Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why I love Charles Dickens--Diving Into the Story World

*Special Note: This week's schedule is delayed by one day due to Memorial Day




by Jen Slattery


A few years ago someone mailed me a historical fiction about.... Well, I'm not sure what it was about because I never made it that far. I tried. Oh, my, did I try, but after page upon page of life-activities, my perseverance waned and I put the book aside. I learned the heroine wore her hair in ribbons, what she ate for breakfast, and numerous other details of her daily life. To the author, perhaps these events were significant. Maybe she had fond memories of getting her hair done and thought perhaps if she outlined these details, one movement at a time, she could invoke those same emotions in her reader. But sadly, her over-abundance of minute details, void of conflict, dulled my brain.


As I read over today's excerpts again--talking of spiritual warfare, castles, and jail sentences--I realized one of the things I long for in a story is the ability to visit a place other than my own. That doesn't mean I always gravitate toward time-traveling speculative fiction, but I don't want to relive the monotony of life either.


I love books that raise the stakes, introduce me to unique settings and unique characters, and allow my mind to drift from the day-to-day. One of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens. Upon first glance, I might conclude this is due to his "other-than" settings, but I believe it's more than that. His use of language creates images so vivid and emotive, he manages to turn a walk through the city into a unique experience. And yet, somehow he does this without losing the human element--the universal emotions we all share. So basically, he creates a world that is unique enough to grab my attention and propel me into the story, but he does it in such a way that I deeply connect with the characters.


This week's excerpts captured my attention with their unique settings and story-lines. The shuffle of monotony in a high school is intensified by the presence of evil. In excerpt B, I'm introduced to the magnificent Hearst Castle, and the world of antiquity. In both, I realize much more is at stake than castle restoration and chemistry class.


What about you? What are some things you look for in a story? Think back to a story you've particularly enjoyed. What was it about that novel that grabbed you? Is it a slightly quirky character or a castle shrouded by clouds and hidden behind a patch of trees?


(If you haven't already done so, read over both excerpts. And remember, there are numerous ways to be entered into our drawing for the book give-aways: leave a comment on any of the articles posted over the next week, fb share us, tweet us, or subscribe. Remember to shoot us an email letting us know you've shared, tweeted, or subscribed.)


To our blogging readers, if you'd like to join the COTT family as a blog alliance partner, shoot us an email at contactcott(at)gmail(dot)com. We'd love to tell you more.




Jennifer Slattery is a novelist, freelance writer and biblical studies major at Calvary Bible college. In 2009 she won first place in the HACWN writing contest in the book category, placed second in the 2010 Dixie Kane, fourth in the 2010 Golden Pen and third in the 2010 CWG Operation First Novel Contest. She has a short piece appearing in Bethany House's Love is a Flame (under a pen name), forwarded by Gary Chapman, another piece in Cathy Messecar's A Still and Quiet Soul, and writes for Reflections in Hindsight, Christ to the World, Samie Sisters, The Christian Pulse, and reviews for Novel Reviews. She's also written for Granola Bar Devotions, Afictionado, The Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Romantic Times Review, Bloom and the Breakthrough Intercessor. 

Contact Jennifer: slattery07(at)yahoo(dot)com
Jennifer's Blog, Facebook

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Get Started as a Freelance Writer—Part One

Many writers I met with at the Blue Ridge conference expressed an interest in getting started as freelance writers. With the economy as it is, lots are feeling the need for additional or even primary income. With some hard work and diligence, freelance writing could be the answer you’re looking for.

Freelance writing isn’t a get rich quick scheme. It takes hard work—and a certain amount of a daredevil attitude. BUT, if you do the work and put in the hours you WILL see success.

The Basics
There are a couple of things you MUST do to succeed in this industry.
  • Send out the queries...daily.
  • Stay on top of the marketing...daily.


The Specifics
Queries—let’s face it, it's hard to get an assignment if you don’t apply for it. Landing freelance writing jobs is often a numbers game. For every 10 jobs you inquire about, you’ll land one to two. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing how to make those odds better.

The critical thing to remember is if you’re sending out ONE query a week, you’ll probably land ONE job in the next 10 weeks. If you’re serious about earning an income you need to send out 10 queries a day.

