16. Start an email newsletter: while it may not seem like a newsletter that you email can drive traffic to your site, you’d be surprised at the effectiveness of this type of promotion. If your newsletter (like your articles) is interesting and relevant to your audience, you’ll find that it has a huge pass-through factor, meaning that it is passed from one email subscriber to another. Also, if you have an email newsletter you should never, ever go to a single event without your handy signup sheet. Yes, you can even use offline events to drive traffic to your web site.

17. And speaking of offline efforts: if you’re ever quoted in a magazine or other publication, make sure and mention your URL as it’s appropriate to the topic. Don’t be too pushy about this, but do not forget to tell folks you have a web site that may be a great resource for the topic of your interview.

18. If you have products to sell, why not get a store on eBay? This site gets a tremendous amount of traffic and on your sales page you’re allowed to list your URL. It’s another great way to get an inbound link and a way for people to find you.

19. Load a video on YouTube and 57 other video sites (if you want to know what these sites are I’ve listed them on my blog: http://www.redhotinternetpublicity.com/blog/?p=43–if you don’t have a video or don’t know how to create one, contact us and we’ll refer you to our fabulous book video people!

20. While this isn’t a tip per se, it’s still important. If you’re going to go through all the trouble of getting traffic to your site, make sure your site is converting this traffic into something. Get folks to sign up for something, your newsletter, the RSS feed on your blog.

Whatever it is, getting their email address will help you remarket to them when the time is right. Studies show that visitors landing on a site often don’t buy the first time. That’s ok! You want to get them into your marketing funnel so you can market to them again and again–not in a way that’s obtrusive, offensive or downright annoying, but in a way that is helping them with their own mission.

An example of this might be an email newsletter. A helpful, informative newsletter is a fantastic funnel. A blog is another great way to keep people in your marketing loop without bombarding them with “please buy my stuff” email messages. Also, make sure you know what your traffic numbers are before you launch into any Internet marketing campaign. By traffic numbers, I mean how many people are visiting your site. You want to know this so you can gauge a before and after view of your marketing efforts.


Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com

Writing Through Summer Distractions

Summer is here and there are a million reasons not to work on your novel. There are tide pools to explore, trails to hike, sprinklers to run through, lounge chairs to recline in, and picnics to pack.

This is definitely the most difficult season to stay focused on your computer screen while the sun and outdoor fun beckons.

To reach your set daily word or page count, it takes unwavering discipline—or at least a solid schedule to keep you on track. Neither of which I have, so I won’t be handing out kernels of wisdom on those topics. But, what I will say is that somewhere, someone is waiting to read your story: the adventure you write about may be the only vacation a reader can take.

I grew up in a semi-rural, low desert area where the average summer temperature was 110-115 degrees before noon. During my 15th summer, I read 43 books in 2 1/2 months. Every day, I sat on a lounge chair in front of a whirring fan with a bowl of frozen grapes in my lap, and I went on a trip. I was an auburn-haired girl named Tori, sailing with a cute boy at my family’s vacation house in Nantucket. I spent months on a deserted island riding a beautiful black stallion. I slipped into a wardrobe and was transported to a magical land where animals spoke. I had so many amazing adventures that by the time summer ended, I was exhausted (and exhilarated) by all my travels and adventures. The experiences were so clear and full that I felt I had really been there. It was the only summer I remember now, 25 years later.

So, if for no other reason, carve out time to write for your reader. Use that as your motivation.


HARO - Help A Reporter Out

Today, I want to share a great resource with you. Some of you may be familiar with Profnet, a service reporters use to post their calls for expert sources and a service that sources pay for to receive these calls.

As an author, you are the expert they want to connect with. It gives you the opportunity to be quoted in articles or even featured in stories. However, it’s rather pricey to sign up for this service.

But there is a new service in town (play appropriate Western music here).

You’ll want to tell the PR people, marketers, publicists, editors, and journalists you work with about it too, because it’s all about them and their needs.

If you’re not already using HARO – Help A Reporter Out (www.helpareporter.com), check it out. It’s a service much like ProfNet, but it’s free. Yes, F*R*E*E. It used to be on Facebook, but grew too large for it.

Once you subscribe, you receive three emails per day with reporter, editor, and freelance writer queries compiled in it, written so you can quickly and easily scan the topics for relevance.

If the topics do not apply to you, just hit delete. If they do, you may contact the reporter or editor directly, as instructed.

Note that Peter Shankman, the list facilitator, is very strict about helping out these reporters. Respond only if your information is relevant and on target. If not, you’ll get bumped off the list. Quickly. I’ve seen it happen. So, don’t pitch off topic to the media journalists. It’s a great resource and you don’t want to risk blowing the opportunity to use it.

Peter’s a big believer in good Karma, and he’s also quite funny, and tends to also include a link to a fun site, or a funny story about his day in the emails. It’s a nice refreshing change from the boring, non-funny emails we usually deal with daily.

Not only can you sign up to receive these source calls, but if you are writing a book or freelance article and need expert sources, you can submit a call to the HARO members. Peter just announced this week that membership hit 13,000.

Reporters/source seekers can post queries at www.helpareporter.com/press. Sources can sign up at www.helpareporter.com to receive the calls for submissions. As I said, it’s free. Peter asks that if you find it useful, then you make a donation to any animal rescue charity or animal hospital.

