Three Favorite Reads for February

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Writers should be readers.

We often hear, “Writers should be readers.”  And I love knowing it’s okay to do so. It helps stimulate my brain when I take a break from writing my own novels. In the last month, I’ve read three books. One was a collection of seven historical romances, a contemporary romance, and a humorous romance.  They were all page-turners that kept me engaged. Maybe you’d like to check them out as well.

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Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

The historical novella collection, Seven Brides for Seven Texans has all seven Hart brothers scrambling to find brides before years’ end. Their father has a heart condition he is keeping from his sons. All seven are content to be bachelors but Pa wants to see grandkids before he dies. If these handsome Texans aren’t married before December they forfeit their inheritance.

Each story is clever and the couples involved are very different. The only common denominator is the inheritance. I loved the premise and the creative of all seven authors: Amanda Barrett,Susan Page Davis, Keli Gwyn, Vicki McDonough, Gabrielle Meyer, Loma Seilstad and Erica Vetsch. Their scenarios are so believable scenario while blending characters from the other books into the story line. As each brother finds his bride the womenfolk population grows on the ranch. By the time, Bowie the lone holdout marries life as the bachelors knew it is drastically changed.

At times, I laughed out loud and other times my eyes misted with tears. You’ll love the Hart boys and their feisty brides.

51ogzyn6ixl-_sy346_Dance Over Me

The next novel Dance Over Me  by Candee Fick has a wonderful premise. A musical theater major finally finds a job performing in Dinner Theater. We often forget Christians pursue many different career paths.

Dani is a product of foster care and was adopted at 10 by her dance instructor. Her one main goal in life is finding her baby brother who was adopted shortly after her parent were killed in an auto accident. Her childhood promise to look after him still haunts her. Now she Is pursuing her dream of being and entertainer while calling every Wilson in the Fort Collins Colorado white pages in hopes of finding Jake.

Alex the hero, trumpet player and band leader in=s content in the family business. His parents own the Wardrobe Dinner Theater. The first musical performed is 42nd Street. The plot of the novel loosely follows the storyline of the musical. It’s fun and faith-building. Dani comes to realized various truths about her relationship with God and people. I loved the title Danced Over Me based on a scripture verse declaring God dances over us with joy. What a wonderful reminder.

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Every Bride Needs A Groom

The last of the three was Every Bride Needs a Groom by Janice Thompson. So funny. Told in first person through the eyes of small town girl Katie Sue. She loves her hometown Fairfield Texas. She never wants to leave. Her entire life is one big rut of sameness. Not until she enters a contest to win a free designer wedding gown from Cosmopolitan Bride does she begin to discover the rut she’s in. Her longtime boyfriend never proposes and leaves her with the embarrassing dilemma of truth vs lies. While spending time in Dallas trying to sort the no groom mess out she meets Brady James, a pro basketball player on medical leave working alongside his mother at Cosmopolitan Bride. Katie’s zany family and close-knit small town upbringing colors the basic plot with lots of funny twists. Including three brothers, an aunt and a crazy cousin who can’t stay out of her business.  Everything works out in a deliciously entertaining way by the last page.

Read for inspiration

All three of these books a total of 9 stories in all inspired me. The words are honed to perfection and I found myself experiencing Texas in the past and present and Colorado’s musical theater lifestyle. I love the you-are-there feeling in novels.

Writers must make time to read. Maybe you don’t read as many books a month as I do. But even one in two months can make a difference in your writing.  I read in my genre and out of it. It keeps my creative juices challenged. And there is a certain amount of writing technique we learn through the osmosis of reading others people’s works.

Check out these books by clicking on the covers.

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What have you been reading this month?

 

 

 

An Interview with Jake Marcum Hero of Secrets and Charades

s-c-jakes-quoteSecrets and Charades has a very interesting hero. Jake Marcum, rancher, Civil War veteran and doting uncle. I corralled him long enough to do this interview.

Thank you so much for stopping by.

Well, ma’am, Evangeline insisted it was my turn. Not so sure how interesting I’ll be but go ahead and ask your questions.

Tell us a bit about your childhood.

I had two brothers and a sister. Our family headed west when my Pa got gold fever in ‘49. Our wagon broke down near Ben Mitchell’s place. He talked sense into Pa and taught him all he knew about ranching. Our small spread adjoined Ben’s property.

What happened to your family?

My sister run off with some no count drummer. That’s a traveling salesman. Then Clevis went back to Kentucky to attend college. He wanted to be a lawyer. I’d rather ranch. When the conflict broke out Clevis planned to join the Confederate Army. Pa sent me to Kentucky to bring him home. My older brother persuaded me to join the cause instead. He died six months later. My little brother Robert died from an injury falling off his horse. My Ma had died before I went to get Clevis and Pa died while I was away.

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photo by morguefile.com

What was it like when you returned from the war?

Tougher than the battlefield. There was this gal, Nora. I thought we had an understanding. While I was gone, she’d married my brother and expecting their child.   Well, I ain’t proud of my action at the time. Nightmares from the war made me unfit to be around. Ben Mitchell invited me to join his outfit. He helped me dry out and introduced me to the Lord. He’d lost both his sons in the war so he kinda adopted me. I inherited his ranch when he passed. A year later Nora died in childbirth. They buried her newborn son with her. My brother and I were working out our differences when he died. My niece, Juliet come to live with me. She was six. Having her in my life helped heal the rift between Robert and me.

