Beirut it is

I’ve gone back and forth over which story to write next.

First, it was going to be an historical women’s fiction piece set in a convent in 17th century Milan, Italy. I really had begun to give the main character shape and even mentally thought through her development over the course of the tale. Despite my fluency in Italian, however, all the research required intimidated me (not to mention the fact that I would likely need to return to Italy for some of that research…and we simply cannot afford such a trip just now).

Then I got all geared up to write a novel based on my experiences as a teenager in Beirut when the civil war broke out there in 1975. (I learned at the recent conference that such a story would be classified as historical YA fiction. Yes, I am officially old now.) I even began writing it until some other flashes of inspiration struck and stalled me…all speculative.

They’re good ideas, but not for now. I’ve been advised to go with my gut, not the market or even the suggestions of others. Today, I’m back on course with the Beirut story of a dysfunctional American expat family that finally comes together as a country begins to fall apart. (Now, don’t get ideas that this story is based on my own family. We were not, and are not, dysfunctional…but we were there.)

P.S. – I’ve submitted a partial of Laps to another agency. Keeping my fingers crossed because this agent is a dynamo.

Originally posted 2011-05-18 07:37:59.

My Book a Door Prize

One of my responsibilities at the recent LDStorymakers Writers Conference was to help take pictures of those who won books as door prizes. It was a real pleasure to be on the other side of the camera for this shot with Bethany Kitchen. She won my book, The Reckoning, as a door prize and I enjoyed meeting her and autographing the inside cover page. (I was a rebel by Saturday and refused to wear the colorful green sailor cap. Sorry, Liz.)

But I loved the timely, efficient way Liz coordinated all the door prizes. Let’s hear it for Liz and everyone else in charge of this year’s conference!

Originally posted 2011-05-14 13:03:41.

Marketing a Must

One of the things I realized coming back from this writer’s conference was that I can’t afford to sit on my heels with my website, blog, and social media accounts. Sara Megibow made it very clear that even if she likes your writing she won’t take you on unless you’re already acting like a professional. I can see her point. I’ve been on Facebook and LinkedIn for years, and I’ve blogged off and on for years, as well. I created my first website back in 2008 and then updated it this past year. I’ve also had a Twitter account for a couple of years, but now I’m determined to get comfortable tweeting and doing a whole lot more on the marketing end. I may only have one book out, but it’s a pretty good book (if I do say so myself) and it’s about time a lot more people knew about it.

My first purchase after the conference was this book: Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs. You can bet I’m going to be up late nights devouring its pages.

Originally posted 2011-05-12 12:49:14.

What a Trip! What a Conference!

I’m ready for human cloning (on a temporary basis, that is). I think writers need to have clones so that their writer self can remain at the keyboard creating while their marketing and student selves go off to conferences to learn, network, and pitch to agents and editors. (If you’re a writer, I know you agree with this.) The only drawback to the 2011 LDStorymakers Conference was that I couldn’t be in several places at the same time.

But first, the trip. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Sure, I could have used a clone or two to help me drive for 9.5 hours straight (other than gas, food and potty stops). Still, it was great weather and at the end of the day I got to meet up with three old friends from my junior high days and compare notes over dinner. I hadn’t seen one of them since 10th grade. It was amazing to see how our lives had turned out thus far. Good fodder for a novel…but not right away or they’d get mad.

I roomed with the fabulous Liz Adair and Thursday morning was spent assembling folders and binders for the conference. Then, while everyone spent much of the day in Boot Camp, I got to drive down to Provo and have lunch with my beautiful daughter, Allison. Afterward, we lucked out and got into the Carl Bloch exhibit at BYU’s Museum of Art. He could tell an entire story with one painting or even one etching. I think my favorite altar pieces were those of Christ with the child and Christ at the Pool of Bethesda (particularly since it relates to my newest novel that I’m pitching). I arrived back in SLC that evening in time for a quick dinner and then a fun “Meet and Greet” with fellow Storymakers. The interviews conducted by Tristi Pinkston, Frank Cole, and Terri Ferran had me wiping tears from my eyes because I was laughing so much and I can’t wait to upload them to the new website. (I’ll keep you posted on that.) Stephanie Fowers and her sister were invaluable in taping the interviews. Warning: they’re in high def, so don’t be too judgmental on appearances. After all, some of these interviews were done at 10 pm after a full day of Boot Camp!