Marketing—a simple explanation of marketing is job searching. I check the job boards every single workday. Even when I have regular work, I still spend about 40% of my time marketing. Otherwise, the work will dry up and I’ll have times with no income coming in.

Here's a list of my favorite job boards:

You’ve decided to make the jump from writing as a hobby to writing for profit, so now what? Here's your first step for your journey to freelance writer.

Step One—Start Thinking Like a Writer
Now it’s time to start thinking like a professional. By that I mean, everywhere you look and every experience you have has the potential to become an article.

Ideas for articles are everywhere. Are you at the grocery store? Look at the free magazines and publications offered near the entrance and exit – they have content – they need writers! Check the community bulletin board. There may be a story you can sell to your local newspaper. Did you have a flat tire last week? There are tons of safety magazines that would welcome your story with a slant.

Next Tuesday I’ll continue this series with specifics on getting started. In the meantime leave a comment or ask a question. This will help me make sure this series covers everything you need to get started.

Don't forget to join the conversation!
Blessings,
Edie

Monday, May 23, 2011

Clash of the Titles Congratulates Christine Lindsay

by Michelle Massaro
Christine Lindsay crowned COTT champ!
Shadowed in Silk won the vote for Best Back Cover Blurb against competitor Sunny Eads.
A clip of her winning excerpt:
After the Great War, Abby Fraser returns to India with her small son, where her husband is stationed with the British army. She has longed to go home to the land of glittering palaces and veiled women . . . but Nick has become a cruel stranger. It will take more than her American pluck to survive.
read the full blurb here
A few reader comments
  • I'm drawn to the post war aspect of the second one.
  • Both really pulls you in but the romance of India under the Bristh rule caught my attention.
  • Oh, India! Sounds mysterious!! Makes me wonder if this is a romance or not. Would def give this book a go.
  • Blurb B is just so intriguing! Definitely makes me want to read the whole thing. So much clearly going on.
Christine says
The only reason I write is in order to encourage readers to love Christ and follow Him. He's God---if He wants me to succeed, then He'll make it happen. And if He wants me to have quiet success, then I'll praise the Lord for that.
read the full interview here.
About her experience with COTT she writes:
I'm so thankful for this opportunity. Thank you every one, especially Sunny and Lisa. What a fun contest. And to every one for their positive comments.
Want to get in on the voting action? Head over to Clash of the Titles now and cast your ballot for this week's Clash!
PLEASE CHECK 
OUT OUR EXCITING NEW VENTURE:
Join us in June as we premier COTT's book club! Karen Witemeyer and her COTT winning novel, A Tailor-Made Bride is up as our first read (The books is offered as a free e-book here; if you don't have a Kindle, you can download the program to your pc or mobile device free here). More details and to vote for July's book, CLICK HERE 

Michelle Massaro is a homeschooling mom and aspiring novelist. She is Assistant Editor for the literary website Clash of the Titles and writes for COTT's Blog Alliance. Michelle also serves on the worship team and teaches origins science to the youth at her church. She and her husband of 15 years live in sunny So Cal with their four children. Connect with her on twitter @MLMassaro, facebook, Clash of the Titles, and her blog Adventures in Writing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weekend Worship—Take Action

And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7 and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8 and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:6-10 NASB 

I used to agonize over decisions in my life, worried that I might miss God’s answer and the consequences would be devastating (or at least unpleasant). This worry often kept me from acting because I really did want what God wanted. Then I realized that this concern was actually a lack of faith. I was, in essence, saying that hearing God was dependent on me—not God!

Paul didn’t have this problem. These verses are the start of his second missionary journey. He left on that journey with the decision to go to Asia. Reading theses verses show that God had something else entirely in mind. But nowhere in this passage do we find condemnation of Paul for having acted, even though he obviously missed what God had intended. What an inspiration, what comfort! I can act on what I think God is saying without worrying about Him abandoning me. The key to this is my heart—if I’m truly seeking what’s important to God, He’ll never leave me to my own devises, but always guide me back to His path.



