Monday, February 23, 2015

Throw Out the Resolutions

By Andrea Merrell

How is 2015 going for you so far? We’re now approximately eight weeks into another year and I wonder how many of you made resolutions that have already fallen to the wayside. We all do it—make promises to ourselves to eat healthy, exercise, and lose weight. Some of us resolve to touch base with an old friend, get organized, or refinish a piece of furniture. Others vow to spend more time in God’s Word and prayer or to volunteer at a local shelter.

As writers, our goals may be a little different. Maybe you’re determined to finish a manuscript and start working on those proposals and query letters. Perhaps you plan to make a schedule and set aside a certain portion of each day to devote to writing. If you’re like most writers, you’re probably trying to decide which conference is the right fit for you this year.

Whatever your goals and desires for this year, try something different. Instead of making the usual resolutions—which fade further and further from our mind with each passing day—make reasonable commitments instead. The key here is to establish small, bite-sized goals that can easily be achieved. When we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves, we end up disappointed, frustrated, and ready to give up completely. In other words, don’t vow to have your book on Amazon by this time next year. Instead, establish some reachable goals and then make a commitment to stick to them.
But a word of warning: be flexible. Life happens. When it does and it derails your best efforts, don’t beat yourself up and pronounce yourself a failure. And, whatever you do, don’t quit. Tomorrow is a new day and God’s mercies are new each morning.

Everyone has different needs and expectations, but here are a few ideas to get you started. Read through the list, pick out a couple of items, and then put them on your calendar or to-do list.

This Year I Will:
  • Pray over my writing and commit each project to God.
  • Set aside at least fifteen to thirty minutes each day to write.
  • Clean and organize my desk/workspace (and consolidate all my notes).
  • Spend less time on FB, Twitter, and computer games.
  • Attend at least one workshop or writers’ conference.
  • Take an online course.
  • Stop procrastinating and complete one unfinished project (devotion, article, blog post, short story, or novel).
  • Step out of my comfort zone and try a different genre.
  • Start a blog (or blog more).
  • Update my website.
  • Join a critique group.
  • Offer to mentor another writer or help them promote their book, blog, or services.
  • Send thank-you notes or e-mails to those who have helped and inspired me.

Do you have other suggestions you would like to share? We would love to hear from you.

TWEETABLES


(Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art.) 


Monday, February 16, 2015

Are You Committed to the Craft of Writing?

by Alycia Morales

NOTE: I will be sharing quotes from Jeff Goins' newest book throughout this post. The Art of Work releases in March, but for a limited time you can get a FREE copy if you {click here}.






Have you ever had one of those years when you've been working on a project and you keep hitting a brick wall? You think you've got your plot line figured out, but when you round the next corner ... WHAM! And it's back to the drawing board.

Yeah, me too. I've been working on my first novel for two years now. I thought I had it finished. I thought it might be salable. My friends loved it.

Except for one. She hated my weak female character (so did I) and would have thrown the book across the room if it wasn't in her laptop. Her final issue with it was that I had promised my reader a suspense novel and dropped

  ...the...
               ...ball...

I was so thankful for her honest feedback.

We writers are told about this thing called "thick skin." We're told we need to develop it. Here are a few reasons why:
  • We are surrounded by critics.
  • We are rejected.
  • Our pages get slayed with red ink.
  • And friends who love us tell us the hard-to-hear-it truth about our lack of skill.

The question then becomes - as Jeff Goins points out in his latest book, The Art of Work - Are you committed to the craft, or will you quit when it gets too hard?

I've spent the past few months trying to work out that suspense thread. More than once I've looked up from the screen and asked God, "Am I supposed to be writing suspense?"

I hit so many brick walls, I almost wanted to give up trying to find a plot line that would work. It seemed that every time I thought I had it figured out, I found out something else wouldn't work. I am so thankful I was simply trying to outline the story rather than writing it out. I'd have so many pages of unusable material at this point.

I have to say, I came to a very uncomfortable point in what I consider to be my calling. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to find a corner I could round and keep moving forward.

My ability alone could get me no farther. I needed a breakthrough.

And just when I thought I should try writing something else, God provided it.