After your conversion, did you still have nightmares?

Sure. God changed me and helped me be a better man. But when the responsibilities of running this spread make me lose sleep—the nightmares come. And worrying about Evangeline coming gave me a few doozies. I still have them. Not as often. I reckon it’s a cross I must bear.

What challenges did you encounter taking over a ranch the size of the Double M?

Yeah. The neighbors looked at me as a gold-digger. But  I think you mention it in your book. Anyway,  Ben was a real Duke or something back in England. He called the ranch the Royal M. I think his surname was something different before he came to America. Anyway, the Double M stands for Mitchell and Marcum.  Several of Ben’s crew have stayed on with me over the years. Cookie Slade was Ben’s old foreman before he got gored by a steer. He stays on helping where he can. Don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s the one who encouraged me to take in Juliet and get me a mail-order bride.Brides71

What were you looking for in a bride?

Let just say, I think God was laughing when I made my request. He knew the kind of wife I needed even if I didn’t.

What was your biggest challenge before Evangeline came into your life?

There were two. Too few cowboys to run the ranch.  My wealthy neighbor kept stealing my men by offering them huge wages. The loyal ones stay. Sides they don’t like that Farley character much. He thinks he’s King of the county.

The second, I had to juggle teaching Juliet to read and cipher around chores. So, her education was sketchy. I felt like I’d betrayed my sister-in-law when I saw how much of a tomboy Juliet was becoming. Nora wanted her daughter to be the bell of the ball, not a ranch hand. So, finding an educated wife to teach my niece was my number priority.

Thanks so much for spending time with my readers.

My pleasure, ma’am.

If you missed my interview with Evangeline, the heroine of Secrets and Charades click here.

Jake and Evangeline’s story Secrets and Charades is available for preorder on Amazon.

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An Interview with Secrets and Charades Heroine Evangeline

secret-charades-front-coverToday, I’ve invited Dr. Evangeline Olson-Marcum to my blog. She is the heroine of my Historical Romance, Secrets and Charades, set in the imaginary town of Charleton Texas circa 1872. I thought an exclusive interview with Evangeline might be fun. I’ve asked her to share back-story and tidbits, not in the novel.

Welcome, Evangeline.

It is my honor. As I told Juliet, family history is important. So, please ask your questions.

Tell us about your parents and siblings?

I was born in New York, one of six children. I was the youngest girl and my baby brother Charley and I were close. My father Hans Olson’s parents came from Norway and my mother Molly O’Malley immigrated here from Ireland with her sister May. Pa owned a small mercantile, and she worked as a maid. It was love at first sight. They left New York when I was a wee thing and homesteaded in Wisconsin. Uncle Carl had offered to bring Pa into his business but he had his heart set on farming.

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How was life after your mother died?

Pa spoiled me. I have my mother’s burgundy hair and green eyes. While my three sisters have Pa’s blond hair and blue-eyed. I spent more time playing with Charley then learning domestic skills. Greta, Heidi, and Katie took turns mothering me. If they joined forces, I hadn’t a prayer. When I was 12 my father died and Ernest, the eldest took over the farm. By then Greta and Heidi were married and Katie engaged.

Are you comfortable telling my readers what happened when you were 13?

Not really. I’ll just say the months I spent in New York with Uncle Carl’s family changed me. I buried the details in a journal and the hurt hidden in my heart.

Why did you become a doctor?

My sister Katie married a doctor. Shamus was a pacifist. When the War between the States broke out, he offered medical aid to both sides of the conflict. She and I became his nurses. We gathered the wounded from the battlefield. Confederate and Union soldiers. Shamus encouraged me to pursue a medical degree. Unlike Katie, I discovered I liked restoring health. By the time, I found a medical school that accepted female students my apprenticeship under Shamus had put me well ahead of the male students. The challenge of staying at the top of the class as a female was exhausting. The professors and male students did their best to discourage me. After completing my degree, I went into practice with Shamus. Even though the community knew me, they did not respect me as a doctor.

1870s womanWhy would a doctor choose to be a mail-order bride?

My niece, Maggie, trapped me into it. And of course, the secrets from my past. God had me right where he wanted me. Your readers will have read my story for themselves.

What would you like readers to learn from your story?

My heart changed when I accepted the lesson Jesus had for me. The past does not dictate my future. The Lord forgives and offers a new beginning. I hope your readers will take courage and embrace their faith with confidence.

Thanks for coming, Evangeline

My Pleasure.

Here is the back-cover copy for Secrets and Charades:

Jake Marcum’s busy ranch leaves him no time for courting, and his wounded heart has no place for love. When battlefield nightmares disturb his peace and his tomboy niece, Juliet, needs taming, somehow a mail-order bride seems like a logical solution.

Dr. Evangeline Olson has no idea her niece is writing to a rancher on her behalf, and she sure isn’t interested in abandoning her medical practice for a stranger. But when an inheritance threatens to reveal a long-buried secret, she travels west to become Jake’s wife.

