Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Half the Year’s Over – How Are Those Resolutions?

I have an ambitious list of resolutions for 2011, if you recall.

So how am I doing? As usual, I’m happy with my progress on some goals and not so happy with my progress on others.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about epublishing and the state of ‘the writing business’ in general, and some of the goals I had in January don’t line up with where my current thinking is. I’m beginning to steer myself toward longer works, rather than shorter, and doggedly pursuing some of these items will take me further away from where I currently want to be.

With that in mind, I’ll probably strike a few of these goals off the list.

Here’s the nitty gritty:

  • Write 302 out of 365 days in 2011.
      Fail! Even if I write every single day for the rest of the year, I won’t hit this mark. Something tells me I should have aimed a little lower with this one. I haven’t updated my spreadsheet for the last week or so, so my numbers are a bit off. However, it looks like I might make about 80% if I write nearly every day for the rest of the year.
  • Triple last year’s fiction output.
    • On target. Even with not hitting the daily writing mark I’ve set, I’ve managed to double last year’s fiction goal. This irritates me a bit because if I were writing nearly every day like I want to, I’d really see the numbers climbing.
  • Finish the two short stories that have plagued me since the beginning of 2010….or trunk them.
      Fail! Or maybe, Complete!! I wrote this goal poorly. Can you tell? I haven’t even looked at these two stories, so I will probably trunk them. That means Complete! Right? (This is the first goal I’m going to discard.)
  • Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress novel.
    • On Target. I’ve written 25,000 additional words since January.
  • Write and submit 6 non-fiction articles.
    • Fail! I’ve written 0 articles this year, although three I wrote last year were finally published. (I could probably still meet this goal, but it doesn’t line up with my “longer works” goals. So, I’ll probably abandon this goal, too, before the year is out.)
  • Write at least three blog posts per week for a total of 156 blog posts for 2011.
    • On target.
  • Fifty-two of the above mentioned blog posts must be writing prompts.
      On Target: I’ve created a Writing Prompt every Friday since the beginning of the year.
  • Make 30 fiction submissions this year, only 1/3 (or less!) of which can be flash or micro-fiction.
      Fail! (But not by much.) I’ve only submitted 10 stories this year. I can probably make this up by the end of the year, provided I have some additional short fiction finished…and, well, we know where my goals lie, so I’m not sure I can do this.
  • Finish reading Sol Stein’s ‘How to Grow a Novel.’
    • COMPLETE!! Finally! Excellent book, though a tad dated for today’s market. Expect a full review sometime “soon.”
  • Send 25 query letters to agents.
    • I’m not hopeful about this. Early on I decided that the anticipated novel I was going to shop needed one more ‘read through’ and I found a section I want to completely re-write, so I haven’t moved on this. It’s late in the novel, so there’s an opportunity for me to send out the queries and fix the section before some agent (or editor) asks for a full, but I really want it “all done” before I send anything out.

So…that’s it for me. How about you? If you’re over-exceeding your goals, will you be raising them? Are you abandoning any ill-made resolutions, like I am? Inquiring minds want to know!

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Eight Tips to Make Your Next Writers Conference Awesome

I stumbled across this article today from Penny C. Sansevieri, editor of The Book Marketing Expert newsletter.

Since I’ve talked many times before about writing conferences, and recently hosted interviews with conference planners and coordinators, I decided to share Penny’s wisdom.

If you missed the 3-part interview series on attending and planning writers’ conferences, you can catch up here:

Guest Post by Penny C. Sansevieri:

I love going to writers conferences, and it’s really awesome when I’m speaking there as well. But as wonderful as the networking is, if you don’t show up with a plan or a set of action items for the conference, you can get sucked up into the vibe of the event without being very productive. Here are some tips to help you maximize your event!

Goals: Before you go to a writers conference, be clear on your goals. If it’s just networking, that’s great, but if you want to get more than networking out of the event, make sure you establish your specific objectives in advance.

Start networking before the event starts: Now that you’ve gone through the conference website, it’s time to identify the folks you’d like to get to know better and start your networking early. Send them an email and tell them you are looking forward to seeing them at the event, or hearing them speak. Follow them on Twitter and begin to network with them there. Early networking is a great way to get in front of agents and publishers you might not otherwise have access to.