Don't forget to join the conversation!
Blessings,
Edie

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

8 Ways to Beat Post Conference Blues

I've been attending large writing conferences for twelve years and they all have ONE thing in common—post conference blues. It’s only natural. A week-long conference is an exciting, grueling experience. Just physical exhaustion alone could get anyone down—add to that the mental and emotional effects and you have the perfect set-up for a huge let-down.

For those who aren’t expecting the post conference blues they can—worst case—derail your writing career for a year or more. At the least they can set even an experienced writer behind several work days.

The feelings can run the gamut of a vague sense of unease to out-right panic. I’ve found that once I’m at home all the nice things people have said about my writing morph into something ugly.
  • They were just being polite—they didn't really like my writing.
  • They don’t really want me to send in that proposal.
  • hey’ll never publish that (article, devotion, whatever) they told everyone to send something in.

All of these are lies. I've sat on the editor side of the desk and believe me when I say this. Less than 30% of the writers I request something from actually send something in. I’m convinced that a big reason is the post conference melt down.

Here are some tried and true ways I’ve found to minimize the effects.

  • Give yourself permission to feel deflated when you get home.
  • Arrange your schedule so you have a few days to recuperate.
  • Pamper yourself. Sleep in, go out to eat, spend some much needed time with family.
  • Before you dive into conference generated work take time to evaluate what happened.
  • Make a list of things you want to accomplish over the next year, next six months and next month.
  • Develop a plan to stay in touch with new friends and contacts.
  • Reach out to others who may be feeling the same way.
  • Take your next steps in small increments.

All of these things can help you navigate the post conference blues. Now it’s your turn. Have you experienced the let-down? If so, what have you found to help you cope?


Don't forget to join the conversation!
Blessings,
Edie

Sunday, May 15, 2011

So What About the Back Cover?


article by Lisa Lickel
 MAKE SURE YOU CHECK 
OUT COTT'S EXCITING NEW VENTURE:
Join us in June as we premier COTT's book club! Karen Witemeyer and her COTT winning novel, A Tailor-Made Bride is up as our first read (The books is offered as a free e-book here; if you don't have a Kindle, you can download the program to your pc or mobile device free here). More details and to vote for July's book, CLICK HERE 

Read this week's excerpts here and vote!
What's the Big Deal About the Back of the Book?
I hid behind a copy of the NYTimes at the local bookstore, my trench coat belt pulled tight and my fedora at a swanky angle. Totally incognito, I was on the case. My assignment? To discover once and for all the answers to an author's most persistent questions: Do readers really care about the back of the book? Would they buy based on a catchy blurb or teasing headline or a really cool picture of the author?
I thought back to my own published books which I'd flipped over and compared that morning. Were they exciting enough that someone would buy them? One had an endorsement by an editor; one had my picture and bio – scary. They all had a pretty enticing one-line teaser. One had the illustration continued from the front; one had the picture I originally wanted on the front; others had none.
A half-hour at the book store was all I needed to see for myself. The evidence was in. Serious readers turn the book over—or, open and read the fly. People that are on a mission to buy gifts for someone else grab and pay. Perusers even read a few pages. One guy read the last few pages. Persnickety readers might actually put the book down after reading the back. Even on the discount table. That's how important the back cover copy is: The blurb can make or break a sale.
My informal poll to the ACFW book club group resulted in the following:
Do you look at the back cover first or second? Only one person (an author, go figure) looked at it first; most said they looked at it after checking out the front; three said they don't usually look at the back cover; two said they rarely look at all.
What do you like to see on a back cover? Accurate, enticing teasers without giving too much away, one person said reviews and a couple people said endorsements; one person said something about the author.
Did you ever buy a book because of the back cover? Most said yes, the back cover blurb has sold the book.
I had to include all these responses; they were too good to pass up or condense. Enjoy!
***********************************************************
I always read the back cover copy and if it interests me, then I look at the first few pages before I buy the book. The "blurb" is very important with books ordered on-line as that is all we have to go on. I've skipped a few because what I read didn't click with me. With authors I know well, I usually don't look, and only once or twice have been disappointed when the book didn't live up to what I expected.
~Blessings, Martha Rogers
The FRONT cover is the main thing I look at. Frankly I hardly ever read the back of a book. They really don't tell you exactly what is in the book. If the front cover grabs my attention. I read the FIRST page of the book. If the author had grabbed my attention in the first page. I'm going to be interested in the rest of the book not matter what it's about. So, no the back of a book has never convinced me to buy a book. The few times I've read the back first and then checked out the first page of the book. I wasn't grabbed by the first page and put the book back on the shelf!  
I know I might be an odd duck not to read book blurbs on the back of books but they have let me down so many times! Or made it more confusing than helped. Oh, I forgot one more thing that I check about a book are the DISCUSSION QUESTIONS!! Since I try to mostly read books I think will be a fit for book club discussions. I check out the discussion questions. This tells me one, the heart of the author and what they think is important and some of the topics that will be discussed in the book.
~Blessings, Nora :D
1) look at the front cover first (enjoy looking at beautiful covers—it's what draws me to a book first. If the publisher cares about presentation, they'll care about the story--usually)
2) Then the back cover. I found the back cover on Laura Frantz's Courting Morrow Little to be lovely!
3) I read the blurb; and that usually will convince me "aye or nay" to purchasing the book.
~Pat Iacuzzi
I usually look at the type in the book.....I know, it is weird, but often the font in the book convinces me if I want to read or not read a book. I usually read the back cover of a book after I read the first chapter and am wondering where the story is going. I read a back cover one time that basically told the whole story in short form (It was a book from the 1940s) it ruined the book. Yes, often the back cover has convinced me to buy the book. I do not want too little info on there, and I do not want too much.
~Martha Artyomenko
I look at the back of the book right after the cover. I like to see a synopsis on the back and do pay attention to endorsements and what they say, especially so if they are from other authors I know and respect. Without question, the blurbs have a lot to do with whether I buy the book. 
~Pat Rowland

