The paths leading to the writing life vary tremendously. Elisabeth Davies, MC never expected to journey into the writing life, but journey she did. Now she’s a published author and on the road spreading the messages in her new book. Today, she shares her journey with us.
Early in 2008, I was receiving messages through prayer and meditation that I was supposed to be a writer. I had no experience as a writer and knew nothing about the writing or publishing industry, so I ignored the messages by justifying that I had a successful career.
That year, for the first time in my 19-year career as a counselor, I received a complaint from my licensing board. In addition, one of my contracted insurance companies was not paying me for seeing their clients and it became more stressful for me to continue at my private practice. This stress ended up being the incentive to becoming a writer. In September of 2008, I retired my professional counseling license and began to write.
During meditation and prayer, I began asking why I was supposed to be a writer and what I was supposed to write about. The answers I received let me know that my writing would bless many and I was given 16 different subjects to write about. Through dreams, I received information that the path would be clear for me to do this work and all obstacles would be removed if I would write. I wrote all these things down, so that when I had doubts about writing, I could remind myself that writing was what I was supposed to be doing.
I finished writing my first book, Good Things, Emotional Healing Journal: Addiction in 2009.
I did not know any editors, illustrators or publishers to send my book to, so I prayed to find the right people to shepherd my book into being. My webmaster told me about an editor he knew, so I called her. When she told me how much she charged, I told her I could not afford her services. She ended up negotiating with me for a small amount and a backend of the book sales!
I began looking for illustrators on-line and felt overwhelmed: I didn’t know whom to choose. During a meditation, I was given the name ‘Bryan Mouse.’ I googled it. There was one person with that name, and another link that said “Bryan of Tenacious Mouse…” I contacted both of these people, whom I never met and asked them if they happened to be illustrators. Bryan of Tenacious Mouse contacted me from the Yukon and said he had done some illustrations and he was interested in illustrating my book. His fees were more than I could afford, but he also ended up negotiating for a small amount and a percent of book sales.
Now I was ready to send my edited and partially illustrated manuscript to a publisher! But to whom?
I joined some writers and authors groups on LinkedIn in hopes of getting information from other published authors. I was encouraged to get a literary agent because I was a first time, unknown author. I emailed a few. Meg McAllister, publishing and PR expert, gave me a call. I took her advice and sent my manuscript to Morgan James Publishing in New York. Soon after, David Hancock, the founder of the publishing company, called to say he loved my book and was going to accept it! He told me that they received about 5,000 manuscripts a year and only published about 134.
My first copy of Good Things Emotional Healing Journal Addiction arrived in the mail on August 9th, 2011! I continue to be in total gratitude as readers share how my book has blessed them.
To learn more about Elisabeth Davies, MC, visit her website at www.GoodThingsEmotionalHealing.com. You also can view her recent interview about emotional eating on Sonoran Living TV at http://bit.ly/ZSPNHZ.
Barbara McNichol is one of those editors to contact when you’re struggling with punctuation and grammar. In her guest blog below, she gives some pointers on that all-important, oft-misused swish – the comma. For those of you in the Tucson area, Barbara will be conducting the How to Strengthen EVERYTHING You Write ”wordshop” on Friday, January 25 from 8 am-11:45 am. If you want to refine your writing skills, you’ll want to sign up for this event.
It’s Okay to Take Artistic License with Commas but Watch Out!
by Barbara McNichol
When I’m editing manuscripts, I sometimes wonder how much the authors struggle with their use of commas and dashes and other punctuation—or whether they question it at all!
At times, strict punctuation rules can be relaxed, especially when writing artistic pieces. Even in the absence of rhyme or reason where commas are placed, however, consistency must reign.
Unconventional punctuation can create confusion in meaning. If authors don’t struggle a bit with when to use commas, they may be forcing readers to struggle with “getting” what they mean. That’s when relying on the rules takes priority over artistic license.
A fascinating article from a New York Times columnist adroitly addresses the correct use of a comma.
I encourage you to read this article and learn from a master, Ben Yagoda. I’m impressed with how well Yagoda’s examples explain the tricky rules for using commas. For example:
I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my friend, Jessie.
Comma after “movie,” comma after “friend” and, sometimes, comma after “Paris” as well. None are correct — unless “Midnight in Paris” is the only movie in the world and Jessie is the writer’s only friend. Otherwise, the punctuation should be:
I went to see the movie “Midnight in Paris” with my friend Jessie.
If that seems wrong or weird or anything short of clearly right, bear with me a minute and take a look at another correct sentence:
I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.
Do you see how the correct punctuation set up clarity in the meaning? Subtle but important distinctions.
