Wednesday, April 26, 2017

V is for Valuable Gifts for Writers #AtoZChallenge

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.

Angelica Jackson, a former member of Operation Awesome, runs a charity auction each year called Pens for Paws. Writers, agents, and other members of the publishing community donate goods or services to the auction, and the money goes to an animal shelter in California. Check out Pens for Paws, and get your hands on some Valuable gifts for writers, including a critique package from Operation Awesome!


#AtoZChallenge 2017 Operation Awesome V is for Valuable Gifts for Writers

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

U is for Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Query Letters #AtoZChallenge


The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.


At Operation Awesome, we strive to provide writers and readers with the resources they need to succeed, at every stage of the journey. With that in mind, here's a cheat sheet for writing query letters, the bane of many writers' existences!


The internet abounds with resources for novelists trying to craft query letters, the introductory communications emailed (typically) to agents. Query letters are meant to entice agents to read the novel, and ultimately, offer representation. If you're working on your very first query letter, or you've been querying a novel you believe in and haven't received many requests for pages, here's a quick 'cheat sheet' for making sure you've got all the information you need.

First, you can't go wrong with a simple, three-paragraph query. The query should run between 200-400 words - any longer and it starts reading like a synopsis, which is not what an agent wants to see in your initial communication about your book.

Second, many people disagree about the correct order of paragraphs in a query letter. Always follow any agent submission guidelines, but for a general query, the order really doesn't matter - you can put the housekeeping information first and then lead into the story, or vice versa. I always start with the story, because that's the most likely aspect of a query to hook an agent, and put the housekeeping info at the end.

Third, always address the query to the specific agent you're querying. If you're querying John Smith, starting your email with 'Dear Mr. Smith' is perfect. If you're querying Randy Smith, and you're not sure whether Randy is male or female, starting the email with 'Dear Randy' works fine.

Fourth, always include your full name and contact information (including phone number) at the end of the email. You can also include your website (if it's specific to your writing endeavors), Twitter handle, etc., but those are optional at the query stage.

Fifth, do not give away the ending! A query is meant to entice the agent to read more, as opposed to a synopsis, which covers the entire plot.

Sixth, don't name more than two or three characters. If your novel has dual narratives, it's fine to point that out in the housekeeping paragraph, and center the query around one of the characters. You can also have one paragraph for the first character and a second paragraph for the second character, but make sure they are intersecting in a way that makes sense (hero/villain, the two romantic leads, etc.).

Seventh, always use third-person present tense, regardless of how your novel is written.

Eighth, if you intend your book to be the first in a series, the best way to say that is in the housekeeping paragraph, with a sentence like 'This novel stands alone, but is intended to be the first book in a series.'

Nine, be specific! It's not particularly enticing to say that your main character must unearth a dark secret or the consequences will be dire. It's much more enticing to say something like, 'Harry must find and destroy the Sorcerer's Stone, or else Voldemort will resume his corporeal body and become an unstoppable evil wizard again.'

Tenth, make sure you can answer all the following questions about your novel (which I'll also answer, using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as an example). These answers will give you an outline for drafting your query:

List of Questions for Paragraph 1

What is your main character's full name? Harry Potter

How old is he/she? (if you're writing for children, you need to specify the age. If you're writing for adults, you likely don't need the age unless it's significant to the plot). Harry is 10

Where does he she live, at least at the start of the book? Number 4, Privet Drive, Surrey, England

What is your main character's 'normal state' at the beginning of the book? Harry lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin and he's treated like a servant

What is the 'inciting incident' that propels the main character, and the plot, into action? Harry receives his Hogwarts letter

How does your main character react to the inciting incident? Harry goes to Hogwarts and begins his education

List of Questions for Paragraph 2

What is your main character's goal? Harry wants to find the Sorcerer's Stone before Voldemort, the most evil wizard ever

What does your main character do to achieve that goal? Harry and his friends begin researching the Stone and trying to track it down.

What stands in the way of your main character's achieving that goal? No one believes Harry, he's injured at a Quidditch match, etc.

What are the stakes (in other words, what happens if the main character can't achieve the goal)? If Harry can't find the Stone, Voldemort will come back to his corporeal form and regain power.

List of Questions for Paragraph 3 (Housekeeping)

What is your title? Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

What is your word count? (round up to the nearest 1000) 77,000

What is your age group? Middle grade

What is your genre? Fantasy

- Optional - What two or three books would yours be compared to?

- Optional - Why did you choose to query this agent?

- Optional - What life experiences and/or writing credentials qualify you to write this book?


Additional Resources

Agent Janet Reid's QueryShark blog

Evil Editor's query critique blog

Miss Snark's query critique (archived blog)


Do you have additional query letter tips to share? Feel free to share your own draft query letter in the comments, and we'll give you feedback!



Monday, April 24, 2017

T is for Think Like a Book Marketer #AtoZChallenge

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.


Authors spend most of their free time in their characters’ point of view. In order to think like a book marketer, consider a book marketer’s point of view. A book marketer’s job is to reach the people who are most interested in your book, and persuade them to buy it. As I’ve said many times before, writing is art but publishing is business and marketing is part of that business.

The problem for many authors is that they view their book as they view one of their children—beautiful and wonderful and loved by all. Of course, authors feel this way. They’ve labored for years and invested their heart and soul into their book.

The truth is, not everyone is going to like your book.

Marketers seek to find a niche market and go after it. They aim to reach the book’s target audience and so should you. That means admitting that your chick lit romance will not be everyone’s cup of tea. You must refine who your audience is. What gender and how old are they? What media and social media outlets do they use and how do they get their information? What do they do in their spare time? Where are they spending their money? How do they usually buy their books? As anti-intuitive as it sounds, you need to narrow your audience to reach your audience. Less is more.

