Sunday, July 24, 2016

WunderGuy vs. the Brain Tumor

I know. I know:

I haven't posted in forever.

I know. I know:

According to conventional wisdom - as well as a few friends in the publishing industry - prospective agents and editors worth their salt will Google my name and see that I fell off the interweb's radar at the end of 2015. (Except for Twitter. My sweet obsession. Ah: Twitter. I wish I could quit you...) My radio silence could cause them to question my commitment to building my platform. And this would be bad! Maintain platform! Must brand! Blahty-blahty blah.

I've been meaning to write. For months. Really. But, well-- things this year have been... complicated.

It didn't seem right to post writing-related stuff because 1.) I spent the first half of the year working on a Top Sekret project for one of my VIP clients, which I can't talk about, and 2.) I've been dealing with the day-to-day of life-and-death and that makes practically everything else pale in comparison.

As for the whole life-and-death thing -- I just didn't have the energy to post about that. Back in January, too many things were up in the air, with too many unanswered questions. Writing about it seemed opportunistic, somehow. And too damned depressing.


I started blogging in 2005 as a way to keep friends and family in the loop about a Major Medical Adventure that necessitated, among other things, a drive from Michigan to California and back again.

Now, 7 months into 2016's Major Medical Adventure Redux, though many questions still remain, perhaps the time has come to revisit my blogging roots. So many people have asked about WunderGuy and his continuing battle with the Brain Tumor of Doom (I call it "Fred"), so, without further ado, heeeeere's the update:

The Backstory:

Last year, WunderGuy had not one, but 2 brain surgeries. The first was to remove an atypical, fast-growing meningioma on the surface of his brain. (Likely caused by radiation in 2011 and 2012 to keep his original oligodendroglioma in check. Oh that man! Dealing with not one, but TWO brain tumors. It's like winning the lottery, only much much much suckier.) The second was six weeks later to relieve pressure and drain fluid in the surgery site.

Stereotactic radiation followed, last May, which would have been enough to make most brain tumors shrivel and die. Not Fred. Nope. Instead of sending Fred into cranial raisin-hood, the radiation made him go super-nova like a monster in a bad sci-fi movie.

Last December, right before Christmas, WunderGuy suddenly lost the use of his right side. Overnight, he went from being a little fatigued and needing a nap during the day to being unable to sit up on his own.

The tumor was back in a big way, growing so quickly that it was causing the brain to swell. Massive doses of steroids followed to get the swelling down enough for surgery.

January 26. 3 days before surgery. How I remember him.
On January 29, WunderGuy had his 4th -- and likely final -- brain surgery.

This one didn't go like all the others. In the past, he's been up and walking on his own within a day. In 2015, he was baking bread within a week of being discharged from the hospital. This year: he hasn't walked on his own since.

See, meningiomas are supposed to stay on the top of the brain, which generally makes them fairly dull, as far as brain tumors go. But Fred never got that message. Fred grows so fast and so aggressively that he followed the scar tissue from the original surgery back in 1996, infiltrating deep into WunderGuy's brain, causing all sorts of carnage.

WG's right side was unresponsive. Though he regained some use of his right hand, his right leg is still not functioning. He spent all of February in U of MI hospital, convalescing and learning to walk again. Most of March was spent in a sub-acute facility closer to home. (It's a 3 hour trip one way from our house to U of MI -- more in winter. I have named every crack in that stretch of I-94.)

He came home at the end of March able to do some minimal walking with assistance, requiring 24 / 7 round the clock care. He was making slow, but steady progress, until the end of April --

That's when we discovered that Fred was back. With a vengeance.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

WG spent May spent back in the hospital at U of MI. But this time was different. He's no longer a candidate for surgery. Or for radiation. The only thing that keeps Fred in check is massive doses of steroids. Which you can't do for very long.

So, now, we are into the wonderful world of experimental chemotherapy. Which no one -- not even the most optimistic of docs -- is suggesting will get rid of Fred, or even cause Fred to shrink. At this point, they're simply hoping to slow Fred's growth spurt down.