How important is it for you to follow strict punctuation rules in your writing? Please share your comments here.
Barbara McNichol Editorial provides expert editing of articles, books, and book proposals for authors, speakers, and entrepreneurs. Over the past 19 years, she has placed more than 250 books on her editing “trophy shelf.” Barbara helps solopreneurs improve their writing through her monthly ezine Add Power to Your Pen. She has also created Word Trippers: The Ultimate Source for Choosing the Perfect Word When It Really Matters and also publishes the monthly ezine Add Power to Your Pen. Please visit www.BarbaraMcNichol.com.
Not sure what to buy that writer in your life for the holidays? That person who sometimes seems attached to her laptop for hours on end? Here are some ideas sure to brighten any writer’s life.
Okay, so it’s cliché, but show me a writer who doesn’t love a good pen. My favorite new find: InkJoy pens by PaperMate™. Smooth writing, nice grip, choice of colors. Love them!
The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz
Photographer Jill Krementz snapped candid shots of writers at their desk – Stephen King, Amy Tan, William Styron, her husband Kurt Vonnegut and many more. Even though the book dates back to 1996, it’s still a wonderful compilation of photos.
Coffee & Tea
Fill the pipeline. Your special writer will think of you every time he fills his mug, which very well could be morning, noon and night.
The Writer’s Block: 786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination by Jason Rekuk
Flip to any page of this three-inch block of a book and find an idea to write about. It’s fun, clever and something to keep on the desk.
In addition to serving as paperweights, stones have healing powers associated with them. Agate is purported to improve natural vitality and energy and increase self-confidence. Lapis engenders wisdom and truth. Rose quartz heals headaches, and promotes forgiveness, friendship and love.
Michael Douglas stars as a bestselling author and professor, who can’t seem to get his next novel completed. Tobey McGuire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr., Katie Holmes, and Rip Torn round up the cast of this fabulous flick. The screenplay earned an Oscar nomination.
A Daily Hug of Encouragement
Writers have a knack for second-guessing themselves. A daily dose of love and a whispered “I know you can do this” support fuels motivation, persistence, and inspiration to finish that manuscript, query letter, book proposal, or other current project. It’s the most inexpensive gift to give and in the end, the most appreciated.
Have fun shopping for the writer you love.
Wishing you a Happy Holidays and a New Year filled with joys, good health and writing successes.
Today’s guest blogger has had thirty years of experience in the publishing world. Claire Gerus has been Editor-in-Chief of two publishing houses, worked for seven major publishers, including Harlequin, Rodale, Random House, Doubleday, John Wiley, Kensington, and Adams Media, written articles for U.S. and Canadian magazines and newspapers, and taught corporate communications to such clients as IBM, Kelloggs, Mutual of Omaha, and Procter & Gamble.
She is presently working as a literary agent and book development consultant. She is always interested in projects that can change readers’ lives for the better. She is open to assisting authors as an agent, a book developer, or an editor. She is now focusing on nonfiction projects for all ages.
When Lynn asked me to contribute some insights “from an agent’s point of view,” I had to stop and think. What would people want to know? Would they be most interested in how they could write more effective query letters? What the secrets of a successful submission might be? Or whether it’s even worth the time and energy to try to submit a book proposal, whether to an agent or to a publisher, given how tough the market is these days.
Then, I realized that what would be most helpful would be a snapshot of what agents are dealing with –changing conditions in the marketplace, mergers of the two largest publishing houses (Random House and Penguin/Putnam), young, relatively inexperienced editors, shrinking advances….I could go on and on.
Even for a seasoned agent (going on 12 years now, with 30 years as an East Coast editor before that), the constant changes are challenging to keep up with. Mergers between companies and editors who are coming and going, publishers closing their doors forever—these activities are now so frequent that I’m no longer embarrassed when someone tells me of a change I might have missed. And while I tended to try to dissuade new authors from going the self-publishing route (always the optimist that we’d find the right publisher if we just hung in a bit), now I encourage those who are eager to do it themselves to, well, “just do it!”
Self-publishing is a whole new ballgame and is becoming increasingly respectable, although it’s still, usually, the alternative choice rather than an author’s first choice. It’s certainly faster than waiting for a nod from a traditional publisher, which can take months, and it’s often the perfect solution for an author who has a memoir or another personal perspective that’s important for him/her to get out there.
One has to keep in mind that it can take about two years between acceptance by a publisher and the book’s actual publication, considering the editorial process once the first draft of the manuscript has been turned in.