Make appointments early: The conference website should be your new best friend. Comb through it to find names of publishers and agents who are going to be there. Most conferences will offer you publisher or agent appointments so you can present your work, but if you want to coordinate a meeting with someone for any other reason dig through the website to find out who will be there and see if you can get on their calendar. I have shown up at conferences hoping to make appointments there and found that they’re not only difficult to schedule, but often confusing as well. Once you hit the conference floor the momentum of the event takes over, and any appointments that haven’t been confirmed prior to event generally won’t happen.

Take business cards: Make sure you bring a lot of business cards, running out at an event is never good.

Stay organized: I will generally bring some letter-sized envelopes with me to the event and then file cards by session or event so I can keep track of where I collected them. For example, let’s say I went to a big awards dinner and did some networking. If I file all of these in the “Awards dinner” envelope, I can add a personal element to the follow up email like “It was nice to meet you at the awards dinner, wasn’t Marci’s acceptance speech great?”

Easy follow-up: Ok, so you’ve had a great meeting with a publisher and they want to see a chapter of your book. Great! Now what? Take their card, flip it over and jot down a few important notes on the back such as: follow-up steps, short meeting details (“met for lunch”), and anything else you can fit onto the card such as any personal details they shared – like having a daughter who went to the same school as your kids or something like that.

Never eat alone: There’s a great networking book by the same name (Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, Crown Books) and the statement is true. At a writers conference be sure to grab a table packed with people and even better, don’t sit with the same folks over and over again. Mix it up and meet new people!

Action items: At the end of each conference day, I find it helpful to gather my notes and go through and highlight the important items from the day. I have often waited until I’m on the plane back home, or worse, the Monday following the conference and I generally can’t make heads or tails out of who I am supposed to follow up with at that point. Lesson: do it early while the information is still fresh.

And finally, our bonus tip:

Plan B: If you can’t afford to attend the writers conference that’s in your town here’s an idea for you. When a big conference rolls into town, an author friend of mine will sometimes hang out in the downstairs coffee shop or restaurant at the hotel where the event is being held and network with people there. You never know who you might meet.

Conference follow-up: This is a biggie. Make sure you always follow up with everyone you connected with, especially if you committed to them that you would send them more information, sample chapters, whatever.

Keep the networking going: Relationships take time. Don’t expect miracles when you land at a writers conference. Sometimes great stuff will happen right away, and other times it’s a process. Don’t let the networking end when the function is over. You’re now networking with them online via Twitter and Facebook, and perhaps you have some follow-up to do. Keep on their radar screen and then be on the lookout for future events you can attend!

Writers conferences are a great way to get out there and network, meet your peers and meet agents, publishers, and marketing professionals who can help you publish or market your book. Here are a few for you to consider!

Romantic Times

Unicorn Writers Conference

Romance Writers of America

Book Expo America


Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques.

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Writing Prompt: 200 Words Before Breakfast

Today’s prompt is all about quantity and nothing about subject matter.

Yesterday, Wil Wheaton posted on his blog Two Hundred Words Before Six in the Morning.

A single page, double-spaced, yields on average 250 words – less, however, if you’re writing poetry or dialogue. But if you can write one page every day, you can churn out roughly one novel a year (two, if you’re writing YA fiction.)

Can you do it?

Here’s Your Prompt: Write 200 words before something:  200 words before breakfast, or before your lunch break is over, or before you have to leave the house this morning.

Write 200 words before you’re finished drinking your coffee / tea / soda. Write 200 words before you have to pick up the kids from school today.

Do you work full time? Write 200 words before you start your workday, or before your morning meeting (admit it, you’re checking your personal email, right? Skip it, and write.)

Do you ride public transportation? Write 200 words before your stop. Or, 200 words before you arrive this morning.

Whatever you do today, write 200 words.

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Writing Prompt – When I See That View…

Kelly A. Harmon at High Rock Overlook

High Rock Overlook is located just south of the Mason Dixon Line in Washington County, Maryland. It’s a special landmark for several reasons: it’s on the Appalachian Trail, a “landmark” in its own right; it overlooks the “Great Valley,” which spans parts of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania; and it’s near the divide where water on one side of the mountain flows into Antietam Creek (through the valley below) and into the Monocacy River on the other side.

But I just like it for the view.