After spending over 100 days in the hospital this year, WG is home now. He's done all the Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy Medicare thinks is worthwhile. He requires constant, vigilant round-the-clock care. I am his caregiver. He literally has to be told how to hold his toothbrush, or his spoon, and how to use it.  He can still feed himself, sort of. He drinks from a straw. He cannot sit up on his own, let alone stand, or walk, or use the bathroom, or take a shower. And he remains fuzzily unaware of his limitations -- so he'll roll himself out of bed, or launch himself out of his wheelchair in an unguarded instant.

Happy Anniversary.
On June 12, we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. We had a big party, complete with food and family and friends. And while it was our anniversary, the real underlying reason for the shindig was for people who know and love Robert to see him and talk to him while they still can.

He is in no pain, which is a blessing. And he's pleasant and agreeable to everyone except our 13 year old daughter, who he relates to as a 5 year old boy would relate to an older sister, constantly trying -- for some reason -- to one-up her and get her in trouble.

We've all made huge adjustments. What was the office / den, is now a downstairs bathroom. I sleep on the couch in the living room, a few feet from WG's hospital bed. A 24-foot ramp now affords wheelchair access to our home. Our daughter keeps the upstairs clean, helps with the cooking and the house maintenance. She mourns the loss of her father and I miss my husband terribly, though we both see him every day.

And that is why this is my first blog update of the year. Hug the ones you love. Tell them what they mean to you while you still can. Life is fleeting and fragile. And it's way more important than maintaining a platform or building your brand.

Monday, December 21, 2015

10 Free Gifts for Everyone on Santa's "Nice" List

Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! Season's greetings and other exclamatory messages of cheer!

I don't know about you, but for me and the denizens of Hendrickson house, 2015 is a year that I will be more than happy to see in my rear-view mirror. (Case in point: as if two brain surgeries and subsequent radiation weren't enough for WunderGuy, we spent this weekend in the ER to discover that his poor grey matter has some unexplained inflammation that is not only causing some issues with his right side, but is also going to bear some close watching in the near future. Fa-la-la-la-la...)

So, to send the year off with a bang, I figured I'd fill this final post with presents for everyone. Because I might not be the only person happy to smack 2015 on the butt as it slouches out the door. And because, no matter what kind of year you've had, there is no such thing as too many presents.

In the spirit of the season, here are 10 gifts for you, including a fabulous, original Celtic horse adult coloring mandala I had specially made for you by the fearsomely talented Karina Dale. To quote Douglas Adams' infamous Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints Division (the only part of the Corporation to show a consistent profit): "Share and Enjoy."

1. The Best Knock-Knock Joke Ever:
Who's there?
Moonlight Sonata.
Moonlight sonata who?
Moonlight sonata lotta light to read by.

2. (Gag gift) The Best Literary Christmas Joke Ever:
Q: How did Ebeneezer Scrooge's team win the football game?
A: The Ghost of Christmas... Past.
(Say it out loud. Yeah. ::groan::)

3. Best Shopping-with-a-Toddler Life Hack:
Doesn't matter whether or not you're a parent. At some point in your life, you're going to have to go shopping with a kid who's not yet in school. Not yet potty trained. Not yet ready for prime time. And you will discover that this kid is all mouth and fast feet and grabby hands and is amped up like you can only hope to be after two double espressos (see Gift #9). Here's a tried-and-true way to get your shopping done without losing your mind or being escorted out of the store by a grumpy security guard.

Give the little imp cherub two pennies: one for each hand.

Say: "Hold these tight for me. If you don't lose them by the time I'm done in here, I'll put them with some others and use them to buy you a [insert cheap toy or non-sugar-loading treat here].

Works like a charm. Especially when combined with Gift #4...

4. Best Basic Math Experience:
If you're with a kid, and that kid misbehaves, and you feel compelled to issue the "I'm going to count to three" ultimatum, by all that's holy, COUNT TO FRIGGING THREE!!

Here's how, for those who are a bit iffy:

1... 2... 3! (Immediate threatened consequences ensue. No excuses. Period.)