A colleague told me the other day that she sees these changes in the publishing scene as “the best of times” for authors (with more opportunities to get published than ever before) and “the worst of times.” That’s because there are more books in various formats out there (ebooks, trade paperbacks, and decreasingly, hard covers) than ever before.
In both cases, whether published by a traditional publisher or self-published, today’s authors need to either hire a superior publicist (preferably one who is also a social media expert) or have a game plan that will grab the attention of reviewers. Ultimately, this will involve getting attention on Amazon.com—and joining the majority of other would-be bestselling authors with the same objective.
Lynn will agree that book publicity and promotion are the key to getting sales and raising the author’s name recognition, and she’s been in the biz a long time, having graduated from the ranks of Barnes and Noble in marketing and sales. New tricks and tips are always being formulated by these folks to help authors move ahead of the pack, and she’s got intuition on her side to achieve exceptional results for her clients.
As for me, a literary agent whose livelihood has depended on getting book deals for my authors, I’m personally intrigued by the changing scene. Today, I’m committed to pointing my authors towards the solution that makes the most sense to them. Ultimately, I get the greatest satisfaction from seeing happy faces and hearing “We did it!”….even if it means I’m simply a conduit for an author who is now happily self-published!
The nice thing is, even in the face of tougher challenges for agents, new opportunities are opening up for us, too. Those of us who can add editing to our resumes are in demand to get authors’ proposals and manuscripts up to snuff. That’s because anything less than editorially and grammatically correct just isn’t cutting it these days—reviewers are increasingly critical of typos, grammar errors, and other flaws in self-published books. The old “who needs an editor?” attitude in a bid to save a few bucks is now coming back to haunt those who felt they could get away without one.
A bright new day is, indeed, dawning for all of us publishing folks, and every morning I look forward to sitting down at my Sony laptop, opening up my inbox, and finding out who has come knocking at my door….
With all best wishes for your publishing success,
Our guest blogger today is Denise Roessle, author of Second-Chance Mother.
As a first-time author in early 2012, my hopes were high and my expectations were reasonable. I had worked hard to build a following — via Facebook, my blog, and my website — so lots of friends, as well as strangers, were anticipating the release of Second-Chance Mother in both ebook and print versions.
During the first few months, I sold about 170 ebooks online and 100 print books (most of which were the result of my personal sales at book launch parties and speaking engagements). Sounded good to me!
In April, I heard about Amazon’s Kindle Select Program (KDP) and how other authors were significantly increasing their sales by giving away free ebooks. Say what?! I had gifted a couple dozen print copies to endorsers, potential reviewers, and friends. But why should I let strangers download the Kindle version for free? If they were interested in my book, why wouldn’t they be willing to pay the few bucks it cost?
I was also disturbed that if I committed to the program, the ebook could not be offered for sale by any other vendor (B&N.com, Smashwords, or even on my own website). When I asked my publisher (Chris O’Byrne, Red Willow Publishing) about this, he responded that thus far I had sold 100 ebooks on Amazon and 7 on B&N.com. Okay then. I also learned that Kindle Prime members could “borrow” the Kindle version for free, for which I would receive a small royalty. Since it’s only a 90-day commitment, I decided to give it a go. Chris signed me up, and I scheduled two free promotion weekends: Mother’s Day, and another to coincide with the Northern California book tour I had scheduled for June.
The results were astounding! Between both promotions, more than 20,000 people downloaded Second-Chance Mother, sales of the ebook shot up to nearly 800, and 160 loans were made. (Amazon sold some print copies too, but I did much better in-person during my tour.)
Even better — my rankings on Amazon shot up to #1 in both of my categories, and close to the top among all Kindle books, and stayed there for weeks after. People who likely never would have found me were reading and reviewing my book, and emailing me to share what it meant to them.
A note to those who are considering Kindle Select free promotions: Amazon doesn’t promote them. You’ll have to spend some time listing your promotion on author/reader and free book sites, as well as sending shout-outs on Facebook and Twitter. This took me about three hours the first time, less for the second. In the end, it is well worth the time invested.
For more information about Denise and Second-Chance Mother, visit her website.
Author John Quinn did his homework. He studied the elements of a query letter, then penned the query below. All it takes is one agent to like a query and request the proposal or manuscript, decide to represent and make a sale. In John’s case, that agent was the talented Claire Gerus, who proceeded to sell John’s book, Someone Like Me, to History Publishing. Note the hook used to begin the letter. It immediately draws you in and keeps you reading.
Dear Ms. Gerus:
I have a secret I want to share with you, a secret that only a few people in the entire world know…so far. I was born with cerebral palsy and I joined the United States Navy. I’ve only had to keep that secret for my entire twenty-year career as a sailor.