Jake soon realizes Evangeline is more than he bargained for, especially when her arrival causes a stir in the community. As the two try to find their way in a marriage of convenience, their fragile relationship is further tested by cattle rustling and kidnapping. Can their hearts overcome past hurts to create a real marriage.

If you want to learn more pick up a copy of Secrets and Charades available for pre-order.

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Marketing Accountability

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Marketing tip # 5 Be accountable

I hate the idea of marketing. I’ve already mention how little I know.  One thing that is keeping me on task is having someone to be accountable to. She checks in with me every week to see how my marketing is going.

She is also doing research, searching for the best marketing options for me.  I don’t have the time or the inclination to figure it all out on my own. Erin is a godsend and I am grateful. She is a writer and aspiring novelist. But your marketing accountability person need not be a writer.

Your spouse, a family member or friend can be that person. It is so easy to let life interrupt your marketing goals. Knowing someone is going to ask about your progress and meet with you to achieve them can be the perfect catalysis.

Don’t settle for just anyone. Avoid the too helpful and bossy. They love to fix things. They’ll take over and make you crazy.

Instead find someone you feel comfortable with. And who understands your project and listens to what your endgame is.

Questions to ask yourself

Do you trust their counsel?

If they see you are going over budget and their suggestion is to trim it. Could you receive that sort of advice from them?

Do they respect what you do?

If your spouse, friend or family member doesn’t think being a writer is a real job why would you ask for their help? Look for people who admire your tenacity for taking on the hard task of writing a book. They will be excited to help you market it.

Are you open to criticism from this individual?

How the two of you relate can make or break your success. Criticism is not the same as counseling. Criticism may not come with an alternative solution.  Can you receive their criticism and evaluate the bones to find the truth behind the sharpness? If not, your stress levels are going to wreak havoc on your decision making.

 Do they keep their commitments?

I’ve known people who say yes to every project. But rarely finish any of them. The committee member who shows up once full of ideas. He never appears again until the celebratory banquet.

 Can they agree to disagree and work with you, anyway?

After carefully considering the counsel or criticism, you still decide to do it your way. will they walk away or stand by you? This is your show, not theirs. Your reputation and success are on the line. Can they stay supportive in the background and let your choice play itself out?

Once you’ve found that person treat them with the same respect and consideration you want for yourself. Together with the aid of your launch team you should create the right amount of buzz to push your sales consistently forward.

 

Do you have a marketing accountability partner?

 

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Learn What You Don’t Know

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Marketing tip #4 Learn Stuff

To quote Leroy Jethro Gibbs (NCIS) when he tells his agents to investigate. “Go! Learn stuff!” They need to do interviews, research facts, and revisit the crime scene and evidence. This same directive applies to marketing. When it comes to marketing “we don’t know what we don’t know.” And for me, there is a gob of stuff I don’t know.

I just spent time building my author page on Amazon. Once you get in there it is a step by step process. Clear instructions and examples helped me put all the components in place. Then I came to the part where I could add my blog address. I know my URL. It’s http//www.jubileewriter.wordpress.com. But the site asked for my RSS. Without it, my blog post would not be part of my author page. What is an RSS and how do I find it? I didn’t have time to email a friend and ask for instructions. As I pondered this, the words of a young member of my critique group came to mind. You can find anything on YouTube. Thank you, Erin. So, I googled “how do I find my blog’s RSS.” Voila! I clicked the first reference. A blog about it with a—wait for it—YouTube link at the bottom to find your RSS for WordPress blogs. The RSS for WordPress blogs is simply—feed. You add a forwardslash and the word feed. Other blog servers have different RSS that must be added after your URL. I didn’t bother to learn those. Sorry! I’m sure there’s a YouTube video for those as well.  So, my URL with RSS looks like this. http//www.jubileewriter.wordpress.com/feed. I learned what I needed to know.

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Learn what you don’t know

Educate yourself about any social media you don’t know. I’ve used Facebook for years. Twitter is fairly new for me. I’ve been reading blog posts about hashtags to figure out how best to mark my posts. Twitter is an awesome place to market because your tweets go out live to every one of your followers and on feeds that match your hashtags i.e. #amwriter. You can retweet the same thing often because unlike Facebook people usually don’t go back once a week to scroll through what they missed.

I accidently got a Pinterest account. How can you accidently sign up for one? I needed a picture for my blog. Signing up gave me access to all those Pinterest pictures from various boards. Now I have Pinterest and their admin constantly emails me boards I might like to pin to my site. I need to learn more about Pinterest and create some boards myself. It is easy to use. My sister loves it. Other authors swear it is an awesome tool.  That brings me to the next point.

Make time to learn stuff early on

The learning curve for new things for some of us is long. I do better if someone talks me through steps while I do them. But I can follow step by step instruction, it just takes me longer. Learning how to create a blog site and figuring out how to reach more people has been a big learning curve for me. Blogging is part of my marketing toolbox. I have been using it for a few years. Years before my novel got a contract. Years before my novel is due to come out. This is key. Don’t wait until your book is out to learn stuff. That is like reading about CPR while your spouse is having a heart attack. Your novel may die before it has a chance to be part of many reader’s libraries.