By honing in on your target audience, you spend your time and resources on endeavours that actually reach the specific audience who is interested in your type of book. So, take off your author hat and put on your business hat. While your passion for your book can surely be a great tool in your marketing toolbox, it can also get in the way. Your book is a product with a specific audience. Put together social media posts that appeal to them. Go to events and conferences they attend. Find bloggers and podcasters who your audience follows.

Now, go find your readers!

* * * 

Melinda Marshall Friesen writes sci-fi books for teens and adults. Daily, she removes her author hat, and dons her business hat as the marketing director at Rebelight Publishing Inc..


#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome T is for Think Like a Book Marketer #AtoZChallenge

Saturday, April 22, 2017

S is for Selecting an Agent When You Receive Multiple Offers #AtoZChallenge

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.


At Operation Awesome, we strive to provide writers and readers with the resources they need to succeed, at every stage of the journey. With that in mind, let's discuss some tips for choosing among agent offers.


It seems like an embarrassment of riches: you've struggled through the query trenches, revised your manuscript countless times, and nearly given up hope. And then you find yourself with not one, but multiple, offers of representation from agents. There's no defined process for making the choice, and even though you know you're incredibly fortunate to be in that position, it's going to be a very difficult decision. So how do you make it?

Why does this multiple offer scenario happen? 

Typically, authors query more than one agent at a time. Thus, authors often have multiple full manuscripts out at any given time (whether from contests or slush-querying). Several agents may independently decide they love the manuscript and want to offer rep. Or, more commonly, once one agent has decided she loves the manuscript and wants to offer rep, the other agents may take that as validation of the manuscript and decide to throw their hats in the ring too. This is sometimes called the 'blood in the water' phenomenon.

Once I get an offer, what do I do? 

Step One, talk to the offering agent, if you haven't already, to get all your questions answered. Here are some great resources for what questions to ask: from agent Rachelle Gardner, agent Janet Reid, and Writer's Digest. You can also ask the agent what she thinks you'll need to do to revise your book to get it ready for submission, so you can get an idea of the types of changes she'll require and whether you can live with them.

Also, feel free to ask for a copy of the agency's representation agreement so you can review the terms before signing. And ask the offering agent if she has a few clients who'd be willing to speak with you to share their experiences and answer questions. 

NOTE: you'll be repeating this step with all of the agents who end up offering, so make sure you're allowing yourself enough time to do this!

Step Two, ask the offering agent for a set amount of time (usually between 1-2 weeks) to consider the offer.

Step Three, email all the other agents who have your partial or full manuscript. Let them know you've received an offer (it's good to revise the subject line of your initial email to include something like 'OFFER OF REP' so the agents know to pay attention to that email). Then, tell them when you need to hear back from them by. Let's say you got your offer on January 1, and you told the offering agent you'd let her know by January 15. When emailing other agents, ask them to let you know by January 12, so you have a few days to make your decision.

NOTE: Opinions differ on whether to also inform the agents who only have your query letter (and have not yet requested pages). I think the best way to handle this is to only contact those agents that you know you would sign with (you'd choose them over the offering agent), should they also offer rep. If you choose to contact any of these agents, let them know you've received an offer and you'd be happy to send your manuscript if they'd like to review before the deadline.

NOTE: DO NOT START QUERYING NEW AGENTS AT THIS POINT. This is considered unprofessional and bad form.

NOTE: The other agents may ask you which agent has offered rep. While you aren't obligated to say, there's no harm in doing so. Often, it's because agents want to know if they stand a chance against a 'superstar' agent, or they want to make sure whoever you're considering signing with is legitimate. 

Step Four, keep a spreadsheet or chart of everyone you've submitted to, their responses, and any follow-up. You don't want to lose track of anyone in the shuffle.

Step Five, once the deadline for responses has passed and you've heard back from all the agents you contacted (it's fine to ping them for responses if the deadline has arrived and you haven't heard back), set up calls with any other agents who have offered representation, and repeat Step One for each agent.

How do I choose? 

Here's where things start getting really stressful! Let's say you go through all the steps above, and you end up with four agent offers. All of the agents are legitimate and none have any glaring red flags. How do you decide which one to sign with? Here are some methods:

Method One: Create extensive pro-con lists for each agent, including factors such as level of experience, number of prior sales, communication style, etc. Weigh the terms of the agency agreements you received, to make sure none of them have non-negotiable terms you can't agree to. Determine if there are any 'deal-breakers' for you (for me, it was if agents did not provide contact information for any current clients for me to contact). Then, see which agent has the most 'pro's and the fewest 'con's and choose that one.

Method Two: Go with your gut. Even though you might feel you have to make the decision scientifically, maybe you've known the whole time which agent you really want to work with. It could be the agent who offered rep first, or the agent you've long considered your 'dream agent.' It could be someone you didn't know much about when you queried, but you really clicked with over the phone.

Method Three: Put all the names in a hat and choose one.

Most authors use a combination of Methods One and Two. That's what I did, and it was still one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. All the agents I was considering seemed great, so I made pro-con lists and comparison charts, talked to several of the agents' clients, and in the end, I weighed all of that, came up with a tie, and went with my gut.

I've never heard of anyone using Method Three, but hey, it could work.

What do I do after I've made my choice?

Once your decision deadline arrives and you've made your choice, first email your chosen agent to accept the offer. Wait until you get confirmation from the agent that she's received your acceptance and you'll be moving forward. 