My memoir, Someone Like Me: My Secret Life with Cerebral Palsy, is a reflection on my struggles and successes in life, from childhood physical therapy sessions with “The Administer of Pain,” through my illustrious high-school wrestling career where I never won a match, to enlisting in the service, keeping my handicap a secret from Navy officials and finally culminating in my retirement ceremony. It is an inspirational memoir, full of nostalgic and quirky dialogue garnered from growing up in a large family in the 1970′s and 80′s, and of course naval anecdotes and humor that make this a most enjoyable read.
When I first had dreams of writing my memoir, I wanted to see what similar books were available on this subject; someone successfully living with cerebral palsy, describing what that experience is like in adulthood. To my astonishment, I could not find anything comparable. Most of the material is primarily focused on infants and parenthood, i.e. “Your baby has cerebral palsy, now what?” There are medical journals available telling me all about the various types and causes of CP, as well as countless legal manuals explaining my rights to possible legal action. Someone Like Me is a unique book, filling the empty gap in current available literature, a book written by an adult with cerebral palsy, a handicap that affects over 750,000 in the United States.
Like Men of Honor or the New York Times bestseller No Excuses – The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life, I overcame a physical handicap to prove that anything is possible if only given the chance. What is different about my story is that I succeeded in my chosen career by keeping my cerebral palsy secret; completely fooling Navy officials who could have discharged me immediately had they discovered my physical handicaps, and quite possibly prosecuted me for the deception.
This book offers a fresh and timely adult perspective and is marketable to a wide audience including 26 million military veterans; two million active duty personnel; medical professionals who can point to my success with physical therapy; and those afflicted with muscular handicaps such as polio, MS, and of course, cerebral palsy. In addition, at 62,000 words, it is short enough not to be cost-prohibitive to most publishing houses.
It would be an honor to work with you on this project. I have attached the first chapter of my book to give you a sense of my writing style. May I send you a copy of the completed manuscript?
John W. Quinn, Senior Chief Petty Officer, USN, Retired
Today’s guest blog comes from John Quinn, author of the memoir Someone Like Me – An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy published by History Publishing. John was born with cerebral palsy and kept it a secret in order to join the United States Navy. When John decided to write his story, he had to dig in and learn about the publishing process from square one. He tapped into the amazing determination and persistence that he developed during a lifetime of challenges and successfully ushered his dream of a published book into reality.
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I would like to share a few of the lessons that I learned in getting my memoir published. These lessons come hard-earned and are things that I wish someone would have passed along to me when I was struggling to become an author. I hope they help you
- Complete most, if not all, of your manuscript prior to starting your agent search. Having a completed manuscript will allow you to go forward in the process with more confidence.
- Work hard on your query letter “hook.” Top agents receive hundreds of query letters a week. Yours needs to stand out from the pack in such a way that makes someone stop, read your letter and ask for more. Does it?
- Use email to send out your query. Most agents will accept them, though some still request a mailed query. (Check the agent’s website for querying instructions.) Personalize your query letter for each agent to whom you send it.
- Have your book proposal or summary finished and ready to go. A proposal is your book’s “business plan” and the first thing that a potential agent will ask for after being hooked by your great query. Having it complete shows that you are a serious candidate for representation.
- Once you are offered a publishing deal, make sure you retain final approval of the manuscript. It is your book and you’re the one who will have to talk about it in the media. Make sure you are happy with the final product!
- Use every aspect of social media to promote your book. Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter and LinkedIn are just a few of the tools that are out there at your disposal. Starting your own website is a must as well. Becoming your own webmaster is a great way to keep your readers up to date on everything going on with your book – and it’s gratifying too!
Good luck, have fun and remember: It only takes one yes!
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To learn more about John and his incredible story of hope, go to www.johnwquinn.com.
Coming tomorrow: A reprint of the query letter that sold Someone Like Me.
I finished reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky just under the wire. The movie opened on four screens a week ago, and will soon descend on more. If I see the movie first, I’m less inclined to read the book, and since Perks is one of those books that leaves permanent impressions on each of your senses, it would have been sad to have neglected the read. Now I’m holding my breath that the movie stays true to the book.
Gobs of movies portray books well. Some movies improve on the book (wonder how that writer feels), while others take a good book and twist it around into a good movie that’s a mere shadow of the book. Surely Kathryne Stockett couldn’t have been more thrilled with the film rendition of The Help. Stephen King, on the other hand, purportedly disdained Stanley Kubrick’s portrayal of The Shining. Wonder if Roald Dahl would have preferred Johnny Depp or Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka?