Far too many kids think that the way to count to three is something like:

1... 2... 2 and a half... 2 and three-quarters... I mean it. You're not going to get any ice cream. Is that what you want?

No wonder our kids have difficulties in mathematics. For the love of God, and for the good of society, count to three. You know you want to. Do it!

5. Instant IQ Boost:
If you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of brainy egghead types and you need a quick 20-digit prime number, here's a gift that will help you hold your head up high(er). Just say:
"1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1"

If they ask you to repeat the stunt, hit them with:
"1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1"

Bask in the glow...

6. Fast, Painless Headache and Stress Relief:
If holiday stress triggers a headache, this may be as good as popping two aspirin:

Place your two index fingers in line with your pupils at your hairline. Trace small inward circles for a full minute.

Move your fingers down your forehead, halfway between your eyebrows and your hairline, remaining in line with your pupils. Again, trace small inward circles for a full minute or more.

Press hard enough to feel it, but not so hard that you hurt yourself. Breathe deeply while rubbing your fingers in circles. Drink a full glass of water when you are finished. Aaaaahhhhh....

7. Best Extended Pun Ever:
Read "The Death of a Foy," From Isaac Asimov, the master of so many ways of putting words together. Originally published in 1986, as one of 28 short stories in "The Best Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov," this has got to rank as the most wickedly groan-worthy sci-fi pun of all time.

8. Read a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Adventure:
Before Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes, he was a medical student who signed on as a surgeon aboard an Arctic whaler. The University of Chicago Press has published his diary: Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure. During the month of December, it's available as a free download. Riveting stuff -- and, best of all, it's a Doyle you've never read!

9.  DIY Spiced Mocha Better-Than-Coffeehouse Coffee:
I love to give decadently good gifts and -- OMG -- this one is so addicting. If you like those overpriced coffeehouse mochas, you'll love this. It's ridiculously easy:

MuseInks Mocha

Whisk together 3/4 C hot water and 3/4 C sugar (or do what I do and use one of those big, plastic shakers for making protein shakes... or gravy). When well blended, add 1 heaping 1/2 tsp. allspice or cloves and 1/2 C unsweetened cocoa. Whisk or shake until syrupy smooth. Taste, adding small amounts of maple syrup until mixture reaches desired sweetness.

Put 2 tablespoons of the mocha syrup into a cup (or just glop it in till it fills the bottom), pull a double espresso into the cup and mix thoroughly. Steam milk for a latte and add to coffee mocha. (Cheat: Milk, schmilk... Pour regularly brewed strong coffee over 2 Tbsp. of the mocha syrup, stir, and mmmmmm.)

10. Celtic Knot Horse Coloring Mandala:
Thank you for following this blog. Click to print.
Finally, dear reader, the piece de resistance -- akin to that big gift with your name on it crammed under the tree. Please accept this original adult coloring mandala, including all those gorgeous horses and all that intricate knotwork, with my blessing. I asked Karina Dale to make something awesome: something worthy of my clients and my readers, and she came through in spades (as always). I love it. I trust you will, too.

Here's hoping you have the time, soon, to grab your pens or pencils, curl up someplace comfortable (maybe with a delish' mocha--? Or in front of a fire? Or with a favorite 4-footed furry critter nearby), and color your way to relaxation. If you like this coloring page, there's another nifty Karina Dale mandala creation on Thanks Giving.

Wishing you every good thing this holiday season. And here's hoping that 2016 is your best year yet!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanks Giving

It's that time of year: time to give thanks for all the things that we have. (Or don't have: I'm thankful that I do not have Ebola... or malaria... or scrofungulus... or a host of other real or fabricated ailments. We've dealt with brain tumors this year -- and I'm very thankful that the whole brain-surgery-thing is in the rear-view mirror. I'm thankful that there are some things we didn't have to deal with.)