Then, email the other agents who offered rep to let them know. Make sure this email is polite and professional - you don't want to burn any bridges. Write something simple, like 'Thank you so much for the time and effort you spent reviewing my manuscript and extending an offer of representation. After much thought, I’ve decided to decline your offer. I ended up with several offers and had to make a really difficult choice. I wish you the best with all your future projects, and thanks again for taking the time to consider me.'

Finally, celebrate! You've survived an agonizing week (or two) and come out of it with a contract with the agent who is the best fit for you. Now it's time to work on revising your manuscript to prepare for submissions!


Have you found yourself in the position of having to choose among multiple agent offers? How did you choose?


Friday, April 21, 2017

R is for Reactive vs Proactive #AtoZChallenge

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.

For our R post, let's examine the difference between writing and editing Reactively vs Proactively in the first of my 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers series.

Like many people, I enjoy making New Year's resolutions. I'm not great at keeping them, but I sure do love making them. This year I resolved to read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey, with the hope of using it to improve my life.


It's been life-altering, to be honest. Eye-opening. It makes change seem possible. I really love this book. And as I've been reading, I've seen ways that the 7 habits could apply to my writing as well.

The first habit is Be Proactive. To understand what it means to be proactive, let's examine what the opposite is: being reactive.

Remember the post I wrote last month about waiting to process feedback? I had a knee-jerk REACTION to the feedback I received, and made a poor choice because of it. I made my editing decisions reactively instead of proactively.

When we make decisions proactively, we base them on internalized principles and values as opposed to our reactions and emotions. Had I been proactive about my revision I would have done things differently:

-I would have waited before processing the feedback because I have been told to do so by people whose advice I value.
-I would not have sent the revision off to an agent without one of my CPs vetting it first. I would have been sure to send the agent my best work instead of rushing.

What principles and values related to writing do you use to make proactive editing decisions?

#AtoZChallenge 2017 Operation Awesome R is for Reactive vs Proactive


Thursday, April 20, 2017

#AtoZchallenge Quiz! Are You're Cut Out For Self-Publishing?

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.


Today it's time for a Quiz! Are You're Cut Out For Self-Publishing?


Fake magazine cover art #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Quiz! Are You're Cut Out For Self-Publishing


1: You used a great idea to write a good book.

A) Yes!
B) Maybe. I mean, I've encountered worse...
C) Wait, there's writing involved?


2: There's no "do not compete clause" stopping you.

A) Free as a bird here.
B) I do have a publishing contract, and there might be a clause like that, but I'm not a lawyer, so what do I know?
C) I compete at Scrabble all the time. Is that what you mean?


3: You know if your book has broad appeal or is a niche.

A) I wrote for a niche, or I think I can reach a broad audience on my own.
B) Don't all books appeal to all readers all the time?
C) That's a French word. Is Oliver building a nest? Owls are cool.


4: You're ready to be a relentless self-promoter!

A) I have a marketing strategy and scheduled blocks of time dedicated to getting the word out about my book. I've researched publicity, scheduled blog tours, and know the audience I'll appeal to most. I've brainstormed ways to reach my fanbase. I even have short fiction published, so my name is out there.
B) I'll send out a Tweet to my 20 followers and tell my friends or whatever. It'll be fine. Plus, I expect that someone else will do half the work for me because my future matters.
C) I saw a cat eating a pinecone on YouTube once.


beta fish
5: Beta readers have given you valuable feedback.

A) Several of them have reviewed my last draft and think it's good to go. I've revised it to the best of my ability.
B) My mom thinks it's pretty good. She's the only one who read it.
C) I had no idea beta fish could read!


6: You have an eye-catching, professional cover.

A) You bet! It ranked high in a focus group. The cover is as clear at thumbnail size as it is at regular book size. My title and author name are visible and legible.
B) My friend took an art class one time, so I asked him to just draw whatever on a huge canvas. I'll shrink it down and use that.
C) Everyone knows that people never judge books by covers.


7: A professional editor has given you feedback.

A) Yes, I hired a professional editor. I've also heard my book read out loud and was pleased.
B) I was really good in writing class, so I'm sure it's fine.
C) Why is the rum always gone?


8: How important is control of your work, including the publication date?

Pinky and the Brain image
A) I know what I want and will not settle for something else. Also, time is a factor for me.
B) I'm willing to compromise some control to gain the help of industry professionals. Waiting another year or two for my book to come out seems reasonable.
C) Like Brain, I'm going to take over the world... once Pinky comes back with my newest device.


9: Did you research your browsing categories and determine the best price for your book?

A) I have my Amazon browse categories picked out along with my five to seven descriptive keywords. I know what sells in my genre and for how much, and have priced my book accordingly.
B) I'll stick it wherever and sell it for ninety-nine cents because that's how things work.
C) How does cheese smell since it doesn't have a nose?


10: Do you have a clear goal for your book?

A) Yes. I know that indie books often sell 250 books total, but traditional books (without a huge marketing campaign) often sell 1,000 total; I've weighed those numbers when setting my expectations. I have a plan on how I'll get reviews for my book. I know what contests to enter my book in if I hope to win awards. I'm ready to connect with fans and network my way to more readers.
B) The validation of traditional publishing is my biggest goal. Anything else is icing and sprinkles.
C) Soccer time!
soccer goal image


















Mostly A: You're cut out for self-publishing. If it's your debut book, be sure to contact me on Twitter for a possible interview!

Mostly B: You have some work to do. The guidance of the traditional publishing route is worth looking into in your case. If you do self-publish, be sure you research more first! Don't take editing for granted in either case.