You can forward the queries to others who are a fit, but do not post any queries (or the editor/reporter contact info) on any blogs or public websites. I received permission from Peter to blog about this, since this is a private group and I’m helping to spread the word to both subscribers and media to sign up.

The more people who use HARO, the better it becomes. Sign up, check it out, use it responsibly, and spread the word.

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41 Blog Success Tips You Can Learn Today

Blog days.

They are great opportunities to put your voice and your thoughts out into cyberspace. Some writers are so excited to connect to their readers that they blog daily and sometimes more than once a day.

For others of us who haven’t yet hit our blog stride, blogging seems more like a pesky morning chore with one looming question, “What the heck am I going to write about?”

If I ever figure out the answer to that question, you’ll be the first to know.

While I continue trying to work that out, I’m always on the lookout for tips to help make blogging easier and more effective–which is good for you because I love sharing when I find good information and inspiration.

Today, the tips come from Susan Gilbert, AME’s Search Engine Marketing Expert and the Web 2.0 company owner of http://www.JoomlaJump.com, who provides Social Networking websites and services.

Susan offers up some great ideas to boost your blogging success…

41 Blog Success Tips You Can Learn Today

1. Read – The more you read the better writer you will be. Being a blog reader helps you understand the mind of the blog reader. What they want, how they like information to be presented, what turns you off. Read good blogs and note your thoughts.

2. Take one step – Chunk it down. Don’t be overwhelmed, take one step at a time and keep going.

3. Be interesting – Readers want to find fresh, valuable, entertaining, remarkable information. Make an effort to deliver more than just facts. Make it about them, not you.

4. Get your point across – Style, grammar, spelling all count for nothing if your audience doesn’t get your meaning. Make sure you are understood.

5. Deliver the goods – Being valuable is more important than following any rules.

6. Be consistent – You are only as good as your last post.

7. Prioritize quality over quantity – Fewer kick-ass articles are better than many so-so posts.

8. Develop expertise – You might not be an expert now but you can be. Dive into your subject and become the go-to person.

9. Hold on to passion – Keep the fires burning, don’t let your subject turn into a chore.

10. Communicate fascination – If you love your subject then let your readers know, share your enthusiasm, make it contagious.

11. Write better – All of us can improve our writing but it takes effort and motivation.

12. Grow your experience – Do new things, broaden your horizons, stretch yourself.

13. Share your experience – When you learn something new, tell your readers about it.

14. Explore and experiment – Keep trying new things, never stagnate.

15. Be unique – If you are the same as everyone else, why would anyone visit your blog?

16. Look good – Appearances count, both in terms of your blog design and your posts. Make your content zing!

17. Make a great first impression – Do new visitors know what your blog is about in under 10 seconds? Can they navigate easily? Where is your best content?

18. Build momentum – Keep pushing every day, do not be content, it takes less effort to keep going than to stop and start over.

19. Optimize – Keep tweaking, continuously improve.

20. Write with focus – Don’t squander your readers’ attention, give them what they came for.

21. Build your reputation – Know what you stand for and deliver it consistently.

22. Go for keywords – Find out what your readers are looking for and write about it.

23. Write compelling headlines – Get attention, promise a benefit, provoke interest.

24. Offer full feeds – Attention is more important than page views.

25. Interview – Supplement your knowledge by interviewing experts.

26. Break news – Be first to a story, let everyone know and see the links flood in.

27. Run contests – Contests are fun and build awareness.

28. Research, survey and poll – Research results are newsworthy and differentiate.

29. Toot your horn – Celebrate successes, send out press releases.

30. Monitor your stats – Stats tell you the health of your blog. Where is traffic coming from? Can you do more of what works? Is your blog growing or sliding? There are many free services.

31. Comment and answer comments – Nurture your audience, make them know they are valued. Comment on other blogs.

32. Link generously – If you want links then you have to first give them.

33. Join forums – Break out of your bubble, meet people where they are.

34. Give stuff away – You get what you give. Free downloads get rewarded with links and traffic.

35. Make friends – One of the pleasures of blogging and also a route to success.

36. Guest blog – Write brilliant content for other bloggers and see your brand grow.

37. Ask questions – Curiosity is a virtue.

38. Twitter – Constantly communicate and get to know people. Anything too short for a blog post can be delivered in 140 characters.

39. Stumble – Train yourself to discover, recognize and share brilliant content. What you can identify you can imagine, what you can imagine you can create.

40. Rebel – Break the rules, go against the flow, zig when others tell you to zag, do your own thing your own way.

41. Enjoy – Keep doing what you do until it stops being fun. When it is no longer fun, bring the fun back and your energy will be infectious.

Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com

BTW, can I just say how much I absolutely adore Penny Sansevieri? I highly recommend you sign up for her Red Hot Internet Marketing Newsletter. I’ve gotten so many awesome tips from her. Now, all I need are more hours in a day to do everything!

In the meantime, while I’m trying to squeeze that 25th hour out of a 24-hour day, please share your blog link and/or links to some of your favorite blogs in the comments section. I’d love to check them out!

Titles: A Rose by Any Other Name

For some writers, when it comes to choosing a title, the perfect title either rings out loud and true like a single gunshot, or the various possibilities give off faint snaps, crackles, and pops like a bowlful of milk-wet Rice Krispies.

No matter how the idea comes to you, you can never underestimate the power of a title. Think of the book “Gone wIth the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell. Would the title have been as epic and metaphorical and perfectly suited to the book if it were “Those Damn Yankees,” “Plantation Blues,” “That Man is Making Me Nuts,” “Georgia Lost,” or any other conceivable title? Of course not. The title and the tone of the content should be in harmony.