Since it's been a helluva year I've tried to make it a daily (sometimes hourly) practice to articulate all the things I'm thankful for when life appears to be driving straight for disaster with its foot on the gas and its eyes squinched shut. Sometimes, finding stuff to be overtly thankful for means starting small and maintaining a running inner commentary:

I'm thankful that I can see. And that the sky is an amazing shade of blue today. And I can smell. Mmmmm: coffee. Thankful for coffee. Oh yes: thankful for coffee.

Am I thankful for my fabulous husband undergoing not one, but two brain surgeries and subsequent radiation? Well, no... But, if that surgery results in him living a longer, healthier, happier life, then yes.

Am I thankful for the publisher who optioned 4 of my titles who then axed their children's imprint, resulting in them returning the rights to 2 of the projects? Am I grateful that the same publisher had such a different vision for the remaining books that both my agent and I agreed asking for the rights back was the best possible decision? After climbing out of the pit of disappointment (which can be deep; I won't lie), I can say "yes." Because working with that publisher showed me my agent's true stripes. And she's aces. And for that I am thankful -- every day.

KNIGHT FALL's Benjamin & Katrine.
In the spirit of the day, I wanted to say 'Thank You" to those who have graced my life this year. I'd like to give you a reason to give thanks as well. So, to thank you for stopping by, at the end of this post is a gorgeous, original, adult coloring mandala made by the endlessly talented Karina Dale. Enjoy!

(Incidentally, Karina [@xkxdx] is one of the people I am eternally thankful for. When I'm working on a new project, I describe my characters to her, and she brings them to life. I totally mean it when I say that her art inspires me. See what I mean in the pic at the left.)

I am so thankful for my family. My daughter will be a teenager in a matter of weeks. I'm grateful that she's still young enough to think I'm cool. And, on the occasions that adolescence and hormones combine in a mucky emotional mix, I'm grateful that she's growing up and becoming her own person.

I'm thankful, too, for my husband. After more than a quarter century together, he still thinks I'm fascinating and funny. He's my biggest fan. I am grateful for every day that we have together.

I am daily grateful for all of my clients.

I am humbled at the trust placed in me by those who retain me as their writing coach. They regularly inspire me both with their creativity and their perseverance. They give me their manuscripts to tear to shreds edit, then, armed with my comments, they wade back into the fray, working tirelessly to make their stories better, stronger, deeper. And no one is more thankful than I when they succeed.

I am also honored at the faith my private clients have in my writing abilities. This year, it has been a pleasure to work with the U.S. Polo Association and the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association on various projects.
Please follow this blog. Click to print.
I am thankful to the many talented people who were willing to give of their time and talents to help me with a book launch -- and who were uber-gracious when they learned that their efforts were going to be put on hold indefinitely. This includes the amazing book cover artist S. P. McConnell, the brilliant piano improv musician Stan Stewart, and my longsuffering director friend Paul Martin, among others.

My gratitude for the critters who share my life -- horses, dogs, chickens (and the scrumptious eggs they lay), and parrots -- knows no bounds. I am grateful for the freedoms we still have in this country. I am grateful for Greek Yogurt, dark chocolate, cinnamon Red Hots, fresh-baked bread, and hot coffee. The more I consider the things in my life, the more I have to be grateful for.

That gratitude includes you. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to spend it giving thanks with me. I'm sure you have your own list of things for which you are thankful. If you've posted it somewhere on line, link to it in the Comments below, and I'll be sure to share your gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 16, 2015

How a New Writer Can Rock Twitter (Without Seeming Like a Creeper)

Thanks to @MJKellySmith, I was dragged to Twitter kicking & screaming in 2010. Within a few weeks, I went from skeptic to fan. Instead of the timewaster I had envisioned, I discovered that Twitter provided me with direct access to publishing industry pros all over the world.

Here are eight practically painless, creeper-free suggestions for those new to the wonderful world of writing who want to connect with Tweeple who have already colonized that planet.

1. Crash the #amwriting party.

[Here's a primer and suggestions for how to make the most of the #amwriting hashtag without being the SM equivalent of a Summer's Eve product.]