Mostly C: Thanks for coming by for the jokes. Obviously, you aren't interested in self-publishing, but you already knew that.

What tips would you give to a self-publishing author?

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Quiz! Are You're Cut Out For Self-Publishing

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

#AtoZchallenge Prioritizing the Writer’s Life via a Business Plan

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.



Today's guest post is by Becca Puglisi.
Prioritizing the Writer’s Life via a Business Plan

If I could pick one word to describe how my writing career has turned out, it would probably be unexpected. I started in 2004, composing YA fiction. That was all I ever wanted to write. But when an opportunity arose in 2008 to start a blog with my critique partner and writing soul sister Angela Ackerman, I took the chance. It was the right choice, even though a big chunk of my writing time had to then be devoted to nonfiction, since this would be the focus of our blog. By 2011, our audience had exploded and they were clamoring for a published version of our content; in a very short period of time, I found myself a published nonfiction author. Six years and five books later, I’m not only a nonfiction author but also a speaker and writing coach¬—a happy evolution, but a far cry from where I once envisioned myself.

It’s been an exciting ride but also a crazy one as I’ve tried to figure out where my time and energy should be devoted along the way. This is a question many writers struggle with, particularly in the early years when they’re learning who they are, pinpointing what they want, and defining their personal brands. As your writing career progresses, there’s increased pressure to take on more responsibilities. You’re told to start a blog, get involved in social media, attend conferences, do school visits and book signings—all while honing your craft and writing that all-important next book. These are good ideas that can work toward your goal of becoming a career author. But you can’t possibly do everything. How do you decide where to focus?

When things got squirrely for Angela and me, we knew we needed a roadmap to keep us on track. For us, that ended up being a business plan. I highly recommend it for all writers looking to clarify their career path and direction.
#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ Prioritizing the Writer’s Life via a Business Plan by Becca Puglisi

By identifying our areas of focus, setting primary and secondary priorities, and scheduling deadlines for our goals, we had a clear view of where our priorities should lie during the year. And it made decision-making a whole lot easier.

For instance, when we created this plan for 2016, there were a few additional things we had wanted to accomplish. But once we established our areas of focus and started identifying our goals, we realized there simply wasn’t time for everything. So we pushed the less important items to the next year.

I was recently able to use our 2017 business plan to make a decision about speaking at a particular conference. I’ve done quite a few speaking engagements, but this one was an all-day gig, which I’d never done before. I had to really think about it because while I love to speak, and doing so fits perfectly into our Build Writing Coaches Persona area of focus, I was nervous about the time commitment. But I soon realized that this was too good an opportunity to pass up. It also forced me out of my box a little bit, which is almost always a good thing, so I agreed to do it.

These are just two examples of how I was able to use our plan to make decisions that would maximize reward while maintaining focus on what was important for our business. And, honestly, any writer can do this. Here’s how.

1. Formulate A Business Plan. It sounds a little scary, but it’s really pretty straightforward, as you can see in this step-by-step post that Angela wrote for Jane Friedman’s blog. Creating a plan takes a lot of thinking, and staring out the window, and crossing things off and adding new items to your list. But eventually, you’ll end up with a clear picture of where your focus should be for the year.

2. Post It In A Prominent Spot. I have mine tacked to a bulletin board on my office wall. Whenever I receive a request, all I have to do is look up and be reminded of where my priorities should lie.

3. Ask Yourself Question #1: Does this request fit with my goals and areas of focus? If the answer is no, it’s likely that this particular job will not only take you away from where you want to be, it will steal time and energy from the projects that would have helped you accomplish your objectives.

4. Ask Yourself Question #2: Do I have time? Often, opportunities will come along that fit very well into your plan, but they’re time consuming, and saying yes means saying no to a higher priority item. Other times, that new opportunity aligns so perfectly with your business plan that it should become a top priority in place of something on your list.

Case in point from a few years ago: in the last quarter of 2014, Angela and I were on our way to accomplishing all of our goals when Lee Powell, the developer of Scrivener for Windows, contacted us about creating a software application showcasing all of our thesauri and many other tools and resources. Now we found ourselves facing a new opportunity that would require a huge time commitment just to do the research on the front end. But this opportunity tied directly into our second and third areas of focus and looked like it could be the next logical step for our business. So we pushed back the deadlines on the remainder of our goals for that year and even sidelined a few so we could pursue it. As a result, we’re now able to offer writers a comprehensive writing website—One Stop For Writers—in addition to our published books.

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Say Yes. It’s easy to use a business plan as a crutch—an excuse for not taking on an opportunity that scares us or is outside of our comfort zone. Remember that a business plan is meant to be a guideline, not something written in stone. If something comes up that aligns well with your goals and areas of focus, jump on that bandwagon. I can’t tell you how many times in my career it has made more sense for me to say no to potential opportunities. But saying yes was almost always the right answer, and I benefited every time.

6. Don’t Be Afraid To Say No. The writing community is a social and collaborative one, largely because the author’s journey can be so difficult. As a result, we often find ourselves in the position of doing things for friends, acquaintances, and strangers out of a sense of obligation. Never forget that while there are many personal and social benefits to being an author, writing is a business. As a creative, your time is an expense that must be responsibly doled out and carefully accounted for. So if you want to achieve your goals, learn to say no to the things that are counter-productive.

As your writing career progresses and more decisions have to be made, it can be hard to know when an opportunity should be pursued and when it’s simply going to be a distraction. A business plan is a great tool to help you make wise decisions that will keep you on track toward meeting your goals.

BIO:
Becca Puglisi pic
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.









