Find Your Readers

Present word count:  25,737

Okay, first of all I need to explain why I only wrote 447 words over the past two days (Sundays don’t count because I don’t write on Sundays). One of my cats, Peach, has been really sick and we thought we might have to put him under, even though he’s only 7 years old. We have two cats and he’s my favorite…in fact, he’s my writing buddy, so it’s been hard to focus. His little cat bed is in my office and he’s the one that bugs me every day around lunchtime so I’ll get up to go have some lunch. He keeps me on schedule, but with him being unable to keep food or water down, my schedule kind of suffered. Anyway, my husband took him to the vet today, not knowing if he’d be bringing him back. Yay! He came back. Hopefully, I won’t have to take him back for the last time if we get bad news about his tests. The good news is that my husband’s going on a business trip tomorrow and won’t be back until Saturday, so I get LOTS and LOTS of uninterrupted writing time…that should pick up my word count considerably. I promise to keep you posted about Peach.

And now…

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

5. Don’t try to sell your book to everyone. First, consider this: “58% of the U.S. adult population never reads another book after high school.” Then, consider the fact that among people even willing to buy a book, yours is just a tiny little needle in a very big haystack. Far better to obsess about a little subset of the market–that subset that you have permission to talk with, that subset where you have credibility, and most important, that subset where people just can’t live without your book.

First, let me just say that 58% statistic is just sad. Sad, but probably true. I remember my shock when I met a woman in my previous church congregation down in Southern California who admitted that she never read books. She hated reading. Something inside me kind of shriveled up that day. Oh, well. These are obviously not the people we’re writing our books for.

It’s great to have big goals like writing and publishing a best-seller, some novel that whole new hordes of people line up to buy, but realistically, most authors are going to have to be content with developing their fan base gradually. The way you write and the things you write about are going to appeal to a certain group of readers. If you write genre fiction, you can try to capture all the readers of your particular genre, but there is so much out there that you’ll still only get a slice. You might increase your numbers by mixing a couple of genres and getting crossover appeal. But, hey, a 10,000 reader slice sounds terrific to some of us! I have several author friends who easily surpass that and I’m honored to know them.

The key is building that relationship with your readers once they happen across your orbit, so that you can keep them coming back. First, I think you need to keep providing a steady stream of product for them. This means, of course, that you can’t afford to sit back on your laurels. You’ve got to keep writing because they’re always asking when your next book is coming out. Second, you need to be responsive without letting them take over your life. Third, you need to be very visible online these days. Those are just my ideas.

I’d love to hear what my more experienced author friends have to say on this subject. How have you found your readers? More importantly, how have you kept them?

Originally posted 2012-01-30 17:55:14.

My Tribute to Steve Jobs

“iRemember”

Given up at birth
By an educated Syrian father
And an equally learned mother
Into the arms of loving,
Less lettered parents,
He whiled his way through school,
Perhaps surprising no one
When he left its rule to

Follow his own.

Racing time,
He molded masterful manipulatives,
Each designed elegantly to bring the world
To our fingertips

In easy, intuitive ways.

iMac,

A solid friend,
Dependable, accessible, with a
Mouse that makes the Lion roar.

iTunes,

Bringing music to the masses,
A revolution in song sharing
Between artist and listener.

iPod,

Our first fisted friend,
There on errands, walks and runs,
Fusing melody with life.

iPhone,

The iMac in our hands,
And an “app”licable library
For the future.

iPad,

The iMac and iPod combined,
Simplified and squeezed
To a minimum, yet somehow more.

i’s galore,

iBook, iPhoto, iMovie, iLife, iWork,

But this “i” always,

iRemember.

(Written in memory of Steve Jobs by Tanya Parker Mills, October 14, 2011)

Originally posted 2011-10-14 10:10:16.

“Anne of Green Gables” and Point of View

Yesterday, I finished reading Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. It was a delightful read (and, yes, it was my first introduction to Anne…I can’t believe I missed out on her perspective all these years), which hit close to home in ways that, at times, made me squirm. Anne reminded me of a combination of my daughter and my red-headed niece, Margot. The dramatic flair, the embellished storytelling. That was fine because she’s a thoroughly likable character, even when she does show her temper because she shows it with such style! It’s as if Life is a performance art and she’s determined to master it.

The part that discomfited me was to see how much in common I had with Marilla, the plain spinster who takes this extraordinary orphan under her wing and, together with her brother, Matthew, determines to raise her well. While I have a good deal more imagination than Marilla, my inclination toward motherhood, I’m afraid, has never been as natural as I would have liked. It was touching and quite a relief, then, to see her soften toward the end. There’s hope for me yet!