Standing on the top of the rock, you can see 1400 feet below you. You have to look down to see the eagles flying. When I’m at the edge of the rock, feeling a bit of an updraft, I have an urge to take a running leap off the precipice and fly with them.

High Rock Overlook

Great views will do that to you: inspire you, engender feelings you didn’t think you would have, offer comfort, scare you. Make you wonder: what if ?

Here’s Your Prompt: Dig though your vacation or your day-trip photos looking for pictures of scenic views, ocean storms, cityscapes, anything. Turn pages in albums or flip through directories until you see something that leaps out at you.

If you don’t have any personal albums, turn to google images and search for photos.

Choose a scene that makes you think something you’ve never thought before, or something that urges you to do something you’ve never done before.

Write down that idea before it escapes.

Make a list of all the things that could have led you to that thought, or culminated in the action that calls to you from that view. Write a scene which concludes with that thought, or results in the action you’re drawn to take.

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

To Do/ To Bring When Attending Writing Conferences

Things are a bit crazy around here as I’ve bit the bullet and signed up for a writing class with mega-agent Don Maass on the 24th of this month.

Don is considered a top-tier agent, and he represents quite a few fantasy writers I love to read, so I’m pretty stoked about him teaching local enough (4-hour drive) to attend his seminar.

It’s a day-and-a-half workshop, to which I’m required to bring my completed manuscript. (No problem, as all my faithful readers will know that I’ve got one ready to send off to agents and have planned to do so this year.)

But I’m a bit angsty since three weeks doesn’t seem like enough time to get ready for the seminar, which is attached to the Write Stuff Conference hosted by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.

Luckily, I’m prepared. I have a routine I follow when I’m off to a conference. I’ve actually presented this material to writer’s groups, so if it sounds like I’m lecturing…it’s because I am. 🙂

Here’s what I recommend:

Before the Conference

  1. Think about your expectations. What do you want to get out of it? Knowing your expectations helps you plan what you’ll do while you’re there. Do you want to meet other local writers? Do you want to pitch your novel to an agent? Or do you want to learn about craft, careers and the industry? You don’t have to choose, you can do it all…but scheduling of panels may prohibit this. So, prioritize your goals and plan accordingly.
  2. Get an advanced copy of the conference schedule and look over your desired sessions.
    Highlight and number where you want to be, the time and the room numbers, or copy this information to your planner. This will save you time at the conference, allowing you to network, join impromptu sessions and, maybe, get some writing in, too.
  3. Will you be able to pitch your book to agents and editors? Do you want to do so? If so, research the available candidates. Will there be someone present who represents the genre you write? Prepare a pitch according to that agent’s specifics.
  4. Hit the social networks to see if any of your online acquaintances will be going, too. Tweet, blog and post to boards and arrange a meet-up.
  5. If you’re going somewhere non-local: research the area: what restaurants are available? Are there any local landmarks or monuments you could visit? What about hiking, skiing, or other sportly adventures? (You could make this trip all about the conference, but hey, if you’re going somewhere new, you might as well learn a little about the area. Consider it research for your next book.)
  6. Check your writing “gear.” Make sure everything you need is in the bag you’ll take along: laptops and cables, a thumbdrive, your favorite notebooks and pencils, gum, mints, etc. (Check even if you’re meticulous about putting everything in it’s place–you never know.) If you’re attending any writing sessions, add a thesaurus and/or dictionary and your current work-in-progress. If you’re meeting up with fellow writers, you could also take a finished work you could use in an impromptu writing session.
  7. Formulate a list of questions you’d like answered. These could be related to the panels you want to attend, about presenters at the conference, about writing craft, about pitching your book, publishing in general (or specific), about, well…anything. Write them down and carry them with you so that you won’t forget to ask.

What Should You Bring?

  1. Your printed list of questions.
  2. Any research material you accumulated about the conference or the location.
  3. Business cards.
  4. Something to take notes with: your laptop, a notebook and pen, etc. (I always carry both: there will be times when a laptop will be inconvenient.)
  5. If you’re pitching, bring whatever the agent or editor prefers (and in the style they prefer it in): your query letter, a synopsis, the first five pages of your novel, etc. It’s doubtful you’ll need your entire novel printed out: no agent is going to want to lug an entire manuscript (times 100, or how many writers he meets) back to his office. If an agent is interested, he’ll give you his card and tell you to mail it.)
  6. Bring any giveaway table items that you can leave in designated areas: (book marks, flyers, brochures for writing-related services or your local writers group, etc).
  7. Any personal items you can’t live without for a few days or which will make your hotel room your home away from home: MP3 Player, cell phone, teddy bear, photo of your spouse, etc.)