#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ Prioritizing the Writer’s Life via a Business Plan by Becca Puglisi

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

#AtoZchallenge Own Your Next Writing Session

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.


Today's topic is how to Own Your Next Writing Session.

What do all of your most productive writing sessions have in common? What methods are guaranteed to get you to produce a high word count every time?

If you don’t know the answers to those two questions, then your writing sessions are owning you rather than you owning them. You’re at the mercy of the muse, of the moment, of the lightning that might strike. Today’s post is about taking ownership.

The first step is to establish a writing space. If you can give yourself a space that isn’t the same one used for stressful tasks (bill paying) or stress-relieving tasks (gaming), all the better. But if you can’t, you might be able to trick your mind into thinking you have. In your writing space (dedicated space or not), set out a scent-producing object. Candles are a popular choice, but a perfumed blanket could work just as well. The point is to pick a scent that you like, but that you only intend to smell during your writing time. Move on to the next sense. Pick a candy to suck on. You only get to eat that candy when you sit down to write. That flavor in your mouth is a signal that it’s writing time. Pick a sound. It can be one you listen to the whole time or just a gong that signals the start of a writing session. An unusual texture, perhaps, something that you touch only when it’s time to start writing. Have a writing motivation picture up. When you look at it, it’s writing time, and this space is for writing. The more senses you involve, the more the brain will get on board.
#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Own Your Next Writing Session five senses

The next step is to have a mantra, or a mission statement. A short statement, Tweet length perhaps, to remind yourself why you’re doing this. Why are you writing? This is your time, and you’re going to use it to write, so you should know why you aren’t using it to practice your golf swing, feed the homeless, or beat the next level on a videogame. These words are just for you. No guilt, no judgment. The purpose is to remind yourself that there is a reason you’re sitting down to write. Every time you start a writing session, rewrite your statement while speaking it out loud. Feel the pen moving on the paper, or your fingers pressing on each key. Let yourself experience writing those words. Let your ears hear the words. Focus on it, feel the reason being important, picture it mattering and making a difference in your world. Then start writing.

Reward yourself after you’ve completed the writing session. Put a sticker on a calendar. Sing your favorite song. High five yourself in the mirror (carefully). This isn’t permission to spend a pile of money. This is just acknowledging that you’ve done something and should be proud of yourself for that achievement.
#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Own Your Next Writing Session High Five

Taking ownership is also about respecting your writing time. It is the same kind of time respect you expect a doctor to give a patient, a teacher to give a classroom, or a chef to give to making a meal. If a chef stops in the middle of cooking to play a game, the food will burn. A teacher shouldn’t stop in the middle of class to use Facebook. A doctor shouldn’t blow off giving medical care to Netflix and chill.

Many people swear by setting a writing time. Every day from X o’clock to Y o’clock, they write. Some people just need to know they will dedicate a certain amount of time, and make it a priority. This is similar to how most of the workforce manages work time. Either you have to be at your job at certain set hours, or you have the kind of job where you can pick the hours so long as the work is done on time. Writing is a job. It might be your primary job, it might be your second job, it might even be your third, fourth, or fifth job. But it’s still a job, it is still work, and it deserves recognition as such. So figure out if you’re an employee that needs set hours or an employee that just needs a deadline, and then assign your writing tasks accordingly.

How do you own your writing sessions?
#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Own Your Next Writing Session

Monday, April 17, 2017

#AtoZchallenge New Tools Every Author Should Be Using

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.



Today's guest post is by Leslie Hauser.
New Tools Every Author Should Be Using

Welcome to another day of the 2017 April A to Z Blogging Challenge. I'm super excited for this opportunity to write a guest post for Operation Awesome and talk about something that I've had a lot of experience with lately: Being an author.

Being an author can sometimes feel like this:
#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ New Tools Every Author Should Be Using by Leslie Hauser

But I've discovered through my journey that a few tools can make life as an author a lot easier and open up a lot of doors:


1. QueryTracker

As an author, you have several paths to publication: 1) secure an agent as a means to be published by one of the major publishing houses, 2) submit on your own to smaller publishing houses, and 3) self-publishing. No matter which you choose, you need to keep track of the process.
#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ New Tools Every Author Should Be Using by Leslie Hauser


If you are querying agents, then QueryTracker is for you. QueryTracker allows you to find agents listed in its database. This will help you narrow your search to include only agents who accept your genre. It also has a feature that allows you to track and organize your queries, and you can review agent data such as response time and preferences. This is all free! ItÕs such a great resource. If you want to track more than one novel or are into data reports, you might want to upgrade to the Premium membership. If not, then the free version has all you need.






2. Hootsuite

Social media is so important for an author. You have to get your name out there, and some publishers won't feel comfortable taking a chance on you if you don't have a social media presence. There are many choices: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Goodreads, Snapchat, Litsy, Bloglovin', LinkedIn, Google+, and your own blog. It's a ton!

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ New Tools Every Author Should Be Using by Leslie Hauser
My advice is to pick 2 or 3 that you really feel comfortable with and focus on those. But even with this, keeping up with your social media channels could be a full-time job! This is where a social media manager can help you. I like Hootsuite the best. You can schedule posts, track certain hashtags, track your mentions, and be alerted to all of this. It's very easy to use. I'm still getting used to it because scheduled tweets sometimes sound forced to me. And sometimes I like to tweet in response to things I read on Twitter. But when I have blog posts or weekly Instagram quotes I want to post and promote, the scheduler is helpful in getting multiple tweets out throughout the day. It's also helpful to track hashtags I might want to participate in.