 

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Be proactive

Ask marketing questions and do what can be done long before your book is published. I couldn’t create an Author page on Amazon or Goodreads before I had an ISBN number for my novel. But I could create a reader page on Goodreads and post lots of book reviews. Goodreads is a great place to engage with other readers. My Facebook friends who are avid readers follow me on Goodreads. Now I’ll build an author page on Goodreads and those same readers may follow me as a writer.

Pay for what you don’t know or don’t want to learn

There are wonderful people out there who can design bookmarks, flyers, and postcards for advertising in no time. Then there is me. I would rather pay for someone to do it for me than do it myself. As I journey through marketing my novel, Secrets and Charades, I will pay for others to do some of the work for me. Research which marketing people are right for you. Ask around for referrals. Learn stuff.

Share what you know

Gibbs always gathered his team for a briefing. Each agent shared what they found out and all the pieces were put together. Share the stuff you learn. Even if it’s little. There is always someone who doesn’t know what you know. Don’t be a negative Nellie. Be sure the things you bring to the cooperative marketing idea table are truly helpful. And if you must warn someone of a bad experience, package it in carefully chosen words. The right attitude may set the stage for you to be offered an opportunity to share stuff in a speaking or teaching venue in the future.

Tell me what you’ve learned about marketing along the way that made a difference for you? What services would you rather pay for? How do you learn stuff? I’m anxious to hear your answers.

 

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Writers Need a Marketing Budget

calculator-1464008_1280Marketing tip #3 Budget

This is not a fun subject to talk about. Have a budget. I am focusing on doing as much free marketing as I can for my new novel.  Free is always good. But to reach more readers, I am going to have to spend money. Gone are the days where the publisher paid for all the marketing. My budget is small so I am going to be very careful where I place those funds. Every publisher has their own list of what that is so I won’t elaborate here.  If you are self-publishing then all the expenses of the book fall on you. A budget is even more crucial for self-pubs to stay on track with what needs to be done.

Free marketing

Facebook, twitter, and other social media are free forms of marketing. Just don’t make every post about your book. There’s an 80-20 rule. 80% of your posts is about other things; your characters, your setting, funny things, memes and photos, other author’s books, promoting other people’s endeavors and 20% talking about your new release and buy my book posts.

Word of mouth is free advertising. Encourage your friends, family and launch team to spread the word.

Costs

Marketing cost may consist of launch party giveaways, both virtual and live parties, bookmarks, postcards, flyers, ads. Other possible investments might be craft fair table fees and book trailers. Video trailers are becoming very popular but may not fit your budget.

Marketing never stops

I will need to continue to market after the initial sales. Funds from a portion of the sales must go toward ongoing marketing budget. Authors are in business. So, I better not use every dime of my royalties for household needs or a vacation.  A percentage must stay in the bank.

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Once that first book is out I will need to continue producing more books because the possibility of that one book becoming a best seller giving me millions of dollars is highly unlikely. So, I’ll need to budget funds for editing and advertising for those upcoming projects as well.

Test the waters

If one form of marketing doesn’t get me the results I desire, I’ll try another. I’ve been advised not to invest more than I am comfortable losing on any new method. Test the waters with the smallest possible investment. If I’m happy with the results I’ll invest more.

If your income exceeds your output, you are a success.

Don’t know what is a reasonable budget? Refer to my marketing tip #3. Ask author’s with good sales figures what they have done.

Final thought

No amount of budgeting will work if your manuscript is not well-written. Always make craft your number one goal. That said. Even a well-written manuscript won’t sell if it is not marketed well. Writing and marketing go hand in hand.

What kind of budget is working for you?

Where are your budgeted marketing dollars being the most effective?

Because I am new at this too I’d appreciate comments from readers about their experience.

 

 

 

 

Are You Participating

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Marketing tip # 2 Participate.

There is a learning curve in marketing. The less you know the longer the curve. Educating yourself before you even have a book to market shortens the curve by miles. The easy way to learn to maneuver the writer’s marketing journey is to participate in others’ journeys.

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Facebook Virtual Launch Parties reach across state lines.

I’ve participated in a few virtual launch parties, and its easier than I would have first thought. Now with Facebook live, it can be even more fun.  Lots of posting, trivia questions, and giveaways.  Even if you don’t win it’s a great time.  I haven’t had a chance to be on someone’s launch team and be part of the behind the scenes crew. But I’ve taken my own advice and asked a lot of questions from those who have.

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Beth Ann  Ziarnik participates in her live Book Launch with wonderful results.

 

 

Participate in live events

I’ve been to book signings and have supported authors when I can. I’ve stopped by author booths and craft shows and learned how effective this sort of event is.

Participate in Conferences

Going to and meeting fellow authors at conferences can help build a plank on your platform. People who provide information and help when you are published. Attend classes. Have lunch with a new friend. Thank speakers and teachers for their time and knowledge. They will remember you and may be more willing to lend a hand in promoting your work.

Cynthia Ruchti  always looks sharp. This is how a successful writer should dress.

I meet one of my favorite authors, Cynthia Ruchti at a conference.

Participate in the world around you

Writers are often solitary individuals. Keeping company with their characters and lots of books. Get out of your writing cave. Find friends who are not writers and do things together. Volunteer at church or organizations so people know who you are. If you are employed be sociable. These people are future book buyers. Friends are more willing to take a chance on your story even if it’s not something they would normally read. Those friendships are golden for free promotion.