Titling a book is not a science. Unfortunately, there is no exact formula that will result in the perfect title for your book. For me, it’s visceral, driven completely by a feeling. My titles are born in the exact moment the book idea is formed. For other writers I know, the book can be completed, revised, edited, and ready for publication, and still no title has made itself known.

When that happens, there are a few tips to help the process along. Start by brainstorming any and every idea that seems to fit your story. Consider the characters in your story. Is your book about “The Godfather,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” “The Joy Luck Club”? Think of the metaphor in your story. Is your book about taking life “Bird by Bird,” or the path not taken in “A Thousand Country Roads”? Examine your plot. Is your story about “The Hot Zone,” “The Caine Mutiny”? Is there a particular line of dialogue or narrative that stands out in the story? “Catch-22” anyone?

If you belong to a critique group or an online discussion board, run your list of book title ideas by the members and ask for additional suggestions. Narrow your list down to the top five and then approach your local librarians and book store employees for their opinions. This process may not cure your book title indecision, but it may help bring you closer to the perfect title.

In the end, it is still like naming a child. And you should choose the name wisely for that is how your book will be known.

Now, just for fun, I’ve added a list that was forwarded to me in an email of “Children’s Book Titles That Never Made The Cut”:

1. You Are Different and That’s Bad
2. The Boy Who Died From Eating All His Vegetables
3. Dad’s New Wife Robert
4. Fun four-letter Words to Know and Share
5. Hammers, Screwdrivers and Scissors: An I-Can-Do-It Book
6. The Kids’ Guide to Hitchhiking
7. Kathy Was So Bad Her Mom Stopped Loving Her
8. Curious George and the High-Voltage Fence
9. All Cats Go to Hell
10. The Little Sissy Who Snitched
11. Some Kittens Can Fly
12. That’s it, I’m Putting You Up for Adoption
14. The Magic World Inside the Abandoned Refrigerator
15. Garfield Gets Feline Leukemia
16. The Pop-Up Book of Human Anatomy
17. Strangers Have the Best Candy
18. Whining, Kicking and Crying to Get Your Way
19. You Were an Accident
20. Things Rich Kids Have, But You Never Will
21. Pop! Goes The Hamster…And Other Great Microwave Games
22. The Man in the Moon Is Actually Satan
23. Your Nightmares Are Real
25. Eggs, Toilet Paper, and Your School
26. Why Can’t Mr. Fork and Ms. Electrical Outlet Be Friends?
27. Places Where Mommy and Daddy Hide Neat Things
28. Daddy Drinks Because You Cry

Of course, those silly titles are all intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but any of them could actually be a good title for a humor book.

So, tell me, how do you choose your titles? Is it easy or difficult?

Riding the Book Review Roller Coaster

No matter how serene and unaffected you think you’ll be, when the reviews of your debut book start rolling in, you need to be ready for a wild emotional ride. I don’t think there’s a roller coaster theme park in the world that can match the highs and lows.

My memoir, The Break-Up Diet launched on Valentine’s Day. Over the course of the first month, I watched Amazon like the future of my writing career depended on it. It was a lot like waiting in a long line for the best ride. The anticipation. The excitement. The waiting. Then…

Woo-hoo! Readers say the book is “compulsively readable,” “clever and entertaining” and they use words like “superb,” “witty,” “fascinating,” “endearing,” and “terrific.”

You’re in the front car, front seat, with your hands in the air, riding on The Slingshot—rocketing toward the stars with the wind in your face, laughing, flying, and about to take a second lap around the moon.

Then, before the exhilaration cools, more reviews come in: “disappointing,” “not much substance,” “forgettable.”

Welcome to The Death Drop—where you are the only rider aboard, frantically trying to brace yourself in a seat with a broken safety buckle. The car is pushed to the edge of a precipice and you find yourself free-falling with your stomach lodged in your throat and no chance to catch your breath.

And so it goes on The Yo-Yo Ride. Up and down: happy, sad, elated, depressed, confident, worried, thankful, irritated—until finally, you decide to trade in your E-tickets and climb on the Whatever Tram. It’s not an apathy ride; it’s smooth and Zen-like in its simple acceptance and understanding that you can’t please everyone.

All you can do is put your story out into the world. Some people will embrace it, others will not, and that’s okay. You have new stories to tell and your characters need your emotional attention. So, stop checking your Amazon ranking and get back to writing!

Start a Stampede to Your Blog

I’ll be the first one to admit that I didn’t have the faintest idea how to really use my blog effectively to promote my book. I knew my key mistake were: not blogging as often as I should and not having a theme or a solid idea of what direction I wanted to go with it.

Initially, I had the idea of posting my quirky personal commentary and additional fun insights into the various scenes in my book on the exact days that they appear in the diary entry structure throughout my memoir. And that’s what I did in some of the early posts, which you can see here: http://thebreak-updiet.blogspot.com/

I’ve since realized I need more than that. I need not only entries that tie-in to the content of my book, but also posts that focus on topics of interest to my readers: tips on how to get over a break-up, online dating, communication in relationships, etc. I’ve also heard that if you tie your blog to celebrity news or hot topics in the media, that will also bring you new traffic from Google searches.