Type "#amwriting" in the search box at the top of your Twitter toolbar. That will take you to the hashtag (the brainchild of the wonderfully altruistic @JohannaHarness). Click on "LIVE" to see the most current writing-related tweets as they happen. Scroll through -- ignoring the Promoted tweets, and the tweets of shameless self-promotion -- and see what others who are currently writing have to say.

Other writing-related hashtags include #amediting, #querytip, #writingtips, and #writingprompts.

Oh -- and if you want to tap into one of the most supportive groups of writers in the known multiverse, ya gotta check out #NaNoWriMo.

Regardless of what writerly hashtag you choose, go there and lurk at first. Don't be in a hurry to talk. Just listen. Then...

2. Follow those who say things you find interesting.

(ProTip: Immediately unfollow those bags containing Summer's Eve products who send you auto-DMs. Following someone does not mean you want to friend them on Facebook or buy their book or subscribe to their blog. Sheesh.)

3. Favorites are your friend.
Recent favorites: query fails, coffee, & Corgis!

When someone tweets something you find interesting / funny / useful / pithy / relevant, give him or her a gold star. Favorites in Twitter are the equivalent to Likes on FB. They let people know that their voices have been heard.

A few non-creeper caveats on Favoriting:

Caveat I: Unless you know someone and have formed an online relationship, don't favorite more than one or two of their tweets a day. Favoriting everything a person posts is the hallmark of a sycophant. Don't be that person.

Caveat II: The rules are different for Twitter pitch parties, such as #PitMad or #AdPit: Favoriting is only for agents and editors who are interested in the project. (For pitch party etiquette - which is constantly evolving - see @BrendaDrake's #PitMad article.)

4. Retweet to repeat.

If someone says something you wish you had said, or if you read something you think your followers will find interesting, retweet it by clicking the box made of two arrows. Include a comment if you wish to add your two cents' worth to the original.

Though things you favorite won't show up in your followers' timelines, your retweets will. Be selective.

5. Be willing to help.

One of the best ways to strike up a conversation is to make yourself useful. If someone asks a question that you know the answer to, hit "Reply" (the arrow that looks like "Turn Left Here!") and answer it. Likewise, Reply to commiserate, to empathize, to cheerlead, to offer support, or to proffer virtual chocolate or cupcakes.

(ProTip: Remember - if you send a tweet that begins with another person's Twitter name, only that person and people who follow both of you will see it. If you want everyone who follows you to see what you have to say, your tweet cannot begin with a user name.)

6. Let Lists Filter the Noise.

Every list is a separate party.
If you only hang out with writers, Twitter can be a very cloistered place. Just as you (probably) frequent more than one restaurant and (again, probably) hang out with more than one friend, don't limit yourself to only Tweeting with publishing people.

Frankly, though those in the publishing trenches can help you with your craft and provide much-needed support through the inevitable rejections that accompany the writer's life, those who will get most excited about your book when it finally releases are the ones who aren't obsessed with word count and query letters and character arcs and story beats. In short: Real Live Actual Readers.

Lists can help you keep tabs on different groups of people. Think of each list as a separate cocktail party. I keep a list of agents, one of editors, a few for writers, one for horse tweeps, one for people who are especially cool...

You get the idea.

Curate your own list or follow others'. Either way, jumping onto the timeline of a list can help you focus on a particular topic without getting distracted by the constant stream of random Twitter chatter.

7. Notice your Notifications.

Pay attention to the people who are paying attention to you. Click on your Notifications to see who has mentioned you, or retweeted or favorited something you've posted. 

Of course, you don't have to respond to them all -- just as you don't need to follow everyone who follows you -- but keeping an eye on your Notifications can be a good way to find out who is listening to what you have to say, and building a rapport with them.

8. Talk About Things That Interest You.

If you find something interesting, say so. If you see something interesting, post it. If something cracks you up, share it. If something infuriates you, fling it out there. Let your voice shine through on your Twitter feed as in your other writing.

Don't whine. Don't mope. Don't endlessly self-promote.

Don't post anything you wouldn't want a prospective agent or editor to read because -- I promise -- if they're considering you as a client, they will do their research.