As a writer, I couldn’t help noticing the shifts in point of view within scenes or chapters. They weren’t too disconcerting because the story carried me along, but at times I’d be in Anne’s head and then suddenly pulled out into the narrator’s (or 3rd Person POV)…or I’d be in Matthew’s and then Marilla’s, etc. I suppose they weren’t so strict about that kind of thing back in 1908 when the story was written. Even so, the characterization is marvelous and I’m anxious now to read the next in the series, Anne of Avonlea.

This whole experience with shifting POV has got me to thinking again about trying several points of view in my Beirut manuscript. Something along the lines of what Barbara Kingsolver did in The Poisonwood Bible. I’ll admit I’m having a tough time staying in a teenager’s head even though my memories of Lebanon are those of a teenager. Try as I might, I don’t think YA fiction is my genre.

Originally posted 2011-06-27 16:18:46.

The Situation

It rained today. About an hour after we’d told our 17-year-old son it wouldn’t, and he walked out the door without a jacket. What’s the big deal? One of my son’s manifestations of his Asperger’s is the way he reacts to rain. He can’t stand it! If he feels one drop on his shirt, he needs to change the shirt. So, after fretting half of the morning, my husband finally drove down to the school to take him a jacket. Just in time, too, because by then it was beginning to pour.

As he got out of the car, he saw my son begin to emerge from one of the classroom buildings but the rain pulled him up short. For a second he looked panicked, until he caught sight of his father, running over to hand him the jacket.

His relieved response? “Thanks for appreciating the situation.” (Doesn’t that sound just like a kid with AS?) Then he put the hood up and ran off to his next class.

How often do I, as a writer, fail to appreciate the situation? By “situation,” I mean anything from misreading the weather patterns in my own querying process to ignoring the dreary rain of rejections or drought of fresh ideas a fellow writer might be experiencing.

Here’s my situation: I got yet another rejection from an agent. Yes, it was from the one I’d mentioned toward the end of my last post. As far as I can tell, I can do one of three things, besides getting on with my WIP, as well as the promised edit of a friend’s manuscript.

1) Send out more queries

2) Try a small publisher

3) Put it in a drawer (so-to-speak) since I refuse to self-publish this one

4) Do a combination of #1 and #2

I’m leaning toward the combination. Now, what’s your situation? I’m sure I’d better appreciate it (and be able to lend a figurative jacket) if I only knew about it.

Originally posted 2011-05-23 17:48:04.

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.

Pursuing Happiness

The closing segment on MacNeil/Lehrer tonight was all about happiness and an older couple’s aim to write about it. Former Harvard President Derek Bok and his wife, Sissela (a sociologist and philosopher), set out to write books about the same subject–happiness–with different approaches. His book looks at the implications happiness research has for public policy, while hers is more philosophical and historical. Both sounded quite appealing but, apparently, a lot of books are being written about happiness these days and so theirs might have a hard time being noticed in the crowd.

But something they said toward the end of the interview really made me think.

Simply focusing on, and writing about, happy things can’t help but make one happier, while writing about dark, awful things will have the opposite effect.

As a fiction writer, I can’t ignore conflict to help propel a story…and, oftentimes, such conflict is not pleasant. It can be dark and awful (as was the case with my first novel) and I do remember a period during those months of research and writing about Saddam Hussein’s regime when I had a difficult time pulling myself up and out of a figurative big, black hole. Perhaps that is why I chose a much less negative plot for my next book.

Before they ended the interview, they noted that among all the things that people rely on for happiness, money never makes a difference because we quickly readjust to having more and, still, we are dissatisfied. I imagine the same would probably be said about fame (which does not go hand in hand with getting published…unless you’re Stephenie Meyer).

But there are three health situations that, if alleviated, do lead to more happiness:

1) Chronic Depression (naturally)

2) Chronic Pain

3) Sleep Disorders

I don’t know about #1 and #3, but I can vouch for #2. The cortisone shot I got in my shoulder last Friday for the “impingement of my rotator cuff” hasn’t done a whole lot to ease the ongoing pain in my left arm. While I’m not a happy invalid, perhaps I can put the experience to good use in my next novel. That would make me happy…particularly if it leads to publication.

Originally posted 2010-06-02 20:32:53.

Mom’s Sense of Adventure

My mom turns 84 this year (on July 4th) and shows no sign of slowing down, despite the recent insertion of a pacemaker. Last month she tap danced for more than three minutes at the ward talent show. (If you don’t believe me, check out my Facebook page…I uploaded the video.)