How do you participate in preparation for marketing?

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You Gotta Ask

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Marketing tip #1  Ask

I absolutely hate to ask. Because I hate rejection more.

If you’ve been building a network with other writers, the asking is easier.

When my publisher asked me for a list of possible endorsers, my knees knocked. Then I recalled all those whose books I have reviewed and promoted.  They said anytime they could help me out they would and to just ask. So, I asked thinking I might get one or two. I got seven. Seven endorsers. Seven people who got a pdf copy to read and can easily do a review when Secrets and Charades is out. I secured Beta Readers the same way. Those awesome readers who look for typos and other weirdisms before it went to press. They too can post Book Reviews.

Phew! That wasn’t so hard.

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Another asking hill to climb

Ask people to be part of your launch team. That was a scary thought for me.  What if they say no. What if they say yes and really mean no. Helping other people promote their books is easy for me, but, promoting myself, not so much.  But I’ve been talking about my writing life with others on social media and in the real world. Gulp! Could I do this?

The easy way is to follow the good advice, the hard way is doing it my way.

I had to try my way.

An experienced author told me to send personal PM to Facebook friends. A personal ask.  But I was sure sending it out as an FB post would get better results. I got two. I got another at church because I asked her. That was three. I knew that was not enough. Fear of rejection nettled in my mind. I had to do this because well, I need help and my novel comes out March 15th.  So recently I sent out a lot of PMs and got 30. Wow! 1000% increase. Why? Because asking gets results.

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The scripture says “you have not because you ask not.” And as a mother, I often tell my children “Well, I can’t read your mind.” Often people think if you want my help you’ll ask for it. While those who need help, think people should just volunteer. We don’t want to volunteer and get rejected. (Do I see a theme.)

I’ve done the do-it-my-way before, and it hasn’t had great results in other ventures in my life.  Yet, I still struggled getting out of my comfort zone and doing things differently. It does take a village of helpers to raise your new novel up through the rankings on Amazon and other retail sites. It takes stepping out of our comfort zone and asking for help.

 

How many do I need on my team

Another wise author said you can never have too many team members. I think it is because as in any volunteer endeavor there are the doers and the joiners. The doers are reliable. The ones who will go above and beyond to help you reach your goal. The joiners do less, but without them, everything would fall on the few.

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Keep asking

Ok, I asked for endorsements, beta readers and Stage Crew (What I am calling my launch team.) Now I’ll keep asking my publisher, acquisition editor and other authors what is my next step and how do I do it. I’ve never done a launch party of any kind. I’ve never done a book signing.  Podcast and building a speaking platform are foreign to me. I read articles and blogs on these subjects. I listen to others talk about their success. Mostly, I ask lots of questions. I’m not done asking questions. My plan: stay teachable and step out of my comfort zone and ask. After all I want to sell my novel. And asking for help with marketing is one way to reach that goal.

How are you about asking for help when it comes to marketing? What wisdom can you pass on? I really want to know, that’s why I’m asking.

 

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Ten Tips for a Fresh Writing Start the New Year

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I’m posting a checklist for the new year. We all know we never get right back on the writing horse on January 2nd. It takes a bit of recovery time before we are ready to saddle up again.  I have ten points to consider. Things I may or may not get done but claim as my ideal goals for getting ready to write in 2017.  They are in no particular order so arrange them how you like.

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Prepare to climb back in the writing saddle.   photo from morguefile.com

1) Clean out old files and emails. I shared about email in a previous post. So, I’ll say no more. But we all have several copies of WIP at various stages. Delete all the old ones so all that remains is your present Work in Progress. If you must, create a new file for all those scenes you must delete but can’t bear to part with and trash the rest. (Side note: Rename your most current manuscript. Add Vol 4 or whatever so you don’t accidently delete the wrong one or for that matter email the wrong manuscript to a publisher.) If you still can’t bring yourself to delete old versions store them on a hard drive or stick and delete from your PC. After a while, you won’t miss them.  Now you can find your most current project in moments. (Be sure to back up often on an external drive or stick in case your computer crashes in 2017.)

2) Clean out all paper files in your office. Throw away any saved papers you know you will never use. If you haven’t read them this year you probably won’t. Reorganize books. Give away those you’ve read to others to enjoy. Share craft books with newbies and donate some to the library. Any magazines you received for query research purposes and never queried get rid of. Request a more recent copy if you still intend to query so you have the latest trending articles. Once you get started you will probably discover stuff you didn’t know you saved. Clean to your comfort level so your desk is cleared.

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Declutter

3) This is the time to create spreadsheets, databases or notebooks to record the sales, queries, proposals, submissions and upcoming blog post activities. Record keeping can be a bane or a blessing to a writer’s existence depending on how good we are at maintaining it.

4) Purchase or create calendars for daily, weekly and monthly goals. I once used a calendar that recorded hourly activity when I had a home business. For some writers, committing themselves to accomplishing a certain task in a specific time frame helps keep them on track. For me, I need a list and some monthly and weekly direction. I found a 5X7 planner that will work well for me.

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Buy a calendar that works for you.