Friday and Saturday were a blur. This is when I really could have used a few clones. In between helping Liz with door prize giveaways several times each day and grabbing meals here and there, I attended great presentations by Becca Stumpf (on pitching), Marion Jensen (on Social Media…but I missed the last half because I was scheduled to pitch to Sara Megibow, a terrific agent–I don’t know how she did it, but I wasn’t nervous at all; I felt so at ease talking with her and she expressed interest in Laps), Sara Crowe (on synopsis writing, which turned out to be the pitch portion of your query letter rather than a full synopsis…not what I was expecting but still helpful), Josi Kilpack (on launching your book), Dave Wolverton twice (on habits of successful writers and on using resonance to make your writing sell), Bob Conder (on Screenwriting), and the energetic and funny Sara Megibow (on acquiring a literary agent). I also attended a speculative fiction panel featuring James Dashner, Rob Wells, Dave Wolverton, Julie Wright, and Howard Taylor. You might wonder why since my fiction thus far has been solidly grounded in reality, but about two weeks ago three fascinating ideas for novels hit me–all speculative (one YA semi-historical, and two dystopian). I know. I should have attended Rob’s on Dystopian Fiction, but hey–that would have required clones.

Anyway, the Whitney Awards Gala Dinner was terrific as always and some of my favorite people won, besides. I’d invited my daughter and a guy she’s dating, Bryan Beus, to join me since he’s an illustrator (he did the covers and illustrations for James Dashner’s first two installments in the 13th Reality series) and a soon-to-be-published author. He ended up knowing as many people there as I did!

My last comment on cloning: it might help de-stress your pet cats. Every time I go away for a short trip and then return, Peach and Anastasia have to get re-introduced to me. It’s as if they can’t believe it’s really me walking in the door. Of course, if they were to encounter more than one of me at a time, they’d probably go nuts, so that alternative won’t work…for them, anyway.

If we can’t have cloning at next year’s conference, maybe we can at least have an option to buy DVDs or CDs of the presentations we missed. What do you think?

Originally posted 2011-05-09 12:47:24.

I’m Back!

You probably thought I’d died or got lost while climbing Mt. Ranier (Hah! With my knees, I can’t even hike up Badger Mountain behind my house and it’s not really a mountain…more like an elevated hill.)…or…was secretly off on some remote location for the next episode of “Survivor.”

After all, why would a writer stop blogging for three months? Other than my shoulder surgery and recovery, the main reason is this.

It only took about a month (and the help of a very web tech-savvy friend) to get the new Storymakers website up and running, but it’s taken another two to get little things ironed out and get comfortable enough with the routine of site maintenance so that I’m ready to delegate much of it to my committee members.

Just in time, too, because I’m hoping to meet up with all of them at the annual LDStorymakers Writers Conference next week in Salt Lake City. There, I can sit down with them and show them the ropes (if they haven’t yet figured it out from my way-too-dense instructional email).

By the way, if you’re a Storymaker and planning on attending, please don’t miss the Meet and Greet on Thursday, May 5th at 8 pm in the hotel. Not only will you be able to meet and socialize with fellow Storymakers and begin to put faces to names, but you’ll get:

  • an introduction to the Board of Directors and its various responsibilities (so that you might be more inclined to volunteer your services for certain positions, such as mine…hint, hint)
  • a brief demonstration of the new site…AND
  • a chance to be interviewed (bring a copy of your latest book, even if it’s 5+ years old) for future placement in the Featured Video section of the website’s home page.

The conference should be awesome and I can’t wait to meet a ton of fellow writers, plus agents, editors, and publishers. (I’m pitching to Sara Megibow with Nelson Literary Agency.)

In any case, no more excuses. I promise to check in at least twice a week from here on out (since I don’t foresee any other website creation in my future).

Originally posted 2011-04-26 09:24:43.

I’m Trying a Goodreads Giveaway

In celebration of the check for $1,000 I received in the mail from Writer’s Digest for my recent win, I decided to offer a few free copies of The Reckoning in one of Goodread’s Giveaways. If you haven’t yet read it and want to, but can’t afford a copy, it won’t hurt to click on the entry in the widget in my right sidebar (under Awards).

And just to reiterate how important a cover is, particularly if you’re thinking of self-publishing, here were the Judge’s notes on my book and some of the reasons it won First Place in the Mainstream/Literary Fiction category of the 18th Annual Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards:

(On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “poor” and 5 meaning “excellent”)

Plot: 4

Grammar: 5

Character development: 4

Production quality and cover design: 5

Judge’s commentary: Gorgeous cover – your artist is really gifted. Wow! What an opening. Your writing is direct and beautifully crafted. Your knowledge of the setting and cultures really shows in the writing.

I really did luck out with that cover in contacting the artist, Vian Sora, and obtaining her permission to use her painting entitled Nostalgia. As you can see, it pays for writers to get to know artists.

Originally posted 2011-01-22 17:30:16.