I look at the back cover immediately after I look at the cover. Both are important to me.
I like the back cover to give me a blurb that leaves me wondering what I’m going to see inside.
And YES, the blurb makes a lot of difference whether I will read the story. Sometimes after I purchase my books, and then re-read the blurbs, that also determines to me which book I will read first.
~Shirley Kiger Connolly
 
Lisa Lickel is a Wisconsin writer who lives with her husband in a hundred and fifty-year-old house built by a Great Lakes ship captain. Surrounded by books and dragons, she has written dozens of feature newspaper stories, magazine articles, radio theater, and several inspirational novels to date. She is also the senior editor at Reflections in Hindsight.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Another Clash of the Titles Victor

This week's Clash winner is none other than Roseanna White, for her opening pages of
A Stray Drop of Blood.
She triumphed over the very worthy excerpt from Michelle Griep's Undercurrent.
Congratulations, Roseanna!
It's fair to say that Stray Drop was a labor of love. The storyline was first born in Roseanna's heart when she was only 15 years old. It grew over the next six years culminating in the novel we have today.
A snippet of the winning opening:
Abigail’s tears were unneeded. Mourners enough had been hired by her mother’s husband, and their loud keening drowned out her grief. She risked a glance at Silas, who stood with an appropriately sorrowful expression in the corner. Her mother’s husband, but not her father. Her father was dead. Mother too. And this family would never be her own.
About the book:
For seven years, Abigail has been a slave in the visibullis house. With a Hebrew mistress and a Roman master, she has always been more family than servant . . . until their son returns to Jerusalem after his years in Rome. Within a few months Jason has taken her to his bed and turned her world upside down. Maybe, given time, she can come to love him as he says he loves her. But how does she open her heart to the man who ruined her?
Born free, made a slave, married out of her bonds, Abigail never knows freedom until she feels the fire of a stray drop of blood from a Jewish carpenter. Disowned by Israel, despised by Rome, desired by all, she never knows love until she receives the smile of a stoic Roman noble.
A few COTT visitor's comments:
Wow! Both books sound exciting! Wonderful teasers!
 Thank you for sharing your talents, and good luck.
 Love the book. This truly is a story to enchant a reader.
You can read Roseanna's interview with COTT Assistant Editor Michelle Massaro here
And to get in on the voting action at Clash of the Titles, just click now to be taken to their current Clash of the Back Cover Blurbs

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thursday Review—Writer’s Digest

by Lynn Huggins Blackburn


Have you ever felt left out? Ever been told you should do something if you want to succeed—but you can't?