But here’s the thing, I’m also a bit of a technotard when it comes to figuring out how to promote my blog and get my voice heard in such a noisy online world. So, in my search to find resources to solve some of these deficiencies of mine, I’ve started to collect useful tips about blogging. And, instead of keeping all this great info to myself, I thought I’d share a very helpful article I discovered.

by Penny Sansevieri

One of the biggest questions I get from authors is: “I have a blog but how do I get people to it?” Well first off, you want to keep blogging, but there are other things you can do too, and we’ll discuss two of the most powerful ones here.

If you’ve spent any kind of time online, you’ve probably heard the terms: tag or social bookmarking. But what *exactly* do these terms mean?

If you think of the term “tagging” like you would a name tag at a party or networking event it will start to make much more sense. Generally, when you post a blog, it’s recommended that you “tag” it with various terms appropriate to the message of the blog. The Wikipedia definition of “tag” is: A tag is a keyword which acts like a subject or category. This keyword is used to organize web pages, subjects, and objects on the Internet.

When you think of it this way, what you’re really doing is organizing each of your blog posts so that folks can find and search them. By tagging each of them with specific keywords, you’ll come up faster when someone searches those keywords than if you left your blog blank. Make sense? Ok, then let’s get started learning how to tag. (I promise, it’s very easy.)

When creating tags, there are two types that you can create. You can imbed your blog with tags using services like Technorati (more on that in a minute) or you can go to social networking sites and tag your blog as well. Honestly, I recommend a combination of both.

Social bookmarking is a way of “bookmarking” favorite sites (i.e. yours) so you can easily share them (via tags) with the Internet community and especially folks who are searching on your search term. I’ll explain how to get your site bookmarked but, for now, take a look at sites like www.digg.com and del.icio.us.com – these are the top two social bookmarking sites you’ll want to use. There are others but we’ll discuss these in a minute.

Ok, here we go!

Simple steps to tagging:

1) Create a blog post: just write your blog, don’t worry about doing anything different.

2) Identify some keywords you’ll want to use: just pick some keywords, as many as you want. Don’t worry about getting too scientific with this, just be thorough.

3) Create your tags: head on over to http://www.egmstrategy.com/ice/tag-generator.cfm and generate tags (this will be choice #1). Once you input the keywords make sure the default button is checked at Technorati. Then go to the bottom and click “generate code” – this code will get posted right into your blog. It’s that easy! (tip: always post this code at the end of your blog) When you’re done you’ll see code in your blog like this: http://www.redhotinternetpublicity.com/blog/?p=45

4) Social bookmarking: simply put, you want to tag each of your blog posts in one or all of the following social networking sites. The one slightly time- consuming piece is that you’ll need to set up accounts for each of these but once you do, it will take you a minute or so per post to add a social bookmarking tag to each of them. Here are some of the most popular social bookmarking sites you’ll want to use: digg.com, Del.icio.us, myweb.yahoo.com (this is still in beta but I recommend using it anyway), blinklist.com, spurl.net, reddit.com, furl.net, and stumbleupon.com

5) Nuts and bolts: each of these sites has a different set of criteria for bookmarking your blog post. If you’re blogging every day this might seem pretty tedious. If it’s too much work to tag and bookmark each of your posts, handpick a few each week and focus on those. The idea is that you want to get these keywords out in cyberspace so folks can find you.

Ready for a final tip? If you want to impress customers with your endless list of resources why not share your Del.icio.us page with your readers/customers? Del.icio.us gives each registered member their own page with all of their bookmarks. Ideally you’ll want to include other resources besides your own blog but a link to this page could be a fantastic way to gain additional exposure not just for your blog, but to your wealth of resources as well. (here’s my page: http://del.icio.us/bookmkr)

Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com


Now, all I need to do is carve out time to implement Penny’s great tips! Give it a try yourself and let me know how it goes!

Breaking Down Writer’s Block

Let’s face it…some days, it’s just not happening. There you sit, staring at your computer screen with the blinding white of a completely empty page and that blinking cursor mocking you, but nothing comes out.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little skip down a creative path to get your muse back on track with the work that needs to be done. All work and no play can leave your creative child pouting in a corner. However, there is a way to coax her back to the page.

Read through this list of 50 and choose a prompt that resonates with you. Pick one that gives you an immediate image—a story, memory, event, or thought—from which to create.

• What I know for sure…
• A letter to my younger self… (at four milestones in your life)
• Lessons I learned the hard way…
• Something someone said still haunts me…
• My guilty pleasure…
• On my tombstone, it reads…(4-5 short phrases)
• In my eulogy, they said…
• Mistakes were made…
• In my next life…
• She was always right…
• A summertime memory…
• It was like fireworks…
• Innocence–yours or someone else’s…
• A random act of kindness…
• My message in a bottle…
• When I first learned about sex…
• My rebirth, the decision I’m making from here forward…
• My 1st impression was wrong…
• A dream you wish came true…
• He left…
• Independence—yours or someone else’s…
• The consequences of my actions…
• A crazy person who is (or was) in your life…
• Running in the sprinklers…
• A story from your life you’ve told a million times but have never written down…
• I’ve never laughed so hard in my life…
• It was a loss…
• A Secret…
• I thought it was forever…
• Only a little white lie…
• Snow days…
• An obsession…
• A job, a boss, and a sticky situation…
• Monsters in the dark…
• A bad haircut…
• Holidays with the family…
• It was the truth…
• I just won the lottery…
• A broken promise…
• The best or worst date/night/sex of your life…
• A nickname that stuck…
• When the truth is enough and when it’s not… A time when you had to take the truth and twist it…
• A personal win that was icing on the cake…
• A bad thing you did and didn’t feel guilty about… And a bad thing you did that you did feel guilty about…
• My last day…
• Innocence is…Humiliation is…Comfort is…Joyfulness is…Solitude is…
• It was a miracle…
• My first kiss…
• That neighbor…
• With my bare toes in the sand…

Now that you’ve chosen a prompt, begin freewriting about whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece—allow yourself to build a sandcastle with words.