So, what’s she got going on this month? She’s jetting her way to Serbia, followed by a quick visit to old friends in Greece. You see, her older sister (who is something like 88) insisted on flying over to witness her granddaughter’s traditional wedding, but wanted company. So my mom, along with her sister’s other daughter and son-in-law, volunteered to make the trip. Knowing my mom, she’ll have a blast and take plenty of pictures of everyone, whether she knows them or not.

Here I sit beginning to feel the effects of arthritis in my shoulder, and Mom, who is about 30 years older than me, is off galavanting around the world. I know I inherited my writing genes from my father, but I sure hope I got some of Mom’s energy and sense of adventure to go with it!

Originally posted 2010-05-25 17:35:33.

I’m BACK!

Okay, so I’m about 2 weeks later than expected. That’s because I hadn’t known at the time that my father would pass away at the beginning of January (it was a blessing that he lived to 90 and the memorial service was really wonderful)…and that I would need to stay on with my mother in Southern California for two and a half weeks to help see her through cataract surgery and the change in her circumstances.

In any case, we’re all moved in here in Saint George, and I finally took a walk today on one of the trails among the pink cliffs behind our house in Paradise Canyon. The skies were clear (as you can see in the photos) and the temperature hovered around 55, though now it’s 67. Jealous all you northerners? Well, come on down!

Near the trail head

 Near the start of the trail

Looking back at our neighborhood

Looking back on our neighborhood

Coming up on a nice ravine

Coming up on a cool ravine

I spotted a rabbit!

I spied a rabbit at the opening to the cave!

End of the trail looking back

At the end of the trail, looking back

I’m gearing up now for the annual ANWA Writer’s Conference next week in Mesa, AZ. I’ll be pitching “The Heyman Legacy” (the first in a middle grade fantasy series) there, so wish me luck!

I’m also scheduled to attend the LDStorymakers Conference at the Davis Conference Center in Layton, UT in April, and then present a class on dialogue at the first annual Indie Author Hub Writing & Publishing Conference on Saturday, June 7th, at the Courtyard Marriott in Provo, UT. (More on that next week!)

Busy times! I’d better get writing.

In the meantime, I’m looking to continue my “Wednesday Writer” and “Thursday Thriller” series beginning in March, so if you’re an author I haven’t yet interviewed, or you have a new suspense novel recently out (or coming out soon), please contact me.

Originally posted 2014-02-13 15:52:12.

A New Phase of Education for Jason

Present word count of WIP:  57, 414

Strangely enough, Jason’s elementary and secondary education were both marked by newspaper coverage.

The first was The Press-Enterprise newspaper back in Riverside (a decade before they had an online version), when he attended Sunshine Early Childhood Center:

The latest was his inclusion by the online edition of The Tri-City Herald in their slide show of Richland High School’s graduation ceremonies. It’s one of my favorite pictures of him because he is simply beaming!

Jason gets his high school diploma, graduating Magna Cum Laude!

Now, he begins the next phase of his education as he transitions into adulthood.

First, this past Sunday he was sustained by the general membership of our stake (equivalent to a Catholic diocese in our church) to receive the higher priesthood and be set apart as an Elder. The actual ordination will probably take place in early July before his sister leaves on her mission. This will help him prepare to serve a mission in our church soon after he turns 19 in December.

In the meantime, however, he plans on beginning college studies in the fall. BYU-Idaho offers a new online program, by which those with learning/social disabilities like Jason can learn the social and study skills they will need to succeed in college courses. Called the Pathway Program, it offers weekly skill-building meetings at the local LDS Church Institute and some college prep courses. Once he is accepted into the program and has completed three semesters satisfactorily, he can be enrolled online with BYU-Idaho to pursue the degree of his choice.

He meets for his entry interview tonight, forty-five minutes from now. I promise to add an update, detailing how the meeting went (or as much as I can get out of him about it, anyway). Wish him luck!

If all goes well, he’ll begin attending Institute next week and then the Pathway courses will begin in September. The terrific thing is that I believe he’ll be able to continue his studies while he’s serving a local service mission for the Church beginning in January!

Now, if we can only figure out how to occupy his time this summer, besides helping him try to find a job. I have a few plans, but I’ll write more about them in a couple of weeks when I next post about Jason.

In any case, I’m looking forward to my son’s educational achievements in the future. Perhaps he’ll even make the newspaper again!

Originally posted 2012-06-15 06:00:10.