I've met editors with whom I've made publishing deals on Twitter. Thanks to Twitter, I've made solid, lifelong writing friends (@crzywritergrl & @gooddirt: this means you). I've met amazing artists (@xkxdx and @SP_McConnell, fer instance) and musicians (@muz4now). I've learned a ton from the writers, editors, and publishers who selflessly share what they know.

So get out there! As with any party, you'll run into people you like and people you don't. Follow those you do; don't follow those you don't. And if you want to chat about writing or movies or geek stuff or horses or dogs or the ever-delectable Christian Kane, I'm @Museinks. Come and say "hey!"

(Oh, and if you found this post useful and/or interesting, I'd love it if you became a blog follower. All followers get my undying gratitude, figurative gold stars, and all the virtual cinnamon Red Hots they can eat!)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Advice on "Should I Write This Book and Tell My Story?"

or, Book Proposal 101

A few days ago, I received an e-mail from a person who is uncomfortable being called a "writer," but who feels compelled to write and share a very personal story. The e-mail briefly outlined the situation and the person's involvement in the story. It then asked my advice on the viability of this non-writer undertaking such a project.

These sorts of letters are not uncommon. I routinely get several e-mails a month from "non-writers" who want my opinion on whether or not a project that they are crazy about has merit.

To be fair, I rarely say "No." But then, I am not a publisher.

(Book industry joke: Q: How does a book get published?
A: Someone forgets to say "no.")

On the other hand, my advice is rarely full of warm fuzzies, either. Here, in a nutshell, is the gist of what I suggest...

I firmly believe that the most important thing for any book, movie, or other undertaking is a passion to see it through to completion. That must drive every project. With it, every project has a chance of success. Without it, every project -- no matter how valid or potentially interesting -- is doomed.

If you hope to write a successful book or screenplay, you must have a real passion for it. If it is a non-fiction project, you must want to share your experience with others in the hope that you can benefit those who identify with you and who share your experiences. If you have such a passion, then I would encourage you to follow this project through. (If not, drop it. Now.)

The only thing that makes a person a "writer" is that the person writes. You don't need to be a fast typist or an eloquent speaker. If you have a great story to tell, you owe it to people who could benefit from that story to tell it.

Some advice on the writing aspect of producing a non-fiction book:

Determine what you want to say. Since your story is true, it will have a very personal feel to it. Decide how closely you will adhere to the truth and where you wish to change names, dates, places, times, or anything else you feel the need to change in order to protect your privacy or the privacy of those you love.

As you develop this project, keep in mind your reasons for writing it in the first place. Articulate these. Keep them before you as the project progresses. They will help keep you focused and on track.

One of your first priorities is to construct a working outline. Don't let this scare you. Jot down 10 to 15 topics that you want to talk about in your project. Underneath each topic, make a list of the things you'd like to discuss about it. Each of these, then, will become a chapter. Your outline will become your working Table of Contents.

Take the chapter or the section that most interests you and write it. Say all the stuff you want to say about it. Pour your heart out. Explore all the avenues you wish. Show it to people you trust. Get their advice. Incorporate the advice you like. Throw out the advice you don't. Make that the best chapter you possibly can.

Then, write a short paragraph explaining what each of the other chapters would be like. Explain what their contents would be, giving examples where relevant.

When those two steps are done, you have the beginnings of a book proposal. You’ll have outlined the entire project AND you will have written one complete chapter.

The next step in the process is essentially writing up a marketing plan to show the publisher, editor and / or agent how timely, viable, and salable your book is. Again – don’t let this scare you. You can finish it in a day, but it’s not the place to begin… Don't do this until you have proven to yourself that you really do have something to say about this subject, and that you can make yourself write at least one chapter -- a good one -- that is worthy of publication.

Now, some comments on marketing -- the other half of the book business:

You can sell a non-fiction book on the proposal. The book does not have to be completed before it is sold. As you develop the project, however, bear in mind that the thing publishers really look for is a platform. They want to know how an author is going to get the word out about a book, and how the author can help drive sales. (Publishing is a business. It’s all about the bottom line.)