You never know…the gems you may find from writing through one of these prompts could inspire your next novel, short story, or poem. At the very least, your muse will thank you for giving her a much needed chance to play.

21 Keys to Best-Selling Fiction

There are certain things readers want when they invest their precious time reading a novel. So many things compete for their leisure time and attention: family and friends, other activities like watching television and movies, participating in sports, tending hobbies, and traveling. It takes something special to make a novel stand out and propel it onto the bestseller lists.

But what is the key to making your book a bestseller?

Give readers what they want.

So, what do they want? And how do you go about giving it to them? Fortunately, James V. Smith Jr., the author of The Writer’s Little Helper, has the answers and provides a comprehensive list to help you unlock the secrets of successful fiction. He explains how you can start by analyzing and understanding the 21 key traits that exist in current bestselling fiction:

Appeal to the intellect. To you, the writer, these keys refer to how you research, organize, and structure your story. These are the large-scale mechanics of a novel.

  • Utility (writing about things that people will use in their lives)
  • Information (facts people must have to place your writing in context)
  • Substance (the relative value or weight in any piece of writing)
  • Focus (the power to bring an issue into clear view)
  • Logic (a coherent system for making your points)

Appeal to the emotions. These are ways you engage the reader to create buzz. Do these things right, and people will talk about your novel, selling it to others.

  • A sense of connection (the power of personal involvement)
  • A compelling style (writing in a way that engages)
  • A sense of humor (wit or at least irony)
  • Simplicity (clarity and focus on a single idea)
  • Entertainment (the power to get people to enjoy what you write)
  • A fast pace (the ability to make your writing feel like a quick read)
  • Imagery (the power to create pictures with words)
  • Creativity (the ability to invent)
  • Excitement (writing with energy that infects a reader with your own enthusiasm)

Appeal to the soul. With these traits, you examine whether your writing matters, whether it lasts, whether it elevates you to the next level as a novelist.

  • Comfort (writing that imparts a sense of well-being)
  • Happiness (writing that gives joy)
  • Truth (or at least fairness)
  • Writing that provokes (writing to make people think or act)
  • Active, memorable writing (the poetry in your prose)
  • A sense of Wow! (the wonder your writing imparts on a reader)
  • Transcendence (writing that elevates with its heroism, justice, beauty, honor)

Now, that you have all the keys, it’s time to unlock the doors to fiction success and give your readers exactly what they want from your novel.

Excuses For Not Writing

There is a difference between reasons and excuses. It’s a fine line, but when you apply the concept to writing for a living, it becomes clear which is which.

Do you write every day? Are you doing everything possible to seriously pursue a career as an author or freelance writer? Do you invest time, effort, and money to collect and use book and online resources, attend workshops, critique groups, and conferences to study the craft? Do you consistently seek out new information to learn more about writing and the business of writing? Is writing your passion above all other things you could be doing for a living?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, go read someone else’s blog today. If you answered no to any of these questions, read on and let’s see if you have reasons or excuses for not following your dream and taking your writing seriously.

Reason or Excuse?

“I just don’t have time right now.” = Excuse.
One word: Priorities. Unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day. With other responsibilities like working a day job, higher education, parenting, and domestic duties, there will always be things lined up to consume every hour of your day. If you wait until you have time to pursue your writing career, it’ll never happen. You need to make the time.

When you decide your writing career is a priority in your life, you will find opportunities to spend that precious time working on something just for you. Decide your writing is important, make it important, and realize you deserve to spend your time on it. As women, we know sacrificing for others is viewed as noble, but we also tend to overlook the fact that all martyrs end up dead. And that’s a sure way to guarantee your writing career will never get started.

“I don’t have enough money.” = Excuse.
We’ve all heard the cliche that it takes money to make money. But the key word missing is easily. It takes money to make money easily. Sure, it would be great to have enough money to pay for the newest computer technology and software, a luxury office with all the amenities and a personal assistant. With that kind of money, you could hire private tutors to help improve your writing skills, and pay services to do everything from typing to submitting manuscripts for you. But then you would miss the journey of growing as a writer, working toward and earning your knowledge and experience of the craft. It doesn’t take money. You can begin your writing career with a pen, a notebook, and public library access. Determination is the most valuable thing you can have and it’s free.

“I don’t know how to ___________.” = Excuse.
Not web savvy? Unsure about how or where to start a blog, create a website, or dive into the social networking pool? Don’t know who to query or how to query? How to write good dialogue? How to structure an article?

You’re not alone. No one is born knowing how to do these things—everyone must learn. Don’t feel like you are too far behind everyone else, too old, too young, or too anything. There are books and online resources that can teach you anything you want to know about the craft or business of writing. Enroll in low-cost community college and adult education classes, join local groups made up of people who are interested in the same topics. There is certainly no shortage of information resources available. Seek out these resources.