3. PicMonkey

As an author, you want to make as many contacts in the writing and blogging worlds as possible. This will mean participating in blog hops, weekly memes, and posting some attention-getting posts on social media. When I started doing this, all these people had such fun graphics to go along with their posts. If you're not much of a graphic artist like me, you might also be wondering, How do they do this? Then I stumbled upon PicMonkey. I looked into it, and it's been one of the greatest tools I have now. I create graphics and announcements for blog posts; I add text to pictures for weekly quote posts on Instagram; and I'm able to create Facebook banners and other site-specific graphics that don't look all wonky when I try to upload them.

This is a cover image I made in PicMonkey for my weekly Photo Stories post on Niume (another tool explained below!).
#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ New Tools Every Author Should Be Using by Leslie Hauser
















4. Pixabay

If you want to have great blog posts and use PicMonkey for personalized graphics, you need pictures. But with all the copyright laws, it becomes a little scary and confusing. What can you use? What kind of attribution is correct? This problem was solved for me when I discovered Pixabay. All images and videos on Pixabay are released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0. This means you are free to use them! I always try to link back to the profile of the person who posted the photo as a courtesy. By far, this is the best free-use photo site I've found. It has the most choices, and I canÕt think of a time I've been looking for a photo and haven't found it there.

I make my weekly literary quotes with pictures from Pixabay.
#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ New Tools Every Author Should Be Using by Leslie Hauser
























5. Niume


#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ New Tools Every Author Should Be Using by Leslie Hauser
Do you want to make money for all this blogging that you're doing? Do you want to get a blog post and social media outreach done at the same time? Then let me introduce you to my new friend, Niume. It's fairly new and rising in popularity. It uses a concept called "collaborative blogging". Bloggers are separated into themed segments known as Spheres. Here people can share interests and find information on shared interests. The best part is that you get paid! I'm still relatively new to this, and by no means am I quitting my day job. But, the more "shares" and "hype" your posts get, the more money you make. With enough hype, your post can become a Staff Pick and be featured. What does all this mean for you? More exposure and a little help by giving you a built-in audience, especially if you're new to blogging or promoting yourself. Plus if you get really good at it, you can make some nice side money!


Overall, I'd say being an author is exciting, but it can also be extremely overwhelming. Hopefully some of these tools will help make your journey a little more manageable, too. Good luck!

Author bio:
Leslie Hauser teaches middle school English and history. Though originally from Ohio, she currently resides in Los Angeles, California, with her dog Mr. Darcy. Her debut novel CHASING EVELINE releases 2017 from Pen Name Publishing. Visit Leslie at www.lesliehauser.com.

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ New Tools Every Author Should Be Using by Leslie Hauser

Saturday, April 15, 2017

M is for 8 Misconceptions About Writing and Publishing #AtoZChallenge

Misconceptions about writing and publishing abound. Here are the eight I hear most often.

1.  You wrote a book? You’re going to be rich.
Yes, someone said this to me. It took a huge amount of self-control not to burst out laughing. A small percentage of authors can live off their writing. A much, much smaller percentage get rich from it. Most of us are lucky to get a month’s wages out of a year’s worth of writing income.


2.  Once you get one book published, it’s easy to get published after that.
While it is easier to get the second book published than the first, easy is a relative term. It’s still highly competitive and has to be what the publisher or agent happens to be looking for at the time. Unless you’re a household name, there are no free passes.

3.  If I quickly write a book and upload it to Kindle, the money will just start rolling in.
Kindle is home to millions of books. MILLIONS. The only way readers are going to find your book is if you put in the hard work of marketing to bring it to readers’ attention. About a decade ago, authors were making a bundle on ebooks, but that era has passed.

4.  I managed to get a literary agent, now I’ve got it made in the shade.
Finding an agent who is interested in representing you is a huge feat, and I don’t want to belittle that in any way. However, the agent has to pitch your book to publishers, and if there are no takers, you’re back where you started.

5.  I had a friend who is good with grammar edit my book, so it’s ready for publication.
Editing for grammar, spelling and punctuation is only one small part of the editing process. When people hear the word “edit”, they usually think of copy editing. Your book should undergo four levels of editing before it lands in the hands of readers—developmental, substantive, copy edit and proofread. There’s much more to making your book shine that setting commas in place.

6.  Publishers are crooks who take all the money and give authors a tiny share.
In reality, publishers end up with about the same share of the retail price of the book as authors.  Who takes the largest chunk of money from book sales? Retailers take between 40 and 55%. You must also figure in the costs of printing and distributing the book. The author and publisher end up with what’s left.

7.  I’ve written an awesome book, so I need to get it on the market fast.

Nope. Take your time. Make it the best it can be. You can’t predict trends and behaviors. The book that has the best chance in the marketplace is the book that’s well written, well planned, well edited and well designed and these things all take time. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

8.  I keep getting rejections, so I must not be a very good writer.
Every writer faces this thought. Maybe your book could be better, so learn more about the writing craft, get some honest beta readers, attend a conference or take some classes. If you’ve done those things and the rejections continue to roll in, keep in mind that finding the right agent or publisher on the right day for the right project is all luck. Pure and simple. If you’ve honed your writing and haven’t found a home for your manuscript, keep trying. Eventually, your number will be up. It’s all about perseverance.

What were your misconceptions when you first started writing? Share them in the comments below.

*************

Melinda Marshall Friesen writes sci-fi novels and short stories for teens and adults, and she works as marketing director at Rebelight Publishing Inc. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with her family.



#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome M is for 8 Misconceptions About Writing and Publishing

Friday, April 14, 2017

L is for Letting Your Characters Listen #AtoZChallenge

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.