5) Post inspiration around your workspace. Whether that’s sticky notes or posters. Words and pictures that remind us we can do this writing gig help so much. Upbeat music can help with focus as well.

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6) List realistic daily goals. I tend to write long lists that I will never finish in a day. I write down a marketing goal, an editing goal, a reading goal, and a writing goal that’s manageable. If I happen to get more done, that’s awesome. If I get less done, there are fewer items to add to the next day’s list.

7) Seek inspiration every day. Time in The Word and prayer. Moments to sit in silence and listen.

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8) Pencil in Me time. Time to do anything but write. Be sure to take care of your health. Keep doctor appointments. Go out to lunch with friends. Binge watch your favorite shows. Give your mind some downtown so when you return to your words, the creative juices are flowing.

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Take time for yourself.

9) Evaluate subscriptions. Which craft magazines and blogs do you read consistently and gain value from. Unsubscribe and don’t renew those not meeting that criterion. You won’t miss them.

10) Work smart with social media. Find ways to do more in less time to promote and interact with your readers. There are apps like Hootsuite that post in all your social media simultaneously. I want to learn more about using twitter and Pinterest this year.

Make a difference in 2017

These are my top objectives to restart my writing career in the new year. I hope these actions will make me more motivated and organized. The cleaning ones are always the hardest for me. Accomplishing even half of these goals will make a difference in how well I start off 2017.

What do you need to do before you climb back into the writing saddle? I love to ehar from  my readers.

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Snow Country Author Kristin Neva Shares her Writing Process

backcover-author-img_1340-1350x500c-1Today I welcome Kristin Neva. I just finished reading her debut novel Snow Country. What a fascinating read.  This is a longer interview then I normally post. But for those of you struggling with the writing life I think you will find her thorough answers inspiring.

Here is the back-cover description.

Shame desperately depends on secrecy for its survival in this multi-generational story of love and loss.

Jilted three weeks before her wedding, Beth Dawson escapes sunny California for the snowy Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where a young State Trooper challenges her to let go of her rules for Christian courtship. Her domineering mother chides her to stay single and wants her to talk her ailing grandmother into moving to Los Angeles.

Copper Island averages over 200 inches of snow annually. The fictional towns of Douglass and Quincy mirror the actual towns of Houghton and Hancock, and although the names of businesses and persons are imaginary, the history, landmarks, and spirit of the region described in the novel are real.

Kristin, settle in at the kitchen table. I’ve brewed some hearty Ceylon tea and I have a plate of scones, in honor of my Scottish heritage. Many of the scenes in your novel take place over steaming tea and nisu. (Defined in the glossary of Snow Country as Finnish for sweet cardomom bread.)

It’s such a great way to become friends — over tea and comfort food. When traveling with my husband on a business trip to Taiwan, I realized I had been missing out. I had grown up drinking and enjoying tea out of a box, but loose leaf tea took tea to a whole new level.

My character Grandma Lou always has loose leaf tea steeped in water heated on a wood stove. “Tea tastes better when it’s heated by wood stove,” she claims.

It’s funny, because the biggest pushback I get on the book is over my choice of tea selection and some of the esoteric details of drinking loose leaf tea. There are some people out there who take their tea very seriously. J

I read your first book Heavy, a memoir of the emotional rollercoaster of the first year your husband Todd’s ALS diagnosis. So, why did you decide your second book would be a novel?

I wanted to write what I love to read: small town fiction with quirky characters. I felt like our memoir, Heavy, was a book that should be written for others who were also suffering. Snow Country is just for fun, and it’s a creative outlet for me. It’s an escape from my real life and it’s a way to flesh out some of my thoughts on life, love, and loss in the lives of fictional characters who lead more fascinating lives than mine.

How did you come up with the idea for this Contemporary Romance?

The idea for Snow Country started with a scene based on my mother’s experience of learning to drive in the snow her first winter in the Copper Country after growing up in California. She got pulled over for driving too slow. And once, as a teenager, I led the police on a slow speed chase as I looked for a safe place to pull over. I wouldn’t roll the window down more than a crack, and I questioned if the officer who pulled me over was a real cop. As a brand-new driver, I couldn’t believe I was getting a ticket.

That’s basically the scene I begin with in Snow Country, and from there I let my main character work through some issues that resonate with me.snowcountry_bookcover

I’ve heard it said that everybody has a book or two in her. Authors might mine their own lives for the first book, and maybe the second, although I found I needed to interview some friends with different life experiences to flesh out some ideas for my second book, which is now in the editing process.

To be clear, my characters are not me or my friends, but an idea needs to begin someplace.

How did you go about learning the craft of fiction writing while being Todd’s caregiver?

I don’t think I would have devoted my time to learning the craft of writing had I not been Todd’s caregiver. Since he requires twenty-four hour care, it’s not possible for me to work outside the home. After I get the kids off to school, I generally have a couple hours to write. I listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos by writing instructors, and read books on the craft of writing. I also analyze my favorite authors. Why do I like their work? What draws me in? What keeps me reading?

Todd edits and critiques my work and helps me brainstorm plotlines. It is good to have something to focus on other than the terminal disease. It has also been good for the vitality of our marriage. I take care of Todd, and he gives back by helping me with my writing dream. He is just so smart. Our biggest arguments are about word-use and he is usually right. I tell our kids, “Just so you know. This isn’t typical. If you get married someday, you likely will argue with your spouse about something other than grammar.”