Start planning for this and developing your platform now. Tell people you are working on a book project. Look for organizations, individuals, speakers, celebrities, or others with a wide-reaching audience who could get excited about your book and help you move it.

If you write a book just by yourself, no matter how good it is, you will need help getting the word out. But if you have a well-known speaker, or national organization, or advocate for your topic in your corner who will gladly tell the world about how wonderful and important your book is, publishers will sit up and take notice.

Start a list of people who might give you a written endorsement (those blurbs on the covers of books only get there because someone asked someone else to write them). Start another list of people who you wish would give you a written endorsement. Start educating yourself about the realities of the publishing industry. The more familiar you are with it, the less likely you are to be intimidated by it or to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous predators.

In my experience, people are often amazed about how involved they need to be in the business and marketing aspects of their books. Those who are aware of the need for a platform early in their projects often have a leg up on those who have drafted a manuscript and then find themselves swimming in a sea of "Now What?"

In short, I tell writers (and non-writers with good ideas) that if you have a great idea, you owe it to that idea to give it an audience. That means educating yourself about both the craft of writing and the business of marketing. Then, act on that knowledge and make it happen!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Three-Step Process for Self-Editing

This summer has been the Season of the Edit. In addition to prepping the manuscript for DEAR ALDERONE for release this November, I edited several client's books, my pre-Arthurian novel, and a major project for my VIP client.

I confess: I LOVE editing. I love working with the raw clay of the original words and molding it into something worth making permanent. But I have discovered that many writers don't share my editing zeal. 

I present my editing process -- a three step method of polishing the words you've written until they shine. It's fast and relatively painless. And (dare I say it) it can be fun!

Phase 1:  Read as Your Rival (The Content Commentary)

Read your own work as if a rival writer penned it. 

Write down observations about text inaccuracies, awkward construction, non-sequiturs, redundancies, clarity problems, formatting, and overall execution. Then write specific suggestions for how you (the more gifted craftsperson) would fix the flaws.   

Be sure to also note strengths – those sections that are particularly well-crafted, moving, or memorable.

Reading as if reviewing a competitor’s work tends to make it easier to get "picky" with the piece.  It helps to assess consistency of voice and conduct a general evaluation of things like tense, agreement, parallelism, sentence and paragraph construction, and spelling.

During the commentary, only make notes.  Comment on the entire project, identifying strengths and weaknesses and mercilessly mining for inconsistencies.

Phase 2: Take the Notes and Take Action  (The Rewrite)

When the commentary is finished, review the notes that result and act upon them.  Rewrite until you get it right.

Address every concern raised in the commentary notes.  In addition, conduct a line-by-line edit that would make your 10th grade English teacher proud:

·      Rework passive sentences into active ones. 
·      Replace linking verbs with verbs of substance. 
·      Delete adjectives and adverbs without remorse. 
·      Identify static characters and give them arcs. 
·      Surprise your characters more often. 
·      Eliminate overused words and phrases. 
·      In other words – make creativity take a back seat to craft for a while.

Phase 3: Proof

The final phase – the proof -- is concerned primarily with the manuscript's adherence to proper English usage.

Beginning a proof edit assumes that any glaring errors in logic, plot, or characterization have already been dealt with.  This step is really about making sure all i's are dotted, t's crossed, and things like periods, commas, and apostrophe S's are used correctly.

Commentaries, rewrites, and proofs.  Each is an essential part of the editing process. Done correctly, they can help you analyze your work more objectively.  Then it’s up to you to roll up your creative sleeves and polish your prose until your soul shines through.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Have a Successful Book Launch: 5 Simple Steps

I spent this past weekend in Utah with the amazing Alyson Peterson, as she launched her debut middle-grade fantasy, Ian Quicksilver: The Warrior's Return, into the world. (I don't always travel halfway across the country when people's books launch. But Alyson said some really nice, mostly true, things about me in her Acknowledgements, and her husband makes excellent chocolate chip cookies, so... you know.)