“I’m not an expert about anything.” = Excuse.
We all know that nonfiction writing—whether it’s an article or a how-to book—requires expertise in the topic. You may not think you have expert knowledge about anything, but everyone is an expert at something. As women, we often undervalue the experience we have. But it’s important to realize that 95% of the people seeking the knowledge we have to offer know less about it than we do.

As an example: I was a single mother, sole support and care of my son from 0 to 15 years-old without any financial support or help raising him—and boy did I learn a lot. Everything from juggling work and parenting responsibilities, dealing with the structures of the public school system to homeschooling to team sports, advising him about developmental changes and sexual activity and relationships, guiding his education and shaping his values, teaching him life skills like common sense, money handling and budgeting, cooking and cleaning for himself; I taught him how to drive and how to defend himself–and the list goes on and on. I don’t particularly think what I know from experience is remarkable in any way because it was just part of my life; however, to the new single mother who is bringing her infant home from the hospital—I have a ton of valuable knowledge she will need and benefit from.

Take a close look at everything in your life—your job, education, culture, lifestyle, hobbies, experiences, etc., and you will discover topics you can write about that will provide answers for someone who has questions.

“There are already so many people writing about _______.” = Excuse.
The last stats I heard: approximately 150,000 new books are published each year. And with the technology that brings publishing to the people by way of subsidy and self-publishing, you can pretty much bet that number has more than tripled now. With the internet providing millions of websites for information consumers, the number of writers and amount of written material is staggering. It’s intimidating and overwhelming, so why bother becoming a professional writer? Simple answer: because you have something to say, you believe in your message, you want to help, inform, encourage, or entertain people, and you really, really, really want to do this.

There is only one viable reason for not pursuing your writing as a career: someone is reading this blog post as a eulogy at your funeral right now.

Don’t let your life pass without pursuing your dream. Just do it.

Guest Blogging Etiquette

Writing in Someone Else’s Space
Guest blogging can be a great way to get your name out to a new audience. It allows you to promote your product or service, and helps build your platform as an expert in your field. Hosting a guest blogger can add variety and interest to your blog, provide new information to your readers, and give you a break from having to create your own content for a day. Overall, it’s a win-win situation.

When you receive an invitation to appear as a guest blogger, there are a few things you need to do to make it a good experience for you, your hostess, and her readers.

Ask Your Hostess
Just like the etiquette for attending a dinner party, find out if there is anything you can bring for the table. Does your hostess want you to write about a topic of her choice? Is she planning to send you a list of interview questions to answer? Is she giving you free rein to write whatever you want?

Research the Space
Read at least one month of previous blog entries. See what your hostess talks about. Is her tone humorous or serious? Does the blog focus on providing entertainment or information?

Who are her readers? Read the comments sections of the most recent posts to get a feel for what motivates her readers and gets them engaged in responding.

What about the use of language? Is it academic, casual, or trendy slang? How long are the posts? Does she include resource links, pictures, or video?

Taking the time to assess her writing space will help you turn out a post that suits her needs and promotes you well.

Content Content Content
This is where you put your fingers to the keyboard. Of course, what you write about will depend on the arrangement you make with your hostess. If you are answering interview questions, keep your answers brief and interesting. If you are promoting your expertise, provide some solid take-away information for her readers. If you have carte blanche, try to find a way to incorporate your promotion with that of your hostess. Using an anecdote to relate your story to hers in some way will help you stay close to the theme of your hostess’ blog.

Dos and Don’ts for a Guest Blogger

  • DO let your personality shine through in your blog post.
  • DO check and recheck for typos and grammar errors in your post prior to sending it to your hostess.
  • DO monitor her blog during your guest day and respond to any comment posts.
  • DON’T get into a flame war with any of her readers.
  • DO promote your guest blog day on your blog and to your list.
  • DON’T forget to thank your hostess for the opportunity.
  • DO reciprocate and invite your hostess to guest blog on your site.

Most of all, have fun with it!

What He Said/She Said About Attributive Clauses

I’ll be the first to admit that when I was a newbie writer, I was guilty of using (read: overusing) busy attributives, and I had a bad case of the wrylies. When I look back at some of my early prose, it’s completely embarrassing.

You know your dialogue is infected with wrylies if your novel has attributives like these:

The handcuffs clicked around his meaty wrists. “I am not a criminal!” he shouted loudly.

Sara ran around the room waving the lotto ticket. “I won! I’m rich! I’m rich!” she shrieked excitedly.

“Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom,” the toddler jabbered incessantly.

“I got fired on Friday, so I guess that means I’m not busy on Monday,” she commented wryly.

Focus on the “wrylies” in the sentences above—the use of adverbs explains how the dialogue should be interpreted or how it was uttered.

And there are attributives that use a variety of verbs to convey the speaker’s emotion or physical action:

“Your place or mine?” he chuckled.
“You wish,” she snorted.
“No one will find out,” he smiled.
“I’ll tell your wife,” she warned.
“You’re cute when you’re angry,” he winked.

Busy attributives try to pack too much into a sentence:

“He divorced me. And now I’m falling apart,” sniffed the attractive blonde as she wiped tears from her clear blue eyes, knowing she would never find another man like the rich doctor she married two years after leaving the leper colony where she grew up.

Take all the dialogue samples above as examples of how NOT to write your character’s attributives. “Keep it simple,” she said.