Next time: What to do at the conference.

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Writing Prompt – Art for Inspiration

Van Gogh's Wheat Field with CypressesI’ve never studied art. You won’t find me going to museums to look at the artwork for fun.

Disclaimer: I have visited several museums in the US and Europe, including the Vatican, and have seen a great deal of traditional and modern art.

It’s just not my cup of tea.

That being said, I know what I like. There are certain pieces that “speak” to me in a way I can’t explain.

One of those pieces is Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses, pictured here. I have a framed print of it on my desk.

When I bought it, I wasn’t shopping for art. (I was shopping for books, what else?) I passed it by several times. I returned to it several times, picked it up, put it back down again. Decided to buy it, then not. I really dithered.

But something in it talked to me. I can see the wheat blowing in the field, the motion of the clouds, and to me, it doesn’t look like it was painted in 1889. It could have been painted in any year.

It’s more than a wheat field and a few cypresses: Van Gogh has painted a fantasy land…and whenever I’m stumped for the right description of something in a world I’m building, I look to it.

The beauty of it is I never describe the golden field or blue and white sky. The picture takes me further, makes me think deeper about my fantasy world. It suggests in a way, under the surface, that it never can with its overt snapshot of the field. There’s more there than meets the eye, and I see a little glimpse of it each time I look at the picture.

Here’s Your Prompt: Go looking for art. Hit a local museum or the library for art books. Do a Google search for Van Gogh or Michelangelo, a modern artist, a performance artist. Anyone. For more variety, go to Google Images and search for “modern art” or “traditional art” or drill deeper for sculpture, carvings, weaving, etc.

Look for something that “speaks” to you: something that keeps you coming back for more. Find a piece of art that draws your eyes away from others over and over again.

Once you find your piece, write a scene. The scene could be dialogue, description, action — anything — that is inspired from the artwork.

Next: put your scene away for a while (a week, two, longer if you can) and let it rest. Then, revisit the artwork. Does it inspire something different? Does it inspire something additional? Add that to what you’ve written previously.

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Play Lists for Writing and Idea Gathering

Sheet MusicA lot of writers create specific play lists to put them in the mood when they write.

I don’t. I may choose a particular album or artist to write by fairly regularly, but I haven’t yet taken the time to choose a defined set of music for a project. It’s partially because I’m lazy – I don’t want to weed through thousands of songs to choose a small subset. Choosing would be hard!

Mostly, it’s because I don’t want to be limited.

What I like to do is decide how I’m feeling, or what it is I want to feel, and then I search my music database for songs which might match the mood. I say “might” because no database search is without its anomalies. You never know what you might find.

And this is a good thing.

For instance, yesterday I didn’t know what I wanted to listen to while I wrote. When I looked out the window, all I could see was the snow (and more coming down). No sun. No birds. A barren landscape.

A search for “barren” in my database found zilch, so I went with the more generic, “white” for the snow.

My database found 45 songs with white in either the title, the band name, or the the musicians’, producers’ or composers’ names. Songs were offered up by both Judas Priest (White Heat, Red Hot) and David Arkenstone (Nantucket).

There were several bands on the list I hadn’t listened to in YEARS (Crack the Sky, Yes, Def Leppard…)

It sounds like an atrocious mix, but I assure you it wasn’t. I was concentrating on the writing, not the music, after all. It didn’t matter when the music changed from red-hot-metal to new age. For the most part, it didn’t break the flow of writing.

Afterward, I looked at the list more closely. Those songs that used to mean something to me that I haven’t played in years…they gave me some ideas to play with: some writing ideas.

I knew I’d stumbled on to something good.

Do you use play lists? How do you choose and narrow down the songs for a work in progress?

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Motivation for Meeting Writing Goals

SpreadsheetAs you know, last year I didn’t submit to magazines as many “pieces” — my generic term for both fiction and non-fiction — as I wanted to. Though, if I’d planned it better (rather than completely focusing on other things) I might have.