Upcoming ANWA Conference and Why I Can’t Attend

ANWA (American Night Writers Association) is holding a terrific conference in a few weeks. Here is some information, including a list of faculty and classes:

19th Annual ANWA Writers Conference
“Writing at the Speed of Life”

American Night Writers Association
will hold its 19th Annual Writers Conference
in Phoenix, Arizona on February 25 & 26, 2011, with

SPEAKER Chris Stewart

Author of “The Great and Terrible” fiction series, The Fourth War,
Missionary Miracles: Stories and Letters from the Field, and other works
Make the ANWA Conference your two-day Writer’s Getaway. Come to the Friday afternoon and evening workshops, and spend the rest of the evening at the “Meet & Greet,” where you will rub shoulders with the agents, editor, and authors. Enjoy the heated pool and jacuzzi, then wake up refreshed and ready for a great day at the conference. Hotel room discount is available if you book by February 2, 2011.

  • Laurie Schnebly Campbell, author of Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams and noted teacher of online courses
  • Chava Cannon, award-winning singer-songwriter and member of BMI
  • Elana Johnson, author of Possessions, and query letter guru
  • Cecily Markland, owner of Inglestone Pubishing, editor of The Beehive Newspaper, and a published author
  • Angela Morrison, author of YA novels Sing Me to Sleep and Taken by Storm
  • Kelly Gottuso Mortimer, agent and owner of Mortimer Literary Agency
  • Carolyn Murphy, the Family Tree Gal
  • Janette Rallison, national YA author who has sold over 700,000 books, including My Double LifeJust One Wish,My Fair Godmother, and Revenge of the Cheerleaders
  • Kirk Shaw, editor at Covenant Communications
  • Kelly Sonnack, agent from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, who specializes in all types of children’s literature, including picture books, and middle grade and young adult novels
  • Chris Stewart, best-selling author of The Great and Terrible series, and other books
  • Conrad J. Storad, award-winning childrens author of Don’t Call Me a Pig (A Javelina Story), and Rattlesnake Rules

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Here is a taste of the class list for the 2011 ANWA Writers Conference. Friday workshops are interactive and hands-on. Titles of classes that will be presented twice are followed by an asterisk (*). More class titles will be added later.

  • Writing A Killer Query Letter (Friday Workshop)
    Elana Johnson, author of Possessions, and query letter guru
    Every submission, whether for a publisher or a literary agent, starts with a query letter. You can craft a query letter that will hook an editor or agent to request more material in just a few steps. Bring your one-page query letter to share, receive feedback, and leave this two-hour workshop with a killer query letter that will generate requests.
  • Sonoran Desert Tales—Making Nonfiction Fun for Young Readers (Friday Workshop)
    Conrad J. Storad, author of Don’t Call Me a Pig (A Javelina Story), and Rattlesnake Rules
    To become a better writer one must write. Then write more.
  • Pitching to Agents, Editors, and Publishers (Friday Workshop)
    Elana Johnson
    So you think you want to pitch to an agent or editor? You don’t need a 90 mph fastball, just a clear picture of how to talk to another human being about your book. Come learn how to say all the right things in all the right places that will impress an agent or editor enough to generate a request.
  • Read Me A Story—Reading Aloud to Cultivate the Art of Listening (Friday Workshop)
    Conrad J. Storad
    The art of listening is an acquired one. It must be taught and cultivated gradually—it doesn’t happen overnight.
  • A Match Made in Heaven: Finding the Right Publisher and Convincing Them It’s So
    Kirk Shaw, senior editor at Covenant Communications, Inc.; and freelance editor for David R. Godine, Publisher; Northwestern University Press; and other publishers
  • Avoiding Childish Mistakes When Writing for Children
    Kelly Sonnack, agent from Andrea Brown Literary Agency
    What are some of the mistakes writers make when writing for children, and how can you avoid them? What are the things that make editors and agents cringe and stop reading? Kelly will discuss the pitfalls to avoid when writing your children’s book.
  • How to Start a Book and Get it Finished
    Laurie Schnebly Campbell, author of Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams and noted teacher of online courses
    For writers anywhere in the process from imagining a book to completing the final chapter, this class looks at how, when and why to start writing, roadblocks and solutions along the way, and what to do after reaching The End.
  • Block-busting: Putting the Joy Back in Writing
    Laurie Schnebly Campbell
    At some point, almost all writers suffer from the inability to tell the story they want. Part of writer’s block is a lack of joy in the process, so counselor Laurie Schnebly Campbell looks at the causes—including exhaustion, boredom and fear of success—and the benefits of this block. Take home new awareness of what works for you, and renewed inspiration for returning to the craft you love.
  • Perils of Publishing: Extreme Makeover—Editing Edition
    Kelly Gottuso Mortimer, agent and owner of Mortimer Literary Agency
  • Write What You Know: Gleaning from Reality to Make Characters Breath *
    Angela Morrison, author of YA novels Sing Me to Sleep and Taken by Storm
    Gather, delve into, and create using Angela’s favorite techniques to turn what we know, love, learn, and yearn for into living characters to populate our scenes.
  • Beginning Songwriting For The Versatile Writer In You
    Chava Cannon, award-winning singer-songwriter and member of BMI
    Calling all story-tellers! Did you know that songwriting is story-telling set to music? After this 1 hour class, you too will have the skills to write a song. You will learn basic song formatting, do’s and don’ts and how to get started. Pre-requisite: NONE. No musical skill required, just the willingness to step outside the “Novel” box. Come join in the FA LA LA and add songwriting to your resume.
  • Editor and Agent Panel
    Kirk Shaw, Kelly Sonnack, Kelly Gottuso Mortimer, Cecily Markland
  • Topic: Family and Personal History Writing *
    Carolyn Murphy, the Family Tree Gal
  • Topic: Dialogue *
    Janette Rallison, national YA author