Using the “simple said” is the best way to make your attributives invisible to your readers. It won’t distract them from the flow of your story. And if you craft your narrative and dialogue well, you won’t need to be showy in your attributives.

Trust your readers to pick up on the nuances and tone in the interaction and dialogue between your characters. Don’t hit them over the head with overwritten attributives.

12 Tips for Attending Book Expo America

If you are an author and you haven’t heard of Book Expo America, it’s time to crawl out from behind your computer and attend the largest international publishing trade show this side of Frankfurt.

Most years, the show is held in NY (as it was last year), but this year, it will be in Los Angeles. BEA will be back in NY in 2009, D.C in 2010, and Vegas, baby in 2011.

I attended last year and will be on the convention floor again this year, talking to publishers about my memoir, The Break-Up Diet, promoting WOW! (www.wow-womenonwriting.com) with my website partner Angela, and visiting with the agents and editors we’ve met over the last two years.

I have a few tips for those of you who plan to attend the show to seek an agent or a publisher. These are little things I noticed at the event last year. I’ll refer to the people you will meet at BEA in the big house booths as publishers through my list of observations; although, many of the people there are from the marketing department, sales team, acquisitions editors, etc.

First thing–if you want to be taken seriously by the publishers, don’t look like a walking billboard for your book (or your manuscript). Dressing like your main character–waaay too much. Book cover t-shirts–too much. Book cover buttons–borderline too much; although, certainly not as bad as the previous two ideas. It makes you stand out like a desperate writer and doesn’t draw the kind of attention you want. Treat the experience like you would if you were trying to meet an agent at a writer’s conference–be casual, but professional. Think of it like this, if you had a meeting at their office, you wouldn’t show up wearing a body bag to promote your murder mystery.

Take more business cards than you think you will need. After you get a business card from someone you meet, step away and write notes on the back about what was discussed. This is crucial. By the end of the trade show, you won’t remember unless you take notes.

Don’t monopolize the publisher’s time when you approach them. Have your elevator pitch boiled down to 30 seconds (and I seriously mean, 30 seconds). If you talk for longer than that, they will be looking over your head for a way to escape. Think of it like a party full of popular people. They want to be talking to the in-crowd, not a boor who is droning on and on about the plot to their story. You want to pique their interest. If they are interested, they will ask questions. If they aren’t, they won’t. Either way, get in, get out, and thank them for their time.

Find out who you should be talking to before you launch into your elevator pitch. You may be talking to a receptionist. Although, from what I noticed, many of the people wo-manning the booths are in filter mode, no matter what department they work in. They will determine if you have anything of interest to the right people. If you do, you’ll get the introduction, if not, you’ll get the brush off.

Your goal should be to get them to request that you send your book/manuscript to them. That being said, it’s highly unlikely they will. The majority of publishers don’t want to waste their time on an unknown writer (whether self-published or seeking traditional publishing). They will tell you to submit to them through an agent.

If you have already self-published your book and are looking to have it “picked up” by a major house, have your important facts on the tip of your tongue–how long it’s been out, how many units you’ve sold, what kind of reviews it’s getting, any awards it’s received, what you are doing to market it, what kind of platform you have, etc.

And here’s the catch 22 of the whole thing–most publishers don’t want to talk to you on the first day. It’s an industry trade show–they are catching up and networking with their peers from other houses and also promoting their recently released list and upcoming releases. On the second day, most publishers don’t want to talk to you then either. They are conducting serious business* and most are completely booked with meetings. *If you see people sitting at a table in the booth chatting, DO NOT approach them. That is a meeting in progress. On the last day, it’s pretty settled and much quieter–the initial excitement has died down, everyone has gotten a chance to see and talk to everyone they wanted to. The booths are at half-staff and there are considerably less attendees.

Have a plan. Get a map of the convention floor and target who you want to talk to. But don’t forget to wander around and check things out at the different booths. I found a great vendor for novelty items in the small press area. So, keep your mind open to meeting people who you can work with or use the services of at a later date.

One observation about the small press area. While walking down the aisles in Siberia, Angela and I felt like fresh meat that had just wandered into the lair of starving cannibals. It’s the only place in the trade show where people are leaping into the aisles, grabbing your arm, and trying to get you to take their book or postcard or bookmark. Sadly, that is the way most writers approach the publishers too. I watched that happen all around us in NY.

You may be tempted to collect every advance reading copy and recent release being handed out. Trust me, there will be a ton. And they are all free. My personal rule–I don’t take a book unless I’m totally interested in it and plan to write a review. I picked up one book last year. Some people collect them and they try to sell them on Ebay. (Please don’t be one of those people.) And a comment about the women you will see loaded down with bags of books–most of them are librarians picking up books for their libraries. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to get things they don’t have a budget for.

Bring a Cliff bar or other energy bar to tide you over. There is so much going on that you may not want to take a break to eat. You may even want to tuck a sandwich into your bag. The food lines are long (as are the lines for the restrooms) and there are few places to sit, so you’d better be ready for a marathon day on your feet.

Speaking of feet… WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. I can’t stress that enough. It was hot last year, almost stifling, so I wore sandals and was very glad I chose a pair of cork wedges with soft straps.

Overall, it’s a great experience, even if you only go for one day to check out the action. The floor is buzzing with conversation (it’s deafening in there); it’s wall-to-wall people, and everyone is excited about what they are promoting. It’s a place to see the trends (keep an eye out for great marketing ideas), be seen (make a good impression on everyone you meet), and network (meet as many people as possible). BEA is not a place to sell; it’s a place to make connections for future business.