I was in Target, looking at pens. Another lady entered the aisle and perused the pens as well. She pointed out an opened pack and wondered aloud why someone would open it and put it back on the shelf. I pointed out another pack someone had opened and taken one pen from before placing it back on the shelf. She mentioned how picky nurses are about their pens. I mentioned how picky writers are about their pens. She asked what I write. I mentioned a few things, including my novel.

And she asked every writer's favorite question: What's your story about?

I have always struggled with an elevator pitch for this book. For the first time in two years, the words rolled off my tongue without effort. Three simple sentences. My spirit man jumped within, celebrating a sudden breakthrough.

I was able to go home and write out a back-cover-copy-length synopsis. My plot line was now incredibly clear.

So when you're facing those brick walls in your writing career, when you've had enough criticism and rejection, and you wonder if you should give up, remember:
  • Ask yourself if you're committed to your craft. If not, it may not be your calling.
  • Take yourself beyond what you think is possible. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
  • Watch for the little things in life. They may reveal the breakthrough you've been waiting for.

Tweetables:

What do you do when you keep hitting brick walls in your plot line? {Click to Tweet} 

You must be committed to the craft of writing if you consider it your calling. {Click to Tweet}

What about you? Have you ever had to consider whether or not to keep writing? To pursue that story line? What tips do you have for pushing through those walls?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Make the Most of Those Fifteen-Minute Appointments

Today's guest is author and editor Cindy Sproles. Leave a comment below and you will have a chance to win a copy of her new book, Mercy's Rain. Be sure to check back next week to see if you won.




 
By Cindy Sproles

As conference time nears, conferees dig down and prepare to meet one-on-one with publishers, agents, and editors. The wonderful advantage of attending a conference is this “free-card” to meet face-to-face with industry professionals. The publishing market has tightened to the point of strangulation. Publishers are overworked and understaffed, so to meet with them at a conference is an amazing opportunity.

During these meetings, publishers (and agents) will extend an open-door opportunity for writers to submit their work directly to them during a specific time frame. Does this increase your opportunity for publication? Somewhat.

What are the advantages of the fifteen-minute appointment? Believe it or not, a lot can be accomplished in fifteen minutes. Publishers and agents are looking for individuals who can be concise. Sitting across the table from these folks offers writers the opportunity to pitch their work, develop a relationship, and to network—which increases your opportunity at publication. Don’t misunderstand. Increased opportunity and the promise of publication are two different things. If a publisher requests your proposal, it’s not a promise to publish it; it is merely an opportunity to look at the work—an opportunity a writer may not otherwise get for several years.

Make the most of your fifteen minutes:
  • Come Prepared.
  • Bring a business card.
  • Have a one-sheet.
  • Come with paper and pen.
  • Have a list of questions you’d like to ask.
  • Be ready to spit out your pitch.
When you sit across from a publishing professional, don’t find yourself upside down, digging in your briefcase for things. For lack of better words, when your backside hits that chair, the items listed above should land on the desk.

Why choose an appointment time? This is the one time a writer can obtain a free-card. During conferences, publishers and agents (who are snowed under with manuscripts), allow writers to send unsolicited work to them. Most publishers offer a time frame (maybe six months to a year) for conferees to submit work to them for review. This in itself is a prime opportunity.

Follow these steps for your fifteen-minute appointment:
  • Set your watch on the table and be courteous. WATCH THE TIME. Others are waiting.
  • Have your business card and one-sheet ready.
  • Introduce yourself and shake hands. Handshakes say a lot about a person. So have a firm handshake, not a fishy one.
  • Don’t babble. Some professionals will want to know a tidbit about you—not a life history. Rather, your length of time writing, your genre, and your passion.
  • Practice your pitch. Know what you want to say before you sit down. I’ve lovingly said, “You should be able to bolt upright from a dead sleep and spout off your pitch.”
  • If the professional wants to read your one-sheet, please be courteous and be quiet. Let them read. The more you talk, the more you eat away that fifteen minutes.
  • Should the publishing professional offer you constructive criticism … be gracious. Don’t be offended, be thrilled. You’re getting free, professional advice from folks who know the business.
  • Finally, understand before you sit down that if the publisher or agent wants your work, they will ask. Sometimes the opportunity to “not ask” is a gentle way to say no without hurting your feelings. So don’t ask them if you can send them your proposal. If they are interested, they will ask.
Remember, the fifteen-minute appointment is a prime opportunity to network. Many authors pick up freelance work and special projects from publishers from these appointments. Publishers meet you, see your abilities, and remember you when a special project opens. You may be the certain someone who might fill the bill. These appointments are more than just pitching one piece of your work. You’re pitching yourself and your abilities. You are a whole package, not just one project. Keep that in mind as you meet with publishing professionals.