Launching a book can cause a new author any number of sleepless nights and Xanax prescriptions. A veritable Who's Who of Worrisome Thoughts can threaten to monopolize one's internal dialogue:

"I just write stories. I have no platform."

"All the bookstores in the state will look at the sales figures from the launch. If it doesn't go well, they won't stock my book."

and the bete noir:

"What if no one comes?"

Alyson's launch was very successful: people came out in droves, she signed books for two hours' straight, and the bookstore manager was full of enthusiastic kudos when it was all over. Here's how she did it -- and how you can, too.

1.) Get the word out.

For weeks before the event, Alyson handed out invitations to friends and family, asking them to come and be a part of it.

Did everyone invited come? No. But many did. And they'd told people, who had told people...

Key Takeaway -- Remember: you're not begging people to buy your book. No one responds favorably to begging. Instead, you are inviting people to an event. And who doesn't love a party?

2.) Give people a reason to come.

In Alyson's book, Ian, the main character, discovers he is a member of an alien warrior race. He has a magical sword and he must learn how to use it. While researching swordfighting, Alyson began studying Mixed Martial Arts.

During the launch, Alyson had a katana sword on display. Every book purchased during the event got an entry in a drawing for the sword. At the end of the launch party, the lucky winner was announced.

Waking up the bookstore!
But that wasn't the only reason for people to show up. Since learning the skills that make one a warrior is an integral part of the book's plot, Alyson decided to stage an event that illustrate those skills in action. She invited the members of her dojo to put on a demonstration at the launch.

Drumming! Shouting! Back flips and handsprings! Swordplay! Board breaking! What a way to bring in a crowd. The Barnes & Noble cafe had never seen the like!

Key Takeaway: Instead of merely reading a few pages, find something in your book that lends itself to capturing your target market's attention. Does your main character have an interesting career or hobby? Bring in an expert and do a demonstration. Is your main character a fashionista? Hold a fashion show. Does your main character like to cook? Do a cooking demo (which lends itself to #3...)

3.) Give people a reason to stay.

Feed them.

Seriously. Have munchies. People will stay and chat if they're eating. Give them something to nibble on.

Key Takeaway: The masses require nourishment. Preferably something portable. Something that won't break your bank account. And something that won't make too much of a mess when dropped on the venue's floor.

Amy M. Hughes (l) and Alyson Peterson (r).
4.) Support others and they'll support you.

I happen to believe that a big part of being a successful author is supporting others who are climbing the same publishing ladder I am. That's one of the reasons I hopped on a plane and flew 1500 miles from home this weekend.

Alyson holds the same belief. Her book launch was scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. But a friend -- Amy M. Hughes -- had her book launch scheduled from 1 - 3 p.m. in a different town. So, of course, Alyson went.

Later, Amy returned the favor. Because authors are awesome that way.

Key Takeaway: Your writing career is not a sprint; it's a marathon. Surround yourself with people running in the same race. Encourage them to keep on keeping on.

5.) Be genuine and be grateful.

Thank the people for coming. Be happy to be there. Do not complain about how long it took you to find a publisher or an agent, or about the weather, or about the bookstore staff.

There will be snafus. You will forget a pen. Or tape. Or your posters will have a typo. Or the information in the ads announcing the event will be incorrect. Suck it up and soldier on.

Realize that every single person who attends could be doing something else -- mowing the lawn, watching "Entourage" reruns, finding a cure for recurring bunions. Everyone leads busy lives. The mere fact that people take the time out of theirs to attend your book launch should put tears of gratitude in your eyes and a song in your heart. Thank everyone who comes, whether they buy your book or not. And mean it.

Key Takeaway: Exude gratitude.

Bonus Tip: If all else fails, wield a big stick.
Though Alyson had no intention to do a demo herself, her sensei had other plans. With her two boys behind her, Alyson showed she knows what she's writing about.


Key Takeaway: This is your book launch! You worked hard for this moment. Enjoy it! Have some fun and make it an event to remember.