A mantra we often hear as writers is write what you know. It shows in the wonderful setting you chose for Snow Country. Explain how you created the fictitious towns of Quincy and Douglass Michigan. What parts of the setting and characters mirror real people?

My husband Todd likes to say there’s more truth in fiction. Creating the fictitious towns of Quincy and Douglass, based on the real towns of Hancock and Houghton, allowed me to be even more true to life of the culture and spirit of the region. If I used the real towns and real businesses, I couldn’t possibly describe a snarky waitress who treats a guest with contempt because she’s on a date with the man of her dreams.

Nonetheless, locals who’ve read the book see right through the fictitious names. Just like the real Houghton, my fictional town of Douglass is named after Douglass Houghton, an American geologists, who explored Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula prior to statehood. My town of Quincy is named for the old underground mine that sits atop Quincy Hill above Hancock.

Douglass State, the fictitious university, is loosely based on Michigan Tech, but using a fictitious name allows my characters to have jobs and take classes that don’t actually exist at the real university.

The restaurant Cornucopia, where Beth and Danny go on their first date, isn’t based on any specific restaurant, but the sandstone building it resides in is inspired by a real building that houses a different restaurant.

I do, however, use the real names for the outlying areas that are not integral to the story. There really is a Brockway Mountain. There’s a charming town called Eagle River that really does have a park where locals feed the deer in the winter. Basically any place that’s tangential to the story and would only be described in a positive light gets to keep its real name.

The people are truly imaginary, although I pull traits from various people to inform my characters. Mak, for example, is the quintessential Yooper — he plows and makes wood, yet he’s unexpectedly intelligent. His wife Lorna always has a business idea, and that’s reflective of many Yoopers. My friend, a native of Arizona, was once trying to learn how to knit because she wanted to fit in with the locals. She said, “Everybody has something to sell at the Tori (Finnish word for market) except for me.”

Beth Dawson and Daniel Johnson have differing views about dating. Beth is by the book while Danny is less structured. As their relationship grows the battlefield focuses on trust. Your focus audience is YA and 20 somethings and you really bring up some interesting points about the true love waits message. You sprinkled the theme throughout your work without being preachy. Which character in this novel most mirrors your own heart on dating?

I find it interesting that you’d think of this book as targeted for young adults. Although Beth, my main character, is in her twenties, another central character, Grandma Lou, is in her seventies. Hoping that the varied themes of the book would appeal to a broader cross-section than your typical romance reader, I labeled the series a Copper Island Novel. I have gotten positive feedback from girls in their teens, middle-aged women, and women in their eighties.  What has been surprising to me is that the book has been well received by guys too.

To answer your question about my heart on dating: Like Beth, I started by the book. As a teenager, I read all kinds of Christian dating/relationship books because I wanted to do it right. Recently I went through some of my high school papers my mom had saved, and I had to laugh. For my tenth grade World Affairs class, I wrote a paper on communication in marriage. For a college class I took during my senior year of high school, I wrote a paper on abstinence. I had dating and marriage all figured out well before meeting Todd. I think it’s a good place for a young person to start, but like Beth, I had to process my ideals in light of the messiness of life and embrace grace.

Fortunately, Todd was patient with me. That scene where Danny tells Beth he loves her and she responds with “Thank You” — yup, that was our story. Of course, Beth is her own person, so I had to tell her story. The way my story worked out was that I resisted telling him that I loved him until one day I was shopping at a thrift store and happened to see a Carolina Herrera wedding dress on a rack. I lifted it up, and a woman said, “Hey, I was going to get that. That’s a $5,000 dress.”

Well, that’s not how thrift store shopping works. If you walk away from the rack, you lose. I felt my competitive nature coming out and I held onto the dress.

The woman asked me “Are you getting married?”

Todd and I had been talking about the possibility, but we had not yet dated for a year. He was ready to commit, but I was uncertain. In that moment I had to give her an answer, so I made a decision. “I’m getting married next summer.”

That evening, I met Todd at his condominium and told him I had a surprise. “I love you and I bought a wedding dress today.”

At some point, all of our lives become too complex for formulas. I was a perfect parent—until I had kids. And I didn’t wrestle with the problem of suffering until living with Todd’s terminal illness. As I approach my fifth decade of life, I am less by the book. My life philosophy comes down to the tagline I choose for my author website: Love and Grace on Copper Island.

sauna

Sauna

These characters value and celebrate their Finnish heritage. They still cling to parts of the language and most definitely the food. You paint their culture so differently than what we experience in other parts of the country. Is this true of Upper Michigan in your real world?

Oh, it is very true. One Amazon reviewer wrote, “I loved the characters, and they reminded me so much of my own family and friends.”

My husband and I are Finnish-Americans—third-generation Americans, yet we retain a slice of Finnish culture that is prevalent in the region where I live and write about.

The old Finns called this place Kuparisaari, Copper Island, and it was the favorite destination for Finnish immigrants from 1870 through the early 1920s. Many Finns escaped abject poverty for the promise of fortune to work in underground mines that supplied 90% of the country’s copper.