Things to do ahead of time:
  • Research the editors, publishers, and agents at the conference and pick the ones who represent the genre you write. Prepare your pitch accordingly.
  •  Make your one-sheet (see instructions below).
  • Get business cards. They don’t have to be fancy. You can even make a business card on your computer so professionals can make notes on the back. A photo will help them remember you.
One-Sheet Requirements:
  • Title, genre, word count, completion date.
  • One to three solid paragraphs that summarize your book (think back of the book text).
  • A SHORT bio and your photo, agent information, or your contact information.
  • ALL DONE ON THE FRONT OF ONE SHEET—hence the name.


Follow these guidelines and make the most of your fifteen-minute appointment.

TWEETABLES






Cindy Sproles is the co-founder of Christian Devotions Ministries. She’s an author, popular speaker and teacher at conferences, and a writing mentor. Cindy serves as the Executive Editor of ChristianDevotions.us, Inspire-A-Fire.com, and is the Managing Editor for SonRise Books and Straight Street Books with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is the author of New Sheets–Thirty Days to Refine You Into the Woman You Can Be and Mercy’s Rain–An Appalachian Novel. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Building a Platform

By Andrea Merrell

Do you ever feel like a lone duck—swimming around with no one to help you succeed?


That’s exactly where I was a few years ago. God placed a passion in my heart and gave me words to share, but I was clueless. I had no idea how to format a manuscript, what to do with it when I was finished, or anyone in the writing and publishing industry to turn to for help. Maybe I thought God would send an angel to my door one day and he would say, “We heard you’ve written a best-seller and we’d like to publish it.”

Not so. No angel—well, at least not one who came knocking on my door. My encounter came through a business card that just happened to fall into my hands. I made the phone call and received the best advice I’ve ever received as a writer: "Join a critique group, go to writers’ conferences, and network, network, network."

And so my journey began.

One of the first things I learned was the importance of establishing a platform. When you submit your work to an agent, editor, or publisher, this is one of the important elements they look for. That’s why networking is invaluable.

So how do you build a platform? 

  • Start by attending a writers’ conference or workshop. You will meet people from all across the country, from newbies to multi-published authors, to agents, editors, and publishers. Exchange business cards. Follow up with them after the conference and establish a relationship.
  • Be active on social media. For some of you, that seems overwhelming. It was for me. It took me a while to master Twitter, but in a few short months, I went from thirty followers to over 800, just by making it a daily habit.
  • Learn to use Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, Google +, or whatever venue you choose. Social media will connect you with people you would never know any other way. Follow people you know, and those you don’t. Be quick to share in someone’s success and promote them whenever possible. Some people use a five-to-one rule: for every five posts, four are about others and only one about your book, blog, quote, etc. This is where we can apply the principle of sowing and reaping.
  • Visit blogs that have valuable content and follow them. Sign up for their daily, weekly, or monthly posts and newsletters. Leave comments and get involved. There is so much wisdom and knowledge we can gain from each other.
  • Start your own blog and keep it updated. Invite others to share guest posts that your readers will enjoy and benefit from. Be quick to respond when someone invites you to be a guest on their blog. (As a side note, be sure your blog or website has enough information without overkill. I visited a website recently and searched the site for the author’s name or photo. Nothing. The site had a title, but no information about the author—no social media buttons, no contact info, no nothing. I could not interact with a person because they remained invisible. People want to connect with a person—not just a blog or website full of information.)
  • Remember ... platform is not just about numbers; it's about people and relationships.
  • Stay current with what’s going on in the industry.
You never know when God will give you a kingdom connection, and you never know how it might come. He may surprise you with those He chooses to pour into your life and help you move forward. Sometimes our greatest blessing may come from the last possible place (or person) we expected.

Whatever you do, be ready. When you ask God to bless you and open doors of opportunity, He will. The best way to begin each day is to pray for divine appointments, divine connections, and divine favor.

(Photos courtesy of zazzle.com and pacrimadvisory.com.)

TWEETABLES