And I might have had more than the three pieces accepted for publication.

One of my 2011 goals is focused on making more submissions (which will, I hope, lead to more acceptances). But other than setting myself a reminder on the calendar, I wasn’t sure how to make this happen.

And even if I did schedule it, how could I guarantee I’d have something to submit when the time came?

Today I stumbled on a method which might work, and I wanted to share.

I keep this spreadsheet (I love me some spreadsheets) which tells me just about everything I need to know about submission I make:

  • Name of the story/article/query letter, etc.
  • Type of submission (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Microfiction [added in 2010!] Query, etc.)
  • Where it was submitted
  • Date Submitted
  • Whether it’s still out or not
  • How many days it’s been out
  • Date I received a reply
  • Notes

Over the years it’s evolved (via much writing procrastination and cat waxing) into a document which tells me yearly totals and percentages of each of those, how many total submissions I’ve made in my writing life, what kind of stories I’ve placed more often, average days out, etc.

(Yeah – there have been days when the spreadsheet, rather than the WIP, has ruled my life.

But, I digress.)

Spreadsheets being what they are, I add a line at the bottom when I’ve made a submission and all the formatting is automatic. I usually close it fairly quickly unless I need to reference something. End of file.

But, today, I added 30 blank lines at the bottom of the file….which are begging to be filled.

Such a small, visual change…but seeing the blank lines has me itching to fill them (and motivated to write something new to submit) – as soon as possible. I’m fairly confident I’ll make, and probably exceed, this 2011 goal.

What tricks do you use to motivate you?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Autumn Already? ‘Tis the Start of Something New…

On my way to work this morning I saw a leaf fall, and then several more.

Autumn already? I thought, accelerating around a curve only to find three deer in my path. I slowed, and they leaped into a nearby hayfield.

So…I’m seeing deer in the morning again, leaves are beginning to brown and drop from trees, and school is starting. It’s early yet, I know, but I’m thinking of new beginnings.

I usually feel this way in January, when like countless others, I try to get my act together.

Maybe it was prompted by a blogpost by fellow Broad, Hunter Liguore, of Sword and Saga Press. Her article, The Fear of Writing struck a chord within me. It begins as an essay discussing the various reasons people don’t allow themselves to write, but morphs into a strategic plan for getting writing done. For folks who are already writing, but (perhaps) lament their lack of time or discipline, the tail-end of Hunter’s post is where the real meat is.

I’ve always advocated using little bits of “found time” to get writing tasks done, but Hunter goes so far as to suggest stealing time from other activities in order to gain a large block of time you can devote to your writing. It’s a different way of looking at things, and makes a lot of sense.

And it all starts with a making a list. Hunter refers to it as a “writing actions” list, but in my mind, it’s a to-do list. When you wake in the morning, you should plot out all the writing items you want to accomplish during the day. For example, this might be a typical list for me:

  1. Write 500 words.
  2. Plot chapter 2.
  3. Research five possible agents.
  4. Draft a query letter.
  5. Find a market for a completed short story.
  6. Edit a previous chapter.

Once you know what you need to accomplish, start considering what you can do during the day (at work or between classes or kids’ naptimes) in order to leave you more time for the most important tasks. I call it using “found time,” Hunter calls it stealing. Call it what you want, it’s often all that’s needed for added productivity.

For instance, I have a clipboard filled with blank paper in the car. While I’m waiting at a stoplight, I usually plot out a scene, write 30 – 50 words or jot down some ideas for a story. You can do the same while standing in line at the bank or waiting in line at the local coffee shop.

Instead of using these “found bits,” Hunter suggests using time you may have devoted to another task. Say your morning routine takes an hour. Can you shave off 15 minutes by altering it? Use the time to plot a scene or return emails (so you won’t have to do it later and cut into your writing) or do your evening chores with that morning block of time, thus freeing it later for writing.

Hunter offers other good suggestions, and has written an oath you can take to commit more time to your writing. (Is taking an oath to silly? Perhaps you won’t feel obliged to honor it, even to yourself. But, you could print it out and leave it in strategic places around the house to remind others not to bother you while you’re writing.)

I keep a running to do list of writing items, but I like Hunter’s targeted approach. With this change of the season, I’m going to give it a try.