So what are your favorite book-to-film movies? These have to be books that you’ve read. The “Sawshank Redemption” is one of my favorite movies, but I’ve never read the short story. Here are some titles I appreciated as much on film as on the page.
- Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
- Bridget Jone’s Diary by Helen Fielding
- Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquival
- Ordinary People by Judith Guest
- Eye of the Needle by Ken Follet
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
- Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard
- The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowler
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett
A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. – William Styron, interview, Writers at Work, 1958
So what makes a book good? In a novel, is it the characters, the plot, setting, point-of-view, or dialogue? Is it the use of metaphor and imagery? What about non-fiction? Is it the topic, organization, data, photos?
We could sit here all day, refilling our coffee cups, and analyze these questions down to the last period and semi-colon.
In the end, however, the answer is simple. After a reader turns the last page and mourns the fact that the inspiring, exhilarating journey has concluded, the question of “what makes a book good” boils down to one thing: the writing. It’s the writing that makes the book. The writing embraces all those elements mentioned above –character, imagery, organization, and it is the skilled writer who can assemble those elements and produce an exquisite, memorable tome. It is this writer who has sharpened and honed the craft of writing.
Indeed, the best writers take the time to learn and develop their craft — to learn their trade, just as painters, musicians, graphic designers, architects and others learn the technicalities of their profession. While it may be helpful to earn an MFA in creative writing or a degree in journalism, you can hone your skill as a writer without having to ante up such concentrated amounts of time or money.
Join a critique group.
This might be a group of five to ten writers who convene regularly in order to share and critique work. Find writers from whom you can learn.
Read books on writing.
Hang out at your local bookstore and page through the books about writing. Study these books. So many are filled with advice, exercises, and examples. One of my favorites is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
Read well-written books with the eye of a writer.
Again, this is a way to learn. Note how the writer develops character, places backstory, employs foreshadowing, appeals to the senses. So many would-be authors have created intriguing plots and sketched out unique characters, but their writing lacks texture and pacing. Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer, offers invaluable suggestions on what to glean from others’ writing.
Work with an editor.
A good editor is indispensable. Look for a professional with editing experience in your genre.
Practice, practice, practice. Pianists, pitchers, public speakers, poets – these and others excel, because they practice everyday.
Attend writing conferences and workshops.
They abound. Keep your eye on writing events sponsored by community colleges and universities, by local writing groups, by bookstores. Poets & Writers magazine always includes a list of conferences being hosted around the country. These venues are where you also learn the business of writing – how to write query letters, book proposals, and story synopses, and how to conduct publicity and book marketing campaigns.
Writing can be a lonely endeavor, no doubt about it. But there are venues that offer camaraderie and at the same time, help you sharpen your writing skills and even learn the business of writing, all essentials to being a well-published writer. These venues, including conferences, workshops, residencies and retreats, can be found in almost every state.
If you’re a serious writer, you’ll want to seriously considering attending at least one writing event a year. I met one of my closest writing buddies, found my agent, re-stoked my enthusiasm, and learned about the craft and business of writing at conferences and workshops. It’s always exciting to be around other writers. You can’t help but leave with a new idea, new knowledge, new inspiration – at least one golden nugget – that will help you in your writing life.
Writing conferences usually extend two to three days, though some are even longer. Conferences may offer concurrent sessions on the craft of writing, as well as on topics like how to write query letters and book proposals and conduct book marketing campaigns. Editors and agents also may be available for “pitch sessions.” If you have a project that you would like to pitch or get advice on, you can schedule a 15-minute meeting with an editor or agent. You may have to pay a nominal fee, say $15-20, or the session may be included in your conference fee. (This is how I found my agent. I had a meeting and brought in my book proposal; she signed me on as her author right there.)
Workshops tend to be more hands-on than conferences. They may include writing exercises and even assignments, as well as critique sessions. The Iowa Writer’s Workshop held each summer is one of the most prestigious in the country and requires writers to apply. Most workshops, however, simply require that you complete an application and pay the fee. Check with your local community colleges, libraries, writing groups, and bookstores to see if they are offering workshops.
Then there are writing retreats. These are where you hole up, preferably in some idyllic setting that would make Wordsworth drool, and write, write, write. You may share your writing with others, have a teacher or mentor offer guidance, or receive critiques from other writers.
Writers Colonies (a.k.a. Writers Residencies)
These are for the serious writer who can extract themselves from life for least one to two weeks, and sometimes as long as a month or two. If you’re interested in this type of experience, you’ll need to apply by submitting a work in progress. Spots are coveted. The organizations running the colonies are interested in supporting emerging talents and often fund the experience, which means that you may pay as little as $25-35 per day for room and board.