So how come I won’t be there? Unfortunately, I’ve got shoulder surgery scheduled three days before (a partial tear of my left rotator cuff) and there’s no way I’d be able to handle luggage at the airport, let alone lug all the books around that I’d probably want to buy.

But, hey! That doesn’t mean you can’t! There’s no better place to find an agent or a publisher than at a writer’s conference. Register now at a discount by going here.

Originally posted 2011-01-18 16:54:09.

Huge Contest for “Dearly Departed”

Tristi Pinkston is hosting an absolutely huge contest over on her blog to celebrate the release of her new book, “Dearly Departed.” A new prize will be offered every twenty-four hours, and with multiple chances to win, you can’t go wrong! Prizes include books, jewelry, perfume, movies – and the grand prize is a free night’s stay at the Lion Gate Manor in Lava Hot Springs. Visit Tristi’s blog for rules and more details.

Originally posted 2010-12-01 12:46:11.

The Reckoning Wins Another (Bigger) Award

This morning, I’d planned on posting my next piece in my Publishing’s Paradigm Shift series, but I’ll save it for tomorrow, since I have big news to share:

The Reckoning won 1st place for Mainstream/Literary Fiction in the 2010 Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards!

Not only will I receive $1,000 check, but my book will get featured in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest next year AND I’ll finally get a real official review in Midwest Book Reviews. Hopefully, this will bump up sales. Naturally, I’m floating around today (and not because of my head cold).

My only question now is…do I add an addendum to my publishing history on those queries I’ve already sent out for my next book? And how best do I do it? I think I’d better ask Agency Gatekeeper or Rachelle Gardner. They’re always open to questions from their readers.

Originally posted 2010-11-18 10:47:36.

Publishing’s Paradigm Shift – Effect on Authors

With all of this movement toward e-books, what can authors expect in the near future? Some of the coming changes may include the following:

•Funding for authors’ advances may begin to be provided by external investors (as they are with films and plays)

•Best-selling authors, who already have a name brand, may turn to self-publishing for higher royalties, making more room for midlist and debut authors

•Until then, the bar is higher and authors may want to consider self-publishing

•Some authors are already serializing their books online to build readership

•Publishers can’t hold on to rights indefinitely by making books available as POD or e-books, according to recent rulings (when such a book is out of print, rights will revert to author)

Average advances today are between $1,000 and $5,000 for debut literary fiction as opposed to the $50-100,000 advances of the past. For commercial fiction: $15,000 or less. And publishing houses are beginning to shrink their lists, so it’s becoming more and more difficult to get picked up as a debut author.

One option is to take your chances with self-publishing and try to find ways to grow your own fan base. One unpublished author is serializing his new book, chapter by chapter on his website where, over the next ten weeks, it will build like a part-work. In the words of a friend, he’s “doing a Dickens.” And he’s making it available for free, betting that many readers won’t want to wait and will go ahead and download the entire book for less than the cost of a paperback. After that, it will go to Amazon, with an iPod version later. A second, already published, author, John Gorman, is serializing his new thriller to a WordPress site. On the site, his Mission Statement encourages people to contribute to the story. He won’t publish their words, but he might run with their character ideas and plot twists, so there’s a collective element to this novel.

For those who decide to self-publish, Publishers Weekly now puts out a quarterly supplement, called PW Select, that announces self-published titles for $149 and reviews for free those they feel are most deserving of a critical assessment. For more information, check www.publishersweekly.com/diy.

Personally, I went the self-publishing route for my first book and it’s seen very few sales, despite the awards, simply because it’s not out there enough. I won’t go that route again. I’d rather hone my craft and keep writing and querying until I get an agent. An agent will lead me to a publisher who can get my name out there. I’m hoping that a lot of these top authors who no longer need a big publisher will go the self-publishing route, thereby making room on publishers’ lists for more midlist and debut authors.

In my next posting on this topic, I’ll share the thoughts and experiences of some of those who have.

Originally posted 2010-11-15 11:04:47.