If you've ever contemplated a writers conference with a non-existent bank account, three small children, or a work schedule with zero vacation, then you know what I'm talking about.

If you've been writing for any length of time, you know about conferences. You know you should find a way to get to one, preferably every year. You know your career will benefit.

But you can't go. You can't afford it. You can't leave your kids. You can't get off work.

But could you spare $20?

That's right. $20. The price of two movie tickets. The price of four frappuccinos. The price of five gallons of gas (I know, depressing isn't it).

For $20, you can subscribe to Writer's Digest. Think of it as a little mini-conference that comes to your mailbox eight times a year.

Don't believe me? Let's think about what happens at a conference.

1. Networking - I'll grant you that you aren't going to get the same person-to-person networking from a magazine that you'll get at a conference, but each issue will expose you to new genres, new publishers, new authors, new agents, new websites and new ideas. The May/June issue lists the 101 Best Websites for Writers. You'll find websites for agents, online writing communities, writing advice, specific genres and much more.

2. Classes - Sure, you want to take classes in your field, but you also want to broaden your horizons and take a few classes in areas you know nothing about. Writer’s Digest meets both requirements. The February issue included the article "25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day" - hmm, sounds like a workshop title to me. If you're a fiction writer, the May/June issue's "Writer's Workbook" focuses on backstory. If you're more the freelance article type, the focus is on Food, Wine & Travel writing. It's fascinating.
  
3. Inspiration/Motivation - Conferences are like pep rallies for writers. So much encouragement, so many new ideas, so many reminders of why you write—you feel exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time.

I'm not going to pretend that reading Writer's Digest will make you want to grab some pompoms or put on some college football fight songs as you write. But, there’s something about having a magazine with the title Writer's Digest landing in your mailbox—with your name on it.

It's a little reminder.

I may not be at my favorite conference this year.
But I am a writer!

What about you? Do you subscribe to Writer's Digest? How has it helped you?
Don't forget to join the conversation!


Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. On her blog Out of the Boat she writes about faith and family while her blog Perpetual Motion documents the joys and challenges of loving and rearing a child with special needs. A graduate of Clemson University, Lynn lives in South Carolina where she writes, reads, knits, takes care of three amazing children, one fabulous man and one spoiled rotten Boston Terrier.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Conference Etiquette from Vonda Skelton

Today I’m finishing up my series on attending a writers conference with a great post from my writing and critique partner—Vonda Skelton. She originally posted this on her blog in 2009. Read the original here. She offers great advice on how to be a gracious addition to any conference!

Vonda Skelton is a national speaker, freelance writer, and the author of four books, including Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe and the Bitsy Burroughs Mysteries for kids. She is the owner of The Christian Writer’s Den Writing Blog, She and Gary have been married 41 years—and they’re still happy about it! 