Today we have guest poster Brandon Ho on Operation Awesome, writing about why you should Let your characters Listen when writing dialogue.
**********

Listening

When I was a senior in high school, I started attending a local college. My first class was a history course, and the professor started talking about the advances scientists were making in the time with limited resources. It sparked a memory of something I learned about how someone measured the circumference of the world by placing sticks in the ground and measuring their shadows from the sun, all this before the world is flat even became a thing... I think. Could this have been during the time that my professor was talking about? I raised my hand and posed my question. I could immediately tell something was off with the quiet, blank stares I felt from everyone in the room. The person next to me whispered, "Dude, he just said that." This was my older brother, by the way. "Weren't you listening?" I tried to sink into my chair and disappear for the rest of the class. I made a mistake: I didn't listen. 

This is something that I think we all do on some form or another; we'll zone out, or we'll listen only to know when to insert our response rather than hearing what they have to say. And I bring this up because I feel like a mistake we make in writing is not allowing our characters to listen. 

Speaking without listening

We have that cool line that we want them to say, the plot point that needs to go forward, or maybe a deep harbored outburst that we always wanted to say out loud to somebody. The lines may or may not be bad unto themselves. But when we allow our character to disregard the dialogue, situation, or surroundings, we weaken the impact of their dialogue.

Michael Caine shared what he thought was the greatest advice to give to actors: "to listen and react." This is important because as an actor if you don't really listen to what the other people are saying, pay attention to what they're doing, and react to these two things, then the performances feel hollow, false, and contrived. The same thing happens when you allow this to happen to your protagonist, or even the characters the protagonist has to interact with.

Listen to your Characters 

I feel like our modern day has pushed us in a climate to villify the other; social media is filled with memes designed for "gotcha" moments and pointed remarks that tear down others and make them look dumb. When we tell our stories, we can't do that. You need to understand your heroes as well as your villains, or your smaller roles. As Brandon Sanderson always says, "Everyone is a hero in their own story." Meaning that the villains should be able to articulate clearly why they do what they do and believe them; so should the side characters, or those who hold opinions you may not agree with. As you listen to these characters, their reasons and justifications for what they do, and allow them to actively engage within your stories, you'll find them to be further enriched and heightened as your protagonist struggles to achieve his/her goals.

Listen in your life 

That being said, pay attention to how people speak, act, or react in life. If you ever need a source of inspiration, you can see it in the way they pull their hair in a ponytail with their hand as they drink from the water fountain, touch someone's shoulder to show they're interested, or look away from the person speaking when they're no longer interested in the conversation.

When we listen, we can give our characters a voice. When our characters listen, they can become strong in theirs.

**********
Brandon Ho was raised in Colorado and attended the BYU film school in Provo, UT. He is the director of the short film “My Hero,” winner of the 2012 College Television Award for Best Children’s Film. He actively seeks both old and new ways to use film as a teaching and promotional tool. Working closely with experts in the music and educational industries, he has produced music videos teaching children strong values and book trailers to promote reading. He is currently working on the web series Unsung Heroes.








#AtoZChallenge 2017 Operation Awesome L is for Letting Characters Listen

Thursday, April 13, 2017

#AtoZchallenge Key Steps to Writing Your Online Book Description

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.



Today's guest post is by Michele Keller.
Key Steps to Writing Your Online Book Description

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ Key Steps to Writing Your Online Book Description ~ Guest post by Michele Keller

Writing a good hook is your book's most important sales tool. But simply reusing your query won't guarantee the best results online. The internet is complex media, and your online book description needs to take advantage of all aspects of the online world.

Start with a great hook


Since you are already a writer, this should be the easy part. A quick review of the most important elements:

A great hook:
Uses specific details, not generic phrases
Does not use unexplained world specific names. If the average person wouldn't know what it is, don't use it.
Does not tell how your inciting incident happened. It explains why it's important to the character
Has a logical flow. The connection between the elements must be obvious
Matches the tone of the MS

Now you must optimize it for online use.


The internet is a visual medium. Effective online descriptions take full advantage of that medium to present information in an interesting way. That means using HTML in your description. Simple tags for bold, italic, H1, H2 are simple enough to for even the novice. (If you need help, type WYSIWYG HTML generator in a search engine. There are plenty of free ones to choose from. Then, you can cut and paste this into your description.)

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ Key Steps to Writing Your Online Book Description ~ Guest post by Michele Keller


This example overwhelms the reader. Giant blocks of uninterrupted text on a screen is unappealing. Notice that you don’t even need to read it to be turned off. The content could be amazing, but readers will click back before they have even read the first sentence.

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ Key Steps to Writing Your Online Book Description ~ Guest post by Michele Keller


The first text the readers sees must entice them to learn more. The hook must be front and center, and occur before the critical “read more” break.

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ Key Steps to Writing Your Online Book Description ~ Guest post by Michele Keller


The full description is presented in a visually appealing way. Notice the breaks in the text and the variations in the fonts. This gives the eyes a place to rest.

Now let's create yours



This is my awesome tagline (use HTML heading 1)


This first paragraph will use 54 words or less to guarantee any reader will click on the crucially important 'read more' link that follows. If you want the secret to generating sales for your self-published novel you can't afford not to click on that link. (Got it?)

Now that the reader has clicked read more, we don't want her to regret it. The second paragraph should give more details and expand on what came before. You do not have to use all the allotted space for your hook. Giant blocks of text turn readers off.
Break things up with subheadings
Congratulations you've hooked your reader. They clicked on 'read more' and made it to the end. It's time to reel them in with a great close.