Have fun with it!

Promoting Your Book at a Book Fair, Part 1

What do you need to have a successful book fair event? Annette Fix offers tips for an author’s must-pack list.

Spring and summer are the best seasons for book fairs and festivals. Whether you have a book to promote or just want to spend a great day surrounded by other bibliophiles, check out this link to find an event in your area. http://www.loc.gov/loc/cfbook/bookfair.html

On April 26th & 27th, I promoted and signed my memoir at my first festival. I spent the weekend with 140,000 book lovers on the beautiful UCLA campus for the L.A. Times Festival of Books. I’m now getting around to unpacking my supplies.

This was my first book fair, so it was a great experience to find out what you do and don’t need for a successful book fair event.

Here is my list of recommended items:

  • Collapsible luggage dolly

You’re going to need something to transport your books, sometimes quite a distance from where your car will be parked.

  • Box of books

I was overly optimistic for a debut author. I took a case of 32 and left two more cases in the trunk of my car. Lesson of the day: Some people will buy on-site, most will wait to buy on Amazon to get the discount and free shipping.

  • Tote bag (large enough to hold your supplies)

I found a great 20 x 12 x 10 zippered rolling bag at the L.A. garment district for $20. It’s best to get a bag with wheels, so if you need to take it separately from your dolly of books, you can drag it instead of lug it.

  • Vinyl Banners

I had two 18 x 27 vinyl banners printed. They were very reasonably priced ($23 each) and well made. The banners roll up and transport easily, and also have grommets for hanging. You want to make sure you choose a banner size that is large enough to be seen from a distance. (Click on the thumbnails for a larger view.)

  • Easel

You’ll need an easel to hold your banners unless they will be attached to the booth. Place them as close to the front of the booth and near the walkway as possible, so they can be seen by people passing by.

  • Tabletop display stands

I chose wrought iron to avoid the displays being knocked over by the afternoon breeze. I found a great set in the picture frame section of my local craft store for $5 each. I used one to hold my book and the other to hold a 14 x 16 “Meet the Author” foam-core poster printed at Kinko’s (the same image used for the vinyl banner). It’s important to have a tabletop “Meet the Author” image because otherwise passersby assume you are just selling the books and don’t realize you are actually the author.

  • Theme item(s)

I use a cute recipe box on my table to hold the bookmarks for my memoir: The Break-Up Diet. You can use any object, functional or decorative, to draw visual interest to your table.

  • Promotional bookmarks or postcards

You definitely want something with your book cover image, the ISBN, and your book website address on it. Not everyone will buy your book at the fair and if they have something to take home, it raises your chances of making a sale later. If you include something funny or informative on the back of the bookmark or postcard, something that ties in with your book, you’ll have a better chance of people keeping it. I included a humorous recipe on the back of mine.

  • Material table drapes

I went to my local fabric store and chose a couple yards of two contrasting colors (the same blue and black as my book). But I’m not exactly Betty Homemaker, so I also picked up some double-sided, iron-on hem tape to finish the edges.

  • Review cards

Go to Amazon.com and pull your best reader reviews. Print them onto a single sheet of colored paper with enough reviews to fill both sides. Laminate the page at Kinko’s, so it stays neat from the handling it will receive. It’s a great sales tool because it gives your potential reader the opportunity to see how much other readers have enjoyed your book.

  • Cash box

I chose a cash box that was small, but also had the features I wanted. I didn’t want to mess with a credit card machine, so the cash box worked out well. Don’t forget to bring your reseller’s permit, a sales tax table for your selling area, a calculator, and money for making change.

  • Receipt book

This is the best way to keep track of your sales and inventory. Trust me, you’ll be talking to so many people that by the end of the fair, you won’t remember how many books you’ve sold until you go through your receipts.

  • Guest book

Ask the visitors who come to your booth to sign your guest book and include their email address for the chance to win a drawing for a free book. This will help you build your opt-in email database, and your lucky winner will be excited to receive a copy of your book!

  • Signing pens

Bring a fine point Sharpie; I had several teens come around wanting their book fair posters autographed. I use a comfortable grip gel pen for signing my books; it doesn’t bleed through and the gel doesn’t hang up on the page like a ballpoint pen. The cushioned grip and slightly thicker base helps if you have carpal tunnel like I do.

  • Give-away candy

This works very well to bring people to the table. Who can pass up a Hershey’s Kiss or Jolly Rancher hard candy? Most people won’t grab and go, so while they are unwrapping their candy, you can tell them about your book.

Now for the personal stuff:

  • Sun protection

Don’t forget your sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat (especially if your table is uncovered). One of my girlfriends dropped by with a little spray bottle of water–it was great for a facial spritz to help with evaporative cooling.

  • Water & Snacks

Like most fairs, the food and drinks were astronomical ($5 for a cup of lemonade), so do yourself a favor and freeze some bottles of water the night before, as they thaw, they’ll provide the hydration you’ll definitely need. Pack a lunch and/or some granola bars to get you through the day. On a side note, bring a travel bottle of anti-bacterial gel for your hands to help clean up before you eat.

  • Jacket

If you think it might get cool in the late afternoon or evening, it’s better to have a light cover-up than not.

  • Camera

Of course you’ll want pictures to post on your blog!

Check back for Part 2: That Little Thing Called Sales.