Conference Etiquette
Here are some suggestions on how to be a gracious receiver of an editor's or agent's or other faculty member's time and input:
  1. Seriously pray about and consider who you should meet in faculty appointments. Don't just take an appointment because there's an opening. I did that the first year. Signed up to talk to just about everybody-even if I had no intention of ever writing what they'd be interested in! Wasted my time and theirs.
  2. Be on time for your faculty appointments and be considerate when the faculty member says the time is up. I think most instructors are like me and try to stay on schedule in fairness to all those with appointments.
  3. Listen more than you talk. Like many others, I tend to talk too much when I'm nervous. And before I learned this lesson, the less I knew, the more I talked! The best use of your time is to make a short introduction, tell a little about your experience, ask a sensible question, and then listen. Don't plan your next question while the person is answering the one you just asked. Really listen. Take notes if necessary. Follow up with other questions as time allows.
  4. If you're getting a critique, don't defend every point the critiquer makes. If you do, you're wasting valuable time you could be using to learn. Of course, you may have questions you need answered for clarification, but don't argue or rationalize every point. Sincere questions are one thing, continually being on the defensive is another.
  5. Realize that instructors will most likely be unable to take your manuscript home from the conference. Remember, you're one person. Multiply that by 300-400 students. If they are interested, they'll give you instructions for sending it to them.
  6. Faculty members love to eat with students, answering questions and giving encouragement. But don't hog the conversation at meals. Occasionally there are those who dominate the conversation, treating the opportunity as one-on-one time.  Not good.
  7. One more thing about meals with faculty: It's really nice when they can get a bite or two of food in.
  8. Be considerate: Don't shove your manuscript in their faces in the restroom. Don't interrupt a conversation or break in line to speak to someone.  Don't bad mouth one instructor to another. ;-)
  9. And a common courtesy that's often missing in our culture today: thank you notes. Handwritten ones are especially nice, but email ones are certainly acceptable. I cringe every time I think of those kind people who invested in me...and yet, I never even wrote a thank you note. Sadly, that wasn't something that I was taught as a child, and I didn't even take such notes seriously until someone mentioned it regarding conferences. Now I try to write notes to everyone who does a kindness to me. Sometimes I forget, but it is something I want to do. They've invested time in me. The least I can do is invest time to write a note.

So there you have it--suggestions on how to present yourself as a professional writer, as well as a kind, considerate person. ;-)

Now it's your turn - have you witnessed any crazy behavior at a writers conference? Have you seen anyone go above and beyond at a conference? I want to hear your stories.

And don't forget to join the conversation!
Blessings,
Vonda

Monday, May 2, 2011

COTT: Exciting News, Poll Results, plus...Fish in a Barrel?

When it comes to books, how easy are you to reel in? Do you swim against the current, requiring a strong line to tug you along? Or do you flow right in to a story's net? I admit I can be a stubborn swimmer. I've become a more critical connoisseur of fiction. Occasionally I'll abandon ship, but I'll usually still swallow a tepid plot even while making a face. It just takes more to make my knees go weak from the complex flavors of a novel. Writing chops get me baited. Strong plotline pulls me in. It's a magical moment when everything comes together perfectly and I'm happy to leap into the boat without resistance.
A couple weeks ago COTT put up a survey asking how long you give a book to reel you in. We received 54 responses! So today we're going to share those results and many of the comments that came in:
     11.1% of responders said one page
     35.2% said one chapter
     46.3% said until they lose interest
     7.4% said they finish every book they start, regardless of interest. (God bless 'em)
What do you think? Here are some of the comments we received: 
  • I know some stress the first paragraph and even the first line, but I don't want my reading to become fast food. Don't bore me with bad writing, but give me something to savor, something to enjoy for a while. Hopefully, my own writing will do the same.
  • I always try to give the author a chance, as some great books have slow beginnings.
  • I am the eternal optimist! I keep thinking, "I know its gonna get better. I just know it." So I trudge along, supporting the author the best I can until finally...I can't go any further. I have noticed that I have a much more critical eye than I used to, though. So maybe my patience isn't quite as long as it used to be. I just hate to give up on ANYBODY!
  • I love it when I'm hooked in the first few pages. Definitely must be in first chapter. I no longer feel obligated to finish a book I can't get into. Twice this year I've chosen not to finish books that failed to hook me.
Thank you to those who participated in the survey--we love giving readers a voice! Throughout the week we will be interviewing our competing authors and collecting your names for our book giveaway so be sure and join us.
And now an exciting announcement:
We all knew it was coming...We at Clash of the Titles have had such fun getting to know new authors we decided to dive deeper into their novels. Join us in June when we launch a Clash of the Titles Book Club! Our first selection will be COTT Conqueror Karen Witemeyer's A Tailor-Made Bride, available for free Kindle download in the month of May. Which means...no reason why absolutely everyone can't join, right?  (To download the free Kindle for PC, click here)
Keep up to date on Book Club News right here
Make it a great week, everybody!
bio: Michelle Massaro is a homeschooling mom and aspiring novelist, as well as Assistant Editor for the literary website Clash of the Titles . Connect with her on twitter @MLMassaro, facebook, and her blog Adventures in Writing