Since Finns once made up 20% of the population in the Copper Country, they had a noticeable impact on the local culture. My fifth-grade daughter told us the other day that her teacher asked for a show of hands of who has a sauna—every hand was raised. The streets in town are named in both English and Finnish. Many families retain Finnish names for their favorite dishes.

In my writing, I attempt to capture the essence of the culture, climate, and creation. The region almost becomes a character in itself. So much has already been written about Italians in Brooklyn, or the Irish in Boston. I hope to introduce the world to the Finns in the Keweenaw.

bridge

You created drama with characters afflicted and affected by ALS in this community. Your husband, Todd, is fighting the good fight with ALS. How hard was that to write about?

ALS is a disease that is always in the forefront of my thoughts so it is not surprising that it would make its way into my writing. We write what we know. I still get tears in my eyes when I reread the scene I wrote about the ALS diagnosis. Some of the small details of our experience are implanted in my mind and they made their way onto the pages of Snow Country. Exam Room 2. Cold, hard plastic chairs. People diverting their eyes from witnessing our grief.

It is my hope that writing about ALS, even in a fictional work, will raise awareness about the challenges of living with the disease. I hope there will be a cure in my husband’s lifetime. Until then, people living with ALS need much more help than our current healthcare system provides.

What do you hope people take away from the story of Beth and Danny?

Life is messy, and there are no easy answers. Part of Beth’s disappointment with her broken engagement is based on the thought that if she follows all the rules, life will work out. I think the prosperity gospel has crept into Evangelicalism. There’s an idea that if we say the right prayer, then we will be healed, or if we follow the right rules, then life will work out. But we need to remember that Jesus promised we would have trouble in this world.

That being said, there is wisdom in some rules, and some of the pain of life can be avoided by making wise choices. Danny’s past catches up with him and he needs to live with the consequences of his choices. We’ll find out in book three how that subplot comes to a climax.

Is there anything you would like to mention about Snow Country or the theme that I’ve not asked?

People have described Snow Country as a Romantic Comedy. I can thank my husband for that. He often makes me laugh, and I file away things he says. As I mentioned, I thought women would be my primary audience, but I think the reason guys like it is because of the humor. Many of the quirky lines are courtesy of my husband, my biggest encourager.

This is Book One of the Copper Island Novel series. Can you give us a brief glimpse into the second book?

The second Copper Island book is Copper Country, a story of family and forgiveness. It’s about Aimee and Russ, who were minor characters in Snow Country.

Grandma Lou asks, “Where do people get this idea that dying people are more noble?”

Ten years after abandoning his family, Aimee’s father returns with throat cancer. Aimee wants to forgive him, but he’s as narcissistic and unrepentant as ever. She’s comforted by Russ, who’s everything her father wasn’t—present and gentle. However, a long-term relationship with him is unrealistic unless he’s willing to let go of his bitterness towards corporations, give up his off-the-grid cabin, and find a real job.

Copper Country will be out this summer.

My final question is something I ask every author I interview. What is one thing you would say to budding fiction writers as they journey to publication?

Enjoy the journey and view the challenges as learning opportunities.

We would all love to be the next John Grisham or Jan Karon, but we need to do what we do because we love it, and celebrate the small victories along the way. That’s what the National Novel Writing Month is about. Snow Country was my NaNoWriMo project three years ago. Getting those initial 50,000 words down was an accomplishment.

Then began the hard work of revision. I sought out honest, constructive criticism. Not all of the criticism made sense initially, so I worked to get to the root of the issues with my story. For example, one of my beta readers said she didn’t really like my main character, Beth. She couldn’t articulate why, but I eventually realized it was because Beth was too timid, too whiny. I had to show that she had sisu early on, even though part of her character arc was to develop backbone.

I celebrated when I found an agent, and though he did not end up selling my novel before he retired, I learned a lot from the process. My favorite rejection letter from a publisher was, “The pacing is too slow—much too slow.” That constructive feedback gave me something to work on.

Now I am learning about book promotion and challenging myself to step out of my comfort zone. At a community event, I approached a reporter and pitched my novel as a story. That led to a radio/TV spot—a whole new experience for me. I look forward to what’s next.

Author Bio:

Kristin Neva grew up in an old farmhouse on Copper Island in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula where the hard-working, rugged residents persevere through harsh winter weather, sustained by friendship and family, surrounded by natural beauty. As an adult, she lived in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas for seventeen years before returning to the her hometown with her husband and two children.

Kristin’s first book, Heavy, co-authored with her husband, Todd, journeys through the first year after Todd’s ALS diagnosis as the Nevas struggle to find meaning, hold on to faith, and discover joy in the midst of pain.heavy-cover-small

Links:

Blog: http://kristinneva.com/

Snow Country: http://a.co/i1ZR7vB

Heavy: http://a.co/9oe3x1a

It has been a pleasure to learn how Snow Country came to be.

Now for the fun part. Kristin is giving away one copy of Snow Country to a lucky winner. Post a comment asking to be put in the drawing. If you past along this blog on your Facebook you’ll get another chance and if you tweet it I’ll give you a third. Your on your honor so let me know where you posted it. I’ll post the winner on Friday.