If you have a great review, use the extra space to quote it, and be sure to use bold or italics to distinguish it from the rest of your hook.

The final step is optimizing your keywords


There is no way around this step. If you want to sell your book on Amazon or any other online bookstore. You will be buried by your competition without keywords. Unless you are going to debut on the top 50, no one is going to find you by randomly clicking. It will not happen. You must use keywords.

There are plenty of conspiracy theories about how Amazon's algorithm performs keyword searches. There are just as many and people claiming to have cracked the code and will gladly sell you the secret. If you don't have a marketing department the simplest method is the autofill cheat. Go to Amazon and slowly type in a keyword description of your novel in the search window, e.g. urban fantasy male protagonist. Amazon will suggest in the drop down window some similar keyword searches. Pick your keywords from that list. Also, you are not married to your first choices. Revisit your keywords. If your sales are lagging, scroll through what is selling, find something your novel has in common, and add it to your keywords.

Selling e-books in this competitive market requires more than just good writing. It requires an expertise in marketing that many authors simply don't have. By optimizing your online description, you can give your book the professional look that will help you edge out the competition.

Bio:

Michele is a former music teacher turned writer. She specializes in family-friendly travel, health and wellness, and the adventure known as parenting. Her alter ego, The Manuscript Shredder, critiques first chapters and uses them to inspire articles designed to help beginning writers improve their craft.

You can find Michele at
http://michelekeller.wordpress.com
Twitter: @ml_keller

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome ~ Key Steps to Writing Your Online Book Description ~ Guest post by Michele Keller

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

#AtoZChallenge Jump Start your Editing

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.



Are you ready to Jump start your editing? Here are some tips.

This is a flow chart I created.
Editing flowchart by @JLenniDorner


By the first one hundred words of your book, not only should the reader be hooked, but the genre also established.


Examples:
Words 100- 103 The Shining by Stephen King = "the local undertaker" (horror)
Words 96- 99 The War Of The Flowers by Tad Williams = "In the mortal world" (fantasy)
Words 28- 34 Friends and Lovers by C. Solet ="going out tonight was a good idea" (erotica)
Words 6- 22 Self-Help 101 or: How I Learned to Take Over the World Through Tolerating My Family by L.G. Keltner "I can assume you either want to take over the world and are looking for some pointers" (humor)


Here are some questions to think about while editing:



What is the key dramatic question that will take whole story to answer? How is that dramatic question addressed in each scene?
What in the opening scene has put the protagonist on an inevitable collision with the antagonist?
What consequence will transpire, and how soon, if hero fails?
What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?
What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?
Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction? (responsible and spontaneous, humorous but secretly abusive, sexy yet celibate)


Does each scene have at least four obstacles or obstructions in the way of the main character achieving a goal? (Internal obstacles are things like worry, fear, or lack of knowledge. External obstacles are things like people or terrain.)
What nouns and verbs best express the primary emotion of the scene? How do the details of the scene's setting reveal relevant information about the story?
How do reactions to the setting reveal information or details about the characters?
How many of each of the following sensory details are in each scene?
  • Touch/ Feel
  • Taste
  • Hearing/ Sound
  • Smell/ Scent
  • Visual

With which of the following does the scene end?
  • New information relevant to the story question or prevention of the consequence that will happen if the hero fails
  • New important character added
  • Conflict that tests the moral values of the protagonist
  • Another available choice, which has both good and bad consequences
  • The main problem is now more complicated
  • The current course of action is more hopeless



Try Grammarly for amazing proofreading.



What editing tips do you have to share? What's your biggest "someone should have fixed that" pet-peeve when reading?

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Jump Start your Editing

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

#AtoZChallenge Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.



Today's post will give you an alphabet-worth of Ideas to Spark Your Next Story.
Share and save as many of these images as you wish.

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Have the main character Accomplish a to-do list one chapter at a time. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Two twelve-year-old girls move to America from Belize and Botswana, become friends, and go on adventures that don't involve Boys, Beauty, Baking, or Babysitting. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Email subject line We need to talk Re: The Cat #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt The dry decay of Death was dismantled by the #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Describe a color using only Emotions and verbs. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Write about a Fire that starts in an unlikely place. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Write the feelings of a Greek God visiting modern times and discovering Americans confusing the Rod of Asclepius for the caduceus. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Write a YA where the roles of High school learning and video games are reversed. (Education = fun. Games = required.) #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Important Item is lost! #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt A fictional food competition show centered around Jelly and Jams. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt How the King of Nothing married the Queen of All. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Better to be Lost than Led. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt The reflection in the Mirror is false. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Nevermore! Alternate Universe with the main character descended from Virginia and Edgar Allan Poe. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt An Obnoxious character that equally annoys the protagonist and antagonist. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Write a character who says, #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Qwerty is the title. Keyboard keys are the characters. Go! #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Rewrite your favorite song so the lyrics become your autobiography. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Write a story where the main character keeps mentioning having a Secret. Do not reveal the secret until three-quarters of the way through. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Give a character a Truth that all other characters assume is a lie. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Write a main character with an Uncommon medical diagnosis that will result in death at the end of the story. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt A main character with a Violet arm. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt A story about three Wishes. No extra wishes, ill-thought-out wishes, life-creation wishes, or unwishing wishes. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Write a character who employs the xenodiagnosis diagnostic method and uses a xyster. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Write about what you want people to remember about You. #AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt Three Zillionaires start their own country.


Where is your go-to place for writing prompts?
Which of these prompts is your favorite?

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt

#AtoZchallenge 2017 Operation Awesome Ideas to Spark Your Next Story #WritingPrompt